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US confirms Iran’s IRGC seized tanker smuggling fuel in Gulf

The seizure by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps came just a day the US Navy thwarted attempts by Iran's navy to seize two commercial tankers in the Gulf of Oman.
Iranian Revolutionary Guard speedboats cruise past an oil tanker off the port of Bandar Abbas, southern Iran, on July 2, 2012. Iran has come up with several methods to foil the European insurance embargo on ships loaded with its crude, a sanction which may harm its vital exports as much as the EU oil embargo itself. AFP PHOTO/ATTA KENARE (Photo credit should read ATTA KENARE/AFP/GettyImages)

A senior commander of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps said Monday its naval forces seized a tanker smuggling fuel last week in the Persian Gulf waters.

Commander of the IRGC's second naval district Ramezan Zirahi was quoted by Iran’s semi-official Tasnim News Agency as saying the tanker, which he identified as the Nada 2, was carrying smuggled Iranian fuel.

Zirahi said the US military dispatched multiple aircrafts — including A-10s, a P-8 and an MQ-9 drone — as well as two patrol ships to the area in response to the IRGC-N’s attempt to take possession of the ship.

A spokesperson for the US Navy’s Fifth Fleet based in Bahrain confirmed the IRGC seizure to Al-Monitor.

“On July 6, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps forcibly seized a commercial vessel possibly engaged in smuggling activity and transiting the Arabian Gulf in international waters,” Tim Hawkins wrote via email.

“US naval forces deployed maritime assets to closely monitor the situation. Ultimately, US Naval Forces Central Command assessed the circumstances of this event did not warrant further response,” Hawkins wrote.

Why it matters: Tanker seizures by Iran have picked up in recent months as the Biden administration has vowed to enforce existing sanctions on the country’s oil and gas exports, which Iranian officials say hit record highs this year despite US pressure.

The IRGC’s latest seizure comes after the US Navy thwarted attempts by Iran’s regular navy to seize two commercial tankers in the Gulf of Oman last week. In one incident, an Iranian navy vessel fired crew-manned guns and small arms, striking the Bahamas-flagged tanker Richmond Voyager in a high-seas pursuit some 20 miles off the coast of Oman.

“US forces remain vigilant and ready to protect navigational rights of lawful maritime traffic in the Middle East’s critical waters,” Hawkins told Al-Monitor.

But the IRGC’s seizure of the Nada 2 did not appear related to Iran’s dispute with the United States over sanctions.

One US official speaking not for attribution suggested that the US Navy is not in the business of assisting suspected smugglers.

Colin Kahl, the Pentagon’s outgoing top policy official, praised the US Navy’s response to last week’s seizures in comments to reporters from the podium on Friday.

“Frankly it’s not a very effective message to essentially engage in piracy on the high seas and shoot at unarmed civilian maritime craft,” Kahl told reporters.

“Why the Iranians are doing this at this moment is not at all clear to us,” Kahl added.

Know more: Oil Minister Javad Owji bragged last week about the expansion of Iran’s oil and gas industry despite US sanctions. 

Owji said Iran had secured $40 billion worth in deals with Russia and other regional nations over the past 20 months and invited additional countries to invest Iran’s energy sector. Read the latest dispatch from Al-Monitor’s correspondent in Tehran.

Al-Monitor has previously reported concerns among Pentagon officials any new influx of revenue from sanctions evasion will expand Iran’s ability to fund and arm proxy militias abroad in the Middle East.

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