Iraqi fighters train at their camp in Najaf, 160 km south of Baghdad, Iraq. Associated Press
Commercial airliners flying over the Arabian Gulf risk being targeted by “miscalculation or misidentification”from the Iranian military amid heightened tensions between Iran and the US, American diplomats warned on Saturday, even as both Washington and Tehran say they don’t seek war.
The warning relayed by US diplomatic posts from the Federal Aviation Administration underscored the risks the current tensions pose to a region critical to both global air travel and trade. Oil tankers allegedly have faced sabotage and Yemen rebel drones attacked a crucial Saudi oil pipeline over the last week.
Meanwhile on Saturday, Iraqi officials said ExxonMobil Corp. began evacuating staff from Basra and Bahrain ordered its citizens out of Iraq and Iran over “the recent escalations and threats.”
In Iraq, ExxonMobil began evacuating staff from Basra amid the tensions with Iran, two Iraqi officials told reporters. ExxonMobil, based in Irving, Texas, said it declined to discuss “operational staffing.”
The US Consulate in Basra has been closed since September after American officials blamed Iran-aligned Shiite militias for a rocket attack on the post, which is inside Basra’s airport compound.
Bahrain warned its citizens on Saturday against travel to Iraq and Iran and asked those already there to return “immediately”for their safety, state news agency BNA said.
The Bahrain foreign ministry cited, “unstable regional circumstances, dangerous developments and potential threats,”according to BNA.
The warning comes amid simmering tensions between the United States and Iran.
However, US officials have yet to publicly explain the threats they perceive coming from Iran, some two weeks after the White House ordered an aircraft carrier and B-52s bombers into the region. The US also has ordered nonessential staff out of its diplomatic posts in Iraq.
President Donald Trump since has sought to soften his tone on Iran. Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif also stressed Saturday that Iran is “not seeking war,”comments seemingly contradicted by the head of the Revolutionary Guard, who declared an ongoing “intelligence war”between the nations.
Speaking in China, where he finished a tour of Asian nations who rely on Mideast oil, Zarif told the state-run IRNA news agency that war is not what Iran wants.
“No war will occur as neither are we seeking a war nor anyone else has the illusion of being able to fight with Iran in the region,”Zarif said.
Meanwhile, the head of Iran’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard reportedly said the US and Iran already were in a “full-fledged intelligence war.”
The order relayed on 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 the Arabian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman needed to be aware of Iran’s fighter jets and weaponry.
“Although Iran likely has no intention to target civil aircraft, the presence of multiple long-range, advanced anti-aircraft-capable weapons in a tense environment poses a possible risk of miscalculation or misidentification, especially during periods of heightened political tension and rhetoric,”the warning said.
It also said aircraft could experience interference with its navigation instruments and communications jamming “with little to no warning.”The warning comes 30 years after the USS Vincennes mistook an Iran Air commercial jetliner for an Iranian F-14, shooting it down and killing all 290 people onboard. That was not lost on Iran’s mission to the United Nations, which dismissed the warning as America’s “psychological war against Iran.”
“There has never been a threat or risk to civilian air traffic in the Arabian Gulf from Iran,”mission spokesman Alireza Miryousefi told The Associated Press.
“One cannot forget the fact that it was indeed a US warship that wantonly targeted an Iranian civilian passenger aircraft.... The US has yet to apologize for that act of terrorism against Iranian civilians.”
Emirates, Etihad and Qatar Airways all said they were aware of the notice and their operations were unaffected. Oman Air did not respond to a request for comment.