What on Earth were the British politicians and officials thinking who gave the go-ahead for the seizure of the Iranian oil tanker Grace 1 off Gibraltar on 4 July? Did they truly believe that the Iranians would not retaliate for what they see as a serious escalation in America’s economic war against them?
The British cover story that the sending of 30 Royal Marines by helicopter to take over the tanker was all to do with enforcing EU sanctions on Syria, and nothing to do with US sanctions on Iran, was always pretty thin.
The Spanish foreign minister, Josep Borrell, has said categorically that Britain took over the tanker “following a request from the United States to the United Kingdom”.
One fact about Iranian foreign policy should have been hardwired into the brain of every politician and diplomat in Britain, as it already is in the Middle East, which is that what you do to the Iranians they will do to youat a time and place of their own choosing.
The US and UK backed Saddam Hussein in his invasion of Iran in 1980, but this was not unconnected – though it was impossible to prove – with the suicide bombing that killed 241 US service personnel in the marine barracks in Beirut in 1983.
Commentators seeking an explanation for the UK’s seizure of the Grace 1 suggest that it was suckered into the action by super hawks in the US administration, such as the national security adviser John Bolton.
But, given the inevitability of the Iranian reaction against British naval forces too weak to defend British-flagged tankers, the British move looks more like a strategic choice dictated by a lack of other options.
Confrontation with the EU over Brexit means that Britain has no alternative but to ally itself ever more closely to the US.
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