Now you see it now you don’t. A high stakes game of hide and seek with potentially catastrophic global consequences is going on in the Persian Gulf.
This Thursday, things started to get edgy again when alarming reports started coming in from two different ships near the Straight of Hormuz. What looks like piracy on the high seas is brushed off by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards as “law enforcement.”
Britain initially reported that two tankers had been seized, the Stena Impero and the Mesdar. Iran confirms it has the Stena Impero but the Mesdar was released after being boarded and the crew harassed.
The Stena Impero was on its way to Al-Jubail in Saudi Arabia when it was first “approached by unidentified small crafts and a helicopter, before being boarded by the IRGC.
According to Fars news, an IRGC statement claims when exiting the Strait of Hormuz, the ship “disregarding the established procedures that require all entries be made through the northern pass.” The Iranians “escorted” the ship to Iranian coastal waters “for further legal procedures and investigations.”
On Saturday, Iran insisted that it seized the tanker because it was involved in an accident. It allegedly collided with an Iranian fishing boat then ignored the distress call. Britain calls that nonsense. It was an obviously “hostile act.”
Erik Hanell, president and chief executive of the company that owns the ship, Stena Bulk, released a statement reporting no injuries but the ship was no longer under the crew’s control and could not be contacted. Also, he insists, “the ship was in full compliance with all navigation and international regulations. There are 23 seafarers on board of Indian, Russian, Latvian and Filipino nationality.”
The ship had no cargo at the time, and has been moved to the Iranian port of Bandar Abbas where it will stay “while the accident [is] investigated.”
“We received reports that the British Stena Impero oil tanker was causing incidents and, therefore, we asked the military to direct it to Bandar Abbas port for the necessary probes,” explains Allahmorad Afifipour, head of the local port. His explanation was different from the military version. “The Stena Impero had been causing pollution by dumping oil residue.”
Iran didn’t capture a second tanker. Owners got nervous when radar tracking showed the British-operated, but Liberian-flagged Mesdar turn sharply north toward Iran’s coast on Friday afternoon. Official Iranian sources verify that the Mesdar was “shortly stopped and briefed by Iranian authorities on maritime security and harmless navigation.” Owners of the ship told the press, “Communication has been re-established with the vessel and Master confirmed that the armed guards have left and the vessel is free to continue the voyage. All crew are safe and well.”
Iran flatly denies that the U.S. shot down an Iranian drone on Thursday. Abolfazl Shekarchi asserts, “all drones belonging to Iran in the Persian Gulf and the Strait of Hormuz … returned safely to their bases after their mission of identification and control.” They have a film that shows a bunch of boats to “prove it.”
President Trump calls them liars. “No doubt about it, we shot it down.” An Iranian drone got within 1,000 yards of the U.S. Navy warship Boxer in what is described as a “provocative and hostile action.” The craft ignored “multiple calls to stand down,” so was destroyed, “by electronic jamming.”
After a couple of tankers were attacked in June by what looks suspiciously like Iranian forces, and a U.S. drone was shot down by Iran, On the Fourth of July, British forces seized an Iranian tanker in Gibraltar. The Iranian ship is suspected of smuggling oil to Syria against British laws.
The Ayatollah is trying to strong arm the few friends they have left into helping them get around strict U.S. sanctions, and it’s only making things worse.
The whole mess really started when Barack Obama and John Kerry wrote a sweetheart nuclear oversight deal that was totally one sided to favor the Iranians. If you like your nuclear weapons program, you can keep your nuclear weapons program, Obama assured. You just have to lay low for a few years and pretend like all you want nuclear technology for is electricity.
President Trump wasn’t buying that for a minute and pulled America out as fast as he could. The remaining — mostly European — nations that signed off on the deal, continued to honor it voluntarily, hoping Trump would “come to his senses.” Meanwhile, Iran kept building a secret weapons program.
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Instead of backing down, Trump slapped on sanctions. Every time Iran throws a temper tantrum, President Trump adds more sanctions. The Ayatollah is really starting to feel the squeeze. He’s managed to talk a few European allies into a shady back door way to beat the sanctions but his friends are nervous about getting caught. One of them is Britain. This weekend, Iran stabbed the British in the back. Worse, they’re laughing about it.
Britain’s Foreign Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, is planning his next move. “We will respond in a way that is considered but robust and we are absolutely clear that if this situation is not resolved quickly there will be serious consequences. These seizures are unacceptable. It is essential that freedom of navigation is maintained and that all ships can move safely and freely in the region.”