As tensions continue to rise between Iran and the United States, Iranian officials have been keen to paint the Americans as the aggressor and instigator of instability, particularly in the Persian Gulf region, which Iran relies on for shipping its oil.
During a prepared speech at the Caspian Economic Forum in Turkmenistan on Aug. 12, Iranian Vice President Eshag Jahangiri said, “The safety and stability of international waterways and northern and southern beaches and the Strait of Hormuz is our red line.” He continued, “We believe that foreign forces in the Persian Gulf create instability and increase tensions and that only regional countries can and must establish regional security.”
Jahangiri's comments, which are not surprising, represent Tehran’s public strategy to portray Iran as the guarantor of Persian Gulf security while presenting the United States and other foreign vessels as aggressors. In July, Britain's Royal Navy joined the US military in escorting tankers through the Gulf after the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) seized the British tanker Stena Impero on July 19. Iran said it acted after the vessel violated international shipping rules while passing through the Strait of Hormuz. Prior to the Iranian seizure of the tanker, Britain had seized the Iranian tanker Grace 1 off the coast of Gibraltar on July 4.
In an interview with Al Mayadeen published by Iranian media on Aug. 12, Alireza Tangsiri, commander of the IRGC’s naval force, discussed the seized Iranian tanker and security in the Persian Gulf.
“Our message to regional countries and the world is that Iran will guarantee the safety of the Strait of Hormuz as long as it can export its oil,” Tangsiri said. On the Grace 1, Tangsiri claimed that the tanker had been headed to Europe, not Syria as the British claim. Syria is under European Union sanctions, and Iran has argued that because it is not part of the EU, it should not be subject to sanctioning.
Tangsiri remarked that the sailors on the Grace 1 are “imprisoned” on the ship. Suggesting that Iran is open to a tanker swap, he remarked, “It’s not fair for the British tanker that violated international regulations to be freed while the Iranian tanker continues to be held.”
Tangsiri said the coalition of the United States and United Kingdom in the Persian Gulf was “illegal” and that it was “designed to push forward their own agendas.”
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, on an official visit to Qatar, offered a statement on regional security. “[The Strait of Hormuz] is a small waterway, and the presence of any foreign warship in these waters makes this location less safe for everyone,” Zarif told Al Jazeera during his visit. “We say this based on experience that the American presence and foreign ships in the Persian Gulf has never resulted in increased security.”