The British state made the first move last week, when 30 Royal Marines helped seize the Iranian-flagged Grace 1 in Gibraltar. Foreign Office officials said the ship was being impounded because it was delivering oil to Syria in violation of EU sanctions.
Iran denied the accusations, before making its countermove on Friday, when Iran’s Revolutionary Guards seized the Stena Impero, a British-flagged tanker, in the Strait of Hormuz, claiming it had been involved in an earlier collision with an Iranian fishing vessel. Ali Larijani, the Iranian parliament speaker, explicitly revealed the real tit-for-tat motive behind the detention of Stena Impero: Britain ‘stole and got a response’ from the Revolutionary Guards, he said.
How to Hide an Empire:... Best Price: $18.05 Buy New $21.49 (as of 02:55 EST - Details) Of course, what lends this UK-Iran face-off its larger meaning is that it is implicated in the escalating conflict between the US and Iran. The UK denies this, stating publicly that it was acting on independent intelligence, and was only concerned about the ship’s destination (a port in Syria), not its provenance (Iran). But privately, according to reports, it’s a different story, with British officials admitting they worked with their US counterparts on the seizure of Grace 1.
And so this slow-motion dance towards a US-led war with Iran continues, with neither side seemingly able to resist rising to the other’s apparent provocation.
At this point, it’s always worth remembering that it really was, in playground parlance, the US that started it. From the moment Donald Trump came to power in 2016, the Iran-baiting started, culminating in the US’s unilateral withdrawal from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (aka the nuclear deal) in 2018, and the restarting and ramping-up of economic sanctions against Iran. But it wasn’t just the abandonment of the nuclear deal, or even the sanctions regime, that gave this slow escalation of conflict a seeming inexorable impetus. It was also the ominous mood music emanating from the White House, which accompanied the withdrawal from the deal – the talk of the Islamic republic as the leading state sponsor of terror; the accusation that it was murderous; and, of course, the ominous muttering about the necessity of regime change from secretary of state Mike Pompeo and hawkish national security adviser John Bolton.