This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.
Iran’s foreign minister has described “any extra-regional presence” in the Persian Gulf as a “source of insecurity” and said his country “won’t hesitate to safeguard its security” in the strategic waterway that abuts eight Middle Eastern states and serves as a vital conduit for global oil and gas supplies.
A recent spate of naval confrontations and a shipping seizure by Iranian military forces of a U.K.-flagged tanker in the narrow Strait of Hormuz that connects the Persian Gulf to the Arabian Sea have heightened fears of a rapid escalation as relations between Iran and the United States continue to sour.
The United States has appealed to its partners to help create a maritime security mission to safeguard shipping and other interests in the gulf.
“[The] Persian Gulf is a vital lifeline and thus nat’l security priority for Iran, which has long ensured maritime security,” Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif tweeted on August 9, adding, “Mindful of this reality, any extra-regional presence is by definition [a] source of insecurity — despite propaganda.”
“Iran won’t hesitate to safeguard its security,” Zarif said.
On August 5, Britain said it was joining the U.S.-initiated task force to escort ships through and around the gulf.
On August 9, a spokesman for Iran’s Foreign Ministry, Abbas Musavi, said after reports suggested that Israel was considering joining the U.S. initiative through intelligence-sharing that any maritime coalition in the gulf was a “clear threat” to Iranian national security and could be confronted.
Reports this week suggested that security firms had taken British guards off ships plying the gulf out of concern that U.K. nationals might become targets for capture by Iranian forces.
Tensions in the gulf rose after U.S. President Donald Trump last year withdrew that country from a three-year-old deal between world powers and Tehran to lift international sanctions on Iran in exchange for limits on Tehran’s nuclear activities.
In April, the United States designated Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) as a “foreign terrorist organization” to ramp up pressure on that country’s clerical leadership, which was already battling popular discontent stemming from economic woes and a plummeting currency hard-hit by reimposed U.S. sanctions.
Iran’s UN ambassador, Majid Ravanchi, protested in a letter to UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and urged him to “play your active role in preserving the integrity of the United Nations in line with your responsibility to counter the current dangerous trend.”
Trump and other U.S. officials have stated publicly that they are willing to hold talks with Iran while sticking by their campaign of “maximum pressure” on the regime there.
Iranian President Hassan Rohani said on August 6 that restrictive measures must be lifted before Tehran joins any negotiations about its nuclear program.
Last month, IRGC forces seized the British-flagged Stena Impero and its multinational crew, accusing them of failing to observe international maritime law. The tanker’s operator and U.K. officials have denied wrongdoing and said the ship was in international waters when it was taken.
The U.S. maritime agency on August 8 asked U.S.-flagged ships to tell U.S. and U.K. authorities before sailing into the gulf.