On the 4th of July, the British Navy detained an Iranian tanker, the Grace 1, on the suspicion that it was shipping oil to Syria. Such a shipment would be in breach of EU sanctions and therefore violate international law, making its seizure off the coast of Gibraltar legal and necessary.
What followed from this was not an attempt at international dialogue from Iran, but a tit-for-tat retaliation. On the 19th of July, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard detained the Stena Impero, a British ship with a crew of 23 of the Strait of Hormuz.
As of yet, no credible explanation has been given for the detention of the Stena Impero, forcing observers to work off the obvious assumption that this was an act of retaliation.
Iran sees the UK as a mere extension of the US's foreign policy, attempting to aggravate it on the world stage and attempting to undermine its ability for power projection, globally and regionally. After Donald Trump abandoned the Iran Nuclear Deal and cranked up economic sanctions, animosity has been rising between Iran and the West and the UK has been dragged into such tensions abruptly and aggressively.
To Iran, the Grace 1 and the Stena Impero are pawns in a wider game that sees them trying to rebuff the interferences that the US and the UK throw at them, whilst trying to maintain their credibility as a regional power and a state that will not be bullied.
So, where does this leave the UK? The UK must not be provoked into acting rashly. Iran's economic, military and diplomatic capacities are fair inferior to those of the US and the UK, as such, there is no need for hasty or aggressive responses.
The UK should look to defuse tensions and seek a diplomatic acquiescence by using the Grace 1 as a bargaining chip in rescuing the Stena Impero. Importantly, this will in turn mean the rescuing of the 23 crew members whose safety the British government must see as a priority.
This development is not something to belittle in its seriousness. Iran violated international law by illegally detaining a British ship. However, in the grand game of international relations in the Middle East, this episode should do nothing but illustrate Iran's frustration and weakness.
Author: Jason Montaner
Jason is a UK-based political journalist specialising in domestic affairs and foreign policy.