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A Persian Gulf war can have no winners

Sollich Rainer Kommentarbild App
Rainer Sollich
June 15, 2019

After the attacks on two oil tankers in the Strait of Hormuz, the US is blaming Iran. How credible is the accusation, asks DW's Rainer Sollich, and could there be other powers at play?

Tanker Front Altair in Gulf of Oman
Image: picture-alliance/AP Photo/ISNA

A blurry black-and-white video from the United States military allegedly shows a team of Iranian Revolutionary Guards deployed on a speedboat in the Strait of Hormuz. According to US accounts, Iran's elite soldiers removed a limpet mine from the hull of the Kokuka Courageous oil tanker that they had installed earlier, but it had failed to explode during the attack.

The Iranians removing this piece of evidence shows that Tehran is behind the attack on the two ships in the Strait of Hormuz — at least that is the official view from Washington.

Is this the smoking gun, proof enough to convict the perpetrator? It is sufficient evidence to politically justify a military retaliation? Can we trust the video and the American allegations?

False allegations? Not a first

It is natural to have doubts after the US launched a war against Iraq and dictator Saddam Hussein in 2003 based on entirely false claims. On top of that, we live in an increasingly digital age, in which highly professional manipulation of videos and other forms of evidence is easier than ever before. At first glance, it also seems somewhat illogical that Iran — even its faction of hardliners — would so willingly provide the US with a possible reason for war — a war it would most certainly lose when taking into account the country's vastly inferior military might.

Sollich, Rainer
DW's Rainer Sollich

On the other hand, experts point out that members of Iran's Revolutionary Guard indeed have "expertise" in dealing with limpet mines; and that Tehran has threatened several times to sabotage the free movement of ships in the event of a conflict. The sea passage is vital for the world economy, in particular for crude oil. The attack on the two tankers could thus be interpreted as Iran attempting to flex its military muscles, especially to show the US: "We have our own methods, we will not be defeated by you."

Yes, this is speculation. But it is equally as speculative to suspect an American, Saudi or Israeli conspiracy behind the two attacks, as Iran's leadership suggests. Or, for example, the conspiracies flowing on social media from US-critical users in Germany and many Arab countries.

Read more: Iran's Green Movement — why US policies strengthen the regime

Of course, given the foreign policy and strategic interests of the US, Israel and the Gulf states, it is not difficult to come up with a possible motive — sometimes even several — to manipulatively bring about a casus belli. However, there are just as many equally logical contradicting motives — not in the least for US President Donald Trump's sake. He was elected — among other things — on a promise to bring an end to the country's wars in the Middle East. Presumably, a war against Iran would be expensive, require troops on the ground and would likely mean US military casualties. None of those things would help Trump's chances of re-election in 2020.

Ready to face the risk of war

In the end, there is one bitter truth: No matter who is behind the tanker attacks, there are forces at play here who, contrary to all political reason and humanity, consciously accept the risk of war. Or — in the worst case — are aiming to trigger conflict as a means to "solve" their sense of tensions with the other side. This should ring alarm bells.

Read more: The Strait of Hormuz — the world's most important oil choke point

War in the Gulf would likely have devastating consequences for many countries in the region, especially those in which Iranian-funded militias are already active, such as Yemen, Syria, Iraq and Lebanon. Israel, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates would presumably also be affected. The Iranian-backed Houthis are already attacking the latter two from Yemen.

There can be no winners in such a war — there would only be losers. This is why everything must be done to prevent it. Germany, and Europe, with its restricted means — must pitch in. Nonetheless, this war that purportedly nobody wants, a war that should be feared, is now drawing nearer.