The US Central Command released recon surveillance footage taken near the United Arab Emirates port of Khor Fakkan. Footage shows Iran taking control of a civilian-owned oil tanker in international waters. The vessel was anchored off shore. The seizure was carried out by a boarding party from a helicopter and accompanied by two navy ships. It took place near the Strait of Hormuz. The incident may be retaliation after US warships took over an Iranian ship 8 days earlier off the coast of China.
US Central Command posted the video online and explained the seizure. They say two ships and an Iranian “Sea King” helicopter overtook and boarded the vessel. The Oil Tanker is called the “Wila” and is a Liberian vessel that is civilian owned. US officials say there was no American involvement but they are monitoring the situation. Iranian state media and officials have not explained or even admitted to the situation.
Nearly 20% of the global oil supply flows through the Strait of Hormuz. Iran has a long history of threatening oil transportation when the country is facing international pressure. The leverage over the oil industry has allowed Iran to express it’s interests through extortion and interference in foreign markets.
The capture of an Iranian vessel off the coast of China by the US Navy recently may have caused Iran’s retaliation. On August 8th near Qingdao China the US took control of an Iranian vessel that was carrying a shipment of zeolite. Zeolite is a naturally occurring mineral that’s commonly used in purification systems such as water filters or oxygen ventilators. The shipment was being made in violation of US sanctions.
The Iranian CEO of the company operating the vessel seized in China admits the shipments arrangements were made to circumvent sanctions. He says the minerals were “to produce oxygen concentrators we need to import only one part which is zeolite and we are forced to purchase it from France and import it to the country through several middle parties.” He goes on to claim such shipments are in the medical industry and are not covered by sanctions.
The Iranian Navy has had some problems of it’s own. In June an Iranian Warship sank in the Iraqi territorial waters in the Khawr Abdullah. The Iraqi Transport Ministry said the reason for the ship’s sinking was unknown and that four crew members were rescued and one body recovered. The sources pointed out that “the ship was loaded with (850) tons of ceramics” noting that “the site of its sinking is far from the Iraqi shipping lane and does not hinder maritime navigation in Iraq.”
Late last month there was a massive explosion at the Parchin Military site in Iran. That location is connected to Iran’s nuclear ambitions and houses much of the development and manufacture of centrifuges. The centrifuges are large, expensive and complex machines that are used to continuously refine uranium to weapons-grade purity. Since the end of the JCPOA, commonly known as the Iran Deal, the nation has resumed enrichment and announced it’s pursuit of nuclear weapons.
Tensions between Iran and the USA have reached a boiling point. The White House exit from the Iran Deal was a turning point for relations. Prior US leadership had been flirting with military action against Iran but the Trump Administration has taken a much more strategic approach to pressuring the hostile regime. Through partnerships with allies and the use of trade pressure the White House has been able to leverage it’s position and push Iran into a corner.