We’re Not the Saudis’ Mercenaries

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE NEW YORK TIMES)

 

We’re Not the Saudis’ Mercenaries

Trump brought the crisis with Iran on himself.

Nicholas Kristof

By 

Opinion Columnist

ImageSecretary of State Mike Pompeo meeting with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in Saudi Arabia on Wednesday.
CreditCreditPool photo by Mandel Ngan

Robert Gates, the former defense secretary, once scoffed that Saudi Arabia “wants to fight the Iranians to the last American.”

The danger is that we slip toward that nightmare. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo says that Iran has committed an “act of war” by attacking Saudi oil processing centers. Influential hawks like Senator Lindsey Graham have suggested carrying out strikes on Iranian oil refineries.

Meanwhile, Iran is warning that it will retaliate for any strike with a “rapid and crushing” response.

President Trump faces a conundrum. If Iran was behind the attack on Saudi Arabia, that was a serious provocation. It’s reasonable to wonder if Iranian leaders are emboldened because they see Trump as someone full of just bluster and bombast.

“He is not a lion, he is a rabbit,” said Ali Bigdeli, a political analyst in Tehran, according to a Times article by David D. Kirkpatrick and Farnaz Fassihi.

Iran may have concluded that Trump is the mother of all bunny rabbits after the lack of any kinetic response to attacks on oil shipping in May and June, or to Iran’s shooting down of an American drone in June.

The upshot is that hawks are urging Trump to be tougher this time and to consider bombing Iranian targets. That would be even more dangerous than a perception of weakness, for it could quickly escalate. Iran would strike back at sites in Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates or Bahrain, and it would target American troops in Iraq or Afghanistan.

A full war with Iran would be a catastrophe. Iran has twice the population of Iraq and would be a much more formidable foe than Iraq was.

So Trump has a genuine dilemma: Inaction may be perceived as weakness, while military strikes may escalate and drag us into cataclysm. But this is a dilemma of Trump’s own making.

We are in this mess because Trump abandoned the landmark 2015 Iranian nuclear deal. Hawks argued that we could apply maximum pressure on Iran and inflict such pain that it would buckle, without appreciating that Iran could also ramp up the pressure on us.

That’s the problem with hawks. They plan out their chess games and triumphantly plot a checkmate without appreciating the basic lesson of Sun Tzu or Clausewitz that the other side also gets to move.

Unfortunately, without the Iran nuclear deal, all options are bad. We should be searching for ways to return to the agreement, with face-saving tweaks that would allow both Trump and the Iranian supreme leader to claim victory.

Instead, I’m afraid we risk slipping into conflict. Nobody wants a war, but getting out of this will require skillful diplomacy, which isn’t something the Trump team has much demonstrated.

We need not be Saudi Arabia’s guard dog, or lap dog. Yes, Iran is a threat to international security — but so is Saudi Arabia. It is Saudi Arabia that kidnapped Lebanon’s prime minister, caused a schism with Qatar and created the world’s worst humanitarian crisis in Yemen.

Attacking Saudi oil installations was a breach of global norms — as was murdering and dismembering a columnist for The Washington Post who was a resident of the United States. Saudi Arabia has the gall to call for an international inquiry into the attack on its oil installations, even as it blocks any international investigation into the murder of my friend Jamal Khashoggi.

Macabre new transcripts show that the Saudi hit squad was discussing the dismemberment even before Jamal walked into the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul. “I know how to cut very well,” one member of the team said. “I have never worked on a warm body, though.”

Saudi Arabia continues to imprison a Nobel Peace Prize nominee, Loujain al-Hathloul, after earlier torturing and sexually assaulting her for advocating women’s rights. The kingdom apparently offered Hathloul freedom if she would publicly deny that she had been tortured; she bravely refused.

Trump might seek Saudi input on whether to go to war with Iran by placing a call not only to a killer on a throne but also to a hero in prison.

If Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman wants to respond militarily to the airstrikes on its oil facilities, he can go ahead with the kingdom’s own fighter jets and missiles. But this is not our fight. Nor should it be our graveyard.

This is a struggle between two misogynistic, repressive regimes that are both destabilizing the region. And Trump’s suggestion that we will be well paid for defending Saudi Arabia is an insult to our troops, casting them as mercenaries working for a thuggish potentate.

Our task instead should be to cooperate with European countries to get out of this muck and find a way back into the Iranian nuclear agreement.

The Times is committed to publishing a diversity of letters to the editor. We’d like to hear what you think about this or any of our articles. Here are some tips. And here’s our email: [email protected].

Nicholas Kristof has been a columnist for The Times since 2001. He has won two Pulitzer Prizes, for his coverage of China and of the genocide in Darfur. You can sign up for his free, twice-weekly email newsletter and follow him on Instagram@NickKristof  Facebook

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Britain, Germany Slam Attack on Saudi Oil Plants, US Again Blames Iran

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE SAUDI NEWS AGENCY ASHARQ AL-AWSAT)

 

Britain, Germany Slam Attack on Saudi Oil Plants, US Again Blames Iran

Monday, 16 September, 2019 – 11:45
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson. (Reuters)
Asharq Al-Awsat
Britain and Germany condemned on Monday the attacks against Saudi Aramco oil facilities in Abqaiq and Khurais.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson stands in support of his Saudi Arabian allies following an attack on its oil facilities which marked a “wanton violation of international law”, his spokesman said.

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas slammed the attack, saying “the situation is exceedingly worrisome.”

He added that Berlin is currently evaluating with its partners, “who is responsible for this attack, how it could happen.”

Washington has blamed Iran for the attack.

The Tehran-backed Houthi militias in Yemen claimed Saturday’s strikes on the plants.

US President Donald Trump said Sunday the United States is “locked and loaded” to respond to the attack.

His accusations were echoed Monday by US Secretary of Energy Rick Perry, who said: “The United States wholeheartedly condemns Iran’s attack on Saudi Arabia and we call on other nations to do the same.”

In an address to the International Atomic Energy Agency’s general conference in Vienna, he said “this behavior is unacceptable” and that Iran “must be held responsible.”

“Make no mistake about it, this was a deliberate attack on the global economy and the global energy market,” he stressed.

He said Trump has authorized the release of strategic oil reserves should the US need them, and that his “department stands ready” to proceed if necessary.

Perry also added that “despite Iran’s malign efforts we are very confident that the market is resilient and will respond.”

Tehran and Washington have been at loggerheads since May last year, when Trump pulled the US out of a 2015 deal with world powers that promised Iran relief from sanctions in return for curbs on its nuclear program.

Iran seizes another oil tanker in Strait of Hormuz as Gulf crisis erupts

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE UK EXPRESS NEWS)

 

Iran seizes another oil tanker in Strait of Hormuz as Gulf crisis erupts

IRAN is believed to have seized another oil tanker passing through the Strait of Hormuz.

Iran: ‘Startlingly dangerous moment’ in Middle East says expert

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The Israeli Broadcasting Corporation is reporting another ship has been seized in the gulf. Correspondent Amochai Stein said on Twitter: “Iran has seized another oil vessel in the Strait of Hormuz. Iran’s Revolutionary Guard arrests a vessel and 11 crew on ‘diesel smuggling charges’.”

It comes after Iran said accusations it had a role in the attack on Saudi oil installations were “unacceptable” and “baseless”, after a senior US official said the Islamic Republic was behind it.

“These allegations are condemned as unacceptable and entirely baseless,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi said in remarks carried by state TV.

On Sunday, a senior US official told reporters that evidence from the attack, which hit the world’s biggest oil-processing facility on Saturday, indicated Iran was behind it, instead of the Yemeni Houthi group that had claimed responsibility.

Iran news

Iran is believed to have seized another oil tanker passing through the Strait of Hormuz (Image: REUTERS/GETTY)

Donald Trump waded into the row by issuing a fierce warning to Iran that America was “locked and loaded” in a chilling esponse to the oil field attacks.

The US President said on Twitter: “There is reason to believe that we know the culprit, are locked and loaded depending on verification, but are waiting to hear from the Kingdom as to who they believe was the cause of the attack, and under what terms we would proceed.”

He then said the US had ‘PLENTY OF OIL!’ despite the attacks on the fields.

READ MORE: Putin swoops on Iran chaos in crunch talks hours after Saudi strike

Last night the US issued satellite images an intelligence backing the claim that Iran was behind attacks on major Saudi oil facilities.

According to the New York Times, ABC and Reuters US officials pointed 19 points of impact from bombs or missiles and evidence indicated the attacks had come from a west-north-west direction – not Houthi-controlled territory in Yemen, which lies to the south-west of the Saudi oil facilities.

US officials suggested launch sites in the northern Gulf, Iran or Iraq were a more likely source of the missiles. And a close-up image of damaged tanks at the Abqaiq processing plant seemed to show impact points on the western side.

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Donald Trump said the US is “locked and loaded” (Image: GETTY)

Iran’s semi-official Students News agency ISNA reported Iran’s Revolutionary Guards have seized the the vessel for allegedly smuggling 250,000 litres of diesel fuel to the United Arab Emirates.

A reporter for ISNA said: “It was detained near Iran’s Greater Tunb island in the Persian Gulf.

“The crew have been handed over to legal authorities in the southern Hormozgan province.”

Donald Trump would take ‘aggressive’ stance on Iran says expert

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Mr Trump said on Monday the United States would help its allies.

Taking to Twitter he said: “We don’t need Middle Eastern Oil & Gas, & in fact have very few tankers there, but will help our Allies!”

The latest reported ship seizure by Iran follows a series of incidents involving shipping around the Gulf after US sanctions on Iranian oil exports took full effect in May.

France, Lebanon Condemn Attacks on Saudi Oil Facilities

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF SAUDI ARABIA’S ASHARQ AL-AWSAT NEWS)

 

France, Lebanon Condemn Attacks on Saudi Oil Facilities

Sunday, 15 September, 2019 – 11:15
Smoke is seen following a fire at Aramco facility in the eastern city of Abqaiq, Saudi Arabia, September 14, 2019. (Reuters)
Asharq Al-Awsat
France condemns attacks on Saudi oil facilities that have disrupted global production, the country’s foreign ministry said on Sunday.

“France firmly condemns yesterday’s attacks on the Abqaiq and Khurais oil installations,” the ministry said in a statement that also expressed “complete solidarity” with Saudi Arabia.

“These actions can only worsen regional tensions and risk of conflict,” the French statement added. “It is imperative that they stop.”

Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri slammed on Sunday the attacks, deeming them a “dangerous escalation that threatens to widen the arena of conflicts in the region.”

He said the attacks demand that the international community assume major responsibilities to put an end to “aggression and terrorism that are sweeping through the Arab world and jeopardizing regional stability.”

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Saturday accused Iran of launching attacks on Saudi oil plants, ruling out the involvement of the Tehran-aligned Houthi militias in Yemen.

The Houthis claimed credit for the attacks, but Pompeo firmly placed blame on Iran.

“Tehran is behind nearly 100 attacks on Saudi Arabia while Rouhani and Zarif pretend to engage in diplomacy,” Pompeo said, referring to Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani and Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif.

“Amid all the calls for de-escalation, Iran has now launched an unprecedented attack on the world’s energy supply,” he added.

Saudi Arabia oil facilities ablaze after drone strikes

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE BBC)

 

Saudi Arabia oil facilities ablaze after drone strikes

Media caption Abqaiq is the site of Aramco’s largest oil processing plant

Drone attacks have set alight two major oil facilities run by the state-owned company Aramco in Saudi Arabia, state media say.

Footage showed a huge blaze at Abqaiq, site of Aramco’s largest oil processing plant, while a second drone attack started fires in the Khurais oilfield.

The fires are now under control at both facilities, state media said.

A spokesman for the Iran-aligned Houthi group in Yemen said it had deployed 10 drones in the attacks.

The military spokesman, Yahya Sarea, told al-Masirah TV, which is owned by the Houthi movement and is based in Beirut, that further attacks could be expected in the future.

He said Saturday’s attack was one of the biggest operations the Houthi forces had undertaken inside Saudi Arabia and was carried out in “co-operation with the honorable people inside the kingdom”.

Saudi officials have not yet commented on who they think is behind the attacks.

“At 04:00 (01:00 GMT), the industrial security teams of Aramco started dealing with fires at two of its facilities in Abqaiq and Khurais as a result of… drones,” the official Saudi Press Agency reported.

“The two fires have been controlled.”

Map

There have been no details on the damage but Agence France-Presse quoted interior ministry spokesman Mansour al-Turki as saying there were no casualties.

Abqaiq is about 60km (37 miles) south-west of Dhahran in Saudi Arabia’s Eastern Province, while Khurais, some 200km further south-west, has the country’s second largest oilfield.

Saudi security forces foiled an attempt by al-Qaeda to attack the Abqaiq facility with suicide bombers in 2006.


An attack method open to all

Jonathan Marcus, BBC defence and diplomatic correspondent

This latest attack underlines the strategic threat posed by the Houthis to Saudi Arabia’s oil installations.

The growing sophistication of the Houthis’ drone operations is bound to renew the debate as to where this capability comes from. Have the Houthis simply weaponised commercial civilian drones or have they had significant assistance from Iran?

The Trump administration is likely to point the finger squarely at Tehran, but experts vary in the extent to which they think Iran is facilitating the drone campaign.

The Saudi Air Force has been pummelling targets in Yemen for years. Now the Houthis have a capable, if much more limited, ability to strike back. It shows that the era of armed drone operations being restricted to a handful of major nations is now over.

Drone technology – albeit of varying degrees of sophistication – is available to all; from the US to China, Israel and Iran… and from the Houthis to Hezbolllah.


Markets await news from key facilities

Analysis by BBC business correspondent Katie Prescott

Aramco ranks as the world’s largest oil business and these facilities are significant.

The Khurais oilfield produces about 1% of the world’s oil and Abqaiq is the company’s largest facility – with the capacity to process 7% of the global supply. Even a brief or partial disruption could affect the company, and the oil supply, given their size.

But whether this will have an impact on the oil price come Monday will depend on just how extensive the damage is. Markets now have the weekend to digest information from Aramco and assess the long-term impact.

According to Richard Mallinson, geopolitical analyst at Energy Aspects, any reaction on Monday morning is likely to be muted, as markets are less worried about supply than demand at the moment, due to slower global economic growth and the ongoing trade war between the US and China.

However, there are concerns that escalating tensions in the region could pose a broader risk, potentially threatening the fifth of the world’s oil supply that goes through the critical Strait of Hormuz.


Who are the Houthis?

The Iran-aligned Houthi rebel movement has been fighting the Yemeni government and a Saudi-led coalition.

Yemen has been at war since 2015, when President Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi was forced to flee the capital Sanaa by the Houthis. Saudi Arabia backs President Hadi, and has led a coalition of regional countries against the rebels.

The coalition launches air strikes almost every day, while the Houthis often fire missiles into Saudi Arabia.

Mr Sarea, the Houthi group’s military spokesman, told al-Masirah that operations against Saudi targets would “only grow wider and will be more painful than before, so long as their aggression and blockade continues”.

Saudi-led coalition air strike on Dhamar in Yemen, 1 SeptImage copyrightEPA
Image captionSaudi-led coalition air strikes regularly target Houthis in Yemen

Houthi fighters were blamed for drone attacks on the Shaybah natural gas liquefaction facility last month and on other oil facilities in May.

There have been other sources of tension in the region, often stemming from the rivalry between Saudi Arabia and Iran.

Saudi Arabia and the US both blamed Iran for attacks in the Gulf on two oil tankers in June and July, allegations Tehran denied.

In May, four tankers, two of them Saudi-flagged, were damaged by explosions within the UAE’s territorial waters in the Gulf of Oman.

Saudi Arabia and then US National Security Adviser John Bolton blamed Iran. Tehran said the accusations were “ridiculous”.

Tension in the vital shipping lanes worsened when Iran shot down a US surveillance drone over the Strait of Hormuz in June, leading a month later to the Pentagon announcing the deployment of US troops to Saudi Arabia.

Related Topics

Iran: Grace 1 Tanker Raises Iranian Flag, Changes Name to ‘Adrian Darya-1’

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE SAUDI NEWS AGENCY ASHARQ AL-AWSAT)

 

Grace 1 Tanker Raises Iranian Flag, Changes Name to ‘Adrian Darya-1’

Sunday, 18 August, 2019 – 11:15
A view of the Iranian tanker as it stands off the coast of the British territory of Gibraltar, Friday August 16, 2019. (AP)
Asharq Al-Awsat
An Iranian tanker caught in a stand-off between Tehran and the West has raised an Iranian flag and has had a new name painted on its side, Reuters images of the stationary vessel filmed off Gibraltar showed on Sunday.

British Royal Marines seized the vessel in Gibraltar in July on suspicion that it was carrying oil to Syria, a close ally of Iran, in violation of European Union sanctions.

Video footage and photographs showed the tanker flying the red, green and white flag of Iran and bearing the new name of “Adrian Darya-1” painted in white on its hull. Its previous name, “Grace 1”, had been painted over.

The vessel’s anchor was still down.

The Grace 1 had originally flown the Panamian flag but Panama’s Maritime Authority said in July that the vessel had been de-listed after an alert that indicated the ship had participated in or was linked to terrorism financing.

Gibraltar lifted a detention order on the vessel on Thursday but its fate was further complicated by the United States, which made a last-ditch legal appeal to hold it.

The initial impounding of the Grace 1 kicked off a sequence of events that saw Tehran seize a British-flagged oil tanker in the Gulf two weeks later, heightening tension on a vital international oil shipping route.

That tanker, the Stena Impero, is still detained.

The two vessels have since become pawns in a bigger game, feeding into wider hostilities since the United States last year pulled out of an international agreement to curb Iran’s nuclear program, and reimposed economic sanctions.

Brazil: Lula says Lava Jato was created to deliver Brazilian oil to the US

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE BRAZILIAN NEWS AGENCY 247)

 

Lula says Lava Jato was created to deliver Brazilian oil to the US

“They created Lava Jato to deliver our oil, it’s a shame,” said the former president. When asked about progression of punishment by age, readings and good behavior, something that Lula is already entitled to, he said he will not ask. “I won’t ask because I want my innocence. I want to get out of here 100% innocent, ”he said.

From Carta Capital – Former President Lula, arrested in Curitiba for Operation Lava jet, granted, on Friday 16, an interview with journalist Bob Fernandes, which was aired by TV Educação da Bahia. Commenting on the recent episodes of Operation Lava Jato, the petista believes that the intention of the operation is to deliver Brazilian oil to the US. “They created Lava Jato to deliver our oil, it’s a shame,” emphasized the politician.

This is the first time a public television has interviewed the former president, who commented on the performance of Moro, Dallagnol and Bolsonaro. For Lula, the country is undergoing a destruction of character. What measures the quality of a nation is not the size of the territory, but the quality of life of the people. Meanwhile, the president is clowning all the time, this is unacceptable, ”said the petista.

When asked by the journalist about progression of punishment by age, readings and good behavior, something that Lula is already entitled to, he said he will not ask. “I won’t ask because I want my innocence. I want to get out of here 100% innocent, ”he said.

Saudi: BP Stopped Taking its Tankers through Hormuz since July 10

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE SAUDI NEWS AGENCY ASHARQ AL-AWSAT)

 

BP Stopped Taking its Tankers through Hormuz since July 10

Tuesday, 30 July, 2019 – 11:30
Traditional Omani boats known as dhows, and cargo ships are seen sailing towards the Strait of Hormuz, off the coast of Musandam province, Oman, July 21, 2018. (Reuters)
Asharq Al-Awsat

BP has not taken any of its oil tankers through the Strait of Hormuz since a July 10 attempt by Iran to seize one of its vessels, the British company’s Chief Financial Officer Brian Gilvary said on Tuesday.

The oil and gas company has no current plans to take any of its own vessels through the strait, Gilvary said, adding that BP is shipping oil out of the region using chartered tankers.

“We will continue to make shipments through there but you won’t see any BP-flagged tankers going through in the short term,” he said, according to Reuters.

Gilvary was speaking as the company reported better than expected second-quarter earnings due to a strong increase in oil and gas production.

Tensions spiked between Iran and Britain this month when Iranian commandos seized a British-flagged tanker in the Strait of Hormuz, the world’s most important waterway for oil shipments.

That came two weeks after British forces captured an Iranian oil tanker near Gibraltar suspected of violating European Union sanctions on Syria.

Earlier this month, three Iranian vessels tried to block the passage of a BP-operated tanker through the Strait of Hormuz but withdrew after warnings from a British warship.

Washington, which has by far the strongest Western naval contingent in the Gulf, on July 9 proposed stepping up efforts to safeguard the Strait of Hormuz.

 

Saudi’s: Noose Tightens around Iranian Shipping

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE SAUDI NEWS AGENCY ASHARQ AL-AWSAT)

 

Flags of Inconvenience: Noose Tightens around Iranian Shipping

Friday, 26 July, 2019 – 09:30
A Panama flag flies on the stern of the Iranian oil tanker Grace 1 as it sits anchored after it was seized earlier this month by British Royal Marines off the coast of Gibraltar, July 20, 2019. (Reuters)
Asharq Al-Awsat
Somewhere on its journey from the waters off Iran, around Africa’s southern tip and into the Mediterranean, the Grace 1 oil tanker lost the flag under which it sailed and ceased to be registered to Panama, reported Reuters. Iran later claimed it as its own.

The ship carrying 2 million barrels of Iranian crude was seized by British Royal Marines off Gibraltar, raising tensions in the Gulf where Iran detained a UK-flagged ship in retaliation.

Grace 1 remains impounded, not because of its flag but because it was suspected of taking oil to Syria in breach of EU sanctions, an allegation that Iran denies.

Yet Panama’s move on May 29 to strike it from its register mid-voyage was part of a global squeeze on Iranian shipping.

Nations that register vessels under so-called “flags of convenience” allowing them to sail legally have de-listed dozens of tankers owned by Iran in recent months, tightening the economic noose around it.

In the biggest cull, Panama, the world’s most important flag state, removed 59 tankers linked to Iran and Syria earlier this year, a decision welcomed by the United States which wants to cut off Tehran’s vital oil exports.

Panama and some other key flag states are looking more closely at the thousands of ships on their registers to ensure they comply with US sanctions that were re-imposed against Iran last year and tightened further since.

A Reuters analysis of shipping registry data shows that Panama has de-listed around 55 Iranian tankers since January, Togo has de-listed at least three and Sierra Leone one.

That represents the majority of its operational fleet of tankers, the lifeblood of the oil-dominated economy, although Iran may have re-registered some ships under new flag states.

When a vessel loses its flag, it typically loses insurance cover if it does not immediately find an alternative, and may be barred from calling at ports. Flags of convenience also provide a layer of cover for a vessel’s ultimate owner.

International registries charge fees to ship owners to use their flags and offer tax incentives to attract business.

Iran said it still had plenty of options.

“There are so many shipping companies that we can use. In spite of US pressure, many friendly countries are happy to help us and have offered to help us regarding this issue,” said an Iranian shipping official, when asked about tankers being de-listed.

Some nations have expressed caution, however. The world’s third biggest shipping registry, Liberia, said its database automatically identified vessels with Iranian ownership or other connections to the country.

“Thus, any potential request to register a vessel with Iranian connection triggers an alert and gets carefully vetted by the Registry’s compliance and management personnel,” the registry said.

Liberia said it was working closely with US authorities to prevent what it called “malign activity” in maritime trade.

Iranian flag

In many cases Iran has re-listed ships under its own flag, complicating efforts to move oil and other goods to and from the dwindling number of countries willing to do business with it.

Some shipping specialists said the Iranian flag was problematic because individuals working for the registry in Iran could be designated under US sanctions, and so present a risk for anyone dealing with vessels listed by them.

“Most insurance companies or banks will not be able to deal with the Iranian flag as it is in effect dealing with the Iranian state,” said Mike Salthouse, deputy global director with ship insurer the North of England P&I, according to Reuters.

Customs officials may also sit up and take notice.

“One of the problems with an Iranian-flagged ship is that there is a 50 percent chance that a customs officer will undertake a search, which means the cargo will be delayed,” said a UN sanctions investigator, who declined to be named. “These all add to the costs.”

A former US diplomat said Washington was often in contact with Panama and other flag states to keep vessel registries “clean”.

“We are continuing to disrupt the Quds Force’s illicit shipments of oil, which benefit terrorist groups like Hezbollah as well as the Assad regime (in Syria),” said a spokesman at the US State Department.

Quds Force refers to a unit of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps that is in charge of the Guards’ overseas operations, and Hezbollah is an Iran-backed, armed party that forms part of Lebanon’s coalition government.

“Nearly 80 tankers involved in sanctionable activity have been denied the flags they need to sail,” the spokesman added.

False flags

De-flagging Iranian ships is just one way the international community can squeeze Iran.

US sanctions on oil exports aim to reduce Iran’s sales to zero. Iran has vowed to continue exporting.

In the first three weeks of June, Iran exported around 300,000 barrels per day (bpd), a fraction of the 2.5 million bpd that Iran shipped before President Donald Trump’s exit in May last year from the 2015 nuclear deal with major powers.

Egypt could also complicate life for Tehran if it denies passage to tankers heading to the Mediterranean through the Suez Canal. The alternative route around Africa, taken by Grace 1 before its seizure, is far longer.

Refinitiv shipping data showed the Masal, an Iranian-flagged oil tanker, anchored in the Suez Canal’s waiting zone on July 6. It stayed there until July 12, when it began to sail south. It exited the Red Sea on July 17 and docked at Larak Island, Iran on July 23.

The Suez Canal Authority’s spokesman said Egypt did not bar vessels from crossing the canal except in times of war, in accordance with the Constantinople Convention. He declined to comment further.

Britain tightened the screw when it seized the Grace 1 supertanker on July 4, accusing it of violating sanctions against Syria.

Two Iranian-flagged ships have been stranded for weeks at Brazilian ports due to a lack of fuel, which state-run oil firm Petrobras refuses to sell them due to US sanctions. Two more Iranian ships in Brazil could also be left without enough fuel to sail home.

A recent incident off Pakistan’s coast last month points to the lengths Iran has gone to in order to keep trading.

The Iranian cargo carrier Hayan left from the Iranian port of Bandar Abbas on June 3 and set sail for Karachi on Pakistan’s coast, according to ship tracking data from maritime risk analysts Windward.

On June 7, it changed its name to Mehri II and its flag to that of Samoa, the data showed, as it made its way toward Karachi port.

Six days later, the vessel conducted a ship-to-ship transfer of its unknown cargo further up Pakistan’s coast.

The ship then returned home, changing its flag back to Iran and its name back to Hayan.

Imran Ul Haq, spokesman for the Pakistan Maritime Security Agency, said they had no information, when asked about the Iranian ship’s activity.

Iran has frequently used ship-to-ship transfers to move oil and oil products since US sanctions were reimposed.

Shipping data also show that a separate Iranian-owned cargo ship, the Ya Haydar, has been sailing around the Gulf and reporting its flag as that of Samoa.

Samoa denies allowing Iran to register any ships under its flag.

“The said vessels Hayan or Ya Haydar are not, and have never been listed, nor registered on the Samoa’s registry of vessels,” said Anastacia Amoa-Stowers of the Maritime department at Samoa’s Ministry of Works, Transport & Infrastructure.

“Given there are currently no Iranian ships listed on Samoa’s registry, there is no action to de-list a vessel. Additionally, there has never been any Iranian ships listed on Samoa’s vessel registry – previously and at present.”

Amoa-Stowers said Samoa was a closed registry, meaning that any foreign vessel flying its flag was doing so illegally.

A senior Iranian government official involved in shipping declined to comment when asked about the two vessels.

A spokeswoman with the International Maritime Organization said the UN’s shipping agency had received information from Samoa which has been circulated to member states.

Saudi’s: Denmark Backs European-led Naval Mission to Hormuz Strait

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE SAUDI NEWS AGENCY ASHARQ AL-AWSAT)

 

Denmark Backs European-led Naval Mission to Hormuz Strait

Friday, 26 July, 2019 – 11:15
British frigate HMS Montrose. (AFP)
Asharq Al-Awsat
Denmark welcomed on Friday a British government proposal for a European-led naval mission to the Strait of Hormuz aimed at ensuring the safety of shipping in the strategic waterway.

“The Danish government looks positively toward a possible contribution to such initiative,” Foreign Minister Jeppe Kofod said in a statement. “The initiative will have a strong European footprint”.

Britain has sought to assemble the mission in Hormuz, used by tankers carrying about a fifth of the world’s oil, following Iran’s seizure of a British-flagged ship in what London said was an act of “state piracy”.

The initiative won initial support from Denmark, France and Italy, three senior diplomats said on Tuesday.

EU-member Denmark is among the world’s biggest seafaring nations and home to the world’s biggest container shipping firm A.P. Moller-Maersk, which sails in the high-tension area.

“The Royal Danish Navy is strong and capable and would be able to contribute actively and effectively to this type of engagement,” said Danish Defense Minister Trine Bramsen.

A final decision would still need to be discussed in parliament.

On Thursday, the UK government said it was offering British-flagged ships traveling through the Strait of Hormuz a Royal Navy escort.

The Department for Transport said that if ships give advance notice of their plans they will be escorted by frigate HMS Montrose, either individually or in groups.

The escort is not compulsory, and Britain has limited naval resources in the region.

On Friday the Montrose arrived too late to prevent the tanker Stena Impero from being seized by Iran’s Revolutionary Guard forces.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani suggested Wednesday that Stena Impero could be released if the UK takes similar steps to hand back an Iranian oil tanker seized by the Royal Navy off Gibraltar earlier this month.