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UK calls for EU-led armada in Persian Gulf over tanker tensions with Iran

UK calls for EU-led armada in Persian Gulf over tanker tensions with Iran
The once-mighty sea power Britain has called for an “European-led maritime protection” mission in the Persian Gulf, after London and Tehran escalated tensions by seizing each other’s oil tankers.

Speaking before the Parliament on Monday, UK Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt called for a multinational fleet to “support safe passage of crew and cargo” in and out of the Gulf. He offered no details on how many ships and which countries would be involved, or how the mission would relate to Operation Sentinel, announced by US Central Command last week with the exact same objective.

Hunt’s announcement followed Iran’s seizure of a British-flagged oil tanker Stena Impero in the Strait of Hormuz citing violation of maritime traffic rules, two weeks after UK forces confiscated a tanker carrying Iranian oil off Gibraltar.

The foreign secretary said he was announcing the increased military presence “with a heavy heart,” adding that Britain’s focus has been on “de-escalating tension” in the region. London does not “seek confrontation” with Iran and has taken “every available opportunity to reduce misunderstanding” while at the same time standing by its “rock-solid commitment” to international rule of law, Hunt said.

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Those claims are debatable at best. For months, Hunt has echoed inflammatory rhetoric from Washington about Iran, agreeing with US conclusions that Tehran was behind attacks on oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman last month, relying on "instinct" to believe its ally rather than actual evidence. 

Hunt even said the UK would consider offering military support in the event that a war broke out between the US and Iran, though he later watered those comments down, saying he “cannot envisage any situation where [the US] request or we agree to any moves to go to war.”

When Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn called for caution in the aftermath of the tanker attacks, Hunt branded his statement “incredibly dangerous” and accused him of “virulent anti-Americanism.” 

Britain had a globe-spanning empire and the largest navy in the world a century ago, but today’s Royal Navy is down to just 13 frigates and six destroyers, not all of which are fully operational. Its flagship, aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth, won’t have an air wing for several years still.

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London currently has one frigate and one destroyer in the Gulf, along with four minesweepers and a landing dock vessel. Another landing dock will soon arrive as part of a deployment announced last week, along with the destroyer HMS Kent to relieve the HMS Duncan. The frigate HMS Montrose is scheduled to remain in the region through 2022.

Hunt himself has been vying to become the next Conservative Party leader, but is likely to lose the spot – and the prime minister’s job – to Boris Johnson.

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