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Drones in the Persian Gulf and memories of Tonkin

Moises Saab*

IN 1964, Lyndon Baines Johnson inherited the U.S. presidency from the assassinated John F. Kennedy and the intention to initiate a conflict which Washington was sure of winning.

Barely three years had passed since the failure of the Bay of Pigs adventure and South East Asia was a suitably distant area, in addition to which the advantage of U.S. forces in terms of men and military equipment over those of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam guaranteed a victory, at least in the understanding of the Pentagon and CIA analysts.

The opportunity for unleashing the war took the form of an alleged attack by North Vietnamese vessels on U.S. warships patrolling the Gulf of Tonkin, confirmed as false with the passing of time.

The rest is history: all the calculations were erroneous and, according to those centrally involved and graphic testimonies, the U.S. departure from Saigon 11 years later was a hasty and undignified affair, to say the least.

Close to 50 years have passed since then and another conflict of incalculable magnitude is brewing in the Persian Gulf with other weapons, other strategic doctrines and different allies, but based in the same concept: the evil beast, Iran, and its alleged intention to acquire nuclear weapons.

The indications have been obvious for a number of years, since Washington initiated its campaign against the Iranian nuclear development program, the subject of comings and goings, talks and negotiations and, above all, as is habitual among the Western powers, an economic and financial blockade designed to destabilize the government of the Islamic Republic.

However, to date the dispute has remained within certain limits, in spite of pressure from the Israeli government headed by Benjamin Netanyahu, whose aggressive posture is a cause of concern for the United States, given his poor sense of timing.

Although Washington's super-objective, the liquidation of the Islamic government in Tehran, converges with that of Israel, the means for attaining it differ, possibly prompted by memories of the fiasco in South East Asia.

However, having said that, the statement by the U.S. military command concerning an incident on November 1 in the Persian Gulf, when one of its drones was forced to withdraw by Iranian fighter planes is disturbing. Iranian Defense Minister Ahmad Vahidi subsequently acknowledged that the air force forced an unknown aircraft to withdraw from its position over the country's territorial waters.

The incident has an embarrassing precedent for Washington. Last year, Iran brought down within its territory one of these aircraft which, according to an official statement, was engaged in espionage over the Islamic Republic.

The United States asked for the return of the aircraft; Iran refused and shortly afterward announced that it was thinking of auctioning it off, after making scale models as toys, one of which it offered to send to Washington as a gift.

The conditions are present for an outbreak of hostilities which could be confined to a specific area, but could increase in intensity, by predetermined intent, interference on the part of a third party, or imponderables, which are never lacking.

The United States has transformed the Persian Gulf into a kind of military mare nostrum, in which it led multinational military maneuvers some weeks ago. The gulf's geopolitical significance is evident given that it is an obligatory transit route for a large volume of the oil which fuels western economies.

Moreover, there is the factor of its strategic proximity to Russia and China, countries with which Washington has an unspoken but perceptible rivalry.

Given these factors, it is worth noting what importance the reelected U.S. government will concede to the incident, minimal in material consequences but which could be used to initiate a conflict similar to that unleashed in the Gulf of Tonkin, but unpredictable in its global repercussion.

*Prensa Latina correspondent in Cairo, Egypt.

Carlos Daley holds an executive certificate in Strategic management and business evaluation from Harvard University and a Masters in Financial Management from the University of Maryland.
Category: The Patriot

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