Regional experts and government officials express their concerns about the potential for conflict between the US and Iran, whether intentional or accidental.
Oil prices soared on Monday and Brent crude rose more than 1.5% at noon in London. This is a sign of market concern over the resolution of the nuclear deal and the provocative behavior of Washington and Tehran.
"Both Iran and the United States appear to be setting up networks and infrastructures to ward off military attacks on the other's assets in the region," said Ellie Geranmayeh, a high-level political fellow of the European Council on Foreign Relations, on Monday to CNBC] "In the absence of a serious diplomatic channel, Trump's current maximumist approach to the White House could trigger a new cycle of deliberate or accidental military confrontation in the region." Details of these specific threats, Foreign Minister Mike Pompeo said during an interview with CNBC on Sunday that all options ̵
A week earlier, White House urged news from a US strike group carrier in the Gulf to send a "distinctive" message to Iran. Although the ship was in routine use, the government's announcement triggered a wave of confrontational rhetoric.
The fast combat support ship USNS Arctic moves alongside the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier, USS Abraham Lincoln, to perform a sea-based recovery in the US Mediterranean, May 8, 2019.
Michael Singley | US Navy | Reuters
Given the growing volume of military hardware used to occupy the Persian Gulf, analysts fear that a misperception or misunderstanding could trigger a much more serious conflict.
"With so much tension and friction between the two countries and no communication channel or exit ramp, the Trump government does not seem to have any other effective strategy of de-escalation than to hope that Iranians are afraid of their muscles," Ali Vaez said , Director of Washington DC-based Iran project to CNBC.
"This is a dangerous move."
European officials weighed in as well. British Foreign Minister Jeremy Hunt told reporters Monday: "We are very concerned about the risk of a conflict caused by unintentional escalation." Sunday night alleged sabotage had been perpetrated on four of its merchant ships near the port of Fujeirah in the United Arab Emirates, although they had not provided any evidence or details of the alleged attack and had not accused anyone.
Iran is flirting with nuclear weapons reboot?
Iran, increasingly under pressure from Trump's "maximum pressure" campaign, announced last week that it had dropped two of its obligations under the 2015 Iranian nuclear deal. Tehran has threatened to return to a higher level of uranium enrichment – a process required to preserve weapons-grade plutonium – if the European signatories to the agreement fail to adequately protect it from US sanctions affecting the Iranian economy have paralyzed.
I do not believe that these specific actions will directly bring Iran closer to a bomb, but point to a slow march in that direction, which increases the possibility of a massive American or even Israeli reaction.
"It seems the US is well on its way to imploding the Iranian economy – this is a very dangerous path for a country of 80 million people," Geranmayeh said. "It could lead to instability in the entire region."
The Trump government passed the Obama era agreement in May last year, pointing to Iran's destabilizing regional activities, including ballistic missile testing and its support for militants in countries such as Yemen, Syria and Lebanon. The agreement had lifted economic sanctions against Iran in exchange for limiting its nuclear program.
The United Nations and the International Atomic Energy Agency claim that Iran has upheld the terms of the agreement and effectively contained the country's bomb production capacity.
However, some regional observers believe that Washington is forcing Iran to violate the agreement by lifting all incentives to abide by it, prompting Tehran to essentially fire the first shot.
Amos Hochstein, a former Obama administration official and energy expert, is alarmed at US strategy.
The nuclear agreement "has not led to any renewed negotiations and now threatens to turn the clock back on breakout capability," he told CNBC. "If we want to prevent a nuclear Iran without negotiations, the only other option could become a war, we have seen this script once before in Iraq, only this is much more terrible."
Pompeo would welcome negotiations & # 39 ;: words versus actions
Pompeo stressed Sunday that the government would welcome diplomatic talks with Tehran if they contacted them. But many experts criticize this as disingenuous.
"This maximum pressure campaign by this government and the 12 demands made by Pompeo from Teheran leave little room for Iran to save face-saving negotiations," Geranmayeh said, reiterating the concern of many who fear that Washington left no room for Iran to back down its threats and come to the table.
"The Iranian regime does not want to provoke further conflict," said Ian Bremmer, founder and CEO of Risk Advisory Eurasia Group. "But it will also be harder for them to maintain internal support without some form of retaliation against US escalation."
European signatories to the nuclear agreement as well as China and Russia have highlighted the dangers of the collapse of the agreement and have stressed their commitment to upholding them as long as Iran does the same. The Iranian Foreign Minister has also proposed talks with the US about a possible prisoner exchange, and Trump said he would "like to see them call me."
For reasons like these, Bremmer believes that a confrontation is not imminent.  So far, however, he warns: "There is no easy place for an exit, and the potential for tensions between the US and Iran to engage in military confrontation is growing accordingly."