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On Sunday, Iran denounced the British-led proposed ‘EuroFleet’ as “provocative” and “hostile”. The proposal outlined a plan to have European-led naval ships escort tankers in the Gulf amid soaring tensions over the seizure of ships. More specifically, this proposal is a direct response to Iran’s seizure of a U.K. vessel on July 19, and along with the proposal, a Royal Navy warship arrived in the Gulf to accompany British vessels passing through the vital Strait of Hormuz. Iran says that the presence of foreign forces will not help alleviate tensions in the Gulf.
On Monday, Britain said it was planning a European-led force to escort tankers after the July 19 seizure of the U.K.-flagged vessel, the Stena Impero. The capture of the Stena Impero came two weeks after British authorities detained an Iranian tanker – the Grace 1 – of its overseas territory Gibraltar over allegations it was breaching EU sanctions on Syria.
Britain on Thursday ordered its navy to escort U.K.-flagged ships through the Strait, where the Stena Impero was seized by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.
“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,” said Iranian government spokesman Ali Rabiei.
The government spokesman said Iran believed the security of the oil-rich Gulf had to be maintained by countries in the region.”We are the biggest agent of maritime security in the Persian Gulf,” Rabiei was quoted as saying by ISNA news agency.
Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani said a force like that proposed by the U.K. would only make matters worse. “The presence of foreign forces will not help the region’s security and will be the main source of tensions,” Rouhani said after talks in Tehran with Oman’s minister in charge of foreign affairs, Yusuf bin Alawi.
Yusuf bin Alawi said that Muscat was “concerned” about security in the Strait and was “in contact with all parties”.
“Any error or miscalculated move could hamper navigation in international waters and harm everyone,” he told state broadcaster Oman TV after meeting with Rouhani.
France, Italy, and Denmark gave initial support for a British plan for a European-led naval mission to ensure safe shipping through the Strait of Hormuz, proposed after Iran’s seizure of a British-flagged tanker, three senior EU diplomats said last week. However, the proposal has so far generally received a cool response from the continent, partially because it would exclude the United States.
On Thursday, France said that it was not willing to send extra military assets to the region but would share information and coordinate its currently deployed assets.
The U.S. military has said it is already monitoring the area and developing a “multinational maritime effort” dubbed Operation Sentinel to increase surveillance and security in key Middle East waterways.
The 33-kilometer (22-mile) wide Strait of Hormuz provides the eastern entrance and exit point into the Gulf and runs between the United Arab Emirates and Iran. The strait is a vital international oil shipping route where about 20 percent of the world’s energy exports flow.
Iran’s high-seas standoff with Britain comes amid rising hostilities between the Islamic Republic and the United States.
The arch-enemies have been locked in a battle of nerves since President Donald Trump withdrew the U.S. from a landmark 2015 deal aimed at limiting Iran’s nuclear programme and began reimposing sanctions.
The situation has worsened since the Trump administration stepped up a campaign of “maximum pressure” against Iran this year, with drones downed and tankers mysteriously attacked in Gulf waters.
Rouhani said Washington sparked the crisis when it pulled out of the 2015 nuclear deal, known by its formal name, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.
“The unfortunate incidents and tensions in the region today have their roots in the unilateral U.S. withdrawal from the JCPOA agreement and the delusions of the country’s administration,” the Iranian president said.
“Iran will strongly stand against any wrongdoing and illegal activity that would threaten maritime security in the Persian Gulf, Strait of Hormuz, and the Sea of Oman,” ISNA quoted him saying.
This proposal is only the most recent event in a saga of historical tensions and distrust between countries over oil. Countries capturing other countries’ tankers and taking people hostage is an issue, but it is also important to remember that the Gulf region belongs to the countries in that region. If Iran or Oman tried to create a multinational escort fleet in U.S. waters, the U.S. would most certainly condemn the action through words and through actions. Distrust and an unwillingness to solve conflicts through discussion and compromise have partially led countries to take more extreme measures and demonstrations in order to get their point across.
The Gulf region is a pressure point region with issues and tensions that cannot be solved overnight. Foreign countries, like the U.S. and Britain, have a duty to keep their citizens and assets safe abroad. However, it is also important to remember that the countries in the Gulf, Iran included, will do all they can to ensure their safety and influence within their own borders against foreign powers.