US warns airliners flying over Persian Gulf amid Iran tensions

The US aviation regulator has warned that "military activities" and "political tensions" could put flights at risk. Washington has increased its military presence in the Gulf amid a worsening spat with Iran.

The United States Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has warned US airlines flying over the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman to exercise caution citing the potential for "misidentification." 

The advisory, amid heightened tensions between the US and Iran, is likely to impact air travel to and through the region.

Read more: Confrontational view of Iran reflects Trump's approach to foreign policy

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What the advisory says

  • The FAA warned all commercial aircraft flying over the Gulf region of "heightened military activities and increased political tensions."
  • It said those activities "present an increasing inadvertent risk to US civil aviation operations due to the potential for miscalculation or misidentification."
  • Aircraft flying in the area could encounter "inadvertent GPS interference and communications jamming."
  • The interference and jamming "could occur with little to no warning."

Read more: US military flare-up 'would be a godsend to Iran hard-liners'

Karte VAE Straße von Hormus EN

US reacts to Iran 'threats'

Two weeks ago, Washington deployed an aircraft carrier group and B-52 bombers to the Persian Gulf against what it claims is an imminent threat from arch-foe, Iran. US President Donald Trump has also ordered nonessential diplomatic staff out of neighboring Iraq, citing threats from Iranian-backed Iraqi armed groups.

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Tehran warns of US 'psychological warfare'

Last weekend, Tehran was blamed for sabotage attacks on four Saudi oil tankers off the coast of the United Arab Emirates (UAE). But Iran said Washington was engaging in "psychological warfare," before warning it could "easily" hit US ships too.

Stepping up the rhetoric, a deputy from Iran's Revolutionary Guard has said that any armed conflict with the US would affect the global energy market. Iran has long threatened to shut off the nearby Strait of Hormuz, through which a third of all oil traded at sea passes.

Read more: Could Iran really close the Strait of Hormuz?

Iran nuclear deal — treaty under threat

The deal breaker

President Donald Trump announced on May 8, 2018 that he was pulling the United States out of the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, arguing that the international accord was not in America's "national interest." The decision threw a cloud of uncertainty over the future of the nuclear accord and raised tensions with US allies in Europe.

Iran nuclear deal — treaty under threat

Slap in the face

Britain, France and Germany lobbied the Trump administration and Congress to remain in the nuclear accord, arguing that the deal was working and a US violation without a follow up plan would be destabilizing. In European capitals, the Trump administration's withdrawal was viewed as a slap in the face of allies.

Iran nuclear deal — treaty under threat

Iran scrap 'voluntary commitments'

A year to the day after Trump's announcement, Iran informed the other signatories of the accord that they would no longer adhere to certain "voluntary commitments." Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said the signatory nations had 60 days to implement promises to protect Iran's oil and banking sectors or Iran would resume the enrichment of uranium.

Iran nuclear deal — treaty under threat

Response to US pressure

The decision came after the United States deployed an aircraft, the USS Lincoln, along with a bomber task force to the Middle East. Washington said the deployment was intended as a "clear unmistakable message." Iran said it took action because the European Union and others "did not have the power to resist US pressure."

Iran nuclear deal — treaty under threat

A triumph of diplomacy

The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), better known as the Iran nuclear deal, was signed in 2015 by United States, China, Russia, France, Germany and Britain (P5+1) and Iran following years of negotiations. Under the international agreement, Iran agreed to dismantle its nuclear program and be subject to monitoring in exchange for the lifting of international nuclear related sanctions.

Iran nuclear deal — treaty under threat

Compliance and verification

The JCPOA includes a robust monitoring, verification and inspection regime carried out by International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). The UN watch dog has verified Iran's compliance with the deal in 12 quarterly reports. The JCPOA allows Iran to pursue a peaceful nuclear program for commercial, medical and industrial purposes in line with international non-proliferation standards.

Iran nuclear deal — treaty under threat

Obama's achievement

The Iran nuclear deal was President Barack Obama's signature foreign policy achievement. Seeking to undo nearly every Obama administration legacy, Trump came into office calling it the "worst deal ever." The Trump administration argues the nuclear deal doesn't address other unrelated issues such as Iran's ballistic missiles, regional influence, support for "terrorist" groups and human rights.

Iran nuclear deal — treaty under threat

Iranians approved

The nuclear deal and lifting of punishing nuclear related international sanctions created optimism in Iran after years of economic isolation. However, even before Trump pulled the US out of the deal, Tehran blamed the US for holding back international investment and not fulfilling its end of the bargain due to the uncertainty created by Trump's threats.

Iran nuclear deal — treaty under threat

The opponents

After eight years with Barack Obama, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu found the US president he wanted in Donald Trump. The Israeli leader repeatedly slammed the deal despite his own military and intelligence chiefs' assessment the that JCPOA, while not perfect, was working and should be maintained. Saudi Arabia and the UAE are the other main opponents of the nuclear deal.

Iran nuclear deal — treaty under threat

Who's left?

The EU-3 (Britain, France, Germany) have scrambled to ensure that Iran receives the economic benefits it was promised in order to avoid Tehran pulling out of the deal. As EU businesses face retaliation from the US for doing business with Iran, many are opting to avoid Iran. This would likely be a present to Chinese and Russian businesses.

Failed nuclear deal 

The latest tensions all take root in Trump's decision last year to withdraw from the 2015 nuclear accord between Iran and world powers and impose wide-reaching sanctions. Iran recently gave Europe a 60-day deadline to come up with new terms, or it would begin enriching uranium closer to weapons-grade levels.

Read more: EU backs Iran nuclear deal as Pompeo visits

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Major aviation gateway

The region has become a vital connection point for the global aviation industry. Dubai International Airport in the UAE is the world's busiest for international travel. Popular long-haul carriers Emirates, Etihad and Qatar Airways operate from Gulf air hubs.

As well as the risk to airlines, insurer Lloyd's of London has warned of increasing risks to maritime shipping in the region from the tensions.

Flashback to Iran Air shoot down 

The latest advisory brought back memories of the 1988 accidental shooting down by the US Navy of an Iran Air passenger plane at the height of the Iran-Iraq war. The jetliner, which was flying from Tehran to Dubai, was mistaken for an Iranian F-14 jet fighter.

Two missiles fired at the plane from the USS Vincennes killed all 290 people on board.

mm/jlw (AFP, AP, Reuters)

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