British Royal Marines stormed and seized a tanker July 4 sailing near Gibraltar, a British colony jutting off the coast of Spain. The ship was carrying oil produced by Tehran bound for its ally, the Bashar al-Assad dictatorship in Syria. The capture of the tanker aided Washington’s squeeze on Iran and added to military tensions in the Middle East. The U.S. government praised the act of piracy as it is enforcing biting sanctions on Iran that inflict growing hardship on working people there.
The U.K. government claimed the vessel was violating EU sanctions imposed on oil exports to Syria. The Spanish government said the seizure was carried out at Washington’s request.
Iranian Revolutionary Guard commander Mohsen Rezai responded by threatening to commandeer a British ship if the U.K. military doesn’t release the tanker. So far the Guard has not carried the threat out. The British Heritage, a tanker loaded with oil bound for Iraq, turned around over the weekend to avoid Tehran’s threats and is sheltering in place off the coast of Saudi Arabia.
SWP: ‘U.S. hands off Iran!’
“The Socialist Workers Party says ‘Washington’s hands off Iran,’” Lea Sherman, SWP candidate for New Jersey General Assembly, told a forum in Union City, New Jersey, July 6. “Working people in the U.S. have no interest in interfering with the sovereignty of the people of Iran. We demand: End the sanctions and get all U.S. troops out of the Middle East.”
The capture of the ship comes as the administration of President Donald Trump has imposed crippling sanctions on Tehran aimed at driving its oil exports to zero. It hopes the punishing measures will compel the Iranian rulers to engage in talks aimed at reining in militias they deploy in Syria and Iraq and ending any possibility Tehran could ever develop nuclear weapons.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani announced Tehran would begin further enrichment of its uranium stockpiles beginning July 7, to “any amount that we want.” This breaches the conditions of the 2015 pact the Iranian government signed with former President Barack Obama, along with the governments of Germany, France, the UK, Russia and China. Trump pulled Washington out of that deal, which had placed limits on the Iranian rulers’ nuclear weapons program in exchange for an easing of sanctions on Iran. He said it wasn’t stringent enough. The European imperialist powers oppose the U.S. rulers’ reimposition of sanctions, but their efforts to salvage the 2015 pact have failed.
In a reflection of their differences with Washington, Carl Bildt, co-chair of the European Council on Foreign Relations, questioned the legality of the tanker seizure. “One refers to EU sanctions against Syria,” he said, “but Iran is not a member of the EU.” Imposing sanctions on others, he said, is “what the U.S. does.”
Mohammad Javad Zarif, Tehran’s foreign minister, jumped on the statement with just one word — “PRECISELY.”
Tehran’s oil exports have plummeted by 90% under the impact of the sanctions. The effects of these measures are felt most sharply by workers and farmers who confront the twin scourges of rising joblessness and a 50% inflation rate.
Politicians from both the U.S. rulers’ Democratic and Republican parties portray Iran’s government as the natural heir of the 1979 Iranian Revolution. In fact the clerical regime there consolidated power for the country’s capitalist rulers in the early 1980s as part of a counterrevolution aimed at pushing back the gains working people made during the revolutionary struggle that ousted the U.S.-backed shah of Iran. To consolidate its reactionary rule at home, Tehran has pressed working people to fight in militias it organizes in the name of defending Shiite Islam, but whose real aim is to expand Tehran’s military and political influence against its rivals in the wars that have wracked Syria and Iraq. Thousands of workers took to the streets across Iran last year to protest those wars and their effects inside Iran.
Under the guise of preventing “nuclear proliferation,” the U.S. rulers seek to block Tehran acquiring nuclear capacity while maintaining their own massive stockpile. “The SWP calls on Washington to unilaterally dismantle its nuclear arsenal,” Sherman told the forum. “And the party opposes the rulers of Iran or any other country developing these deadly weapons.”
Example of Cuban Revolution
She pointed to the example set by Fidel Castro, the central leader of the Cuban Revolution. Castro explained, “We have never considered producing nuclear weapons, because we don’t need them.” In the face of Washington’s relentless efforts to overthrow the socialist revolution there, Castro said, we trust in our revolutionary people. “The one weapon we haven’t renounced is the ‘war of the entire people.’”
Tehran’s exports of oil to Syria, now interrupted by Washington’s sanctions, accounted for nearly half of the Assad regime’s petroleum. Oil in Syria itself is mainly located in parts of the country under control of the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces.
Moscow and Tehran have provided decisive military backing to shore up Assad’s hated rule. In the last two months at least 544 people have been killed by airstrikes in a Moscow-led bombardment on the opposition-held Idlib province. Some 300,000 have fled toward the Turkish border.