By Simon Basketter
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Britain fuels Iran tension as soldiers seize a tanker

This article is over 4 years, 11 months old
Issue 2662
Marines onboard the vessel
Marines onboard the vessel (Pic: Ministry of Defence)

The British government’s solution to growing tensions between the West and Iran was the seizure of an oil tanker off Gibraltar by Royal Marines last week.

Some 30 Marines from the 42 Commando unit took the tanker off the crew, from India, Pakistan and Ukraine, who were then questioned in Gibraltar.

The messages coming from Britain are as chaotic and contradictory as everything else coming from the top of the Tory party.

Foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt said there could be “very serious consequences” for Iran after it announced it will raise production of uranium beyond a limit set in a 2015 agreement.

The more frequent message from Britain has been the need to ­maintain relations with Iran and save the nuclear deal Donald Trump wants to end.


Britain, along with France and Germany, has set up a payment mechanism for companies to keep trading with Iran in the face of US sanctions.

Then at the US’s request Hunt sent in the marines to take over a tanker that probably wasn’t in breach of its sanctions anyway.

Hunt’s Tory leadership rival Boris Johnson wasn’t allowed to see secret documents from his own government when he was foreign secretary, as his colleagues considered him unreliable.

John Bolton, US national security adviser and advocate of regime change in Tehran, tweeted ,“Excellent news: UK has detained the supertanker Grace 1 laden with Iranian oil bound for Syria in violation of EU sanctions.

“America and our allies will continue to prevent regimes in Tehran and Damascus from profiting off this illicit trade.”

Except that probably isn’t true.

The tanker had begun its voyage in Iran and travelled around Africa.

If it had been travelling to Syria it could have taken a far quicker route into the Mediterranean via the Suez Canal. Its actual course took it two and half months.

Tensions have been escalating between the US and Iran since May 2018. Trump announced the US was withdrawing from a nuclear agreement with Iran and would reimpose sanctions on the regime. The US has blamed Iran for a series of recent attacks on oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman. Iran shot down a US drone.

The only confirmed culprit of an attack on an oil tanker is Britain.

Last month Trump made a ­last-minute decision to call off air strikes.

Britain’s ambassador to the US Kim Darroch described disarray and confusion across Washington as Trump unexpectedly aborted the attack.

He wrote that Trump’s “claim, however, that he changed his mind because of 150 predicted casualties doesn’t stand up”. He warned, “It’s unlikely that US policy on Iran is going to become more coherent ­anytime soon.”

Darroch warned that Trump could still trigger a conflict, noting that he is now “surrounded by a more ­hawkish group of advisers”.

Unfortunately for the British government, whichever odious Tory becomes leader is likely to follow in whichever way Trump jumps.

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