BRITISH warships should be sent to the Persian Gulf to protect merchant ships against Iran’s military, a former UK ambassador to the UN has said.
Mark Lyall Grant says Britain needs a “robust defensive military posture” in the region in the wake of Iran’s alleged attack on two oil tankers in the Gulf last week.
Yesterday Theresa May’s spokesman said the UK Government was “almost certain” that the Iranian Revolutionary Guard (IRG) – a branch of Iran’s Armed Forces – was behind the attack.
And No10 stepped up its rhetoric against the regime by warning that “all options” would be examined after Iran declared it will breach the terms of the nuclear deal within the next 10 days.
The country’s atomic agency said Theran had sped up its uranium stockpile and is set to hit the limit set by the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) deal by June 27.
Behrouz Kamalvandi, a spokesman for Iran’s atomic agency, said the country needed to increase uranium enrichment levels up to 20 per cent – only one step away from weapons-grade material.
Mrs May’s spokesman warned there would be “consequences” if and when it breaches the JCPOA limit, adding: “We have been clear about our concern at Iranian plans to reduce compliance with the JCPOA. Should Iran cease meeting its nuclear commitments, we would then look at all options available to us.”
Britain is already poised elite soldiers from the 42 Commando base to the region but Mr Lyall Grant called on the PM to beef up our presence further by sending frigates to protect merchant shipping cargo through the dangerous Strait of Hormuz and warned that they must be prepared to open fire with the IRG.
He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “We do need a robust defensive military posture – possibly escorting ships. The marines are being sent, you can have armed guards on some of the merchant shipping as well, so that’s really important.
“I do not rule out the possibility that if some of these ships are attacked and they are have some means of defence that they would engage military some of the IRG boats.”
The JCPOA deal has looked increasingly unstable since Donald Trump pulled the United States out of it last year. Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt has warned there is a “great risk” of a drift to war due to Iran’s activities in the region following the attacks last week in the Gulf on two oil tankers.
Iran has strongly denied it was responsible for the attack on the mines. But The Americans have accused Iran of using limpet mines to target the tankers, pointing to video footage said to show Iranian Revolutionary Guard troops removing an unexploded mine from one of the vessels.
In recent weeks, the US has sent an aircraft carrier strike group and other military assets to the region in what the military says is defensive posturing aimed at Iranian deterrence.
The UK also has a military presence in the Gulf, although in response to reports of Royal Marines heading to the region officials stressed this was a pre-planned training exercise rather than a response to Tehran.
Officials have been meeting in Whitehall to consider the tensions in the region following the attacks on two oil tankers last week. The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said the UK position remained that it was “almost certain that the Iranian Revolutionary Guard corps attacked the two tankers”.
“No other state or non-state actor could plausibly have been responsible,” the spokesman said. These latest attacks build on a pattern of destabilising Iranian behaviour and pose a serious danger to the region. That is why we have called on Iran to cease all forms of destabilising activity.”
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The spokesman said there was “recent precedent for attacks by Iran against oil tankers” but stressed “the UK remains in close co-ordination with our international partners to find diplomatic solutions to de-escalate tensions”.
He added: “Unintended escalation would not be in any party’s interests.”
The UK had “a number of military assets in the region, including at our new naval base in Bahrain and our facility in Oman”.
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