Did John Bolton Light the Fuse of the UK-Iranian Tanker Crisis?

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While Iran’s seizure of a British tanker near the Strait of Hormuz on Friday was a clear response to the British capture of an Iranian tanker in the Strait of Gibraltar on July 4, both the UK and U.S. governments are insisting that Iran’s operation was illegal while the British acted legally.

The facts surrounding the British detention of the Iranian ship, however, suggest that, like the Iranian detention of the British ship, it was an illegal interference with freedom of navigation through an international strait. And even more importantly, evidence indicates that the British move was part of a bigger scheme coordinated by National Security Advisor John Bolton.

British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt called the Iran seizure of the British-flagged tanker Stena Impero “unacceptable” and insisted that it is “essential that freedom of navigation is maintained and that all ships can move safely and freely in the region.”

But the British denied Iran that same freedom of navigation through the Strait of Gibraltar on July 4. 

The rationale for detaining the Iranian vessel and its crew was that it was delivering oil to Syria in violation of EU sanctions. This was never questioned by Western news media. But a closer look reveals that the UK had no legal right to enforce those sanctions against that ship, and that it was a blatant violation of the clearly defined global rules that govern the passage of merchant ships through international straits.

The evidence also reveals that Bolton was actively involved in targeting the Grace 1 from the time it began its journey in May as part of the broader Trump administration campaign of “maximum pressure” on Iran.

Contrary to the official rationale, the detention of the Iranian tanker was not consistent with the 2012 EU regulation on sanctions against the Assad government in Syria. The EU Council regulation in question specifies in Article 35 that the sanctions were to apply only within the territory of EU member states, to a national or business entity or onboard an aircraft or vessel “under the jurisdiction of a member state.”

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