DISPATCHES FROM MOON OF ALABAMA, BY “B”
This is Moon of Alabama's original and provocative take on recent events in the Gulf. Apparently, whichever way we read the situation, more dangerous violence is likely to occur in that tormented region.
[dropcap]T[/dropcap]here is no evidence that Iran was behind Friday's attack on tankers in the Gulf of Oman.
There are many parties in the Middle East and in the United States who are interested in goading the U.S. into a military confrontation with Iran. Most of these parties have the capability to launch clandestine attacks on civilian vessels. That the U.S. government would blame Iran for any such attack is obvious. But even Israeli analysts doubt that Iran is responsible for the recent incidents. The German government doubts that video the U.S. presented shows anything of significance. Others point at the suspicious timing of the incident.
Israel is of course the foremost candidate for such a false flag attack. Prime Minister Netanyahoo agitated against Iran for the last 25 years. He multiple times threatened to directly attack the country but would prefer that the U.S. would do so. The Israeli clandestine service Mossad is capable of far reaching operations. Israel's submarines are known to have operated in the Arab Sea.
The Saudis are under pressure from Houthi forces at their southern borders. The Houthi receive some material support from Iran. If the U.S. would attack Iran, the Saudis would be relieved. The Saudis need oil prices way above the current $60 per barrel to finance their state. Anything that drives up the price, like the tanker attacks, is obviously in their interest. The murder of Jamal Khashoggi in Turkey demonstrated that the Saudis developed extensive clandestine capabilities and have no qualms to use them.
The Saudi partner in crime in Yemen are the United Arab Emirates under the ruthless control of Mohammad bin Zayed. Bin Zayed is a major instigator of the anti-Iranian U.S. policies. Bin Zayed hired Eric Prince of Blackwater fame to build him a mercenary army. Prince is a former U.S. Navy SEAL, a military operator trained in clandestine operations at sea. Secretly putting a sticky bomb onto some ship is exactly what SEALs learn to do.
U.S. President Donald Trump hired several Iran haters into his administration. His National Security Advisor John Bolton has for years agitated for regime change in Tehran. Bolton is knownfor circumventing the Secretary of Defense and the Joint Chiefs of Staff. He directly communicates with lower levels in the U.S. military and with its regional commanders. The U.S. Central Command now claims that:
"a modified Iranian SA-7 surface-to-air missile attempted to shoot down a US MQ-9, at 6:45am local time, June 13, over the Gulf of Oman, to disrupt surveillance of the (Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps) attack on the M/T Kokuka Courageous...”
Sure - that must be right. Just like the CENTCOM claim that the tankers were damaged by limpet mines, which are ineffective when used above the waterline of a ship. The Japanese owner of the Kokuka Courageous says that CENTCOM lies, and that the ship was attacked by "flying objects". The MQ9 Reaper drone is a surveillance platform but it is also capable of firing missiles. If the new CENTCOM claim is true where is the drone video of the "Iranian attack"? How can we be sure that it wasn't a U.S. drone that fired missiles at the Japanese ship?
There is of course also the CIA. Two years ago it formed a new mission center to attack Iran:
The Iran Mission Center will bring together analysts, operations personnel and specialists from across the CIA to bring to bear the range of the agency’s capabilities, including covert action.
To lead the new group, Mr. Pompeo picked a veteran intelligence officer, Michael D’Andrea, who recently oversaw the agency’s program of lethal drone strikes and has been credited by many of his peers for successes against al Qaeda in the U.S.’s long campaign against the terrorist group.
Mr. D’Andrea, a former director of the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center, is known among peers as a demanding but effective manager, and a convert to Islam who works long hours. Some U.S. officials have expressed concern over what they perceive as his aggressive stance toward Iran.
One wonders what D’Andrea, with his experience in directing drone strikes, worked on throughout the last two years. What operations did he plan?
We know that false flags attacks are as American as apple pie. The Boston Tea Party was committed by colonial settlers camouflaged as Indians. Remember the Maine? The Gulf of Tonkin "attack" that never happened? The fake chemical attacks staged by U.S. paid actors to then be blamed on the Syrian government?
There are also a number of non-state actors who might have been involved in the tanker attacks. The MEK cult is known for committing terrorist attacks against Iran. But it is not the only group. Over the last two year alone Baluch terrorists at the Pakistani Iranian border, Arab separatists of the Ahvaz movement, the Islamic State and Kurdish groups all launched terror attacks against Iran. All these groups are financed by one or the other state actors listed above. With practically unlimited money available, they all might have developed the necessary capabilities to damage some tanker.
All the above actors have motives and the potential capability to launch attacks that they can then blame on Iran. It is no wonder then that everyone calls bullshit when Secretary of State Pompeo claims that "only Iran" could have done it. There is simply no evidence - as in zero - that Iran committed the attacks.
It is also no wonder then that even avid Moon of Alabama readers doubt this authors reporting that Iran's new strategy is to put "maximum pressure" on Trump. It sounded outlandish when it was first developed in the update to this post. But if one puts oneself into the shoes of Iranian decision makers, it suddenly becomes a realistic assessment.
A day after our first reporting on the new Iranian strategy Asia Times confirmed that the concept exists:
[T]his kind of non-lethal warning, which caused a spike in oil prices, has been in the hardline Iranian playbook since the Trump administration signaled it would take steps to squeeze the Islamic republic’s ability to sell its petroleum.“It was being debated even before the oil waivers were revoked [in November], but largely as a possible response to an attempt to zero [eliminate] Iran’s exports,” an Iranian source told Asia Times on condition of anonymity as he was not authorized to speak on the matter.
The idea behind this, says the Asia Times source, is to push the Saudis to tell Trump to lower the pressure on Iran:
“If MBZ tells Trump that it’s time to slow down the maximum pressure policy that is very different than [Japanese President Shinzo] Abe calling for negotiations,” the source said.
But to slow down Trump's maximum pressure policy against Iran is not sufficient. What Iran wants to do is, as we argued, to eliminate Trump's maximum pressure campaign by putting maximum pressure on Trump.
Elijah Magnier is known to have access to high level sources in Tehran. He reported last night:
Informed sources close to Iranian decision makers repeated the words of President Hassan Rouhani and the Iranian advisor to Sayyed Khamenei for international affairs, Ali Akbar Velayati, namely that “if Iran can’t export oil through the Persian Gulf, no-one in the Middle East will be able do this”. The source “expects further attacks in the future, given the US decision to stop the flow of oil by all means at all costs. Thus, oil will stop being delivered to the world if Iran can’t export its two million barrels per day”.“Tensions in the Gulf can be eased only when sanctions are lifted on Iran. Otherwise, more objectives may be targeted and the level of tension will gradually increase. [..] If Iran is in pain, the rest of the world will suffer equally,” said the source.
“President Trump is betting on maintaining the status-quo. This doesn’t suit Iran, because its economy will suffer dearly. Binding the deep economic wound and holding on until Trump ends his first mandate is playing into Trump’s hand and this is not going to happen. The tension in the Gulf was generated when Trump decided to pull out of the nuclear deal (known as the JCPOA). Let him pay the price now. If Iran cannot export its crude oil it means the country must be ready for war”, continue the source.
"If you want maximum pressure," Iran tells Trump, "we are able to deliver that."
No Iranian official will of course ever confirm this publicly.
What makes the situation confusing and the reasoning counterintuitive is that Iran and some of its enemies now have the very same tactical interests. Both sides now want to increase the heat in the region. That guarantees that more such attacks will happen. There are many, many potential targets for this campaign.
For the sake of perspective, we've included these two @MarineTraffic maps to show you just how many tankers are currently in motion out of the Middle East. We even made sure to filter out all of the empty ones! pic.twitter.com/0dMJOHbihi
— TankerTrackers.com, Inc.⚓️🛢 (@TankerTrackers) June 13, 2019
Iran's enemies hope that more attacks on tankers will goad Trump, and his British sidekicks, into a military conflict with Iran.
Iran calculates that Trump will see the danger and recognize that such a conflict would ruin his presidency. That he will accept that he has to revoke the sanctions and rejoin the nuclear deal to avoid to be blamed for unprecedented oil prices and catastrophic consequences for the global economy.
We can expect that the cat and mouse game will continue throughout the next twelve month. Trump will be under pressure from both sides. Next spring or summer is the latest point for him to decide either way. Until then we will see more casualties of this new tanker war.
Iran's enemies as well as Iran itself now have an interest that more attacks on tankers happen. But unless there is very convincing independent evidence we will never know who will have committed these. There are simply too many players who have motives and the capabilities to make such attacks happen. All of them have plausible reasons to damage more ships. All of them have plausible deniability. It is this what makes the current situation so dangerous. Luckily the problem can be easily solved.
The one who caused this conflict is Donald Trump. He is also the one who can immediately end it.
Posted by b on June 16, 2019 at 08:57 AM | Permalink
Iran Decided To Put Maximum Pressure On Trump - Here Is How It Will Do It
[dropcap]T[/dropcap]hirteen month ago the United States launched a total economic war against Iran. It demands its capitulation. Now Iran decided to respond in kind. It will wage a maximum pressure campaign on U.S. economic interests until the Trump administration concedes its defeat. Shipping in the Middle East will soon become very hazardous. Oil prices will go through the roof. Trump will be trapped between two choices neither of which he will like.
In early May 2018 U.S. President Trump broke the nuclear deal with Iran and sanctioned all trade with that country. Iran reacted cautiously. It hoped that the other signatories of the nuclear deal would stick to their promises and continue to trade with it. The year since proved that such expectations were wrong.
Under threat of U.S. sanctions the European partners stopped buying Iranian oil and also ended their exports to it. The new financial instrument that was supposed to allow payments between European countries and Iran has still not been implemented. It is also a weak construct and will have too little capacity to make significant trade possible. Russia and China each have their own problems with the United States. They do not support trade with Iran when it endangers their other interests.
Meanwhile the Trump administration increased the pressure on Iran. It removed waivers it had given to some countries to buy Iranian oil. It designated a part of the Iranian armed forces, the Revolutionary Guard Corp (ICRG), as a terrorist entity. On Friday it sanctioned Iran's biggest producer of petrochemical products because that company is alleged to have relations with the ICRG.
The strategic patience Iran demonstrated throughout the year since Trump killed the deal brought no result. Trump will stay in power, probably for another five and a half years, while Iran's economic situation continuous to get worse. The situation requires a strategic reorientation and the adoption of a new plan to counter U.S. pressure.
On the strategic side a long term reorientation in four different fields will counter the effects the economic war on Iran. Foreign imports to Iran will be reduced to a minimum level by increasing production at home. Iran will ally with no one, not even China and Russia, as it recognizes that relying on partners has no value when those partners have their own higher interests. The third step is to loosen interior pressure on the 'reformist' who argued for a more 'western' orientation. Trump, and the cowardice of the Europeans, have proven that their arguments are false. The last measure is to reorientate exports from global oil trade to other products, probably derived from oil, and to neighboring countries.
All four steps will take some time. They are at large a reorientation from a globalization strategy to a more isolationist national one. Some first steps of this new plan are already visible. A common bank will be set up by Syria, Iraq and Iran to facilitate trade between those countries.
The economic reorientation is not sufficient. To directly counter Trump's maximum pressure campaign requires a tactical reorientation.
Trump continues to call for negotiations with Iran but he can accept nothing but a total capitulation. Trump also proved that the U.S. does not stick to the agreements it makes. There is therefore no hope for Iran to achieve anything through negotiations. There is only one way to counter Trump's maximum pressure campaign and that is by putting maximum pressure on him.
Neither Washington, nor the anti-Iranian countries in the Middle East, nor the other nuclear deal signers have so far paid a price for their hostile acts against Iran. That will now change.
Iran will move against the interests of the U.S., Israel, Saudi Arabia and the UAE. It will do so in deniable form to give the U.S. and others no opening for taking military actions against it. Iran has friends in various countries in the Middle East who will support it with their own capabilities. The campaign Iran now launches will also create severe damage for other countries.
In mid 2018, after Trump began to sanction Iran's oil exports, its leaders explained how it would counter the move:
Last December Iran's President Rouhani repeated that position:
“If one day they want to prevent the export of Iran’s oil, then no oil will be exported from the Persian Gulf,” [Rouhani] said.
In mid May 2019, one year after Trump destroyed the nuclear deal, a demonstration of capabilities damaged four tankers which anchored near Fujairah in the UAE. There was no evidence to blame the attack on Iran.
The incident was a warning. But the U.S. ignored it and increased the sanction pressure on Iran.
Yesterday two tankers with petrochemical products were attacked while crossing the Gulf of Oman. Coming only a few days after Trump sanctioned Iran's petrochemical exports points to Iran's involvement. But again no evidence was left in place to blame the incident on Iran.
The U.S. published a grainy black and white video which it says shows an Iranian Search and Rescue crew removing an unexploded limpet mine from one of the tankers. No mine in visible in the video. The Iranian crew seems to inspect the damage on the tanker.
The U.S. itself admits that the video was taken several hours after the incident. The U.S. also says that one of its ships was nearby. Why did it take no steps to remove the claimed mine itself?
Meanwhile the owner of the Kokuka Courageous, one of the stricken ships, said that the damage to its ship was not caused by mines but by drones:
Two “flying objects” damaged a Japanese tanker owned by Kokuka Sangyo Co in an attack on Thursday in the Gulf of Oman, but there was no damage to the cargo of methanol, the company president said on Friday.
“The crew told us something came flying at the ship, and they found a hole,” Katada said. “Then some crew witnessed the second shot.”
Katada also rejected speculation that the tanker, which sailed under the flag of Panama, was attacked because it was a Japanese owned vessel:
“Unless very carefully examined, it would be hard to tell the tanker was operated or owned by Japanese,” he said.
Despite the obvious lack of knowledge of who or what caused the incident the U.S. immediately blamed Iran:
Secretary Pompeo @SecPompeo - 18:27 UTC - 13 Jun 2019It is the assessment of the U.S. government that Iran is responsible for today's attacks in the Gulf of Oman. These attacks are a threat to international peace and security, a blatant assault on the freedom of navigation, and an unacceptable escalation of tension by Iran.
Iran pushed back:
Javad Zarif @JZarif - 12:11 UTC - 14 Jun 2019That the US immediately jumped to make allegations against Iran—w/o a shred of factual or circumstantial evidence—only makes it abundantly clear that the #B_Team is moving to a #PlanB: Sabotage diplomacy—including by @AbeShinzo—and cover up its #EconomicTerrorism against Iran.
I warned of exactly this scenario a few months ago, not because I'm clairvoyant, but because I recognize where the #B_Team is coming from.
The "B-team" includes Trump's National Security Advisor John Bolton, Israel's Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahoo, Mohammad bin Salman of Saudi Arabia and Mohammed bin Zayed of the UAE.
To say that the attacks were provocations by the U.S. or its Middle East allies is made easier by their evident ruthlessness. Any accusations by the Trump administration of Iranian culpability will be easily dismissed because everyone knows that Trump and his crew are notorious liars.
This cat and mouse game will now continue and steadily gain pace. More tankers will get damaged or even sunk. Saudi refineries will start to explode. UAE harbors will experience difficulties. Iran will plausibly deny that it is involved in any of this. The U.S. will continue to blame Iran but will have no evidence to prove it.
Insurance for Middle East cargo will become very expensive. Consumer prices for oil products will increase and increase again. The collateral damage will be immense.
All this will gradually put more pressure on Trump. The U.S. will want to negotiate with Iran, but that will be rejected unless Trump rejoins the nuclear deal and lifts all his sanctions. He can not do that without losing face and his allies. By mid 2020 the maximum pressure campaign will reach its zenith. Oil prices will explode and the U.S. will fall into a recession. The world economy will tank and everyone will know who caused the underlying issue. Trump's reelection will come into doubt.
There will also be pressure on Trump to take military action against Iran. But he knows that a war would be equally disastrous for his re-election chances, and for the United States. A war against Iran would put the whole Middle East in flames.
The maximum pressure Trump hoped to wage against Iran will turn into maximum pressure on him and his allies. He will be trapped and there will be no way out.
Posted by b on June 14, 2019 at 01:04 PM | Permalink