Dubai: US diplomats warned Saturday that commercial airliners flying over the wider Arabian Gulf faced a risk of being “misidentified” amid heightened tensions between the US and Iran.
The warning relayed by US diplomatic posts from the Federal Aviation Administration underlined the risks the current tensions pose to a region crucial to global air travel. It also came as Lloyd’s of London warned of increasing risks to maritime shipping in the region.
Concerns about a possible conflict have flared since the White House ordered warships and bombers to the region to counter an alleged, unexplained threat from Iran that has seen America order nonessential diplomatic staff out of Iraq. President Donald Trump since has sought to soften his tone.
Meanwhile, authorities allege that a sabotage operation targeted four oil tankers off the coast of the UAE, and Iran-aligned Al Houthis in Yemen claimed responsibility for a drone attack on a crucial Saudi oil pipeline.
Saudi Arabia directly blamed Iran for the drone assault, and a Saudi newspaper called on Thursday for America to launch “surgical strikes” on Tehran.
This all takes root in Trump’s decision last year to withdraw the US from the 2015 nuclear accord between Iran and world powers and impose wide-reaching sanctions. Iran just announced it would begin backing away from terms of the deal, setting a 60-day deadline for Europe to come up with new terms or it would begin enriching uranium closer to weapons-grade levels. Tehran long has insisted it does not seek nuclear weapons, though the West fears its programme could allow it to build atomic bombs.
The order relayed Saturday by US diplomats in Kuwait and the UAE came from an FAA Notice to Airmen published late Thursday in the US. It said that all commercial aircraft flying over the waters of Arabian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman needed to be aware of “heightened military activities and increased political tension.”
This presents “an increasing inadvertent risk to US civil aviation operations due to the potential for miscalculation or misidentification,” the warning said. It also said aircraft could experience interference with its navigation instruments and communications jamming “with little to no warning.”
In a statement, Emirates said it was aware of the notice and in touch with authorities worldwide, but “at this time there are no changes to our flight operations.”
The warning appeared rooted in what happened 30 years ago after Operation Praying Mantis, a daylong naval battle in the Gulf between American forces and Iran during the country’s long 1980s war with Iraq. On July 3, 1988, the USS Vincennes chased Iranian speedboats that allegedly opened fire on a helicopter into Iranian territorial waters, then mistook an Iran Air heading to Dubai for an Iranian F-14. The Vincennes fired two missiles at the airplane, killing all aboard the flight.
The USS Abraham Lincoln and its carrier strike group have yet to reach the Strait of Hormuz, the narrow mouth of the Gulf through which a third of all oil traded at sea passes. A Revolutionary Guard deputy has warned that any armed conflict would affect the global energy market. Iran long has threatened to be able to shut off the strait.
Benchmark Brent crude now stands around $72 a barrel.