A former leader of Iran’s powerful Revolutionary Guard said Friday that the Islamic Republic should consider seizing a British oil tanker in response to authorities detaining an Iranian oil tanker off the coast of Gibraltar.
The comments by Mohsen Rezaei, who is also a member of a council that advises Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, came amid heightened tensions over Iran’s unraveling 2015 nuclear deal, which the U.S. withdrew from last year.
In recent days, Iran has broken through the limit that the deal put on its stockpile of low-enriched uranium, and plans to boost its enrichment Sunday. In the past months, the U.S. has rushed thousands of additional troops, an aircraft carrier, B-52 bombers and advanced fighter jets to the region.
Rezaei made his comments in a tweet Friday.
“If England does not release the Iranian oil tanker, the duty ... [of Iran] is to respond and seize one English oil tanker,” he said.
Rezaei led the Guard during Iran’s 1980s “Tanker War” in the Persian Gulf targeting the oil trade of the U.S. and its Arab allies.
It was a striking comment from Rezaei, one that current officials have yet to make.
Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesman earlier called on Britain to release the tanker.
Authorities in Gibraltar intercepted the supertanker Thursday, saying they believed it to be breaching European Union sanctions by carrying a shipment of Iranian crude oil to Syria. Spanish authorities said the seizure came at the request of the U.S.
A spokesman for the government of Gibraltar, who wasn’t authorized to be identified by name in media reports, said all 28 crew members remain on the vessel and are being interviewed as witnesses, not questioned under criminal procedures.
The crew is made of mainly Indian, Pakistani and Ukrainian nationals, he said.
On Friday, the Gibraltar Chronicle quoted Atty. Gen. Michael Llamas as saying that the British overseas territory’s Supreme Court had granted an extension to July 19 to detain the tanker.
Calls and e-mails to the court weren’t immediately answered.
U.S. national security advisor John Bolton tweeted that the ship’s seizure was “excellent news.”
“America & our allies will continue to prevent regimes in Tehran & Damascus from profiting off this illicit trade,” Bolton said.
The vessel probably carried just over 2 million barrels of Iranian crude oil, the data firm Refinitv said. Tracking data showed that the tanker made a slow trip around the southern tip of Africa before reaching the Mediterranean, it said.
Meanwhile, fears over a miscalculation sparking a wider conflict in the Persian Gulf have grown. Oil tankers near the Strait of Hormuz have been targeted in mysterious attacks. The U.S. says Iran is behind the attacks, an accusation denied by Tehran. Last month, Iran shot down a U.S. surveillance drone.
Ayatollah Mohammad Ali Movahedi Kermani, an advisor to Iran’s supreme leader and Tehran’s Friday prayer leader, brought up the drone shootdown during prayers.
He said the reason that the U.S. did not attack Iran in response was that President Trump fears Iran’s ballistic missile stockpile.
“When Iranian missiles are able to hit a stealth drone thousands of feet in the air, how easy would it be to hit an aircraft carrier in the sea?” he asked.