On July 4, the British Royal Navy seized the giant tanker “Grace 1” carrying a Panamanian flag on suspicion of transporting a heavy load of crude oil from Iran to the Syrian Banyas refinery, defying EU sanctions on Bashar Assad’s regime, The navy used a helicopter to board the 330-meter-long ship, which weighed about 300,000 tons at midnight. The Iranian response reveals many of the options available to Tehran against Western interests – and the limitations it faces.
On the other hand, Tehran reacted angrily to the detention process, where Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and other military and civilian officials threatened to reciprocate in the Strait of Hormuz unless the tanker was released immediately. Some have even been called upon to prevent British ships from crossing the strait completely, while the Iranian parliament has put forward a draft resolution that could lead to “imposition” of transit fees on ships belonging to certain countries – a discriminatory and illegal measure.
On the eighth of the same month, Iranian Defense Minister Amir Hatemi described the process of detention as a pirate. The next day, the chief of staff of the armed forces, Major General Mohammad Baqari, vowed to retaliate in the right place and time, in line with the “direct, transparent and daring” operation that shot down the US aircraft without a pilot (drone) on June 20, echoing the strategy of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, which “rejects negotiations and rejects the war,” calling it “effective resistance,” hinting that the Iranian armed forces have been directed to demonstrate its deterrent power unambiguously, while the other supporter of the open resistance , General Hossein Salami, who calls for this idea years ago . To day he is in the position that allows him to implement it as head of «IRGC» , as he announced on the last June 18 , that the victory is closer than ever because the enemy tired and hesitant.
Also on July 20, the Iranian Revolutionary Guards announced the arrest of the British oil tanker “Stina Empero”, which constituted a direct escalation with London. The British Foreign Minister expressed his country’s position on this detention by saying that there would be dire consequences if Iran did not release the two tankers detained in the Strait of Hormuz, but stressed that his country does not think of military action against Iran, and added : The Ambassador of London in Tehran to contact the Iranian Foreign Ministry to find a solution to the crisis, and his country is cooperating closely with international partners, and stressed that an emergency ministerial meeting will discuss the next steps.
Two days later, on the 22nd of the same month, Britain called for the formation of maritime security force led by Europe to secure shipping traffic in the Strait of Hormuz, days after Iran seized Stina Impero , British flag carrier , in what London called “state piracy.”
British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt told parliament of the plans of an emergency government committee that discussed London’s planned response to the arrest of Stena Impero oil tanker by Iranian Special Forces. Hunt added in front the parliament “According to international law, Iran was not entitled to disrupt the path of the ship, not to mention boarding, and then this is piracy of a state.”
Hunt said, “We will now seek to form a European-led maritime security force to support the safe passage of crews and cargoes in this vital region,” He added “The new force” will not be part of the US policy to exert maximum force on Iran because we remain committed to maintaining the Iranian nuclear agreement.”
Britain’s efforts to form a military force to protect navigation in the waters of the Strait of Hormuz began to take touchable shape after senior diplomats said France, Italy, the Netherlands and perhaps Germany also wanted to support the task of ensuring freedom of navigation in the Strait of Hormuz.
Diplomats said Britain had proposed the idea to senior EU diplomats at a meeting in Brussels, saying it would not include the EU, NATO or the United States directly.
Spain, Sweden, Poland and Germany also expressed interest in playing a role. One of the envoys said the task of protecting vital oil shipping corridors in the Middle East might be managed by a joint French-British command.
In the view of Western political analysis, the deterrence of the Iranian escalation requires the various concerned parties to deploy a solid multinational force in the region, and enable them to intervene to defend the freedom of navigation in the strategic waterways in the region.
Such preventive measures must include strengthening defenses against mobile and ballistic missiles and strengthening the basic infrastructure against Iranian cyber attacks.
Here, officials should also urge Iran to take concrete steps (including legislation) towards recognition of the Strait of Hormuz as an international strait.
Perhaps more importantly, Iranian leaders should understand that the adoption of aggressive positions in these vital waterways would seriously damage their economy and national interests, as in the late 1980s, when attacks against non-aggressive ships contributed to the internationalization of the conflict with Iraq, while the Revolutionary Guards are trying to portray these historic acts as necessary for strategic success , Western countries are preparing clearly for more attacks on tankers, with the potential for greater damage.
However, those past actions were in fact very costly, at a time when Iran’s most important national interests were at stake, and this is undoubtedly the case today again.
What is happening in the Arabic Gulf of political and military developments may be reflected on Iraq in a positive or negative way , and in order to avoid the negative developments of the detention of the British oil tanker, Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi revealed , a mediation by Iraq, to stop the current escalation between Iran and Britain in the context of the two countries ‘ detention of their respective ships , and Adel Abdul Mahdi said he had received a call from the British defense minister to consult on the recent escalation between her country and Iran, pointing that he is heading to Tehran after a telephone conversation with the British minister to put forward the vision of Baghdad to reach a solution to the crisis.
The question that arises in this context, and if the crisis develops, and takes new dimensions between Tehran and London: What is the position of Iraq from the international – European protection for the navigation in the Arabian Gulf and Strait of Hormuz? Will Iraq participate in that protection? Or will stand with Iran? It seems that political uncertainty is the fate of Iraq in the post-2003 period.
Iranian Studies Unit
Rawabet Center for Research and Strategic Studies