British-flagged oil tanker Stena Impero which was
seized by the Iran's Revolutionary Guard on Friday
is photographed in the Iranian port of Bandar
Abbas, Saturday, July 20, 2019. The chairman of
Britain's House of Commons Foreign Affairs
Committee says military action to free the oil
tanker seized by Iran would not be a good choice.
Tom Tugendhat said Saturday it would be
"extremely unwise" to seek a military
solution to the escalating crisis, especially
because the vessel has apparently been taken to a
TEHRAN, Iran — A
powerful council in Iran said Saturday the country's
seizure of a British oil tanker in the strategic Strait
of Hormuz was in response to Britain's role in
impounding an Iranian supertanker two weeks earlier.
Spokesman of Iran's
Guardian Council, Abbas Ali Kadkhodaei, was quoted in
the semi-official Fars news agency saying "the rule
of reciprocal action is well-known in international
law" and that Iran's moves to "confront the
illegitimate economic war and seizure of oil tankers is
an instance of this rule and is based on international
The council rarely
comments on state matters, but when it does it is seen
as a reflection of the supreme leader Ayatollah Ali
Khamenei's views. That's because the council works
closely with Khamenei, who has final say on all state
The free flow of traffic
through the Strait of Hormuz is of international
importance because one-fifth of all global crude exports
passes through the waterway from Mideast exporters to
countries around the world.
The British-flagged Stena
Impero was seized by Iran on Friday evening with a crew
of 23 crew aboard. None are British nationals. Maritime
trackers show it was headed to a port in Saudi Arabia.
Two weeks earlier,
Britain's Royal Marines took part in the seizure of an
Iranian oil tanker carrying more than 2 million barrels
of Iranian crude by Gibraltar, a British overseas
territory off the southern coast of Spain. Officials
there initially said the July 4 seizure happened on
orders from the U.S.
Britain has said it would
release the vessel if Iran could prove it was not
breaching European Union sanctions on oil shipments to
Syria. However, on Friday, a court in Gibraltar extended
by 30 days the detention of the Panama-flagged Grace.
Iran's Foreign Minister
Mohammad Javad Zarif characterized the seizure of Iran's
tanker as "piracy." In comments on Twitter, he
wrote that the U.K. must cease being an accessory to the
"economic terrorism" of the U.S. — a
reference to sweeping American sanctions on Iran.
Iran's subsequent seizure
of the British tanker was seen as a significant
escalation. Germany and France have both condemned the
move, with Berlin saying it undermines all efforts to
find a way out of the current crisis.
In London, Tom Tugendhat,
the chairman of Britain's House of Commons Foreign
Affairs Committee, said military action to free the
British tanker would be "extremely unwise,"
especially because the vessel was apparently taken to a
Current tensions have
been escalating since President Donald Trump withdrew
the U.S. from Iran's 2015 nuclear deal with world powers
and imposed economic sanctions on Iran, including its
In May, the U.S.
announced it was dispatching an aircraft carrier and
additional troops to the Middle East, citing unspecified
threats posed by Iran.
The ongoing showdown has
caused jitters around the globe, with each maneuver
bringing fear that any misunderstanding or misstep by
either side could lead to war.
In June, Iran shot down
an American drone in the same waterway, and Trump came
close to retaliating but called off an airstrike at the
last moment. Just this week, Washington claimed that a
U.S. warship downed an Iranian drone in the strait. Iran
denied that it lost an aircraft in the area. There have
also been attacks on oil tankers in recent weeks that
the U.S. blames on Iran — an allegation denied by the
Stena Bulk, the owner of
the seized British tanker, said the vessel's crew
members are of Indian, Filipino, Russian and Latvian
nationalities. Iranian officials say the crew remain on
The state-run news agency
IRNA had reported earlier Saturday that Iran seized the
British-flagged vessel after it collided with an Iranian
fishing boat — an explanation that portrayed the
seizure as a technicality rather than a tit-for-tat
The company that owns the
ship said the vessel was in full compliance with all
international regulations when it was intercepted Friday
by "unidentified small crafts and a
helicopter" during its transit through the Strait
The comments Saturday by
the Guardian Council reflect how prominently Britain has
featured in the rising U.S. tensions with Iran.
There was a brief
standoff between the British navy and the Iranian
Revolutionary Guard vessels recently. The British navy
said it warned three Guard vessels away after they tried
to impede the passage of a commercial British tanker
that the navy was escorting.
represented less than 0.6% of the 67,533 ships sailing
through the Strait of Hormuz in 2018, with 427 transits,
according to maritime publication Lloyd's List, quoting
research from Russel Group.
Iran's government has
desperately tried to get out of the economic chokehold,
urging the other partners in the nuclear deal,
particularly European nations, to find ways around the
Meanwhile, the U.S. is
mulling a proposal called the Sentinel Program — a
coalition of nations working with the U.S. to preserve
maritime security in the Persian Gulf and keep eyes on
The U.S. is also sending
several hundred troops as well as aircraft and air
defense missiles to Iran's rival, Saudi Arabia, as part
of its increased military presence in the region. The
move has been in the works for several weeks.
King Salman approved
hosting U.S. armed forces in the kingdom "to
increase joint cooperation in defense and regional
security and stability," a statement in the
state-run Saudi Press Agency said.