The timing of a visit by Oman’s foreign minister to Tehran over the weekend is not without significance and is a clear sign that efforts are underway to try and de-escalate the current tensions in the Strait of Hormuz and neighbouring waters. On Saturday, Yousuf Bin Alawi Bin Abdullah met with Javid Zarif, the foreign minister of Iran, and according to media reports discussed the current “international situation” among other things.
Let’s be clear, any effort that can lower the tensions in the waters between Oman and Iran or in adjacent maritime transit areas is to be welcomed. Oman has a long history of acting as an intermediary and as a mediator, and a diplomatic solution to any crisis is always the first path of preference.
This is a crisis that has been instigated by Iranian actions, with six tankers being targeted by explosions over a five-week period, another almost seized were it not for the timely intervention of a Royal Navy warship, and with a tanker now held by the regime in Tehran.
Let’s be clear too — all of these acts of piracy took place in internationally recognised maritime routes and were aimed at destabilising the region’s commercial trade in supplying petrochemicals to the global market. The reality is that any long-term consequences of the regime’s actions would be felt fully by the ordinary people of Iran.
At all times the Strait of Hormuz must be kept open to international maritime traffic. The transit of ships through this geographical bottleneck is a priority that exceeds the singular wishes of the regime in Tehran. The free-passage of vessels must occur without interruptions, threat of interruptions, spurious navigational claims or other disruptive methods and tactics emanating from Tehran. Once this key principle of the right of maritime trade is fully accepted by Tehran, then tensions in the region will naturally lower. If Oman’s representations to Iran help make that happen then that’s a good day’s work.
Iran, however, needs to recognise that any deal that reaffirms and returns maritime traffic to normalcy through the Strait of Hormuz and beyond to east and west, must also include conditions that will prevent it impeding on this traffic in the future.
Simply put, Iran has been responsible for this hiccup and it needs to understand that it cannot keep reverting to these intimidatory tactics. Its actions have consequences. The actions too of its militias and proxies, at work from the Bab Al Mandab to the Mediterranean, have consequences too.