The seizure of an Iranian oil tanker at the end of last week has caused a major diplomatic rift between Britain and the Islamic Republic.
On 4 July, British Royal Marines in Gibraltar stormed an Iranian ship believed to have been carrying oil to Syria. According to reports, the team of about 30 Marines from the 42nd Commando were flown from the U.K. to Gibraltar to assist local authorities at the request of the Gibraltar government. The first Marines to board the Panama-flagged ship descended by rope from a helicopter, as others approached in speed boats. The operation went down without incident. No shots were fired.
Spain’s acting foreign minister said the Iranian oil tanker seizure —Grace 1— was executed at the request of Washington.
Iran has since responded in outrage, labeling the operation an act of piracy. “Iran is neither a member of the EU nor subject to any European oil embargo. U.K.’s unlawful seizure of a tanker with Iranian oil […] is piracy, pure and simple,” Iran Foreign Minister Javad Zarif tweeted. To formally protest the incident, Iran has summoned the British ambassador twice since last week.
The implications of this incident are very important indeed. It shows that world powers are actively participating in America’s plan to clamp down on Iran’s economy, even going so far as to enforce these measures militarily. Two European nations, from a continent which until recently was largely pro-appeasement, facilitated in making the seizure possible.
The question is if the seizure will escalate into something more substantial. Some Iranian sources have suggested Tehran could retaliate by seizing a British ship if the Grace 1 is not returned.