Thwarted in its efforts to impose regime change on the Syrian people, US imperialism is gearing up for war against Iran. Britain is closely implicated in the bellicose preparations, but is showing signs of hesitancy.
Over the summer there have been a number of incidents of minor sabotage suffered by commercial shipping passing through the strait of Hormuz, a key choke point for oil tankers travelling between the Gulf of Oman and the Persian Gulf. Whilst Washington has tried to blame Iran for these, it is most probable that they have been ‘false flag’ stunts engineered by imperialism to soften up public opinion for military intervention against Iran.
Britain has been a key player in this war of nerves, even resorting to a brazen act of piracy when in early July a tanker bearing 2.1 million barrels of Iranian crude oil estimated to be worth $130 million, the MT Grace 1, was detained in a joint raid by Royal Navy Marines and the Gibraltar police. The excuse for this brigandage was the allegation (unproven, and denied by Tehran) that the ship was bound for Syria, and was therefore in breach of EU sanctions against that country. (Presumably this pretext was chosen because officially the EU and Britain do not support US sanctions against Iran, only against Syria.).
A couple of weeks after this transparent provocation by British imperialism came the Stena Impero episode. A British-flagged oil tanker, the Stena Impero, came into collision with an Iranian fishing boat, putting its crew at risk. After any such serious incident, maritime law requires both parties to submit to an investigation. Yet when the crew of the fishing boat sought to contact the British-flagged tanker to arrange this, no response was forthcoming. The fishing crew, observing legal procedures, contacted the Hormozgan port and maritime office, which demanded that the tanker must submit to investigation. The British-flagged tanker, still refusing to cooperate, was then taken into custody by the authorities and the matter is now being dealt with through the courts.
This entirely legitimate and proportionate Iranian response to Britain’s Rule Britannia arrogance was at once seized upon by the US as a pretext for a massive build-up of force in the Persian Gulf, supposedly to ‘protect’ maritime traffic. The Pentagon has deployed a carrier strike group, bomber task force, missile batteries and thousands of troops. And whilst Washington’s European allies have so far been reluctant to join this US armada, London announced in early August it was sending two warships into the Persian Gulf , whilst not making explicit its relations with the Pentagon’s Operation Sentinel.
Interestingly though, there have been signs of nervousness from Britain over just how deep it is prepared to wade into the mire after its senior partner in the Anglo-American alliance. The British authorities on Gibraltar resisted pressure from the US to extend their detention of the MT Grace 1, insisting on releasing the ship in the teeth of opposition from the US. Arguing that they were bound by EU law, not US law, the British authorities on Gibraltar ignored a detention order issued by a US federal court in Washington, instead releasing the ship once the captain had assured them the boat was not headed for Syria. Since then the ship has been renamed the Adrian Darya 1, and the ship’s cargo has been sold to an unidentified buyer (who would certainly be sanctioned by the US if identified) and currently remains roaming free on the Mediterranean, although under US pressure it has been refused the right to dock for refuelling in Greece and Turkey.
The situation is complicated by the fact that Britain, along with the rest of the EU, has been reluctant to follow the US in tearing up the nuclear deal with Iran that was so painstakingly negotiated. Whilst too gutless openly to challenge the legality of the sanctions Washington has now re-imposed on Iran (and on those who do business with her), British imperialism has so far tried to distance itself from the barbaric US policy of open economic war against the Iranian people. Meanwhile however Britain has no qualms about imposing sanctions on Syria. So once it was established that the MT Grace 1 had no intention of heading for Syria, Gibraltar ran out of legal excuses for impounding the ship.
No sooner had the ship been released than the US Department of Justice unsealed a warrant ordering the seizure and forfeiture of the ship and all its oil – on the spurious ground that it belonged to the Iranian Revolutionary Guard which the US has designated a ‘terrorist organisation’. Charging the Iranians with bank fraud and money laundering, the warrant also levied a fine of $995,000.
In response to these blatant attempts by US imperialism to prevent Iran from selling its oil, Iranian president Hassan Rouhani announced on 22 August that if Iranian oil sanctions completely curtailed the country’s oil exports, "international waterways cannot have the same security as before", in other words foreign ships would be no safer in Iranian waters, in particular the Strait of Hormuz, than Iranian ships are elsewhere.
It would be rash to assume that Gibraltar’s belated respect for the law will necessarily be shared by the government in London. But Gibraltar’s wobble maybe offers us a glimpse of the anxiety besetting British imperialism at the prospect of being stampeded into yet another failed US adventure in the middle east, just at the time when parliament’s refusal to honour the result of the Brexit referendum is catastrophically undermining public confidence in bourgeois democracy.