The Stena Imperio, what next?

With the UK flagged tanker Stena Impero being seized by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard in the Strait of Hormuz, reportedly in Omani Territorial waters according to the UK Defence Secretary Penny Mordaunt, what can be done next?

Whatever the next step is, it will by default be seen by the Iranians as escalatory. We are entering a very dangerous phase that would tax the most experienced and hardened of Prime Ministers never mind a new one starting next week. 

The Foreign Office has summoned Iran’s charge d’affaires in London, in the first step of what will be a fraught period of diplomacy where every word counts.  Penny Mordaunt has already declared it as a ‘Hostile Act,’ a significant choice of words in the diplomatic world as it is one associated with the easing of a military’s rules of engagement and a precursor to greater military deployments.

Once severe displeasure has been lodged with the Iranian charge d’affaires it is likely that Teresa May and Jeremy Hunt, the Foreign Secretary will be on the phone to allied to ask them to pass their condemnation onto Iran’s representatives in their capitals. We should start to see statements of condemnation and concern from allies coming out.

The next formal step will likely be an emergency meeting of the United Nations Security Council early in the week, to pass a resolution ordering Iran to release the Stena Impero and her crew and to stop all aggressive behaviour in the region. If the phrase ‘hostile act’ gets into the UNSCR the next phrase to watch for is “by all means necessary” when it comes to enforcing the resolution. That is in effect a UN authorisation to go to war if necessary. Words are important!

Given Iran’s links to Syria and therefore Russian activity in Syria they would probably hope that Russia would veto any resolution worded too strongly.  However, given there is a Russian citizen amongst the crew and there is already pressure on Russia elsewhere, this is less likely.

Iran is angry at the UK’s seizure of an Iranian oil tankerthe Grace 1in Gibraltar’s waters, for operating against EU sanctions on Syria.  Iranian TV’s Channel Two, broadcast part of an interview with Mr Abbas Mousavi, an Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman who said the seizure was “a form of piracy” 

The issue is however much bigger and Iran’s beef with the UK goes far back in history with recent disputed over undelivered tanks, ordered during the Shar’s reign and partially paid for but not delivered due to the Iranian Revolution.  The initial payments were never refunded, and Iran has taken the UK Govt owned company who brokered the deal, to court.

Iran is concerned about current sanctions and sees the UK as a bedfellow of their arch enemy the US. President Trumps recent withdrawal from the Iran nuclear treaty has enflamed tensions.  Those tensions are further enflamed by the continuing proxy wars in Syria and Yemen where British weapons and supplied military capabilities are being used against Iranian backed rebels.

The one conclusion form all of this is it is a mess and will be very difficult to unpick, it is likely the Stena Impero will be in Iranian waters for quite some time to come.  Any next step is likely to enflame tensions further and I suspect activity in Portsmouth will be increasing rapidly to prepare more ships for sea. Not a good time for RN personnel if they have annual leave booked.

Note: This blog is written by Philip Ingram MBE, a former British Military Intelligence Officer and now journalist who has served in the Gulf. If you would like any further comment from Philip, please contact him by clicking HERE

Related Article: https://greyharemedia.com/the-intelligence-game-how-will-we-know-it-was-iran/