Geo-political tensions in the region have been rising alarmingly in recent months, with Iran engaged in a standoff with the US and other Western nations. The seizure of a British vessel by Iran in July ratcheted the acrimonious relations, with London calling the move an act of “state piracy”.
The move came after the British Royal Marines detained an Iranian tanker off the Gibraltar coast in early July, accusing it of violating sanctions on Syria.
For its part, Tehran claimed the Stena Impero tanker, which had been heading to a port in Saudi Arabia, was seized because it had collided with a fishing vessel. It has since demanded that the UK free its tanker.
Iran’s action has drawn sharp criticism from across the world, especially since the tanker was seized at the Strait of Hormuz, which sees about a fifth of the world’s oil pass through. The incident has highlighted the need to ensure maritime security at the strait to ensure the smooth flow of oil supplies.
Saudi Arabia issued a strongly worded call for action following the incident.
“Iran must realise its acts of intercepting ships, including most recently the British ship, are completely unacceptable,” the kingdom’s minister of State for Foreign Affairs Adel Al Jubeir said in a Twitter post. The Saudi Cabinet also condemned the move, calling for joint global action.
“Any disruption of the freedom of international maritime traffic is considered a violation of international law and the international community must do what is necessary to reject it and deter it,” it said in a statement.
The latest incident comes after the US and Iran reached the brink of war in late June following the shooting down of a US drone by Tehran. US President Donald Trump said he desisted from retaliation at the last minute to avoid 150 deaths.
The crisis has been building up after Trump withdrew last year from the landmark 2015 nuclear deal with Iran. Since then, the US has gradually begun re-imposing sanctions on Iran, urging countries worldwide to comply with them. In turn, Iran has threatened to scale back compliance with the treaty, with plans to accelerate uranium enrichment.
Although both sides have indicated that they are willing to negotiate, the relationship has remained terse, with the tanker seizure now also roping the UK directly into the conflict.
With the possibility of further conflict looming large, most GCC states have counselled diplomacy and de-escalation.
Oman, which maintains cordial ties with Iran, called on Tehran to return the tanker immediately and urged the parties to “resolve their differences through diplomatic channels”.
Kuwait also stressed that “the continuation of such acts will increase tensions, expose maritime safety to a direct threat, which requires the international community to intensify its efforts to contain the escalation”, the official news agency KUNA reported. The Gulf state pressed all parties to “exercise restraint”.
Any solution to the current scenario will require a collaborative effort with a strong emphasis on peaceful dialogue.
As the UAE minister of State for Foreign Affairs Dr Anwar Gargash said recently on Twitter: “Tensions in the Gulf can only be addressed politically. Crisis long in the making requires collective attention; primarily to de-escalate & to find political solutions thru dialogue & negotiations. Regional voices important to achieve sustainable solutions.”