The Guardian newspaper warned that Britain of its gradual dragging into the ongoing confrontation between the United States and Iran, noting that London will lose a lot as a result. “This is a dangerous game,” an Iranian Foreign ministry official warned on Friday, urging the UK to release the Iranian tanker which the British Navy helped authorities in Gibraltar to seize last week.
This came as the intensifying struggle between Washington and Tehran, in which the main players appear overconfident they know the rules and understand the stakes, while minor players fret about outcomes they have limited power to change.
Mohamed ElBaradei, who headed the UN nuclear watchdog in the run-up to the invasion of Iraq, has offered one of the sharpest warnings of the potential consequences. “All that I hear basically [brings] to mind the days before the Iraq war,” he told the BBC. “The Iranian regime’s record at home and in the region is a grim one. But this crisis was created by the US president’s determination to destroy an international nuclear deal – which Iran was abiding by – and throttle the economy.”
Yet while the Trump administration turns the screws, it is unclear what it wants. Donald Trump does not share John Bolton’s thirst for regime change, seeing an expensive war as unhelpful to his prospects of reelection. Last month he called off airstrikes at the eleventh hour. Even as the administration seizes on every Iranian action, it has apparently refrained, at least for now, from blacklisting the foreign minister, Javad Zarif, and cutting off the route to dialogue.
Europe has been desperately trying to shore up the joint comprehensive plan of action (JCPOA). But the awkwardness of Britain’s position became clearer when the Royal Navy reported it had seen off an Iranian attempt to intercept a Manx-flagged oil tanker in the strait of Hormuz on Wednesday. Tehran denies harassment, but the UK has put shipping on maximum alert in the Gulf and sent another warship, according to the Guardian.
The obvious trigger was the seizure of the Iranian tanker. Britain says it acted at the request of Gibraltar’s authorities and on suspicion the vessel was bound for Syria in breach of EU sanctions – not in response to the US sanctions on Iran. But there is widespread suspicion that US pressure was key. Iran’s anger is magnified by frustration that Europe has failed to mitigate the impact of US hostility.