With the hijacking of a British tanker by Iran, the tension in the Gulf continues to rise, partly because the US is sending troops and equipment to Saudi Arabia. British Prime Minister Johnson can wet his chest.
Just before the British oil tanker Stena Impero was introduced by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard on Friday, a British navy ship would have warned the Iranians about the radio. The HMS Montrose indicated that entering the tanker would be a violation of international law, since the ship was in international waters.
The BBC reports that. According to the broadcaster, a British maritime security company intercepted the radio fragment. In the excerpt it could be heard how the Iranians ordered a ship – most likely the Stena Impero – to change its course last Friday:
“If you listen, you won’t do anything”.
Then the British frigate HMS Montrose – which patrols the Strait of Hormuz and others – interferes in the conversation over the radio. The frigate announces itself and informs the Stena Impero that it is in a “recognized international strait” and that therefore the ship should not be bothered under international law. The HMS Montrose then asks the Iranians to confirm that they have no intention of “violating international law.”
In response, they report:
“This is the Sepah Marine patrol boat (part of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, ed.). We do not intend that, we do not intend. I only want to inspect the tanker for safety reasons.”
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who is expected to enter 10 Downing Street on Wednesday, is facing a major Iranian crisis. In the night from Friday to Saturday, the oil tanker Stena Impero, sailing under the British flag, was hijacked by Iran. British Foreign Minister Jeremy Hunt is “extremely disappointed” and will announce sanctions on Monday at the Lower House.
Masked members of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard overpowered the tanker’s 23-man crew, sailing in the waters of Oman. They had come on board via small boats and a helicopter. A British warbed, the HMS Montrose, was just too late. The hijackers brought the Stena to the port of Bandar Abbas, where crew members – including none of the British – were questioned. Shortly thereafter, another “British” tanker was intercepted, the Mesdar, but the Iranians were allowed to sail on.
Iran’s action follows the seizure, earlier this month, by the British navy of an Iranian supertanker. Contrary to EU sanctions, it was on its way to Assad’s Syria with oil. Because the action took place off the coast of Gibraltar, Spain protested. In Tehran, Ayatollahs reacted furiously. The British ambassador was called on the mat and Iran tried to hijack a tanker who sailed with the Union Jack through the world’s busiest shipping route. The British Navy managed to prevent that at the time.
The battle of Hormuz started in June when two oil tankers were attacked, which, according to the White House, was the work of Iran. An offer by Donald Trump to have the British and US Navy work more closely together to protect tankers and other merchant ships would have been rejected by acting Prime Minister Theresa May. She wanted to keep his distance from the president who is on a collision course with Tehran. Last week the British Ministry of Defense did send a second frigate to the region.
The hijacking led to criticism of the British government. Opposite The Sunday Telegraph, former commander Lord Dannatt claimed that this revenge did not come from Iran unexpectedly and that it was therefore necessary to accompany ships. His colleague Lord West even called it “very stupid” to leave the fifteen to thirty British ships passing by there to their fate. “This crisis has developed under the eyes of a political elite that has focused too much on choosing a new prime minister,” said West, a member of the House of Lords.
According to West, that new prime minister has an international crisis on his plate, one that cannot be ignored because of Brexit. “There is a high risk,” West claimed, “that miscalculation can lead to war.” It is reminiscent of the early 1980s, when Ronald Reagan’s appointment as president was dominated by Iran’s hostage-taking of US embassy staff. An additional complication this time is Trump’s hostile attitude toward the nuclear agreement that the international community had concluded with Iran.
For Johnson, “Iran” is already a headache file. As Foreign Minister, he has tried in vain to get Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe free, a British-Iranian mother who has been in an Iranian cell for three years because of “espionage”. Johnson had exacerbated the situation by claiming that Zaghari-Ratcliffe was in Iran to teach journalism while on family visits. Her husband recently held a hunger strike in front of the Iranian embassy in London. He hasn’t heard from his wife in a week.
Johnson has not yet responded to the latest tanker crisis. He said earlier that he would not support American military intervention. British opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn, who has acted on Iranian state television in the past, has called on the Ayatollahs to send the tanker back to sea. He added that Trump’s rejection of the nuclear agreement fueled the confrontation. That many foreign ships, such as the Swedish Stena, sail under the British flag often has tax reasons.