2019 Persian Gulf crisis

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2019 Persian Gulf crisis
Part of Iran–Israel proxy conflict and Iran–Saudi Arabia proxy conflict

(top left) A U.S. B-52H strategic bomber in Qatar, four of which were deployed to the Persian Gulf region by the U.S. on 12 May; (top right) Remnants of the RQ-4 Global Hawk drone shot down by Iran; (bottom) MV Kokuka Courageous ship with damage and alleged unexploded mine
DateMay 5, 2019 – present
(3 months and 2 weeks)


  • US military presence in Persian Gulf increased, more sanctions imposed
  • Iran reduced commitments to the nuclear deal
 United States
 United Kingdom
 Saudi Arabia
 United Arab Emirates
Supported by:


Supported by:


United States United States: 122,500 troops, 12 F-22 Raptors, 4 B52 bombers, 1 carrier strike group, 1 amphibious ready group

United Kingdom United Kingdom: Unknown amount of troops, 1 frigate, 1 destroyer, 4 minehunters, 1 landing ship, 1 fast fleet tanker
1 Mil Mi-17
some Fast attack craft
1 3rd Khordad
Casualties and losses

United States United States:

  • 1 RQ-4A Global Hawk surveillance drone downed
  • 1 sailor missing[5]

United Kingdom United Kingdom:

  • 1 tanker captured
  • 23 crew members captured

Saudi Arabia Saudi Arabia:

  • 2 tankers damaged (responsibility disputed)

United Arab Emirates United Arab Emirates:

  • 1 tanker damaged (responsibility disputed)
  • 1 tanker captured (Panama-registered)[6]
1 tanker captured by the U.K, released on 15 August
1-2 drones downed (US claim, denied by Iran)

1 crew member wounded
 Norway: 2 merchant ships damaged (responsibility disputed)

 Japan: 1 merchant ship damaged (responsibility disputed)
 Iraq: 1 Merchant Ship seized

The 2019 Persian Gulf crisis is an escalation of military tensions between Iran and the United States due to the deployment substantial military assets to the Persian Gulf by President Donald Trump due to alleged intelligence suggesting a planned "campaign" by Iran and allies against US forces and interests in the Persian Gulf and Iraq. This followed a rise in political tensions between the two countries during the Presidency of Donald Trump, which included the withdrawal of the United States from the nuclear deal, the imposition of new sanctions against Iran, and the American unprecedented designation of the IRGC as a terrorist organization.

Sometime after this deployment, several merchant ships in the Persian Gulf were damaged in two separate incidents in May and June 2019. The United States and its allies blamed Iran, while Iran denied involvement.

Iran shot down an American RQ-4A surveillance drone after it allegedly violated the Iranian airspace. This nearly resulted in an armed confrontation.

An Iranian oil tanker was seized by Britain in the Strait of Gibraltar on the grounds that it was allegedly shipping oil to Syria, which was sanctioned by the European Union. Iran later captured a British oil tanker and its crew members in the Persian Gulf, and UK responded by joining US forces in the gulf. However, other European countries, the UAE, and Saudi Arabia have prefered a diplomatic solution.[7]

In August of 2019, the IRGC Navy allegedly carried out a series of attacks on international vessels in the Gulf of Oman and ceased a UK vessel, taking it to Iran.[8][9] As a result the United States created the International Maritime Security Construct (IMSC) which increases overall surveillance and security in key waterways in the Middle East, according to the Deputy Secretary of Defense Michael Mulroy. [10]


Tensions between Iran and the United States escalated in May 2019, with the U.S. deploying more military assets to the Persian Gulf region after receiving intelligence reports of an alleged "campaign" by Iran and its "proxies" to threaten U.S. forces and Strait of Hormuz oil shipping. American officials pointed to threats against commercial shipping and potential attacks by militias with Iranian ties on American troops in Iraq while also citing intelligence reports that included photographs of missiles on dhows and other small boats in the Persian Gulf, supposedly put there by Iranian paramilitary forces. The United States feared they could be fired at its Navy.[11][12][13]

On 5 May, U.S. national security adviser John Bolton announced that the U.S. was deploying the USS Abraham Lincoln Carrier Strike Group and four B-52 bombers to the Middle East to "send a clear and unmistakable message" to Iran following Israeli intelligence reports of an alleged Iranian plot to attack U.S. forces in the region. Bolton said, "The United States is not seeking war with the Iranian regime, but we are fully prepared to respond to any attack."[14][15] The deployed USS Abraham Lincoln is in the Arabian Sea, outside the Persian Gulf.[16]

On 7 May, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo made a surprise midnight visit to Baghdad after canceling a meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Pompeo told Iraqi President Barham Salih and Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi that they had a responsibility to protect Americans in Iraq. On 8 May, an advisor to Ayatollah Khamenei stated Iran was confident the U.S. was both unwilling and unable to start a war with Iran. On the same day, Iran announced that it would reduce its commitment to the JCPOA nuclear deal, which the U.S. pulled out of in May 2018. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani set a 60-day deadline for the EU and world powers to rescue the current deal before it resumed higher uranium enrichment. The United States Air Forces Central Command announced that F-15C Eagle fighter jets were repositioned within the region to "defend U.S. forces and interests in the region."[17] On 10 May, the U.S. deployed the Marine transport ship USS Arlington and a Patriot surface-to-air missile (SAM) battery to the Middle East. The Pentagon said the buildup was in response to "heightened Iranian readiness to conduct offensive operations."[18]


May 2019 Gulf of Oman incident and further rise in tensions[edit]

On 12 May, four commercial ships, including two Saudi Aramco oil tankers, were damaged near the port of Fujairah in the Gulf of Oman.[19] The United Arab Emirates claimed the incident was a "sabotage attack", while a United States assessment reportedly blamed Iran or Iranian "proxy" elements for the attack.[20] On 13 May, the U.S. embassy in Baghdad said that U.S. citizens should not travel to Iraq and for those who were already there to keep a low profile. On the same day, the New York Times reported that Acting U.S. Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan presented a military plan to send as many as 120,000 troops to the Middle East if Iran attacks American forces or makes steps toward developing nuclear weapons. U.S. President Donald Trump later discredited this, saying that he would instead "send a hell of a lot more" than 120,000 troops if necessary.[21]

On 14 May, both Iranian and U.S. officials said they were not seeking war, even as threats and counter-threats continued. Ayatollah Khamenei downplayed the escalation, saying in comments carried on state television that "no war is going to happen," while Mike Pompeo said while on a visit to Russia, "We fundamentally do not seek a war with Iran." On the same day, Houthi rebels in Yemen carried out multiple drone attacks on a Saudi oil pipeline deep in Saudi territory. The U.S. stated that it believed Iran sponsored the attack, though it was unclear if the attack was particularly related to the Iran-U.S. tensions or related to the Yemeni Civil War that began in 2015 and the Saudi Arabian-led intervention there.[22] On 15 May, the U.S. State Department announced that all non-emergency staff had been ordered to leave the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad.[23]

On 19 May, U.S. President Trump warned that in the event of a conflict, it would be "the official end of Iran."[24] Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif responded that Trump's "genocidal taunts" won't "end Iran".[25] On the same day, a rocket exploded inside the heavily fortified Green Zone sector of Baghdad, landing less than a mile from the U.S. Embassy.[26] On 24 May, the U.S. deployed 1,500 additional troops to the Persian Gulf region as a "protective" measure against Iran. The deployment included reconnaissance aircraft, fighter jets and engineers; 600 of the troops were given extended deployments, meaning 900 would be fresh troops.[27][27] U.S. Navy vice admiral and Director of the Joint Staff Michael Gilday said the U.S. had a high degree of confidence that Iran's Revolutionary Guard was responsible for the 12 May explosions on four tankers and that it was Iranian proxies in Iraq that fired rockets into Baghdad's Green Zone.[28]

On 20 May, President Trump said: "We have no indication that anything's happened or will happen" in Iran.[29] On 25 May, Trump, declaring that ongoing tensions with Iran amounted to a national emergency, invoked a rarely used legal loophole to approve the sale of $8 billion worth of weapons to Saudi Arabia. Weapons would also reportedly be sold to the UAE and Jordan.[30] On 28 May, the International Atomic Energy Agency certified that Iran was abiding by the main terms of the JCPOA, although questions were raised on how many advanced centrifuges Iran was allowed to have, as that was only loosely defined in the deal.[31]

On 1 June, President Hassan Rouhani suggested that Iran would be willing to hold talks but asserted that it would not be pressured by sanctions and American military posturing. On 2 June, Mike Pompeo stated that the U.S. was ready for unconditional discussions with Iran on its nuclear program, but affirmed that it will not relent on pressuring Iran until it starts behaving like a "normal country". "We are prepared to engage in a conversation with no pre-conditions. We are ready to sit down," Pompeo said, while also stating that President Trump had always been willing to seek dialogue with Iranian leadership. Iran's foreign ministry responded stating, "The Islamic Republic of Iran does not pay attention to word-play and expression of hidden agenda in new forms. What matters is the change of U.S. general approach and actual behavior toward the Iranian nation," which it said needed "reform".[32] The softening dialogue came amid U.S. military exercises in the Arabian Sea, which saw various aircraft "simulating strike operations"; Yahya Rahim Safavi, top military aide to Ayatollah Khameini, said that U.S. military vessels in the Persian Gulf were within range of Iranian missiles and warned that any clash between the two countries would push oil prices above $100 a barrel.[33]

U.S. President Donald Trump and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman blamed Iran for tanker attacks

On 6 June, the Houthis in Yemen, which are involved in a conflict with a US-backed, Saudi Arabian-led intervention there, shot down an American MQ-9 Reaper (Predator B) drone. The US military claimed the attack was performed with Iranian assistance.[34] U.S. Central Command commander Kenneth F. McKenzie Jr. warned that Iran and its "proxy" forces still posed an "imminent" threat to U.S. forces: "I think we're still in the period of what I would call tactical warning...The threat is very real."[35]

June 2019 Gulf of Oman incident[edit]

On 17 June, the U.S. announced the deployment of 1,000 more soldiers to the Middle East after a second incident in the Gulf of Oman that saw two oil tankers catch fire after allegedly being attacked by limpet mines or flying objects. As in the May incident, the U.S. blamed Iranian forces for the attacks.[36]

June 2019 Iranian shoot-down of U.S. drone[edit]

USS Boxer seen here off the coast of Australia, was deployed to the Persian Gulf in June 2019 as a result of increased tensions between US and Iran.[37]

Tensions reached a new high when, on 20 June, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps shot down a U.S. RQ-4A Global Hawk surveillance drone, saying that the drone violated Iranian airspace. IRGC commander Hossein Salami called the shoot-down a "clear message" to the U.S. while also warning that, though they were not seeking war, Iran was "completely ready" for it. U.S. Central Command later confirmed that the drone was shot down by Iranian surface-to-air missiles but denied that it violated Iranian airspace, calling it an "unprovoked attack" and in international airspace over the Strait of Hormuz.[38] Iran and the United States provided conflicting GPS coordinates for the drone's location, making it unclear whether the drone was within Iran's 12-mile territorial boundary.[39] President Trump called Iran's downing of the drone a "big mistake".[40] The United States requested a June 24 closed-door United Nations Security Council meeting to address the regional tensions with Iran, according to diplomats.[41]

Media outlets such as The New York Times and ABC News reported that Trump had ordered a retaliatory military strike on Iran on 20 June, but withdrew his decision minutes before the operation began.[42] Reportedly, aircraft were already in the air en route to their targets and warships were in position when the attack was called off.[43] Trump said the next day that he had decided to halt the operation after being told that as many as 150 Iranians would be killed, although some administration officials said Trump had been advised of the potential casualties before he ordered the operation to be prepared.[44] Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and National Security Adviser John Bolton reportedly objected to the reversal.[45][46]

On June 22, it was reported that President Trump had approved cyber attacks that disabled IRGC computer systems used to control rocket and missile launches the night of the drone-downing. The cyber strikes were handled by U.S. Cyber Command in conjunction with U.S. Central Command. It represented the first offensive show of force since Cyber Command was elevated to a full combatant command in May 2019. Also on June 22, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security issued a warning to U.S. industries that Iran is stepping up cyber attacks of critical industries — particularly oil, gas and other energy sectors — and government agencies, and has the potential to disrupt or destroy systems.[47]

On June 23, Iranian Major General Gholam Ali Rashid warned the U.S. of "uncontrollable" consequences should a conflict breakout. During a speech in Israel, John Bolton said Iran should not "mistake U.S. prudence and discretion for weakness," emphasizing that future military options are not ruled out and that Trump had only "stopped the strike from going forward at this time".[48][49] Secretary of State Mike Pompeo visited the Persian Gulf region for talks with Saudi Arabia and the UAE in a bid to build a coalition to combat perceived Iranian nuclear and "terror" ambitions. Meanwhile, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani blamed the United States' "interventionist military presence" for the high tensions.[50]

On June 24, Trump announced new sanctions against the Iranian and IRGC leadership, including Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and his office.[51][52] U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said the sanctions will block "billions" in assets and that Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif would also be sanctioned within the week.[53]

In classified briefings, Mike Pompeo and other U.S. State Department and Pentagon officials reportedly advised members of the U.S. Congress on what they described as alarming ties between Iran and al-Qaeda — including giving the terrorist organization safe haven in the country. The New York Times reported that lawmakers were leery of assertions of Iranian links to al-Qaeda, notably due to concerns that the administration may be using specious assertions to build a case for military action against Iran based on the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Terrorists — supposed links between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda were used as partial justification to invade Iraq in 2003.[54][55] On June 27, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Michael Mulroy flatly denied that Pentagon officials linked al-Qaeda to Iran during Congressional meetings. "In these briefings, none of the officials mentioned al-Qa'ida or the 2001 Authorization to Use Military Force," Mulroy stated, adding that he and the Defense Intelligence Agency instead "described the historical ties between Iran and the Taliban, and I explained that these ties are widely and publicly known and referenced in articles and books".[56] On June 24, Trump told reporters that he did not need congressional consent for an initial strike on Iran.[57]

On June 25, Iran said that the new U.S. sanctions prompted a "permanent closure" of their diplomatic ties, and the regime refused to negotiate with Washington until the sanctions were lifted.[58] On June 27, Javad Zarif tweeted that sanctions are not an "alternative to war; they ARE war" and argued that Trump's usage of the term "obliteration" against Iran is a reference to genocide, a war crime. He also said that negotiations and threats are "mutually exclusive" and called the concept of a short war with Iran an "illusion".[59]

Following the drone shoot-down, the U.S. continued unabated to deploy military assets to the region. By June 28, the U.S. had deployed nearly a dozen F-22 Raptor fighter jets to Al Udeid Air Base in Qatar – the first ever deployment of F-22s to the base – to "defend American forces and interests".[60]

July 2019 alleged American downing of Iranian drones[edit]

External video
Video captured by an IRGC drone from USS Boxer, July 18th, 2019

On July 18, according to the Pentagon, USS Boxer took defensive action against an Iranian drone that had closed with the ship in the Persian Gulf to approximately 1,000 yards (910 m) and jammed the drone, causing it to crash. Iran's Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi denied any of the country's drones had been brought down.[61] General Kenneth F. McKenzie Jr., commander of the U.S. Central Command, subsequently claimed that USS Boxer may have downed a second Iranian drone.[62]

July 2019 capture of tankers[edit]

On July 4, the Panama-flagged Iranian tanker Grace 1 was seized by British authorities while carrying out an off-port limited logistics stop in Gibraltar, on suspicion that the vessel was carrying oil to Syria in breach of European Union sanctions. A force of 30 Royal Marines boarded the ship from a helicopter and speedboat, accompanied by Royal Gibraltar Police officers and HM Customs Gibraltar officers.[63] Four of the ship's crew, including the captain and chief officer, were arrested but subsequently released on bail without charge.[64] Iran demanded the ship's release and denied that the vessel was violating sanctions, and an official of the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps issued a threat to seize a British ship in retaliation.[65][66] Iranian Leader Ali Khamenei described the incident as a British act of "piracy" which has been given a "legal appearance".[67] Britain offered to release the ship in exchange for an Iranian guarantee that it would not proceed to the Syrian port of Baniyas to deliver oil to the refinery there. On July 11, the Royal Navy frigate HMS Montrose foiled an Iranian attempt to capture the BP-owned British oil tanker British Heritage, as it transited through the Strait of Hormuz. Three boats believed to be from the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps approached the tanker and tried to halt it, after which HMS Montrose, which had been shadowing the tanker, moved between the boats and the tanker and trained guns on the boats, warning them to back off. The Iranian boats then turned away.[68][69] The Royal Navy subsequently deployed the destroyer HMS Duncan to the Persian Gulf to reinforce HMS Montrose.[70] On July 16, a remote-controlled explosives-packed boat was spotted in HMS Duncan's path by Saudi forces. The unmanned boat was believed to have been deployed by Iran's Houthi proxies, and HMS Duncan was placed at action stations.[71]

On July 14, a Panamanian-flagged oil tanker, MT Riah, which was operating in the United Arab Emirates, disappeared from ship tracking maps near Iran after crossing the Strait of Hormuz.[67] Adding to the mystery, no entity claimed ownership of the tanker.[72]

On July 20, the British-flagged tanker Stena Impero was seized in a raid by Iranian Revolutionary Guard forces. Four small boats and a helicopter stopped the ship and Iranian commandos rappelled on board from the helicopter. The ship was taken to Bandar Abbas and its crew of 23 detained on board. A second British-owned and Liberian-flagged ship was also seized but later allowed to continue its journey.[73][74][75] In a letter to the UN, Iran stated that the Stena Impero had collided with and damaged an Iranian vessel, and ignored warnings by Iranian authorities.[76][77]

The ship's seizure sparked a diplomatic crisis between the United Kingdom and Iran. The British government condemned the seizure of the ship and demanded its release, warning of "serious consequences" if the tanker was not released.[78] Iraqi Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi visited Iran to negotiate the release of Stena Impero at the request of the British government. Iran confirmed that it seized the ship as retaliation over the British seizure of Grace 1 in Gibraltar and hinted that it would be willing to release Stena Impero in exchange for the release of Grace 1.[79] In early August, the UK's new Boris Johnson-led government agreed to join the United States in its Persian Gulf maritime security Operation Sentinel, abandoning the idea of a European-led naval protection force.[80]

On August 15, Gibraltar released Grace 1 after receiving assurances she would not go to Syria, and after rejecting a request from the United States Department of Justice to seize the ship.[81] On August 16, the Department of Justice issued a warrant in Washington, DC to seize Grace 1, the cargo of oil, and $995,000 on the grounds that the profit from the ship's voyage was intended to enrich the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, which the US had previously designated a terrorist organization.[82] On August 18, Gibraltar announced that its Justice Ministry had rejected the US warrant, and the ship, renamed Adrian Darya 1 and registered under the Iranian flag, was expected to sail imminently from Gibraltar.[83]



  •  China - Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi said regarding the ongoing situation between the United States and Iran, “China resolutely opposes the U.S. implementation of unilateral sanctions and so-called ‘long arm jurisdiction’, understands the current situation and concerns of the Iranian side, and supports the Iranian side to safeguard its legitimate rights and interests.”[84]
  •  Russia - Sergei Lavrov questioned American claims about the shoot down of an Iranian drone, saying the evidence was vague, and saying the US had no "intelligent data" to prove the drone was Iranian.[85]
  •  United Arab Emirates - With ongoing tensions in the Persian Gulf including the seizure of Iranian vessels, and reported deployment of the United State's armed forces to Saudi Arabia. Emirati officials met with their Iranian counter-parts including Iran's border police force and its head General Qasem Rezaee to discuss naval traffic in the Strait of Hormuz. After the meeting the head of the UAE's coast guard was quoted as saying "the intervention of some governments on the front lines of navigations is causing problems in a region that has good relations," while adding "we need to establish security in the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman."[86]
  •  Oman - The Omani Foreign Ministry released a statement calling upon Iran to release the British Stena Impero oil tanker, which was captured by Iran in response to the British capture of an Iranian tanker in Gibraltar. The ministry also called upon Iran and the United Kingdom to resolve the dispute with diplomacy.[87]
  •  France - French foreign minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said regarding the nation's stance on tensions between the United States and Iran, that France does not need American approval to negotiate with Iran, and criticized Trump's approach on the tensions alongside other French diplomats calling it "Twitter Diplomacy".[88]
  •  United States - In response to Gibraltar released the Iranian oil tanker Grace 1 which was suspected to be headed towards Syria with Iranian oil, the United States has threatened to issue sanctions anyone who has dealings with Grace 1, the US government also expressed disappointment with the United kingdom for allowing the ship to be released.[89]


  • Mullah Krekar the former leader of the Iraq-based insurgent group Ansar al-Islam stated that in a war between the United States and Iran, should the crisis evolve into one that he would support Iran in the war, stating it would be similar to supporting Hezbollah in a war against Israel.[90]
  • Muqtada al-Sadr, a Shiite cleric and leader of Peace Companies, in response to the ongoing tensions posted on Twitter, "War between Iran and the U.S. will be an end of Iraq," and in another instance said, "Any party that would drag Iraq into the war and turn it into a scene for conflict will be an enemy to the Iraqi people," and further stated his view of excluding Iraq from a potential war between the United States and Iran saying, "I'm against dragging Iraq into this war and making it a scene for the Iranian-U.S. conflict"[91]
  • Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant - In ISIL's weekly online newspaper al-Naba the group's stance on the tensions between the United States and Iran was published, the group stated that it equally opposes both sides and criticized al-Qaeda for its reliance on Iran and stated had it not been for al-Qaeda's past orders not to attack Iran while ISIL was part of al-Qaeda it would have attacked Iran earlier, and that ISIL would carry out attacks against the United States and Iran equally, the article ended with a supplication asking God to incite a war between Iran and the United States so that it could bring victory for ISIL.[92]
  •  Gibraltar - Gibraltar refused US requests to hold an Iranian oil tanker stating it would contradict the law of the European Union, In a statement the government said, "The EU sanctions regime against Iran - which is applicable in Gibraltar - is much narrower than that applicable in the US," adding "The Gibraltar Central Authority is unable seek an Order of the Supreme Court of Gibraltar to provide the restraining assistance required by the United States of America."[93][94]

See also[edit]



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