British officers seized an Iranian oil tanker in Gibraltar last week, heightening tensions in the Middle East. Port authorities in the region claimed the Grace 1 was carrying crude oil to Syria, in violation of European Union sanctions. Iran, which is not a member of the EU, claims that it is not responsible for upholding EU sanctions and that Grace 1’s seizure was unlawful. The incident has generated a firestorm of tweets and speeches as diplomatic relations in the region continue to deteriorate.
Mohsen Rezaei, who commanded Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guard during the 1980’s Tanker War, tweeted that Iran has a “duty … to respond and seize one English oil tanker” in return. While more restrained, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif agreed that the seizure set a “dangerous precedent” of “extraterritoriality”. He tweeted, “UK’s unlawful seizure of a tanker with Iranian oil on behalf of #B_team is piracy; pure and simple.”
Iran isn’t the only country offended by the move. In a statement reported by the TASS news agency, the Russian foreign ministry “condemn[ed]” the seizure of the vessel, saying the action was “a deliberate step geared to further aggravate the situation around Iran and Syria.” Tensions have even risen in Gibraltar. Ownership of the region is disputed between Britain and Spain, and Spanish Foreign Minister Josep Borrell says Britain’s seizure of the tanker may have occurred unlawfully in Spanish waters. Spain plans to make a formal complaint against the U.K., who, Borrell believes, acted in response to an American request.
Certainly, John Bolton, American National Security Advisor noted anti-Iranian war hawk, seems to be one of the few responding positively to the situation. On July 4th, he called the tanker’s detention “excellent news,” tweeting, “America & our allies will continue to prevent regimes in Tehran & Damascus from profiting off this illicit trade.”
Bolton, who worked in the Bush administration as Under-Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security Affairs from May 2001 to July 2005, is one member of what Foreign Minister Zarif calls the “B-team”, a coalition of four politicians clamoring for armed conflict against Iran. (The other three are Benjamin Netanyahu, Prime Minister of Israel, and Mohammed Bin Salman and Mohammed bin Zayed, Crown Princes of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, respectively.) Zarif has accused the B-team of warmongering, and claims they are ultimately responsible for Donald Trump’s withdrawal from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action in 2018. If he’s right, the seizure of Grace 1 could be one more step taken to shatter the peace in the region.
War in the Strait of Hormuz would be profitable, especially for the U.S., which stands to benefit from lower oil prices, and Saudi Arabia, which would have a greater share in the oil market with Iran out of the way. But do we really want to embroil ourselves in another decade-long war over oil? According to the Iraq Body Count Project, there have been almost 300,000 casualties in Iraq since 2003. At least 183,774 of those casualties were civilians. All died violent deaths. According to estimates by the United Nations, the Iraq War displaced four and a half million people in and around the country. The fallout from the conflict contributed to outbreaks of cholera, cancer, and typhoid; unemployment levels rose as high as 60%, and one in three Iraqis lived in poverty, according to the Global Policy Forum. Nothing could be worth even half of those consequences – especially not slightly cheaper oil.
The easiest way to avoid war is to replace the war hawks and oil shills in our government with politicians who recognize the value of human life, no matter its consumer status or nation of origin. As citizens, that means voting for people who won’t throw the country into war on anyone’s say-so – whether Republican or Democrat. It also means calling our elected officials to let them know we won’t stand for war. Most importantly, it means not standing for war, no matter what the White House says, they will do to us otherwise. We’ve all heard the one about the ships They’ve sunk and the nuclear weapons they’ve got. Let’s not fall for it again.