Desperate Iran speeding up nuclear weapons bid

Desperate Iran speeding up nuclear weapons bid


The Iranian leaders have become extremely desperate both economically and geopolitically as the US continues to tighten the screws on Tehran’s major sources of revenue.

Several US sanctions on the Iranian regime — including the latest targeting Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, the designation of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) as a terrorist organization, and the reimposition of primary and secondary sanctions on Iran’s banking, financial, shipping and energy sectors — are exerting an unprecedented level of pressure on the Islamic Republic.

Even President Hassan Rouhani has admittedthat the regime is encountering its worst economic crisis since its establishment in 1979. Iran’s national currency, the rial, has droppedto historic lows: One US dollar, which equaled approximately 35,000 rials in November 2017, can now buy you nearly 130,000 rials.

Iran’s oil revenues and exports continue to decline. Before the US pulled out of the nuclear deal and began taking a tougher stance toward the ruling clerics, Iran was exportingmore than 2.5 million barrels per day (bpd). Its oil exports have since droppedto 300,000 bpd or less, according to Reuters. Refinitiv Eikon data suggests that Iran is exporting about 240,000 bpd, which represents a decline of more than 90 percent.

Domestic pressure also continues to rise due to the increasing rate of unemployment, high inflation, soaring prices, officials’ widespread financial and political corruption, economic mismanagement, human rights violations, detentions and imprisonments, and the lack of freedom of speech, press and assembly.

Meanwhile, the Iranian regime is feeling the pressure outside of its borders. Accordingto reports, the US sanctions have caused Tehran to cut its funding to militias and allies. Iran’s militants are not getting their salaries and benefits, making it extremely difficult for them to continue fighting and destabilizing the region. One militant fighting with an Iranian-backed militia in Syria told the New York Times in March: “The golden days are gone and will never return. Iran doesn’t have enough money to give us.”

Iranian proxy Hezbollah is feeling the pressure of sanctions so much that its leader, Hassan Nasrallah, has calledon his group’s fundraising arm to “provide the opportunity for jihad with money and also to help with this ongoing battle.”

In addition, the Iranians cannot support the Syrian regime of Bashar Assad as they used to.

From the regime’s perspective, the only path that can ensure its survival is to obtain nuclear weapons. 

Dr. Majid Rafizadeh

More importantly, the Iranian leaders have finally come to the realization that the international community, particularly the EU, is incapable of shielding it from the US sanctions.

The EU’s mechanism for avoiding sanctions, the Instrument in Support of Trade Exchanges (Instex), has proven to be futile when it comes to generating revenue for Tehran. This is due to the fact that Instex is only dealing with pharmaceuticals, medical devices and food products, while Iran’s main revenues come from the energy sector, notably the export of oil and gas.

In addition, European firms and corporations are generally not willing to deal with Iran because they would run the risk of being sanctioned and losing their business with the US. The American sanctions are applicable to non-US citizens and entities, as the Treasury Department previously stipulated: “Non-US, non-Iranian persons are advised to use these time periods to wind down their activities with or involving Iran that will become sanctionable at the end of the applicable wind-down period.” That is why the conservative Iranian newspaper Javan wrote: “Instex, another ‘almost nothing’ for Iran.”

The hard-line members of the country’s Majlis (parliament) have consequently bashed Rouhani and his administration. Amir-Hossein Ghazizadeh Hashemi, a member of the Majlis presiding board, statedthat Instex is a disgrace. “It is not clear until when the administration wants to continue this disgrace,” he said.

Iran’s new approach to Europe can be seen with the IRGC’s apparent attempt to impedea British oil tanker in the Strait of Hormuz this week.

Considering all this pressure, the Iranian regime feels that its hold on power is in grave danger. From the regime’s perspective, the only path that can ensure its survival is to obtain nuclear weapons.

In fact, Khamenei has, in the past, clearly expressedthat countries that give up their nuclear programs are irrational. Khamenei, who has the final say on major matters of state, blamed Libya’s Muammar Qaddafi for giving up his nuclear program, pointing out that Qaddafi’s decision was the paramount factor in his eventual overthrow. He said after Qaddafi’s fall that the deposed dictator had “wrapped up all his nuclear facilities, packed them on a ship and delivered them to the West and said, ‘Take them’.”

As a result, Iranian leaders have long viewed North Korea as a real example of how and why a country must possess nuclear weapons — not only as a deterrent against “enemies,” but also as a powerful tool to help pursue the country’s hegemonic ambitions. The Iranian regime has thus confirmed that it is increasing uranium enrichment beyond the limits set by the 2015 nuclear deal.

In a nutshell, as the Iranian regime feels that its hold on power is in danger, it is speeding up its efforts to obtain nuclear weapons. This is to ensure the survival of its theocratic establishment and the export of its revolutionary and fundamentalist ideals.

  • 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

UK ships on alert after British frigate thwarts Iranian attempt to stop tanker in Gulf

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File photo of the British Royal Navy frigate HMS Montrose, which thwarted on Wednesday an attempt by Iranian boats to seize a British tanker in the Arabia Gulf. (Shutterstock photo)
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Updated 12 July 2019

UK ships on alert after British frigate thwarts Iranian attempt to stop tanker in Gulf

  • "We are concerned by this action and continue to urge the Iranian authorities to de-escalate the situation in the region,” Prime Minister Theresa May's spokesman said
  • British Royal Marines earlier boarded Iranian tanker Grace 1 off Gibraltar

TEHRAN/ WASHINGTON: The British government said Thursday three Iranian ships had attempted to “impede the passage” of a British oil tanker in Gulf waters, forcing HMS Montrose — a UK frigate — to intervene.

The incident occurred almost a week after British Royal Marines boarded an Iranian tanker, Grace 1, off Gibraltar and seized it on suspicion that it was breaking sanctions by taking oil to Syria.

US officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said Wednesday’s incident happened as British Heritage was at the northern entrance of the Strait of Hormuz. 

“The Royal Navy HMS Montrose, which was also there, pointed its guns at the boats and warned them over radio, at which point they dispersed,” one of the officials said.

“It was harassment and an attempt to interfere with the passage,” the other official said.

Iran’s Revolutionary Guards denied on Thursday that they had impeded a British oil tanker in the Strait of Hormuz, the force’s Sepah news agency said.

“There has been no confrontation in the last 24 hours with any foreign vessels, including British ones,” the Revolutionary Guards said in a statement.

“Now an action that does not need ability but some stupidity has been carried out by them,” Rear Admiral Ali Fadavi, a deputy Guards commander, said, according to Tasnim.


“The American government ... and also England .... should not have taken action if they had made the smallest calculation,” he said.

“We had rented this ship and we carried the cargo. Their action was very silly and they will certainly regret it. Our reciprocal action will be announced.”

Britain is concerned about action by Iranian vessels to stop a commercial oil tanker, Prime Minister Theresa May's spokesman said on Thursday, calling for a de-escalation of tensions.

"We are concerned by this action and continue to urge the Iranian authorities to de-escalate the situation in the region," the spokesman told reporters.

"We have a long-standing maritime presence in the Gulf. We are continuously monitoring the security situation there and are committed to maintaining freedom of navigation in accordance with international law."

Britain has recommended all British-flagged ships go to a heightened state of security in the Strait of Hormuz, Sky News reported on Thursday, citing unnamed maritime industry sources.



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A Department for Transport spokeswoman said: "The Department for Transport, as competent authority, regularly provides Security Advice to UK and Red Ensign Group Shipping on how they should operate in areas of high risk."

Threats to international freedom of navigation require an international solution, US Central Command said on Thursday, after three Iranian vessels tried to block a British-flagged tanker passing through the Strait of Hormuz.
"The world economy depends on the free flow of commerce, and it is incumbent on all nations to protect and preserve this lynchpin of global prosperity," Captain Bill Urban, a spokesman for US Central Command, said in a statement.

The Kremlin has called for restraint following a brief standoff between British and Iranian naval vessels near the Arabian Gulf.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters Thursday that “freedom of navigation should be ensured in the Arabian Gulf and the Strait of Hormuz,” which he said was crucial for the global economy. Peskov said Moscow was aware of both Britain’s statement and Iran’s denial that it tried to impede the ship's passage.

Peskov called on “all parties” to show restraint and settle their disputes by negotiations.

Around 20 percent of all oil traded worldwide passes through the Strait of Hormuz.


This section contains relevant reference points, placed in (Opinion field)

Meanwhile, French armed forces chief Francois Lecointre said on Thursday that tensions in the Gulf were unlikely to spiral out of control.

“There is a clash of wills underway between the United States and Iran with posturing, reactions, signals and which can from one day to the next get out of control,” Lecointre told CNews television.

“I think it is under control now... I don’t think it can spiral out of control but there can be escalation,” he added.

Earlier on Wednesday, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said Britain would face “consequences” over the seizure of the Iranian tanker.

Tensions between Iran and the US and its allies have risen sharply since Washington stepped up economic sanctions against Iran and moved to bring the country’s oil exports to zero as part of a “maximum pressure” policy to make Iran halt actions that it said undermined regional security.

Iran has responded to the sanctions by starting to breach limits put on its nuclear activities under a 2015 deal with world powers.

Several oil tankers were attacked in waters near Iran’s southern coast in May and June, for which the US blamed Iran. Tehran denied any involvement.

Last month, Iran shot down a US drone near the Strait of Hormuz, prompting President Donald Trump to order retaliatory air strikes, only to call them off.

The US hopes to enlist allies over the next two weeks or so in a military coalition to safeguard strategic waters off Iran and Yemen, Marine General Joseph Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said on Tuesday. 

Turkish steps up drilling activities around Cyprus

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Turkish steps up drilling activities around Cyprus

  • The EU says Turkey is drilling in waters exclusive to EU member Cyprus and is therefore a breach of international law

NICOSIA: Turkey’s vice president says his country is stepping up a search for hydrocarbons off ethnically divided Cyprus with the dispatching of a survey vessel to join two drillships and another research craft operating in waters around the east Mediterranean island nation.
Fuat Oktay says Turkey will “never submit” to sanctions imposed by the European Union over its drilling and won’t hesitate to take additional steps in defense of its rights and those of breakaway Turkish Cypriots to the area’s energy reserves.
The EU says Turkey is drilling in waters exclusive to EU member Cyprus and is therefore a breach of international law.
Oktay was speaking at celebrations marking the 45th anniversary of the 1974 Turkish invasion of Cyprus that followed a coup mounted by supporters of union with Greece.