Opinion

Iran’s tanker attacks a threat to the world, not just the US

Iran’s tanker attacks a threat to the world, not just the US

Author
An Iranian soldier overlooks the Strait of Hormuz. (Reuters)

Some government officials around the world may believe that Iran’s recent threats are solely directed toward the US and that the Iranian regime does not pose a national security risk to their countries. As a result, the argument goes that the most efficient policy is to leave the US alone to deal with or counter the Islamic Republic.
That could be partially why the EU and some Asian countries have declined to join the US in imposing pressure on Tehran.
However, it is important to point out that Iran’s actions can have negative repercussions and inflict significant damage not only on the US, but also on the rest of the world. Let us take Iran’s actions and policies on the Strait of Hormuz as an example.
Since the establishment of the Islamic Republic in 1979, the ruling clerics have always boasted about Iran’s strategic advantage and superiority over this Gulf passageway, through which roughly a third of global oil exports pass.
A study by the International Energy Agency (IEA) forecasted that, by 2030, nearly two-thirds of the world’s oil supply would pass through the Strait of Hormuz. A significant amount of natural gas is also transported through it.
Iranian leaders have repeatedly exploited their strategic advantage by issuing threats to block the Strait of Hormuz, which is another tactic in the asymmetric war strategy employed by Tehran. Mohammed Ali Jafari, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps commander, has been quoted by the semi-official Tasnim News Agency as saying: “We will make the enemy understand that either everyone can use the Strait of Hormuz or no one.” More recently, the armed forces chief of staff Mohammed Bagheri said: “If our oil does not go through the strait, other countries’ oil will certainly not cross the strait either.”
Although some policymakers and politicians argue that these statements are simply rhetoric, many incidents, both recent and in the past, have revealed that Tehran is willing to deliver on its threats. In 1988, Iran laid mines in the Arabian Gulf, one of which was hit by an American missile frigate. In response, the US carried out Operation Praying Mantis, which wiped out half of Iran’s operational fleet. In May 2015, the Islamic Republic also fired shots at a Singapore-flagged tanker.

European and Asian governments must halt Iran’s disruption of this key waterway.

Dr. Majid Rafizadeh

And, in the last two months, several oil tankers have been attacked in the Gulf. The targeting of oil tankers poses more significant threats to the national security of European and Asian countries than the US. Two ships that were sabotaged on June 13 were Japanese and Norwegian — the Japanese Kokuka Courageous and the Norwegian Front Altair. Their crews had to abandon the ships.
When it comes to the volume of crude oil and condensate transported through the Strait of Hormuz, Asian and EU imports exceed that of the US. China is ranked the top importer. Other big Asian importers of crude oil and condensate include Japan and South Korea. The top six in the EU are Germany, Italy, Spain, the UK, Netherlands, and France.
Now imagine if the theocratic establishment of Iran ratchets up its disruption or totally blocks the flow of oil through the Strait of Hormuz. Oil and gas prices would most likely skyrocket to unprecedented levels in European and Asian countries.
This would impact the costs of other commodities and subsequently create a substantial economic crisis throughout the global financial system.
European and Asian officials must be aware that there exists no difference between Iran’s moderates and hard-liners on this issue, as politicians across the Iranian political spectrum have come to the agreement that the world’s economy can be held to ransom to advance the ruling clerics’ interests.
In an interview with Iranian state TV last December, the so-called moderate President Hassan Rouhani was quoted as saying: “If, one day, they want to prevent the export of Iran’s oil, then no oil will be exported from the Gulf.” Meanwhile, Rouhani’s official website also quotes him as stating: “The Americans have claimed they want to completely stop Iran’s oil exports. They don’t understand the meaning of this statement, because it has no meaning for Iranian oil not to be exported, while the region’s oil is exported.”
As a result, it is in the national security interests of European and Asian nations to stop the Iranian leaders from carrying out attacks or shutting the world’s busiest transit lane for seaborne oil shipments.
In summary, Iran’s actions in the Strait of Hormuz pose a graver threat to European and Asian countries than to the US. This is due to their dependence on oil imports from the region. European and Asian governments must halt Iran’s disruption of this key waterway.

  • Dr. Majid Rafizadeh is a Harvard-educated Iranian-American political scientist. He is a leading expert on Iran and US foreign policy, a businessman and president of the International American Council. Twitter: @Dr_Rafizadeh
Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not necessarily reflect Arab News' point-of-view

Iran threatens British shipping in retaliation for tanker seizure off Gibraltar

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Iran demanded on Friday that Britain immediately release an oil tanker it has detained in Gibraltar, accusing it of acting at the bidding of the United States. (AFP/MOD)
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The Grace 1 tanker halted by Gibraltar police and a detachment of British Royal Marines in the Gibraltar Strait in the early hours of July 4, 2019. Iran demanded on July 5, 2019 that Britain immediately release an oil tanker it has detained in Gibraltar, accusing it of acting at the bidding of the United States. (AFP/MOD)
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Iran demanded on Friday that Britain immediately release an oil tanker it has detained in Gibraltar, accusing it of acting at the bidding of the United States. (AFP/MOD)
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Iranian foreign ministry official said UK move of detaining an Iranian oil tanker is unnacceptable. (File/AFP)
Updated 07 July 2019
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Iran threatens British shipping in retaliation for tanker seizure off Gibraltar

  • Iranian cleric: Britain should be ‘scared’ about Tehran’s possible retaliation
  • Iran summoned the British ambassador to discuss the detained tanker

LONDON/DUBAI: An Iranian Revolutionary Guards commander threatened Friday to seize a British ship in retaliation for the capture of an Iranian supertanker in Gibraltar by Royal Marines.

“If Britain does not release the Iranian oil tanker, it is the authorities duty to seize a British oil tanker,” Mohsen Rezai said on Twitter.

Britain should be “scared” about Tehran’s possible retaliation for the capture of an Iranian supertanker by Royal Marines in Gibraltar, the Fars semi-official news agency on Saturday reported an Iranian cleric as saying.

“I am openly saying that Britain should be scared of Iran’s retaliatory measures over the illegal seizure of the Iranian oil tanker,” said Mohammad Ali Mousavi Jazayeri, a member of the powerful clerical body the Assembly of Experts.

“We have shown that we will never remain silent against bullying ...As we gave a staunch response to the American drone, the appropriate response to this illegal capture (of the tanker) will be given by Iran as well,” he said.

The Gibraltar government said the crew on board the supertanker Grace 1 were being interviewed as witnesses, not criminal suspects, in an effort to establish the nature of the cargo and its ultimate destination.

British Royal Marines abseiled onto the ship off the coast of the British territory on Thursday and seized it. They landed a helicopter on the moving vessel in pitch darkness.

The move escalates a confrontation between Iran and the West just weeks after the United States called off air strikes minutes before impact, and draws Washington's close ally into a crisis in which European powers had striven to appear neutral.

The Grace 1 tanker halted by Gibraltar police and a detachment of British Royal Marines in the Gibraltar Strait in the early hours of July 4, 2019. Iran demanded on July 5, 2019 that Britain immediately release an oil tanker it has detained in Gibraltar, accusing it of acting at the bidding of the United States. (AFP/MOD)

Gibraltar's Supreme Court ruled that the seized Iranian tanker could be detained for 14 more days, the British territory's attorney general said Friday.
The supertanker was stopped in the early hours of Thursday, after which authorities had a 72-hour window before they had to release the ship. But the court granted them a 14-day extension.

Tehran summoned the British ambassador on Thursday to voice “its very strong objection to the illegal and unacceptable seizure” of its ship, a move that also eliminated doubt about the ownership of the vessel.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi said the crude oil cargo was from Iran. The ship’s paperwork had said the oil was from neighbouring Iraq, but tracking data reviewed by Reuters suggested it had loaded at an Iranian port.

European countries have walked a careful line since last year when the United States ignored their pleas and pulled out of a pact between Iran and world powers that gave Tehran access to global trade in return for curbs on its nuclear programme.

Over the past two months, Washington has sharply tightened sanctions against Tehran with the aim of halting its oil exports altogether. The moves have largely driven Iran from mainstream markets and forced it to find unconventional ways to sell crude.

The confrontation took on a military dimension in recent weeks, with Washington accusing Iran of attacking ships in the Gulf and Iran shooting down a US drone. President Donald Trump ordered, then cancelled, retaliatory strikes.

With nuclear diplomacy at the heart of the crisis, Iran announced this week it had amassed more fissile material than allowed under its deal, and said it would purify uranium to a higher degree than permitted from July 7.

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The Grace 1 was impounded in the British territory on the southern tip of Spain after sailing the long way around Africa from the Middle East to the mouth of the Mediterranean, a route that demonstrates the unusual steps Iran appears to be taking to try to keep some exports flowing.

The Gibraltar spokesman said the 28-member crew, who have remained on board the supertanker, were mainly Indians with some Pakistanis and Ukrainians. Police and customs officials remained on board the vessel to carry out their investigation, but the Royal Marines were no longer present.

Iran demanded on Friday that Britain immediately release an oil tanker it has detained in Gibraltar, accusing it of acting at the bidding of the United States. (AFP/MOD)

While the European Union has not followed the United States in imposing broad sanctions against Iran, it has had measures in place since 2011 that prohibit sales of oil to Syria.

Gibraltar said on Thursday it had reasonable grounds to believe the Grace 1 was carrying crude oil to the Baniyas refinery in Syria. It made no mention of the ownership of the vessel or the origin of its cargo.

Shipping experts say it may have been avoiding the more direct route through the Suez Canal, where a big tanker would typically be required to unload part of its cargo into a pipeline to cross, potentially exposing it to seizure.

If officials in Gibraltar have not fully established the nature of the cargo or the final destination, they could in the coming days ask a court for permission to hold the vessel for longer.


Tunisia toils to find final resting place for drowned migrants

Updated 22 July 2019
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Tunisia toils to find final resting place for drowned migrants

  • A string of deadly shipwrecks since May have left the North African country overwhelmed with bodies

GABES: A putrid odour lingers outside a morgue in Tunisia’s coastal city of Gabes as dozens of bodies of would-be migrants to Europe pulled out of the sea await burial.
A string of deadly shipwrecks since May have left the North African country overwhelmed with bodies and struggling to find them a final resting place.
More than 80 drowned migrants have been retrieved from Tunisian waters — most of them victims of a deadly July 1 shipwreck that left only three survivors.
Fished out of the sea between the port city of Zarzis and the tourist island of Djerba in the south, their bodies were brought to Gabes hospital — the only facility in the region capable of taking DNA samples.
Under pressure from civil society groups, Tunisian authorities have stepped up efforts to systematically collect the DNA of each unidentified drowned migrant, hospital director Hechmi Lakhrech told AFP.
The samples could well be the only hope of informing the victims’ families of their fate, he added.
In the basement morgue, staff use surgical masks or simple scarves to fend off the stench of bodies stacked one top of the other on the floor.
Since July 6, the numbers have “overwhelmed” the morgue’s 30-body capacity, said Lakhrech.
With just two forensic doctors and two assistants, not to mention a lack of equipment, the facility is struggling to keep them properly stored, he added.
After forensic tests, the bodies are kept at the morgue until a burial site is found, which in Tunisia is complicated, according to Gabes governor Mongi Thameur.
Many municipalities have refused to allow the drowned migrants to be buried in their cemeteries.
“Some fear the bodies carry cholera, and others refuse to bury people in Muslim cemeteries if their religion is unknown,” he told AFP.
It comes down to “a problem of mentality and also of humanity in some cases,” he said, adding that many people needed to be “sensitised.”
At the Bouchama cemetery, the only one in Gabes to have so far accepted migrant bodies, 16 graves dug off to the side lie empty.
“My parents are resting here, I don’t want non-Muslims to be buried by their side,” said one local resident.
In front of the hospital, the stifling midday heat beats down as 14 white bags are carefully loaded onto the back of a garbage truck.
Once loaded, it will make the two-hour journey to Zarzis, where an improvised cemetery flooded with the bodies of migrants for several years is now full, and a new one has just been opened.
Each grave is marked with a simple plaque bearing the victim’s DNA file number and burial date.
“On July 12, we collected 45 bodies in one day!” said Zarzis deputy mayor Faouzi Khenissi, calling it a “phenomenal problem.”
The city has taken in the bodies “because we have this culture, we can’t just leave the remains unburied,” he said.
Zarzis is a hotspot for illegal departures to Europe and Khenissi says some of the city’s own youth have also been victims of the wrecks.
Municipal workers and officials take shifts volunteering after work to conduct the burials.
After three hours of prep under the blazing sun, 14 bodies are buried alongside the 47 others already laid to rest at the new site, just outside a shelter for rescued migrants.
Mongi Slim of the country’s Red Crescent called for “international mobilization” to address the issue which “does not concern Tunisia alone.”
“The country is already struggling to take care of rescued migrants, but even more so for those who’ve died.”