Prime Minister Theresa May has revealed she is in ongoing talks with United
States officials to build up military presence in the Middle East as tensions
with Iran escalate.
Tensions between London and Tehran have reached a new high after warship HMS Montrose was forced to warn off three Iranian ships who tried to stop the British Heritage, operated by BP, from entering the Strait of Hormuz. The UK government raised its ship security level to 3 to indicate the “critical” situation in the area for ships bearing the Union Jack.
“Level 3 for shipping security would be comparable to ‘critical’ and that is where there is a much-heightened risk,” a British source said, adding, “We went to level 3 for Iranian waters at the start of this week.”
However, the source added that the UK wants to de-escalate tensions and will not escort every single British-flagged merchant vessel going through the Strait.
The source continued: “We will be resolute in defending UK maritime interests in the Gulf, but we have absolutely no interest in escalating the situation with Iran.”
Today, Theresa May's spokeswoman said talks are ongoing with American officials to build up a military presence in the region.
The UK government accused three Iranian ships of approaching the British Heritage tanker in the Strait, which represents the main outlet for Middle Eastern oil – which prompted the response of the Navy.
A government spokesman explained: “HMS Montrose was forced to position herself between the Iranian vessels and British Heritage and issue verbal warnings to the Iranian vessels, which then turned away.”
Up to three British vessels go through the Strait of Hormuz every day, and between 15 to 30 are in the Gulf area on a daily basis.
Tehran rubbished the British accusations as “worthless”, with the country’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif saying Iran didn’t seek to block the ship.
This happened exactly one week after British Royal Marines seized the Iranian tanker Grace 1 off the coast of Gibraltar on accusations of violating EU sanctions on Syria.
Police in Gibraltar then arrested the captain and chief officer of the detained vessel and seized electronic devices from the ship.
The EU has sided with Iran over the row between Tehran and Washington and has been trying to keep the JCPOA, also known as the Iran nuclear deal, alive after Donald Trump pulled out of it in May 2018.
However, one of Brussels’ red lines is not selling oil to Iran’s ally, Syria.
Despite not seeking to escalate tensions with Iran, Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt vowed to boost the “hard power” of Britain’s military as a response to the “deeply troubling” events in the Middle East.