Deadline On Nuclear Deal Adherence Looming

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Tehran appears set to honor the 7 July deadline it put in place regarding increased uranium enrichment. The Iranian government has said repeatedly it will no longer honor the enrichment restrictions in the 2015 nuclear deal unless European nations can provide relief from the stringent US economic sanctions now in place. It is becoming apparent that the European effort has failed and come Sunday Iran will begin enriching uranium in any amount it sees fit. Iran has stated the enrichment level will be below the 90-percent purity necessary for uranium to be considered weapons grade. Given Iran’s penchant for misleading statements and outright lies in the past, this claim is circumspect to say the least.

The United States is not taking chances. The Trump administration regards Iran’s statements as threats and has made subtle hints about possible retaliation. Given the fact that President Trump cancelled retaliatory strikes on Iran after a US drone was shot down by Iranian forces last month, Tehran is probably not too concerned by Washington’s rhetoric.

Disregarding the Trump administration’s warnings would be a monumental mistake. The US had made it clear it will not stand by and allow Iran to acquire nuclear weapons. This position is nothing short of a red line and the US is not going to budge.

We’ll discuss this more after the deadline passes on Sunday.

Iran Update: 26 June, 2019

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Apologies for being radio silent since late last week, but sometimes life and work get in the way unfortunately. I’ll start off with a brief update on Iran and then delve into more detailed postings tomorrow and into the weekend.

Tomorrow, Iran is expected to announce that the size of its uranium stockpiles have exceeded the limits set by the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) which is more commonly known as the Iran Nuclear Deal. The uranium limitation level is considered to be a key component of the deal. A red line which, if crossed, could nix the entire nuclear deal. The root purpose of the deal has always been to limit the size and scope of Iran’s nuclear program and prevent Tehran from acquiring nuclear weapons.

Once Iran makes the announcement and takes this step it places the remaining members of the JCPOA in a difficult position. Iran has given the European nations in the deal until 7 July to offer a better nuclear deal, or relief from the US economic sanctions now in place, it will begin enriching its uranium to weapons-grade levels. This is the real danger at the moment. Thus far, every Iranian move has been calculated to help bring about the end of the economic sanctions now strangling its economy. Tehran has miscalculated more than once, as is evident by fact that the sanctions not only remain in place, but by the reality that the Trump administration is piling on additional sanctions.

Iran’s brinkmanship strategy is failing and its causing the leadership in Tehran to become more desperate. It is in situations like this where miscalculations become more probable, and it goes without saying that an Iranian miscalculation at this point could have disastrous consequences.

We will have to see what materializes tomorrow.

Houthi Rebels Strike Saudi Arabian Airport

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Iran-backed Houthi rebels attacked an airport in southwestern Saudi Arabia today. Saudi officials confirm a projectile struck an arrivals terminal at Abha International Airport near the city of Khamis Mushait. Houthi officials wasted no time in claiming responsibility for the attack with a spokesman for the rebel group saying a cruise missile was launched at the airport’s control tower. Saudi officials have said nothing about damage to the control tower, however, there were two dozen or so travelers wounded by the projectile that hit the terminal. The Houthis also claimed that this attack was a response to “Saudi Aggression” in Yemen, though no details were given beyond that.

Houthi attacks against targets in Saudi Arabia have ramped up in recent weeks. Last month, Houthi drones attacked a pair of pumping facilities along a Saudi pipeline, forcing Riyadh to close the pipeline for a short time. Also in May, Saudi forces shot down a Houthi drone that targeted Jizan airport near the Yemeni border. This month has not been any quieter. On Sunday, rebel drones struck a Saudi drone facility at another airport near the Saudi-Yemen border. On the following day, Saudi air defense forces intercepted two drones as they approached Khamis Mushait, where King Khalid Air Base, a major Royal Saudi Air Force installation is also located.

As tensions between the United States and Iran have drawn down recently, Houthi activity is on the rise in Yemen. Iran is likely pressuring the Houthis to continue their attacks on targets in Saudi territory in the hopes it will shift international attention away from the war of words now taking place between Iran and the United States. Despite its efforts, Iran has had little success persuading the Trump administration to roll back the sanctions now in place. Other attempts to enlist Europe’s help in the matter have so far brought no success.

Venezuelan Government and Opposition Hold Talks in Norway

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Representatives of the Nicolas Maduro regime, and the opposition led by Juan Guaido met today in Norway to conduct negotiations aimed at ending the political crisis, and economic struggle that have crippled Venezuela and pushed it to the edge of ruin. The talks are being held in Oslo and were brokered by a group of Norwegian government officials, and private citizens. Although the talks are a positive development, the two sides remain far apart on most issues. Guaido, and the opposition continue to insist Maduro was illegally elected last year and should step down until new elections are held. Maduro, for his part, regards Guaido as a US lackey who’s motivation is to seize power and turn Venezuela into a puppet-state controlled by Washington.

The opposition’s agreement to send a delegation to the negotiations suggests its current position has been weakened considerably by the failed military uprising orchestrated by Guaido and other opposition leaders last month. If progress is made in Norway, it could help the opposition regain at least some of the leverage it lost from the failed uprising. After the failed uprising, the government has increased pressure on Guaido and his allies. A number of high-ranking opposition leaders have been stripped of their parliamentary immunity, and charged with rebellion. Many of these men are now holed up in foreign embassies around Caracas, fearful of arrest if they leave.

Despite the government’s attempt at a crackdown, it cannot change the situation from the stalemate it is at current.  Maduro is receiving assistance from Cuba, China, and Russia, however, it is nowhere near the amount needed to bring Venezuela out of the economic and political cauldron it is in now. US sanctions are beginning to hurt more now, and another wave is coming soon. The negotiations in Norway offer the government an attempt to buy some time, but little more.

Another Tanker War on the Horizon?

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In late spring of 1987, as the Iran-Iraq conflict raged, tensions were on the rise between Iran and the United States. In December of 1986, as the conflict continued through its Tanker War phase, the Kuwaiti government formally requested that the United States protect Kuwaiti oil tankers against Iranian attacks. By US law, US warships could not escort civilian vessels registered under a foreign flag. The solution to this dilemma was both simple, and ingenious. The Kuwaiti ships were re-registered, and reflagged, legally becoming US vessels. A military operation to protect Kuwaiti tankers was planned, and formally named Operation Earnest Will. It ended up being the largest naval convoy operation since World War II, officially running from 24 July, 1987 until 26 September, 1988.

During the time period, Iranian forces attempted to attack shipping in the Persian Gulf using mines, and Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) naval forces. The US Navy launched a number of attacks against Iranian oil platforms, and naval units in retaliation for actual, or planned attacks against oil tankers. On 15 October, 1987 a Kuwaiti tanker was struck by a Iranian Silkworm missile while at anchor off the coast of Kuwait. Three days later, US forces launched Operation Nimble Archer, attacking Iranian oil platforms that were actually serving as bases for attacks against shipping. In April, 1988 the frigate USS Samuel B Roberts struck an Iranian mine in the Persian Gulf. The ship was saved, and four days later the US Navy launched Operation Preying Mantis in retaliation for Iran’s mining of the Persian Gulf. By the end of the operation, half of Iran’s operational naval fleet had been either sunk, or severely damaged.

Considering the events of the past few days, specifically the attempted sabotage of four oil tankers off of the UAE, a look back at Earnest Will, and the Tanker War is useful. If Iran is going to resist US pressure, the world needs to be prepared for more attacks on oil tankers by Iran and its proxies in the Persian Gulf, Arabian Sea, and Red Sea. Further attacks will prompt US retaliation, and perhaps a convoy operation similar to Earnest Will.

Quite frankly, the situation in the Persian Gulf at present bears a bit more than a striking resemblance to July, 1987. Iran’s military is no more capable now than it was thirty-two years ago. If anything, it is in worse material condition today. If hostilities break out in the Gulf, Iran will be forced to rely on IRGC naval units, mines, and perhaps a handful of anti-ship missiles as its primary offensive weapons.

As the saying goes, history doesn’t repeat itself, but it often rhymes. We could very well be seeing a rhyme of sorts taking shape in the Persian Gulf right now. The present crisis may not transform into a repeat of the US-Iran naval standoffs and conflicts of the late 1980s, however, it will at least bear a striking resemblance to them.