By Zak Doffman
With tensions between Iran and Britain escalating over the seizure of the Stena Impero tanker, the U.K.’s Daily Telegraph reported on Monday (July 22) that British intelligence agencies “believe Iran has organized and funded sleeper terror cells across Europe including the U.K. and could greenlight attacks in response to a conflict in the Gulf.”
The claims refer to Hezbollah, the Lebanese Shi’a group that has been designated as a terrorist organization—in whole or part—by much of the West. In June, the same newspaper reported that a devastating cache of explosives, linked to Hezbollah, had been discovered in London by security agencies back in 2015. The three tons of ammonium nitrate was “more than was used in the Oklahoma City bombing that killed 168 people.” Hezbollah is sponsored by Iran, and back in 2015, the U.K. had just signed on to the Iranian nuclear deal. Nothing was made public at the time.
Iran seizing a British oil tanker was always going to test London’s patience and restraint, but thus far the primary response to the incident has been interplay in the media. As I’ve written before, the media plays a part beyond reporting events. Its anticipated response to events is part of the “enemy’s” planning process. The western media cycle is predictable, manageable, the thirst for the drip-drip of ever new headlines. And that also links to population interference through the abuse of social media platforms.
This is the hybrid warfare we now face, cyber and physical, military and civilian, direct and indirect. And on that last point, cue proxies. Iran has already mobilized its sphere of influence in the Middle East—attacks on Saudi targets will come to mind, and now speculation inevitably turns to sponsored terrorist groups operating in the West.
The capture of a British tanker by Iran’s military arguably justifies a military response—but conflict is no longer that simple. Iranian quasi-state media carried footage of Iran’s flag being raised above the tanker in Bandar Abbas. “Make no mistake,” Iran’s foreign minister warned the U.K. by Twitter on Sunday (July 21). “Having failed to lure Donald Trump into War of the Century… John Bolton is turning his venom against the U.K. in hopes of dragging it into a quagmire. Only prudence and foresight can thwart such ploys.” Also on Sunday, Iranian media reported that Teheran’s Bandar Abbas had warned Britain “against provocation over the seized tanker, as reports emerged that the British government is considering freezing Iranian assets and may take other measures as well in a standoff between the two countries.”