Friday, July 19, 2019

Trump: USS Boxer shoots down Iranian drone over Hormuz

President Donald Trump said on Thursday, July 18, that the USS Boxer amphibious assault ship took defensive action in the Strait of Hormuz and destroyed an Iranian drone which closed into the near distance, approximately 1000 yards away. The action was taken after multiple calls for the drone to stand down were ignored, “threatening the safety of the ship and ship’s crew.”

Speaking at the White House on Thursday afternoon, Trump called on other nations to defend Iranian attempts to “disrupt freedom of navigation and global commerce” and to “protect their ships as they go through the Strait of Hormuz. The incident came hours after Tehran said it had taken over an oil tanker with its 12-man crew, without identifying its owner.

In US, Zarif offers permanent scrutiny of nuclear sites for sanctions relief

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif on Thursday offered to formalize stricter international inspections of the Islamic Republic’s nuclear facilities in exchange for permanent sanctions relief.
That offer, first reported by The Guardian, came as Zarif said he had several alternatives in mind to help break the impasse, but that he wouldn’t be picking up the phone to talk to the Americans and dismissed the idea of a meeting between the two country’s presidents.
“It’s not about photo ops. We are interested in substance,” Zarif said in New York during a visit that saw his movement highly restricted.
Meeting reporters, Zarif said Iran would be willing to move up an Iranian parliament ratification of an agreement Tehran made with the International Atomic Energy Association — one that outlined access to Iranian nuclear sites and other information.
According to The Guardian, this would grant greater access to Iran’s nuclear facilities for international inspectors in an arrangement that would be made permanent.
A spokesman for Zarif explained that Iran is already abiding by the agreement under the 2015 nuclear deal, but it doesn’t have the force of law because it’s not supposed to be ratified by the Iranian parliament until 2023. Zarif told reporters that the ratification could come earlier if the US eased sanctions.
A senior administration official responded that Trump has repeatedly said he is willing to have a conversation with Iranian leaders.
The official said that if Iran wants to make a “serious gesture,” it should immediately stop enriching uranium and negotiate an agreement that includes a permanent end to Iran’s nuclear ambitions, including development of nuclear-capable missiles. The official was not authorized to publicly discuss the issue and spoke only on condition of anonymity. READ MORE

Iran deputy FM suggests US downed its own drone ‘by mistake’

Iran’s deputy foreign minister Abbas Araghchi denied on Friday having lost any drone recently and hinted that the US could have downed their own “by mistake.”
“We have not lost any drone in the Strait of Hormuz nor anywhere else. I am worried that USS Boxer has shot down their own UAS by mistake!” Araghchi tweeted, after the United States claimed it downed an unmanned Iranian aircraft.
US President Donald Trump said Thursday an American naval vessel shot down an Iranian drone that threatened the ship as it was entering the strategic Strait of Hormuz.
Trump announced that the USS Boxer, an amphibious assault ship, “took defensive action” against the Iranian aircraft as it was “threatening the safety of the ship and the ship’s crew.”
The drone was “immediately destroyed” after it approached within 1,000 yards (914 meters) of the Boxer, Trump said.
Tehran’s top diplomat, Mohammad Javad Zarif, told reporters Thursday he had “no information about losing a drone today,” as he arrived at the United Nations headquarters in New York.
The apparent confrontation between the two foes marked a new escalation of tensions between the countries less than one month after Iran downed an American drone in the same waterway and Trump came close to retaliating with a military strike. READ MORE

Rouhani: Iran determined to save nuclear deal

Iran is determined to "leave all doors open" to save the 2015 nuclear deal with major powers, President Hassan Rouhani told French President Emmanuel Macron on Thursday, according to Reuters.
 
"We are determined to leave all doors open to save the nuclear deal ... The Europeans should accelerate their efforts to salvage the pact," Rouhani was quoted as having told Macron in a telephone conversation.
 
US President Donald Trump withdrew last May from the nuclear deal between Iran and world powers, and later imposed two rounds of sanctions on Iran, the latest of which went into effect in November of 2018.
 
The European signatories to the 2015 deal did not agree with Trump’s decision to leave the agreement and vowed to help Iran evade the economic sanctions imposed by the US, shielding companies doing business with the rogue state in an effort to preserve the Iran nuclear deal.
 
Several weeks ago, Iran met in Vienna with European, Russian and Chinese officials to discuss ways to save the 2015 nuclear following the US withdrawal.
 
Iran’s envoy to the meeting in Vienna said that European countries had offered too little to persuade Tehran to back off from its plans to breach limits imposed by the deal.
The EU earlier this year introduced a trade mechanism that would bypass US sanctions on Iran, in a bid to save the 2015 deal, but Iran has rejected that mechanism thus far.

Thursday, July 18, 2019

Iran state TV: Iranian forces seize foreign oil tanker, crew

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — Iran’s 
paramilitary Revolutionary Guard 
forces have seized a foreign oil tanker 
accused of smuggling oil with a crew 
of 12, Iran’s state TV reported Thursday, 
just days after an oil tanker based in the 
United Arab Emirates disappeared off 
trackers in Iranian territorial waters.
The seizure was the latest in a series 
of dramatic developments as tensions 
mount between the United States and 
Iran over the unravelling nuclear deal 
between Tehran and world powers.
The Panamanian-flagged oil tanker MT Riah stopped transmitting its location 
early Sunday near Qeshm Island, which has a Revolutionary Guard base on it, 
according to data listed on tracking site Maritime Traffic.
Iran’s state television did not identify the seized vessel or nationalities of the 
crew, but said it was intercepted on Sunday. It said the oil tanker had 12 
foreign crew members on board and was involved in smuggling some 
million liters (264,000 gallons) of fuel from Iranian smugglers to 
foreign customers.
The report said the oil tanker was intercepted south of Iran’s Larak Island
 in the Strait of Hormuz. Larak is a smaller island just southeast of the 
larger Qeshm Island.
Crude prices, which had been falling since last week, ticked higher 
almost immediately after reports of the incident.
The seizure of the ship does not immediately appear to directly target 
any one particular country and shows the Revolutionary Guard cracking 
down on illegal smuggling of Iranian oil.
If the MT Riah was indeed the ship seized, the move directly singles out 
UAE-bound and based vessels. The 58-meter (190-foot) Riah 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. 
READ MORE

US deploys 500 troops plus Patriots at Saudi airbase facing Iraq border

Bracing for the revival of Iran’s attacks on Gulf oil allies, the Trump administration has begun deploying troop reinforcements to Saudi Arabia. The first 500 troops of the 1,000 announced by the Pentagon arrived this week at the Prince Sultan Air Base east of the capital, US media reported on Thursday, July 18, along with several Patriot anti-air anti-missile batteries.
They landed the day after the pro-Iranian Yemeni Houthi insurgents claimed another drone attack on the southern Saudi Jizan regional airport. Intelligence reaching Washington reveals that pro-Iranian Iraqi Shiite militias are about to expand their participation in Tehran’s reprisals for US sanctions by mounting explosive drone attacks on Saudi Arabia or even missiles from across the Iraq border.
In London, the Royal Navy announced the dispatch of a third warship to the Gulf region as escorts for oil tankers. The HMS Kent guided missile frigate will follow the HNK Duncan which is on its way there.
DEBKAfile’s military and intelligence sources report that the positioning of the new US troop reinforcements opposite the Saudi border with Iraq is in preparation for Tehran to make Iraq its main launching pad for the coming spate of proxy attacks on American targets and US allies in the region. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was recently reported to be considering shuttering the US embassy in Baghdad and evacuating American diplomats from the country.
Our sources add that the next targets of Iran’s anti-American ire may include Israel and those attacks may also come from Iraq.

ANALYSIS: Erdogan creates a new crisis in the Middle East

Three years after the botched coup against him, Turkey’s hotheaded leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan risks a major confrontation with the West over his policies in the Middle East.
 
The crisis in the relationship between Turkey and the West began after Erdogan accused the CIA of being behind the botched coup which some observers think was a false flag operation to give the autocratic leader more executive powers.
 
In the aftermath of the botched coup Erdogan decided to seal-off the Incirlik airbase which was used by NATO warplanes in the battle against ISIS and where the US army has stored tactical nuclear weapons.
 
Erdogan later demanded the US extradite the Turkish cleric Fethullah Gulen who lives in self-imposed exile in Pennsylvania and who Erdogan claimed had been orchestrating the failed coup.
 
At about the same time, Erdogan demanded the US army in Syria end its cooperation with the Kurdish dominated Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) which controls roughly one-third of Syrian territory along the Turkish border.
 
The US didn’t give in, however, and Erdogan then decided to improve relations with Russia after solving a crisis with Russian President Vladimir Putin over the downing of a Russian warplane by the Turkish army.
 
The Turkish leader later decided to purchase the Russian S-400 anti-aircraft missile defense shield, a move which set him on a crash course with NATO of which Turkey is a prominent member.
 
As a result of the purchase of the S-400 system by its ally Turkey, the Trump Administration decided to scuttle the delivery of the Lockheed F-35 stealth fighter plane but hasn’t decided yet to apply the so-called Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA) on Turkey.
 
During the recent G-20 summit in Osaka, Japan, Erdogan met with US President Donald J. Trump to discuss the looming crisis over the delivery of the S-400 missile shield. READ MORE

US removes Turkey from F-35 program

The United States announced on Wednesday that it was removing Turkey from the F-35 fighter jet program in the wake of Ankara accepting the delivery of the S-400 advanced Russian missile defense system last week.
 
The first parts of the S-400 air defense system were flown to the Murted military air base northwest of Ankara on Friday, sealing Turkey’s deal with Russia, which Washington had struggled for months to prevent.
 
Washington says the S-400 poses a threat to the Lockheed Martin Corp F-35 stealthy fighters, which Turkey was also planning to buy.
 
The US also believes the S-400 sale is part of Russian efforts to disrupt the alliance amid Western concern over Erdogan's burgeoning relationship with Putin.
 
Turkish officials insist that the deal to purchase the S-400 does not affect the security of the US and have repeatedly stressed that they will go ahead with the deal despite Washington’s objections.
 
“The U.S. and other F-35 partners are aligned in this decision to suspend Turkey from the program and initiate the process to formally remove Turkey from the program,” Ellen Lord, the under secretary of defense for acquisition and sustainment, said on Wednesday, according to Reuters.
 
“The United States is spending between $500 and $600 million in non-recurring engineering in order to shift the supply chain,” she added.
 
Used by NATO and other US allies, the F-35 stealth fighter jet is the world’s most advanced jet fighter. Washington is concerned that deploying the S-400 with the F-35 would allow Russia to gain too much inside information of the stealth system.
 
“The F-35 cannot coexist with a Russian intelligence collection platform that will be used to learn about its advanced capabilities,” the White House said in a statement earlier on Wednesday.
 
Washington has long warned the acquisition may lead to Turkey’s expulsion from the F-35 program.
 
Responding to the US move, the Turkish foreign ministry said that the country’s removal from the F-35 fighter jet program is not based on a legitimate reason and does not suit ally spirit.
 
In a statement, the foreign ministry called on the United States to return from what it characterized as a mistake, saying it would harm strategic ties between two NATO allies.
On Saturday, officials said that President Donald Trump’s team has settled on a sanctions package to punish Turkey over the S-400 deal.
 
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan later said that Trump has the authority to waive sanctions on Turkey for its purchase of the Russian air defense systems and should find a "middle ground" in the dispute.

Zarif: We can shut down Strait of Hormuz, but won't do it

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif told Bloomberg Television on Wednesday that his country is capable of shutting the strategic Strait of Hormuz but doesn’t want to do it.
"We certainly have the ability to do it, but we certainly don’t want to do it because the Strait of Hormuz and the Persian Gulf are our lifeline," said Zarif, adding, "It has to be secured. We play a big role in securing it, but it has to be secure for everybody."
 
Iran regularly holds drills at the Strait of Hormuz, which is located at the mouth of the Persian Gulf and through which about a third of all oil traded at sea passes.
 
The Islamic Republic has threatened more than once to close the Strait of Hormuz, with the United States warning Iran in response that any attempt to close the strait would be viewed as a "red line" -- grounds for US military action.
 
In Wednesday’s interview, Zarif also asserted that the US “shot itself in the foot” by pulling out of the 2015 nuclear accord with Iran.
 
He added that the European countries that are part of the original agreement have not stepped up to carry out their own commitments under the deal.
 
Iran has the capability to pursue nuclear weapons but “we’re not going to build” them because Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei made a “religious commitment” that they were forbidden, Zarif told Bloomberg.
 
“If we wanted to build nuclear weapons, we could have built it a long time ago,” claimed Zarif, who was in New York to address a United Nations meeting.
 
Nevertheless, he signaled that Iran will continue to pursue what he called the Islamic Republic’s rights under the accord to respond to the US pullout and failed European efforts to deliver promised benefits to the Iranian economy.
 
Two weeks ago, Iran announced that it had exceeded the amount of enriched uranium permitted under the deal. Several days later, Iran followed up by saying it had begun to enrich uranium to 5% purity instead of the 3.67% limit imposed under the JCPOA.
 
On Monday, Iran warned the EU that it is prepared to end all of its commitments under the 2015 nuclear, and restore its nuclear program to the status quo ante, under which Tehran placed no limits on any areas of nuclear development.
 
Pressed on how to engage with the US in a way that eases tensions, Zarif suggested that the burden falls on Trump. He also expressed skepticism of renegotiating the 2015 accord, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, to include talks on Iran’s missile program.
 
“You don’t buy a horse twice,” he said.
 
Zarif rejected the idea that Iran is waiting for next year’s election in the US to put a Democratic president in office who might be open to reentering the deal.
 
“No country in their right mind would make their foreign policy based on results they don’t have any control over,” he said. He went on to give Trump a “better than 50% chance” of winning reelection.

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Wielding machetes and baseball bats, MS-13 carried out ‘medieval’ killings, feds say

LOS ANGELES — MS-13 gang members in Los Angeles hacked to death seven people in the last two years, including a rival gang member who was dismembered and had his heart cut out by six MS-13 soldiers in the Angeles National Forest for defacing the gang’s graffiti, federal authorities alleged in an indictment unsealed Tuesday.
Twenty-two people allegedly affiliated with the gang’s Fulton clique in the San Fernando Valley were indicted by a grand jury on racketeering charges that include nearly 200 criminal acts, committed across several states over nine years.
The sweeping, 78-page indictment marks the latest salvo between California law enforcement and the notorious gang, which was formed decades ago in Los Angeles and has since become a bogeyman for President Donald Trump, who evokes its macabre killings in his rhetoric against illegal immigration.
Four people were killed in the Angeles National Forest by members of the Fulton clique wielding machetes, baseball bats and knives, the indictment alleges. Along with a slaying in the Malibu hills and another in Whitsett Fields Park in North Hollywood — the clique’s “stronghold,” prosecutors said — the six killings were committed by gang members hoping to gain entry into or advance within the clique’s ranks, according to the indictment.
Sixteen of the 22 people indicted are charged in connection with those six slayings, which authorities called so “heinous, cruel or depraved” that the defendants are eligible for the death penalty. Prosecutors have not said whether they intend to seek it. READ MORE

‘IT WILL NOT GO UNANSWERED’ Iran doubles down on threat to attack Britain over ‘vicious’ oil tanker seizure as Royal Navy sends a THIRD warship to the Gulf

IRAN’s supreme leader has threatened Britain with retaliation over the “vicious” seizure of an Iranian oil tanker near Gibraltar.
As tensions escalate over the tanker row, it's been revealed that the Royal Navy is set to send a third warship to the Persian Gulf this summer.
It comes as an Iranian bomb boat was found in the path of a second British warship – the HMS Duncan – which is currently racing to the flashpoint.
Iranian leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has accused Britain of “piracy” after the Royal Marines seized a supertanker believed to be carrying Iranian crude oil to Syria on July 5.
He has called for the immediate release of the oil tanker Grace 1, which was detained on suspicion it was breaking European sanctions by taking oil to Syria.
In a TV speech, the Ayatollah said: “Evil Britain commits piracy and steals our ship and gives it a legal appearance.
“Iran and those who believe in our system will not leave such vicious deeds unanswered.”
The comments were made as concerns grow about a UAE-based Gulf oil tanker, the MT Riah, which went missing in the Strait of Hormuz on Saturday.
Tracking data from the MT Riah last showed it heading for Iranian waters.
A US defence official said on Tuesday the US “has suspicions” the tanker has been seized by Iran.
Tensions between Iran and the UK have spiralled since the Iranian Grace 1 oil tanker was seized by the Royal Navy earlier this month off the coast of Gibraltar.
Iran has threatened to seize a British tanker in retaliation if the Grace 1 is not released.

FLASHPOINT READ MORE

Iran-Syria rift: Tehran calls on Assad to explain his contacts with “Iran’s enemies”

Exclusive: An Iranian diplomat made a sudden appearance in Damascus on Monday, July 16, demanding that the Syrian ruler Bashar Assad explain his interaction with anti-Iran elements, DEBKAfile reveals. The envoy, Hossein Amir Abdollahian, assistant speaker for international affairs at Iran’s Shura Council, upon taxing the Syrian president, heard him underline his country’s support for Iran against “US threats.” Iranian and Syrian sources describe Assad as reaffirming this commitment during their meeting. According to the official statement, they also discussed Iran’s nuclear program and the steps the regime in Tehran has taken “to protect the interests of the Iranian people.”
 
Our intelligence sources note the unusual features of this event and of the statements dictated by the Iranian side:
  1. Tehran broke conspicuously with custom and protocol by sending a low-ranking diplomat to Damascus with a demand for him to be received on the spot by the Syrian president. This denotes a serious falling-out between Tehran and Damascus.
  2. The emissary demanded a pledge by Assad to continue to oppose the United States, while omitting to mention any Middle East entity. Why the Syrian ruler need to reaffirm this? Has he changed his attitude towards Washington and the Trump administration?
  3. Since when does a low-ranking Iranian diplomat engage in a discussion with the Syrian ruler on Iran’s nuclear program and its steps for “protecting the people?”