Comment by Jim Campbell
July 18th, 2019
The leadership in Iran is destined to start a full on war.
The United States is a net oil supplier.
The Strait of Hormuz is not just a United States issue but concerns all countries who get oil and gas from Iran.
The Wall Street Journal
By: —Dion Nissenbaum, Nancy Youssef, Sune Engel Rasmussen and Gordon Fairclough
July 18th, 2019
President Trump said a U.S. Navy ship shot down an Iranian drone in the Strait of Hormuz, hours after Iranian forces said they had seized a foreign tanker, the latest in a series of incidents that have heightened tensions in the region.
The president’s comments come after Iranian forces said they had seized a foreign tanker
Mr. Trump said the USS Boxer, an amphibious assault ship, took defensive action against the drone, which he said was “threatening safety of the ship and the ship’s crew.”
The drone was “immediately destroyed,” Mr. Trump said, in comments from the White House.
He called the approach by the drone the latest “of many provocative and hostile actions by Iran against vessels operating in international waters.”
A Defense Department official confirmed that the drone came too close to the USS Boxer and was shot down.
The official said the ship was in international waters when the encounter happened.
The encounter Thursday came after Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps said it had seized a tanker, ratcheting up fears that Tehran could further disrupt shipping traffic on a vital waterway for crude.
The Guard took possession of a small vessel carrying what it said was 1 million liters of smuggled fuel near the island of Larak in the Persian Gulf on Sunday, according to a press release quoted by Iran’s state news agency, IRNA.
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Recent incidents have raised fears over safety in the Strait of Hormuz.
Sources: Defense Department (drone); staff reports; MarineTraffic.com
Oil rose after Thursday’s announcement, with Brent crude up 0.9% at $64.24 a barrel and West Texas Intermediate futures 0.6% higher at $57.12 a barrel. The steep rise in oil prices—despite the small cargo involved—underscores markets sensitivity to oil disruptions in the Persian Gulf.
But prices switched to a 2.9% drop to $61.9 a barrel in afternoon trading, as investors focused on a huge rise in fuel stockpiles, including a 3.6 million barrel jump in gasoline inventories.
Iran’s Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, speaking to reporters in New York on Thursday morning, played down the significance of the seizure, saying the vessel was relatively small and smuggling Iranian fuel. Petroleum products sold domestically in Iran are heavily subsidized, so it is potentially lucrative to divert them to foreign markets where they can be sold for a higher price.
“It’s a small ship,” Mr. Zarif said. “We do it every other day. These are people who are smuggling our fuel.”
The U.S. blames Iran for attacks on tankers in recent months meant to disrupt crude exports, which Tehran has denied. The U.S. has lobbied nations that buy and sell Middle East oil to help protect the region’s waterways.
Iran’s announcement came after days of speculation that a United Arab Emirates-based tanker had been captured by Iran after vanishing from radars.
Over the weekend, the vessel, called the Riah, stopped transmitting radio signals as it entered Iranian waters and headed in the direction of Larak Island, according to shipping tracker FleetMon.
Iran’s Foreign Ministry said Wednesday that Iran had rescued the Riah after the vessel encountered technical difficulties and sought help while in Iranian waters on Sunday.
But Iran’s state-broadcaster PressTV later aired footage it said showed a smuggling vessel being seized by Revolutionary Guard speedboats Sunday. The tanker bore the Riah’s name as well as its matriculation number and registration as a Panama-flagged vessel.
U.S. officials believe that Iranian personnel boarded the Riah on the starboard side, and now have imagery of a ship of the same size being towed toward Iranian shores.
The Riah’s movements—and its ownership—are opaque. The ship’s registered owners, Prime Tankers LLC, said it sold the vessel last year to another company called Moj Al Bahar in Dubai. An official at Moj Al Bahar said the company was merely providing technical services to the tanker and the owner was an Iraqi company, which couldn’t be reached for comment.
The Moj Al Bahar official confirmed that communications with the Riah’s crew had been cut off over the weekend and said the vessel’s charterer had contacted the Iranian embassy in the U.A.E. seeking an explanation. The charterer, KBR Petroleum in Sharjah, U.A.E., couldn’t be reached for comment.
Over the last year, the Riah has transferred its cargo to vessels that made frequent trips to Yemen and Somalia, according to Windward, an Israel-based shipping analytics firm. The ship switched off its radio signal for 27 days over the past year—an indication it may have wanted to obscure its activities, according to Israeli shipping analytics company Windward.
Last Thursday, the vessel gave Yemen as its destination, according to FleetMon. Two days later, it disappeared in an area where shippers exporting banned Iranian oil frequently transfer cargo to elude authorities and obscure the origins of their shipments.
Even while under U.S. sanctions, the Iranian government typically authorizes shipments of its crude, but the Guard sometimes stops carriers of oil products for which taxes haven’t been paid.
The official at Moj Al Bahar said he didn’t know if the vessel had gone to Yemen.
Fuel has been shipped illegally from Iran to its allies, Houthi Shiite rebels, in Yemen to finance their war against the government, the United Nations said in a January report.
But after Iran said the Riah had been assisted for technical problems, U.S. and Middle East officials have questioned Iran’s explanation of the events.
“This would not be the first time that Iran attacked a boat and then tried to rescue the crew,” said Brian Hook, the U.S. State Department’s Iran envoy.
“It looks fishy because the Iranians responded to a distress call that nobody else heard,” said Bahrain’s foreign minister, Khalid bin Ahmed al Khalifa, at a think-tank discussion in Washington on Wednesday.
On Thursday, Iran’s deputy Revolutionary Guard commander Admiral Ali Fadavi reiterated longstanding threats to disrupt the region’s maritime waterways.
“Whenever [a foreign ship] enter the Persian Gulf they say among themselves ‘we just entered hell.’ And whenever they exit the Persian Gulf, they say ‘we went out of hell,’” he said. “The U.S. will soon reach the conclusion that it is not in its interest at all to stay in the region. Because in these years it has realized that it will not win this fight.”
Separately, Mr. Zarif said Iran is talking with authorities over one of its tankers being held in the British overseas territory of Gibraltar. The U.K. says the tanker was carrying two million barrels of oil to Syria in violation of European Union sanctions prohibiting crude sales to Bashar al-Assad’s government.
Mr. Zarif referred to that seizure as “piracy,” saying it was done at the behest of the U.S. in what he said was a violation of international law. Mr. Zarif said the vessel’s cargo wasn’t bound for Syria.
“We will not tell them where it is destined for. That is none of their business,” Mr. Zarif said.
Mr. Zarif said Iran had no choice but to sell its oil in the shadows. “We’re not going to explain what we do. It’s not going to be transparent,” Mr. Zarif said. “We will do trade with whoever we can.”
Also Thursday, the U.S. Navy said the USS Abraham Lincoln aircraft carrier was conducting search and rescue operations in the Arabian Sea following reports one of its sailors had gone missing.