Iran could seize a British oil tanker in retaliation for the detention of an Iranian tanker off Gibraltar, a former commander of the country’s powerful Revolutionary Guard has warned.
Moshem Rezaei said Tehran had a “duty” to respond to the seizure of the Grace 1 over suspicions it was carrying oil to Bashar Assad’s Syrian regime in breach of EU sanctions.
A detachment of Royal Marines from 42 Commando boarded the vessel on Thursday in a joint operation with the Royal Gibraltar Police.
Writing on Twitter, Mr Rezaei, who led the Guard during the 1980s “tanker war” in the Gulf, said: “If England does not release the Iranian oil tanker, the duty… (of Iran) is to respond and seize one English oil tanker.”
The warning came after Britain’s ambassador in Tehran, Rob Macaire, was summoned to the Iranian Foreign Ministry to explain the Government’s actions.
In a statement, the Gibraltar government said it had taken the decision to intercept the vessel and was not acting at the behest of any other country.
It follows a claim by the Spanish authorities that the seizure of the tanker was made at the request of the United States which had been tracking its movements.
“There has been no political request at any time from any government that the Gibraltar government should act or not act, on one basis or another,” the Gibraltar government said in a statement.
“The decisions of Her Majesty’s Government of Gibraltar were taken totally independently, based on breaches of existing law and not at all based on extraneous political considerations.”
A spokesman said members of the crew were continuing to be questioned as inquiries continued aboard the ship.
The 28 crew members – mainly Indian, Pakistani and Ukrainian nationals – were being interviewed as witnesses and were not being questioned under criminal procedures the spokesman added.
The incident has occurred at a time of heightened tensions between the US and its allies and Iran over the unravelling nuclear deal between Tehran and leading international powers, including the UK.
Last month President Donald Trump said he had made a last-minute decision to call off air strikes in retaliation for the shooting down by Iran of an unmanned US drone over the Gulf.
Earlier this week Iran announced that it had breached the limit for stockpiling low-enriched uranium – which could potentially be used to make a nuclear weapon – under the terms of the agreement.
The move was seen as an attempt to put pressure on the European signatories – Britain, France and Germany – to persuade the US to lift its sanctions which are crippling the Iranian economy.
The three EU powers still support the deal – which was supposed to lift international sanctions in return for Iran curtailing its nuclear activities.
In practice however, they have been unable to get round US sanctions which were re-imposed by Mr Trump after he unilaterally pulled out of the 2015 agreement.