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Sea-Piracy Resurrected in The Civilised West

by Nazir Tabassum

The USA’s President Donald Trump is at the bottom of all this imbroglio who has the least respect for the international accords reached at between the two nations of Iran and the US and guaranteed by the big powers like EU, Russia and China, France, the UK and Germany.

When five permanent members of the Security Council (the US, the UK, France, Russia and China plus Germany), the EU and Iran signed a nuclear accord in April 2015, the whole world welcomed this accord except Israel. It was not only the Israeli government but also the Muslim holy lands who were displeased at this accord and openly showed their disgust.

On May 8, 2018, Donald Trump announced the United States was withdrawing from the accord and left a big question mark as who in this world could qualify to be civilised.

The US initiated tension in the Gulf. She then blamed Iran for attacks on tankers since May this year. Iran denied all these allegations. Later, the US claimed to have destroyed an Iranian drone in the Gulf. And so, Iran too denied the US claim.

What followed was the British involvement in following the American suit, as once did the former British Prime Minister Tony Blair. The British have since long, after losing their former Imperial status, chosen to follow the US in all matters of world policy. They captured an Iranian Super oil tanker on the pretext that it was carrying crude oil to Syria in the wake of sanctions imposed on her by the EU.

Whatever was done by the British Royal Marines was done at the behest of the US, as revealed by the Spanish authorities. The Iranian Foreign Ministry summoned British ambassador and told him that their government’s action in seizing the tanker was illegal. The British ambassador to Iran, Rob Macaire took the official stand of their government by saying, “[The UK] welcomes this firm action by the Gibraltarian authorities” to enforce sanctions against the regime of Bashar al-Assad.

It was a typical drama of sea piracy enacted by the Marines from 42 Commando who seized the Iranian tanker overnight. Some of them landed on the ship’s deck by rapidly descending down ropes suspended from a Wildcat helicopter, and the rest following up in a speedboat.

The ownership of Iranian oil tanker Grace 1 was not clear in the beginning but later on its origin was confirmed by the Iranian Foreign Ministry. Its spokesman tweeted: “Following the illegal seizure of Iranian oil tanker by the British Royal Marines, the UK envoy to Tehran has been summoned to the ministry of foreign affairs”. In response to that the British Ministry of defence said that British troops were always acting under the direction of the Gibraltar police. The marines provided the technical expertise to allow the tanker to be boarded at sea.

The Spanish authorities, however, contradicted the British position. Their acting foreign minister, Joseph Borrell, said Gibraltar has seized Grace 1 after a request from the US to Britain to pick up the tanker laden with crude oil.

Now, what has been going on in the backstage of all these dramatic situations, is the US’s unilateral withdrawal from the US-Iranian Accord over the nuclear programme of the Persians. The US accused Iran of sabotage of oil tankers in the Strait of Hormuz. It may be Iran’s policy of brinkmanship carved to show the US that there is an economic cost against the Trump administration’s decision to roll back the 2015 nuclear deal and thus imposing economic sanctions against a country never to be mistaken as either Iraq or Libya or Syria.

The hawk in the White House, the rout cause of the mischief, John Bolton, the US National Security Advisor, expressed immense joy over the incident of tanker’s seizure: “Excellent news: UK has detained the Super tanker Grace 1 laden with Iranian oil bound for Syria in violation of EU sanctions,” Bolton tweeted. “America and our allies will continue to prevent regimes in Tehran & Damascus from profiting off this illicit trade,” he said.

John Bolton, the notorious Iraq-era hawk, is given free hand over policy by the US President. He is widely known as driving the US confrontation with Iran. He is least concerned as to who would be hurt in his bid to tame Tehran. He cares little even if the UK, a close ally of the US, may be the victim of collateral damage.

The seizure of Grace 1 resulted in the capture of a British tanker, the Stena Impero, by Iran’s Revolutionary Guards in the Strait of Hormuz. Though the link is not explicit, yet Iran had vowed to retaliate for Britain’s Gibraltar “piracy”. The revenge became very much clear. Britain, at the moment, has many other irons in fire at home to deal with. The hawk of her close ally, John Bolton, has left no stone unturned to plunge this country in the centre of an international crisis. Britain is not prepared to deal with it and the timing could be no worse than this one.

A new Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, yet to undergo the test of the time, has newly entered the Downing Street. No other tome could be worst for Britain as this one when it is facing Exit from EU with or without any deal. It is on the path of alienating itself from its closest European allies. Not the least, its relations with America are the least warm as it once were.

Much of this trepidation was avoidable. The UK has opposed Trumps decision to withdraw from the nuclear deal of 2015, which has triggered today’s crisis. The Britons have been passively observing Trump-Bolton policy of exerting maximum pressure on Iran, using punitive sanctions and oil embargo. All this resulted in radicalising the most moderate Iranians.

There has been a duplicity of words and actions at the top levels of British authorities. Where most of the Britain has been trying to save the 2015 nuclear deal, Theresa May and Jeremy Hunt tried to have it both ways; a policy of Trump appeasement. Thus, they openly supported Trump’s complaints about Iran’s “destabilising” regional activities and missile programme.

However, both Mrs May and Mr Hunt have met their Waterloo, but this government failed to provide necessary protection to the Union Jack carrying ships passing through the strait of Hormuz, the most important waterway through which passes more than 60% of the world oil. It clearly signified Royal Navy’s lack of capacity to carry out enough patrols as well as the angst Britain could be sucked into armed conflict with Iran if it raised its military profile.

Iran’s seizure of the Stena Impero has exposed Britain’s diplomatic isolation and its military and economic vulnerability. The government has advised British ships to avoid strait of Hormuz, an open confession that it cannot provide them protection. A well-calculated estimate shows that from 15 to 30 British flag carrying vessels pass through the strait of Hormuz every day. If the trade is halted, it will severely impact the energy prices.

Richard Burgon, Labour’s shadow Justice Minister reacted to Royal Marines sea adventure: “The UK should avoid becoming Donald Trump’s “sidekicks” and warned a US-backed conflict with Iran could be worse than the Iraq war.

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