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Iran Crisis - January 2021 - More Tanker Seizures

Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said on 31 December 2020 that intelligence from Iraq indicated outgoing US President Donald Trump aiming to fabricate a pretext for war. "Instead of fighting COVID-19 in US, Donald Trump and cohorts waste billions to fly B52s and send armadas to OUR region," Zarif wrote on Twitter. "Intelligence from Iraq indicate plot to FABRICATE pretext for war," he said. US aircraft carrier USS Nimitz has been patrolling Gulf waters since late November and two American B-52 bombers recently overflew the region. "Iran doesn't seek war but will OPENLY and DIRECTLY defend its people, security and vital interests," he added.

Iran will not differentiate between US military bases in the region and the Arab countries hosting American troops if a war broke out, commander of the IRGC aerospace divison said on 02 January 2021. “If something happens here and a war breaks out, we will not distinguish between US bases and the host countries. Naturally, the very same Arab countries in the region will bear the brunt,” the semi-official Tasnim news agency quoted General Amir Ali Hajizadeh as saying. The US has bases and personnel in Bahrain, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, UAE, Oman, and Iraq. Hajizadeh’s comments coincided with the first anniversary of top Iranian general Qassem Soleimani's assassination in US drone strike in Baghdad on January 3.

The escalation of tensions between the U.S. and Iran as Trump's term draws to a close and Tehran's announcement on 04 January 2020 that it was starting to increase nuclear enrichment levels to 20-percent which is a step closer to developing the capacity to produce a nuclear weapon. The Pentagon directed the aircraft carrier Nimitz to remain in the Middle East, days after it had ordered the ship to return home, because of Iranian threats against Trump and other US officials.

On 04 January 2020 Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) Navy seized a South Korean vessel for “environmental pollution” in the Persian Gulf. According to Iranian local media, the South Korean flagged vessel that was carrying 20 crewmembers including five South Korean nationals, two Indonesians, two Vietnamese, and 11 Myanmarese was seized reportedly due to chemical pollution caused by the ship. "The tanker was carrying 7,200 tons of ethanol departing from Saudi Arabia bound for South Korea." The tanker was on the way to the United Arab Emirates from Saudi Arabia, but was seized and directed to a port city in Iran's southern territory. The Iranian official said that the issue is to be dealt with by judicial officials.

Some analysts see this as being related to the tensions between Iran and the US. The seizure of the MT Hankuk Chemi and its 20-member crew near the strategic Strait of Hormuz has been seen by many as Tehran's attempt to assert its demands, just two weeks before President-elect Joe Biden takes office in the US.

It has been reported that around US$7 billion worth of Iranian oil money has been frozen at two South Korean banks. Iran has been reportedly asking South Korea to use the frozen assets to buy COVID-19 vaccines from the COVAX Facility. The Iranian government rejected allegations that its seizure of the South Korean vessel amounted to hostage-taking, and it was South Korea that was holding its 7 billion dollars hostage. "If there is any hostage-taking, it is Korea's government that is holding more than $7 billion, which belongs to us."

South Korea’s foreign ministry demanded the vessel’s immediate release, adding in a statement that its anti-piracy Cheonghae Unit forces stationed in the Strait of Hormuz were dispatched to the area. The South Korean naval destroyer "Choe Yeong" (DDH-981), which performed escort missions in the Gulf of Aden, was ordered to go to the Strait of Hormuz. The actions of the Iranian Navy are actually not much different from pirates. The US- State Department called on Iran to immediately release the tanker, saying the regime continues to threaten navigational rights and freedoms in the Persian Gulf, as part of an attempt to relieve the pressure of sanctions.

President Moon Jae-in ordered pan-governmental dialogue to resolve Iran's seizure of a South Korean oil tanker. Presidential spokesperson Kang Min-seok said in a written briefing on 05 January 2021 that Moon issued the order as he was briefed on the matter the previous day by National Security Office(NSO) Director Suh Hoon soon after Iran's Revolutionary Guards seized the ship carrying 20 crew members in the Strait of Hormuz.

The incident happened ahead of a planned visit to Iran 10 January 2020 by Seoul's first vice foreign minister Choi Jong-kun. The foreign ministry said Choi will leave for Tehran as planned. The foreign ministry said "The South Korean government will do all it can to solve this problem as soon as possible, by sending a negotiating team and using local diplomatic channels, including the visit by vice foreign minister Choi Jong-kun that was planned earlier".

On 12 Janaury 2021 US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo made the bold assertion that al-Qaeda’s new base was in Iran, failing to back up the claim with any evidence. He also claimed Iran was and is aiding al-Qaeda and providing them with shelter and logistics. This is important as, under the 2001 Authorization of Military Force, the president does not need Congressional approval for any military action aimed at al-Qaeda, which is considered an international organisation not tied to any country and can therefore be targeted anywhere.

All the pieces were now in place for military action against Iran. But then Trump left office.

The Israeli Army was updating its attack plans against Iran, and its chief of staff warned that any return to the 2015 nuclear accord with Tehran would be “wrong.”

Amid ongoing tensions between Washington and Tehran, a US B-52 bomber flew over the Middle East. The U.S. military announced the action on 27 January 2021 saying it was “to deter potential aggression". This was the third mission this year, and the first deployment of the heavy bomber since President Joe Biden took Office last week. The B-52 flew nonstop from Louisiana's Barksdale Air Force Base into the region earlier in the day going over both the Persian Gulf and Saudi Arabia. Not mentioning Iran directly, U.S. Central Command said the flight is to underscore Washington’s commitment to regional security and the ability to rapidly deploy to the region when necessary.

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Page last modified: 30-06-2021 11:38:48 ZULU