TEHRAN (Iran) -- Saturday's acknowledgment by Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran's Supreme Leader, that Iran had taken two Greek oil tankers in a helicopter-launched raid in the Persian Gulf.
These confiscations were in retaliation to Greece's involvement in the U.S. seizing crude oil from an Iranian flagged tanker that was seized the week before in the Mediterranean Sea. This was in violation of Washington's severe sanctions against the Islamic Republic.
Khamenei, a speech of 80 minutes on the anniversary of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khahomeini's death, said that Iranian oil was stolen off the Greek coast. "Then our brave men who don’t fear death responded and seized enemy's oil tanker." They use their media empires and extensive propaganda to accuse Iran piracy."
"Who is the pirate?" We took our oil from you because you stole it. He said that taking back stolen property is not theft.
Tensions already rising between Iran and the West over Iran's broken 2015 nuclear agreement with world powers only exacerbated by these seizures. Tehran has been enriching uranium to levels that are closer to weapons-grade than ever before. This raises concerns that negotiators will not find a way to reopen the accord, and increases the risk of war.
Iran's seizure of the oil tankers was the latest of a series of hijackings, explosions, and other acts to destabilize a region that includes Strait of Hormuz. This narrow mouth of Persian Gulf is where a fifth of all traded crude oil passes. These incidents occurred after Trump unilaterally pulled the USA from the nuclear agreement, which required Tehran to drastically reduce its enrichment of Uranium in return for lifting economic sanctions.
The U.S. Navy attributed Iran to a number of attacks on tankers that were caused by limpet mines in 2019. It also blamed Iran for the fatal drone attack on an Israeli-linked tanker in which two crew members died in 2021.
Iranian hijackers stormed and briefly took a Panama-flagged asphalt ship off the United Arab Emirates last Year. They also briefly seized and held a Vietnamese vessel in November.
Although Tehran denies the attacks, a larger shadow war between Iran's and the West has been raging in volatile waters. Since 2019, tanker seizures have been part of it. In response to the United Kingdom's detention of an Iranian oil tanker off Gibraltar, Iran seized the British-flagged Stena Imero. The Iranian tanker was released months later, and the vessel was also released by London.
Last year, Iran also seized and detained a South Korean flagged tanker in a dispute over the Seoul's billions of dollars worth of frozen assets.
The AP analyzed satellite images Wednesday to confirm that one of two tankers was still off the coast of Bandar Abbas, an Iranian port. Planet Labs PBC images Tuesday showed the Prudent Warriors between Bandar Abbas, Iran's Qeshm Island and the strategic Strait of Hormuz. This narrow mouth of oil trades through the Persian Gulf.
It was not clear where the second ship, Delta Poseidon, was located.
Since April, talks in Vienna about the nuclear deal have been deadlocked. Iran has been using advanced centrifuges since the collapse of the nuclear deal and has an ever-growing stockpile enriched uranium. Experts in nonproliferation warn Iran has enriched to 60% purity, a small technical step away from weapons-grade levels at 90%. Iran can make one nuclear weapon if they choose.
Iran claims its nuclear program is peaceful, but experts from the United Nations and Western intelligence agencies have confirmed that Iran did possess a military nuclear program as of 2003.
Khamenei is the final judge in all matters state. He also accused the U.S. in Saturday's speech of supporting protests in Iran that were sparked by price increases and the reduction of government subsidies. Teachers have been protesting for better working conditions and pay for several weeks.
The rial is the Iranian currency. It has been declining for many years, but it recently fell to new lows. This shows growing concern about Iran's economy.
Khamenei criticised the U.S. decades-long opposition to the nation, and stated that Washington clings to such protests. Khamenei (82) said that Iran's enemies seek to pit Iranian citizens against the Islamic system through psychological warfare, financial support, and the internet.