By The Editors (Bloomberg Opinion) — European nations, alarmed by Iran’s capture of a British oil tanker, are mounting a response to protect their commercial shipping in the Strait of Hormuz and Persian Gulf. The Royal Navy has started to escort British ships, and a plan for a European naval mission has been endorsed by Denmark, France and Italy.
It’s a promising start. But effectively curbing Iran’s misbehavior and safeguarding ships in the region will require a more ambitious —and truly international — effort. Most important, it needs to involve the U.S. Navy.
The Europeans are wary of combining their fleets with a nearby American operation for fear of being identified with President Donald Trump’s “maximum pressure” campaign against Iran. France’s foreign minister says a separate effort is needed to reduce tensions and “create the conditions for inclusive regional talks on maritime security.”
This is both naïve and shortsighted. A disjointed naval effort increases the likelihood of accidents and miscalculations. It might leave open gaps that could be exploited by the marauding speedboats of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. And it creates unnecessary quandaries for ship captains: If, say, an American tanker with British nationals aboard were attacked while under U.S. Navy protection, would the HMS Duncan not respond to a call for assistance, for fear its intentions might be misconstrued by the Iranian regime?
Far better to present a united front. By fully joining their resources, the Americans and Europeans would be better able to police sea lanes and respond to provocations. In fact, they should be working together to recruit other countries — India, for instance — into a unified coalition, akin to the multinational task force formed to counter Somali pirates a decade ago. That effort, first headed by the U.S., drastically reduced attacks, helped strengthen local navies and coast guards, and safeguarded commercial traffic and humanitarian missions.
Mounting such a response in the Gulf may sound politically difficult. But Europe should remember that the capture of the British ship, the Stena Impero, had essentially nothing to do with the nuclear deal: It was retaliation for the British Navy’s seizure of a vessel carrying Iranian crude to Syria, in contravention of European Union sanctions. Iran should’ve contested the seizure through legal processes. Instead, it’s holding the British ship hostage and demanding as ransom the release of its own tanker — and the freedom to keep sending oil to Syria, in support of the dictator Bashar al-Assad.
It’s yet another reminder of how Iran’s misconduct threatens the entire region, and part of a disturbing pattern. In recent weeks, the regime has attacked ships and oil installations, shot down an American drone, restarted its uranium enrichment program, and even test-fired a ballistic missile, all while refusing good-faith efforts at mediation. It’s lashing out in the hopes that it can intimidate the world into doing what it wants.
The U.S. and Europe shouldn’t give in to this kind of aggression. They should instead be united in opposing it. The waters of the Persian Gulf would be a good place to start.
—Editors: Bobby Ghosh, Timothy Lavin.
© 2019 Bloomberg L.P