'Another potential escalation between Iran and the Western powers appeared to have been averted amid claims by US and UK officials on Thursday that three ships belonging to Iran’s Revolutionary Guards sought “attempted to impede” a British oil tanker in the Strait of Hormuz.
Iranian officials bluntly denied any such incident took place.
Wednesday's alleged incident in the Gulf follows the 4 July seizure of an Iranian-linked oil-tanker Grace I by UK forces off the coast Gibraltar on suspicions it was carrying crude oil to an embargoed refinery Syria. It happened at on the same day the US demanded that world powers punish Iran for upping its enrichment of uranium.
Tehran has warned for days that Britain would face “repercussions” after it seized Grace I off the coast of Gibraltar last week. But, adding to the confusion, Iranian officials on Thursday denied the Panamanian-flagged ship was owned by Iran, with a military commander claiming it was only leased by Tehran.
"We had rented this ship and it was carrying the cargo," said Rear Admiral Ali Fadavi, deputy commander of the Revolutionary Guard was quoted as saying by the Tasnim news agency. "Their action was very silly and they will certainly regret it."
The incident on Wednesday threatens to further increase strains between Western powers and Iran as they seek to salvage a 2015 nuclear deal after the US pulled out of the deal and announced harsh sanctions on Tehran.
The UK claimed Revolutionary Guard vessels approached the BP-owned British Heritage in the Gulf on Wednesday, asking it to stop in nearby Iranian waters, but withdrew after a Royal Navy warship issued them “verbal warnings” over radio.
US defence personnel said the navy frigate HMS Montrose, which was accompanying the tanker, “pointed its guns at the [Iranian] boats”, according to US media reports. The Ministry of Defence had no immediate comment when contacted by The Independent.
“It was harassment and an attempt to interfere with the passage,” one of the US officials reportedly said, speaking on the condition of anonymity.'
Read more: ‘They make claims to create tension’: Iran denies boats tried to intercept British oil tanker
US and 'allies' will send naval escorts for tankers in the Gulf after Royal Navy was forced to defend UK vessel from Iranian boats, Pentagon reveals - Claim
'The United States and its allies are discussing plans to provide naval escorts for oil tankers through the Gulf, a top US general said today after the Royal Navy were forced to defend UK vessels from an Iranian boats.
It comes as Gibraltar police have arrested the captain and chief officer of an Iranian oil tanker which was seized by Royal Marines near the British territory last week.
The men, both Indian nationals, were arrested on Thursday afternoon but neither have been charged, the spokesman added.
General Mark Milley, nominated to become the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told a Senate hearing that the US has a 'crucial role' in enforcing freedom of navigation in the Gulf.
He said the US was attempting to put together a coalition 'in terms of providing military escort, naval escort to commercial shipping' he said.
'I think that that will be developing over the next couple weeks.'
The arrests come exactly a week after the Grace 1 tanker was stopped trying to enter the Mediterranean for allegedly violating EU sanctions against Syria, sparking a tense standoff between London and Tehran.
Those tensions almost boiled over Wednesday when three Iranian vessels tried to impede UK-flagged tanker British Heritage as it made its way through the Strait of Hormuz, ordering it to change course and stop.
Royal Navy frigate HMS Montrose trained its guns on the Iranian vessels and ordered them to back away, which they did without firing a shot.'
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