Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 11 December 2019

Middle East faces ‘1914 moment’ over possible US and Iran conflict

International Crisis Group has compared situation in Middle East to conditions just before First World War

An image grab taken from a broadcast by Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB) on July 22, 2019 shows a member of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards onboard a tanker Stena Impero as it's anchored off the Iranian port city of Bandar Abbas. / AFP / IRIB / HO / RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE - MANDATORY CREDIT "AFP PHOTO / HO / IRIB" - NO MARKETING NO ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS - DISTRIBUTED AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS / NO RESALE - NO BBC PERSIAN / NO VOA PERSIAN / NO MANOTO TV
An image grab taken from a broadcast by Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB) on July 22, 2019 shows a member of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards onboard a tanker Stena Impero as it's anchored off the Iranian port city of Bandar Abbas. / AFP / IRIB / HO / RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE - MANDATORY CREDIT "AFP PHOTO / HO / IRIB" - NO MARKETING NO ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS - DISTRIBUTED AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS / NO RESALE - NO BBC PERSIAN / NO VOA PERSIAN / NO MANOTO TV

The Middle East is experiencing a “1914 moment”, the International Crisis Group says, with the possibility of a single escalation between Iran and the US snowballing into a devastating regional conflict.

In a report published on Thursday, the think tank compared the current situation in the Middle East to the conditions in Europe that preceded the First World War.

Ultimately it was the assassination of Austria’s crown prince Archduke Franz Ferdinand by a Bosnian nationalist that ignited tension between colonial powers in Europe and ultimately plunged the world into global conflict.

Now, the group says, a single spark between Iran and the US could have similarly catastrophic consequences.

“Today, a single attack by rocket, drone or limpet mine could set off a military escalation between the US, Iran and their respective regional allies and proxies that could prove impossible to contain,” the report said.

After 40 years of enmity between the two since Iran’s 1979 revolution, relations have deteriorated even further over the past two years.

In May 2018 the US withdrew from the Iran nuclear deal, delivering on promises by President Donald Trump to tear up the 2015 agreement that lifted economic sanctions on Tehran in exchange for it committing to give up its nuclear weapons programme.

Mr Trump said repeatedly on the campaign trail and in office that Iran had not stuck to the spirit of the deal as it expanded its sphere of influence and played a destabilising role across the region, backing paramilitary groups in Yemen, Iraq and Syria.

Since June, when Washington was set to launch military strikes against Iran after a US drone was destroyed, the two nations have continued their standoff.

Mr Trump tweeted that he halted the strikes at the last minute because of the high number of casualties they would have caused.

In recent weeks hostilities have focused on the Strait of Hormuz, with attacks on oil tankers in the Gulf blamed by Washington on Tehran.

Iran has focused on pressuring the US and Europe by engaging in a reciprocal tanker seizure with Britain.

Iran seized the British-flagged Stena Impero on July 19 in the Strait of Hormuz, 15 days after the Iranian tanker Grace 1 was boarded by the British off Gibraltar.

The UAE was “satisfied” with the results of a routine meeting between Emirati and Iranian officials to discuss local maritime matters, state news agency Wam reported on Wednesday,

Dr Anwar Gargash, UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, has said the Emirates will continue to support initiatives that avoid any conflict.

“We stand with initiatives that preserve the security of the region and ones that avoid the possibility of confrontation,” Dr Gargash said on Twitter of security in the Strait of Hormuz.

Updated: August 1, 2019 02:46 PM

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