• More Iranian Craftiness Agitates Tensions in the Middle East and Around the World

    Daily Surge Summary: The mysterious taking of an oil tanker by Iranian forces increases concerns about what  that nation is up to. 

    Things remain unclear regarding what has happened to a Panamanian-flagged/ United Arab Emirates-based oil tanker. Over the weekend, the vessel had been traveling through the Strait of Hormuz before drifting off into Iranian waters, where it stopped transmitting its location. Concerns about its status are heightening amid increasing tensions between Iran and the U.S.

    The Associated Press reports:

    The concern about the Riah comes as Iran continues its own high-pressure campaign over its nuclear program after President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew America from the accord over a year ago.

    Recently, Iran has inched its uranium production and enrichment over the limits of its 2015 nuclear deal, trying to put more pressure on Europe to offer it better terms and allow it to sell its crude oil abroad.

    In aggressive response, the U.S. has sent thousands of additional troops, B-52 bombers and fighter jets into the region. Throw into the mix mysterious, allegedly Iranian-engineered attacks on oil tankers plus Iran’s shooting down a U.S. military surveillance drone and a potentially fearsome situation looms. Thursday, it is being reported, U.S. Marine forces aboard the USS Boxer brought down an Iranian drone said to be threatening the vessel in the area.

    The Riah, a 58-meter (190-foot) oil tanker, typically made trips from Dubai and Sharjah on the UAE’s west coast before going through the strait and heading to Fujairah on the UAE’s east coast. However, something happened to the vessel after 11 p.m. on Saturday, according to tracking data.

    Capt. Ranjith Raja of the data firm Refinitiv told The AP a “red flag” was raised in his mind when, on Tuesday, the tanker, which hadn’t switched off its tracking in three months of trips around the UAE, unexpectedly did so over the weekend.

    Both Iranian and UAE officials initially had not said anything publicly about the ship. Early on, the U.S. Navy’s 5th Fleet, which prowls Mideast waters, had remained mum about the matter.

    Since then, the New York Times informs Iran is claiming it had “rushed to the aid of an unidentified tanker that had sent a distress call”, finally tugging it toward Iranian waters for repairs. They assured more information would be forthcoming.

    Most recently, the UK Telegraph writes Iranians are claiming they seized the Riah because it was illegally smuggling fuel in the Gulf.

    Plainly, a muddled scenario.

    The ship’s registered owner, Dubai-based Prime Tankers LLC, told the AP it had sold the ship to another company called Mouj Al-Bahar. A man who answered a telephone number registered to the firm told the AP it didn’t own any ships.

    Separately, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said Tuesday his country will retaliate over the seizure of an Iranian supertanker carrying 2.1 million barrels of light crude oil. The vessel was seized with the help of British Royal Marines earlier this month off Gibraltar.

    Khameni labeled it an act of “piracy”.

    “God willing, the Islamic Republic and its committed forces will not leave this evil without a response,” he said.

    British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said Saturday that Britain will help swap the ship’s release for Iranian guarantees the vessel will not violate European sanctions on oil shipments to Syria.

    Meanwhile, in a television interview, Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif seemed to hint the Islamic Republic’s ballistic missile program, which is under control of the Iranian paramilitary Revolutionary Guard, could be part of negotiations with the U.S. If true, this development could pose a possible opening for talks as formidable tensions endure between Tehran and Washington.

    Zarif suggested an initially high price for such negotiations — the halt of American arms sales to both Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, two key U.S. allies in the Persian Gulf.

    “These are American weaponry that is going into our region, making our region ready to explode,” Zarif said. “So if they want to talk about our missiles, they need first to stop selling all these weapons, including missiles, to our region.”

    Iran’s mission to the United Nations, however, seemed to dismiss Zariff’s suggestion as “hypothetical.”

    “Iran’s missiles … are absolutely and under no condition negotiable with anyone or any country, period,” the mission said.

    Since its 1979 Islamic Revolution and the takeover of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran, Iran has faced a variety of economic sanctions. That has cut into Iran’s ability to buy advanced weaponry abroad. While Gulf Arab nations have purchased advanced fighter jets, Iran still relies on pre-1979 U.S. fighter jets, as well as other aging Soviet MiGs and other planes. … Facing that shortfall, Iran instead invested heavily into its ballistic missile program.

    While Europe is reportedly out of range of the Shiite Republics’ missiles, the weapons currently can strike Middle East targets, including Israel and American military bases.

    In pulling out of the deal, Trump in part blamed the accord not touching on Iran’s ballistic missile program. The U.S. fears Iran could use its missile technology and space program to build nuclear-capable intercontinental ballistic missiles, something Tehran denies it wants to do.

    This murky chain of events and evolving explanations of same – not helped by Iran’s characteristic skullduggery — continue to stoke a volatile situation between Iran and much of the rest of the world.

    Image: Strait of Hormuz: Adapted from:  Jacques Descloitres, MODIS Land Rapid Response Team, NASA/GSFC – Cropped from: http://visibleearth.nasa.gov/view_rec.php?id=2363, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=29529

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