The U.K. government accused Iran’s Revolutionary Guard of trying to attack a British tanker Thursday, escalating an already tense relationship between Tehran and London.
The incident took place in the strategically important Strait of Hormuz when the HMS Montrose had to position itself between three Iranian vessels and the tanker British Heritage, according to Downing Street.
The Iranian ships turned away after receiving “verbal warnings” from the British warship. No shots were fired.
“Contrary to international law, three Iranian vessels attempted to impede the passage of a commercial vessel, British Heritage, through the Strait of Hormuz,” a British government spokesperson said. “We are concerned by this action and continue to urge the Iranian authorities to de-escalate the situation in the region.”
The ships were manned by Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, and tried to bring the tanker to a halt as it exited the Strait of Hormuz, according to U.S. media outlets that were first to report the attack.
In response to those reports, Iran said it “denies claims by American sources” that it tried to seize British Heritage, but Tehran has yet to respond to the accusation from the U.K. government.
The incident comes weeks after a series of attacks on oil tankers in the Gulf, which Washington and London have blamed on Iran. On Tuesday the U.S. announced a plan to form a military coalition that would help secure both the Strait of Hormuz and Bab al-Mandab by providing military escorts for oil tankers.
Relations between Tehran and Washington have been strained for years, but the attack on the British tanker signals another escalation of tensions between Iran and the U.K.
Just last week, Iran said threatened seize a British tanker, after British Royal Marines aided authorities in Gibraltar in seizing an Iranian oil tanker that was reportedly on its way to Syria in breach of EU sanctions.
Just hours before the attack on British Heritage took place, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani warned London there would be repercussions for the seizure of the tanker in Gibraltar.
“[Britain] is the initiator of insecurity and you will realize the consequences later,” Rouhani said, mocking the U.K. by calling it “scared” and “hopeless” for using Royal Navy warships to shadow a British tanker in the Gulf.
Iran is currently seeking Britain’s assistance to circumvent crippling U.S. sanctions imposed on Tehran after Washington pulled out of the 2015 nuclear deal last year.
Though Iran has admitted to breaching the limits of the nuclear accord twice in the last month, the U.K. has not imposed additional sanctions. But it has shown little willingness to significantly alleviate Iran’s economic hardship.
Tehran has now set an early September deadline for the remaining signatories to save the deal, warning that if world powers do not act, Iran would breach the pact’s limits for the third time.
Cover: In this image from file video provided by UK Ministry of Defence, British navy vessel HMS Montrose escorts another ship during a mission to remove chemical weapons from Syria at sea off coast of Cyprus in February 2014. The British Navy said it intercepted an attempt on Thursday, July 11, 2019, by three Iranian paramilitary vessels to impede the passage of a British commercial vessel just days after Iran’s president warned of repercussions for the seizure of its own supertanker. (UK Ministry of Defence via AP).