On 19 July, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps captured Britain's Stena Impero tanker that, according to Tehran, violated maritime regulations in the Strait of Hormuz, triggering a firestorm of criticism from the UK.
London denounced Tehran's move as a hostile act. In response, Iran referred to the seizure of the Iranian Grace 1 tanker in Gibraltar by the British authorities on the assumption that it was bound for Syria.
"To all the countries that are calling on Iran to release the tanker, we ask them to tell Britain the same thing," Iranian government spokesman Ali Rabiei said on 22 July. "When you illegally seize the ship in Gibraltar, we too are not bound to tolerate any more". The spokesman specified that in contrast to the British authorities, Tehran's detention of Stena Impero was "a legal measure", stressing that it was by no means an act of retaliation.
UK Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt dubbed the Stena Impero seizure an act of "state piracy" and told the British parliament that he would seek to establish a European-led mission to ensure the protection of international vessels in the Persian Gulf.
"The UK Government's response to Iran seizing the Stena Impero is entirely predictable," says UK-based freelance journalist Alex Tiffin. "They have branded Iran pirates, whilst ignoring their dubious seizure of the Iranian vessel off Gibraltar [on 4 July]… They're also acting as if this is a total surprise to them. Iran did say they'd respond by taking a British ship so it's just faux outrage from the British."
Although the UK announced that it would enlist the EU support it appears that France and Germany are "reluctant to get involved," Tiffin added.
"This crisis is entirely of the UK government's own making. It is welcoming they 'ruled out military options' from the start, but their entire strategy is confusing," Tiffin noted.
The journalist suggested that the 4 July seizure of Grace 1 had nothing to do with EU sanctions but "was in fact at the behest of the United States," citing Madrid's earlier claim.
The Guardian echoed the assumption of an alleged US involvement on 20 July, by saying that "the suspicion is that Conservative politicians, distracted by picking a new prime minister, jockeying for power, and preoccupied with Brexit, stumbled into an American trap".
"In short, it seems, Britain was set up", the media outlet presumed.
Forbes suggested that the detention of the British vessel by Iran puts London "in a difficult diplomatic position" between the US and the EU which Britons have been struggling to leave for quite a while.
Following its May 2018 withdrawal from the multilateral Iran nuclear deal, also known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the US started ramping up tensions with Tehran by beefing up its military presence in the region and stepping up sanctions against the country and its leadership. The other signatories to the deal, including the UK, signalled their commitment to the accords.
"The UK claims it wants to salvage the Iranian nuclear deal, whilst simultaneously siding with Donald Trump's administration on ramping up the rhetoric," said Tiffin. "If the UK truly wants to save the nuclear deal and stop the ongoing disruption in the Gulf of Oman, they'll stop appeasing America and get back to working with the other signatories of the JCPOA. Iran has shown that no amount of sanctions or threats will make them back down. This puts the UK Government at a crossroads. They can either be part of making the world a safer place by reducing the likelihood of more nuclear weapons or, be the catalyst that starts a conflict that will destabilise an entire region and risks a global economic crisis."
Having said that "only cool-headed diplomacy can resolve this issue", the journalist said that the UK would continue to follow the US lead under Prime Minister Boris Johnson who won the Tory leadership race on 23 July.
Tensions in the Middle Eastern region continue to escalate after the two Gulf of Oman incidents in May and June 2019 when international tankers were attacked in suspicious circumstances, and the downing of a US RQ-4 Global Hawk surveillance drone on 20 June. Following the seizure of Iranian tanker Grace 1, the British authorities claimed that Tehran attempted to detain the oil tanker British Heritage on 10 July, something that the Iranian leadership vehemently denied. On 18 July, the US announced that it had shot down an Iranian drone, a claim that was later rejected by the IRGC Aerospace Force as "a big lie".
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