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The way Iran seized British-registered oil tanker speaks volumes

Dominic Waghorn, diplomatic editor

The way Iran seized the Stena Impero speaks volumes. Boarded using a helicopter and military speedboats, then ordered into port.

That is exactly what happened to the Grace 1 Iranian supertanker seized by Gibraltarian forces just over a week ago.

Iranians will like the symmetry of the two operations.

This was a proportional response they will say. And don't think you are the only ones who can seize tankers.

The Iranians have even released footage of their operation which seems a carbon copy of the Royal Marines' seizure of the Grace 1 earliest this month, including special forces fast-roping from a helicopter onto the deck of the tanker.

That is where the symmetry ends, say the British.

Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt has insisted the Gibraltarian-British move on the Grace 1 was legal.

The Iranians are being roundly condemned for what is seen as an illegal act.

A diplomatic initiative was already under way to resolve the Grace 1 imbroglio.

The UK promised Iran its tanker back in return for commitments from Tehran it would not then sail on to Syria, which is strapped with EU sanctions.

Iran is sending two messages:

The latter signal is as much to Washington as to London.

The Trump administration hopes that by abandoning the Iranian nuclear deal and applying massive sanctions to Iran it will come back to negotiate a deal on Washington's terms.

There is little sign of that for now. Iran is becoming more, not less, meddlesome.

The Ayatollahs can - if they want to - close the Strait of Hormuz with mines, tanker seizures, thousands of military speedboats, mobile missile batteries.

It would pay a price... but so would the world economy, and America's, which would hurt Donald Trump as he prepares to fight for re-election.

Either way, Iran is playing hardball.

So far, Britain is paying the price.

If this continues, it won't be the only one.