Did attacks on oil shipping in the Gulf of Oman create a cassus belli for the US to attack Iran? Tehran has accused the Trump administration of conducting a false-flag operation in order to start a war, but Donald Trump told Time Magazine that he’s not likely to start a war over oil shipping. The attacks were “very minor,” Trump said, and don’t have much impact on US energy anyway.

Nuclear weapons — now that’s another story, Trump warned:

Facing twin challenges in the Persian Gulf, President Donald Trump said in an interview with TIME Monday that he might take military action to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon, but cast doubt on going to war to protect international oil supplies.

“I would certainly go over nuclear weapons,” the president said when asked what moves would lead him to consider going to war with Iran, “and I would keep the other a question mark.” …

Speaking to TIME, Trump argued that the Gulf of Oman is less strategically important for the United States now than it used to be, citing China and Japan as nations that still rely on the region for significant proportions of their oil. “Other places get such vast amounts of oil there,” Trump said. “We get very little. We have made tremendous progress in the last two and a half years in energy. And when the pipelines get built, we’re now an exporter of energy. So we’re not in the position that we used to be in in the Middle East where … some people would say we were there for the oil.”

That’s not much of a surprise coming from Trump. During the Republican primary debates, he accused George W. Bush of launching a war for oil in Iraq, and has long been on the non-interventionist side of the fence. He’s also correct about our position in the energy markets, although that doesn’t make interruptions in supply from the Middle East a non-problem for the US. There are security concerns attached to that, especially if Saudi Arabia finds itself unable to ship its product. We might not fight a war over oil, but some of our regional allies might have no better reason than oil to start a war with Iran. It’s not too tough to figure how we’d get pulled into such a conflict.

Perhaps with that in mind, the Pentagon continues to send more troops to the region specifically to deal with that threat in mind. Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan has ordered 1,000 more troops to the region. That’s on top of the 1,500 deployed a few weeks earlier:

Iran now says it won’t start a war with the US, but they also at one time claimed that they had no interest in making nuclear weapons. Now they’re warning that they may start refining their uranium to weapons-grade material soon. Their demurrals should be taken with a major grain of salt.

Tehran also claimed that they just rolled up a major CIA espionage network in their country:

“Following clues in the American intelligence services, we recently found the new recruits Americans had hired and dismantled a new network,” state news agency IRNA said, quoting an intelligence ministry official.

It said some members of the CIA network had been arrested and handed over to the judiciary, while others still required “additional investigations”.

In what it termed a “wide-reaching blow” to US intelligence, IRNA said Tehran had carried out the operation in cooperation with “foreign allies”, without naming any state.

This could be just blowing smoke, but if it’s true, it comes at a tough time. The US needs good intel on the Iranian regime not just to navigate its way through this conflict but also to keep track of what Iran plans for its proxies in the region. Generally speaking, nations that actually roll up major networks keep their mouths shut about it, especially totalitarian states with no accountability or transparency to serve anyway. It sounds more like a propaganda claim for domestic consumption, but only the CIA would know for sure what’s happening — and whether they got the real spies.

As NBC says, the tensions are escalating, but Trump tells Time that he thinks the Iranians are backing down, at least rhetorically:

Trump said he agrees with the U.S. intelligence community’s assessment that Iran was behind the attacks, saying, “I don’t think too many people don’t believe it.” But he also downplayed Iran’s aggression, arguing that the country has adopted a less hostile posture towards the United States since he became president. “If you look at the rhetoric now compared to the days when they were signing that agreement [the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, which Trump withdrew from], where it was always ‘death to America, death to America, we will destroy America, we will kill America,’ I’m not hearing that too much anymore,” Trump said. “And I don’t expect to.”

That sounds more wishful than realistic. Perhaps they’ve toned down the public rhetoric, but no one should doubt that Iran aspires to destroy the US as well as Israel. The mullahs of Tehran have a religious vision of global extremist Shi’a Islam run by themselves, imposed by any means necessary. For them, oil and nuclear weapons are just means to that end. President Trump should not forget it.