I write this at 2015 on Friday 19th July, so by the time you read this things may have developed further. Right now the breaking news is a few hours ago the British flagged tanker Stena Impero and its crew have been seized by Iranian Revolutionary Guard whilst transiting the Strait of Hormuz. This follows a series of events leading to escalating tensions in the Persian Gulf. What follows are my initial thoughts on the matter.
First of all this entire crisis is another chapter in the long running conflict between Saudi Arabia and Israel on one side, and Iran on the other. The former want Iran neutralised, but they want the United States to do it for them, despite having more than enough military power to do it themselves. Iran is locked in a geopolitical struggle for supremacy in the region and seeks nuclear weapons to deter any American attempt at “regime change”. Iran I believe has calculated that by disrupting the flow of oil through the Strait of Hormuz they can apply enough pressure to the US to lift sanctions on Iran and allow them to continue to develop nuclear weapons and thus secure the continued existence of the current Iranian regime.
There is however, one very interesting extra dimension to this. The 2020 US Presidential Election. President Trump was elected on a manifesto of no more foreign wars, no more disastrous and decades long military interventions, especially in the Middle East. Right now many predict, quite accurately I believe, Trump will win re-election next year, unless something really big happens. Is a US-Iran war big enough?
There will be factions within the US deep state who will be very keen to see the US go to war with Iran as it could quite potentially cost President Trump the 2020 election. Get rid of him and the globalist establishment can go back to business as usual.
President Trump I believe, and fervently hope, is smart enough to see through this and does not respond by escalating to direct military action against Iran.
The next thought that comes to mind is this should highlight the disastrous decline in British military capability. The UK right now has no military options for responding to this event. The Royal Navy has been totally hollowed out and reduced to embarrassingly small force levels. Currently the Royal Navy can call upon thirteen Type 23 frigates, six Type 45 destroyers (which are known to have major propulsion issues, particularly in warm waters such as the Persian Gulf and we will shortly be entering the hottest part of the year where waters there can reach 36 degrees Celsius) and an aircraft carrier with no aeroplanes. Whilst we do still retain a very small number of just six very formidable nuclear powered attack submarines, these are not at all suited to operations in shallow, or littoral waters such as the Persian Gulf. The Fleet Air Arm has had no combat jets since 2011, and our only carrier currently in service is still some years away from being able to embark the F-35 Lightning. Speaking of which, the Royal Air Force recently re-formed 617 Squadron (The Dambusters) with the F-35, making them the second British squadron to fly the type. However, both squadrons are currently undergoing training and again are years away from a real operational capability. The Tornado was recently retired from service and both that and the Typhoon (now in service for sixteen years and still lacking capabilities and weapons the Tornado had) would be horribly vulnerable to Iranian surface to air missiles which cover the coast.
Any military response would need to be taken by the United States. Underscoring the fact that successive British governments have reduced our armed forces to nothing more than a foreign auxiliary – an adjunct – of the US military and we are no longer capable of undertaking any serious military action without American assistance.
I’ve seen people asking why these ships don’t sail with armed guards. Quite a few of them actually do. This came as a result of the piracy off the Horn of Africa. Some insurers encourage armed guards to be on board when sailing through dangerous areas, some even require it. There are complications though, with some states not allowing vessels into their ports if they carry armed guards. Armed private security contractors on merchant vessels is also a bit of a grey area in UNCLOS (the United Nations Convention on the Laws of the Sea – basically the law in international waters). It’s potentially a legal minefield for both the Master of the vessel and the owner. However, it’s different in this case. Whilst a handful of ex-military types with a handful of small arms may be sufficient to drive off some Somalis in a boat, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard is another matter. Having sailed through the Strait of Hormuz several times myself it’s not at all uncommon for the IRG to harass the vessels of hostile nations. You may point your guns at them, you may even open fire and think you’ve driven them off but in reality as the IRG fast boats disappear over the horizon there’s a shore based Silkworm anti ship missile heading your way in retaliation. The Tanker War of 1984-88 shows that Iran are both prepared and willing to attack passing merchant vessels.
Finally, this will be a very interesting test of one of the central Remainer arguments that we are “stronger in the EU”. Let’s see how the EU response to the illegal seizure of a member states’ merchant vessel going about its lawful business. The EU as well all know is militarily toothless despite it’s ambitions. Let’s see how much diplomatic pressure they bring to bear on Iran on our behalf. Like many, I won’t be holding my breath.
© Æthelberht 2019
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