US Navy fires on fishing boat in sensitive Strait of Hormuz
Fearful of a repeat of the bombing of the USS Cole, the US Navy says it fired only after giving warning to the Dubai-based, Indian-manned fishing boat.
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US Ambassador to India Nancy Powell conveyed her condolences to the Indian families of the killed and wounded, and promised an investigation. And India’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said that it would request an investigation by both the US and the UAE governments.Skip to next paragraph
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Iran, however, is not letting the incident drop, and has warned that the increasing US military presence in the Persian Gulf is a national security threat, not just to Iran but to the whole region.
“We have announced time and again that the presence of foreign forces can be a threat to regional security," Reuters news agency quoted Iranian foreign ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast as saying.
"Certainly regional countries with the help of one another can provide security in the best possible way. If they join hands, with their defensive capabilities, they don't need the presence of foreign forces. Anywhere where you see insecurity we have always seen the hand of foreign forces there."
Iran itself has threatened to choke off the Strait of Hormuz, if it feels threatened by Western pressure over its nuclear weapons programs. Iran sees those threats more as a “deterrent” to the West, since a cutoff of oil exports would have profound effects on Western economies reliant on Middle Eastern oil.
Who has the upper hand?
The West would appear, at first glance, to have the upper hand in this dispute with Iran. The US Navy is predominant, not just in the Persian Gulf, but globally. With its naval base in Bahrain, and good relations with the Gulf Cooperation Council (Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Bahrain, Kuwait, and Oman), the US can sustain its naval pressure on Iran, and its protective presence in the Strait of Hormuz for quite some time.
But as the Suez Crisis of 1956 shows, overwhelming force is sometimes not enough. Western alliances can fall apart quickly if oil supplies are threatened, something that the British and French governments learned when US President Dwight Eisenhower failed to back them up in their Suez Canal intervention.
Incidents such as yesterday’s firing on the fishing boat, too, can create pressure of a different sort. If it turns out that the US Navy was at fault in the incident, GCC governments may come under increasing pressure from their own citizens to demand the US to scale back operations.