The intelligence that caused the White House to escalate its warnings about a threat from Iran came from photographs of missiles on small boats in the Persian Gulf that were put on board by Iranian paramilitary forces, three American officials said. Overhead imagery showed fully assembled missiles, stoking fears that the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps would fire them at United States naval ships. Additional pieces of intelligence picked up threats against commercial shipping and potential attacks by Arab militias with Iran ties on American troops in Iraq.
Growing U.S. pressure on Iran has weakened pragmatic President Hassan Rouhani and made his hardline rivals more assertive at home and abroad, recent developments show. When he succeeded firebrand leader Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in 2013, Rouhani was seen as an establishment figure who would do little to end Iran's long standoff with the West. Two years later, his administration signed the nuclear deal with six world powers that spurred hopes for wider political change.
When the U.S. withdraws its diplomats from a foreign country amid a security threat, the domestic reaction in a previous age would have been to show solidarity against an adversary. But this is Washington in 2019, so the loyal opposition is reacting to the threat from Iran by blaming-President Trump. "Either the Trump administration is trying to goad Iran into war or a war could come by accident because of the administration's reckless policies," declared former Obama official Wendy Sherman Wednesday, after the State Department withdrew personnel from Iraq.
UANI IN THE NEWS
...David Ibsen, president of United Against Nuclear Iran, told Ami: "I think they were waiting to see what they could get from the Europeans. They want to keep the Europeans in the agreement. They hoped the Europeans would be able to keep trade and finance going through the special vehicle. They're suffering, and they're starting to lash out as a result."
NUCLEAR DEAL & NUCLEAR PROGRAM
Iran made a veiled threat this week to enrich uranium stocks closer to weapon-grade levels amid rising tensions in the region. That would mean going beyond the level of potency allowed by the 2015 nuclear agreement with world powers, which the U.S. withdrew from last year. Tehran is threatening to resume higher enrichment on July 7 if no new agreement is reached to provide relief from U.S. sanctions. Enriching a supply of uranium means boosting its concentration of the type of uranium that can power a nuclear reaction.
Iran has no plans to launch centrifuge machines able to enrich uranium at higher capacity or to alter its relations with the U.N. nuclear watchdog, the spokesman for its civilian nuclear agency was quoted as saying on Thursday. Last week, Iran notified China, France, Germany, Russia and Britain that would scale back some commitments under its 2015 nuclear deal, a year after the United States withdrew from the pact and reimposed sanctions on Tehran.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has said Iran should stay in the nuclear agreement and should not take the first step to withdraw. Speaking at a press conference with Austrian President Alexander Van der Bellen on Wednesday, May 15, Putin said if Iran takes the first step to leave the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), everyone will blame it for the collapse of the agreement.
SANCTIONS, BUSINESS RISKS, & OTHER ECONOMIC NEWS
Iran's production of oil, its top revenue source, declined to its lowest level in more than five years as the U.S. prepared to unilaterally impose a total ban on Iranian crude exports, a new study shows. In a monthly report released Wednesday, the International Energy Agency said Iranian oil output was 2.6 million barrels a day in April, down 5% from March's figure of 2.74 million barrels a day. April's oil output figure was Iran's lowest since September 2013.
A tanker carrying Iranian fuel oil in violation of U.S. sanctions has unloaded the cargo into storage tanks near the Chinese city of Zhoushan, according to ship tracking data on Refinitiv Eikon. The discharging of the nearly 130,000 tonnes of Iranian fuel oil onboard the tanker, the Marshal Z, confirmed by a representative of the oil storage terminal, marks the end of an odyssey for the cargo that began four months ago.
TERRORISM & EXTREMISM
We need to prepare. With the deployment of the USS Abraham Lincoln and a group of B-52 bombers to the Middle East, tensions with Iran have reached a critical phase. While Iran poses a very real threat to the world's supply of oil, the current situation also underscores that we must be prepared - immediately - to counter Iranian-sponsored terrorism and to respond to the threat that Iran's growing cyber capabilities pose to the United States and our allies in the region
Sen. Thom Tillis, R, N.C., Wednesday defended recent action taken by President Trump in response to "credible threats" from Iran and spoke out against the country's state-sponsored terrorism. During an appearance on "America's Newsroom," Tillis said he supports the president's display of strength as tensions continue to rise between the United States and Iran.
PROTESTS & HUMAN RIGHTS
British Prime Minister Theresa May said on Wednesday she was deeply concerned about the jailing of a British Council worker in Iran on espionage charges. Iran said on Monday it had sentenced an Iranian woman to 10 years prison for spying for Britain, as tension rises between Tehran and some Western countries over its nuclear and missile programs. "It's utterly shocking. I'm deeply concerned by the turn of events," May told parliament, adding that the woman was working for a legitimate organization that was trying to foster better relations between countries.
At least 10 workers at a major Iranian sugar factory have been detained following new strikes in protest against management, the Iran Labor News Agency (ILNA) reported on Wednesday. The Haft Tappeh Sugarcane factory employees were summoned and arrested on Tuesday following the strikes last week. According to fellow workers quoted by ILNA, this brought the combined number of arrests over the May 9 strikes to more than 14, four of whom have been released on bail, ILNA reported.
U.S.-IRAN RELATIONS & NEGOTIATIONS
"We are on the cusp of a full-scale confrontation with the enemy," claimed hardliner Hossein Salami, the recently appointed head of Iran's IRGC on Wednesday. "This moment in history, because the enemy has stepped into the field of confrontation with us with all the possible capacity, is the most decisive moment of the Islamic revolution." Earlier on Wednesday, Iran's Defense Minister also clearly decided that there had not been any incendiary public statements for 24-hours, and so he announced that Iran will "defeat the American-Zionist front," adding that "today, the Islamic Republic of Iran stands at the peak of defense-military preparedness to counter any threat or act of aggression."
U.S. Sen. Martha McSally on Wednesday blasted those who've criticized National Security Adviser John Bolton as a "war monger" amid rising tensions between the U.S. and Iran. "I think he is a realist. I know John Bolton and I know he cares about protecting Americans and their interests. I just think this type of infighting is not helpful right now," McSally, an Arizona Republican, said during an appearance on "The Story with Martha MacCallum."
Iran is committed to its obligations under an international nuclear deal despite the U.S. withdrawal from the landmark agreement, its foreign minister said on Thursday, calling the reimposition of U.S sanctions "unacceptable". Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif made the comments in a meeting with his Japanese counterpart in Tokyo as tensions rise in the Middle East, fuelling concern that the United States and Iran are heading for conflict.
Iran's military commanders said on Wednesday the Islamic Republic was on the verge of an all-out confrontation with its enemies and was ready to counter any threat. "Iran has the highest level of defense-military preparedness to confront any type of threat and excessive demands," Defence Minister Amir Hatami was quoted as saying by the Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA). He said Iran would defeat an American and Israeli alliance.
U.S. officials believe Iran encouraged Houthi militants or Iraq-based Shi'ite militias to carry out Sunday's attacks on four tankers near the Strait of Hormuz, two U.S. government sources said on Wednesday. The sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity and who are familiar with U.S. national security assessments, said they viewed the attacks as a serious provocation by Iran which posed a significant threat to shipping.
Gone, at least for now, are the halcyon days when strong military and political ties between Britain and the United States meant that Washington could assume it had a staunch partner for standing up to a foreign foe. Dating back to World War II and including joint actions against Kosovo, Afghanistan and the two wars against Iraq, U.S. leaders have been able to count on Britain to take part in invasions and airstrikes, and to help persuade sometimes cautious European allies to offer political and logistical support.
President Barack Obama's fruitless effort to lure Iran's Ayatollah Ali Khamenei into changing the behavior of his rogue regime never had a chance because it began from the premise that appeasement works. It never does. Appeasement didn't work with the Iran nuclear deal, just as it failed in the "reset" with Russia earlier in the Obama administration, and just as it failed with the 1994 North Korea-U.S. "deal," which Pyongyang had probably violated with its secret uranium enrichment sites even as it put pen and ink to paper.
As summer approaches in the Arabian Gulf, geopolitical tensions are rising as fast as the temperature. Saudi Arabia says it has suffered drone attacks on land-based oil pumping stations, and that two of its oil tankers were sabotaged. Two other tankers, including one flagged to NATO ally Norway, were also reportedly damaged by small explosive devices. The seaborne incidents all occurred off the coast of the United Arab Emirates at a maritime oil-bunkering station.
Headlines this week might make you think President Trump is itching for war with Iran. Truth is, he doesn't need to, because his sanctions are working - as Tehran's response proves. Yes, Team Trump sent a Navy carrier battle group into the Gulf, and on Wednesday, the US embassy in Baghdad also ordered all non-essential, non-emergency staff out of Iraq immediately. But this was part of a response to intelligence reports that Iran may be about to strike US interests in the region, most likely via one of its terrorist or "independent" militia proxies.
Iran's top defense official predicted Wednesday that the Islamic Republic would vanquish the US and its ally Israel if his country is attacked. "We will defeat the American-Zionist front," Minister of Defense Amir Hatami said, according to the Islamic Republic News Agency, which also ripped the US for escalating the conflict between the two countries.
RUSSIA, SYRIA, ISRAEL, HEZBOLLAH, LEBANON & IRAN
The growing tension between the United States and Iran in recent days might result in Iran-backed organizations, especially Hezbollah, acting against Israel if Tehran deems it suitable for its interests. Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah understands the Lebanese public will not forgive him for starting the Third Lebanon War - which would most likely lead to partial destruction of Lebanon - all in the name of Iran.
The US State Department has released a video alleging that Iran has established a military training base in Lebanon in close proximity to Rayak Air Force base near the border with Syria. According to David Daoud, a research analyst on Hezbollah and Lebanon at United Against Nuclear Iran, while the video suggests that IRGC base was discovered this past February, it "could be much older." Nevertheless, the fact that the base is in close proximity to Rayak air base shows two things, Daoud said. "First, how compromised the eastern Lebanese-Syrian border is to entry of "resistance axis" elements and the Lebanese state's inability to properly police its territory against Iranian penetration. The IRGC base's proximity to the LAF's Rayak Air Base only underscores this," he said. "Second, it further demonstrates unification of the "Resistance Axis" that Nasrallah and other Iranian proxy-militia leaders have often mentioned, where in a future war (say, against Israel) Hezbollah would not fight alone, but would be joined by other forces."
GULF STATES, YEMEN, & IRAN
Houthi rebels allied with Tehran have finished pulling forces out of three Red Sea ports in Yemen, the United Nations said, a withdrawal that comes as the U.S. has warned of heightened threats from Iran and its proxies in the region. The four-day withdrawal, including from the strategic city of Hodeidah, is vital to keeping alive a U.N.-brokered cease-fire struck in December between the Houthis and the internationally recognized government in Yemen backed by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
The United Arab Emirates will show restraint after attacks on oil tankers off its coast and is committed to de-escalation during a "difficult situation" caused by Iranian behavior in the region, a senior official said on Wednesday. Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash said he would not speculate about who was behind Sunday's sabotage acts on four vessels, including two Saudi tankers, near Fujairah emirate while an investigation was under way and due to be completed within days.
Saudi Arabia accused Iran on Thursday of ordering the drone attacks by Yemen's Houthi rebels against its oil facilities, potentially heightening tensions in a major oil-producing region. Prince Khalid Bin Salman, the vice minister for defense and brother of Saudi Arabia's de facto ruler, said in comments on Twitter that the attack by Iranian-backed Houthis undermined political efforts to resolve tensions in the Gulf. His comments come as Saudi-led coalition forces launched airstrikes against Houthi positions in Yemen.
OTHER FOREIGN AFFAIRS
German Chancellor Angela Merkel says that Europe needs to "reposition" itself in a changing world and is welcoming European powers' unity over Iran, a contrast with their deep divisions over the Iraq war 16 years ago. Merkel said in an interview with Germany's daily Sueddeutsche Zeitung released Wednesday that Europe needs "forward-looking" arguments and stressed that "simply pointing to seven decades of peace is no longer enough to justify Europe."