Iran’s seizure of two oil tankers was a stupid move – It could boost European support for Trump

Originally published at Fox News

It has been clear over the past few weeks that Europe’s long-running patience with Iran’s bad behavior is running out. The Islamic Republic’s seizure of two British-operated oil tankers Friday in the Strait of Hormuz was a stupid move that could end that European patience once and for all.

That’s bad news for Iran, but good news for President Trump and his tough Iran policy, and for the U.S.

European leaders have strongly opposed Trump’s Iran policy and his decision to withdraw the United States from the Iran nuclear deal negotiated by the Obama administration.

The deal, which was supposed to keep Iran from developing nuclear weapons, was fatally flawed and would have only delayed Iran’s entry into the nuclear club for a few years. And it did nothing to stop Iran’s support for terrorism and other hostile activity in the Middle East.

Recent Iranian provocations – including mine attacks on ships in the Persian Gulf, shooting down a U.S drone, and an earlier attempt to seize a British ship this month – have been making it harder and harder for Europe to continue to stand with Iran.

European leaders have also been scrambling over the last two weeks to save the Iran nuclear deal, following Tehran’s recent announcements that it has begun violating the deal’s limits on uranium enrichment.

Iran has said the violations are designed to force European states to stop complying with crippling U.S economic sanctions on the Islamic Republic or get them to compensate Iran for the sanctions.

So with tensions between Iran and Europe at such a high level that European officials were already preparing to throw in the towel, Iran drove tensions up even further by seizing the two British-operated oil tankers Friday.

British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said: “These seizures are unacceptable. It is essential that freedom of navigation is maintained and that all ships can move safely and freely in the region.”

President Trump responded calmly, noting the new Iranian provocation confirmed his warnings about Iran. Trump said: “This only goes to show what I’m saying about Iran. Trouble. Nothing but trouble. It goes to show you I was right about Iran.”

Obviously, the seizure of the British-operated tankers raises tensions in the Persian Gulf region. But it also will do enormous damage to Iran’s interests by driving European leaders toward President Trump.

A major reason  Trump hates the 2015 nuclear deal is that despite the huge concessions the Obama administration offered Iran in the agreement – including over $150 billion in sanctions relief – Iran’s behavior significantly worsened after the deal was announced.

Iran’s harmful actions included sending troops to Syria to fight in support of dictator Bashar Assad in a civil war, stepping up support for terrorism, and increasing military spending. Iran also ramped up its ballistic missile program and has been credibly accusedof violating the nuclear deal.

Ignoring intense pressure from the U.S. foreign policy establishment and European leaders, President Trump withdrew from the Iran nuclear deal and imposed tough sanctions that are denying Tehran revenue it was spending on its military, missile program, nuclear program and terrorism.

Trump is open to U.S.-Iran talks, but only for a better, comprehensive agreement that deals with the full range of threats posed by Iran. The president also rejected Iran’s demand that he drop U.S. sanctions as a condition of starting talks.

With Iran unlikely to agree to talks with the United States, U.S. officials have been struggling to assemble a “coalition of navies” to protect shipping in the Persian Gulf.

Although European states have been reluctant to contribute to this initiative for fear of being drawn into a military confrontation with Iran, the seizure of the British-operated oil tankers may help U.S. officials win European participation.

Iran’s new provocation also will drive European and other states closer to President Trump’s Iran policy. Hold-outs to U.S. Iran sanctions could soon drop their opposition. There also could be new European sanctions.

Most importantly, President Trump’s restraint in avoiding using military force against Iran – coupled with dangerous Iranian provocations like the seizure of the two oil tankers Friday – may mean that if President Trump decides to attack Iran in the future, he may do so with Europe’s support.

This would be an amazing reversal of fortune for Trump’s Iran policy – a policy that was universally condemned by the foreign policy establishment and Europe just a year ago. Such a reversal is happening because Iran’s responses to President Trump’s policy have been not only stupid, but abysmal failures.

About Fred Fleitz

Fred Fleitz is President and CEO of the Center for Security Policy. He recently served as a Deputy Assistant to President Trump and Chief of Staff to National Security Adviser John Bolton. He previously worked in national security positions for 25 years with CIA, DIA, the Department of State and the House Intelligence Committee staff. Read his complete bio here. Follow Fleitz on Twitter @fredfleitz.