An Iraqi ship seized by Iran in the Persian Gulf is the third vessel commandeered by Tehran in recent weeks.
According to reports, naval forces of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) seized an Iraqi oil tanker under the pretense that the ship was carrying illicit cargo. An IRGC statement quoted by the state news agency IRNA declared that their personnel had “seized this ship around Farsi Island which was carrying around 700,000 litres of smuggled fuel.” Seven foreign crew members were arrested during the operation. The seizure of the latest vessel would be the third by Iran in less than a month in Gulf waters—a primary waterway for the world’s crude oil.
On 18 July, the IRGC detained the Panama-flagged ship MT Riah, also for alleged fuel smuggling. A day later, the IRGC announced they had impounded the British-flagged Stena Impero in the Strait of Hormuz for breaking “international maritime rules.”
News of the latest ship seized by Iran comes as the U.S. continues to push for a maritime coalition to counter Iran’s aggression. At a recent conference organized by the Pentagon, representatives from more than thirty countries gathered at U.S. Central Command headquarters in Florida to discuss Operation Sentinel, a coalition of nations meant to safeguard shipping lanes in the Middle East. Newly appointed Defense Secretary Mark Esper recently told reporters that the administration was expecting to get commitments from several countries to join the effort. “I think we’ll have some announcements coming out soon in the coming days where you’ll see countries begin to sign up.”
Despite America’s efforts to bring nations together on the Gulf maritime issue, there is still much reluctance even from key allies. Esper alluded to this in his statement when he admitted that the Department had received “various degrees of commitment” at the Florida conference. The reason for this lackluster response from partner nations is understandable. Support for any U.S. initiative on Iran is perceived as supporting the Trump administration’s hard-line stance on the country that came to a head last year with the president’s pull-out from the nuclear deal.
Unfortunately, even reluctant partners like those in Europe will eventually have to come to terms with the hard facts. Iran’s aggression in the Gulf cannot be left unchecked. The damage these incidents will inflict —and have already inflicted— on international commerce and freedom of the seas in such a vital area of the world will become intolerable.