Archive for July 26, 2019

In fresh challenge, defiant Iran tests medium-range missile – report 

July 26, 2019

Source: In fresh challenge, defiant Iran tests medium-range missile – report | The Times of Israel

Tehran said to fire Shahab-3 ballistic missile, believed to be capable of carrying nuclear warhead, violating Security Council resolution

An Iranian Shahab-3 missile launched during military exercises outside the city of Qom, Iran, in June 2011. (AP/ISNA/Ruhollah Vahdati)

Illustrative: An Iranian Shahab-3 missile launched during military exercises outside the city of Qom, Iran, in June 2011. (AP/ISNA/Ruhollah Vahdati)

After openly breaching the terms of the nuclear deal, Iran this week also conducted a medium-range ballistic missile test in violation of Security Council resolutions, a report said late Thursday.

The country tested a Shahab-3 missile on Wednesday, the New York Times reported, citing an unnamed US military official.

It was launched from southern Iran and flew some 1,100 kilometers, landing east of Tehran, the report said.

The military source said the missile did not pose a threat to US or Western assets in the region, and that US officials had closely monitored the activity that preceded the launch.

The report said that the missile test “appears to be a political statement by Iran, acting both as a carefully calibrated effort at escalation — and as a message to Europe,” and that it “seemed meant to drive home the point that Iran had no intention on giving up on its own missile fleet.”

Earlier this month, the United Nation’s nuclear watchdog confirmed that Iran had enriched uranium at a level higher than the limit set in the landmark 2015 nuclear deal, which US President Donald Trump left last year. European signatories have since been trying to save the pact.

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

However, a UN Security Council resolution was passed at the time of the deal’s signing prohibiting Iran from testing ballistic missiles capable of carrying nuclear warheads. The Shahab-3 is widely believed to be capable of delivering a nuclear warhead.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif arrives to speak at a high level political forum on sustainable development on July 17, 2019 at UN Headquarters in New York. (Kena Betancur/AFP)

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif last week seemed to indicate Tehran’s missile program was up for negotiations, saying in an NBC News interview that if the US wants to talk about Iran’s missiles, “they need first to stop selling all these weapons, including missiles, to our region.”

Zarif appeared to suggest a high price for such negotiations — the halt of American arms sales to both Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, two key US allies in the Persian Gulf. He said the UAE spent $22 billion and Saudi Arabia $67 billion on weapons last year, many of them American-made, while Iran spent only $16 billion in comparison.

Iran later said the remarks were meant to challenge Washington’s arms sales policy to the region — not to indicate a readiness for any such talks.

Iran has long rejected negotiations over its missile program.

Last week, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said some countries will only wake up to the Iranian threat when nuclear missiles fall on European soil, after the European Union declared that the recent Iranian violations of the nuclear deal were not significant enough to necessitate reimposing sanctions.

An Iranian clergyman looks at domestically built surface to surface missiles displayed by the Revolutionary Guard in a military show marking the 40th anniversary of the Islamic Revolution, at Imam Khomeini Grand Mosque in Tehran, Iran, February 3, 2019. (Vahid Salemi/AP)

Tensions have soared in the Persian Gulf in recent months, with the US calling off airstrikes against Iran at the last minute after Tehran downed an American drone, and Washington blaming the Islamic Republic for a series of attacks on tanker ships.

Iran has faced a variety of economic sanctions by the West since its 1979 Islamic Revolution and the takeover of the US embassy in Tehran. That has cut into its ability to buy advanced weaponry abroad. While Gulf Arab nations have purchased advanced fighter jets, Iran still relies on pre-1979 US fighter jets, as well as aging Soviet MiGs and other planes.

Facing that shortfall, Iran instead invested heavily in its ballistic missile program, which remains under the control of the Iranian paramilitary Revolutionary Guard, which answers only to its supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Khamenei reportedly has restricted the range of ballistic missiles manufactured in Iran to 2,000 kilometers (1,240 miles). While that keeps Europe out of range, it means the Iranian missiles can hit much of the Middle East, including Israel and American military bases in the region. The Islamic Republic frequently threatens to annihilate Israel.

 

6 Iranians among 9 dead in Israeli strike on Syria, monitor says

July 26, 2019

Source: 6 Iranians among 9 dead in Israeli strike on Syria, monitor says | The Times of Israel

Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says early Wednesday attack targeted pro-Iranian militias, military positions and intelligence facilities

Illustrative: Explosions seen near Damascus on July 1, 2019, during a purported Israeli airstrike. (Screen capture/Twitter)

Illustrative: Explosions seen near Damascus on July 1, 2019, during a purported Israeli airstrike. (Screen capture/Twitter)

Six Iranians fighting for the Syrian regime were among those killed in reported Israeli missile strikes in southern Syria this week, a war monitor said Thursday.

Israeli missiles targeted “military positions and intelligence facilities belonging to Iran and [pro-Iranian] militias” in the southern provinces of Daraa and Quneitra early on Wednesday, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

Syrian state media had already reported on Wednesday that the “Israeli enemy launched an aggression” against military positions held by the government and its allies in Daraa province, but did not mention casualties.

The Observatory said Thursday the strikes had killed six Iranians and three pro-regime Syrian fighters.

The Britain-based monitor gathers its information from a vast network of contacts across Syria.

Illustrative: An Israeli F-16 fighter jet fires a ‘Rampage’ air-to-ground rocket in an undated photograph. (Israeli Military Industries Systems and Israel Aerospace Industries)

Israel has carried out hundreds of airstrikes in Syria since the beginning of the conflict in 2011, targeting Iranian and Hezbollah forces in the country, as well as those loyal to the Assad regime, as part of a stated policy to prevent arms transfers to Hezbollah in Lebanon and the entrenchment of Iranian military forces across from Israel’s northern border.

Israel does not usually comment on specific reports of strikes, but does insist it has the right to defend itself by targeting positions held by Iran and Hezbollah.

The area targeted on Wednesday lies close to the Israeli-annexed part of the Golan Heights.

On June 30, Israeli airstrikes killed six civilians, including three children, and nine mostly foreign pro-regime fighters, according to the Observatory.

Regional Cooperation Minister Tzachi Hanegbi boasted Sunday that Israel is the only country in the world that has been “killing Iranians.”

The Syrian conflict has killed at least 370,000 people and drawn in regional and world powers since it started with the brutal repression of anti-government protests.

 

Iran fires ballistic missile 1,000km in provocative test amid tanker row with US and UK

July 26, 2019

Source: Iran fires ballistic missile 1,000km in provocative test amid tanker row with US and UK – The Sun

IRAN has reportedly test fired a ballistic missile amid escalating tensions with the US and UK in the Gulf.

The Shahab-3 missile travelled 1,000km, but did not pose a threat to shipping or US bases, according to a Pentagon official.

 Iran Revolutionary Guards fire a Shahab-3 long-range ballistic missile in 2006 (file)

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Iran Revolutionary Guards fire a Shahab-3 long-range ballistic missile in 2006 (file)Credit: AFP

Iran is believed to have tested the medium-range missile on Wednesday in a bid to improve the “range and accuracy” of its weapons.

News of the provocation emerged after Boris Johnson ordered the Royal Navy to accompany all British-flagged ships through the Strait of Hormuz.

This ramping up of the navy’s protection mission by the new PM comes in the wake of Iran seizing Brit tanker the Stena Impero.

It marks a dramatic escalation of the crisis with Iran following weeks of heightened tensions in the region.

 HMS Montrose is patrolling in the Gulf and is to step up protection of UK shipping

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HMS Montrose is patrolling in the Gulf and is to step up protection of UK shippingCredit: Reuters
 A woman and boy walk past Shahab-2 (L) and Shahab-3 missiles on display in Tehran in 2008 (file)

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A woman and boy walk past Shahab-2 (L) and Shahab-3 missiles on display in Tehran in 2008 (file)Credit: AFP – Getty

Tensions soared following Donald Trump’s decision last year to withdraw from the nuclear deal and impose maximal sanctions on Iran.

In the past few weeks, Iran has shot down a US spy drone and six oil tankers have been sabotaged near the strait.

The US has downed at least one Iranian drone after the USS Boxer took “defensive action” last Thursday – and a second Iranian drone may have been destroyed.

Iran possesses the largest and most diverse missile arsenal in the Middle East, according to the CSIS missile defence project.

IRAN’S MISSILE ARSENAL

While Iran has not yet tested or deployed a missile capable of striking the US, it continues to hone longer-range missile technologies.

The country has short and medium-range ballistic and cruise missiles capable of striking as far as Israel and southeast Europe.

Iran has also become a centre for missile proliferation, supplying proxies such as Hezbollah and Syria’s al-Assad regime with a steady supply of missiles and rockets.

According to the Military Balance, Iran has 32 batteries of Russian-made S-300 ground-to-air missiles that have been delivered by Moscow since 2016.

They are seen as posing a serious threat.

The Islamic Republic has also developed Iranian versions of these missile systems, including the Bavar 373, SAM Tabas and SAM Raad which are regularly displayed at military parades.

The Revolutionary Guards claim that they shot down the US drone with a Khordad 3 missile, a version of the SAM Raad.

 Iran possesses the largest and most diverse missile arsenal in the Middle East, according to the CSIS missile defence project

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Iran possesses the largest and most diverse missile arsenal in the Middle East, according to the CSIS missile defence project

READY TO BLOW Iran’s nuke program

IRAN’S nuclear capabilities have been the subject of concern and debate for more than two decades.

Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei has repeatedly denied Iran is building a bomb and says weapons of mass destruction are forbidden under Islam.

But its enrichment of uranium and history of deception created deep mistrust.

After more than two years of negotiations and threats to bomb the country’s facilities, Iran and world powers agreed in 2015 to settle the dispute.

The deal set limits on the Islamic Republic’s nuclear work in exchange for relief from economic sanctions that had crimped oil exports and hobbled its economy.

Then in May 2018, Donald Trump announced the US was abandoning the pact negotiated under his predecessor and would reinstate sanctions.

Little more than a year later, Iran responded by violating its limits on uranium enrichment.

A think tank believes Tehran’s nuke scientists are ready to massively step up uranium enrichment at the heavily-fortified Fordow Plant.

 Iran's nuclear enrichment site at Fordow has two rings of steel around it, and is buried deep within a rural mountain for protection

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Iran’s nuclear enrichment site at Fordow has two rings of steel around it, and is buried deep within a rural mountain for protection

BOJO’S PROTECTION PLAN

The navy currently has HMS Montrose deployed in the Strait of Hormuz and it has reportedly already carried out the first escort under the new protection plan.

Another surface ship, HMS Duncan, a nuclear powered submarine and Royal Marine Commandos could also be sent to bolster the UK presence.

“The Royal Navy has been tasked to accompany British-flagged ships through the Strait of Hormuz, either individually or in groups, should sufficient notice be given of their passage,” said a government spokesman.

“Freedom of navigation is crucial for the global trading system and world economy, and we will do all we can to defend it.”

The move came just hours after new Prime Minister Boris Johnson took office.

Mr Johnson is close to Donald Trump, who has deployed a large military presence in the Gulf in response to what the US said were Iranian threats.

The current tension between Iran and the UK began when Royal Marines seized an Iranian tanker at the request of the US.

The Grace 1 is currently detained in Gibraltar amid suspicion it was taking oil to Syria in violation of EU sanctions.

CONVOYS

Under the new Royal Navy escort mission, UK-flagged ships have been told to give the Department of Transport sufficient notice of their travel plans in the area, Sky News reports.

Ships might be grouped together in convoys or accompanied individually depending upon how many are travelling on a given day, according to sources.

Britain has been seeking to put together a European-led maritime protection mission to ensure safe shipping through the Strait of Hormuz.

On Friday, the Revolutionary Guard launched a gunboat and helicopter raid on Stena Impero, which is registered in the UK, claiming it had turned off its tracker and ignored warnings.

Iran’s seizure of the tanker was described as an “state piracy” by the government.

Another vessel, the Mesdar, was also intercepted and forced towards Iranian territory in what appeared to be a co-ordinated strike.

State TV footage shows Iranian armed forces on board the Stena Impero after it was seized in the Strait of Hormuz.

The clip is thought to have been filmed in the southern port of Bandar Abbas, where jet boats have been sailing around the British ship.

‘STATE PIRACY’

Iranian special forces stormed the ship by abseiling down from a helicopter.

Startling images have emerged of the ship being circled by a military speedboat.

Britain has demanded Iran release the tanker and in response the Islamic Republic has offered to swap the vessel for the Grace 1.

Iran had warned the UK that the seizure would not go “unanswered” and has also issued a chilling warning that it was using drones to track every ship in the Gulf.

Mohammad Javad Zarif, the Iranian foreign minister, has insisted his country doesn’t want confrontation.

“It is very important for Boris Johnson as he enters 10 Downing Street to understand that Iran does not seek confrontation, that Iran wants normal relations based on mutual respect,” he said.

Fears have recently been raised that the Royal Navy lacks the strength to conduct missions to protect UK shipping.

Since the Falklands War, the navy has dropped from 80 vessels to 50 but with ten of those currently out of action for maintenance.

 The Iranian flag was hoisted over seized British tanker Stena Impero

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The Iranian flag was hoisted over seized British tanker Stena ImperoCredit: PressTV
 An Iranian Revolutionary Guard jet boat sails around the seized British-flagged tanker Stena Impero in Bandar Abbas

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An Iranian Revolutionary Guard jet boat sails around the seized British-flagged tanker Stena Impero in Bandar AbbasCredit: EPA
 Hatching plan . . at 4pm, IRG special forces on board a chopper inspect the Stena Impero, en route to Saudia Arabia with its 23 crew

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Hatching plan . . at 4pm, IRG special forces on board a chopper inspect the Stena Impero, en route to Saudia Arabia with its 23 crew
 The armed troops prime their weapons and make final checks as they prepare to storm the British oil tanker below

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The armed troops prime their weapons and make final checks as they prepare to storm the British oil tanker below
 Soldiers abseil from a hovering helicopter while gunboats surrounding the Impero force it north towards Bandar Abbas

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Soldiers abseil from a hovering helicopter while gunboats surrounding the Impero force it north towards Bandar AbbasCredit: AFP or licensors