The British Factor in Provoking U.S. Confrontation in Syria and Iran
July 15, 2109 (EIRNS)—One characteristic common to both the U.S. involvement in the Syrian war and the U.S. confrontation with Iran, is the pressure applied by the British government to escalate tensions.
I. Syria Chemical Weapons Hoax
On April 7, 2017, President Trump ordered a series of cruise missile strikes on a Syrian airbase claimed to have been the launching point for a chemical weapons attack allegedly carried out on April 4 in the village of Khan Sheikhoun in Idlib province. The claim of a Syrian chemical bombing was made by the White Helmets, originally a British intelligence creation, with a record of supportive presence at, or participation in, jihadi terrorist acts in Syria. A week earlier, on May 31, then-Secretary of Defense James Mattis had been in London, where he met with then-British Defense Secretary Michael Fallon. Throughout their joint press conference, Mattis toed the British line on Russia as an aggressor state while Fallon called, in effect, for the ouster of Syrian President Bashar al Assad.
On April 11, at the time of a G7 foreign ministers meeting and a phone call between President Donald Trump and British Prime Minister Theresa May, the Guardian reported, “Whitehall sources say Britain has been instrumental in helping to persuade the U.S. to support the idea that Assad and his family must be removed from power before progress can be made.” Trump and May “agreed that a window of opportunity now exists in which to persuade Russia that its alliance with Assad is no longer in its strategic interest,” a spokeswoman for Downing Street said.
Almost exactly one year later, on April 7, 2018, just as the resistance of the jihadis occupying the Damascus suburb of Eastern Ghouta was about to collapse, and when President Trump was talking about withdrawing U.S. troops, another alleged chemical weapons attack took place in the Eastern Ghouta town of Douma. One week later, Trump was once again goaded into launching cruise missile and air strikes, which this time saw the involvement of British and French forces as well. According to an April 10 Associated Press report, British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson was agitating heavily to “punish” the Assad government for yet another chemical attack. In a statement after the April 14 strikes, Theresa May issued a statement claiming that British intelligence had determined that Assad was responsible for the chemical attacks, and declared, “This persistent pattern of behavior must be stopped.” Just weeks before, in two reports dated March 13 and March 23, 2018, the executive director of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) had reported to the agency’s executive board that inspectors had found no evidence of banned chemical agents in inspections of Syrian facilities, including those of the Scientific Studies and Research Center, one of the targets of the April 14 strikes.
We now know, from the June 26, 2019 report of the Working Group on Syria, Media and Propaganda, that the investigators only spent a few hours in Douma and interviewed no witnesses, while the bulk of the investigation was devoted to interviewing opposition sources in Turkey. That report also noted biases by certain individuals associated with the investigation, all of whom were British, against any evidence that tended to contradict the official narrative that the Syrian government was responsible for the attack. This included the suppression of an engineering report, leaked in late May, that showed that the gas canisters allegedly used in the attack, were placed at the site manually rather than dropped from aircraft. The Working Group report also documented the explicit role played by the British government in promoting the false chemical weapons narrative.
II. Failed Iran Tanker Provocation
On June 20, 2019, Iranian forces shot down a U.S. RQ-4 reconnaissance drone that they claimed had been flying in Iranian airspace just outside the Strait of Hormuz. That same night, President Trump rejected cruise missile air strikes in retaliation for the shootdown, reportedly just 10 minutes before the strikes were to be launched. On June 24, British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt declared that if the U.S. launched strikes on Iran, British forces would participate. That same day British Foreign Office junior minister Andrew Murrison was in Tehran and said the U.K. believed Iran “almost certainly bears responsibility for the attacks.”
On July 4, Royal Marines seized the Grace 1 supertanker in the waters off Gibraltar, an action which was quickly welcomed by U.S. National Security Adviser John Bolton. The Royal Marines—the Royal Navy commandos—claimed that Gibraltar authorities had said the ship was carrying crude oil to Syria in violation of EU sanctions. The Russian Foreign Ministry called the seizure a deliberate British provocation.
On July 9, it emerged that a British tanker, the British Heritage owned by BP, had been on its way to Basra to pick up a million tonnes of crude oil, but that the order was canceled and the ship, still empty, went to waters just off the Saudi port of Dammam. The next day, CNN reported, the tanker “turned off its transponders for almost 24 hours” while travelling through the Strait of Hormuz. A Royal Navy frigate, HMS Montrose, was the only British warship in the Gulf at the time. There are reportedly 15-30 British flagged commercial vessels in the Gulf on any given day. Yet, the solitary Montrose escorted this particular (empty) tanker through the Strait.
On July 11, the British Ministry of Defense claimed that speed boats from the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) navy had targeted the British Heritage—the only British commercial ship in the Gulf with a military escort—as it passed through the Strait of Hormuz. A source in the MOD claimed that the IRGC had intended to divert the British Heritage into Iranian waters and seize it in retaliation for the seizure of the Grace 1.
By July 12, it had become clear that this staged “attack” was not going to provoke the United States into an attack on Iran. Hunt then called for “cooler heads” and on July 13 “exited” the original provocation, offering Iran the release of the Grace 1 for a guarantee that its oil would not be delivered to Syria.