As soon as the emotions calmed down following the mysterious explosions aboard the Norwegian and Japanese oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman, which the United States and its Western allies immediately and without any evidence blamed on Tehran, a new tanker incident happened on July 4 in the Strait of Gibraltar. British marines detained the Iranian supertanker Grace 1, which was carrying either crude oil (according to the British version of the story) or refined oil products (according to one of the international think tanks). According to the British, the tanker was bound for Syria, in violation of the sanctions imposed by the European Union against Damascus. According to Abbas Araghchi, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Islamic Republic of Iran, the tanker had been heading to another destination, which was not named. This statement echoes the assumptions of some Western sources that the tanker had been en route to one of the European countries.
Tehran’s reaction was predictably harsh. Former commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) Mohsen Rezaei, now an influential Iranian politician, called the actions of the British authorities maritime piracy and demanded the release of the captured tanker. Otherwise, as he stressed, “the duty of the Iranian authorities is to seize a British oil tanker”. On July 6, a message was spread online that the Iranian authorities had stopped the British tanker “Pacific Voyager” in the Persian Gulf. However, the Iranian news agency IRIB denied this information, and the British maritime authorities said the tanker had stopped to “carry out a routine operation to synchronize the time of arrival at the port of destination”. One can only guess whether it was a fake news hit by the Iranians in order to bolster their threats, or indeed some incident really occurred with a British tanker.
It cannot be ruled out that the actions of the British authorities, whose position regarding Iran is stricter than that of France and Germany, were a kind of response to the gradual termination of Iranian obligations under the JCPOA, initiated by Tehran. This is due to the lack of economic dividends promised by the European participants after the US left the deal.
So, Iran has already exceeded the permissible 300 kg storage level of low-enriched uranium, mentioned in the Vienna agreements, and has begun to enrich uranium above the stipulated figure of 3.67 percent. The Iranians also made it clear that they may abandon the reconfiguration of the heavy-water reactor in Arak and take other steps in the future (which haven’t been finalised) to cease voluntary commitments. At the same time, Tehran emphasizes that all these measures are reversible if the European Union takes serious steps to protect Iranian trade and economic interests from the American sanctions.
The recent tanker incident, clearly coordinated with the United States, can also be viewed as provoking Iran to respond sharply, preferably with violent actions that could serve as a pretext for further exacerbating the confrontation with Iran and making the European countries introduce tough sanctions against Tehran.However, despite mutual threats and hostile public rhetoric against each other, Iran and the United States have so far refrained from stepping over mutual “red lines”, beyond which direct military confrontation is possible. Both sides understand that in this case, each of them will suffer losses that could be catastrophic in military, economic, geopolitical and reputational terms.