UK tanker takedown: Iran taunts, May disappoints

UK tanker takedown: Iran taunts, May disappoints
One is the loneliest number. HMS Montrose (F236), in a Royal Navy/MOD file image (via Sky News)

Regrettably, it looks as if the analysis when last we visited this problem was exactly accurate.  Iran used a “regulatory enforcement” excuse to harass the UK tanker Stena Impero, and then proceeded to taunt Britain over the captured ship rather than behave like a responsible nation merely enforcing regulations.

Indeed, Iran arguably engaged in piracy at one point, by hoisting the national ensign of Iran over the tanker.

Matthew Brodsky had an excellent tweet series on Monday.  The elusive weasel-worded claims of the Iranian speaker (speaking in English), in the released audio of the exchange between the IRGCN and the Royal Navy frigate HMS Montrose (F236), unfold as a classic of their kind.

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The Iranians topped it off with video of the Muslim call to prayer (azzan, or adhan) being broadcast from the loudspeaker on the Stena Impero:

The Iranian FARS News Agency also aired a video of an IRGCN patrol boat running in high-speed circles around the tanker – which in the clip is swinging on an anchor and in no position to make the heroic IRGCN maneuver difficult.

Unfortunately, Theresa May seems to have chosen exactly the wrong course on the overall shipping protection problem.  This is compounding the egg-salad facial for the UK, a source of indignation for many in her own party.

A former Royal Navy official acknowledged over the weekend that Britain doesn’t have the naval resources to go it solo in addressing this threat to UK shipping.

But Ms. May has committed her nation to do exactly that.  According to reports from both sides of the Atlantic, she has declined proposals from the U.S. to mount a joint operation to protect our shipping in the Strait of Hormuz – proposals made over the last month – because she didn’t want Britain associated with the U.S. position on the Iran “deal.”

It’s not clear what she thought was going to happen after British commandos led the takedown of Grace 1, the tanker laden with Iranian crude now impounded in Gibraltar.  It does seem somewhat shortsighted to have given that operation a green light without a follow-on plan for protecting UK shipping in Iran’s back yard.

But that’s water under the bridge at this point.  The polling has closed in the Conservative Party leadership election, and we can expect to know within hours if the next prime minister will be Boris Johnson or Jeremy Hunt.  Opinion polling seems to have been favoring Johnson.  Either one will have the Stena Impero mess to clean up

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Monday that dealing with that mess is the UK’s problem, and he’s right.  At this point, it’s not for the U.S. to step in on it.  We can expect to see some combination of irritants from Iran and attempted face-saving maneuvers from Britain.  The ship’s owners may work out a ransom payment; getting the crew released should be the diplomatic priority.

But we also have reason to hope, given the change in Tory leadership, that the Brits will take stock of their big-picture situation and consider two imperatives.  One is to close the maritime protection gap in the short run by reopening a channel with the U.S. on a joint operation.  It’s possible that Australia would join such an operation (although doubtful that Trudeau’s Canada is to be counted on).

The other is to get the painful lesson of being caught flat-footed under Britain’s belt, and set about repairing the shortfall in naval capabilities brought about by years of inadequate defense programming.

J.E. Dyer

J.E. Dyer

J.E. Dyer is a retired Naval Intelligence officer who lives in Southern California, blogging as The Optimistic Conservative for domestic tranquility and world peace. Her articles have appeared at Hot Air, Commentary’s Contentions, Patheos, The Daily Caller, The Jewish Press, and The Weekly Standard.