Iran tensions show Royal Navy needs to be strengthened, says Jeremy Hunt

Escalating tensions in the Gulf show it is vital for the UK to spend more money strengthening the Royal Navy, would-be prime minister Jeremy Hunt has said.

More warships are needed if the country is to continue to defend its interests abroad and on the seas, the Tory leadership hopeful and current foreign secretary indicated.

His comments came in response to three Iranian patrol boats reportedly impeding a British commercial tanker as it passed through the Strait of Hormuz on Wednesday. The trio of boats, though to be Islamic Revolutionary Guard vessels, only backed down when HMS Montrose, a Royal Navy warship, arrived on the scene and trained its guns on them.

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Writing in the Daily Telegraph, Mr Hunt called the incident “deeply troubling” and said: “Three vessels from a foreign military power tried to seize a British ship conducting its rightful business.

“The simplicity of these words belies the incredible menace behind Iran’s actions. Not for the first time, Britain’s interests were defended by the Royal Navy.”

Mr Hunt, who has pledged to increase defence spending from two per cent of GDP to 2.5, indicated extra ships and more jets would be part of his plans.

He added: “When you look at this week’s events it shows that in recent decades we have run down the navy too much.

“Our current commitment is for 19 destroyers and frigates supported by excellent offshore patrol vessels.

“If I become prime minister, I will review this commitment as part of a wider look at our defence capability.”

Mr Hunt’s rival Boris Johnson said the UK would remain “very, very tough on Iran”.

Meanwhile, Iran itself has once again called on Britain to release an oil tanker which British Royal Marines seized in Gibraltar last week on suspicion that it was breaking European sanctions by taking oil to Syria.

“This is a dangerous game and has consequences,” government spokesman Abbas Mousavi told state news agency IRNA. “The legal pretexts for the capture are not valid … The release of the tanker is in all countries’ interest.”

He warned of reciprocal measures if the tanker was not released.

Gibraltar has said its decision to help detain the tanker – which was carrying 2.1 million barrels of crude oil – was one it took on its own and not at the behest of any other state.

“All relevant decisions in respect of this matter were taken only as a direct result of the government of Gibraltar having reasonable grounds to believe the vessel was acting in breach of established EU sanctions against Syria,” Fabian Picardo, the territory’s chief minister, told parliament on Friday. “There has been no political request at any time from any government that Gibraltar should act or not act on one basis or another.”

Foreign Office officials here believe the harassment of the British ship in the Strait of Hormuz was a direct result of the Gibraltar seizure: security levels for ships passing through or close to Iranian waters had already been raised to three, meaning an incident was considered imminent.

As well as the Montrose, the Navy has four mine countermeasures vessels and the Royal Fleet Auxiliary Cardigan Bay logistics ship in the Gulf.

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The new clashes come at a particularly sensitive time with tensions between Iran and the West ratcheted up over the unravelling of the Iran nuclear deal, which the US withdrew from last year.

The European parties to the agreement, including the UK, earlier this week expressed “deep concern that Iran had begun enriching uranium to a higher level of purity than permitted under the terms of the agreement”.

Source : The Independent

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