TEHRAN, Iran ( Associated Press) – Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei acknowledged on Saturday that Iran had taken oil from two Greek tankers in helicopter raids in the Persian Gulf last month.
The seizure was in retaliation for Greece’s role in the US seizure of crude oil from an Iranian-flagged tanker in the Mediterranean that same week in violation of Washington’s tough sanctions on the Islamic republic.
During an 80-minute speech on the death anniversary of the late Islamic founder, Khamenei said, “They stole Iranian oil off the Greek coast, then our brave people who are not afraid of death, responded and seized the enemy’s oil tanker ” Republic, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. “But they use their media empire and wide publicity to accuse Iran of piracy.”
“Who is the pirate? You stole our oil, we took it back from you. Taking back stolen property is not called stealing,” he said.
The seizure intensified tensions between Iran and the West, which were already simmering over Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal with world powers. Tehran is enriching more uranium, closer to weapons-grade levels than ever before, raising concerns that negotiators will not find a way back to the deal and increasing the risk of a wider war.
Iran’s seizure of the tankers was the latest in a string of hijackings and explosions, in an area that includes the narrow mouth of the Persian Gulf, the Strait of Hormuz, through which a fifth of all traded oil passes. The events began after then-President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew the US from the nuclear deal, with Tehran substantially limiting its enrichment of uranium in exchange for lifting economic sanctions.
The US Navy blames Iran for a series of lame mine attacks on ships that damaged tankers in 2019, as well as for a deadly drone attack on an Israeli-linked oil tanker that killed two European crew members in 2021. killed.
Iranian hijackers also attacked and briefly captured a Panama-flagged asphalt tanker off the United Arab Emirates last year and briefly seized a Vietnamese tanker in November.
Tehran denies carrying out the attacks but a widespread shadow war between Iran and the West has been played out in the region’s volatile waters. Tanker seizures have been a part of this since 2019, when Iran seized the British-flagged Stena Impero after the United Kingdom detained an Iranian oil tanker off Gibraltar. Iran released the tanker months later as London also abandoned the Iranian vessel.
Iran also confiscated a South Korean-flagged tanker for months last year amid a dispute over billions of dollars worth of frozen assets near Seoul.
Satellite images analyzed by Associated Press on Wednesday confirmed that one of the two tankers remained off the coast of the Iranian port city of Bandar Abbas. Planet Labs PBC images from Tuesday showed the prudent warrior between Bandar Abbas and Iran’s Qeshm island, the narrow mouth of the Persian Gulf, the strategic Strait of Hormuz, through which a fifth of all the world’s oil trade passes.
It was unclear where the second ship, the Delta Poseidon, was located.
Negotiations on the nuclear deal in Vienna have been stalled since April. Since the collapse of the deal, Iran has run advanced centrifuges and has a rapidly growing stockpile of enriched uranium. Non-proliferation experts warn that Iran has enriched enough up to 60% purity – a small technological step up from weapons-grade levels of 90% – to create a nuclear weapon if it so desires.
Iran insists that its program is for peaceful purposes, although UN experts and Western intelligence agencies say Iran had an organized military nuclear program as far back as 2003.
Khamenei, who has the final say on all matters of the state, in his speech on Saturday accused the US of supporting the recent protests in Iran that were fueled by price hikes and a reduction in government subsidies. Teachers also protested for weeks in favor of better pay and working conditions.
The value of the Iranian currency, the rial, has been weakening for years, but has recently fallen to new lows reflecting growing concerns over Iran’s economy,
Khamenei criticized the decades-long US protests for the nation and said Washington keeps its hopes up for such protests. Khamenei, 82, said Iran’s enemies try to pit Iranian citizens “against the Islamic system” through psychological warfare, the Internet and financial aid.