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Seeds of war: how the West has reaped its own reward in the Gulf

Iran does not seek confrontation. This was the claim of the Iranian foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif in a message directed at freshly empowered Boris Johnson. After the events of the last few weeks you might be forgiven for dismissing Mr Zarif’s remarks as blustering propaganda, but the ongoing tensions are every bit a result of the actions of the West as they are Iran’s.

A quick search on any reputable news website for “Iran” will bring up articles detailing the seizing of a British tanker by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard. You probably know this. It’s been in headlines and social media for weeks, third placed only due to Boris Johnson and the weather.

Tensions between Iran and the West have been building since Donald Trump’s decision in 2018 to withdraw America from the Iran Nuclear Deal. The deal was agreed to by Iran, the EU, China, Russia and the USA under the Obama Administration but Trump called it “horrible” and “rotten” on the basis that it didn’t serve his nationalist interests.

The inevitability of Iran’s subsequent break from the treaty to enrich more uranium is so apparent, it can only be a clear sign of the Trump Administration’s stubborn determination to serve only their own immediate interests.

We now stand in a nautical stalemate with both countries holding something belonging to the other

Irritating Iran is not a foreign policy limited to the Americans, though: did you notice when the Royal Marines seized an Iranian vessel for a suspected breech of EU sanctions? Yes, that’s right: a few days before Iran repaid the courtesy, the British Government authorised the capture of a Iranian ship based on a suggestion it might be infringing laws relating to a legal entity they’ve been trying to leave for three years, the EU, by heading to Syria, a war zone in which they’re not currently engaged.

Having achieved relative peace with the approved nuclear deal and lost it with the withdrawal of America, British foreign policy now seems to be to grab at Iranian assets then wail loudly if they return the favour. We now stand in a nautical stalemate with both countries holding something belonging to the other.

Of course, it’s entirely probable Mr Zarif is speaking the truth. It’s hard to imagine the average working Iranian desperate for war with the West. In fact, currently it’s the British Government publishing aggressive rhetoric on this issue. Well, the former British Government at least: former Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt claimed the Iranian seizure of the British ship ‘Stena Impero’ was “completely unacceptable,” and that “there will be serious consequences.”

What these consequences are, he didn’t say. Sanctions? Embargos? Military action? Nothing likely to benefit the British economy at a time when politics at home is so uncertain.

British relations with Iran have never been more perilous: the man whose hapless blunder led to the condemnation of British-Iranian Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, is now in Number 10

It’s worth noting here that I’m vehemently opposed to Iran’s disregard of human rights, and the development of nuclear weapons for any purpose is against everything I believe in. Such issues should be protested on all fronts and perpetrators held to account. And of course, it is possible the Iranian tanker in question was infringing EU law. But in this issue, Britain acted alone, without international approval, and any diplomatic or military action that comes as a result of this boat snatching in the Gulf will be as much a result of Britain’s mishandling as anyone else’s.

It is possible we’ll never see such “consequences,” as Mr Hunt is neither any longer the Foreign Secretary nor our new Prime Minister. Hopefully his disposal will clear the way for a calmer politician with more gentle diplomacy to get us out of this mess.

Enter Boris Johnson.

British relations with Iran have never been more perilous: the man whose hapless blunder led to the condemnation of British-Iranian Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, is now in Number 10. Gentle diplomacy won’t right the wrongs done to her, and Mr Johnson seems incapable of speaking without causing insult and embarrassment anyway.

How the new Prime Minister will deal with Iran remains to be seen, but don’t be fooled about how we got here. We might look back from the future to find the seeds of war were planted by familiar governments even as early as today.

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