Eurointelligence provides interesting commentary of tit-for-tat ship seizures first by the UK, then by Iran in response.
The extraordinary story behind the capture of the British-flagged oil tanker Stena Impero is a cautionary tale on many levels. It has the potential of turning into a major diplomatic calamity for both the UK and the EU.
Simon Tisdall tells the story in the Observer that this confrontation was masterminded by none other than John Bolton, Donald Trump’s national security adviser. Several weeks ago, US intelligence services tracked an Iranian oil vessel headed for the Mediterranean, bound for a refinery in Syria. The Grace 1 sailed under a Panama flag. As it was too big for the Suez Canal, it undertook the longer journey from Iran around Cape Horn and up the Atlantic towards Spain. Washington alerted the Spanish government 48 hours before the tanker was due to enter the Strait of Gibraltar, but without giving any details that the ship might be in breach of US sanctions. The Spanish Navy escorted the ship but took no action at the time. Spain later said it would have intervened if it had been given information that the ship was in breach of US sanctions.
Bolton instead tipped off the British, who felt compelled to intercept the Grace I as it entered the Strait of Gibraltar on July 4, dispatching a force of 30 marines who stormed the ship.
The US managed to accomplish three things at the same time: escalating the conflict with Iran; dividing the Europeans by pitching the UK against Spain, which distanced itself from the UK manoeuvre off Gibraltar; and turning the UK once again into the useful idiot of US diplomacy. Not bad for a few days’ work. But it is also a clear indication of the EU’s total lack of preparedness to deal with a hostile Trump administration.
Unsurprisingly, the EU’s response is divided. Spain is furious about the UK’s unilateral action in international waters off the Spanish coast. The EU’s external-action service, soon to be headed by Josep Borrell, Spain’s foreign minister, is silent. Germany and France are backing the UK – at least diplomatically – for now. Russia, Japan and China are with Iran. They do not want to risk oil supplies.
Excellent news: UK has detained the supertanker Grace I laden with Iranian oil bound for Syria in violation of EU sanctions. America & our allies will continue to prevent regimes in Tehran & Damascus from profiting off this illicit trade.
— John Bolton (@AmbJohnBolton) July 4, 2019
The Guardian comments How Trump’s Arch-Hawk Lured Britain Into a Dangerous Trap to Punish Iran
Bolton’s delighted reaction suggested the seizure was a surprise. But accumulating evidence suggests the opposite is true, and that Bolton’s national security team was directly involved in manufacturing the Gibraltar incident. 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. As a result, Britain has been plunged into the middle of an international crisis it is ill-prepared to deal with.
Much of this angst could have been avoided. Britain opposed Trump’s decision to quit the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran, the trigger for today’s crisis. It has watched with alarm as the Trump-Bolton policy of “maximum pressure”, involving punitive sanctions and an oil embargo, has radicalised the most moderate Iranians.
Yet even as Britain backed EU attempts to rescue the nuclear deal, Theresa May and Jeremy Hunt, foreign secretary, tried to have it both ways – to keep Trump sweet.
Eye for an Eye
The Financial Times comments on the ‘Eye for Eye’ Ideology Behind Iran’s Seizure of UK Tanker.
“Eye for eye and hand for hand is our Islamic ideology. An American eye or a European hand are not more valuable than an Iranian eye or hand,” said Mohammad-Sadegh Javadi-Hesar, a reformist politician.
Nothing But War Will Do
Bolton wants war. Nothing less will do.
To get it, he is willing to radicalize the Iranian moderates and trap allies into doing his immoral bidding.
I am sick of this administration’s war policy and treatment of allies.