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Tensions approaching boiling point

Jul 06,2019 - Last updated at Jul 06,2019

The seizure of an oil tanker carrying oil from Iran to Syria by the British Royal Marines in Gibraltar on Thursday certainly raises tensions to a boiling point between Iran, Britain and the US alike.

London justified its move by charging that tanker Grace 1 violated the sanctions regime applied by the European Union (EU) on Syria. Yet on a closer look, the seizure of the tanker is directed mainly against Iran, since it was the US which requested the interruption of the tanker’s voyage in the open sea because it was carrying oil from Iran.

US President Donald Trump has already taken a position against marketing Iranian oil in a bid to interrupt Iran's main source of revenue. It would be interesting to investigate the legality of this seizure of an oil tanker under not only the EU's own rules of engagement with Syria, but also under relevant international law applicable to free navigation.

The political implications of this capture of an oil tanker are even more ominous. There are fears that commandeering the Iranian oil tanker may set a precedent for other countries to do the same against their adversaries. This could threaten free and innocent navigation and render sea shipping unsafe.

London and Washington could have strengthened their cause by taking their case first to the UN Security Council, or to any other relevant international organ, before embarking on a unilateral action that may or may not violate international rules.

If Syria is the main target in all of this operation, the Syrian government continues to have free access to oil from Iraq and Iran by land. Imposing an oil embargo on Syria requires the collaboration of the entire international community, including Russia. It is inconceivable that Moscow would aid and abet any campaign to prevent oil from reaching Syria.

Syria, therefore, is not the target of the British-American sanctions. It is obvious that Iran is the one and only target of the British-American campaign to prevent the Iranian regime from acquiring funds from the sale of Iranian oil anywhere.

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