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Will the B-Team achieve its goal of war with Iran?

With the United Kingdom and Iran in the midst of a tense and dangerous standoff after the tit-for-tat seizure of oil tankers in the Strait of Hormuz, international observers are warning that the British government has fallen into a trap set by hawkish US national security adviser John Bolton that could lead to a devastating military conflict.

Secretary Bolton acts surprised

After British commandos early in July swarmed and detained Iran’s Grace 1 oil supertanker in waters east of Gibraltar, Bolton applauded the move as “excellent news” and said “America and our allies will continue to prevent regimes in Tehran and Damascus from profiting off this illicit trade.”

Simon Tisdall, foreign affairs editor and commentator for The Guardian, wrote that:

“Bolton’s delighted reaction suggested the seizure was a surprise. But accumulating evidence suggests the opposite is true, and that Bolton’s national security team was directly involved in manufacturing the Gibraltar incident. The suspicion is that Conservative politicians, distracted by picking a new prime minister, jockeying for power, and preoccupied with Brexit, stumbled into an American trap.”

US surveillance and tip off for the UK

Shortly after British forces seized Grace 1, Spanish Foreign Minister Josep Borrell said the UK’s capture of the tanker was carried out under orders from the United States.

Tisdall pointed to a story in the Spanish newspaper El Pais, which reported that the Iranian tanker “had been under surveillance by US satellites since April.”

“Although Spanish officials said they would have intercepted the ship ‘if we had had the information and the opportunity,’ Spain took no action at the time,” Tisdall wrote. “But Bolton, in any case, was not relying on Madrid. The US had already tipped off Britain. On 4 July, after Grace 1 entered British-Gibraltar territorial waters, the fateful order was issued in London – it is not known by whom – and 30 marines stormed aboard.”

Bolton was among the officials urging Trump to retaliate with airstrikes.

A predictable reaction with unknown consequences

The UK’s seizure of Grace 1 – denounced by the Iranian government as an act of “maritime piracy” – led Iran to counter on July 19 by capturing a British tanker in the Strait of Hormuz, ratcheting up tensions in the Persian Gulf and prompting the British government to warn of “serious consequences” if the tanker was not released.

The perilous standoff is precisely the outcome Bolton was seeking. “The Bolton gambit succeeded,” Tisdall wrote. “Despite its misgivings, Britain has been co-opted on to the front line of Washington’s confrontation with Iran. The process of polarization, on both sides, is accelerating. The nuclear deal is closer to total collapse. And by threatening Iran with ‘serious consequences,’ without knowing what that may entail, Britain blindly dances to the beat of Bolton’s war drums.”

Bolton and his B Team

Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif offered a similar assessment in tweets on Sunday. Having failed to lure DonaldTrump into War of the Century, and fearing collapse of his B Team, Ambassador John Bolton is turning his venom against the UK in hopes of dragging it into a quagmire.”

The “B Team” refers to Bolton, Isreali Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed.

Bolton in particular has been at the center of escalating military tensions between the US and Iran, which were sparked by Trump’s decision last year to violate the Iran nuclear accord.

A pattern of provocation

Last May, Bolton used the routine deployment of a US bomber task force to the Middle East to threaten Iran with “unrelenting force.” After Iran in June shot down an unmanned US drone that it said violated its airspace, Bolton was among the officials urging Trump to retaliate with airstrikes. The President approved the strikes then backed off at the last minute.

Trita Parsi, executive vice president of the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft, warned that by following Washington’s orders in the Gulf, the UK is repeating the mistakes it made in the lead-up to the US-led invasion of Iraq. “In 2003, the UK broke with the EU and foolishly sided with Bush over Iraq. London not only devastated the Middle East, it also undermined the EU,” Parsi tweeted. “Now, the UK is doing Bolton’s bidding and allowing him to make the UK/EU collateral damage in his war plans with Iran.

This article was adapted from “The Bolton Gambit Succeeded,” by Jake Johnson, staff writer at Common Dreams, published on July 22, 2019. It appears here under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License. You can read the original at

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