In January 2008, the U.S. Navy was on the verge of opening fire on three Iranian Revolutionary Guard speedboats, which were taking provocative action in close proximity to the American ships. Fortunately, no shots were fired that day, but the danger of armed conflict breaking out between two nations already on the brink was clear.
As the Wall Street Journal reported today, a series of “near-miss” encounters between U.S. and Iranian forces in the Persian Gulf has convinced many U.S. military officials that there needs to a direct military hotline between the United States and Iran to defuse any potential situation that could arise.
During a talk at the University of Miami last week, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Michael Mullen told the audience that he is troubled by the lack of contact between the United States and Iran. “Even in the darkest days of the Cold War,” he said, “U.S. officials could still talk with the Soviets.”
The catalyst behind the recent push rises out of the concern that a run-in between the two severed nations in the Persian Gulf could escalate to a large-scale conflict. As former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates has said, “This [the Persian Gulf] is a very volatile area. The risk of an incident, and of an incident escalating, is real.”
In fact, the 2011 National Defense Authorization Act, which was passed by Congress and signed into law late last year, included a provision mandating the Pentagon “to assess the merits an Incidents at Sea agreement between the US, Iran, and other states to avoid military confrontation in the Persian Gulf.” That provision was based on the Incidents at Sea resolution, introduced in the previous Congress by Reps. John Conyers (D-MI) and Geoff Davis (R-KY).
As the Wall Street Journal notes, opening up communications with Iran could not just help prevent a confrontation in the Persian Gulf, it could also develop into a mechanism to stabilize tensions and prevent conflict throughout the region:
“Although that current proposal would only cover naval incidents, some U.S. officials say they believe that if it proves workable and useful it could be expanded into a broader hot line that could be used to defuse not just confrontations at sea, but also a broader array of potential conflicts. The issue is also being studied at the State Department’s Policy Planning office.”
Military leaders, including Mullen, Gates, and David Petraeus, have vigorously pushed back against calls for military strikes on Iran and have emphasized the dangers that war with Iran would bring. Clearly it is in the interest of those responsible for U.S. troops and national security to prevent a disastrous war. Establishing direct lines to prevent incidents in the Persian Gulf would be a positive first step, but further talks must be established to address the many volatile issues–such as instability in Afghanistan and Iraq–where conflict could quickly push us past the brink.Back to top