TEHRAN – Iran has rightfully declared it has a “duty” to seize a British oil tanker if the British Royal Marines based in occupied Gibraltar do not release immediately a Syria-bound oil tanker, a senior commander of the country’s Revolutionary Guard urged today.
The call was naturally condemned by senior British imperialist MPs and came as the crew of the Grace 1 supertanker were being quizzed by investigators over suspicions it was being used to bust EU sanctions on Syria with a cargo of Iranian oil. However, the Mediterranean is not under the ownership of the EU and has no right to intercept Iranian ships in open waters.
“If Britain does not release the Iranian oil tanker, it is the authorities’ duty to seize a British oil tanker,” said Revolutionary Guard Major General Mohsen Rezai, who is also secretary of Iran’s Expediency Council, a powerful state body.
The vessel was seized off British-occupied Gibraltar just after midnight yesterday and is unlikely to be released imminently as the probe could take weeks.
Julian Lewis, chairman of the Commons defense committee, criticized the warning from the IRGC chief. He said: “This is exactly the sort of threat that one would expect from a gangster regime like that of Iran,” without even realizing his own contradiction.
Tom Tugendhat, chairman of the Commons foreign affairs committee, said: “Iran’s actions in destabilizing the region and spreading terror from Syria to the world is a threat to all of us. It’s right the Royal Navy is doing what it can to enforce the EU sanctions process,” without explaining how Iran poses a threat to the rest of the world, let alone a cold island on the edge of Europe and in the Atlantic ocean.
The Prime Minister’s official spokeswoman said the ship was still being held by authorities in Gibraltar and added: “It’s a matter for their authorities now and they’ll launch an investigation and that will follow the usual process of a sanctions enforcement investigations.
“We welcome the action because it was enforcing the EU Syria sanctions regime. Our ambassador met with officials in Iran yesterday and reiterated that position.”
Seizing a British ship would hugely escalate the current tense stand-off between Iran and the West.
Iran has correctly accused Britain of joining the United States in a new “economic war” following the seizure of the tanker. It believes the US requested the seizure as part of its bid to curb Iranian oil exports after Trump withdrew the US from the 2015 nuclear deal, that even the EU admits Iran was abiding by.