In a further escalation of tensions with Iran the United Kingdom said one of its oil tankers was threatened by Iranian boats as it was sailing out of the Persian Gulf.
London said a U.K. warship intervened as the British Heritage Tanker was crossing into the straits of Hormuz when Iranian boats tried to divert the ship into Iranian waters.
Iran has denied the allegations, but the incident follows the seizure of an Iranian tanker by British forces in Gibraltar.
The U.K. said a naval frigate the HMS Montrose pointed its deck guns at three small Iranian vessels who were trying to intercept the tanker.
“Obviously, very concerning developments. But also, I’m very proud of the Royal Navy and the role that they played in keeping British assets, British shipping safe. We are continuing to monitor,” said British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt.
Tensions have been running high between the U.K. and Iran since British forces seized an Iranian tanker in Gibraltar –allegedly bound for Syria, breaching EU sanctions.
Iran has denied accusations that it’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard tried to seize the U.K. ship but the West has blamed Tehran for recent incidents targeting other oil tankers.
Iran also downed an unmanned U.S. drone after it allegedly flew into Iranian airspace. Iran said it will protect its interests.
“After the seizure of our oil tanker by the English, everyone is waiting to see a reaction from Iran in any second. Mostly because at least three of our high-ranking officials in military and security, like the minister of defence, the head of the general armed forces and President Rouhani who other than being the president is the head of the high national security council of Iran, have frankly spoken of this topic and have warned that they will respond for sure. Even yesterday Mr. Rouhani said that England will understand the consequences of its measures,” said Military Analyst Mehdi Bakhtiyari.
The tensions have been bubbling for a year- stemming from the unilateral withdrawal by Washington from the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, the re-imposition of sanctions and an EU oil embargo.
Tehran has responded by increasing uranium enrichment and demanding that European and other nations stick by the nuclear deal and its promised economic benefits.
This latest incident might help the U.S. in a bid to create an international coalition to protect shipping in the Persian Gulf, but that could increase military tensions.
In diplomacy, there is some movement. French diplomats have been in Tehran. Leaders from Qatar have been here in Washington and both have suggested a freeze in tit-for-tat escalations by both Tehran and Washington in a bid to ease tensions and find a pathway to talks.
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