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Iran has nearly fulfilled its promise, attempting to seize a UK oil tanker in the Persian Gulf on Wednesday.
Earlier in the day, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani had made threats towards the UK, saying there would be “consequences” for their seizing of an Iranian oil tanker last week. Five gunboats attempted to make good on that promise only hours later, reports Reuters.
“I remind this to the Britons,” Rouhani said during a government meeting. “You are the ones initiating insecurity, and will come to realize its consequences in the future.”
According to Fox News, “Five Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps gunboats tried to seize a British oil tanker in the Persian Gulf Wednesday but backed off after a British warship approached, a senior U.S. defence official told Fox News.”
It appears the British warship had been anticipating such a development, as it trailed along only 5 miles behind the tanker and was able to quickly react to the presence of the Iranian gunboats. No shots were fired during the conflict.
Navy Captain Bill Urban said that the US was also aware of the incident, adding “Threats to international freedom of navigation require an international solution. The world economy depends on the free flow of commerce, and it is incumbent on all nations to protect and preserve this lynchpin of global prosperity.”
As UPI reports, “The attempted seizure Wednesday is the latest conflict to occur in the Persian Gulf following attacks on several tankers in the Strait of Hormuz, where some 20 percent of the world’s oil transits, in the past two months.”
The failed commandeering of the UK vessel comes as retaliation for a similar action against Iran last week. Last Thursday, an Iranian oil tanker bound for Syria was seized by the British Royal Marines for violating EU sanctions. It was then impounded in British territory in Spain.
“Panama’s Maritime Authority said on Thursday that Grace 1 was no longer listed in Panama’s international boat registry as of May 29”, CBC reports; thus, making its travel route illegal as per EU’s maritime sanctions.
However, given current tensions between Iran and the US, the decision to seize Iranian oil can be viewed as a bold if not radical move, one that obviously seems to have escalated foreign relations between the two countries.
Furthermore, “Spain’s acting foreign minister said the seizure of the ship – Grace 1 – was at the US’s request,” the BBC reports, not at the request of the EU, regardless of what sanctions exist.
The decision last week represented a big change in relations between the EU and Iran. As Reuters points out, “While the European Union has banned oil shipments to war-torn Syria, a close ally of Iran, since 2011, it had never seized a tanker at sea. Unlike the United States, Europe does not have broad sanctions against Iran”.
The decision to seize the tanker immediately sparked outrage in Tehran, prompting an Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman to call the seizure a “form of piracy.”
“Iran’s Foreign Ministry summoned the British ambassador to voice “its very strong objection to the illegal and unacceptable seizure” of its ship,” CBC reports. “The diplomatic gesture lifted any doubt over Iran’s ownership of the vessel, which flies a Panama flag and is listed as managed by a company in Singapore.”
Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs John Bolton, who has been pushing for escalation and conflict to emerge between the US and Iran, took to twitter to celebrate the seizure:
Excellent news: UK has detained the supertanker Grace I laden with Iranian oil bound for Syria in violation of EU sanctions. America & our allies will continue to prevent regimes in Tehran & Damascus from profiting off this illicit trade.
Conversely, many anti-war activists and commentators condemned the UK’s decision, agreeing with the Iran Foreign Ministry’s “piracy” claim.
All of these recent developments come in the wake of American concerns over Iranian nuclear capabilities. When Trump decided to abort the possible airstrikes on Iran following Iran’s decision to take down an American drone, Trump pursued an economic route of retaliation instead, targeting Iranian trade, much of which involves oil, to pressure Iran to accept increased nuclear sanctions.
While this decision has had an immediate economic effect, it has not deterred Iran from pursuing its own interests.
“Iran has said it wants to keep the nuclear deal alive but cannot do so indefinitely unless it receives some of the promised economic benefits. In the past week, it announced it had accumulated more low-enriched uranium than allowed under the deal and says it will refine uranium to a greater purity than the deal allows from July 7,” CBC reports.
In response to the UK’s seizure, Iran threatened to seize an oil tanker of its own, promising a tit-for-tat relationship amidst rising tensions. “Iran should seize a British oil tanker if an Iranian tanker detained off Gibraltar earlier this week is not released immediately, a senior Revolutionary Guards commander said in a tweet last Friday,” Reuters reports.
Given the current state of affairs, it looks like tensions between Iran and Western countries will continue to escalate as more complications emerge out of tit-for-tat politics. Clearly, Iran will not back down on its promises, and neither will Western countries.