Iran’s Khamenei issues new threat to ramp up Iran’s nuclear program

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei called the seizure of the ship “piracy”. (File/AFP)
Updated 17 July 2019

Iran’s Khamenei issues new threat to ramp up Iran’s nuclear program

  • He pledges revenge for UK tanker seizure
  • Concerns grow for UAE vessel in Strait of Hormuz

DUBAI: Iran vowed on Tuesday to ramp up its nuclear program and repeated threats of retaliation against the UK for seizing an illegal Iranian oil shipment to Syria.

Since the beginning of July, Tehran has been escalating breaches of its commitments under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the 2015 deal to curb its nuclear program in return for an easing of sanctions.

Increasing its enrichment of uranium is an attempt by Tehran to pressure Britain, France and Germany — the European signatories to the JCPOA — into finding a way round crippling US sanctions imposed by President Donald Trump after he withdrew from the deal last May.

“We have started to reduce our commitments and this trend shall continue,” Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said on Tuesday.

“Europe made 11 commitments, none of which they abided by. We abided by our commitments and even beyond them. Now that we’ve begun to reduce our commitments, they oppose it. How insolent!”


It was the first time Khamenei had explicitly pledged to press ahead with Iran’s nuclear program, rejecting European appeals to restore enrichment limits preventing rapid development of a nuclear weapon.

It was the first time Khamenei had explicitly pledged to press ahead with its nuclear program, rejecting European appeals to restore limits on enrichment aimed at preventing the rapid development of a nuclear weapon.

He also repeated threats of retribution against the UK for its seizure this month of an Iranian tanker in the Mediterranean Sea off the coast of Gibraltar. The Grace 1 was transporting a million barrels of Iranian oil to Syria, in breach of EU sanctions.

“Evil Britain commits piracy and steals our ship ... and gives it a legal appearance. The Islamic Republic ... will not leave this wickedness unanswered and will respond to it at an appropriate time and place,” he said.

Britain called for calm. “Escalation in the Gulf is not in anyone’s interests and we have repeatedly stressed that to the Iranians,” a Downing Street spokesman said.

Amid tension in the Gulf, US defense officials believe Iran may have seized a small UAE oil tanker that turned off its tracker on Saturday night in the Strait of Hormuz.

The Riah, a 58-meter coastal vessel that operated from Dubai and Sharjah on the west coast to Fujairah in the east, is now in Iranian territorial waters near Qeshm Island, which has an Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps base on it.

“We certainly have suspicions that it was taken,” a US official said. “Could it have broken down or been towed for assistance? That’s a possibility. But the longer there is a period of no contact ... it’s going to be a concern.”


Revealed: How Iran smuggles weapons to the Houthis

Updated 01 October 2020

Revealed: How Iran smuggles weapons to the Houthis

  • Captured gang tells of route to Yemen through base in Somalia

AL-MUKALLA, Yemen: A captured gang of arms smugglers has revealed how Iran supplies weapons to Houthi militias in Yemen through a base in Somalia.

The Houthis exploit poverty in Yemen to recruit fishermen as weapons smugglers, and send fighters to Iran for military training under cover of “humanitarian” flights from Yemen to Oman, the gang said.

The four smugglers have been interrogated since May, when they were arrested with a cache of weapons in Bab Al-Mandab, the strategic strait joining the Red Sea to the Gulf of Aden.

In video footage broadcast on Yemeni TV, gang leader Alwan Fotaini, a fisherman from Hodeidah, admits he was recruited by the Houthis in 2015. His recruiter, a smuggler called Ahmed Halas, told him he and other fishermen would be based in the Somali coastal city of Berbera, from where they would transport weapons and fuel to the Houthis. 

In late 2015, Fotaini traveled to Sanaa and met a Houthi smuggler called Ibrahim Hassam Halwan, known as Abu Khalel, who would be his contact in Iran. 

This is a complex network that requires constant monitoring, hence the focus on maritime security.

Dr. Theodore Karasik, Security analyst

Pretending to be relatives of wounded fighters, Fotaini, Abu Khalel, and another smuggler called Najeeb Suleiman boarded a humanitarian flight to Oman, and then flew to Iran. They were taken to the port city of Bandar Abbas, where they received training on using GPS, camouflage, steering vessels and maintaining engines.

“We stayed in Bandar Abbas for a month as they were preparing an arms shipment that we would be transporting to Yemen,” Fotaini said.

On Fotaini’s first smuggling mission, his job was to act as a decoy for another boat carrying Iranian weapons to the Houthis. “The plan was for us to call the other boat to change course if anyone intercepted our boat,” he said.

He was then sent to Mahra in Yemen to await new arms shipments. The Houthis sent him data for a location at sea, where he and other smugglers met Abu Khalel with a boat laden with weapons from Iran, which were delivered to the Houthis.

Security analyst Dr. Theodore Karasik said long-standing trade ties between Yemen and Somalia made arms smuggling difficult to stop. “This is a complex network that requires constant monitoring, hence the focus on maritime security,” Karasik, a senior adviser to Gulf State Analytics in Washington, DC, told Arab News.

“The smuggling routes are along traditional lines of communication that intermix with other maritime commerce. The temptation to look the other way is sometimes strong, so sharp attention is required to break these chains.”