Archive for August 4, 2019

Report: Dozens dead as Iranian weapons delivery explodes in Syrian airport 

August 4, 2019

Source: Report: Dozens dead as Iranian weapons delivery explodes in Syrian airport –

Arab media says 31 people, including Syrian soldiers and Shiite militias killed, when weapons shipment stored in Shayrat Airbase explodes. The base is known as a port for weapon deliveries headed to Hezbollah in Lebanon. Damascus says explosion an “accident.”

A massive explosion at the Shayrat Airbase in central Syria has left 31 people dead and dozens more wounded, Arab media reported Saturday.

According to the report, the fatalities include Syrian soldiers and Shiite militiamen.

Syrian media labeled the explosion an “accident.” Quoting a military source, the state-run Syrian Arab News Agency said the explosions took place at an ammunition depot while troops were removing faulty munitions.

The official said it is believed the munitions overheated due to extreme temperatures and exploded.

The base is known as a port for weapon deliveries headed to Hezbollah in Lebanon. Intelligence website Intelli Times claimed that the explosion took place while the troops were handling a new weapons shipment that arrived from Iran.

The Shayrat Airbase was previously attacked by the US in April of 2017 after Washington accused the Syrian government of carrying out a chemical weapons attack on the Idlib Governorate town of Khan Sheikhoun.


Saudis and UAE begin quiet talks with Tehran in epic Gulf somersault – DEBKAfile

August 4, 2019

Source: Saudis and UAE begin quiet talks with Tehran in epic Gulf somersault – DEBKAfile

The UAE and Saudi Arabia have quietly embarked on talks with Tehran, after waiting in vain for two months for US forces to punish Iran for attacking their oil facilities.

DEBKAfile’s sources report that Gulf states, led by the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, have concluded that the Trump administration’s goals are not consistent with their own. An official in Abu Dhabi commented this week: “If this [negotiations with Iran] is what Washington is after, we have no interest in participating in his maritime security coalition plan for the Gulf, since its deterrent power will be extremely limited.”

The US-led coalition force has indeed been slow to take off because it is either spurned or ignored by most of the governments invited to join.
The UAE crown prince Sheikh Muhammed bin Ziyad (MbZ) was the first to break away for an independent initiative. DEBKAfile’s intelligence sources report that a UAE delegation arrived in Tehran on July 30 to meet Iranian leaders first time in six years of animosity. They discussed the security of navigation in the Gulf, the Strait of Hormuz and the gateway to the Red Sea through the Straits of Abu Mandeb. According to our sources, Abu Dhabi marked the rapprochement by withdrawing its military forces from Yemen and handing over the islands in the mouth of Mandeb and a section of the Saudi western shore to a Yemeni militia, some of whose members were once associated with the pro-Iranian Houthi insurgents.
These developments encouraged Tehran, our exclusive sources report, to turn secretly to Saudi Crown Prince Muhammed Bin Salman and propose positive talks like those underway with the UAE. There are first signs that MbS is seriously considering the offer.

This flip flop by Washington’s two senior allies in the Gulf reduces the Trump Administration’s levers against Tehran to sanctions. Iran has meanwhile managed to break out of the international isolation imposed by the US.

This turn of events bears heavily on Israel’s drive against Iran and the personal standing of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu at a time that he is leading his Likud party in a campaign for re-election in September.

The Netanyahu-Trump strategic partnership and its ties with the Gulf Arab lineup against Tehran are critical elements for showcasing in his campaign. The turnabout in the Gulf, when it sees the light of day, may put the prime minister on the spot. He will have to explain why Israel has come out as the only nation in the region willing to engage Iran militarily and how come he has lost the active backing of Washington, Riyadh or Abu Dhabi. His most likely option will be to talk up the economic and tech aspects of the ties he has developed with Gulf nations as the strongest element of the alliance.


Iran seizes third foreign tanker, says it was carrying ‘smuggled fuel’ 

August 4, 2019

Source: Iran seizes third foreign tanker, says it was carrying ‘smuggled fuel’ | The Times of Israel

Iranian media reports 7 crew members aboard ship captured Wednesday have been arrested; Revolutionary Guards commander says vessel was bringing fuel to Arab Gulf states

Illustrative: A speedboat of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard trains a weapon toward the British-flagged oil tanker Stena Impero, which was seized in the Strait of Hormuz by the Guard, in the Iranian port of Bandar Abbas, July 21, 2019. (Morteza Akhoondi/Tasnim News Agency via AP)

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — The Iranian Revolutionary Guard seized a ship in the Persian Gulf suspected of carrying smuggled fuel, state media reported Sunday, marking Iran’s third seizure of a commercial vessel in recent weeks and the latest show of strength by the paramilitary force amid a spike in regional tensions.

State TV and the semi-official Fars news agency reported that seven crew members were detained when the ship was seized late Wednesday carrying 700,000 liters of “smuggled fuel” from Iran. The local reports did not provide further details on the vessel or the nationality of the crew.

The news agency reported that the ship was seized near Farsi Island, where an Iranian Guard Navy base is located. The island sits in the Persian Gulf between Saudi Arabia and Iran, north of the Strait of Hormuz.

“This foreign vessel had received the fuel from other ships and was transferring it to Persian Gulf Arab states,” Fars quoted Gen. Ramazan Zirahi, a Guard commander, as saying.

This would mark the third vessel seized by the Guard in the past two weeks, and the second accused of smuggling fuel.

In this file photo taken on April 30, 2019, Iranian soldiers take part in the National Persian Gulf Day in the Strait of Hormuz. (Atta Kenare/AFP)

The US Fifth Fleet, based in Bahrain, said it did not have information to confirm the reports. Maritime tracking experts also said they did not have any immediate information about the incident or the vessel.

Illegal fuel smuggling out of Iran is a concern of authorities there. Iranian media reported last month that some 8 million liters of government-subsidized Iranian fuel are smuggled daily through Iran’s borders to other countries where prices are much higher.

Tensions have soared around the Strait of Hormuz, a critical oil shipping waterway that lies between Iran and Oman. The US has boosted its military presence in the region and six oil tankers have been targeted in the Gulf of Oman in unclaimed acts of sabotage that the US blames on Iran. Iran has denied any involvement in those attacks.

This image released by the U.S. Department of Defense on Monday, June 17, 2019, is a view of hull penetration/blast damage on the starboard side of the motor vessel M/T Kokuka Courageous, which the Navy says was sustained from a limpet mine attack while operating in the Gulf of Oman, on June 13th. (U.S. Department of Defense via AP)

On July 18, the paramilitary force seized a United Arab Emirates-based oil tanker, the Panamanian-flagged MT Riah, for allegedly smuggling some 1 million liters (264,000 gallons) of fuel from Iranian smugglers to foreign customers.

The following week, the Guard’s naval forces seized a British-flagged vessel in the Gulf in what some Iranian officials suggested was retaliation for the seizure of an Iranian oil tanker in a British Royal Navy operation off Gibraltar. The UK says the Iranian oil tanker was suspected of violating European Union sanctions on oil shipments to Syria. Iran denies the ship was bound for Syria but has not disclosed its destination.

The tensions are rooted in US President Donald Trump’s decision last year to withdraw the US from Iran’s 2015 nuclear accord with world powers and impose sweeping sanctions on the country. Iran recently began openly breaching limits set by the nuclear agreement, saying it cannot abide by the deal unless European signatories provide some kind of economic relief.