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Strait of Hormuz incident gives US cause to expand military presence in region - Kosachev

According to Russian senator Washington is going to use the escalation of tensions in the Middle East

MOSCOW, July 20. /TASS/. The incident with the UK oil tanker detained by Iranian authorities in the Strait of Hormuz gives the US a pretext to expand its military presence in the region, Chairman of the Russian Federation Council's (upper house of parliament) Foreign Affairs Committee Konstantin Kosachev stated on Saturday.

"It is clear by now who is going to use the escalation of tensions in the Strait of Hormuz and in the Middle East on the whole: Pentagon just approved the transfer of troops to Saudi Arabia. The US also announced the development of an international operation aimed to defend the navigation in the Middle East in light of recent events in the Persian Gulf region," he wrote on Facebook.

Kosachev added that the quick preparations of the Sentinel international coalition in the wake of the incident "confirm the assumption that the US was simply waiting for a pretext to expand its military presence in the region, and it finally arrived."

The senator pointed out that the US goals amid the current developments are quite evident.

"Firstly, [the US] needs to stir up tensions around Iran, and Tehran energetically ‘plays along’, in particular with the seizure of a British tanker. Secondly, the key task is to make Iran a problem not just for Washington, which is fixated on that, but for the widest possible range of states," Kosachev stressed.

The politician recalled that "the UK [was first] to enter by unleashing ‘a war with tankers’ against Tehran." Relations have noticeably worsened between London and Tehran after Gibraltar (a British Overseas Territory) seized Panama-flagged Grace 1 oil tanker on July 4 on suspicion it was carrying Iranian crude to Syria in the breach of sanctions.

After Grace 1 seizure, London warned shipping companies that Iran might arrest British vessels in response to the seizure of its oil tanker. On July 10, CNN reported citing sources with the US administration that five boats, which could have been owned by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC, Iran’s elite forces), attempted to stop a British-flagged tanker in the Strait of Hormuz.

"Nonetheless, the recent operation by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps to seize the UK-flagged Stena Impero in the Strait of Hormuz has certainly added to the concerns of other important international players, as Germany and France have already expressed their concerns. They are also likely to support the Pentagon's international maritime operation Sentinel ensuring security of key waterways in the Middle East," he wrote.


No armed confrontation expected

According to Kosachev, a new incident in the Persian Gulf will not spark "a real war" between Iran and the United States.

"I do not think this will dramatically increase a possibility of armed confrontation, as neither Iran nor the US are generally keen on a real war. However, rattling on the nerves and overbidding will go on, thus here the most dangerous will be a factor of chance and its interpretation by the sides along with provocations by third sides," the politician noted adding that the United States could not be forbidden to conduct maneuvers in international waters.

"Although history teaches that the appearance of US military groupings in any region is no longer a mere factor of security, but an increased risk of conflicts," Kosachev concluded.

The senator recalled that in the spring the US designated the IRGC as a terrorist organization, whereas Iran labelled the United States Central Command in the Middle East as terrorists in response.

"We can watch the continuation of this ‘positional war’ with an equivocal continuation, still hoping for the sides’ common sense, but that is not the most reliable component in the entire configuration," he added.

On April 8, US President Donald Trump designated Iran’s Revolutionary Guards as a foreign terrorist organization. The United States explained that "the IRGC actively participates in [terrorism], finances, and promotes terrorism as a tool of statecraft". In response, Iran’s Supreme National Security Council designated the US military forces in the region as "terror groups."

Situation with British oil tankers

Iran’s state-run IRNA news agency said on Friday that the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) (elite forces) seized the UK-flagged tanker Stena Impero in the Strait of Hormuz for "the violations of international maritime regulations." According to the IRGC, the tanker was escorted towards the shore for further investigation.

Swedish company Stena Bulk, the owner of the vessel, said that the crew of 23 sailors could not be contacted. A spokesperson for the company told TASS that three Russian sailors were onboard the tanker. Russia’s embassy in Tehran informed TASS that Stena Bulk’s representative confirmed "the information about three Russian sailors onboard.".