Iran seizes third foreign tanker in Arabian Gulf

An oil tanker is pictured off the Iranian port city of Bandar Abbas, which is the main base of the Islamic republic's navy and has a strategic position on the Strait of Hormuzon April 30, 2019. (File/AFP)
Updated 05 August 2019

Iran seizes third foreign tanker in Arabian Gulf

  • Seven crew arrested but name of ship and nationalities of those held remains unknown
  • Operation shines light on Iran’s lucrative fuel smuggling trade

JEDDAH: Iran has seized a third foreign tanker in the Arabian Gulf in less than a month, shining a rare light on the country’s multimillion-dollar fuel smuggling trade.

Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) forces boarded the vessel last Wednesday night near Farsi Island, where they have a base. The small tanker was carrying about 700,000 liters of smuggled fuel, the IRGC said on Sunday.

Seven foreign crew were arrested in the operation. The identity of the vessel and the nationality of the crew are not known.

Brig. Gen. Ramezan Zirahi, an IRGC commander, said their boats had been patrolling the Gulf to control traffic and detect illicit trade when they seized the tanker. “The ship was transferred to Bushehr and its smuggled fuel was handed over to the authorities,” he said.

The latest seizure is not thought to be connected to Iran’s “state piracy” in the Gulf, in which large foreign vessels have been harassed and the British tanker Stena Impero was boarded and forced to divert to an Iranian port.

But analysts believe it may be linked to the seizure on July 18 of the MT Riah, a Panama-flagged small coastal tanker which the IRGC said was smuggling fuel.

The murky secondary or black market for oil in and around the Strait of Hormuz is naturally an unregulated phenomenon.

Theodore Karasik, senior adviser to Gulf State Analytics

Iran has some of the lowest fuel prices in the world, because of heavy state subsidies and the plunging value of the Iranian rial against the US dollar, and smuggling is a profitable trade.
Ali Adyani, a member of the Iranian Parliament’s energy committee, has estimated the amout of gasoline being smuggled out of Iran to be 20 million liters a day. Mohammad Hassan Nejad, another member of the committee, puts the figure even higher, at 22 million liters.

 “The murky secondary or black market for oil in and around the Strait of Hormuz is naturally an unregulated phenomenon,” Dr. Theodore Karasik, senior adviser to Gulf State Analytics in Washington, told Arab News.

“It is conducted by entities seeking profit from this market.  Those who are engaged in this practice are undermining regional efforts to secure safe passage for shipping in an appropriate manner.

“Iran’s seizure of this vessel is an indication of how the secondary market is subject to Tehran’s objective to control all of the Gulf and its waterways.

“It is quite possible that the IRGC runs the lucrative fuel-smuggling operations itself, and a rival operator has tried to muscle in, which would explain these seizures.”

Iraq's oil ministry said on Sunday it has no connection with the tanker after Iran had said earlier that the vessel was Iraqi.
 


Israel parliament moves for third election as talks falter

Updated 33 min 53 sec ago

Israel parliament moves for third election as talks falter

  • On Wednesday morning the Israeli parliament passed 50-0 a preliminary reading of a bill immediately dissolving parliament and setting a new election for March 2
  • New elections would add to the political challenges facing Benjamin Netanyahu
JERUSALEM: Israel’s parliament began rushing through a bill on Wednesday to call a third general election within a year as talks between embattled premier Benjamin Netanyahu and his centrist rival broke down ahead of a midnight deadline.
A deal to avert a new election must be reached before 11:59 p.m. (2159 GMT), following a deadlocked vote in September.
But Netanyahu and his rival Benny Gantz, both of whom have repeatedly failed to build a governing majority in the Knesset, or parliament, have spent days trading blame for failing coalition talks.
On Wednesday morning the Israeli parliament passed 50-0 a preliminary reading of a bill immediately dissolving parliament and setting a new election for March 2.
It must face three more plenary readings and votes during the day before being passed.
New elections would add to the political challenges facing Netanyahu — Israel’s longest serving premier, now governing in a caretaker capacity — at a time when, weakened by corruption charges, he must fend off internal challengers in his right-wing Likud party.
Netanyahu and Gantz, a former armed forces chief who heads the centrist Blue and White party, had been discussing a potential unity government, but disagreed on who should lead it.
Last month, when Netanyahu was indicted on corruption charges, Gantz called on him to step down.
On Tuesday night Netanyahu called on Gantz to stop “spinning.”
“After 80 days, it’s time that for one day, for the citizens of Israel, we sit and have a serious discussion about forming a broad unity government. It’s not too late,” he said on social media.
Gantz said his party was making “efforts to find a way to form a government without us giving up the fundamental principles that brought us into politics.”
If confirmed, it would be the first time Israel’s weary electorate has been asked to go to the polls for a third time within 12 months.
The parties of Netanyahu and Gantz were nearly deadlocked in September’s election, following a similarly inconclusive poll in April.
Israel’s proportional system is reliant on coalition building, and both parties fell well short of the 61 seats needed to command a majority in the 120-seat Knesset.
Both were then given 28-day periods to try and forge a workable coalition but failed, forcing President Reuven Rivlin to turn to parliament with his deadline for Wednesday.
New elections are deeply unpopular with the Israeli public, which has expressed mounting anger and frustration with the entire political class.
Both parties had been trying to convince Avigdor Lieberman, a crucial kingmaker, to join their blocs.
But the former nightclub bouncer, whose secular nationalist Yisrael Beitenu party holds the balance of power, has refused.
Kann Radio reported Tuesday that Netanyahu had abandoned hopes of earning Lieberman’s endorsement.
Lieberman pointed out that Likud and Blue and White wouldn’t need his support if they could agree to work together.
“If during the next 24 hours a government is not formed it will be solely because the leaders of the two big parties — Likud and Blue and White — were not willing to set aside their egos,” he said on Facebook Tuesday.
“All the rest is lies and excuses.”
Netanyahu was indicted last month for bribery, breach of trust and fraud relating to three separate corruption cases.
He strongly denies the allegations and accuses the media, police and prosecution of a witch-hunt.
No date has yet been set for the beginning of the proceedings and, under Israeli law, Netanyahu can remain in office despite an indictment.
He also faces a potential challenge from within his own Likud party.
To boost his support, Netanyahu has pushed his plan to annex a strategic part of the occupied West Bank, as well as signing a defense treaty with the United States.
He is a close ally of US President Donald Trump, who has taken a number of controversial steps in support of Netanyahu’s agenda.
Blue and White, meanwhile, pledged Monday to run with only one leader in the next election — Gantz.
Previously Yair Lapid, second in command in the coalition, was meant to alternate the premiership, but on Monday Lapid said: “We’ll all get behind Benny Gantz, our candidate for prime minister.”
Despite Netanyahu’s indictment, polls suggest that a third round of elections could still be neck and neck — prompting some Israelis to speculate about yet another electoral stalemate.
A commentary writer for the Israel Hayom newspaper suggested that “a fourth election is even now visible on the horizon sometime in early September 2020.”