London’s Plan for Iran

The United Kingdom is currently the only power directly involved in the oil tanker crisis, from the Persian Gulf to Gibraltar. A British ship has been seized by the Iranian Pasdaran, and now sits in the port of Bandar Abbas. A few weeks earlier off the coast of the Rock of Gibraltar, the Royal Marines went into action to stop an oil tanker heading for Syria. The confrontation is not only between London and Tehran, but at this point it is clear that the UK is fully operational and wants to resolve escalation in the Persian Gulf as soon as possible.

In these hours, British movements are wide-ranging. On the one hand, nonstop diplomatic work continues in order to end seizure of the Stena Impero as soon as possible, a setback for a power like the United Kingdom, which has always made its maritime vocation the cornerstone of its strategy. Having one of its ships seized by the Guardians of the Revolution seems unacceptable for many Brits – what was once the British Empire watches one of its ships captured by a country it is not even at war with. This is unacceptable, especially after the detention of the Grace 1 tanker in Gibraltar by British forces. The Pasdaran’s response was much more incisive than might have been expected by the London headquarters. This presents another serious crisis to be resolved by Theresa May’s government, which is already bogged down by Brexit and the handover from Theresa May to Boris Johnson.

Yesterday, the United Kingdom attempted to definitively get things moving. After the meeting of Cobra, the emergency committee, Foreign Minister Jeremy Hunt announced that the British plan would establish the launch of a “European-led international mission” to monitor the waters of the Persian Gulf, in particular the Strait of Hormuz. “We will now seek to put together a European-led maritime protection mission to support safe passage of both crew and cargo in this vital region,” Hunt said in Parliament, adding that “under international law, Iran had no right to obstruct the ship’s passage, let alone board her.” Now it’s necessary to understand how this coalition might be formed, especially following the announcement of another international mission project, the American Operation Sentinel.

The mission proposed by London is still in the early stages and for now there are few certainties, and likewise few agreements, even just verbal ones. No communications regarding the issue have been received from Brussels, and so far it seems that only France is willing to support the formation of a naval coalition to control the waters of the Gulf. Florence Parly, the French defense minister, had a telephone conversation with her British counterpart, Penny Mordaunt, reminding her that “the freedom of navigation in the Gulf is a serious security problem for Europeans,” and confirming the desire to “work together to guarantee such.” Meanwhile the Dutch press has confirmed that The Hague government has been contacted by the British government, and they should meet in mid-August to decide on sending a frigate to the waters of Hormuz.

The British idea could appeal to the United States, which has long been examining the hypothesis of an air/naval coalition for the Persian Gulf. The United Kingdom has always been reluctant towards direct confrontation with Iran, with proof found in several British prime ministers’ desire to keep the 2015 Iran nuclear deal alive. And in recent weeks, as was also reported by the Guardian, there has been a lot of pressure from Washington towards London to join the task force created by Centcom to control Middle East oil routes. There has also been a lot of pressure on Hunt, but now, with the election of Boris Johnson as a conservative leader and future prime minister, an unexpected and positive turnaround could come. The new British leader is a keen ally of the Trump administration. And the same idea of the outgoing government of promoting a European-led mission could be the perfect image for a renewed alliance between the two sides of the Atlantic, with the UK using American strategy as a Trojan horse.

The US wants the UK in the anti-Iran task force, but they would like involvement from all European (and even Middle Eastern) partners in the Atlantic Alliance. London’s move to promote a European-led coalition could be the result of a compromise that effectively confirms the Republican administration’s line of controlling Hormuz and oil routes without exclusive direct involvement. And in a phase in which Brexit is being accelerated, the alignment between the United Kingdom and the United States could also and especially be affirmed in the Persian Gulf. Trump’s tweet after the election of the new UK leader was very clear: “He will be great!” And perhaps this bond could be fused right in the boiling waters of Iran, there where the Pasdaran has kept in check what was the empire of the seas.