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With marines on Persian Gulf vessels, is Biden risking war with Iran?

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Picture: Abir Sultan/Pool via REUTERS/Taken on July 15, 2022 – US President Joe Biden waves before his departure to Saudi Arabia from Ben Gurion airport near Tel Aviv, Israel. Biden is charting a dangerous path in signalling to Saudi Arabia that Washington has its back in return for Israel normalisation, the writer says.

By Trita Parsi

The Washington Post reports that Biden is embarking on a “remarkable escalation” in the Persian Gulf that could lead to a US-Iran war. He is reportedly preparing to authorise US Marines and sailors to be stationed on interested commercial vessels in an effort to thwart Iran from seizing oil tankers in the region.

Biden is primarily responsible for having created this situation due to two policy paths he has chosen.

First, he chose to negotiate America’s return to the JCPOA rather than re-entering it via executive order while also disregarding many of the key factors that made Obama’s diplomacy with Iran successful.

Iran has undoubtedly created its fair share of problems in the talks. But by choosing a negotiated return, Biden also chose to keep Trump’s sanctions in place — even though key Biden officials are on record blasting Trump’s max pressure strategy as a dismal failure.

But today, Trump’s maximum pressure strategy is Biden’s. One element of it has been to confiscate Iranian oil on the high seas — in contradiction to international law — as a way to enforce US sanctions on Iran. Predictably, Iran responded by targeting oil shipments of countries that collaborated with Biden on this matter. This has then prompted Biden to beef up US military presence in the Persian Gulf to prevent Iranian actions that only began as a result of Biden’s own policies.

But now Biden may “remarkably escalate” this counterproductive policy by putting US military directly into the mix. This is partly due to the second policy he has erroneously prioritised: the Abraham Accords and getting Saudi to normalise with Israel.

Saudi Arabia has requested a security pact with the US in order to agree to normalise with Israel and abandon the Palestinians. Biden may wisely not go for that, but as part of wooing the Saudis, he believes he has to show that he’s willing to commit to war in the Middle East — a commitment few in the region believe the US has.

Stationing US Marines on oil tankers may be designed to signal to Mohammed Bin Salman that Biden is serious about defending Saudi Arabia against Iran and that the (very brief) era of the US withdrawing from the Middle East is over.

It is impressive how MBS has played Biden. He is successfully pushing the US president to reverse the many policies Saudi Arabia opposed — rejoining the JCPOA, reducing US-Iran tensions, and bringing American troops home from the Middle East.

In return, Israel gets normalisation while it continues to annex Palestinian land. And America gets to once again enjoy the short straw of having to live on the verge of war with Iran.

Trita Parsi is executive vice president of the Quincy Institute and an expert on US-Iranian relations, Iranian foreign politics, and the geopolitics of the Middle East. He is author of “Losing an Enemy – Obama, Iran and the Triumph of Diplomacy”; “A Single Roll of the Dice – Obama’s Diplomacy with Iran”; and “Treacherous Alliance: The Secret Dealings of Israel, Iran, and the United States.”

This article was published on Common Dreams