Iran’s naval forces captured two British oil tankers for alleged “marine violations” on Friday in the Strait of Hormuz. One vessel, the Mesdar, has been released and the other, the Stena Impero, remains in Iranian custody. There are 23 crew members on board whom are said to be of Indian, Russian, Latvian and Filipino descent.
Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt told the press that “no British citizens were understood to be on board either vessel.”
He told the press, “Our ambassador in Tehran is in contact with the Iranian Ministry of Foreign Affairs to resolve the situation and we are working closely with international partners.”
A government spokeswoman told the BBC that, “We have advised UK shipping to stay out of the area for an interim period.”
In a statement, Hunt said:
This is completely unacceptable. Freedom of navigation must be maintained. We are having an emergency meeting of the government’s Cobra Committee in a few minutes. We will respond in a way that is considered robust and we are absolutely clear that if this situation is not resolved quickly, there will be serious consequences.
We’re not looking at military options. We are looking at a diplomatic way to solve the situation, but we are very clear that it must be resolved. Freedom of navigation in the Gulf is absolutely essential. If that freedom of navigation is restricted, Iran is the biggest loser and so, it is in their interest to resolve this situation as quickly as possible. We will do everything we can to do that but as I say, there will be serious consequences if we’re not able to resolve it quickly.
His remarks sound rather toothless to me. He’s telling Iran right off the bat that a military option is off the table and that they plan to do nothing more than send another strongly worded statement condemning Iran’s aggression. Why would he say that publicly? Hunt sounds like a modern-day Neville Chamberlain.
I am certainly not advocating that the U.K. declare war on Iran. However, a strike or two on their naval targets to reduce the frequency of these incidents would be nice.
Shortly after Iran shot down a U.S. drone last month, several international shipping associations issued recommendations against the use of armed security on board ships passing through the Strait of Hormuz. Concerned about unintended consequences, these organizations worried that an incident between a ship’s hired mercenaries and Iranian forces could touch off World War III.
I understand their logic, however, it would render all ships passing through the Gulf region defenseless against Iranian aggression.
It isn’t a coincidence that the Iranians backed away from a British tanker when they were confronted by a British warship earlier this week.
Several days ago, a report from Reuters London said that shipping companies had been hiring unarmed security guards “as an extra safeguard” to travel onboard ships passing through the region.
As an extra safeguard? Why bother? What good will unarmed security guards do when a ship is surrounded by ten weaponized Iranian speedboats?
Iran’s state news agency, Tasnim, reported early Saturday that the Stena Impero had been seized because it had struck an Iranian fishing vessel which is dubious. The newspaper quoted the Ports and Maritime Organisation of Iran:
We received some reports on the British oil tanker, Stena Impero, causing problems. We asked the military forces to guide this tanker towards Bandar Abbas port to have the required investigations carried out. The tanker was seized for breaking three regulations: shutting down its GPS; going through the exit of the Strait of Hormuz rather than the entrance; and ignoring warnings.
More likely, it is a response to Britain’s participation in the seizure of an Iranian oil tanker, the (Panama-flagged) Grace, off the coast of Gibraltar on July 4th. Britain said that if Iran could prove the Grace was not destined for Syria, which would be a violation of European Union sanctions, they would release it.
On Friday, however, a Gibraltar court extended the detention of the Grace by 30 days.
Iran’s Fars news agency reported that a spokesman for Iran’s Guardian Council, Abbas Ali Kadkhodaei, said, “the rule of reciprocal action is well-known in international law.” He added that they had acted on Thursday to “confront the illegitimate economic war and seizure of oil tankers is an instance of this rule and is based on international rights.”
Tensions in the region have been rising since Trump’s May 2018 decision to withdraw from Obama’s 2015 Iranian nuclear deal. The restoration of economic sanctions against Iran have crippled their economy. Trump’s further tightening of sanctions over a month ago dialed up the pressure even more.
Although Iranian officials deny it, U.S. intelligence believes the country destroyed two oil tankers last month, one Japanese and the other Dutch. Shortly afterward, Iran shot down a U.S. drone.
The move has been in the works for many weeks and is not a response to Friday’s seizure by Iran of a British tanker.
King Salman approved hosting U.S. armed forces in the kingdom “to increase joint cooperation in defense and regional security and stability,” a statement in the state-run Saudi Press Agency said.
The U.S. has asked Mideast allies like Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates in past weeks to contribute financially and militarily to a Trump administration proposal called the Sentinel Program — a coalition of nations working with the U.S. to preserve maritime security in the Persian Gulf and keep eyes on Iran.
Certainly, leaders don’t want to telegraph their responses, but I think that a military strike on Iran’s naval facilities is called for. It will capture their attention. Iranians understand force.