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Iran’s blatant violations of international maritime laws

By Dr. Majid Rafizadeh

The Islamic Republic of Iran appears determined to ratchet up its aggressive policies and subversive behavior in the region, particularly in the Strait of Hormuz.

First, four tankers were targetedclose to the port of Fujairah off the coast of the UAE in May. A month later, on June 13, two tankers crossing the Gulf of Oman were sabotagedwith explosives — one went up in flames and both were left adrift. The two ships that were sabotaged were Japanese and Norwegian: The Japanese Kokuka Courageous and the Norwegian Front Altair.

A few weeks later, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) became more emboldened and it broadcasta video boasting about how its commandos, wearing black ski masks and military fatigues, descended from a helicopter on to a British oil tanker in the Strait of Hormuz and victoriously seized the ship.

The Iranian regime’s explanations for these dangerous actions are not only unbelievable but also contradictory. On the one hand, some Iranian leaders claim that the attacks are solely “reciprocal.” Iran’s Guardian Council spokesman Abbas Ali Kadkhodaei told the semi-official Fars News Agency that the seizure of the British tanker was in retaliation for the British navy seizing an Iranian tanker off Gibraltar. He statedthat it was aimed at confronting “the illegitimate economic war, and seizure of oil tankers is an instance of this rule and is based on international rights.” But Iranian leaders failed to mention that Tehran’s tanker was shipping oil to Syria in violationof EU sanctions.

On the other hand, Iran’s state-owned media outlets claimed that these attacks and seizures were carried out because the oil tankers provoked the Iranian navy.

The accurate explanation for why Iran is carrying out such belligerent policies can be traced to the instructions of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, who has the final say in Iran’s domestic and foreign policies. From the perspective of Khamenei and the senior cadre of the IRGC, the Strait of Hormuz, one of the world’s most strategically important chokepoints, belongsto Iran. That is why, since the establishment of the Islamic Republic in 1979, the ruling clerics have always boasted about Iran’s strategic advantage and superiority over this Gulf passageway, through which roughly a fifth of global oil exports pass.

But the Islamic Republic is violatingthe internationally agreed UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). Under part three of UNCLOS, “Straits Used For International Navigation,” Article 44, the agreement stipulatesthat: “States bordering straits shall not hamper transit passage and shall give appropriate publicity to any danger to navigation or over flight within or over the strait of which they have knowledge. There shall be no suspension of transit passage.”

UNCLOS also clarifies that transit passage means the “freedom of navigation and over flight solely for the purpose of continuous and expeditious transit of the strait between one part of the high seas or an exclusive economic zone and another part of the high seas or an exclusive economic zone.”

This reveals the fact that Iran is blatantly violating this customary international law on the freedom of navigation. The theocratic establishment of Iran is a signatory to UNCLOS but has long refrained from ratifying it.

The Iranian regime’s explanations for these dangerous actions are not only unbelievable but also contradictory.

Dr. Majid Rafizadeh

In addition, Iran’s aggressive behavior and its threats to block the Strait of Hormuz means closing or interrupting the ports of several other states in the region, including Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain, the UAE and Iraq.

This is also a blatant violation of the UN General Assembly’s Definition of Aggression, which “callsupon all states to refrain from all acts of aggression and other uses of force contrary to the Charter of the United Nations and the Declaration on Principles of International Law concerning Friendly Relations and Cooperation among states in accordance with the Charter of the United Nations.” This resolution states that the following can be classed as acts of aggression: “The blockade of the ports or coasts of a state by the armed forces of another state,” and “an attack by the armed forces of a state on the land, sea or air forces, or marine and air fleets of another state.”

The Iranian leaders believe they are in charge of the Strait of Hormuz. Through its attacks and seizure of tankers, Iran is blatantly violating UNCLOS and the UN General Assembly resolution that prohibits acts of aggression.

  • Dr. Majid Rafizadeh is a Harvard-educated Iranian-American political scientist. He is a leading expert on Iran and US foreign policy, a businessman and president of the International American Council. Twitter: @Dr_Rafizadeh

This article was first published by arabnews