As the ship named British Heritage, a British oil tanker, prepared to enter the waters of the Straits of Hormuz a group of small speed boats came around and asked that it change course into Iranian waters. The speed boats communicated with the tanker via ship radio.
These were no ordinary speedboats. They are well known and known to be notorious. They are a stealth weapon, part of the arsenal of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard.
Luckily, the tanker was escorted from behind by the HMS Montrose, a vessel of the British Royal Navy and they, too, heard the Iranian demand. The British war ship trained its guns on the Iranian boats and demanded that the Iranians evacuate — immediately.
This story is not nautical lore. Originally reported by the United States, the United Kingdom has confirmed the incident. The Americans, who also heard the threat and immediately scrambled fighter jets that were already on location in the area, thought that five speed boats were involved. The British made a correction to the report, there were three Iranian vessels involved.
British Heritage is owned by BP, the London based multinational oil and gas company, and the British are fully aware that their vessels are at great risk of being taken captive by Iranian forces. In fact, within the past week alone Iran has publicly threatened to seize a British ship.
The Iranian threat against the British vessel was a case of tit for tat.
It was a response to the British seizure of Grace 1, an Iranian nationally owned super tanker, off the coast of Gibraltar. The British seized the Iranian ship and its captain has been arrested for breaking the sanctions against Syria. At the time of the seizure Grace 1 was bringing badly needed oil to Syria. The apparent humanitarian gesture was in violation of UN Security Council sanctions on Syrian imports of oil. It was a grandstand move by both the Iranians and by the British. Of course sanctions are important and, once imposed, need to be enforced. But everyone knows Syria can get as much oil as it wants form Russia.
So the British are on alert, knowing that Iran is gunning for them in the sea, and they are responding by raising the threat level to Level 3 and escorting as many non-military commercial ships as they can with military vessels. It is hardly a plan. There are 800 British commercial ships at sea. Thankfully, only about 50 ships are in the gulf region — but even escorting 50 ships can be problematic.
According to the report issued by the United States and then corroborated by Great Britain, the three speed boats were positioned in front of the British Heritage when they tried to commandeer the ship. Iran intended to prevent the ship from entering the Straits. But the HMS Montrose prevented that from happening by wedging itself between the vessels and demanding that the Iranians leave. The Iranian plan to have the British ship wade into Iranian territorial waters was foiled by the HMS Montrose.
Why would Iran attempt so clumsy a move on a BP tanker with a Royal Navy warship right there? According to the British Defense Ministry report “the Iranian vessels were trying to divert the Heritage from international to Iranian waters.” Then they would be able to capture the boat. True, but that's too simple and too obvious a response.
Not surprisingly, Iranian Foreign Minister Zarif's response is that: "there is no validity to the reports." Of course they would deny the attack if for no other reason than that it was so bungled and abysmally unsuccessful. Embarrassing, even.
The only explanation for such a feeble strike is that the Iranian speed boats, true to form, approached the British Heritage undetected. Only after they made their threat were they discovered. Then the HMS Montrose sprang into action.
Nothing happens in a vacuum with Iran. What may seem, on the surface, to be unrelated incidents are really intertwined incidents. All we have to do is connect the dots. The dots we have to play with now are the arrest by Britain of the Iranian tanker near Gibraltar, the downing of the U.S. drone by Iran and attacks on various other merchant ships.
The United States has already proposed, although details have yet to be made public, that a coalition force be formed to police the region around the Straits of Hormuz and protect the waterway. The region is ripe for pirates. The Straits of Hormuz run between Oman and Iran. They are extremely narrow. And despite all this, anywhere between 20% and 30% of the world's oil passes through the Straits of Hormuz every single day. The one detail we do have is that the U.S. has said that they do not want to foot the entire cost of the project.
The area is an important regional asset. And it is just as important an asset for the Western world and for the entire world.
The foiled and failed interception of the British Heritage and the downing of the drone and the other attacks — they are all wake-up calls. Iran is not asleep on the job — neither should we be. The Iranian plan to dominate the world has not been abandoned.
Micah Halpern is a political and foreign affairs commentator. He founded "The Micah Report" and hosts "Thinking Out Loud with Micah Halpern" a weekly TV program and "My Chopp" a daily radio spot. A dynamic speaker, he specializes in analyzing world events and evaluating their relevance and impact. Follow him on Twitter @MicahHalpern. To read more of this reports — Click Here Now.
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