An Iranian oil tanker was hit by explosions in the Red Sea early Friday, and the state news media reported that the vessel had been hit by missiles that struck its two major tanks, causing oil to spill into the sea and raising fears about increasing tensions in an already volatile and economically crucial region. The National Iranian Oil Company, which owns the tanker, said the ship had been struck at 5 a.m. and again at 5:20 a.m., state-run news outlets reported, adding that it had suffered damage about 60 miles from Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.
The cost of moving oil around the world has hit an 11-year high as producers scramble to find new supertankers following a U.S. blacklisting of a major Chinese operator that has sidelined dozens of ships. "The market has gone bonkers by shock events like the Cosco tankers being blacklisted," said George Lazaridis, head of research and valuations at Athens, Greece-based Allied Shipbroking. "It's a bubble that could get bigger because of geopolitics before it bursts."
The chief commander of Iran's revolutionary guards (IRGC) says the United States cannot utilize its power and its claims of having "options on the table" are useless, Tasnim news agency reported. Speaking at the northern Iranian city of Ardabil on Thursday, October 10, General Hossein Salami said, "Americans end up in a cycle that the more they invest the less they benefit from it. They cannot convert their huge economic and military capital to political gain."
SANCTIONS, BUSINESS RISKS, & OTHER ECONOMIC NEWS
Oil prices rose sharply on Friday morning after Iranian state media said that two rockets had struck an Iranian tanker traveling through the Red Sea. Brent crude futures were up 2.07% at $60.33 a barrel by 8:00 a.m. London time, shortly after the news, with West Texas Intermediate (WTI) futures showing similar gains. The National Iranian Oil Company told NBC that the tanker was hit by two explosions at 5:00 a.m. and 5:20 a.m. local time.
Hit by wide-ranging US sanctions, Iran's economy is expected to contract by 8.7% in the financial year 2019/20 mainly due to constraints on its oil and gas industry, the World Bank said. Washington's policy of applying "maximum pressure" on Iran through sanctions has shredded the country's oil revenues, sent its economy into recession and devalued its national currency. "The expected deterioration in economic growth would mean that by the end of 2019/20 the economy would be 90% of its previous size compared to just two years earlier," the World Bank said in a regional economic report, according to Reuters.
PROTESTS & HUMAN RIGHTS
Zeinab Sahafi didn't want to be an activist. All she ever wanted to be, she said, was a regular fan, another of the millions of soccer obsessives aroundd the world who every week step into stadiums to scream and shout in support of their teams for 90 minutes, and then return and do it all over again at the next game. Only Sahafi, 23, is Iranian, and a woman, and that has changed everything.
Thousands of women bought tickets to an international soccer match in Iran after being allowed to do so for the first time in four decades, cheering on the national team in a watershed moment for a daring women's rights movement. A de facto ban on women in soccer stadiums since just after the 1979 revolution has long been a rallying cry for proponents of social freedom in Iran. It has hit home in a country where soccer is the far-most-popular sport, and the movement became an international cause in September after a young woman set herself on fire and died protesting her arrest for sneaking into a match.
Some 4,000 flag-waving Iranian women cheered on Iran's national team in a Tehran stadium on Thursday for a 2022 World Cup qualifier. Progress? After a nearly 40-year ban on women attending sporting events following the country's Islamic Revolution, what we are seeing Thursday is not yet cause for celebration. That's surely the view that FIFA - soccer's global governing body - will take.
The family of a political prisoner in Iran has told Radio Farda Thursday that intelligence agents prevented medical treatment in the city of Mashhad. Mohammad Hossein Sepehri was arrested on August 11 along with 13 other individuals who had signed a letter asking Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei to resign. Asghar Sepehri, Mohammad Hossein's brother told Radio Farda, "my brother was on hunger strike for 33 days after his arrest and this led to the blockage of his intestine".
U.S.-IRAN RELATIONS & NEGOTIATIONS
The U.S. Navy's Fifth Fleet is aware of media reports about an Iranian tanker blast but has no further information so far, a spokesman said on Friday. "We are aware of the reports but we don't have any further information," he said. The Bahrain-based Fifth Fleet protects shipping lanes in the Middle East.
MILITARY/INTELLIGENCE MATTERS & PROXY WARS
Iran's decision-making elite, especially the Revolutionary Guards, are preparing to amend the government formation law ahead of upcoming presidential elections, well-informed sources told Asharq Al-Awsat. The move primarily aims to split government portfolios among presidential candidates and to form coalition cabinets, sources added. Under the current law, the Iranian president, after coordinating with the country's supreme leader, selects three ministers: foreign affairs, defense and intelligence.
IRANIAN INTERNAL DEVELOPMENTS
The National Iranian Cyberspace Center has denied reports about the lifting of the ban on popular social networking application Telegram. A statement issued by the center on Thursday October 10 says rumors on social media about the lifting of the ban on Telegram are not true. Telegram, which had close to 40 million users in Iran was banned in early 2018 after mass anti-government protests nationwide. Messaging apps are used to inform people about protests.
An Iranian human rights organization, Justice for Iran has called on Wikipedia and Wikimedia Foundation "to undertake serious measures to ensure authoritarian states, such as the Islamic Republic of Iran, do not use Wikipedia as a tool for censorship, suppression and impunity." Some of the Iranian Wikipedia contributors had previously accused some members of the Persian editorial team of systematically editing the texts in a way that the Islamic Republic's alleged crimes are not mentioned.
RUSSIA, SYRIA, ISRAEL, HEZBOLLAH, LEBANON & IRAN
Israel's military has a secret weapon as the war-between-war campaign against Hezbollah and Iran continues to expand: the Language Teaching Department at the Military Intelligence and Cyber Instruction Unit (MICIU), a language school where soldiers become fluent in Arabic or Farsi in under two months. In a nondescript building in a base in the center of the country sits the largest intelligence school in the entire Middle East. Thousands of soldiers and officers pass through its doors every year, training for positions in the IDF's Military Intelligence Division.
TURKEY & IRAN
Turkey's military operation in the Kurdish populated northeastern Syria has left Iran in an extremely difficult position between its strongest regional friend and one of Iran's most significant ethnic groups which views itself part of a trans-border identity. Iran fears a spill-over of tensions into the Iranian Kurdish provinces, and at the same time cannot afford losing Turkey as its most important friend in West Asia, by crossing Ankara's red line regarding the Kurdish issue, or even by strongly condemning Ankara's aggression.
Iran's foreign ministry called on Turkey on Thursday to immediately halt its military offensive in Syria and pull its forces out of that country. In a statement posted on its official website, the ministry expressed concern about the humanitarian situation and the dangers posed to civilians in the conflict zone. "The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Islamic Republic of Iran... emphasizes (the need for) an immediate stop to the attacks and the exit of the Turkish military from Syrian territory," it said.