‘The Bolton Gambit Succeeded’: Critics Warn Top Trump Adviser Has Put UK on Path to War With Iran
“By threatening Iran with ‘serious consequences,’ without knowing what that may entail, Britain blindly dances to the beat of [U.S. national security adviser John] Bolton’s war drums.”
With the United Kingdom and Iran in the midst of a tense and dangerous standoff after the tit-for-tat seizure of oil tankers in the Strait of Hormuz, international observers are warning that the British government has fallen into a trap set by hawkish U.S. national security adviser John Bolton that could lead to a devastating military conflict.
After British commandos earlier this month swarmed and detained Iran’s Grace 1 oil supertanker in waters east of Gibraltar, Bolton applauded the move as “excellent news” and said “America and our allies will continue to prevent regimes in Tehran and Damascus from profiting off this illicit trade.”
“The Bolton gambit succeeded. Despite its misgivings, Britain has been co-opted on to the front line of Washington’s confrontation with Iran.”
—Simon Tisdall, The Guardian
Simon Tisdall, foreign affairs editor and commentator for The Guardian, wrote over the weekend that “Bolton’s delighted reaction suggested the seizure was a surprise.”
“But accumulating evidence suggests the opposite is true, and that Bolton’s national security team was directly involved in manufacturing the Gibraltar incident,” wrote Tisdall. “The suspicion is that Conservative politicians, distracted by picking a new prime minister, jockeying for power, and preoccupied with Brexit, stumbled into an American trap.”
Shortly after British forces seized Grace 1, Spanish Foreign Minister Josep Borrell said the U.K.’s capture of the tanker was carried out under orders from the United States.
Tisdall pointed to a story last week by Spanish newspaper El Pais, which reported that the Iranian tanker “had been under surveillance by U.S. satellites since April.”
“Although Spanish officials, speaking after the event, said they would have intercepted the ship ‘if we had had the information and the opportunity,’ Spain took no action at the time,” Tisdall wrote. “But Bolton, in any case, was not relying on Madrid. The U.S. had already tipped off Britain. On 4 July, after Grace 1 entered British-Gibraltar territorial waters, the fateful order was issued in London—it is not known by whom—and 30 marines stormed aboard.”
The U.K.’s seizure of Grace 1—denounced by the Iranian government as an act of “maritime piracy“—led Iran to counter on Friday by capturing a British tanker in the Strait of Hormuz, ratcheting up tensions in the Persian Gulf and prompting the British government to warn of “serious consequences” if the tanker was not released.
The perilous standoff, Tisdall argued, is precisely the outcome Bolton was seeking.
“The Bolton gambit succeeded,” Tisdall wrote. “Despite its misgivings, Britain has been co-opted on to the front line of Washington’s confrontation with Iran. The process of polarization, on both sides, is accelerating. The nuclear deal is closer to total collapse. And by threatening Iran with ‘serious consequences,’ without knowing what that may entail, Britain blindly dances to the beat of Bolton’s war drums.”
Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif offered a similar assessment in a series of tweets on Sunday.
The B Team is the name Zarif has given to a group of officials that consists of Bolton, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Bolton in particular has been at the center of escalating military tensions between the U.S. and Iran, which were sparked by Trump’s decision last year to violate the Iran nuclear accord.
As Common Dreams reported in May, Bolton used the routine deployment of a U.S. bomber task force to the Middle East to threaten Iran with “unrelenting force.”
After Iran in June shot down an unmanned U.S. drone that it said violated its airspace, Bolton was among the group of officials urging Trump to retaliate with airstrikes. The president approved the strikes then backed off at the last minute.
Trita Parsi, executive vice president of the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft, warned Sunday that by following Washington’s orders in the Gulf, the U.K. is repeating the mistakes it made in the lead-up to the U.S.-led invasion if Iraq.
“In 2003, the U.K. broke with the E.U. and foolishly sided with Bush over Iraq. London not only devastated the Middle East, it also undermined the E.U.,” Parsi tweeted. “Now, the U.K. is at it again by doing Bolton’s bidding and allowing him to make the U.K./E.U. collateral damage in his war plans with Iran.”
“Why did the U.K. agree to Bolton’s request to confiscate an Iranian oil tanker, knowing very well Iran would retaliate by taking a British one in return?” Parsi asked. “Does the U.K. want war? Does E.U. interest not matter to London? Stunned these questions haven’t been asked. Answers are needed.”
The Guardian (UK)
How Trump’s arch-hawk lured Britain into a dangerous trap to punish Iran
With the seizure of a supertanker off Gibraltar, distracted UK government was set up by John Bolton as collateral damage
John Bolton, White House national security adviser and notorious Iraq-era hawk, is a man on a mission. Given broad latitude over policy by Donald Trump, he is widely held to be driving the US confrontation with Iran. And in his passionate bid to tame Tehran, Bolton cares little who gets hurt – even if collateral damage includes a close ally such as Britain.
So when Bolton heard British Royal Marines had seized an Iranian oil tanker off Gibraltar on America’s Independence Day, his joy was unconfined. “Excellent news: UK has detained the supertanker Grace I laden with Iranian oil bound for Syria in violation of EU sanctions,” he exulted on Twitter.
Bolton’s delighted reaction suggested the seizure was a surprise. But accumulating evidence suggests the opposite is true, and that Bolton’s national security team was directly involved in manufacturing the Gibraltar incident. The suspicion is that Conservative politicians, distracted by picking a new prime minister, jockeying for power, and preoccupied with Brexit, stumbled into an American trap.
In short, it seems, Britain was set up.
The consequences of the Gibraltar affair are only now becoming clear. The seizure of Grace I led directly to Friday’s capture by Iran’s Revolutionary Guards of a British tanker, the Stena Impero, in the Strait of Hormuz. Although it has not made an explicit link, Iran had previously vowed to retaliate for Britain’s Gibraltar “piracy”. Now it has its revenge.
As a result, Britain has been plunged into the middle of an international crisis it is ill-prepared to deal with. The timing could hardly be worse. An untested prime minister, presumably Boris Johnson, will enter Downing Street this week. Britain is on the brink of a disorderly exit from the EU, alienating its closest European partners. And its relationship with Trump’s America is uniquely strained.
Much of this angst could have been avoided. Britain opposed Trump’s decision to quit the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran, the trigger for today’s crisis. It has watched with alarm as the Trump-Bolton policy of “maximum pressure”, involving punitive sanctions and an oil embargo, has radicalised the most moderate Iranians.
Yet even as Britain backed EU attempts to rescue the nuclear deal, Theresa May and Jeremy Hunt, foreign secretary, tried to have it both ways – to keep Trump sweet. They publicly supported Washington’s complaints about Iran’s “destabilising” regional activities and missile programme, and berated Iran when it bypassed agreed nuclear curbs.
Crucially, the government failed to significantly beef up protection for British-flagged vessels transiting the Gulf after attacks in May and June. This was partly because a depleted Royal Navy lacks capacity to mount adequate patrols. But it was also because officials feared that by raising its military profile, Britain could be sucked into armed conflict with Iran.
For Bolton, however, drawing Britain unambiguously in on America’s side was a desirable outcome. So when US spy satellites, tasked with helping block Iranian oil exports in line with Trump’s global embargo, began to track Grace I on its way, allegedly, to Syria, Bolton saw an opportunity.
The Spanish newspaper, El Pais, citing official sources, takes up the story: “The Grace 1, which flies a Panamanian flag, had been under surveillance by US satellites since April, when it was anchored off Iran. The supertanker, full to the brim with crude oil, was too big for the Suez Canal, and so it sailed around the Cape of Good Hope before heading for the Mediterranean.
“According to the US intelligence services, it was headed for the Syrian oil refinery of Banias. Washington advised Madrid of the arrival of the supertanker 48 hours ahead of time, and the Spanish navy followed its passage through the Strait of Gibraltar. It was expected to cross via international waters, as many Iranian vessels do without being stopped.”
Although Spanish officials, speaking after the event, said they would have intercepted the ship “if we had had the information and the opportunity”, Spain took no action at the time. But Bolton, in any case, was not relying on Madrid. The US had already tipped off Britain. On 4 July, after Grace I entered British-Gibraltar territorial waters, the fateful order was issued in London – it is not known by whom – and 30 marines stormed aboard.
Iran’s reaction was immediate and furious. It claimed Britain had acted illegally because the EU embargo on oil supplies to Syria, which Hunt claimed to be upholding, applied only to EU states and not to third countries such as Iran. In any case, Tehran said, the ship’s destination was not Syria.
Iran’s outrage was shared, to a lesser degree, by Josep Borrell, Spain’s socialist foreign minister. Borrell resented the British incursion into Gibraltar’s territorial waters, which Madrid does not recognise. He also appears to have been annoyed that Spain was drawn in – in Tehran, the Spanish ambassador had been summonsed by the foreign ministry to explain Madrid’s role. His reaction was to distance Spain from the affair. The Iranian tanker had been seized “following a request from the United States to the United Kingdom,” he said. And even though Britain was supposedly upholding EU regulations, the External Action Service, the EU’s foreign policy arm, has remained silent throughout.
Iran’s retaliation in snatching the Stena Impero has further exposed Britain’s diplomatic isolation and its military and economic vulnerability. The government has advised British ships to avoid the Strait of Hormuz, an admission it cannot protect them. But between 15 and 30 British-flagged tankers transit the strait each day. If trade is halted, the impact on energy prices may be severe.
Hunt’s appeal for international support for Britain has so far fallen on deaf ears, France and Germany excepted. China, Japan and other countries that rely on oil from the Gulf show no sign of helping. The US plan for a multinational coalition to protect Gulf shipping has few takers. Meanwhile, Trump’s promise to back Britain has scant practical value – and carries inherent dangers.
The Bolton gambit succeeded. Despite its misgivings, Britain has been co-opted on to the front line of Washington’s confrontation with Iran. The process of polarisation, on both sides, is accelerating. The nuclear deal is closer to total collapse. And by threatening Iran with “serious consequences”, without knowing what that may entail, Britain blindly dances to the beat of Bolton’s war drums.
(Simon Tisdall serves The Guardian’s foreign affairs editor.)
AP says the Brits discussed possible measures to prevent the seizure of the stena bulk, but finally decided they could not prevent te takeover.
New audio shows UK could not prevent Iran takeover of tanker
LONDON (AP) — The release Sunday of an audio recording has shed new light on the seizure of a British-flagged tanker at the hands of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard as tensions flare in the strategic Strait of Hormuz.
The audio released by maritime security risk firm Dryad Global shows that a British frigate was too far away from the targeted tanker to keep it from being diverted into an Iranian port despite U.K. efforts to keep it from being boarded.
On the recording, a stern-voiced British naval officer insists that the U.K.-flagged oil tanker Stena Impero must be allowed to sail through the Strait of Hormuz even as Iranian paramilitary forces demand — successfully — that the vessel change course.
The audio shows how Britain’s once mighty Royal Navy was unable to prevent the ship’s seizure, which has been condemned by Britain and its European allies as they continue to call for a reduction of tensions in the vital waterway.
The free flow of traffic through the Strait of Hormuz is of critical importance to the world’s energy supplies because one-fifth of all global crude exports pass through the narrow waterway between Iran and Oman.
In the recording, an Iranian officer can be heard telling the Stena Impero to change course, saying: “You obey, you will be safe.”
“Alter your course to 360 degrees immediately, over,” the Iranian officer says, adding that the ship is wanted for security reasons.
A British naval officer from the HMS Montrose frigate that was patrolling the area around the Strait of Hormuz is heard telling the Stena Impero, which had a crew of 23 on board, that its passage must be allowed.
“Sir, I reiterate that as you are conducting transit passage in a recognized international strait, under international law your passage must not be impaired, intruded, obstructed or hampered,” the unidentified British officer says.
The British officer then tells an Iranian patrol boat: “Please confirm that you are not intending to violate international law by unlawfully attempting to board the MV Stena.”
His words did nothing to deter the Iranians.
British officials say the HMS Montrose was roughly 60 minutes from the scene when the Iranians took control of the tanker, too far away to intervene effectively.
(See the rest here.)
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