INFOGRAPHIC – An Iranian commando team has seized a British tanker off the coast of Oman and is holding it with its crew.
It is not yet the bloody “tanker war” of the Iran-Iraq conflict of the 1980s during which Saddam Hussein attacked 280 Iranian tankers in the waters of the Persian Gulf and Tehran 170 in its neighbor. But the multiplication of the latest incidents in this strategic region makes the situation extremely dangerous. Saturday in Tehran, the headline of the ultraconservative newspaper Keyan summed up the state of mind of the Iranian leadership, to which it is close: “one tanker against one tanker”.
The day before, to the cries of Allah Akbar – “God is great” – a helicopter commando of the naval force of the Revolutionary Guards had seized the Stena Impero , a British oil tanker, in the Gulf of Oman, not far from the Strait of Hormuz, the epicenter of all tensions for almost two months. Moments earlier, the IRGC had stopped the Mesdar, a Liberian-flagged tanker, before releasing it after realizing that it belonged to a subsidiary of the Algerian oil company Sonatrach, based in the British Virgin Islands.
The Stena Impero and its 23 crew – including 18 Indians but no Britons – were brought to the port of Bandar Abbas in southern Iran. This is an “unacceptable act”, warned London immediately, which denied Tehran’s claims that the Stena Impero attacked a fishing vessel and violated the navigation rules in use in the Strait of Hormuz. Paris and Berlin denounced this seizure, calling on Tehran to release the British tanker “without delay”, while Donald Trump sees it as further proof that “Iran only brings problems to problems”.
Eye for eye, tooth for tooth strategy
For Iran, this seizure is a response to the boarding on July 4 off Gibraltar of one of its tankers, the Grace 1, which transported oil to the Syrian port of Banyas, in violation of European Union rules. By this gesture, writes the oil expert Robin Mills in the daily newspaper ofAbou Dhabi The National, “London offered Iran a pretext” to react. Iranian sources also believe that “this boarding has weighed down the mediation of Emmanuel Macron” who had called the President of the Republic Hassan Rouhani, two days earlier, before sending to Tehran, a week later, his diplomatic adviser, Emmanuel Good, to ease tensions. But in vain. On July 4, did London act on Washington’s orders ?, some experts ask, convinced that Tehran will not release the Stena Impero, before London does the same with the Grace 1.
The “confiscation” of Stena Impero came hours after Gibraltar extended the detention of the Iranian boat for another month. And the day after the destruction by the United States of an Iranian drone in the Persian Gulf, which Tehran denied. In short, more than ever the eye for an eye, tooth for tooth strategy is engaged between Iran and its Western adversaries.
How far can she go? As of Saturday, London maintained contact with Tehran, Jeremy Hunt, its Minister of Foreign Affairs, speaking with his Iranian counterpart, Javad Zarif, and insisting on the need to find a diplomatic solution to this crisis in the crisis. But the escalation of reprisals remains worrying. Everyone is wondering how long can the death of men be avoided? Mike Pompeo, the US Secretary of State, warned that the loss of an American would result in a US military response.
“In the Strait of Hormuz, the Revolutionary Guards have developed a three-phase strategy”
Kanani Moghadam, a former IRGC, a week ago in Tehran
For Tehran, it was the US sanctions on Iran’s ban on exporting its oil from May that triggered this round of reprisals, launched by six tanker attacks in the Gulf – generally blamed on Tehran – and the destruction of an American drone by Iran, which almost led to a response, canceled at the last moment by Donald Trump.
Since then, convinced that the United States – after withdrawing last year from the 2015 nuclear deal – does not want to negotiate and that Europe is powerless to change the position of Donald Trump, the summit of Iranian power build up the pressure. “In the Strait of Hormuz, the Revolutionary Guards have developed a strategy in three phases”, confided a week ago, in Tehran, Kanani Moghadam, a former pasdaran, always close to the direction of this corps of elite in charge of protecting the regime. “Today the wardens control the owners of the ships entering the strait. The second phase will consist in closing the strait to our enemies and letting in ships from friendly countries, such as China, India or Japan. Finally, if Iran is attacked, we will close the strait and attack from the Iranian coast. ”
Iran has two seized ships – another, the Riah, was seized last Thursday – and Great Britain one. But Tehran still has four ships confiscated in Brazil. On the other hand, on Sunday, Saudi Arabia, Tehran’s sworn enemy, released, after negotiations, the Iranian tanker Happyness 1 which it had held at the port of Jeddah on the Red Sea for more than two months. “An interesting timing,” notes Samir Madani, director of Tankers Trackers, the organization which monitors the movements of tankers. Iran paid $ 20 million to repair the Happyness 1, but Arabia then demanded $ 200,000 per day for the ship’s maintenance. A real “ransom tactic”, denounced deputies in Tehran.
London now asks its ships to avoid the Strait of Hormuz. For its part, Washington announced on Friday the launch of Operation “Sentinel” from the creation of an international coalition to secure navigation in the Persian Gulf. But, for the moment, the volunteers are few.
For an expert on the Gulf, based in Dubai, “Iran seeks to maintain a climate of insecurity without crossing the threshold which would lead the international community to react”. But until when can the worst be avoided?