Tanker wars – Iran winning battles, but losing the big game - analysis

It has gotten away with capturing even large ships from powerful countries like England and Saudi Arabia.

July 22, 2019 05:53
2 minute read.
A crew member of the Iranian oil tanker Grace 1 is seen on the bow as it sits anchored after it was

A crew member of the Iranian oil tanker Grace 1 is seen on the bow as it sits anchored after it was seized earlier this month by British Royal Marines off the coast of the British Mediterranean territory. (photo credit: JON NAZCA/ REUTERS)

There is no question that Iran has so far gained the edge in its tanker war with Britain, the Saudis and other US allies.

But even as it has registered a series of tactical victories, it is facing a massive economic pressure campaign, as well as a steady loss of sympathy globally.
At issue is the long-term future of the economic pressure campaign, and whether diplomacy will protect or leave the Islamic Republic vulnerable to a US or Israeli attack on its nuclear facilities, should they view them as getting too close to developing a nuclear weapon.

To date, Iran has gotten away with seizing large tankers from powerful countries like Britain and Saudi Arabia. Astonishingly, Britain, having succeeded in preventing the seizure of one of its ships only a short time before resorting to military escort, failed to station subsequent naval escort nearby to protect a second tanker.

Adding to confusion over the escalation, the UAE has said that Iran captured or attacked its ships, but at other times has given incoherent narratives meant to muddy the waters.

Some of this is guerrilla naval warfare tactics. Iran’s relatively weak navy cannot risk engaging in a direct confrontation. But it has many small and fast ships, and the bodies of water are so vast that it is all but impossible to patrol the entire area.

Let us also not forget that Iran shot down an expensive US drone without an immediate or even limited military response, though weeks later the US shot down an Iranian drone.

Finally, a few weeks ago, Iran started making two notable, if not critical, breaches of the 2015 nuclear deal. None of these Iranian moves have loosened the US economic pressure campaign in the least.

Despite continued US economic pressure, Iran continues to gamble and push its limits, such as getting into direct conflict with a power such as Britain.

In fact, Britain threatened on Sunday to escalate its sanctions and seizures of Iranian funds in response to the capture of its tanker. There was even talk of London going to the UN and the JCPOA parties to fully snap back global sanctions against Iran, which could lead to China and Russia reinstating sanctions toward Iran.

However, that is unlikely as Britain is still weary, at least for now, about escalating tensions with Tehran, enough to grant the US or Israel an excuse to attack the Islamic Republic’s nuclear facilities.

But there is no mistaking the broader trend. As Iran racks up tactical victories in violating the 2015 deal and harassing tankers in nearby waterways with little to no consequences, its international support is eroding.

US President Donald Trump is deeply disliked, especially regarding his Iran policy, by the EU, China and others. Most of these countries also prefer that Israel not use force against Iran.

However, the deeper the Islamic Republic digs its hole without obtaining sanctions relief, the more it sets itself up for a major loss when its game of chicken come to an end.

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