Thursday, 18 July 2019 | 21:04
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IRGC(N) Vessels Attempt to Interdict and Disrupt UK Vessel Within Persian Gulf

Friday, 12 July 2019 | 00:00

Reports indicate Iranian IRGC(N) vessels attempted to impede the movements of a commercial tanker in the Strait of Hormuz. The vessel in question, the British-flagged crude oil tanker British Heritage, was escorted by the Royal Navy frigate HMS Montrose, which moved between the tanker and the approaching vessels, and issued a verbal warning. HMS Montrose is reported to have trained its guns on the Iranian vessels, resulting in their withdrawal. No aggressive action or warning shots were fired by vessels on either side. Iran has responded to the reports by denying the incident occurred, stating the claims have ‘no value’.

An approach of this manner fits the profile of previous Iranian efforts to harass vessels in the Strait of Hormuz. This activity is not unusual and has been a hallmark of IRGC(N) activity within the region at times of geopolitical tension. It remains Dryad’s assessment that this latest attempt represents a credible ‘show of force’ by the Iranian regime and IRGC(N), which is designed to act as a tangible follow up to British involvement in the detention of the Grace I. It would be highly unlikely for Iran to persist in any attempt to detain a vessel in international waters or to engage a vessel with weapons. Any action of this nature would significantly compromise ongoing Iranian diplomatic efforts as well as significantly increase the likelihood of direct military action against Iran. Furthermore, it remains in line with pre-existing assessments that IRGC(N) units would attempt to continue to conduct harassing activities towards commercial vessels in the Strait of Hormuz in light of increased regional tensions. These activities are likely perceived by Tehran as being consistent with how it perceives it should respond to what it sees as its ‘unfair’ treatment by the wider international community.

The broader geopolitical situation is also to be considered. Iran continues to be engaged with wider diplomatic efforts with the EU in attempts to maintain an avenue of trade in that area and subsequent, albeit partial, sanctions relief. In addition Iran may be attempting to exploit ongoing diplomatic tensions between the UK and the US, particularly at a time when the US has been hesitant to commit additional material resources to its naval convoy proposal. Iran is acutely aware of its fragile position, both in terms of its ongoing efforts to control and mitigate the damage of sanctions and in terms of its avoidance of direct military conflict with the US and as such these twin narratives present the most logical lens through which to understand Iranian activity.

It remains the case that UK flagged vessels, as well as broader FoC and UK interests, continue to exist in a status of heightened but manageable risk. It is highly likely that this latest incident will provide further impetus for a coordinated international response to provide naval escorts to vessels within the region.
Source: Dryad Global

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