Iran’s naval drills raise concerns

The US military’s Central Command on Wednesday confirmed it has seen increased Iranian naval activity. (File photo: AFP)
Updated 05 August 2018
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Iran’s naval drills raise concerns

  • One US official said possibly more than 100 vessels were involved in the drills, including small boats
  • Iran has been furious over US President Donald Trump’s decision to pull out of an international agreement on Iran’s nuclear program

JEDDAH: Iran’s Revolutionary Guards confirmed on Sunday it had held war games in the Gulf over the past several days, saying they were aimed at “confronting possible threats” by enemies, the state news agency IRNA reported.

US officials told Reuters on Thursday that Washington believed Iran had started carrying out naval exercises in the Gulf, apparently moving up the timing of annual drills amid heightened tensions with Washington.

“This exercise was conducted with the aim of controlling and safeguarding the safety of the international waterway and within the framework of the program of the Guards’ annual military exercises,” Guards spokesman Ramezan Sharif said, according to IRNA.

The US military’s Central Command on Wednesday confirmed it has seen increased Iranian naval activity. The activity extended to the Strait of Hormuz, a strategic waterway for oil shipments the Revolutionary Guards have threatened to block.

Guards commander Mohammad Ali Jafari “expressed satisfaction over the successful conduct of the Guards naval exercise, emphasising the need to maintain and enhance defense readiness and the security of the Gulf and the Strait of Hormuz and to confront threats and potential adventurous acts of enemies,” IRNA quoted Sharif as saying.

One US official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said possibly more than 100 vessels were involved in the drills, including small boats.

US officials, speaking to Reuters on condition of anonymity, said the drills appeared designed to send a message to Washington, which is intensifying its economic and diplomatic pressure on Tehran but so far stopping short of using the US military to more aggressively counter Iran and its proxies.

Iran has been furious over US President Donald Trump’s decision to pull out of an international agreement on Iran’s nuclear program and reimpose sanctions on Tehran. Senior Iranian officials have warned the country would not easily yield to a renewed US campaign to strangle Iran’s vital oil exports.

But Iran did not appear interested in drawing attention to the drills. Iranian authorities had not commented on them earlier and several officials contacted by Reuters this week had declined to comment. 

Separately, recent protests rocked major cities across Iran — including Tehran, Isfahan, Shiraz and Mashhad — amid mounting anger over the country’s economy and political system.

Alireza Nader, chair of the Anti-Defamation League’s Iran Task Force and former policy analyst at the RAND Corporation, said the Iranian government was unlikely to listen to calls made by the protesters.

“Iran is experiencing a nationwide uprising which won’t end until the regime falls or makes fundamental reforms. History shows it won’t pursue the latter,” Nader told Arab News.

“Iranians simply have had enough of the misery inflicted on them over the past 40 years. The regime could resort to major violence, but that’s likely to create an even bigger rebellion.”

Videos shared on social media in recent days have shown crowds of protesters in several cities, chanting slogans such as “death to the dictator” and those demanding an end to Iran’s regional interventions in Lebanon, Syria and Yemen.

In the city of Mashhad, a cleric was seen in a video telling a sizeable crowd that “most of your representatives don’t care about people’s problems,” according to Qom News.

Nader said that the protests amount to the “most widespread anti-regime resistance movement” since the 1979 revolution in which Iran’s shah was overthrown.

The current protests follow unrest in December and January, when at least 25 people were killed in demonstrations that spread to dozens of towns and cities.

They come ahead of a new wave of US sanctions on Iran, the first phase of which will be introduced Tuesday, and involve blocks on financial transactions and imports of raw materials among other measures.


Iran abandoning more nuclear deal commitments, France calls move ‘serious mistake’

Updated 49 min 34 sec ago
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Iran abandoning more nuclear deal commitments, France calls move ‘serious mistake’

  • Tehran had announced on May 8 that it was suspending two of its 2015 pledges and gave Europe, China and Russia a two-month ultimatum
  • Iran said further US sanctions permanently closed path to diplomacy

TEHRAN: Iran will "resolutely" abandon more commitments under a 2015 nuclear deal with world powers on July 7, Fars News Agency reported on Tuesday quoting a "note" from a top security official.

Tehran had announced on May 8 that it was suspending two of its 2015 pledges and gave Europe, China and Russia a two-month ultimatum to help Iran circumvent US sanctions and sell its oil or it would abandon two more commitments.

In response, France said that Iran would be making a "serious mistake" in violating the nuclear deal, which the US pulled out of last year.

Iran also said on Tuesday that a US decision to impose sanctions on the country’s supreme leader and other top officials permanently closed the path to diplomacy between Tehran and Washington.

“Imposing useless sanctions on Iran’s Supreme Leader (Ayatollah Ali Khamenei) and the commander of Iran’s diplomacy (Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif) is the permanent closure of the path of diplomacy,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi said in a tweet.

“Trump’s desperate administration is destroying the established international mechanisms for maintaining world peace and security.”

US President Donald Trump earlier signed an executive order that would impose fresh sanctions on Iran, amid increased tensions between the long-time foes.

Trump initially told reporters the sanctions, which will target Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and his office, were in response to Tehran's downing of a US drone last week. Tehran has said the drone was flying in its airspace, which Washington has denied.

Later, Trump said the sanctions would have been imposed regardless of the incident over the drone.

The US will also blacklist Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and block "billions" more in Iranian assets as part of expanded sanctions, US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said Monday.

Mnuchin told reporters Zarif would be added to an economic sanctions list "later this week," adding that eight top military commanders from Iran's Revolutionary Guards have now also been blacklisted.

The US has also blamed Iran for attacks earlier this month on two oil tankers at the entrance of the Gulf of Oman. Iran, in turn, has denied that it is to blame.

Russia on Tuesday accused Washington of being reckless with the new sanctions on Iran, saying Moscow "stood in solidarity" with Tehran.

"US authorities should think hard about where this reckless course of action can lead," the foreign ministry said in a statement. "It is capable of not only destabilising the Middle East but undermining the entire system of international security.

"There is an impression that Washington is 'burning bridges,' Russia stands in complete solidarity with the friendly people of Iran and its government," the Russian foreign ministry added.

Washington has repeatedly imposed sanctions on Tehran since last year, after withdrawing from the 2015 Iran nuclear deal to curb Iran's nuclear program in exchange for easing of sanctions. Trump’s administration has said the deal struck under his predecessor President Barack Obama did not do enough.

Trump has said he would be open to talks with Iranian leaders, but Tehran has rejected such an offer unless Washington drops the sanctions.

The Trump administration wants to force Tehran to open talks on its nuclear and missile programmes and its activities in the region.

The US also accuses Iran of encouraging allies in Yemen to attack Saudi targets. In a joint statement on Monday, the US, Saudi Arabia, the UAE and UK expressed concern over Middle East tensions and the dangers posed by Iranian "destabilizing activity" to peace and security in Yemen and the region.