Drone downing, tanker seizure raise tensions in Gulf

The US on Thursday claimed it shot down an Iranian drone in the Strait of Hormuz while Tehran said it was not aware of any such incident.

President Trump said the naval vessel USS Boxer, above, destroyed an unmanned aerial system (UAS) around 10am local time after the drone came within threatening range of the ship despite warnings to its operators to change course.

Trump called it a defensive action to ensure the safety of the ship and its crew.

He said other nations should also condemn Iran’s attempts to threaten freedom of navigation and global commerce.

To counter such moves, the US recently proposed a plan called Operation Sentinel involving its allies to escort vessels transiting through Gulf waters.

Thursday’s incident comes hours after Iran claimed its revolutionary guards seized an oil tanker in the Persian Gulf and arrested the vessel’s 12-member crew for trying to smuggle its oil.  

This prompted the US to demand the immediate release of the vessel.

Rejecting the US demand, Iran said it regularly inspects ships passing through the Gulf to prevent the smuggling of its oil. The seized tanker was a small one, it said, without elaborating.

The drone downing and tanker seizure within 24 hours come amid rising tensions in the Strait of Hormuz, Gulf of Oman and Persian Gulf over recent attacks on oil tankers blamed on Iran.

Tehran has consistently denied Washington’s charges saying such allegations are meant only to raise tensions in the Gulf.

Last month, the UK said three Iranian boats tried to obstruct a British Petroleum (BP) oil tanker as it was passing through the Strait of Hormuz.

This comes days after Britain seized an Iranian oil tanker heading to Syria off the Gibraltar coast.

The US almost launched an airstrike on targets in Tehran last month after Iran’s revolutionary guards shot down their spy drone.

Iran defended its action, saying the US plane entered its territorial waters and defied warnings to back off. The US insisted that its drone did not stray into Iran’s airspace.

In May, the US deployed a warship to the Persian Gulf to counter threats from Iran.

The relations between Iran and the US worsened after Trump walked away from the 2015 Iran nuclear deal last year and re-imposed sanctions on Iran.

Iran’s efforts to persuade other signatories of the deal such as France, Germany and Britain to deliver its benefits ignoring US curbs have failed.

Iran’s alleged attacks on oil tankers moving through the Persian Gulf and the Strait of Hormuz are seen as a tactic to stop ships from using these routes to transport oil without Tehran ordering its revolutionary guards to close them.

Under the existing sanctions, Iran cannot export its oil to international market. Those countries which buy oil from Iran will also face US sanctions.

Several nations are questioning the US for withdrawing from the historic nuclear deal which was working well.

Iran says the US sanctions are nothing short of economic terrorism.