Crowds during funeral of Qassem Soleimani and Abu Mahdi al-Mohandes in Tehran

The Current Situation In Iran: How Did We Get Here?

Crowds during funeral of Qassem Soleimani and Abu Mahdi al-Mohandes in Tehran

Tensions in the Middle East between Iran and the United States have escalated during the past week.

On 3 January, the Pentagon announced that US President Donald Trump had ordered the killing of Iran's top military commander General Quassem Soleimani.

Mr Trump said General Soleimani was "actively developing plans to attack American diplomats and service members in Iraq and throughout the region", and that he should have been killed "many years ago".

After the attack on the General, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani warned of "harsh retaliation", adding that "all enemies should know that the jihad of resistance will continue with a doubled motivation".

Here are some of the key events which have taken place in the region, prior to General Soleimani's death.

Tensions In The Gulf

Throughout the summer of 2019, the relationships between Iran, the United States, and the United Kingdom were tested during a number of incidents at sea and escalating frictions between the countries.

June 2019

On 13 June two US oil tankers were attacked in an assault that left one ablaze and adrift. The tankers were near the Strait of Hormuz, in the Gulf of Oman.

Both vessels were evacuated, and the US Navy rushed to assist. The attacks were blamed on Iran by US President Donald Trump, but Iran denied their involvement in the incident.

A week later, on 20 June, a US drone was downed by Iranian forces.

Iran's President Hassan Rouhani claimed the drone (worth £78m) violated Iranian airspace, and Tehran warned the US they would not hesitate to take down more US drones, should they enter their airspace.

Following the heightened tensions, the US President signed an executive order targeting Iran's supreme leader and his associates with financial sanctions on 24 June.

	RQ-4 Global Hawk Drone Credit US Air Force 200619.jpg
The RQ-4 Global Hawk, believed to be the drone shot down, is a high altitude, long-endurance craft (Picture: US Air Force).

July 2019

The situation continued to escalate in the Gulf of Oman and also off the coast of Gibraltar.

On 4 July, Royal Marines from 42 Commando seized an Iranian supertanker off Gibraltar.

The tanker, named Grace 1, was suspected of carrying oil destined for Bashar al-Assad's regime in Syria, breaching European Union sanctions. Iran's revolutionary guard warned that a British oil tanker could be seized in retaliation.

Less than a week later, on 10 July, three Iranian vessels tried to stop the commercial ship British Heritage from transiting on the Strait of Hormuz.

Royal Navy frigate HMS Montrose was nearby and proceeded to come in between the commercial tanker and the Iranian vessels. The situation was resolved with warnings and without shots being fired.

Over the course of two days, 11 and 12 July, police in Gibraltar arrested the captain and chief officer of Grace 1, as well as two more officers of the supertanker. The action caused anger in Tehran, with Iran blaming the UK for playing "a dangerous game".

On 12 July, the UK announced they would send a second warship to the Gulf of Oman. Type 45 destroyer HMS Duncan joined HMS Montrose in the Gulf.

The following day, the crew of the Grace 1 was released, but Gibraltar still detained the tanker. The UK said they would release the tanker if the cargo did not break EU sanctions and go to Syria.

On 17 July, the US announced the USS Boxer had shot down an Iranian drone.

Mr Trump said the drone came within 1,000 yards (914.4m) of the American warship and ignored calls to stand down, but Iranian forces denied that any drone had been lost in the Strait of Hormuz.

It was in the very same Strait of Hormuz that on 19 July Iranian authorities seized two oil tankers, including UK-registered Stena Impero.

Iran claimed that the Stena Impero vessel was "violating maritime rules". In the UK, then-Prime Minister Theresa May chaired an emergency COBRA meeting.

On 23 July, Britain called for a European-led maritime mission to protect shipping in the Gulf. Two days later, it was decided that the Royal Navy would escort British ships through the Strait.

Meanwhile, HMS Montrose escorted multiple British ships through the Strait.

Stena Impero was released on 27 September and reached Dubai waters on 28 September.

	HMS Kent accompanies British shipping through the Strait of Hormuz 270919 CREDIT ROYAL NAVY 2.jpg
HMS Kent accompanying a British tanker through the Strait of Hormuz (Picture: Royal Navy).

August 2019

In August tensions between Iran, the US and the UK appeared to cool.

While on 12 August British Type 23 frigate HMS Kent headed to the Gulf amid the situation with Iran in the Strait of Hormuz, only three days later, Iranian tanker Grace 1 was released.

Despite pressure to keep the Iranian vessel detained, the US warrant to seize Grace 1 was turned down, with the supertanker departing for the Mediterranean Sea on 19 August.

On 20 August, the US warned Greece any effort to assist the passage of the Iranian tanker, now renamed Adrian Darya 1, towards Syria would be viewed as support for a terrorist organisation.

At the end of the G7 summit, the US President said he would be open to a meeting with Iranian officials if "the circumstances are correct".

By the end of the month it was revealed that since July HMS Montrose had 115 confrontations with Iranian forces.

September 2019

The month of September saw relations between the US, the UK and Iran take another turn.

On 3 September, Iranian tanker Adrian Darya 1 turned off its radar in the vicinity of Syria, heightening tensions and suspicion of carrying oil destined for Bashar al-Assad's regime in Syria.

Two days later, the US State Department confirmed one of its officials offered millions of dollars in cash to the captain of the Iranian tanker to allow the seizure of the vessel.

On 10 September, the UK Foreign Office summoned the Iranian Ambassador to discuss the situation off the coast of Syria. The Foreign Office said it was clear the ship's cargo had been transferred to the Assad regime in an "unacceptable violation" of international norms.

	Tanker Trackers tweet on Adrian Darya location 030919 @TankerTrackers.JPG
Adrian Darya 1 turned off its radar off the coast of Syria in September (Picture: @TankerTrackers).

Towards the middle of the month, tensions moved from water to land, as on 14 September, the world's largest oil processing facility in Saudi Arabia and a major oilfield operated by Saudi Aramco were attacked by drones.

Yemen's Houthi rebels claimed responsibility for the attack. The Houthis are backed by Tehran amid a Saudi-led war against them in Yemen.

The United States alleged the attack was launched by Iran, but the day after the attack on the Saudi oil facilities, Iran denied being involved in the assault.

On 18 September, Saudi Ministry of Defence Spokesperson, Lieutenant Colonel Turki al-Malki, held a press conference during which it was revealed 18 drones and seven cruise missiles were launched in the assault, with three missiles failing to make their targets.

During the press conference, he played surveillance video footage which he said showed a drone coming in from the north. Satellite images released earlier by the US showed damage largely on the north-facing sides of structures at the sites. This indicated that the attack did not originate from Yemen.

Following Saudi Arabia's findings, on 19 September, the United States called the attack on the Saudi oil facilities "an act of war".

On 20 September the Pentagon said they were presenting possible options of how to respond to what the US claims were Iranian attacks on Saudi Arabia's oil industry.

A day later, the US announced they would deploy extra troops and military equipment to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates to increase security.

In response to the move by the United States, Iran warned western powers not to send more armed forces to the Gulf for fear of inflaming Middle East tension.

On 26 September, Saudi Arabia warned all options, including a military response, remained possible after the oilfield attacks.

	Smoke billows from an Aramco oil facility in Abqaiq, Saudi Arabia 140919 CREDIT PA.jpg
The Armaco oil facility in Saudi Arabia was targeted in an attack in September (Picture: PA).

Iran Nuclear Deal

The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), also known as the Iran Nuclear Deal, was created in July 2015 and implemented on 16 January 2016 by Iran, the European Union and the P5+1 (the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany).

The JCPOA offers nuclear-related sanctions relief from the US, the EU and the UNSC on Iran in exchange for Iran's elimination of its stockpile of medium-enriched uranium, among other things.

Over the past two years, the Iran Nuclear Deal and its signatories have been anything but stable, bringing further uncertainty and heightening tensions between the US and Iran.


On 1 May, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu claimed Iranian documents proved that Tehran covered up a nuclear weapons programme before signing a deal with the international community in 2015.

Mr Netanyahu said Iran could not be trusted and urged US President Donald Trump to withdraw from the deal, while other signatories to the deal wished for Mr Trump not to withdraw from it.

On 8 May, however, the US withdrew from the JCPOA. Mr Trump spoke out against the arrangement as "a horrible, one-sided deal" based on a lie.

Three months after the United States pulled out of the deal, in August, the US reimposed sactions on Iran.

Iran's President Hassan Rouhani accused the US of "psychological warfare".

In September of the same year, during a UN Security Council meeting, the US President insisted harsher sanctions against Iran would be in full force by November.

	Iran Bushehr Nuclear Power Plant PA.jpg
Iran Bushehr Nuclear Power Plant (Picture: PA).


The year began with tensions still in the air between the United States and Iran.

On 4 February, during an interview, Mr Trump said he would keep troops in Iraq to "watch Iran", describing the country as "a real problem".

Speaking to reporters on the White House lawn, in May, President Trump also accused Tehran of being "the number one provocateur of terror", adding any move against the US "will be met obviously with great force".

On 1 July, Iran announced that it had breached the limit set on its stockpile of low-enriched uranium., which was also confirmed by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

On 3 July, Iran's President warned European partners that Tehran would increase its enrichment of uranium to "any amount that we want" within days.

In response to the announcement, on 5 May, the United States rushed USS Abraham Lincoln carrier strike group and four B-52 bombers to the Middle East.

On 15 July, EU foreign ministers gathered in Brussels to discuss the issue of the Iran Nuclear Deal, but the following day Iran rejected suggestions implying they are willing to discuss their missile programme with the United States.

Towards the end of the month, on 28 July, Iran's Deputy Foreign Minister Seyed Abbas Araghchi commented on a multi-lateral meeting with top world powers.

Talks between Iran's and other countries' representatives revolved around the 2015 nuclear deal. Speaking to reporters after the meeting, Seyed Abbas Araghchi said he could not say that "we resolved everything" but added all the parties were still "determined to save this deal".

On 30 December, Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said the Iran Nuclear Deal was in danger of collapsing without the US and the European Union.


After months of heightened tensions in the region, the US launched an air strike against top Iranian military commander, General Qassem Soleimani.

The Pentagon said President Donald Trump ordered the killing of General Soleimani, claiming he was "actively developing plans to attack American diplomats and service members in Iraq and throughout the region".

On 5 January, Iran declared it would no longer abide by the limitations of the JCPOA, but would continue to coordinate with the IAEA.

On 6 January, the funeral of General Soleimani took place in Tehran.

Cover image: PA.

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