As tensions flared between the United States and Iran over the last ten days, a number of Washington’s Western allies have signalled their distance from the U.S. view, most dramatically in the case of Major-General Chris Ghika, Britain’s top commander in the coalition against the Islamic State (ISIS), who dismissed the U.S. intelligence assessment of an increased threat from Iran. This has since been walked back, but the fissures in the Western alliance over how to deal with Iran are real, and this has been compounded by differences within the U.S. government and the highly irregular nature of the Donald Trump administration, particularly its decision-making processes and public messaging.
The current furore began on 5 May when U.S. National Security Adviser John Bolton announced that a U.S. carrier group was being deployed to the Middle East “to send a clear and unmistakable message to the Iranian regime that any attack on United States interests or on those of our allies will be met with unrelenting force”. Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan added the next day that the U.S.S. Abraham Lincoln and the bomber task force were being sent because of “a credible threat by Iranian regime forces”. On 10 May, the Pentagon announced that it was moving a Patriot missile battery to the Middle East to counter Iran.
A week later, on 14 May, Gen. Ghika said: “There has been no increased threat from Iranian-backed forces in Iraq and Syria”. He went on: “Am I concerned about the danger [from Iranian proxies]? No, not really.” Ghika concluded: “I have no part of Iran in any of my orders”. The U.S. response was swift and terse. And on Thursday, British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt clarified that Ghika had spoken beyond his brief since London “share[s] the same assessment of the heightened threat posed by Iran” that the Americans have.
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