Britain sending destroyer to Gulf amid Iranian threats

Iran on Friday demanded the British navy release an Iranian oil tanker seized last week off Gibraltar, accusing London of playing a “dangerous game” and threatening retribution, while London announced it was sending a destroyer to the Persian Gulf.

The comments from Iran’s Foreign Ministry came the day after police in Gibraltar, a British overseas territory on the southern tip of Spain, said they arrested the captain and chief officer of the supertanker suspected of breaching European Union sanctions by carrying a shipment of Iranian crude oil to Syria.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi told Iranian state news agency IRNA that “the legal pretexts for the capture are not valid … the release of the tanker is in all countries’ interest.”

“This is a dangerous game and has consequences,” Mousavi warned.

During Friday prayers, Kazem Sedighi, an adviser to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, threatened retribution.

“Rest assured, Britons will soon feel the slap of the powerful hands of the Islamic Republic,” he said.

The British navy said Thursday it had stopped three Iranian paramilitary vessels from disrupting the passage of a British oil tanker through the Strait of Hormuz, a critical shipping lane at the mouth of the Persian Gulf. Iran’s Revolutionary Guard denied any incident had occurred in the strait.

That brief but tense standoff is believed to have stemmed from the British seizure of the Iranian tanker off Gibraltar on July 4.

On Friday, the British Ministry of Defense said it was moving up its timetable for relieving the HMS Montrose, a frigate operating in the Persian Gulf, with the larger HMS Duncan destroyer in the wake of the recent developments.

“This will ensure that the UK alongside international partners can continue to support freedom of navigation for vessels transiting through this vital shipping lane,” the ministry said.

At the same time, British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt called for “cool heads” to prevail to ensure there is no “unintended escalation.”

“We are being clear to Iran that we are not seeking to escalate this situation,” he said, adding that the British response had been “measured and careful.”