Khamenei gestures during the 33rd anniversary of the death of the leader of Iran's 1979 Islamic revolution, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, at Khomeini's shrine in southern Tehran on June 4, 2022. Image Credit: Reuters

TEHRAN: Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei acknowledged on Saturday that Iran took the oil from two Greek tankers last month in helicopter-launched raids in the Arabian Gulf.

The confiscations were retaliation for Greece’s role in the US seizure of crude oil from an Iranian-flagged tanker the same week in the Mediterranean Sea over violating Washington’s harsh sanctions on the Islamic Republic.

“They steal Iranian oil off the Greek coast, then our brave men who don’t fear death respond and seized the enemy’s oil tanker,” Khamenei said during an 80-minute speech on the anniversary of the death of the late founder of the Islamic Republic, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. “But they use their media empire and extensive propaganda to accuse Iran of piracy.’’

“Who is the pirate? You stole our oil, we took it back from you. Taking back a stolen property is not called stealing,’’ he added.

The seizures ratcheted up tensions between Iran and the West already simmering over Iran’s tattered 2015 nuclear deal with world powers. Tehran has been enriching more uranium, closer to weapons-grade levels than ever before, causing concern that negotiators won’t find a way back to the accord and raising the risk of a wider war.

Iran’s seizure of the tankers was the latest in a string of hijackings and explosions to roil a region that includes the Strait of Hormuz, the narrow mouth of the Arabian Gulf through which a fifth of all traded oil passes. The incidents began after then-President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew the US from the nuclear deal, which saw Tehran drastically limit its enrichment of uranium in exchange for the lifting of economic sanctions.

Khamenei also accused the “enemy”, a reference mainly to the United States, of seeking to use protests to weaken the Islamic republic.

In the past few weeks, demonstrations against the rising cost of living and corruption have occurred in several Iranian cities.

“Today the enemy counts on popular demonstrations to strike the Islamic system,” Khamenei said.

Building collapse

The May 23 collapse of a building under construction in the southwestern city of Abadan has sparked protests demanding that “incompetent officials” be executed after the tragedy killed at least 37 people.

The enemy “hopes to turn the people against the Islamic republic by psychological means, through the internet, money, and the mobilisation of mercenaries,” Khamenei said.

He spoke before a crowd including officials at the mausoleum of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomenei, at a ceremony marking his 1989 death.

Khomenei founded the Islamic republic after the collapse of the US-backed shah’s government in 1979.

“The Americans and the Westerners made miscalculations in the past on various questions,” Khamenei said.

“Still today, it’s a miscalculation that they think they can make the Iranian nation oppose the Islamic republic.”

Khamenei repeated his call for punishment of officials responsible for the collapse of the 10-storey Metropol tower block in Abadan.

According to the provincial judiciary 13 people have been arrested, including the mayor and two former mayors.