Iran condemned a proposal introduced by the UK for a European-led naval mission to accompany tankers through the Strait of Hormuz, the world’s busiest oil shipping lane. Britain ordered its Royal Navy, by way of warship, to escort British vessels in the Strait of Hormuz on Thursday. Iran reacted in strong opposition; Iranian government spokesman, Ali Rabiei, said, “We heard that they intend to send a European fleet to the Persian Gulf, which naturally carries a hostile message, is provocative, and will increase tensions.” As the proposal does not include the United States, it has received little enthusiasm or support in Europe. According to The Washington Post, France will not send extra military assets to the region but will provide information and maintain use of its existing Gulf assets. The proposal comes just weeks after Iran seized the Stena Impero, a UK vessel, and British authorities detained an Iranian tanker.
Iran believes security in the Gulf should be left to the states in the region: “[Iran is] the biggest agent of maritime security in the Persian Gulf,” he told ISNA news agency. According to Iran’s President, Hassan Rouhani, “The presence of foreign forces will not help the region’s security and will be the main source of tensions.” Increased maritime tensions come amid growing conflict between the United States and Iran over the 2015 nuclear deal, of which the UK is a signatory. The signatories of the nuclear deal met Sunday for diplomatic talks, but tensions still run high. Iran views Britain’s seizure of its tanker as a violation of the nuclear deal. Iranian official Abbas Araqchi told The Washington Post, in reference to the tanker detainment, “The countries who are part of [the nuclear deal] shouldn’t create obstacles for the export of Iranian oil.” British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt similarly condemned Iran for seizing the Stena Impero, citing international law: “Under international law, Iran had no right to obstruct the ship’s passage – let alone board her. It was, therefore, an act of state piracy.” The UK subsequently developed its proposal for the European-led naval mission.
Both Iran and the UK have expressed opposition to seizures of ships carrying out business and trade in key waterways, particularly shipping lanes such as the Strait of Hormuz. Both countries have also vocally expressed a desire to avoid conflict. Nevertheless, military threats from the US have exacerbated the situation in the Persian Gulf. Stephen Zunes, professor of politics at the University of San Francisco, suggested to Al Jazeera that conflict may become more likely despite the nations’ desire to avoid war. According to Al Jazeera, Zunes remarked that increased tensions in the Gulf may be a way for Iran to signal to European countries for them to step in before US military presence encroaches even more. Iran and the US have sparred in recent months over drone and military air surveillance, oil tanker attacks, and increasingly tight sanctions after the US departure from the 2015 agreement. Washington has developed a multinational security initiative, Operation Sentinel, to increase surveillance in Middle East waterways.
Given the growing frequency of ship seizures and maritime conflict, diplomatic talks (such as those held last Sunday) remain essential to foster resolution and maintain commitment to the agreement negotiated in 2015. Moreover, the US’s repudiation of the Iran Nuclear Deal has instigated conflict both among European nations and in the Persian Gulf. Therefore, the responsibility of curbing US aggression in the region may partly go to the US’s European allies. Should the European allies take a stronger stance in support of peaceful transit in the Strait of Hormuz, the US might be more likely to de-escalate military surveillance.