Audio reveals moments before Iran seized a British-flagged oil tanker

Newly released audio reveals how Iran managed to seize a British oil tanker on Friday

By Matthew Rozsa
Published July 21, 2019 3:45PM (EDT)

Recently leaked audio reveals a tense conversation between members of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard and a British naval officer prior to Iran's seizure of the British oil tanker on Friday.

The member of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard was heard in the audio saying, "If you obey, you will be safe. Alter your course 3-6-0 degrees immediately," according to USA Today.

A British naval officer can be heard replying, "I reiterate that as you are conducting transit passage in a recognized international strait, under international law your passage must not be impaired, intruded, obstructed or hampered."

The Iranian official attempted to reassure his British counterpart by saying, "No challenge is intended. I want to inspect the ship for security reasons." Shortly after saying that, however, members of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard boarded and seized the oil tanker.

The seizure is likely retribution for a similar act against Iran from the British government two weeks ago. After British marines suspected that an Iranian tanker off the coast of the Iberian peninsula was violating oil sanctions against Syria, the British government seized that Iranian vessel. Iranians reacted with outrage on Friday when a court in Gibraltar ruled that the tanker could remain seized for 30 more days, and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif reportedly later told British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt that the seizure of the Stena Impero was a "tit-for-tat" move. Officially Iran has offered a number of explanations for seizing the Stena Impero.

The seizure of the British oil tanker comes at a time of increasing tensions between Iran and the West, with much of that having been brought on by President Donald Trump's abandonment of the Iranian accord signed during the final years of Barack Obama's presidency. Zarif hinted at that himself in a tweet on Sunday which said, "Make no mistake: Having failed to lure @realDonaldTrump into War of the Century, and fearing collapse of his #B_Team, @AmbJohnBolton is turning his venom against the UK in hopes of dragging it into a quagmire. Only prudence and foresight can thwart such ploys."

Zarif's comments most likely referred to Trump's decision last month to hold back on aggressive military actions against Iran after they downed an American military drone, even though he had been urged to pursue them by National Security Adviser John Bolton. Trump also insulted Bolton, who is notoriously hawkish, by saying in an interview with NBC's Chuck Todd that "if it was up to him he'd take on the whole world at one time." As a result, it is unclear how Trump will respond to Iran's actions against the United Kingdom, especially given a recent New York Times report indicating that some of Iran's leaders are considering opening up a line of dialogue with the president.

"Mr. Trump is a man of action. He is a businessman and therefore he is capable of calculating cost-benefits and making a decision. We say to him, let’s calculate the long-term cost-benefit of our two nations and not be shortsighted," former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad told the Times. He was cited as just one of many examples of Iranian politicians who believe, despite the recent acts of aggression by the Iranian government, that dialogue with Trump could be established.

Matthew Rozsa

Matthew Rozsa is a staff writer for Salon. He holds an MA in History from Rutgers University-Newark and is ABD in his PhD program in History at Lehigh University. His work has appeared in Mic, Quartz and MSNBC.

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