TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — A former leader of Iran’s powerful Revolutionary Guard said Friday that the Islamic Republic should consider seizing a British oil tanker in response to authorities detaining an Iranian oil tanker off the coast of Gibraltar.
The comments by Mohsen Rezaei came amid heightened tensions over Iran’s unraveling 2015 nuclear deal with Western powers, which the U.S. withdrew from last year.
“If England does not release the Iranian oil tanker, the duty … (of Iran) is to respond and seize one English oil tanker,” he said in a tweet.
In recent days, Iran has broken through the limit the deal put on its stockpile of low-enriched uranium and plans on Sunday to boost its enrichment. In the past months, the U.S. has rushed thousands of additional troops, an aircraft carrier, B-52 bombers and advanced fighter jets to the region.
Rezaei led the Guard during Iran’s 1980s “Tanker War” in the Persian Gulf targeting the oil trade of the U.S. and its Arab allies.
It was a striking comment from Rezaei, one that current officials have yet to make.
Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesman earlier called on the U.K. to release the tanker.
Authorities in Gibraltar intercepted the super tanker on Thursday, saying they believed it to be breaching European Union sanctions by carrying a shipment of Iranian crude oil to Syria. Spanish authorities said the seizure came at the request of the U.S.
A spokesman for the government of Gibraltar, who wasn’t authorized to be identified by name in media reports, said that all 28 crew members remain on the vessel while being interviewed as witnesses and not questioned under criminal procedures.
The crew is made of mainly Indian, Pakistani and Ukrainian nationals, he said.
A local newspaper, the Gibraltar Chronicle, reported Friday that the supertanker can only be detained for 72 hours unless the Supreme Court of the British overseas territory extends the deadline while the probe is conducted.
U.S. national security adviser John Bolton tweeted that the ship’s seizure was “excellent news.”
“America & our allies will continue to prevent regimes in Tehran & Damascus from profiting off this illicit trade,” Bolton added.
The vessel likely carried just over 2 million barrels of Iranian crude oil, the data firm Refinitv said. Tracking data showed that the tanker made a slow trip around the southern tip of Africa before reaching the Mediterranean, it said.
Meanwhile, fears over a miscalculation sparking a wider conflict in the Persian Gulf have grown. Oil tankers near the Strait of Hormuz have been targeted in mysterious attacks, which the U.S. says Iran is behind, an accusation denied by Tehran. Last month Iran shot down a U.S. surveillance drone.
Ayatollah Mohammad Ali Movahedi Kermani, an adviser to Iran’s supreme leader and Tehran’s Friday prayer leader, brought up the drone shootdown during prayers.
He said the reason that the U.S. did not attack Iran after was because Trump fears Iran’s ballistic missile stockpile.
“When Iranian missiles are able to hit a stealth drone thousands of feet in the air, how easy would it be to hit an aircraft carrier in the sea?” he asked.
By AMIR VAHDAT Associated Press
Associated Press writer Artiz Parra in Madrid contributed to this report.