Following the confiscation of two British oil tankers by Iran, new escalations are threatening the Persian Gulf. Tehran Foreign Minister Javad Sarif said on Saturday that his country was claiming a guardian role over the Strait of Hormuz, the main waterway in the international oil trade. This is an open challenge to the US, with their fleet to patrol the Persian Gulf and the Strait of Hormuz.
The Iranian Revolutionary Guards posted two British tankers in the Strait of Hormuz on Friday; one was allowed to continue afterwards. The second tanker, the "Stena Impero" was diverted to the Iranian port of Bandar Abbas with a crew of 23. Initially, Iran justified the action by stating that the "Stena Impero" collided with an Iranian fishing boat and that the incident had to be cleared up.
On Saturday, however, the Iranian regime made it clear that the seizure was a political threat. The influential Guardian Council said that international law gives Iran the opportunity to oppose "illegitimate economic sanctions and confiscate oil tankers."
On Friday, a court in Gibraltar, UK, ruled that an Iranian tanker detained on suspicion of breaching EU sanctions against Syria should not continue its journey for the time being.
Great Britain, France and Germany – three co-signatories of the nuclear treaty with Iran in 2015 – criticized Tehran's actions. The British government warned Tehran against "illegal and destabilizing behavior". The fixed oil tanker has been stopped in the waters of Oman, said British Foreign Minister Jeremy Hunt. The incident raises serious questions regarding international shipping, Hunt told reporters on Saturday.
The Foreign Office in Berlin called on Tehran "emphatically" to "release" the "Stena Impero" and her crew "immediately". "Another regional escalation would be very dangerous," said a ministry spokesman.
Iran wants to achieve easing of sanctions by pressure
It is unlikely that Iran will be impressed. Sarif had already threatened countermeasures a few days ago. Iran will "always answer," he told the US magazine "New Yorker." The lesson is: "Do not play with Iran."
On Saturday, Sarif went one step further. It is Iran, "which guarantees security in the Persian Gulf and Strait of Hormuz," wrote Sarif on Twitter. Britain must break away from the "economic terrorism" of the US, Zarif added with a view to the US sanctions against his country.
Oil tankers transport about 20 percent of the world's oil from the Persian Gulf through the road, which is only 40 kilometers wide, from Hormuz to the international markets. Iran has repeatedly threatened to block the shipping lane in order to defend itself against US sanctions.
The action against the "Stena Impero" is also noteworthy because Iran had been careful in the tensions with the United States so far to be able to distance themselves from attacks and provocations. So Tehran in June, the responsibility for attacks on several tankers in the Persian Gulf by itself. This time, the Iranian Revolutionary Guards openly intervened.
Apparently, the Iranian leadership expects a tougher course to have more impact on the international community in order to ease US sanctions. However, this policy carries the risk of military strikes by the US armed forces. For the first time since the Iraq invasion of 2003, the US is now sending troops to Saudi Arabia.