‘A strait for a strait’: Iran demands access to Gibraltar waters after UK joins US maritime force in Gulf

Britain had indicated it would join European force in fractious Gulf waters, but now joins US operation

Bel Trew
Tuesday 06 August 2019 12:29 BST
Iran's Revolutionary Guards publish purported exchange with British warship

Iranian president Hassan Rouhani has warned shipping will not be safe in Strait of Hormuz, a day after Britain announced it would be joining a US-led naval mission to protect ships in the troubled oil waterway.

Speaking after a foreign ministry meeting, President Rouhani lashed out and threatened that Tehran could not guarantee security in the Strait of Hormuz unless Iran was permitted to freely move around Gibraltar.

The country’s defence minister later unveiled three precision-guided missiles, saying they show the country is ready to defend itself in the face of “viciousness and conspiracies”.

Last month British marines detained an Iranian tanker near the Strait of Gibraltar, which the UK accused of smuggling oil and breaking EU sanctions, triggering a bitter diplomatic spat.

Iran’s elite revolutionary guards later intercepted a British-flagged tanker, the Stena Impero, which remains under their control.

On Monday, Whitehall officials said that two royal naval warships deployed to the area will now join a US-led mission heavily criticised by Tehran. It aims to accompany commercial vessels through the waterway, which carries 20 per cent of the world’s oil supplies.

As tensions appeared to near breaking point, Mr Rouhani issued a veiled warning against the new initiative on Tuesday morning, saying that “war with Iran is the mother of all wars”.

“Security for security ... A strait for a strait. It can’t be that the Strait of Hormuz is free for you and the Strait of Gibraltar is not free for us,” Mr Rouhani said.

“If you want security, if your soldiers want security in the region, [then agree to] security for security. You cannot harm our security and then expect your own security,” he added.

Tensions between Iran and the west have soared since last summer when President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew from a 2015 deal between the US, Iran, China, France, the UK and Germany, which had curbed the Islamic republic’s nuclear programme in exchange for the easing of economic sanctions.

Mr Trump’s campaign of “maximum pressure” sanctions prompted Iran to hit back by decreasing some of its commitments under the deal.

But the situation threatened to tip into a regional conflict last month when ships in and along the Strait of Hormuz were attacked, drones were shot down and tankers seized.

At the height of the crisis, Mr Trump said he had called off airstrikes against Iran with just minutes to spare after the Islamic republic’s forces shot down a US drone.

Since then Washington has urged its allies to form a joint taskforce to patrol the Gulf.

On Monday Britain broke with an original plan to form a European-only initiative, becoming the first country to heed the call. Iran’s foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif had earlier taunted Washington, saying its allies were too “ashamed” to join the mission.

Iran's Revolutionary Guards publish purported exchange with British warship

Germany has publicly rejected calls to participate. France, which has a frigate in the area, has yet to commit.

In another sign of posturing, Iranian defence minister Brigadier-General Amir Hatami on Tuesday unveiled the launch of three new air-to-air missiles called the “Yasin”, “Balaban” and a new series of the “Ghaem”. He hailed it as “another significant achievement” for the country.

“It shows that despite the viciousness and conspiracies of the Great Satan America and its mercenaries, the defence ministry will not hesitate for a moment to defend the Islamic republic and to expand security,” he said, according to French news agency AFP.

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