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4 Jan, 2020 22:47

British Navy to escort UK-flagged ships though Strait of Hormuz after Soleimani killing

British Navy to escort UK-flagged ships though Strait of Hormuz after Soleimani killing

The UK Defense Ministry has ordered its Navy vessels to provide “protection” to all British-flagged ships passing through the Strait of Hormuz in the Gulf following the death of Iran’s top general in a US drone attack.

The ministry has ordered the Royal Navy’s HMS Montrose frigate and HMS Defender destroyer to prepare to accompany all vessels sailing under the British flag through the Strait of Hormuz — the only passage from the Persian Gulf to the ocean that lies between the Iranian and UAE coasts.

“The government will take all necessary steps to protect our ships and citizens at this time,” Defense Secretary Ben Wallace said, commenting on the decision. The move comes after the US killed Iranian Major General Qassem Soleimani, the commander of the Revolutionary Guards’ elite Quds Force, on orders from President Donald Trump.

The attack dramatically heightened tensions in the Middle East, as Tehran labeled it an act of international terrorism and vowed revenge. Washington maintained it was an act of “self-defense.” London apparently shares that position, as Wallace also said that the US “is entitled to defend itself against those posing an imminent threat to their citizens” under international law.

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However, he also called for “de-escalation.” The spike of tensions in the Middle East apparently unnerved the British government, as the UK Foreign Ministry has advised its citizens against traveling to Iraq and Iran.

"Given heightened tensions in the region, the Foreign Office now advise people not to travel to Iraq, with the exception of the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, and to consider carefully whether it's essential to travel to Iran," Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said in a statement.

London had already sent its warships to patrol the Strait of Hormuz amid another crisis related to Iran earlier this year. Tensions were sparked in July after the seizure of an Iranian-flagged tanker by the British marines off the coast of Gibraltar. Iran denounced this as an act of “state piracy,” and retaliated by seizing a UK-flagged vessel as it entered the Strait.

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The Iranian tanker was released in late August, and the British ship was released a month later. The crisis was instrumentalized by Washington, which used it to call for a coalition to police Western tankers traveling through the Strait — and London was one of the first to join it.

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