TO DATE the UK is the only major diplomatic power to support the American accusations against Iran.
As the British opposition Labour Party, in addition to independent British political observers, have noted, this begs the question as to why Britain is staking out such an extreme position at the risk of international isolation.
On the face of it, Britain has hardened its attitude towards Iran in recent months by taking a number of unfriendly steps.
Foremost, Britain has granted more freedom of action to the anti-Iran terrorist group Mojahedin-e-Khalq (MeK) to operate with greater latitude within the corridors of power both in the UK and in the European Union.
More broadly, the UK has taken additional steps to appease both the Saudi and Israeli lobbies.
Britain’s intensifying support for the Saudi-led war on Yemen and hostile moves against anti-Zionist movements – notably the Lebanese resistance Hezbollah – must be seen in this light.
So is London’s alignment with the US on the tankers’ incident part of a broader policy of incrementally sabotaging relations with Tehran, or are there more concealed motives at play?
As observed by the leadership of the British opposition, on this issue – like others – the main factor is less Britain’s national interest and national security than the personal interests and ambitions of key Conservative party figures.
Take for example Defence Minister Tobias Ellwood, who raised tensions both in terms of Britain’s bilateral relations with Iran and in the context of unfolding events in the Persian Gulf, by warning Iran on taking action against British interests in the region.
This warning is superfluous as to date Iran has not undertaken any action against British interests, either by word or deed.
A former army officer and a member of parliament for Bournemouth East, Ellwood’s close business and personal links to Saudi Arabia have been widely reported by the media. In his previous role as parliamentary under-secretary of state for foreign and commonwealth affairs, Ellwood frequently fronted as an apologist for Saudi Arabia’s dismal human rights record.
But the central figure in this saga is Jeremy Hunt who has claimed he is ‘almost certain’ Iran was behind the attack on the tankers. In the absence of hard evidence as to who was really behind the attacks, what could be driving the foreign secretary to make such a bold and evidently unsubstantiated allegation?
To that end, it is worthwhile examining Hunt’s deeper motives for his latest outburst on Iran. The foreign secretary is currently contesting the Conservative Party leadership where he has emerged as the strongest rival to leading contender Boris Johnson.
By staking out a tough position on international affairs, and particularly in respect of suspicious events unfolding in the Persian Gulf, Hunt hopes to boost his credentials both within the Conservative parliamentary party and amongst the Tory rank and file.
It is worthwhile remembering that Hunt’s predecessor as head of the FCO was none other than Boris Johnson, the leading candidate to become Britain’s next prime minister.
Fortunately for Hunt, Johnson’s performance as foreign secretary was widely judged to have been abysmal, and in some cases inimical to British national security.
Johnson’s biggest gaffe came in November 2017 when in a rare moment of honesty he appeared to allude to Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s role in fomenting illegal activities in Iran.
This ‘unintended confession’ was a major departure from the British government’s oft-stated position that Zaghari-Ratcliffe was merely visiting her family in Iran when she was arrested in April 2006.
Since becoming foreign secretary in July 2018, Hunt has taken a strong interest in Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s case and forged close ties to her husband Richard Ratcliffe. According to well-informed sources, Hunt met Ratcliffe prior to his decision to launch a hunger strike apparently in solidarity with his incarcerated wife.
Hunt’s proximity to Ratcliffe illustrates the extent to which Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s plight has been politicised to suit the personal ambitions of leading Conservative politicians.
By appearing to support Zaghari-Ratcliffe, Hunt hopes to undermine the leadership credentials of Boris Johnson.
The personalisation of British foreign policy speaks volumes about muddled thinking in London and by extension Britain’s inexorable loss of influence on the world stage.
Instead of reflexively blaming Iran for regional tensions, the British establishment could do better by placing policy-making on a more stable and rational footing.
Iran’s Supreme National Security Council (SNSC) has dismissed a report claiming that US President Donald Trump has sent a message to Iran via Oman.
‘The US has sent no letter to Iran through Oman,’ SNSC spokesman Keivan Khosravi told the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB) on Friday.
‘This issue is not true at all,’ he added.
Earlier in the day, Iranian officials, speaking on condition of anonymity said that Tehran had received a message from President Trump warning that a US attack on Iran was imminent but saying he was against war and wanted talks on a range of issues.
News of the message, said to be delivered through Oman overnight, came shortly after the New York Times said Trump had approved military strikes against Iran before dawn on Friday over the downing of a US spy drone but pulled back from launching them at the last minute.
The paper cited military and diplomatic officials as saying that the US president had initially approved attacks on a handful of Iranian targets, like radar and missile batteries.
‘The operation was underway in its early stages when it was called off,’ the New York Times said, citing what it called a senior administration official.
The Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) announced on Thursday that its air defence force had shot down an intruding American spy drone in the country’s southern coastal province of Hormozgan.
The IRGC said in a statement that the US-made Global Hawk surveillance drone was brought down by its Air Force near the Kouh-e Mobarak region, which sits in the central district of Jask County, after the aircraft violated Iranian airspace.
Meanwhile, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Friday that Russia keeps a ‘close watch’ on the current tensions in the Persian Gulf and urged all sides to show restraint.
‘We keep a close watch on the situation and call on all countries concerned to display restraint,’ Peskov added.
Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov also on Friday said the United States is deliberately stoking dangerous tensions around Iran and pushing the situation to the brink of war.