Iran seizes British Tanker in the Strait of Hormuz
Iran, in an act of aggression, today seized the British Tanker Stena Impero in the Strait of Hormuz,
the narrow stretch of water separating Iran and the United Arab Emirates, the gateway to and from the Persian Gulf. The tanker,
sailing in International Waters, was on it's way to Saudi Arabia when approached by 4 Iranian vessels and a helicopter and
forced to change it's route and head to an Iranian port. The Iranian Revolutionary Guard issued a statement that the vessel
was guilty of "disregarding international maritime rules and regulations as it was passing through the Strait of Hormuz.."
No explanation of the alleged non-compliance has been provided. However, Iran had threatened to seize a British tanker in retaliation
against the British for the seizure earlier this month of The Grace 1 tanker by the Royal Marines off the coast of Gibraltar, which
Britain claimed was transporting Iranian oil to Syria in violation of International sanctions currently placed against Syria.
"If Britain does not release the Iranian oil tanker, it is the authorities' duty to seize a British oil tanker" tweeted
Mohsen Rezai, an Iranian Revolutionary Guard commander.
The Stena Impero's owners, Sweden's Stena Bulk and its U.K.-based subsidiary Northern Marine Management, issued a statement saying the Stena Impero "was approached by unidentified small crafts and a helicopter during transit of the Strait of Hormuz while the vessel was in international waters", further adding, "We are presently unable to contact the vessel which is now heading north towards Iran."
A second tanker, the U.K. owned Medsar was also intercepted by the Iranians and forced into Iranian waters, but was released shortly afterwards and allowed to continue to it's destination, also Saudi Arabia.
British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt stated, "I'm extremely concerned by the seizure of two naval vessels by Iranian authorities in the Strait of Hormuz", adding "These seizures are unacceptable." A British government statement said, "We have advised UK shipping to stay out of the area for an interim period. We remain in close contact with our international partners and there will be further meetings over the weekend."
It is clear that the Iranian government is under great pressure internally as their economy struggles under sanctions imposed upon them and this attack on merchant shipping, on the surface, aids them little in their strategy of driving a wedge between the United States and the International Community. European business already use waivers to circumvent the sanctions. The relationship between the U.S. and Iran has been tense since the U.S. withdrawal from the 2015 Iran Nuclear Deal and this violation of shipping rights by Iran follows the United States Navy this week downing an Iranian drone and the June 20th shooting down of an American surveillance drone by the Iranians. Given that the Iranian government fully expected that it would be the United States that takes the lead, it can only be surmised that the Iranian strategy is to provoke President Trump and raise fear of military action to such a high degree that the pressure might be inverted as the financial markets and oil prices become unstable and this, combined with U.S. pressure to further increase sanctions, would affect America's allies more than America who is now much less dependent on Gulf oil than in past years. In sum, the flagrant attempt to violate Syrian sanctions, a reported attempt by Iran on the 11th July to impede the BP tanker, British Heritage passing through the Strait, the shooting down of an American drone and the seziure of two British oil tankers can only be judged as an attempt to escalate tensions in the region in the hope that Iran's neighbors and Europe waiver in their 'support' of U.S. led sanctions. It appears that Iran is intent on following a collision course with the United States.
The strength or weakness of the British response to this latest Iranian aggression will soon become apparent, but regardless it can be expected that the United States will not weaken in it's resolve and the choice facing Iran was succinctly outlined by President Trump today, "It is very easy to straighten out, or it's very easy for us to make it a lot worse." If the Iranian government harbor any thoughts that they will be allowed nuclear weapons capabilities the second scenario is the inevitable result with the possibility of Israeli military action to take out the five Iranian nuclear development sites. This would not be an easy task given the subterranean locations of these sites.
President Trump, contrary to what his detractors infer, does not want a miltary confrontation. Indeed, it might be argued that he is resisting 'hawks' like John Bolton and that he, President Trump, desires a peaceful solution that avoids unnecessary deaths and helps the Iranian people who are suffering the most.