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We're 'poised at a knife edge' with Iran: expert

Iran claimed that 17 Iranian citizens allegedly working as spies for the U.S. had been arrested on Monday. Officials said some were sentenced to death, while others would be handed long jail sentences.

The announcement comes amid growing tensions between Iran and the West, which were sparked by President Trump’s decision to pull out of the 2015 nuclear deal last year and put sanctions back on the country. Iran responded by increasing its uranium enrichment capabilities. Then in the Strait of Hormuz, Iran’s Revolutionary Guards seized a British tanker over the weekend.

“We're poised right at a knife edge here,” Hussein Ibish, senior resident scholar at the Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington, told Yahoo Finance’s On the Move.

“Iran continues to ratchet up the provocations, but it's making sure that it's not doing anything that would demand a military response from the United States,” he added. “It hasn't sunk a ship, it has seized some ships, it has blown holes in ships, but above the waterline. And it hasn't killed any Americans or Westerners. So it is walking that fine line.”

BANDAR ABBAS, IRAN - JULY 22: Pictures from the semi-official Tasnim news agency show the Stena Impero being seized and detained between July 19 and July 21, 2019 in Bandar Abbas, Iran. The UK-flagged tanker was seized by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard on Friday as it passed through the Strait of Hormuz, a vital regional shipping channel. The Iranian government accused it of violating "international maritime rules" but the UK government says it was illegally commandeered while in Omani waters. (Photo by Contributor#072019/Getty Images)

In May and June, six tankers from different nations were attacked in the Gulf of Oman. The United States pointed the finger at Iran, but the country denied any responsibility. The gulf connects the Strait of Hormuz, which is where about 20% of the world’s oil flows.

“They're sending the message that if they can't sell oil, nobody is going to sell oil,” Ibish said. “They're willing to match the Trump administration's maximum pressure of financial war with their own maximum resistance campaign of calculated provocations.”

Just last month, Iran shut down an American drone that the country claimed violated its airspace. President Trump quickly ordered airstrikes, which he ended up calling off last minute.

“For Iran, this is not will be a point where the Iranians go too far,” Ibish said.” Even if nobody wants a bigger confrontation or a war, it is very hard to avoid that.”

Valentina Caval is a producer with Yahoo Finance’s On the Move.

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