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Prospects Of War With Iran Heating Up… Again

Iran Oil Tankers
CBS News senior national security correspondent David Martin says U.S. officials believe Iran has seized the small coastal tanker MT Riah along with its crew of 25 people. At last report, the ship was anchored off Iran's Qeshm island, which hosts a number of bases belonging to the Islamic Republic's elite Revolutionary Guard force.

In addition to previously reported attacks on tankers, and shooting down an unmanned US drone, in the past two weeks, Iran has attempted to seize a British tanker, and apparently hijacked the smaller Riah -- although the Iranians claim they were merely helping a vessel in distress.

CBS reports Iran has said it responded to a distress call from the Panamanian-flagged Riah, based in the United Arab Emirates, and came to its rescue. But no other nation has reported receiving a distress call from the Riah, which was seen being escorted by Iranian naval vessels after the transponder that automatically reports its location was switched off on Saturday.

Maritime tracking service FleetMon.com says there is not much mystery here and reports the tanker couldn’t just break down and be taken in tow by an Iranian tug. The tanker first of all would contact the owner, report the accident and wait for the owner’s decision. If that was the case, the owner should be in full knowledge, and maintain constant communications with the vessel and crew.

Turning off the transponder sounds like a hijacking, not like responding to a distress call, and it is certainly consistent with past Iranian provocations in the Gulf and Strait of Hormuz.

What’s more, the Iranians have recently suffered a major defeat at the hands of the British.

Iranian leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei accused Britain of “piracy” after the Royal Marines seized a supertanker believed to be carrying Iranian crude oil to Syria on July 5.

Jenny Awford, US Digital Editor of the UK’s Sun reports the Ayatollah said: “Evil Britain commits piracy and steals our ship and gives it a legal appearance.

“Iran and those who believe in our system will not leave such vicious deeds unanswered.”

Three Iranian boats also tried to seize a British Petroleum (BP) oil tanker as it passed through the Strait of Hormuz on Wednesday July 10.

Royal Navy frigate HMS Montrose - which was escorting the tanker through the flashpoint region - was forced to sail in front of the boats.

After quickly training its 30mm deck guns on the enemy boats, deploying its Wildcat helicopter and issuing a radio warning, the Iranian boats “scarpered,” reported Ms. Awford.

HMS Duncan has since been deployed to patrol the busy shipping lane as all UK flagged vessels were put on the highest security alert level over fears of retaliation from Iran's Revolutionary Guard.

Ms. Awford also reports an Iranian bomb boat was found in HMS Duncan’s path, meaning the ship could have been destroyed by the unmanned attack ship packed with explosives.

The bomb boat was spotted by Saudi forces near to the destroyer's route - currently heading to protect shipping in the Gulf.

The (UK) Mirror reports sources believe the armed ship, which can be steered remotely from four miles away, was sent out into the Red Sea by Iran's Houthi allies in Yemen.

Americans might justifiably ask what does the hijacking of a Panamanian-flagged vessel operating out of the UAE and the British seizure of an Iranian vessel operating in violation of international sanctions have to do with us?

The answer is that President Trump has approved an operation in which U.S. warships act as sentinels at the entrance to the Gulf -- as long as other countries that are more dependent on Middle East oil, agree to pick up 80 to 90 percent of the cost.

The U.S. has overwhelming firepower in the area, including the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln, which is operating just outside the Persian Gulf. Deploying an aircraft carrier into the confined waters of the Gulf defies sound naval tactics, and what’s more, President Trump has indicated the U.S. does not want to get into the business of escorting ships into and out of the Gulf.

But neither President Trump, nor the British control what the Iranians do, and the Ayatollah's need to break Trump’s maximum pressure sanctions regime and the Iranian thirst for vengeance against the British may lead Americans to cash the checks for that sentinel duty sooner rather than later.

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