Once again, US-led military maneuvers create unnecessary tensions and hamper international negotiations. Recently announced military exercises organized by Americans and Israelis in the Red Sea region are giving Iran a message of hostility and unwillingness to peaceful dialogue.
In light of the current already strained relations between the US and Iran, these exercises could be the beginning of a significant diplomatic crisis as it will certainly impede the advancement of negotiations for a nuclear deal. Furthermore, the stability of peace in the Middle East is entirely threatened.
This week, the naval forces of Israel, the US, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Bahrain announced they are conducting a series of joint exercises in the Red Sea, in what appears to be a sort of warning to their common “threat”, Iran.
Having started recently, he tests are expected to last about five days, with a wide variety of actions, focused mainly on combat in the maritime environment.
According to a statement from the United States Naval Forces Central Command (NAVCENT), “The training will enhance interoperability between participating forces’ maritime interdiction teams.”
In the same vein, Israeli officer Col. Aviran Lerer, one of the commanders of the operation, stated that the drills “are a significant force in the US military with whom we [the Israelis] have a lot of shared interests. The United States always fights as a coalition. We as an army have to do everything we can be ready for a future conflict, and we see the Americans as a strategically and there could be a time where we will work and fight together”.
The five-day exercise includes, among several combat simulation modalities, naval warfare training, both aboard the American ship USS Portland, and in amphibious attack operations.
Some specific tactics are being worked on with greater focus these days, such as the visit, board, search and seizure operations. In parallel to exercises in maritime and coastal space, some attention is also being applied to combat techniques in urban areas, albeit with lesser focus.
The central objective is to strengthen an interoperability network between the armed forces of the US, Israel and the Arab countries that are enemies of Iran, with the tests serving as an intimidating message to the Shiite state.
It must be emphasized that these tests are also placed in a context of expanding freedom of navigation operations (FONOP) by the US around the world. This type of operation is a tactic used by the US Navy to supposedly “guarantee” freedom of navigation in disputed sea areas.
The main focus of FONOPs, historically, has been the South China Sea, where American military vessels constantly circulate carrying out dangerous and provocative maneuvers and justifying them with possible concerns about the free movement of people and goods.
However, in recent times, the targets of Washington’s FONOPs have varied more frequently, including regions in the Middle East as well, such as the Persian Gulf and the Red Sea.
It is impossible to depoliticize these operations, considering that the chosen regions are always those claimed or occupied by countries enemies of the US. In practice, the legal pretext is just an excuse to keep American ships around the world and intimidate states considered enemies of Washington.
In the Red Sea, the US government has an important ally in Israel to promote this type of operation against Iran.
Iran has no sovereignty claims in the Red Sea, but it uses the region extensively to maintain its trade flow with other countries in the region.
Israel maintains an expansionist policy that does not tolerate the Iranian presence in its strategic maritime environment, which is why it wants to keep Tehran’s ships far away from that region, having already acted in the sense of attacking such vessels through direct military aggression against civilian targets.
This completely mischaracterizes the possibility of the current set of exercises configuring some type of FONOP, as it is not a search for freedom of navigation, but a search for hindering this same freedom, in the sense of trying to consolidate Israeli maritime hegemony in the region.
However, the official discourse adopted by both Washington and Tel Aviv is that the exercises are part of a program of freedom of navigation, which is a great fallacy.
And what would be the consequences of such a scenario? At a time when the world is turning its attention to the possibility of a new nuclear deal with Iran, the drills tend to reverse everything that has already progressed in this direction.
Currently, virtually all the world powers are interested in this agreement, being something that unites Russia, China and even Europe. In fact, only Washington and Tel Aviv seem unwilling to negotiate with the Iranian government.
Now, with the military tests, the Persian country is likely to decline its interest in the agreement and tighten its defense policies against the enemy nations, considering that its security is frontally threatened.
Also, it must be remembered that Bahrain and UAE were Arab countries that signed a peace agreement with Israel last year.
This shows that the treaty signed by these countries was simply a capitulation, with which the Arab states agreed to submit to Israel’s war plans.
Certainly, all these countries will join forces from now on to put pressure on Iran. So, with that, we can conclude that tensions in the region tend to increase more and more in the coming months.
Lucas Leiroz is a research fellow in international law at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro.