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The Spice must flow!

Iran Crisis - 2019

Around a sixth of the worlds oil moves through the Strait - 17.2 million barrels per day. This includes most of the oil from Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries members Saudi Arabia, Iran, the UAE and Kuwait. Qatar, the worlds biggest exporter of LNG, sends most of its LNG through the strait as well.

During the Iran-Iraq War in the 1980s, the two countries routinely menaced each others oil shipments. In early 2012, Iran threatened to interfere with ships traveling through the strait in retaliation for US and European sanctions targeting its oil sales.

In May 2018 Washington exited the multinational accord that lifted sanctions on Iran in exchange for curbs on its nuclear program. It also reimposed and tightened sanctions on Tehran. In July 2018, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said that his country was able to disrupt oil tankers passing through the strait, after the US sought to limit Iran's petroleum revenues. The US initially vowed to reduce Iran's oil sales to "zero" under the bans, but it later backed down and granted waivers to almost all of Tehran's major crude buyers. On 21 May 2018 US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo unveiled a far-reaching list of demands for any new nuclear deal with Iran, and threatened economy-crushing sanctions if Tehran does not change its behavior. The 12-point list of demands came in a speech at the conservative Heritage Foundation. At the battle of Stirling Bridge, 11 September 1297, the movie Braveheart has William Wallace provoking the English to battle.

On 05 November 2018, Washington imposed fresh unilateral restrictions on Iran's energy, shipping, and financial industries, with a stated goal of reducing its oil exports to zero. On 04 December 2018, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani threatened to disrupt other countries oil shipments through the Gulf if Washington pressed ahead with efforts to halt Iranian oil exports. "The US should know [this] that we are selling and will continue to sell our oil and it will not be able to block Iran's oil exports. And it should also know that if it attempts to stop Iran's oil [sales] someday, no oil will be exported from the Persian Gulf," he said. Trump announced oil purchase waivers for China, India, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Turkey, Italy and Greece. Since then, Italy, Greece and Taiwan halted their Iranian oil imports.

On 08 May 2019 Iran's Supreme National Security Council issued a statement addressing the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) member states, stating that the Islamic Republic of Iran has shown considerable restraint in the past one year after the illegal withdrawal of the United States from the JCPOA. Iran will scale back more compliance with a 2015 nuclear agreement in 60 days unless they keep promises with the deal.

On 02 M1y 2019 the United States tightening its economic sanctions on Iran by ending a set of waivers Thursday that had allowed some of the country's largest oil buyers to continue their purchases. With the expiration of waivers for eight buyers, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the United States would be exerting "maximum pressure" on the Iranian government. The U.S. State Department called the move a fulfillment of the Trump administration's promise "to get Iran's oil exports to zero and deny the regime the revenue it needs to fund terrorism and violent wars abroad."

On 09 May 2019 the U.S. Maritime Administration warned of what it called the " increased possibility that Iran and/or its regional proxies could take action against U.S. and partner interests, including oil production infrastructure, after recently threatening to close the Strait of Hormuz. Iran or its proxies could respond by targeting commercial vessels, including oil tankers, or U.S. military vessels in the Red Sea, Bab-el-Mandeb Strait, or the Persian Gulf."

Then on 12 May 2019, four vessels were attacked near Fujairah just beyond the strait. The ships -- including two Saudi oil tankers, an Emirati ship and the Norwegian tanker Andrea Victory -- were docked in the sea off the coast of Fujairah. Fujairah port is the only terminal in the UAE located on the Arabian Sea coast. The small emirate has an oil terminal and a pipeline that delivers crude oil from Abu Dhabi which sits on the majority of UAE oil reserves.

UAE said four commercial ships were subjected to "sabotage operations" near its territorial waters in the Gulf of Oman, but did not give any details on the sabotage. Saudi Arabia says two of its oil tankers suffered "significant damage" in a "sabotage attack". No details, however, about the specifics of the damage were released. The kingdom's energy minister said one of the tankers had been on its way to the Saudi port of Ras Tanura to pick up oil to deliver to the United States.

The US blamed Iran for these attacks on oil tankers, saying Iranian-made limpet mines were used to attack four oil tankers on May 12 off the Emirati port of Fujairah. The attacks bore similar hallmarks of sophistication, and it is highly unlikely that anyone short of a state actor or a state-sponsored group could have carried out the operation. Tehran dismissed the allegation as "ridiculous" and called for dialogue between countries in the Gulf to ease what it called an "alarming security situation" in the region.

The Saudi energy minister said the kingdom had stopped pumping crude oil on a major pipeline across the country after retaliatory drone strikes carried out by Yemeni army forces and their allies. Khalid A. Al-Falih said the national petroleum and natural gas company, Saudi Aramco, halted oil pumping on the pipeline from the oil-rich Eastern Province to the Red Sea, while the damage was being evaluated and its two targeted pumping stations were being repaired.

The 1,200-kilometer (750-mile) pipeline, which reportedly has a capacity of at least five million barrels per day, carries crude oil from Saudi Arabia's main eastern fields to the Red Sea port city of Yanbu in the west. The targeted pumping stations are located in the towns of Dawadmi and Afif, which lie in the Najd region west of the capital, Riyadh.

Iran launched a surface-to-air missile at an American drone just hours before its attack on two oil tankers, US military sources revealed on 14 June 2019. Pentagon insiders said Tehran tried to shoot down the US MQ-9 Reaper drone as it monitored the region - but missed. On 13 June 2019 US Naval Forces in the region received two separate distress calls at 6:12 a.m. local time from the motor tanker (M/T) Altair and a second one at 7a.m. local time from the M/T Kokuka Courageous. Both vessels were in international waters in the Gulf of Oman approximately 10 nautical miles apart at the time of the distress calls. USS Bainbridge was approximately 40 nautical miles away from the M/T Altair at the time of the attack, and immediately began closing the distance.

The Panama-registered Kokuka Courageous oil tanker, operated by Japans Kokuka Sangyo Co, and Marshall Islands-flagged Front Altair, owned by Norway's Frontline, were hit by blasts in the Gulf of Oman. The Japanese Trade Ministry said in a statement that both ships were carrying Japan-related cargo. The attacks left one ship ablaze and both adrift, forcing scores of crew to abandon the ships.

At 8:09 a.m. local time a U.S. aircraft observed an IRGC Hendijan class patrol boat and multiple IRGC fast attack craft/fast inshore attack craft (FAC/FIAC) in the vicinity of the M/T Altair. At 9:12 a.m. local time a U.S. aircraft observes the FAC/FIAC pull a raft from the M/T Altair from the water. At 9:26 a.m. local time the Iranians requested that the motor vessel Hyundai Dubai, which had rescued the sailors from the M/T Altair, to turn the crew over to the Iranian FIACs. The motor vessel Hyundai Dubai complied with the request and transferred the crew of the M/T Altair to the Iranian FIACs.

At 11:05 a.m. local time USS Bainbridge approaches the Dutch tug Coastal Ace, which had rescued the crew of twenty-one sailors from the M/T Kokuka Courageous who had abandoned their ship after discovering a probable unexploded limpet mine on their hull following an initial explosion. While the Hendijan patrol boat appeared to attempt to get to the tug Coastal Ace before USS Bainbridge, the mariners were rescued by USS Bainbridge at the request of the master of the M/T Kokuka Courageous.

At 4:10 p.m. local time an IRGC Gashti Class patrol boat approached the M/T Kokuka Courageous and was observed and recorded removing the unexploded limpet mine from the M/T Kokuka Courageous. The U.S. Navy released video that shows an Iranian patrol boat removing an unexploded limpet mine from the hull of one of two tankers carrying petroleum products that were attacked in the Gulf of Oman 13 June 2019. Photographs also released by the U.S. military showed the removed mine had been attached to the Japanese tanker, slightly forward of a mine that had exploded.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe had been visiting Iran in an attempt to ease tensions and was meeting with Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei when the reported attacks occurred.

The head of the Kokuka Sangyo shipping company, which operates the tanker Kokuka Courageous, said the ship had been attacked twice, with one explosion near the engine room and another on the starboard, near the stern. Speaking to reporters, Yutaka Katada, said the crew of the vessel reported they saw a flying object just before the second blast on board, suggesting the tanker was not damaged by mines. Katadas statement contradicts the US account of the incident.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo blamed Iran for the attacks. It is the assessment of the United States government that the Islamic Republic of Iran is responsible for the attacks that occurred in the Gulf of Oman today, Pompeo said. Taken as a whole, these unprovoked attacks present a clear threat to international peace and security, a blatant assault on the freedom of navigation, and an unacceptable campaign of escalating tension by Iran.

Pompeo said the U.S. based its determination that Iran was behind the attacks on intelligence, the weapons used, and what he calls the level of expertise needed to carry out such an operation. The secretary noted that Iran was behind other recent similar attacks on shipping and that no proxy group in the region has the resources and ability to attack a tanker with such a high degree of sophistication.

Supreme Leader of the Islamic Revolution Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei declared on 13 June 2019 that Iran will not hold talks with the United States because President Donald Trump is not worth it. The Supreme Leader made the remarks in a meeting with visiting Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in Tehran. "I don't consider Trump worth sending a message to," Ayatollah Khamenei said during the meeting while reiterating that the US president does not deserve exchanging messages with. The Islamic Republic of Iran has no confidence in the US, said the Supreme Leader stressing that Iran will never repeat the unpleasant experience it had during the previous talks within the framework of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) with the US.

"We do not want a war in the region... But we won't hesitate to deal with any threat to our people, our sovereignty, our territorial integrity and our vital interests," Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman , also known as MBS, told pan-Arab daily Asharq al Awsat 16 June 2019, in his first public comments since the attacks. "The Iranian regime did not respect the presence of the Japanese prime minister as a guest in Tehran and responded to his (diplomatic) efforts by attacking two tankers, one of which was Japanese."

Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan announced on 17 June 2019 that the US would be sending an additional 1,000 troops to the Middle East to counter alleged Iranian aggression. In a statement released at the time, Shanahan stated that the servicemembers would be used "for defensive purposes to address air, naval and ground-based threats" in the region.

The Pentagon revealed 19 June 2019 that the US' latest troop deployment to the Middle East will also include a Patriot Missile battalion, drones and manned surveillance aircraft. Additionally, the Pentagon has indicated that it doesn't want war with Iran, but that it is postured and ready to defend US forces and interests in the region.

On 19 June 2019 the US biggest oil company, Exxon, reportedly came under rocket attack in southern Iraq. That could be easily construed as a major threat to US interests. No group claimed responsibility for the latest rocket assault on Exxons facilities near the southern city of Basra.

Iran -  MQ-4C Triton  drone USA -  MQ-4C Triton  drone

On 20 June 2019 Iran shot down a US MQ-4C Triton drone, raising fears that a major military confrontation could erupt between Tehran and Washington in the Gulf. While Iran's elite Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) said the unmanned aircraft was brought down by a surface-to-air missile after flying into Iranian airspace, US officials said the drone was in the international territory at the time. CENTCOM stated "Iranian reports that the aircraft was over Iran are false. "This was an unprovoked attack on a U.S. surveillance asset in international airspace." The different accounts could not be reconciled immediately.

"The US-made Global Hawk surveillance drone was brought down" in the country's southern coastal province of Hormozgan, the IRGC's website said. "It was shot down when it entered Iran's airspace near the Kouhmobarak district in the south." Iranian state-run media says the US drone flew "with its identification transponders off in breach of all international aviation rules... from the Strait of Hormuz towards Iran's port city of Chabahar." As to its flight path: "While returning towards west of the Strait of Hormuz," Iran's PressTV said, "the drone violated Iran's territorial airspace and began gathering intelligence and spying." It was shot "near the Kouh-e Mobarak region" falling in the Ras al-Shir area "in Iran's territorial waters."

Borders are our red line, Revolutionary Guard commander Gen. Hossein Salami told a crowd in the western city of Sanandaj, in a televised address. `Any enemy that violates the borders will be annihilated. He added: "Today, the nation of Iran is recognized in the world by the attributes of authority, honor, greatness, standing, dignity, progress, security and prosperity, and all these meanings and interpretations of the eternal heritage of hundreds of thousands of martyrs of this great land." He said: "At the dawn of the day, the Revolutionary Guards Corps courageously overthrouded one of the enemy's espionage aircraft that crossed our borders and violated our national security. This is the mode and method of Iran's nation in dealing with enemies.

Major General Salami emphasized that the overthrow of the US intelligence aircraft was a clear, clear, decisive, quick, precise and precise message that defenders of the Islamic Republic of Iran's borders against the invasion of any alien to this land had resolute, And they will be definitive. The borders are our red line, and any enemy will invade it, will not return and will be destroyed. The only way enemies respect the territorial integrity and national interests of Iran.... We announce that we do not have a war with any country, but we are fully prepared for the war, and the incident is a clear indication of this message today".

The incident marked the first direct Iranian-claimed attack on US assets amid the escalating crisis after the United States imposed punishing sanctions on Tehran earlier this year and increased military forces in the Gulf. This "was a clear message to America, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) commander-in-chief, Hossein Salami, told local media. He added that any intrusion across the country's borders would be seen as a red line and would be met with strong resistance.

Trump said "Fortunately, that drone was unarmed. ... there was no man in it, it was in international waters but we didn't have a man or woman in the drone, we had nobody in the drone. Would have made a big, big difference.... I would imagine it was a general or somebody who made a mistake in shooting the drone down. .... "I have a feeling - and I may be wrong and I may be right but I'm right a lot - that it was a mistake made by somebody that shouldn't have been doing what they do - I think they made a mistake and I'm not just talking about the country made a mistake somebody under the command of the country made a mistake."

The US military nearly hit Iranian radar and missile batteries in strikes the evening of 20 June 2019, but Trump called it off at the last minute. Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov called U.S. officials in Washington to warn things could easily spiral out of control.

Trump on Twitter explained his decision: "On Monday [Iran] shot down an unmanned drone flying in International Waters. We were cocked & loaded to retaliate last night on 3 different sights [sic] when I asked, how many will die. 150 people, sir, was the answer from a General. 10 minutes before the strike I stopped it, not proportionate to shooting down an unmanned drone. I am in no hurry, our Military is rebuilt, new, and ready to go, by far the best in the world. Sanctions are biting & more added last night. Iran can NEVER have Nuclear Weapons, not against the USA, and not against the WORLD!"

Iran's foreign minister has dismissed US President Donald Trump's claim that a war between their countries would be short-lived, as Washington sought NATO's help to build an anti-Tehran coalition. "'Short war' with Iran is an illusion," Mohammad Javad Zarif wrote on 27 June 2019, a day after Trump said he did not want a war with Iran but warned that if fighting did break out, it "wouldn't last very long".

Drone attacks on Saudi Arabias oil industry in May originated in Iraq, not Yemen, US officials have concluded, drawing questions from Iraqi officials who have asked Washington for more information supporting the claim, the Wall Street Journal reported on 28 June 2019. US officials familiar with the intelligence on the May drone attacks sais they originated in southern Iraq, the Journal reported, saying that most likely pointed a finger at Iran-backed militias in that region.

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