Iran fans flames at Strait of Hormuz with brazen attack on British tanker
ISTANBUL - In the most serious escalation since the confrontation between Iran and the United States in the Gulf began two months ago, Tehran drove up tensions with the West by seizing a British-flagged oil tanker at a key choke point of the world’s oil trade.
With the attack July 19 on the Stena Impero, Iran signalled its determination to interfere with traffic in the Strait of Hormuz, a main artery for global oil trade that carries approximately one-third of the world’s sea-borne oil. Another British ship was briefly detained by Iran before being released.
British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said he was worried Iran had taken a “dangerous path of illegal and destabilising behaviour.”
Tehran said its Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps seized the Stena Impero after the British ship damaged an Iranian fishing vessel in a collision but the effort to explain the move with a need to investigate a suspected maritime incident sounded hollow.
The attack occurred only hours after a British court in Gibraltar said it would extend by 30 days the detention of an Iranian tanker seized two weeks ago in an operation aided by British Royal Marines on allegations of breaching EU sanctions against Syria.
Looking for leverage in its row with the United States, the Iranian leadership has previously warned that it could stop traffic in the Strait of Hormuz. Iranian President Hassan Rohani said last year that “no oil will be exported” from the Gulf if the United States blocked Iran’s crude exports.
Washington has imposed crushing sanctions against Iran’s oil industry to make Tehran accept stricter limits on its nuclear programme.
Huge amounts of oil and gas are shipped daily through the strait between Iran in the north and Oman in the south. Disruption of tanker traffic would hit oil and gas markets and could affect the global economy.
The United States, which has sent naval and air force units to the Gulf region and is deploying an additional 500 military personnel to Saudi Arabia to deter Iranian aggression, said it wants to build an international coalition to secure traffic in the strait.