Today's Paper Search Latest Traffic #Gazette200 Listen Digital replica FAQ Weather Newsletters Obits Puzzles + Games Archive
story.lead_photo.caption In this Navy-released photo Saturday, Aviation Ordnanceman Airman Hunter Musil and Aviation Ordnanceman 3rd Class Alexandrina Ross inspect a bomb Tuesday aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln as it sails in the Arabian Sea.

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates -- Commercial airliners flying over the Persian Gulf risk being targeted by "miscalculation or misidentification" from the Iranian military during heightened tensions between the Islamic Republic and the U.S., American diplomats warned Saturday, even as both Washington and Tehran say they don't seek war.

The warning relayed by U.S. diplomatic posts from the Federal Aviation Administration, though dismissed by Iran, underscored the risks the current tensions pose to a region critical to both global air travel and trade. Oil tankers reportedly have faced sabotage and Yemen rebel drones attacked a crucial Saudi oil pipeline over the past week.

Meanwhile on Saturday, Iraqi officials said Exxon Mobil Corp. began evacuating workers from Basra, and the island nation of Bahrain ordered its citizens out of Iraq and Iran over "the recent escalations and threats."

However, U.S. 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-52 bombers into the region. The U.S. also has ordered nonessential personnel 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.

This all takes root in Trump's decision last year to withdraw the U.S. from the 2015 nuclear accord between Iran and world powers and impose wide-reaching sanctions. Iran has announced that it would begin backing away from terms of the deal, setting a 60-day deadline for Europe to come up with new terms or it would begin enriching uranium closer to weapons-grade levels. Tehran long has insisted it does not seek nuclear weapons, though the West fears its program could allow it to build atomic bombs.

The order relayed Saturday by U.S. diplomats in Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates came from an FAA Notice to Airmen published late Thursday in the U.S. It said that all commercial aircraft flying over the waters of the Persian 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 FAA warned all American air carriers to "exercise caution" when flying over the region, saying that civilian aircraft are at "increasing" risk because of the escalating political tensions. The FAA's warning specifically mentioned practicing caution when flying in the airspace over Tehran, Baghdad, Kuwait and Bahrain, among other areas.

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 Persian Gulf from Iran," mission spokesman Alireza Miryousefi told The Associated Press. "One cannot forget the fact that it was indeed a U.S. warship that wantonly targeted an Iranian civilian passenger aircraft. ... The U.S. has yet to apologize for that act of terrorism against Iranian civilians."

The Persian Gulf has since become a major gateway for East-West travel in the aviation industry. Dubai International Airport in the United Arab Emirates, home to Emirates, is the world's busiest for international travel, while long-haul carriers Etihad and Qatar Airways also operate in the region.

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.

Speaking in China, where he finished a tour of Asian nations who rely on Mideast oil, Zarif told the state-run Islamic Republic 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 U.S. and Iran already were in a "full-fledged intelligence war." The semiofficial Fars news agency also quoted Gen. Hossein Salami using 9/11 as a metaphor for America's political system, describing it Saturday "like the World Trade Building that collapses with a sudden hit."

"They believed that the more they increased the pressures, the more the Iranians" would be reluctant to react, Salami said. "But the Islamic Republic caused a collapse of their assumptions by means of its recent decision-makings and moves."

It isn't just air traffic affected. Lloyd's Market Association Joint War Committee added the Persian Gulf, the Gulf of Oman and the United Arab Emirates on Friday to its list of areas posing higher risk to insurers. It also expanded its list to include the Saudi coast as a risk area.

On Monday, four oil tankers at the mouth of the Persian Gulf were reported attacked. Two of the tankers belong to Saudi Arabia, one belongs to a Norwegian company and the other to the United Arab Emirates.

In Iraq, Exxon Mobil began evacuating staff from Basra amid the tensions with Iran, two Iraqi officials told The Associated Press. Exxon Mobil works in Basra at its West Qurna I oil field, which had been shut off for years from Western oil sanctions levied on Iraq during dictator Saddam Hussein's time in power.

The U.S. 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. Basra as a whole has been shaken by violent protests in recent months over entrenched corruption and poor public services, which earlier saw Iran's Consulate there overrun and set ablaze.

Exxon Mobil of Irving, Texas, said it declined to discuss "operational staffing."

Iraq is OPEC's second-largest Arab producer, pumping some 4.5 million barrels of crude oil a day.

Separately, the State Department acknowledged an unidentified drone flew over the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad on Thursday and the facility briefly went on alert, though it said the aircraft posed no threat.

Information for this article was contributed by Jon Gambrell, Qassem Abdul-Zahra, Bassem Mroue, Nasser Karimi and Matthew Lee of The Associated Press; and by Sandra E. Garcia of The New York Times.

Photo by AP/U.S. NAVY
In a photo released Saturday by the U.S. Navy, Lt. Nicholas Miller and Lt. Sean Ryan launch an F-18 Super Hornet from the deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln in the Arabian Sea.

A Section on 05/19/2019

Print Headline: Airlines told of flight risk in Iran region


Sponsor Content

You must be signed in to post comments