By Jubin Katiraie
The Iranian threat to British shipping in the Gulf "hasn’t gone away", according to the head of the Royal Navy, who described Iran’s actions as "aggressive" and "outrageous".
Admiral Tony Radakin said the UK wanted to "de-escalate" tensions with Iran after the release of the Stena Impero, the British-flagged tanker the Stena Impero seized by Iran’s Revolutionary Guards in the Straits of Hormuz in July, but that the navy would maintain a heightened military presence in the region for now.
Back in July, the UK only one frigate stationed in the Gulf, but the HMS Montrose has since been joined by the destroyer HMS Defender.
When visiting the region, Radakin said: "We have to react to when a nation is as aggressive as Iran was. It was an outrageous act that happened on the high seas and that’s why we have responded the way that we have."
He then said that the UK would still work to provide maritime security in the Gulf with the US-led coalition, known as "Operation Sentinel", rather than the European operation being set up by France, saying that there are "very simple practical reasons", including existing strong military ties, for the UK to remain part of the US-led operation. Although, he said that the UK did not support the administration’s Trump “maximum pressure” campaign on Iran.
In related news, a Royal Navy warship has been involved in 115 confrontations with the Revolutionary Guards since July.
Commander Will King said HMS Montrose had been tested almost daily by Iran with fast attack craft and drones deployed just 200 meters from the ship as a means of intimidation, with Iran having “a continuous intent to disrupt or interfere with UK interests in the area”.
Iran has mocked the British Navy for failing to stop the seizure of the UK-flagged Stena Impero, but the Revolutionary Guards had the approval to use live rounds if the HMS Montrose had arrived in time. The Revolutionary Guards even attempted to find Britons on the Stena Impero.
The Times reported witnessing the IRGC deploying an unmanned aerial vehicle above the HMS Montrose as it accompanied three British-flagged cargo vessels.
Commodore Dean Bassett, the most senior Royal Navy officer deployed in the Gulf, said Britain will increase its intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance capability in the area.
He said: “In the last couple of months we’ve seen a dramatic change to the security in the area . . . I can confirm that the UK is actively considering bolstering the air surveillance capabilities in theatre. It could be a drone, it could be a maritime patrol aircraft, it could be a helicopter on the back of the ship, it could be a ship.”