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US Navy personnel launch an F-18 Super Hornet from the deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln aircraft carrier in the Arabian Sea.—AP
US Navy personnel launch an F-18 Super Hornet from the deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln aircraft carrier in the Arabian Sea.—AP

DUBAI: US diplomats warned on Saturday that commercial airliners flying over the wider Persian Gulf faced a risk of being “misidentified” amid heightened tensions between the US and Iran.

The warning relayed by US diplomatic posts from the Federal Aviation Administration underlined the risks the current tensions pose to a region crucial to global air travel. It came as Lloyd’s of London warned of increasing risks to maritime shipping in the region.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 non-essential diplomatic staff out of Iraq.

The order relayed on Saturday by US diplomats in Kuwait and the UAE came from an FAA Notice to Airmen published late on Thursday in the US. It said that all commercial aircraft flying over the waters of Persian 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 US 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 Persian Gulf has 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 Saturday about the warning.

The warning appeared rooted in what happened 30 years ago after Operation Praying Mantis, a daylong naval battle in the Persian Gulf between American forces and Iran during the country’s long 1980s war with Iraq.

On July 3, 1988, the USS Vincennes chased Iranian speedboats that allegedly opened fire on a helicopter into Iranian territorial waters, then mistook an Iran Air heading to Dubai for an Iranian F-14. The Vincennes fired two missiles at the airplane, killing all aboard the flight.

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.

“In fact, as the supreme leader said, there will be no war since we are not seeking war and nobody in the region is suffering from a hallucination to think that he is able to confront Iran,” Zarif said.

Zarif added that while Trump has said that he too is not seeking war, “some that have sat around him” are pushing for such a conflict. That appeared to be a dig at national security adviser John Bolton, who for years has promoted the idea of overthrowing Iran’s government.

Separately, the head of the Revolutionary Guard reportedly said the US and Iran already were in a “full-fledged intelligence war.”

Published in Dawn, May 19th, 2019