Escalating against Iran, Britain’s foreign secretary on Monday announced that Britain will establish “a European-led maritime protection mission to support safe passage” of tankers transiting the Strait of Hormuz.
This follows Iran’s seizure of a British tanker on Friday. As I noted, that Iranian aggression was likely to backfire with just this kind of U.K. escalation.
While Britain, France, and Germany oppose the Trump administration’s maximum pressure sanctions campaign on Iran, they cannot permit Iran’s endangerment of critical global trade flows. Hunt says that discussions with other European powers about the formation of a task force have been “constructive.” And if Britain, France, Germany, each deploy one warship, and one or two other nations do the same, the Europeans will introduce a potent force to the Persian Gulf.
That speaks to the true scale of Iran’s miscalculation here: it has pushed the Europeans into de facto alignment with the U.S. military. Until now, the Europeans had resisted such an alignment out of opposition to the U.S. pressure campaign. That reluctance has aggravated the Trump administration, leading Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to tell the British on Monday that they have the responsibility “to take care of their ships.”
Iran has now changed that calculation. While Hunt suggested that the European effort will be separate from the Americans’, he adds that the Europeans will discuss “the best way to complement this with recent U.S. proposals in this area.”
This is a de facto alliance. Bonded by close military-to-military relationships and a shared objective to protect international shipping, the European and U.S.-led task forces will divide lines of effort. Likely by geographic locale. But the ultimate outcome will be the same: greater protection for shipping and improved deterrence of Iran.
This is Iran’s great difficulty.
Attempting to extort concessions to save their collapsing economy, Iran’s hardliner faction is only further isolating Tehran. This is not an escalation struggle that Iran can win.