The series of provocations in the Gulf by the Islamic Republic of Iran, beginning with the sabotage of four vessels in mid-May, culminated last Friday in the illegal seizure by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps Navy (IRGCN) of the British-flagged and operated Stena Impero oil tanker, followed shortly thereafter by the seizure of the Liberian-flagged, British operated MV Mesdar in the Strait of Hormuz. Only the Mesdar has been released. This episode has served to demonstrate the serious defence issues confronting Boris Johnson, the incoming United Kingdom (UK) Prime Minister, which have to be dealt with immediately and cannot be pushed off into the future when the domestic turbulence over Brexit has abated.
The problem set from Iran is clear. First, the clerical regime’s consistent defiance of the rules-based international order. Second, Iran’s challenge to both the US and the UK in the region, aiming to use low-risk, sub-threshold military means, including the use of unmanned aircraft system (UAS) technology and “deniable” proxies, to dismantle the Western security architecture in the Middle East. And third, the UK and the US will need to divert significant military resources to counter this sub-threshold threat.
Over the last two months, Iran has pursued a strategy of destabilisation in the Gulf, particularly in the narrow Strait of Hormuz – only 13 miles wide at its narrowest point. Utilising proxy actors directed by its Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), Tehran has repeatedly fired ballistic missiles at the Saudi capital from Yemen, attacked Saudi-owned oil tankers off the coast of the United Arab Emirates at Fujairah with mines, and sabotaged the Marshall Islands-flagged Front Altair and Panama-flagged Kokuka Courageous oil tankers in the international waters of the Gulf of Oman, among other things.
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