On Monday, it was reported that the Stena Impero, a British-flagged vessel captured by Iran in July, had finally been cleared for released. Its seizure was preceded by threats of retaliation from the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps after British Royal Marines seized an Iranian supertanker as it was passing the British territory of Gibraltar en route to Syria.
Trade with Syrian government-affiliated entities is sanctioned by the European Union, and so British Royal Marines had a legal basis for the seizure of the Iranian vessel, which is now known as the Adrian Darya 1. Despite this fact, the ship was released about six weeks after its capture, based solely on Iranian assurances that the estimated two million barrels of oil cargo would not be sold to Syria.
As well as apparently violating an agreement with Britain, the Iranians continued to hold the Stena Impero. Iranian officials even publicly indicated that they would hold Britain responsible for any problems with the ship’s safe passage after its release from Gibraltar. In this sense, the continued detention of the Stena Impero was arguably motivated by a desire to use the ship as a source of leverage amidst ongoing tensions between Iran and the West.
The reports only signified that the Iranians had completed the legal procedures paying the way for the ship’s release. But as of that day, they had still not actually released it, and it was not clear whether there were imminent plans to do so.
Additionally, there are persistent signs that that release might be out of keeping with Iran’s posture toward the United Kingdom at a time when British foreign policies is trending gradually in the direction of the “maximum pressure” strategy already being directed against the Islamic Republic by the United States.
Boris Johnson’s recent ascension to the office of Prime Minister was widely regarded as a precursor to greater alignment between the two Western allies. And those expectations were further justified on Monday with news that the Johnson government had declared it “very likely” that Iran was behind missile attacks that struck Saudi Arabian oil infrastructure just over a week earlier.
The White House, along with the Saudis themselves, was quick to attribute that attack to Iran. The UK was somewhat more cautious, but information about the weapons used and their trajectory was steadily released over the past several days, with the Saudis hosting international media for direct viewing of the wreckage. Johnson evidently found this evidence compelling, though his calculations may have also been influenced by Iran’s own bellicose reaction to the disclosure of that evidence.
In fact, Iranian officials immediately directed that rhetoric toward the UK after Johnson affirmed Iran’s culpability. Abbas Mousavi, a spokesperson for the Iranian Foreign Minister, accused the British government of being complicit in human rights violations through its alliance with Saudi Arabia, which leads a coalition fighting to restore the government of President Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi in Yemen.
The Iranian regime continued threating the international community for example regime’s president Hassan Rouhani, who used a military parade over the weekend as an opportunity to deliver a speech declaring foreign forces a source of “problems and instability” for the Middle East and telling them: “The farther you keep yourselves from our region and our nations, the more security there will be.”
If it is true that relations between Iran and the UK are becoming increasingly difficult to distinguish from relations between Iran and the US, that would present a challenge to Boris Johnson’s statement on Monday affirming the need to “do a new deal” with the Islamic Republic. yet, Iran’s Foreign Minister Javad Zarif once again ruled out that possibility on Sunday ahead of the United Nations General Assembly in New York.
On Friday, the Trump administration imposed comprehensive sanctions on Iran’s national bank, thereby enforcing unprecedented isolation of the country’s economy. And although the US president specifically characterized this as a means of avoiding war and deterring Iranian escalation.