If the oil tanker attack was Iran, that is serious. What happens next depends on who has most to lose between them and the US

The growing confrontation in the Gulf between the US and its Saudi-led allies on one side and Iran and its proxies on the other is now focused on the spate of recent mine attacks on oil tankers, which have been blamed by the US on Iran’s Revolutionary Guards. This is a standoff that has been coming. It is incontestable that Iran has been guilty of destabilising overreach in the Middle East in recent years, as it has moved to build a crescent of Shia influence from Damascus to Baghdad and Lebanon to Yemen.

But Iran’s actions can hardly be said to have occurred in a vacuum. As the Iran analyst for Crisis Group Ali Vaez recently argued, it has been the recent policy of “maximum pressure” on Tehran under the incoherent foreign policy of the Trump administration that has exacerbated the current tensions. In short order, the Trump administration has withdrawn unilaterally from the internationally agreed – and successful – Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) of 2015, whose purpose was to ease sanctions on Iran in exchange for verifiable limits on the country’s nuclear programme.

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