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The Iran Deal
Iran Fires Across Bow of Cargo Ship, Nuclear Deal

Iran’s Revolutionary Guard forces seized a cargo vessel, the M/V Maersk Tigris, traveling in the Persian Gulf yesterday. The New York Times reports:

The ship, the Maersk Tigris, with 24 crew members, was intercepted by Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps patrol boats on Tuesday morning while traveling through the Strait of Hormuz, a Pentagon official said. The Iranian forces fired shots across the ship’s bow, the official said, after its captain declined an order by the forces to divert farther into Iranian waters.

The official said the ship was traveling through “an internationally recognized maritime route.” After being fired on, it issued a distress call, prompting the United States Navy to direct a destroyer, the Farragut, to the area and to put aircraft on standby to monitor the situation.

While the ship is MI flagged and has no U.S. crew members, it seems to be largely if not entirely U.S.-owned. The crew appear to be safe this morning. Iranian authorities explained that the ship was seized under Iranian court order, but the ship’s owners have not been able to receive any clarification.

While the U.S. and the Marshall Islands have a ‘compact of free association’, it appears that, strictly speaking, the U.S. has no treaty obligation to defend MI vessels at sea. Nonetheless, historically, messing with free traffic of the seas has been one of the quickest ways to get into a shooting war with the U.S. From the Quasi-War with France and the raids on the Barbary Pirates (the “shores of Tripoli” in the Marines Hymn) to the “Tanker War” with Iran in the 1980s, the US has since its founding reacted to incidents like this with deadly force. (Not to mention entering into larger conflicts such as WWI or the War of 1812 that we entered for largely shipping-related reasons.)

In part, this happens because aggressive moves like these raise the hackles of ‘Hamiltonians’, a current of thought in the history of American foreign policy, which might not favor war for reasons of aggrieved national honor, but is keenly aware of the consequences for the nation if international commerce is disrupted. A move seen as impinging on the world’s oil supply is a great way to provoke a firm Hamiltonian reaction, building consensus for action with an already-roused ‘Jacksonian’ faction.

Meanwhile, somebody in Iran, who may or may not have the Supreme Leader on speed dial, appears to be determined to make life as difficult as possible for President Obama as the countdown continues on the Iran nuclear deal.

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  • fastrackn1

    Nothing a few B-2’s couldn’t fix….

  • Dan Greene

    Do the Hamiltonians get riled up by incidents in international waters like these:

    1. “The Yinhe incident (Chinese: 银河号事件) was a claim made in 1993 by the United States government alleging that the China-based regular container ship Yinhe (银河, “Milky Way”) was carrying materials forchemical weapons to Iran. The United States Navy forced the Yinhe to stop in the international waters of the Indian Ocean for three weeks. The Chinese government subsequently agreed to have the ship searched in Saudi Arabia by a joint Saudi-U.S. team. The final inspection report, signed by U.S. government representatives, concluded that “the complete inspection of all the containers aboard the Yinhe showed conclusively [that the chemicals] were not among the ship’s cargo”. Even though the Chinese were proven innocent, the U.S. government refused to apologize ‘because the United States had acted in good faith on intelligence from a number of sources, all of which proved to be wrong.'”

    2. “The IHH acquired the Mavi Marmara at a cost of $800,000, to be defrayed by public donations, as no shipowner was willing to risk their vessel on the journey.The ship took part in a flotilla of ships operated by activist groups from 37 different countries with the intention of directly confronting the Israeli blockade over Gaza. On May 30, 2010, while in international waters and en route to Gaza, Israeli Naval Forces communicated that a naval blockade over the Gaza area was in force and ordered the ships to follow them to Ashdod Port or to be boarded. The ships declined and were boarded in international waters. The boarding started at 2 am on May 31, 2010, and was completed by 8 am. Reports from journalists on the ship and from the UN report on the incident concluded that the Israeli military opened fire with live rounds before boarding the ship.

    US citizen, Turken Dogan, was killed in the attack in international waters and unlike the hoo-hah over Warren Weinsten, there was barely even an acknowledgement of his death much less days of maudlin press coverage. “An autopsy revealed he had suffered five gunshot wounds, to the nose, back, back of the head, left leg, and left ankle,[18] at a distance of 45 centimeters. A UNHCR concluded he was also shot at after he fell wounded on the floor.[11] He was shot when he was filming the events in the ship.[19] A video from İHH which was posted in many websites including haber7 claims to show a person being shot by IDF soldiers. It is claimed that the person shot was Doğan by haber7.”

    I didn’t notice any Hamiltonian outrage over those (and other similar) incidents, but maybe I just missed it.

    It will be interesting to see what the Iranian pretext for stopping the ship was, and whether it did stray into Iranian waters, but in any case, it has already been released.

    • JR

      Don’t know much about incident #1. There have been numerous incidents when ships suspected of carrying contraband were boarded. There has to be a reasonable suspicion of contraband or illegal materials. It appears that in incident #1 there was.
      Incident #2 was subject to numerous investigations. From BBC article:

      “A UN panel in September 2011 agreed that the naval blockade was legal but said that the loss of life and injuries resulting from the use of force by Israeli troops was “excessive and unreasonable”.
      The panel’s report said the commandos did face “significant, organised and violent resistance”, requiring them to “use force for their own protection”.
      When you engage in significant, organised and violent resistance against elite commando units, there is a chance you will get shot and killed. Seems fairly obvious.

      Iran seizing ships that travel through a narrow piece of water which also happens to be a major logistical bottleneck for oil trade is seen as an aggressive move by its neighbors. Those who don’t have a problem with rising, aggressive Iran, this is not a problem. But there are those who might have a different opinion.

      • sacip

        “When you engage in significant, organised and violent resistance against elite commando units, there is a chance you will get ….killed. Seems fairly obvious.” Yep, one would think so. But, then again, Hamas tosses hundreds of explosives at Israeli citizens, yet doesn’t bother to build bomb shelters for their own folks in anticipation of an Israeli response.

        • JR

          Hamas’ actions are perfectly logical. They want as many dead civilians as possible, preferably children. It’s part of their war strategy. You and I may not like it, but among certain quarters it is very effective. I personally care about dead Palestinian civilians as much as the rest of the world cares about dead civilians from Yemen’s civil war.

      • Dan Greene

        Bottom line: A US citizen killed in international waters by Israel evokes little to no interest. In contrast, a Marshall Islands-registerd ship is briefly detained by Iran for reasons which may or may not be explicable with no injury or loss of life and soon released, and TAI immediately evokes “the shores of Tripoli.” If you can’t see the inconsistency there, I can’t help you.

        It’s funny that when British ships boarded our commercial vessels looking for “contraband” we got quite huffy about it. Fought a war over it, as I remember.

    • Kevin

      Your post is really quite orthogonal to the whole analytical framework of Hamiltonians, Jacksonians, etc.

      Hamiltonians would not care about #2, it does not really implicate trade or commercial interests. Wilsonians might care, and Jeffersonians might be sympathetic but would not let themselves be drawn into foreign disputes.

      Hamiltonians would have mixed feelings about #1. They would not favor interfering with commerce or setting precedents abut stopping ships on the high seas but would favor keeping arms from enemies as well as a semi-consensual or negotiated outcome to the dispute.

      • Dan Greene

        Hamiltonians would presumably care about any infringement of rights of navigation in international waters, as that right is inherently connected to trade and commerce. And anybody–Hamiltonian or not–would presumably be concerned about the death of a US citizen in international waters at the hands of another state.

        • Tom

          Of course, there was the issue where the Iranians have not declared any sort of blockade of the Straits of Hormuz–whereas the Israelis had done so in the case of Gaza.
          Hamiltonians are not purists on this matter, and tend to be okay with regulation–Hamilton, after all, favored a tariff system within the United States. Contraband and blockades are recognized concepts under international law, and while Hamiltonians find these peeving, it is not the same as random searching “just because we felt like it.”

          • Dan Greene

            Oh, so as long as any country declares a blockade of whatever it pleases, then that’s all that’s required?

            Here’s what the Iranians are saying:

            “Iranian Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Marzieh Afkham has defended as legal Iran’s decision to impound a cargo ship in the Persian Gulf, saying the vessel was seized by Iranian Navy forces based on a court decision.
            ‘The move was in the framework of the laws and regulations of the Islamic Republic of Iran and [is] consistent with International regulations and protocols,’ Afkham said on Wednesday. Afkham expressed hope that the ship could be released soon after “its overdue debt is settled,” adding that the vessel is currently docked at the Bahonar Port near Bandar Abbas in south Iran. She noted that all 24 crew members of various nationalities on board the ship are “in full health,” saying they can receive “unrestricted” consular services. Earlier in the day, a spokesman for Iran’s Ports and Maritime Organization said the seizure of Maersk Tigris on Tuesday was based on a court ruling issued on March 16, 2015, which reportedly came after a plaintiff sued the Maersk Line, the Danish company operating the ship, over unpaid debts.”

            Apparently, there is a complaint about a debt. I wonder when TAI and our media will get around to the basic business of explaining the Iranian version of the basis for the detention. Or would that be too much fair play these days?

            Of course, when an American billionaire, Paul Singer, engineers the seizure of an Argentinian ship over over debt, our media is naturally A-OK with it:

            “In their drive to extract full compensation from the Argentine government, a hard-nosed bunch of distressed debt investors have gone to impressive lengths. They’ve pursued the country’s assets around the globe, attempting to seize the presidential plane and menacing the Argentine booth at the Frankfurt Book Fair.
            Now they have a big and bizarre fish on the hook: an Argentine naval vessel. NML Capital, a subsidiary of U.S. billionaire Paul Singer’s Elliott Capital, this week won an injunction in Ghanaian superior court to hold the ARA Libertad in the port city of Tema, on the outskirts of the African nation’s capital.”


            But if anyone in another country should have the temerity to emulate such a move, its pure piracy. This whole business is absolute nonsense and inserted into our complicit media echo chamber by those opposed to any strategic relationship with Iran. TAI, needless to say, is part of that echo chamber.

            Hypocrisy and disinformation 24/7.

          • Tom

            If it can back it up, then yeah.
            As to the supposed hypocrisy, we have no idea of the scale of the debt owed to the Iranians–by which I mean, a debt of millions is worth seizing a ship over, as in the example your provided, while a debt of thousands is not.
            While I would not be surprised if this were a half-cocked reaction on Via Meadia’s part, I keep wondering why you come here if this is such a hotbed of lies, lies, lies.

          • Dan Greene

            >>”As to the supposed hypocrisy, we have no idea of the scale of the debt owed to the Iranians–by which I mean, a debt of millions is worth seizing a ship over, as in the example your provided, while a debt of thousands is not.”

            Yes, you’re right. We don’t. And we won’t as long as this sad little piece is typical of our coverage of the story. Why is our media refusing to provide the basic facts of the issue so we can begin to judge what is actually taking place? Why am I the one providing this basic information here instead of whatever nameless drone TAI employs to do this sort of work? “Shores of Tripoli???” Great journalism!

            >>”I keep wondering why you come here if this is such a hotbed of lies, lies, lies.”

            Well, my advice to you is to stop wondering about my motivations. I comment because it pleases me to do so, as, presumably, it does you.

          • Tom

            “Why am I the one providing this basic information here instead of whatever nameless drone TAI employs to do this sort of work?”

            Because you have too much time on your hands?

          • Dan Greene

            One must always make time to bring enlightenment to the informationally deprived and the intellectually indigent. Now I know what Mother Teresa must have felt, as she grappled with the poverty of Calcutta.

          • Tom

            How odd. When I talk with you I feel like how the advisers to the Bourbons felt after 1815. You’ve forgotten, and learned, nothing.

          • Dan Greene

            What was it you imagine that I should have learned?

          • Tom

            The difference between deliberately running a blockade and normal commerce, for starters.

          • Dan Greene

            Seems like a rather narrow objection to link to the Bourbon restoration and the “forgot nothing, learned nothing” claim.

  • TheCynical1

    Jeffersonians (if I may speak for them) are also concerned about freedom of the seas; it was President Jefferson who sent the Marines to Tripoli.

  • ljgude

    It seems to me this incident fits the broad template of watching a culture that tries to create win win situations through negotiation dealing with a culture that only thinks in terms of win-lose. Obama is very Wilsonian, trying hard to force what he might call the great arc of history to conform to his vision up against an opponent that is determined to give nothing and take as much as it can. I think this incident is a deliberate signal that the Iranians want everyone to know that they do anything they want and have no intention of honoring any agreement they sign. I think the administration knows this too but believes the effort is worthwhile even if it fails. That America is so powerful it can afford it. I find that, well, peculiar to say the least.

  • dfooter

    Clearly this a factional dispute within the Iranian government. “Moderates” want the deal, as it strengthens their hand. Conservatives, such as the Revolutionary Guard, do not want the deal. So they are trying to put pressure on the negotiators that will result in either the deal being undermined, or the US negotiators as being even more exposed as utterly desperate for a deal. Begging the question of where the one person that counts, Ayatollah Khamenei, really stands.

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