Archive for May 2019

Saudi king calls on Gulf states to tackle Iran’s ‘criminal’ acts

May 31, 2019

Source: Saudi king calls on Gulf states to tackle Iran’s ‘criminal’ acts – ArabianBusiness.com

King Salman speaks at emergency summit in the holy city of Makkah, referring to recent attacks on Gulf oil installations
Saudi king calls on Gulf states to tackle Iran's 'criminal' acts

Saudi Arabia’s King Salman on Thursday urged Gulf Arab states to work together to confront what he called Iran’s “criminal” actions in the region.

“The Iranian regime’s interference in the internal affairs of the countries of the region, development of nuclear and missile programs, and its threats to freedom of international shipping are a threat to global oil supply,” the king told an emergency summit in the holy city of Makkah.

Its “recent criminal acts… require that all of us work seriously to preserve the security… of GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council) countries,” the king added, referring to recent attacks on Gulf oil installations.

His comment came a day after hawkish US National Security Advisor John Bolton said Iran was almost certainly behind the sabotage of four ships, including two Saudi oil tankers, off the UAE coast.

Iran strongly rejected the accusation.

Iran-aligned Yemeni rebels meanwhile have stepped up drone attacks on the kingdom — one of which resulted in the temporary shutdown of a major oil pipeline.

Saudi Arabia, a staunch US ally, is hosting leaders from across the Arab and Muslim world for emergency Gulf and Arab summits and a meeting of heads of state from Islamic nations.

Riyadh called the talks to discuss the standoff with Iran and ways of isolating Tehran amid fears of a military confrontation.

For all the latest business news from the UAE and Gulf countries, follow us on Twitter andLinkedin, like us on Facebook and subscribe to our YouTube page, which is updated daily.

 

Iran accuses Saudi Arabia of ‘sowing division’ to Israel’s benefit 

May 31, 2019

Source: Iran accuses Saudi Arabia of ‘sowing division’ to Israel’s benefit | The Times of Israel

King Salman ratchets up the rhetoric against arch-nemesis Tehran, calling on Arab states to confront its ‘criminal’ actions

Arab and Islamic states foreign ministers pose for a family picture during a meeting of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) and Arab League member states' top diplomats in Jeddah on May 30, 2019,  ahead of the Gulf, Arab, and Islamic summits to be held in the holy city of Mecca on May 30 and 31, 2019. (BANDAR ALDANDANI / AFP)

Arab and Islamic states foreign ministers pose for a family picture during a meeting of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) and Arab League member states’ top diplomats in Jeddah on May 30, 2019, ahead of the Gulf, Arab, and Islamic summits to be held in the holy city of Mecca on May 30 and 31, 2019. (BANDAR ALDANDANI / AFP)

Tehran accused Riyadh Friday of “sowing division” in the region to Israel’s advantage after the kingdom hosted summits of Gulf and Arab leaders to rally support against the Islamic republic.

Saudi Arabia has “continued to sow division between Islamic countries and in the region, which is the wish of the Zionist regime,” foreign ministry spokesman Seyed Abbas Mousavi said.

“We see the attempts by Saudi Arabia to rally neighboring and Arab countries against Iran as the continuation of futile attempts by America and the Zionist regime,” he added.

The statement came as Iranians began anti-Israel rallies across the country to mark Quds, or Jerusalem Day, which will see demonstrations across the Mideast. The annual protests — also being held in Iraq, Lebanon and elsewhere — are held on the last Friday of the Muslim holy fasting month of Ramadan.

Saudi Arabia’s King Salman on Friday ratcheted up the rhetoric against arch-nemesis Iran, calling on Arab states to confront its “criminal” actions after attacks on oil installations sparked fears of a regional conflagration.

The king’s remarks came at the start of two back-to-back emergency summits in the holy city of Mecca, which drew near-unanimous support for the Sunni kingdom from Gulf and Arab states — with the exception of Iraq.

In this file photo taken on May 20, 2017, US President Donald Trump (L) and Saudi Arabia’s King Salman bin Abdulaziz al-Saud take part in a signing ceremony at the Saudi Royal Court in Riyadh. (MANDEL NGAN / AFP)

The summits came a day after hawkish US National Security Advisor John Bolton said Iran was almost certainly behind this month’s sabotage of four ships, including two Saudi oil tankers, off the UAE coast. Tehran rejected the charge.

Saudi Arabia, a staunch US ally, also faces stepped-up drone attacks from Iran-aligned Houthi rebels, one of which resulted in the temporary shutdown of a major oil pipeline.

“The absence of a firm and dissuasive response to Iran’s acts of sabotage in the region has encouraged it to continue and strengthen them in the way we see today,” the Saudi king said.

“Its recent criminal acts… require that all of us work seriously to preserve the security and achievements of GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council),” the king added, referring to the attacks on Gulf oil installations.

The Emirati-flagged oil tanker A. Michel, May 13, 2019, one of four ships damaged in what Gulf officials called a “sabotage” attack off the coast of the United Arab Emirates. (UAE National Media Council via AP)

The monarch also called on the international community to use “all means” necessary to contain the Shiite power.

Saudi Arabia hosted the summits — which will be followed by a third meeting on Saturday of heads of state from Islamic nations — apparently to mobilize efforts to isolate Iran’s regime amid fears of a military confrontation.

But Iraq, caught in the middle of its two allies, the US and Iran, opposed a final statement released by Arab countries, which condemned Tehran’s behavior in the region.

Iraq, which has offered to mediate between Washington and Tehran, recently warned of a risk of war amid escalating tensions.

On the eve of the summits, Riyadh blasted what it called Iranian “interference” across the region and demanded “firmness” over attacks on Gulf oil tankers and pipelines.

Saudi Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Adel al-Jubeir (C) gestures during a meeting of Islamic and Arab Foreign Ministers in Jeddah on May 30, 2019, ahead of the Gulf, Arab, and Islamic summit to be held in Mecca on 30 and 31 May 2019. (BANDAR ALDANDANI / AFP)

Tensions in the region spiked after the four ships were damaged in a mysterious sabotage attack off the coast of the emirate of Fujairah on May 12.

The vessels were attacked using “naval mines almost certainly from Iran”, Bolton told a news conference in Abu Dhabi on Wednesday.

Iran rejected the accusation, calling it “laughable.”

US experts are part of a five-nation team investigating the ship attacks.

Stepping up the war of words on Thursday, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said that Iran was trying to raise global energy prices through the attacks on oil installations.

The US has beefed up its military presence in the region, with the deployment of an aircraft carrier, B-52 bombers and 1,500 additional troops.

The flight deck of the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln in the Arabian Sea, on May 19, 2019. (Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Garrett LaBarge/US Navy via AP)

Bolton however said the extra US forces were sent to the Middle East as a “deterrent” and that Washington’s response would be prudent.

“We definitely desire a change in the (Iranian) regime’s behavior,” Brian Hook, US Special Representative for Iran, said Thursday.

Regional tensions have grown since US President Donald Trump’s administration reimposed sanctions against Iran after Washington unilaterally pulled out of a multilateral 2015 nuclear accord signed with the Islamic republic.

But Trump appeared to soften his hawkish tone towards Tehran, saying during a visit to Japan on Monday that his government does not seek “regime change.”

 

Netanyahu is implicitly touted by Trump and Putin in his fight for re-election – DEBKAfile

May 31, 2019

Source: Netanyahu is implicitly touted by Trump and Putin in his fight for re-election – DEBKAfile

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu received an unforeseen boost on Wednesday, May 29, while he was announcing a new election on Sept 17 after failing to set up a government.

Harsh recriminations and insults flew through the Knesset chamber on the heels of a dissolution vote of 74:45. Netanyahu accused Israel Beitenu leader Avigdor Lieberman of deliberately undermining a right-wing government and joining the “left bloc.” Lieberman, who will go down in Israel’s political history as having forced the country into two general elections in less than three months, denied supporting opposition Blue-White leader Benny Gantz; he only sought a “sane right-wing, non-religious-dominated government,” he protested.

Blue-White leaders, for their part, readjusted their signature tune. Instead of targeting Netanyahu as the archenemy of democracy, they turned against Lieberman, fearing he may steal their right-leaning anti-religious voters.

New actors meanwhile stepped from the wings into the still-unfolding election campaign – still unnoticed. Fully aware of the political turmoil besetting Israel in recent weeks, US President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin decided nonetheless not to postpone the conference set for June in Jerusalem of the US, Russian and Israeli national security advisers to discuss regional security issues. A White House communique setting the place and the time was issued on Wednesday while voting on dissolution was taking place in the Knesset.

The two presidents appear to share the wish to see Netanyahu re-elected and taking up the role they have assigned him in helping to shape Middle East security policy. Their support may prove to be an obstacle that Lieberman and the leaders of Blue-White will find hard to beat. The high-powered trilateral security conference is unprecedented in that it assigns Israel a role equal to that of the two superpowers in determining future Middle East security issues. Putin was even prepared to honor the Jewish state and its prime minister by letting the opening session of the new track take place in Jerusalem.

 

Brian Hook: Iran has cut cyber funding, 17% of Quds force 

May 30, 2019

Source: Brian Hook: Iran has cut cyber funding, 17% of Quds force – Middle East – Jerusalem Post

Regarding the use of force, Hook said that the US would use military force if its interests were assaulted by Iran.

BY YONAH JEREMY BOB
 MAY 30, 2019 19:58
Brian Hook: Iran has cut cyber funding, 17% of Quds force

Iran’s cyber unit has lost substantial funding and its Quds force’s funding, which leads its sponsorship of global terrorism, has been cut 17%, US State Department Iran czar Brian Hook said on Thursday.

Although figures have been coming in about the Islamic republic’s weakened economy, Hook provided some of the first very specific impacts that the US pressure campaign has had on Tehran’s military capabilities.

Hook gave a telephone briefing to reporters ahead of an emergency summit of Arab leaders in Saudi Arabia on Thursday to discuss drone strikes on its oil installations and attacks on four of oil tankers near the United Arab Emirates earlier this month.

Tehran has denied involvement those attacks, but US National Security Adviser John Bolton has pointed the finger at Iran.

Hook was more circumspect about Iran’s involvement in the attacks, but predicted that a fuller disclosure of an investigation of the attacks would be publicly released soon.

His comments about losses of Iran’s aggressive capabilities because of the US maximum pressure campaign dovetailed with a new message that US officials have been emphasizing.

As it has become clear that the pressure campaign will not get Tehran to shift its policies in the direction that the US wants in the near future, US officials have started to emphasize a more limited goal of weakening Iran.

“Our maximum pressure campaign is working by nearly every measure. The Iranian regime and its proxies are weaker today than they were two years ago,” said Hook.

Besides discussing reduced Iranian military capabilities, he listed off reduced Iranian support for Hezbollah, Hamas, Iranian militias in Syria and for the Assad regime itself to help show that weakening Tehran has weakened its proxies as well.

Further, he said that the US is “working with other countries which issue flags” to the Islamic republic’s naval vessels to strip “Iranian tankers of the maritime flags they need to sail.” He said 80 Iranian tankers had lost their flags to date.

Finally, he said that the EU countries’ special purpose vehicle – INSTEX, a mechanism designed to circumvent US sanctions on Iran – has been nearly useless to date.

Hook said that corporations were so uninterested in risking sanctions from the US, that the US was not even getting clarification questions from them about trying to walk the fine line between selling Iran humanitarian products that do not violate the sanctions.

Regarding the use of force, Hook said that the US would use military force if its interests were assaulted by Iran.

At the same time, he said that the US repositioning of military assets into the region have had the “desired deterrent effect” on Iran.

He added that earlier intelligence that Iran was ready to “imminently” carry out an attack against the US or its interests have been addressed by moving US forces.

Addressing whether the US would allow powers like China and India to still import small amounts of Iranian oil, the US Iran czar reiterated administration policy that, “There will be no more oil waivers granted.”

The US is pursuing a “maximum pressure campaign” of sanctions against Iran to pressure it back to the negotiating table for a new nuclear deal that would seek to fill loopholes in the 2015 nuclear deal that the Obama administration signed.

 

Hamas leader Sinwar threatens to attack Tel Aviv with double force

May 30, 2019

Source: Hamas leader Sinwar threatens to attack Tel Aviv with double force – Arab-Israeli Conflict – Jerusalem Post

The Hamas leader flatly rejected any peace initiative coming from the US president, saying that “all transactions aimed at eliminating the Palestinian issue will fail.”

BY URI BOLLAG
 MAY 30, 2019 19:47

Yahya Sinwar

Hamas leader Yahya Sinwar on Thursday threatened Israel ahead of Jerusalem Day and used the opportunity to reject US President Donald Trump’s peace plan and the Bahrain summit.

“Trump wants to sell Jerusalem to the Zionists without paying a price,” Sinwar said, according to Channel 12 News. “I call him from here and say that I and the Palestinian people will be demonstrating along the [Gaza] fence in light of of Jerusalem Day in numbers that have not been seen before.”

Sinwar threatened to attack Tel Aviv and other cities with double the force if “the enemy dares to attack once again.”

He claimed that Hamas improved its technology since the self-made rockets they shot at Tel Aviv in Operation Protective Edge in 2014.

“We developed our capabilities, and we also received financial and military support from Iran,” Sinwar said. “We will only continue and improve our capabilities. If Iran had not supported us in recent years, we would not have achieved what we achieved.”

He further claimed that Hamas launched over 1,000 rockets “at the enemy” in the confrontation before the last, including Iranian-produced grad missiles.

The Hamas leader also flatly rejected any peace initiative coming from the US president – saying that “all transactions aimed at eliminating the Palestinian issue will fail,” – and called on the Arab world to do the same.

“Anyone who deals with the issue of Jerusalem is an enemy to us, and we have no dialogue with him. I call upon the leaders of the Arab countries – if you want to keep your seats, you have no choice but to choose our option, the option of liberating Palestine,” he insisted.

Sinwar promised to continue to imbue the Palestinian people with the rejection of the Jewish state.

“Generation after generation we will continue to bring to our hearts the concept of struggle… until the end of the occupation,” he stated.

Referring to the Bahrain “economic workshop,” scheduled to take place at the end of June, he urged Arab representatives who announced their participation that  “when the time comes, do not leave the houses.”

 

Iran’s crude oil exports plummet sharply in May

May 30, 2019

Source: Iran’s crude oil exports plummet sharply in May – www.israelhayom.com

Exports have fallen to around 400,000 barrels per day, down from at least 2.5 million barrels per day in April 2018, according to tanker data and industry experts. Still, definitive information is hard to come by because Iranian tankers often disable their automatic tracking systems.

Iranian crude exports have fallen sharply in May to around 400,000 barrels per day (bpd), tanker data showed and two industry sources said after the U.S. tightened the screws on Tehran’s main source of income.

The United States reimposed sanctions on Iran in November after pulling out of a 2015 nuclear accord between Tehran and the six world powers. Aiming to cut Iran’s sales to zero, Washington this month ended sanctions waivers for importers of Iranian oil.

Iran has nonetheless sent abroad about 400,000 bpd so far this month, according to data from Refinitiv Eikon and two industry sources who also track the flows, less than half April’s rate. The bulk of the crude is heading to Asia.

The drop in exports has tightened the market, supported prices and deeply reduced Iran’s revenue. A dearth of information about the exact rate of shipments is a headache for other OPEC members and allies, which are scheduled to meet to set oil supply policy in June.

“I am expecting exports of about 400,000 bpd,” one of the sources said, which would be an increase from around 250,000 bpd in the first two weeks of the month. The second source said May exports could reach as much as 500,000 bpd.

There is no definitive information on the export rate. Iran has welcomed this opacity and stopped reporting its production figures to the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries. An Iranian official on Tuesday declined to comment.

Some of Iran’s oil exports are already under the radar, making it harder to assess the actual volume.

The latest figure for May exports shows more consensus on how much oil is still reaching the market than an estimate published on May 16, in which shipments were placed between 250,000 bpd and 500,000 bpd.

The oil industry has for some years used tanker-tracking to work out actual supplies in the absence of timely official information. While easier than in the past due to satellite information, tanker tracking is not an exact science.

Tankers loading Iranian crude sometimes switch off their AIS signal, an automatic tracking system used on ships, only to switch it back on at a later stage of their journey, according to oil industry sources, making it harder to see actual volumes.

Still, there is general agreement that crude shipments have dropped from at least 2.5 million bpd in April 2018, the month before President Donald Trump withdrew the U.S. from the nuclear deal.

 

Hezbollah is looking for its next opportunity 

May 30, 2019

Source: Hezbollah is looking for its next opportunity – www.israelhayom.com

Hezbollah is trying to recoup from its losses in Syria and Israel’s exposure of its tunnels, but that doesn’t mean the organization has forgotten its main goal – to strike a painful blow to Israel that will echo throughout the Middle East.

With all the astonishment at Hezbollah’s impressive tunnel project, the tunnels themselves were just a tool that the organization intended to use to implement its plan to attack the Galilee.

It was a grandiose plan that entailed sending hundreds of fighters into Israeli territory, all at once, to occupy territory and commit killings and abductions, creating an unprecedented effect that would echo throughout the Middle East for years and make Hezbollah the first Arab entity to not only bring the war to Israel, but also cause physical and mental harm the like of which Israel has never known.

Fighters from Hezbollah’s elite Radwan Unit, named after one of the nicknames for Imad Mughniyeh, the Hezbollah military commander who was killed in Damascus in 2008 in an action that is attributed to Israel, was supposed to carry out the incursion. The unit, which was established for the purpose of executing covert actions against Israel, has been fighting in the Syrian war for the past several years, gaining extensive operational experience while suffering heavy casualties.

At the end of the war in Syria, most of the Radwan fighters returned to Lebanon, and in the past few months have been moving to the south of the country. We cannot assume this means that Hezbollah is looking for a war with Israel. The opposite: the organization is still licking its wounds, as well as suffering from the exposure and destruction of its tunnels, and is in financial trouble due to the economic situation in Iran, which led Tehran to slash funding for Hezbollah. It certainly won’t rush into another, much more difficult, war.

Nevertheless, the unit – with its special capabilities – continuing to dig in southern Lebanon shows that Hezbollah has not given up its basic intentions and its intensive preparations for its next war with Israel. The exposure of its tunnels certainly requires it to change its operational plans, but the basic idea remains the same: a ground operation heading south, toward the Galilee, with the purpose of wreaking death and destruction.

Radwan is supposed to spearhead the action, which will be accompanied by a storm of rockets, mortars, anti-tank missiles, drones, and plenty of other tactics. All of these comprise a real challenge for Israel, certainly as Radwan closes the distance as it continues to move south. For Israel, that carries certain advantages: a unit of that size needs a train of logistic and command support, which provides plenty of targets.

After the success of the IDF’s Northern Shield operation, this will be the Northern Command’s main challenge for the foreseeable future – to expose any new plans Hezbollah comes up with and prepare a double response, one that will deter Hezbollah and root out its desire to fight, or if not – will guarantee major achievements for the IDF.

Still, make no mistake – despite Israel’s victories, Hezbollah is a serious, devious enemy that is the IDF’s biggest challenge right now. The recent blows to its operations will not cause it to take its eyes off its goal, which is to attack Israel. To do so, Hezbollah will stop at nothing – above or underground.