Natanz And Israel’s Shadow War Against Iran

Natanz, a key facility in the Iranian nuclear program suffered a paralyzing blackout over the weekend. The power outage was caused by an apparent cyberattack which caused considerable damage to centrifuges located at the site. According to a source in the US intelligence community, the damage will set the entire nuclear program back by seven months at minimum. This includes uranium enrichment, which Iran has ramped up in the past eighteen months. This past weekend’s attack was not the first. Natanz has proven to be a primary target of Western and Israeli intelligence agencies over the past eleven years. The most well-known intelligence operation to involve Natanz was the 2010 the Stuxnet cyberattack that caused major delays to the nuclear program. In the summer of 2020, an explosion and fire occurred at the facility. Some sources have speculated that the cause was a cyberattack, although the Iranian government has never responded directly to the speculation.

With regards to the latest incident, Iran naturally suspects Israeli involvement. This morning Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif laid the blame directly on Israel and vowed revenge. “The Zionists want to take revenge on the Iranian people for their success in lifting the oppressive sanctions, but we will not allow it and we will take revenge on the Zionists themselves.” The incident could have an adverse effect on the talks now taking place in Vienna to revive the JCPOA and bring the United States back on board.

This is the second suspected Israeli action against Iranian interests in a week. Last Tuesday, around the same time the JCPOA discussions were beginning in Vienna, the Saviz, an Iranian ship in the Red Sea, was damaged by an explosion and fire. This ship has long held a reputation for serving as a platform for the IRGC (Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps) intelligence operations around the region. As with Natanz, Iran immediately placed blame for the attack on Israel and in all likelihood, they’re probably correct.

Israel’s shadow war against Iran is not a new topic. What is, however, is the tempo of operations. As it grew apparent that the Biden administration does not intend on adopting a firm position on Iran and its ambitions, Tel Aviv realized it had to keep the pressure on. The Israelis are going to do everything possible to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. Even if some of the actions taken ruffle the feathers of its closest ally in the world.

Iranian Involvement Suspected In Monday’s Oil Tanker Attack

Monday’s attack on a Singapore-flagged oil tanker docked at the Saudi Arabian port of Jeddah is raising fears of more attacks on Saudi Arabia’s oil infrastructure as US-Iranian tensions continue to mount. Although no nation, or group has yet taken responsibility for the attack on the BW Rhine, Iran is viewed as the instigator as the attack was likely carried out by the Yemen-based Houthi rebels, an Iranian proxy group. The tanker was struck by a small boat carrying explosives causing blast damage and a fire on board. The attack has temporarily closed the Saudi port and brought on concern about the safety of oil tankers in the Red Sea.

Iran is thought to have played a role in the attack. The recent assassination of nuclear scientist  Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, coupled with the declining health of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and other regional setbacks are forcing Iran to demonstrate it is capable of striking back at US and Saudi interests in the region. The above-mentioned events supply Iran with motive while the Houthis provided means. It is by no means a clear cut indication of guilt, however, all signs do seem to be pointing towards Iran.

Iranian Tanker Damaged in the Red Sea

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Iran’s national oil company has claimed that one of itsoil tankers in the Red Sea has suffered an explosion, and damage. Initially, Iran claimed the cause of the explosion was a missile strike on the vessel but hours later official accounts had rolled back the missile claim. There has been no indication about whether an oil spill has occurred as a result of the damage, if the ship is on fire, or its overall condition. Late this afternoon, Iranian state television reported the ship is returning to Iran. The contradictory reports and lack of facts have only raised more questions about exactly what happened to the tanker, which. News of the explosion boosted oil prices by around 4%.

Iran is conducting an investigation into the incident. “The details of the attack and the instigators are under investigation and will be announced in due course,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi said. Given that Iran has been blamed for the recent missile strike on Saudi oil facilities, I wouldn’t be shocked if Iran discovers it was Saudi Arabia that perpetrated the oil tanker attack in retaliation. I’ll be honest, that was the first thought to cross my mind after seeing the headline this morning.

It’s not as if Iran doesn’t have the men, and equipment to attack an oil tanker, theirs or otherwise. The world has seen Iran carry out attacks on tankers in the Persian Gulf  this year using limpet mines and explosives planted by IRGC troops, and operatives. The motive for conducting an attack against one of its own ships is certainly present and valid. Tehran would certainly hope an overt attack on an Iranian asset would shift some of the scrutiny away from Iran. You can never put anything past the Iranian government, especially now when it must seem to them as if the walls are closing in. Economic sanctions, US pressure, and Saudi Arabian suspicion are combining to have a decidedly negative effect on the leadership in Tehran.

Thursday 26 July, 2018 Update: Saudi Arabia Suspends Red Sea Oil Shipments

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Saudi Arabia announced Wednesday afternoon it is suspending oil shipments through the Red Sea after a Saudi oil tanker was attacked and damaged by Houthi forces in the Bab el Mandeb Strait. The move is extraordinarily swift and decisive, and holds the potential to disrupt shipping in the area. The Red Sea shipping lanes are a highly used route for Saudi Arabian oil tankers, as well as international commerce. The Saudi move could motivate other nations to follow suit if the attacks continue.

This is not the first time the Bab el Mandeb Straits has been used by Houthi rebels to launch attacks on shipping. In 2016 US Naval forces intercepted two anti-ship missiles that were launched by Houthis and targeted at US ships in the area. This past April a Saudi oil tanker was attacked in the strait, receiving minor damage. Saudi Arabia’s response then was more restrained. Oil shipments continued, and Riyadh assured nervous observers the incident would not affect oil supplies.

The war of words between Iran and the United States, and the coming snapback of sanctions against Iran on 6 August threaten to heighten current tensions. Wednesday’s attack on the tanker could be a sign of things to come. In response to the sanctions, Iran might encourage the Houthis, and other proxy groups to intensify attacks against tankers, and resume confrontational skirmishes between Iranian naval forces and the US Navy in the Persian Gulf and surrounding areas. So far in 2018 there have been no incidents between US and Iranian vessels. Before the Iranian nuclear deal was implemented, and even afterward, Tehran has used the harassment tactics to try and strengthen its position. They might turn to it once again, if some of the rhetoric coming from inside of Iran is any indication.

Wednesday 1 February, 2017 Update: Iran, Red Sea, and Ukraine

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As the political firestorm over President Trump’s executive action concerning immigration slowly subsides, signs of the first potential foreign policy challenge for the Trump administration are cropping up in the Middle East and Eastern Europe. Since his inauguration on 20 January, Trump has been primarily occupied with domestic issues, with the exception of a visit by the UK Prime Minister and a handful of conversations with important allies and other global leaders.  Events in Iran on Sunday, the Ukraine over the past 48 hours, and an incident off the coast of Yemen yesterday indicate that soon the Trump administration’s foreign policy team will be going into action.

Yesterday, a Saudi Al Madinah class frigate was attacked in the Red Sea off the coast of Yemen by three suicide boats manned by Houthi rebels. One of the boats struck the stern of the Saudi frigate causing a large explosion and subsequent fire. Two sailors were killed and three wounded. Damage to the ship appears to be limited though and it is in no danger of sinking. The attack comes after a period of quiet following attacks by Iranian-backed Houthis against a UAE logistics ship, and US warships in October, 2016. In those attacks, Houthi rebels fired land-based anti-ship missiles against the ships on separate occasions. The missiles targeting US ships were defeated by countermeasures, while the UAE ship suffered a hit and a large amount of damage.  The attack on the Saudi warship could be a thinly veiled message by the Houthi backers in Tehran concerning the talks over the weekend between President Trump and Saudi King Salman.

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On Sunday, Iran test-fired a medium-range ballistic missile in violation of UN Resolution 2231, a resolution calling on Iran not to conduct such tests. The test was a failure, with the missile exploding 600 miles away from its launch site. The timing of the test is suspicious as well, coming shortly after the US-Saudi leadership discussion mentioned above. The White House has called the test irresponsible and a violation of Resolution 2231. The UN Security Council is expected to meet either tonight or tomorrow on the matter, though no action is expected.

In Ukraine, fighting has renewed in the eastern section of the country between government troops and Russian-backed separatist forces. Artillery and rocket fire hit residential areas in the government-held town of Avdiivka. Between Sunday and Monday nights, the number of ceasefire violations spiked and Ukrainian forces suffered casualties, signaling an escalation in the fighting. The situation has caused Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko to cut his working trip to Germany, where he met with German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Again, timing is a factor to consider here. The renewed attacks came not long after Vladimir Putin and President Trump had their first discussion over the weekend. Putin was possibly expecting Trump to remove the heavy economic US sanctions that were imposed on Russia by the Obama administration. Since that did not come about, the new activity in Ukraine could be his own response to the United States.