Yet another provocation in Hormuz Strait

Yet another provocation in Hormuz Strait

The conflict between the UK and Iran around the oil tanker Grace 1 runs the risk of growing over into a war of tankers.

CNN said on July 11 quoting a source at the U.S. Department of Defense that five Iranian naval vessels had approached the British Heritage tanker during the latter ship’s transition from the Persian Gulf to the Hormuz Strait and had demanded that the tanker change its course and make a stop at the nearest point in the Iranian territorial waters. This happened at a time when the tanker was escorted by the HMS Montrose, a frigate of the Royal Navy. It trained its gunnery at the Iranian ships and sent a radio message to the Iranian gunboats telling them to retreat.

The British Ministry of Defense confirmed the story, saying the number of the gunboats that had tried to stop the British Heritage was three, not five.

The Pentagon and London’s claims about an attempt by five gunboats of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps to stop a British tanker in the Hormuz Strait water area stand at variance with reality, the press service of the Iranian Navy said.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif made a similar statement, saying: “The British tanker has apparently crossed the Strait of Hormuz. Their claims are worthless and aimed at escalating tension. They make such claims a lot, and use these allegations to put a lid on their weaknesses.”

Detention of the supertanker Grace 1 by the British authorities off the coast of Gibraltar on July 4 on the pretext it was allegedly carrying Iranian crude oil to Syria was a prelude to the current incident.

Gibraltar’s Chief Minister Fabian Picardo said the measures had been taken on the basis of information that gave reasonable grounds to the government of Gibraltar to believe the Grace 1 was carrying a cargo, which violated the EU sanctions against Syria.

In the meantime, Spain’s Acting Foreign Minister Josep Borrel said the authorities of Gibraltar had detained the supertanker at a request from the U.S.

Iran reacted to these steps robustly. Abbas Mousavi, the official spokesman for the Iranian Foreign Ministry said Teheran found it to be totally unacceptable that the tanker had been detained in Gibraltar because of the sanctions not based on UN resolutions. Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi told a news conference the tanker loaded with Iranian oil was not carrying it to Syria.

Iran offered protest to the British ambassador in Teheran and, on top of that, promised detentions on parity grounds of the British tankers carrying oils through the Hormuz Strait, describing the actions against the Grace 1 as sea piracy.

The rhetoric of the Iranian authorities immediately caused great concern on the part of the British authorities. They dispatched naval ships to the Persian Gulf to escort their tankers.

It might seem at first sight Britain was merely ensuring security for its tankers and taking precautionary steps, while the incident involving the British Heritage provided a proof of the UK and U.S. correctness in saying Iran posed a threat for free navigation in the area.

Nonetheless, the conflict of oil tankers between Tehran and London has deep-going roots.

As a country that used to have a huge oil empire in Iran, the UK cannot pardon the fact that Iranian Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadegh (in office from 1951 until 1953) managed to nationalize Iranian oil and stripped London of the right to manage this strategic resource. Britain was among the first to impose sanctions on Iran and although the standoff drifted to the Iran-U.S. format later, London has retained the role of a mastermind behind the scenes in this conflict. It has always used both sides in its interests.

British politicians have been leveling vehement criticism at Iran for any actions and supporting Trump’s claims against the nuclear deal with Teheran although Britain is a signatory of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) with Iran.

Since London is standing on the threshold of withdrawal from the EU, it is getting out of its way to maintain a policy that might be most lucrative at this moment. Support for the U.S. anti-Iranian steps obviously falls into this category. There is little doubt that London views commitment to the JCPOA as a real obstacle to full consensus with the U.S. on the Iranian dossier. To rid itself of this impediment, it needs evidence of the allegedly unlawful actions on the part of Iran and an inconspicuous pretext for abandoning the JCPOA format in Washington’s footsteps.

It is quite emblematic that Trump mentioned his plans to introduce new sanctions against Iran a day before the British Heritage incident.

And after the incident, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo came up with the claim that Iran’s actions posed a threat to sea navigation. He promised special particular steps to defend the tankers against Iran.

One might think at first glance the UK is being victimized by Iran’s arbitrary actions but in reality the whole thing looks like the acting out of a scenario aimed at making other countries revise their stance on commitments to the JCPOA and protection of Teheran’s interests.

A closer look at the incident around the British Heritage reveals a number of details that qualify the affair in Hormuz Strait as a yet another provocation in the framework of information war on Iran.

The Iranian navy has proved more than once its ability for variegated operations. The Iranians never concealed any facts if an incursion into their airspace or territorial waters took place. Quite recently the Iranian forces proved able to eliminate the U.S. spy drone RQ-4 Global Hawk. Drones in this family are the most perfect unmanned flying systems and the U.S. air force is currently operating them under a confidential program.

This means that if Iran makes up its mind to take some steps against the drones or tankers intruding into its airspace or territorial waters, it will do so without any hesitation and will report it openly. Apparent violation of international maritime laws or a request from one or another international service to detain the intruder is an important factor for passing decisions on actions against a vessel in the Iranian territorial waters. The Iranians will never assault or detain ships in the absence of such factors.

In case of the huge tanker British Heritage, the map of the ship’s route deserves definite attention.

The tanker belonging to British Petroleum loaded the oil in Basra, Iraq. Then it headed for the mouth of the Shatt al-Arab River (which forms the border between Iran and Iraq; it is known as Arvand Rud in Farsi) and was to cross the spot where the river flows into the Persian Gulf. Iran has sovereignty over this stretch of seawaters.

Yet the information in TankerTrackers.com, a tracking system, suggests the vessel passed it without any problems and then proceeded towards the Hormuz Strait. Iran has up-to-date frigates and other naval ships cruising along the Arvand Rud and particularly at the point of its inflow to the Gulf and they could have detained the British tanker easily there once it had gotten into the Iranian territorial waters. They definitely would not have allowed it to make its way so far ahead into the Hormuz Strait.

It is equally important to take account of the fact that larger ships, not simple gunboats, are needed to seize or to stop a tanker as huge as the British Heritage.

In this light, it is simply illogical to claim that three small gunboats had ventured to do anything against the mighty tanker escorted by HMS Montrose.

The incident around the British Heritage looks like a yet another U.S.-UK provocation called upon to discredit Iran in the eyes of the international public and to open up the paths for further political and economic pressure on it, as well as to consolidate the ranks of those who will approve of the eventual termination of the nuclear deal, thus paving the way for UN Security Council sanctions on tougher actions against the Islamic Republic.


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June 2024