Archive for July 20, 2019

Bahraini FM: If not for Iran’s support of Hamas, we’d be closer to Mideast peace 

July 20, 2019

Source: Bahraini FM: If not for Iran’s support of Hamas, we’d be closer to Mideast peace | The Times of Israel

Official in Palestinian terror group lambastes Khalid bin Ahmed Al Khalifa for photo with Israeli counterpart, says it shows ‘just how pro-Zionist some Arab officials have become’

Bahraini Foreign Minister Khalid bin Ahmed Al Khalifa at the Atlantic Council in Washington, DC, July 17, 2019 (YouTube screenshot)

Bahraini Foreign Minister Khalid bin Ahmed Al Khalifa at the Atlantic Council in Washington, DC, July 17, 2019 (YouTube screenshot)

Bahraini Foreign Minister Khalid bin Ahmed Al Khalifa has said that if it were not for Iran’s support of Hamas and other armed groups in the Gaza Strip, Israel and the Palestinians would be nearer to peace.

Iran is a backer of the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, the Hamas terror group’s armed wing, and the al-Quds Brigades, Islamic Jihad’s military branch.

“We don’t want to let this issue [of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict] continue to be used by countries or terror groups that seek dominance in the region. And that will bring us to the issue of Iran,” the top Bahraini diplomat said Wednesday at an Atlantic Council event in Washington, DC.

“If it wasn’t for Iran being present — Iranian soldiers, Iranian money, Iranian support for Hamas and jihadis that take control of Gaza — we would have been much closer to achieving a better peace between the Palestinians and Israelis and we would have a better chance,” he said. “But that role was so toxic that it would make things difficult every time.”

Foreign Minister Israel Katz and his Bahraini counterpart Khalid bin Ahmed Al-Khalifa (R) pose for a photograph at the State Department in Washington on July 17, 2019. (Courtesy)

Like Israel, Bahrain has long vociferously criticized Iran over its support for armed groups in the Middle East. Iran also supports the Houthi rebels in Yemen, the Popular Mobilization Units in Iraq and Syrian President Bashar Assad’s government.

The footage of the Bahraini foreign minister’s comments only surfaced on Friday, when the Atlantic Council posted them to its YouTube page.

Khalifa had also said his country was interested in future tourism and trade with the Jewish state, but added that it was “too early” to discuss such moves. “We want to get there.”

In a first this week, Khalifa posed for a photo with Israeli Foreign Minister Israel Katz. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has increasingly touted the country’s growing ties to Arab states through both open and clandestine channels. On Thursday the Foreign Ministry even said Katz and Netanyahu were hoping to work towards peace agreements with Gulf nations in the coming years.

Bahraini Foreign Minister Khalid bin Ahmed Al Khalifa speaks with the Times of Israel on the sidelines of the Peace to Prosperity workshop in Manama, Bahrain, on June 26, 2019. (Courtesy)

But while Khalifa spoke of the Israeli people wanting and deserving “peace of mind in their lives and for the future generations,” he stressed that “as much as the Israelis have the right to their own country, the Palestinians have the right to their own country, on their own land.

“They have been there for millennia. And there’s no way that we ignore their right to belonging to that land,” he said.

Meanwhile Hamas censured Khalifa for his photo with Katz.

“The warm photo of Bahrain and the occupation’s foreign ministers reflects just how pro-Zionist some Arab officials have become,” Hamas official Sami Abu Zuhri tweeted. “These meetings and photos are a betrayal of Jerusalem and Palestine and they will not succeed in undermining the consciousness of the nation or pushing it to give up on Palestine or normalizing the occupation.”

Jason Greenblatt, one of US President Donald Trump’s Middle East peace envoys, posted the photo to Twitter on Thursday and said the two foreign ministers took part in a “friendly exchange.”

Jason D. Greenblatt


Terrific progress in Washington this week for Israel, Bahrain & the region – @Israel_katz & @khalidalkhalifa friendly exchange at the @StateDept Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom

View image on Twitter

Katz said he and Khalifa “discussed Iran, regional threats and bilateral relations, and agreed to remain in contact.”

Israel and Bahrain do not maintain formal diplomatic relations. Both countries, however, have vociferously criticized Iran over its support for armed groups in a number of countries in the Middle East.

Hamas, an Islamist terror group that has vowed to destroy Israel, has urged Arab states against engagement or normalization with Israel.

In late June, Bahrain hosted an American-led workshop which focused on the economic portion of the US administration’s long-awaited proposal to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, fifth from left, and Bahrain Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa, sixth from left, listen to White House senior adviser Jared Kushner, standing, during the opening session of the ‘Peace to Prosperity’ workshop in Manama, Bahrain on June 25, 2019. (Bahrain News Agency via AP)

While no Israeli officials attended the summit in Manama, a number of Israeli businessmen and journalists did so.

Hamas and the Ramallah-based Palestinian leadership fiercely opposed the conference in the Bahraini capital.

The Palestine Liberation Organization asserted that the conference’s economic focus sought to undermine its aspirations for statehood. It also accused the US of attempting to use the gathering to normalize Israel’s status in the Arab world.

In an interview with The Times of Israel on the sidelines of the summit, Khalifa expressed hope for better relations and eventually “peace” with Israel — a country he nonchalantly declared a part of the region and “there to stay.”


Delegation of senior Hamas officials arrives in Tehran

July 20, 2019

Source: Delegation of senior Hamas officials arrives in Tehran | The Times of Israel

Terror group leader Ismail Haniyeh says mission in Iran for a few days, ‘expecting important results,’ remains mum on its specific goals

Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh speaks during a meeting with foreign reporters in Gaza City on June 20, 2019 (Mohammed Abed/AFP)

Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh speaks during a meeting with foreign reporters in Gaza City on June 20, 2019 (Mohammed Abed/AFP)

Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh said Saturday that a delegation of senior officials from the terror group had arrived in Tehran for a visit.

Haniyeh was mum about the purpose of the mission. The delegation was headed by the leader of the group’s military wing in the West Bank, Saleh al-Arouri, the Maariv news site reported.

“The visit will go on for a few days. We’re expecting important results,” Haniyeh said.

Iran is a backer of the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, the Hamas terror group’s armed wing, and the al-Quds Brigades, Islamic Jihad’s military branch.

According to the London-based publication Middle East Monitor, described as a pro-Hamas outlet by the BBC, a Hamas delegation met with Iranian officials in Beirut on Friday at the Iranian embassy.

The delegation, which according to the report includes Hamas’ Lebanon representative Ahmed Abdel Hadi, met with the special aide to the President of the Iranian Shura Council, Hossein Amirabdollahian, and briefed him on “the latest developments” and reactions to the US peace plan.

Last month, Washington unveiled the details of the economic aspect of the US peace plan, dubbed “the deal of the century,” saying it would inject $50 billion into struggling economies in the Middle East over the next ten years.

The plan was unveiled in Bahrain in June by White House adviser Jared Kushner, US President Donald Trump’s son-in-law, who hailed it as a “success.”

The proposal — which aims in 10 years to create a million new jobs, slashing unemployment and improving living standards in the West Bank, Gaza and across the Middle East — has been rejected by Palestinians because it does not include a framework for resolving their conflict with Israel. US officials say the political portion of the plan addressing the longstanding thorny issues may not be released until fall.

The summit was boycotted by the Palestinian Authority and thus did not include any official Palestinian delegation. Hamas, vowed to Israel’s destruction, accused Kushner of becoming a “spokesman for the Israeli occupation.”

On Saturday, Haniyeh said Hamas did not oppose establishing a temporary Palestinian state based on 1967 borders but maintained the group’s view that Israel’s control over any lands was illegitimate. He made the comments to a group of Turkish reporters, the Ynet news site reported.

On Friday, several thousand Palestinians gathered near the Hamas-run Gaza Strip’s border with Israel to take part in weekly protests near the fence.

Some 6,000 people reportedly took part in the demonstrations. The Israeli army said some rioters hurled rocks and explosive devices at the border fence and that troops were responding with less-lethal means as well as live fire in several cases where suspects attempted to sabotage or break through the border.

A Palestinian protester hurls rocks at an Israeli army vehicle during clashes between Palestinian protesters and Israeli forces across the barbed-wire fence during a border demonstration near Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on July 19, 2019. (SAID KHATIB / AFP)

The Hamas-run health ministry in Gaza said over 100 people had been injured in the demonstrations, around half of whom were hit by live fire. Also hurt were four paramedics and two reporters, the ministry said.

Channel 12 news reported that an Israel Defense Forces vehicle was hit by a bullet during the demonstrations, but no one was hurt.

Egyptian security officials had held talks with Palestinian leaders in recent days, in part to prevent a new flare-up of tensions between Israel and the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip.

Fresh tensions were feared last weekend after Israel shot dead a Hamas field commander along the border, prompting the Islamist terror organization to vow revenge.

Israel later signaled it had fired in error, saying an initial inquiry showed the Hamas member, Mahmoud Ahmad Sabri al-Adham, had been erroneously identified by soldiers as an armed terrorist, but was apparently an operative trying to stop Palestinian youths from breaching the security fence.

Under the fragile ceasefire brokered by Egyptian and UN officials following a severe flareup in May, Israel is meant to ease aspects of its blockade on the coastal enclave in exchange for relative calm. Israel maintains that the blockade is necessary to prevent arms from entering Gaza that could be used in attacks against it.

Supporters of Hamas attend a rally marking the terror group’s founding in Gaza City on December 14, 2015. (Emad Nassar/Flash90)

Al-Adham’s death threatened to spark another round of large-scale violence between Israel and terror groups in Gaza. Throughout the past year and a half, the two sides have fought several bouts — with terror groups firing mortar shells, rockets and missiles at Israeli cities and towns, and the IDF retaliating with airstrikes — often sparked by smaller incidents along the border.

Last week at the protests a senior Hamas official called for members of the Palestinian diaspora to kill Jews around the world, but was forced to walk back his comments as the terrorist group distanced itself from his remarks.

Fathi Hammad, a Hamas politburo member considered a hardliner and known for his fiery rhetoric, said: “We must attack every Jew on the globe by way of slaughter and killing.”

His comments were condemned by PA and UN officials as well as by leaders of his own group.


As sanctions choke Iran, Hezbollah said deploying for war on Israel’s border

July 20, 2019

Source: As sanctions choke Iran, Hezbollah said deploying for war on Israel’s border | The Times of Israel

Lebanese terror group commanders say forces being sent to south for possible conflict, as pressure on Tehran grows

Hezbollah supporters take part in a rally to mark al-Quds day in Beirut, Lebanon, May 31, 2019. (AP Photo/Hassan Ammar)

As tensions rose in the Persian Gulf over the weekend with Iran’s seizure of a British-flagged tanker, several commanders of Lebanese terror group Hezbollah, an Iranian proxy, said they were deploying forces for possible war with Israel, warning that the growing pressure from sanctions on Tehran could trigger such a conflict sooner rather than later.

Officers in the organization told the Daily Beast in a report published Friday that its forces were setting up for war on both Lebanon’s and Syria’s border with Israel.

“We will fire the first shot this time,” said “Samir,” identified as a Hezbollah officer commanding 800 fighters on the border with Israel. He did not give his real name as he is not allowed to speak to the media. “The sanctions now have us preparing for dealing with the Israeli front,” he told the US publication.

The 2006 Second Lebanon War began after Hezbollah launched a surprise attack on an Israel Defense Forces patrol on the northern border in July that year, killing three Israeli soldiers and capturing the bodies of two of them.

Samir, a veteran of that war, spoke of the group’s greatly improved capabilities, as well as new weaponry targeting aircraft and naval vessels acquired in Syria and a more “seasoned” fighting force after years of battle in the country alongside forces loyal to President Bashar Assad.

Illustrative image of a tank flying the Hezbollah terror group’s flag seen in the Qara area in Syria’s Qalamoun region on August 28, 2017 (AFP Photo/Louai Beshara)

Samir said Hezbollah had been wanting to open a new front with Israel but was held back by Assad.

“Our wish before the war in Syria was to go and open a front in the Golan but [the Syrian Government] set a red line,” the commander said, describing the limits the Assad regime placed on Hezbollah’s operations in its territory. “Now there are no red lines.”

Samir indicated that a new conflict with Israel would be “nothing like those that came before.” And he said Hezbollah could be deployed if Iran is pushed into a corner.

“If any missile hits Iran, it will be treated like Israel did it,” he said.

Samir said the punitive measures on Iran were being felt by the terror group as Tehran reduced financial support and salaries for Hezbollah fighters were cut.

Another commander, “Assir,” noted that many Hezbollah fighters returning from the conflict in Syria were being sent to the Israeli border.

“People who finish their mission in Syria go to the south,” he said. “There are some units in Syria but a lot go back to Lebanon or to the Golan. Thousands have come back.”

A third commander who spoke to the Daily Beast, identified as “Ayman,” said that despite military readiness, there was a strong desire to avoid war as the devastation of the 2006 conflict is well remembered.

The 34-day war saw thousands of rockets rain down on Israel’s northern region and claimed the lives 160 Israelis, most of them soldiers, and nearly 1,200 Lebanese, including several hundred Hezbollah fighters, according to the Israeli army.

In the 13 years since that summer war, Israel has repeatedly accused Hezbollah of violating United Nations resolution 1701, which ended the war. In June, the head of the IDF Northern Command, Maj. Gen. Amir Baram, threatened overt and covert action against Hezbollah and Lebanon, in response to its efforts to build up terrorist infrastructure along the border.

Hezbollah, Baram said, was “building infrastructure in the villages right here across [the border] and trying to threaten us with attack forces.”

The Northern Command chief said that in a future war against the terror group the country of Lebanon was likely to “pay a heavy price” for allowing Hezbollah to take root there.

The head of IDF Northern Command, Amir Baram, speaks at a memorial ceremony for the 2006 Second Lebanon War, on June 11, 2019. (Israel Defense Forces)

“Hezbollah’s loyalty was and remains to the supreme leader of Iran, not to the citizens of Lebanon. As a direct result of this, the nation of Lebanon will pay a heavy price in the next campaign for cooperating with Shiite terror,” Baram said, referring to the sect of Islam practiced by Hezbollah and Iran.

Since the Syrian civil war began in 2011, the Israeli military has acknowledged carrying out hundreds of airstrikes in Syria on targets linked to Iran and Hezbollah.

Israel has accused Iran of seeking to establish a military presence in Syria that could threaten Israeli security and attempting to transfer advanced weaponry to Hezbollah, which Jerusalem has vowed to prevent.

Building tensions

Tensions between Iran and the West have escalated in recent months amid a deepening standoff between the Islamic Republic and the United States over Tehran’s nuclear program, with a string of incidents involving tankers and drones.

The latest involved Iran’s seizure of a British oil tanker in the strategic Strait of Hormuz which it said was in response to Britain’s role in impounding an Iranian supertanker two weeks earlier. At the same time, the country’s foreign minister insisted Iran was simply maintaining maritime law.

Spokesman of Iran’s Guardian Council, Abbas Ali Kadkhodaei, was quoted on Saturday in the semi-official Fars news agency as saying “the rule of reciprocal action is well-known in international law” and that Iran’s moves to “confront the illegitimate economic war and seizure of oil tankers is an instance of this rule and is based on international rights.”

The council rarely comments on state matters, but when it does it is seen as a reflection of the supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s views. The council works closely with Khamenei, who has final say on all state matters.

Concurrently, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif tweeted: “Unlike the piracy in the Strait of Gibraltar, our action in the Persian Gulf is to uphold int’l maritime rules.”

The British-flagged and Swedish-owned Stena Impero tanker with 23 crew aboard was seized by Iran late Friday. Maritime trackers show it was headed to a port in Saudi Arabia.

On July 4, Britain’s Royal Marines took part in the seizure of an Iranian oil tanker carrying more than 2 million barrels of Iranian crude oil by Gibraltar, a British overseas territory off the southern coast of Spain.

Britain has said it would release the vessel if Iran could prove it was not breaching European Union sanctions on oil shipments to Syria. However, on Friday, a court in Gibraltar extended by 30 days the detention of the Panama-flagged Grace 1.

The Grace 1 super tanker in the British territory of Gibraltar, July 4, 2019. (AP Photo/Marcos Moreno)

Iranian authorities had reported earlier Saturday that Iran had seized the British-flagged vessel late Friday after it rammed an Iranian fishing vessel — an explanation that portrayed the seizure as a technicality rather than a tit-for-tat move in the current tense climate.

The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps said it seized the Stena Impero for breaking “international maritime rules” in the strait, a choke-point for around a third of the world’s sea-borne oil. The tanker was impounded off Bandar Abbas port for allegedly failing to respond to distress calls and turning off its transponder after colliding with a fishing vessel, authorities said.

Britain initially said Iran had seized two ships in the Gulf, but the British owner of the Liberian-flagged Mesdar said it had been released after being temporarily boarded by armed personnel.

Meanwhile, European powers urged Iran on Saturday to release the British-flagged tanker in what Britain called a “dangerous” move.

British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said Friday’s incident showed “worrying signs Iran may be choosing a dangerous path of illegal and destabilizing behavior.”

“Our reaction will be considered but robust. We have been trying to find a way to resolve the Grace 1 issue but WILL ensure the safety of our shipping,” said Hunt.

In this undated photo issued July 19, 2019, by Stena Bulk, showing the British oil tanker Stena Impero at unknown location, which is believed to have been captured by Iran. (Stena Bulk via AP)

Hunt warned that “if this situation is not resolved quickly there will be serious consequences.”

But, he told Sky News, “we’re not looking at military options, we are looking at a diplomatic way to resolve the situation.”

The British government advised British ships to avoid the Strait of Hormuz for “an interim period.”

“We remain deeply concerned about Iran’s unacceptable actions, which represent a clear challenge to international freedom of navigation,” a spokeswoman said after an overnight meeting of Britain’s COBRA emergencies committee.

Germany and France also urged Iran to release the tanker, whose seizure Berlin called a “dangerous further aggravation of an already tense situation.”

The Guards said Thursday they had seized another “foreign tanker” and its crew days earlier for allegedly smuggling fuel, without giving further details.

Trump said Friday’s incident “only goes to show what I’m saying about Iran: trouble. Nothing but trouble.”

The Stena Impero had been heading for Saudi Arabia on Friday when it hit a fishing vessel, according to port authorities at Bandar Abbas, off which the tanker is now anchored. Allah-Morad Afifipoor, director-general of the Hormozgan province port and maritime authority, said experts would investigate the incident.

The tanker “has 23 crew and they are all on the ship,” he said, quoted by the Fars news agency.

The Philippines said 18 Indians, three Russians, a Latvian and a Filipino were aboard. Both Manila and New Delhi said they had contacted Tehran to seek their nationals’ release.

Afifipoor said the fishermen had issued a distress call after the collision, contacting the port authority when they “didn’t receive any response.”

“One of the reasons the British tanker was seized for further investigation was that for a period of time it was moving on its route with its transponder turned off,” he told ILNA news agency.

Tracking service MarineTraffic showed the Stena Impero had last signaled its location near the island of Larak at 9:00 p.m. (1630 GMT).

Its owner said the ship was transiting the Strait and was in “international waters” when it was “attacked by unidentified small crafts and a helicopter.”

The incident came as US President Donald Trump and American officials insisted, despite denials from Tehran, that the US military had downed an Iranian drone that was threatening an American naval vessel in the Strait.

Trump said the drone had been threatening amphibious assault ship the USS Boxer.

The Revolutionary Guards released video footage they said disproved the US claims.

Footage Iran says was taken by one of its drones after the US claimed to have brought it down in the Strait of Hormuz, July 19, 2019 (video screenshot)

The seven-minute video, apparently shot from high altitude, shows a convoy of ships the Guards said they were tracking as they passed through the Strait. The vessels could not be immediately identified, although one resembles the USS Boxer.

As tensions soared, Iran’s arch-rival Saudi Arabia said it would once again host US troops to boost regional security.

The Pentagon said the deployment “ensures our ability to defend our forces and interests in the region from emergent, credible threats.”

The US military also said its patrol aircraft were monitoring the Strait, and announced a “multinational maritime effort” to ensure freedom of navigation in key waterways.

The escalation comes more than a year after Washington unilaterally withdrew from the 2015 Iran nuclear agreement and began ratcheting up sanctions against Tehran.

Earlier this month, Iran exceeded the deal’s caps on uranium enrichment, aiming to pressure the remaining parties to make good on promises to help prop up its economy.

Tehran has repeatedly threatened to close the Strait if attacked.


Iran’s seizure of UK tanker in Gulf seen as escalation

July 20, 2019

Source: Iran’s seizure of UK tanker in Gulf seen as escalation

In this May 5, 2019 photo issued by Karatzas Images, showing the British oil tanker Stena Impero at unknown location, which is believed to have been captured by Iran. Iran’s Revolutionary Guard announced on their website Friday July 19, 2019, it has seized a British oil tanker in the Strait of Hormuz, the latest provocation in a strategic waterway that has become a flashpoint in the tensions between Tehran and the West. (Basil M. Karatzas, Karatzas Images via AP) MANDATORY CREDIT

LONDON (AP) — Iran seized a British-flagged oil tanker Friday and briefly detained a second vessel in the Strait of Hormuz, intensifying tensions in the strategic waterway that has become a flashpoint between Tehran and the West.

The seizing of the British tanker marked perhaps the most significant escalation since tensions between Iran and the West began rising in May. At that time, the U.S. announced it was dispatching an aircraft carrier and additional troops to the Middle East, citing unspecified threats posed by Iran.

The ongoing showdown has caused jitters around the globe, with each maneuver bringing fear that any misunderstanding or misstep by either side could lead to war.

Details of what took place Friday remained sketchy after Iran reported that it had seized a British oil tanker in the Strait of Hormuz. The strait at the mouth of the Persian Gulf is a shipping channel for one-fifth of all global crude exports.

The Stena Impero was taken to an Iranian port because it was not complying with “international maritime laws and regulations,” Iran’s Revolutionary Guard declared.

A statement from Stena Bulk, which owns the seized tanker, said it was unable to make contact with the ship after it was approached by unidentified vessels and a helicopter in international waters. A spokesman for the company’s owners said the tanker was in “full compliance with all navigation and international regulations.”

The company said the tanker had 23 crew members of Indian, Russian, Latvian and Filipino nationalities and there were no reports of any of them were injured.

The U.K. has featured prominently in the recent tensions with Iran. Britain’s Royal Marines assisted in the seizure of an Iranian oil supertanker on July 4 by Gibraltar, a British overseas territory off the southern coast of Spain.

Britain said it would release the vessel if Iran could prove it was not breaching European Union sanctions on oil shipments to Syria.

Gibraltar’s government said Friday that its Supreme Court had extended by 30 days the detention of the Panama-flagged Grace, which was loaded with over 2 million barrels of Iranian crude oil.

British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt initially said two ships were seized Friday in the Strait of Hormuz, the second sailing under a Liberian flag.

The owner of the Liberian-flagged tanker later said the ship was briefly boarded by armed guards before being allowed to go. Iran’s semi-official Fars news agency tweeted that the Mesdar had left Iran’s territorial waters.

“These seizures are unacceptable,” Hunt said as he prepared to enter an emergency government meeting Friday night. “It is essential that freedom of navigation is maintained and that all ships can move safely and freely in the region.”

“We’re not looking at military options, we’re looking at a diplomatic way to resolve the situation, but we are very clear that it must be resolved,” Hunt later told Sky News, warning that if the situation is not resolved quickly “there will be serious consequences.”

U.K. Chamber of Shipping chief executive Bob Sanguinetti said the seizure represented a severe escalation of tensions in the Gulf and made it clear that merchant vessels urgently needed more protection.

The British government should do “whatever is necessary” to ensure the safe and swift return of the ship’s crew, Sanguinetti said.

President Donald Trump said U.S. officials would talk with Britain about the unfolding crisis.

“This only goes to show what I’m saying about Iran: Trouble, nothing but trouble,” he said.

Central Command said the U.S. has intensified air patrols over the Strait of Hormuz in response to the seizure.

A Central Command spokesman, Lt. Col. Earl Brown, said a small number of additional patrol aircraft are flying in international airspace to monitor the situation.

The incident came two days after Washington claimed that a U.S. warship downed an Iranian drone in the strait. Iran denied that it lost an aircraft in the area.

On June 20, Iran shot down an American drone in the same waterway, and Trump came close to retaliating but called off an airstrike at the last moment.

Tensions in the region have been escalating since Trump withdrew the U.S. last year from Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal with world powers and imposed sweeping economic sanctions on Iran, including its oil exports. The sanctions have hit the Iranian economy hard.

Iran’s government has desperately tried to get out of the chokehold, pressuring the other partners in the nuclear deal, particularly European nations, to pressure the U.S. to lift the crippling sanctions.

The Europeans — Germany, France, Britain, and the European Union — want to maintain the deal, but have not been able to address Iranian demands without violating the sanctions. Iran has begun breaching some of the restrictions on its activities outlined in the agreement to put pressure on them to find a solution.

The U.S. has asked Mideast allies like Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates in past weeks to contribute financially and militarily to a Trump administration proposal called the Sentinel Program — a coalition of nations working with the U.S. to preserve maritime security in the Persian Gulf and keep eyes on Iran.

Late Friday, officials said the U.S. is sending several hundred troops as well as aircraft and air defense missiles to Saudi Arabia to counter Iran. The move has been in the works for many weeks and is not a response to Friday’s seizure by Iran of a British tanker.

The arrangement was announced by the Saudi government, which said it was meant to “enhance security” in the region.

Before the British ship was seized, Iran and the United States disagreed over Washington’s claim that a U.S. warship downed the Iranian drone. American officials said they used electronic jamming to bring down the unmanned aircraft, while Iran said it simply didn’t happen.

Neither side provided evidence to prove its claim.

At the White House, Trump said flatly of the Iranian drone: “We shot it down.” But Pentagon and other officials have said repeatedly that the USS Boxer, a Navy ship in the Strait of Hormuz, actually jammed the drone’s signal, causing it to crash, and did not fire a missile. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive technology.

In Tehran, the Iranian military said all its drones returned safely to their bases.

Maritime security in the Strait of Hormuz has deteriorated in recent weeks after six attacks on oil tankers that the U.S. has blamed on Iran — an allegation the Islamic Republic denies.

There was also a brief, but tense standoff between the British navy and Iranian Revolutionary Guard vessels recently. The British navy said it warned three Guard vessels away after they tried to impede the passage of a commercial British tanker that the navy was escorting.

The incidents have jolted the shipping industry, with some of the 2,000 companies operating ships in the region on high alert and many ordering their vessels to transit the Strait of Hormuz only during the daylight hours and at high speed.

Of the roughly 2,000 companies that operate ships in the Persian Gulf, only a handful of companies have halted bookings outright.

U.K.-flagged vessels represented less than 0.6% of the 67,533 ships sailing through the Strait of Hormuz in 2018, with 427 transits, according to maritime publication Lloyd’s List, quoting research from Russel Group.

Crude oil prices climbed following Iran’s announcement about the Stena Impero as traders worried the escalating tensions could affect crude supplies.


Jill Lawless in London, Aya Batrawy in Dubai, United Arab Emirates and David Rising in Berlin contributed.