(MENAFN - The Peninsula) By JON GAMBRELL | AP
U.S. diplomats warned Saturday that commercial airliners flying over the wider Arabian Gulf faced a risk of being "misidentified" amid heightened tensions between the U.S. and Iran.
The warning relayed by U.S. diplomatic posts from the Federal Aviation Administration underlined the risks the current tensions pose to a region crucial to global air travel. It also came as Lloyd's of London warned of increasing risks to maritime shipping in the region.
Meanwhile, oil giant ExxonMobil began evacuating staff from Basra, Iraq, where the U.S. Consulate has been closed for months following a rocket attack America blamed on Shiite militias backed by Iran, local authorities said.
Concerns about a possible conflict have flared since the White House ordered warships and bombers to the region to counter an alleged, unexplained threat from Iran that has seen America order nonessential diplomatic staff out of Iraq.
US President Donald Trump since has sought to soften his tone. Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif also stressed Saturday that Iran is "not seeking war."
But tensions remain. Authorities allege that a sabotage operation targeted four oil tankers off the coast of the United Arab Emirates, and Iran-aligned rebels in Yemen claimed responsibility for a drone attack on a crucial Saudi oil pipeline.
Saudi Arabia directly blamed Iran for the drone assault, and a local newspaper linked to the Al Saud royal family called on Thursday for America to launch "surgical strikes" on Tehran.
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 just announced 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 UAE 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 Arabian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman needed to be aware of "heightened military activities and increased political tension."
This presents "an increasing inadvertent risk to U.S. civil aviation operations due to the potential for miscalculation or misidentification," the warning said. It also said aircraft could experience interference with its navigation instruments and communications jamming "with little to no warning."
The Arabian Gulf has become a major gateway for East-West travel in the aviation industry.
The warning appeared rooted in what happened 30 years ago after Operation Praying Mantis, a daylong naval battle in the Arabian Gulf between American forces and Iran during the country's long 1980s war with Iraq.