UK dilemma on Iran confrontation is part of a much larger conflict




Unexpected events have a method of crowding a world chief. Boris Johnson hasn’t even been elected chief of the UK Conservative Party, to not point out moved into 10 Downing Street.

Now the one that is anticipated to win that election on Tuesday and be appointed British prime minister on Wednesday faces the prospect of having to take care of a predominant diplomatic catastrophe with Iran that might spiral into navy conflict.

On Friday, Iran seized a British-flagged oil tanker that was cruising by means of the Strait of Hormuz. The Iranian movement was seen as retaliation for the British seizure earlier this month of an Iranian tanker, near Gibraltar, that had been suspected of violating sanctions on Syria.

The British authorities have already threatened “serious consequences” for Iran, a phrase often thought-about a euphemism for a navy response. Mr Johnson includes power with a carefully-cultivated image as a robust no-nonsense patriot and might want to look sturdy in what might very effectively be his first predominant take a look at as a nationwide chief.

But navy and diplomatic realities will constrain a British response. The UK has continuously tried to pursue the path of negotiations with Tehran. As not too way back as a closing week (sooner than the tanker seizure), Mr Johnson acknowledged he would oppose navy movement in the direction of Iran. And with the Royal Navy stretched very skinny, it might be harmful to the UK to take on Iran in its private yard.

In any navy conflict with Iran, the UK would undoubtedly look to the US for help. On Friday, Donald Trump intimated vaguely that such help might be forthcoming. But the US president has already demonstrated his reluctance to take navy movement in the direction of Iran. Last month, he abruptly cancelled bombing raids on Iran that had been deliberate as retaliation, after Iran had shot down an unmanned American drone.

Britain’s current dilemma can solely be understood as part of a broader escalation of tensions between Iran and the west, whereby the governments in Tehran and Washington are the central avid gamers.

The US has been pursuing an approach of “maximum pressure”, which is designed to drive Tehran into direct negotiations. In pursuit of this intention, the US has withdrawn from the Iran nuclear accord and reimposed swinging monetary sanctions.

So far, the American approach has not laboured. Iran has refused to interact oblique talks and as a substitute has resorted to an assortment of small-scale navy provocations, along with the tanker seizures and the assault on the American drone. The Iranian administration is also relying on Mr Trump’s clear reluctance to get entangled in a single different taking photo wrestle inside the Middle East.

But Tehran is in peril of miscalculating. There are influential people in Washington — similar to John Bolton, Mr Trump’s national security adviser — who’ve long been advocates of a strike on Iran, Repeated Iranian provocations may tip the argument of their route.

The seizure of the British-flagged oil tanker may moreover push the UK in course of an additional hawkish place on Iran, one factor that has been resisted by the EU. The Trump administration’s 2018 dedication to pull out of the nuclear accord was rejected by Germany, France and the UK, who’re cosignatories to the deal. They have collectively struggled to keep up alive the prospect that Iran will reap monetary benefits from persevering with to respect the negotiated restraints on its nuclear programme.

But if the UK is making an attempt to ship “serious consequences” for Iran that stop temporary of a navy response, it’d abandon its efforts to guard the Iran nuclear accord and as a substitute be a part of inside the Trump administration’s efforts to strangle the Iranian monetary system.

A British dedication to align its Iran protection with that of Washington, would almost definitely lastly kill off the EU’s efforts to keep up the Iran nuclear accord alive. It would moreover signify the abandonment of a long-standing British foreign-policy place and will enhance the chances of a navy confrontation extra down the road. It is a momentous choice for a new prime minister to face, in his first few days within the office.

gideon.rachman@ft.com




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