Iran, the Secret Wars Behind the Seizure of the Oil Tanker

Iran’s seizure of a British oil tanker has relaunched tensions in the Persian Gulf shutting down glimmers of hope. Teheran’s manoeuvre would appear to be in response to the prolonged seizure of the Iranian tanker carried out by Gibraltar only a few hours prior. A cut and thrust which makes everything all the more complex.

The Gibraltar Supreme Court’s decision was a coup de main against British authorities who had opened to the release of the tanker.

Iran and Brexit

It would seem that a behind the scenes war is being fought in Great Britain, interweaving with an internal power clash: in just a few days, Prime Minister Theresa May will step aside to be replaced by an as yet unknown successor, who will have to guide the nation out of the doldrums into which the Brexit controversy has strayed. Which is why the Brexit and the Gulf Crisis are issues which keep being put off.

Furthermore both Brexit and London’s involvement in the anti-Iran crusade are suffering the undue interference on the part of the neocons, as is evident from the activism of John Bolton in such matters. He has on numerous occasions expressed his preference for a “hard Brexit”- opposing any agreement with the EU – and welcomed with enthusiasm the decision to seize the Iranian oil tanker in Gibraltar.

Such fervour has alarmed Teheran, as it prospects the return of the Anglo-American axis, which, under George W. Bush and Tony Blair, had started the war in Iraq.

There is more. The Gibraltar episode aims to break the US free of its isolation in the crusade against Teheran, undermining the EU’s moderate line which had distanced it from Washington.

The oil tanker and occupation of the US embassy

All this is happening just as US assertiveness seemed to be waning, given Trump’s inclination to slow down Bolton. From this point of view London could become the instigator behind US intervention, dragging both Washington and Brussels into a war that nobody wants.

However, to find out how the situation will evolve we will have to wait for May’s successor, as the tricky issue will be in the hands of the new Prime Minister.

Moreover, Great Britain’s situation reminds us, mutatis mutandis, of what occurred during the US presidential elections when Carter was up against Reagan and the battle for the White House was tainted by the occupation of the American embassy in Tehran.

The embassy headquarters were stormed by Iranian hawks. It is interesting to note that two days ago the former President of Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who had taken part in the operation, began to speak out after a period of prolonged silence, declaring he is open to dialogue with the US (his own, of course).

Riyadh between war and detente

The scenario is one of great complexity and one which must be approached with “wisdom and farsightedness”, in the words of Iran’s Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, one of the leading spokesmen for the moderates. Given the situation there have been widespread appeals to keep calm, from Europe as well as the Gulf and Asia, (Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe had already offered to act as mediator).

On the other hand, the Saudis appear to be contrasting this by relaunching the need for an axis against Tehran. Yet, as we had mentioned in a previous article, Riyadh is also contemplating the possibility of appeasement with its regional rival. This inclination is confirmed by what happened yesterday: Saudi Arabia released an Iranian oil tanker which had been docked in the port of Jeddah for repairs since May. Iranian authorities thanked Riyadh for the gesture…

Condemnation and smuggling

Within this stormy scenario, another piece of the complicated puzzle should be examined. On July 14 the seizure of another oil tanker by Iran, with accusations that it was smuggling fuel, caused widespread outcry.

Despite the West’s customary protests nobody claimed the ship, nor was its nationality known. We have now learned that the oil tanker, flagged in Panama, goes by the name of MT Riah and is still impounded.

Panama naval authorities have since revoked the flag and deregistered it, declaring, “ We roundly condemn the use of Panamanian flagged ships for illicit activities.”

Tehran had every reason to seize the ship after all, and the accusations made at the time now sound deeply instrumental.

Oil tanker wars

And so we return to the opening of our story and to the oil tanker war waged between Tehran and London. Let’s try to imagine an explanation (a more ordinary one).

After insisting that London release the oil tanker seized in Gibraltar Iran decided to take action and seize a Panama flagged ship, which was in actual fact British, and which was smuggling fuel.

A transversal operation which aimed to force the hand without a direct challenge in order to avoid tensions. The British authorities get the message and ask Gibraltar to release Tehran’s tanker, to no avail given the numerous interferences and the above-mentioned variables.

Therefore, Teheran decides to relaunch, this time seizing a British ship. For a barrel of oil, we all risk a war.

Translation by Audrey Sadleir

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