Maritime coalition launched to protect Gulf shipping after Iran attacks

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The operational center of the International Maritime Security Construct (IMSC) following its opening at the US 5th Fleet Command in Bahrain. (AFP)
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Newly appointed commander of Operation SENTINEL, US Navy Rear Admiral, Alvin Holsey (L) Bahrain Defense Force (BDF) Commander-in-Chief, Field Marshal Sheikh Khalifa bin Ahmed Al-Khalifa (C) and US Navy Vice Admiral, James J. Malloy, Commander of U.S. Naval Forces Central Command and the US 5th Fleet, at the operations centre of the International Maritime Security Construct (IMSC. (AFP)
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Bahrain Defense Force (BDF) Commander-in-Chief, Field Marshal Sheikh Khalifa bin Ahmed Al-Khalifa (R) and US Navy Vice Admiral, James J. Malloy (C), Commander of US Naval Forces Central Command and the US 5th Fleet, are pictured at the operations center of the International Maritime Security Construct (IMSC) (AFP)
Updated 08 November 2019

Maritime coalition launched to protect Gulf shipping after Iran attacks

  • Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the UAE, Australia and Britain have all joined the International Maritime Security Construct
  • Vessels will be escorted through the Strait of Hormuz, the strategic chokepoint at the head of the Gulf

MANAMA: A US-led naval coalition officially launched operations in Bahrain Thursday to protect shipping in the Arabian Gulf, after a string of attacks that Washington and its allies blamed on Iran.
The coalition, aimed at warding off the perceived threat to the world’s oil supply, has been in the making since June.
Bahrain, which hosts the US Navy’s Fifth Fleet, joined the International Maritime Security Construct (IMSC) in August. Saudi Arabia and the UAE followed suit in September.
Australia and Britain are the main Western countries to have agreed to send warships to escort Gulf shipping. The newest member, Albania, joined on Friday.
Vessels will be escorted through the Strait of Hormuz, the strategic chokepoint at the head of the Gulf and the main artery for the transport of Middle East oil.
Vice Admiral Jim Malloy, commander of US Naval Forces in the Middle East, said Operation Sentinel is a defensive measure aimed at protecting Gulf waters.
“While Sentinel’s operational design is threat-based, it does not threaten,” he said during a ceremony at the IMSC’s command center.
“We employ capable warships on patrol, but there is no offensive line of effort in this construct, other than a commitment to defend each other if attacked.
“Our commitment to the region isn’t short-lived, it is enduring, and we will operate as part of Sentinel for as long as it’s needed — as long as the threat looms.”
Most European governments have declined to participate in the naval coalition, fearful of undermining their efforts to save a landmark 2015 nuclear accord with Iran, which was badly weakened by Washington’s withdrawal last year.
Animosity between Tehran and Washington has soared since President Donald Trump unilaterally abandoned the deal and reimposed crippling US sanctions.

Opinion

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On May 12, the UAE said four commercial oil tankers — two Saudi, one Emirati and one Norwegian — had been targeted by “acts of sabotage” in waters off its coast.
Washington and Riyadh blamed Tehran, which denied involvement.
A month later, the Kokuka Courageous was hit and around the same time another tanker in the area, the Norwegian-owned Front Altair, was damaged by three explosions, according to the Norwegian Maritime Authority.
They were transiting through the Strait of Hormuz toward the Indian Ocean.
Then on September 14, drone strikes targeted two key Saudi oil facilities onshore, causing catastrophic damage and temporarily knocking out half of the kingdom’s oil production.
The attacks were claimed by Yemen’s Houthi rebels who are battling a Saudi-led coalition, but Washington and Riyadh blamed Iran, saying the strikes were carried out with advanced missiles and drones.


Syrian pound plummets as new US sanctions loom

Updated 06 June 2020

Syrian pound plummets as new US sanctions loom

  • Syria is in the thick of an economic crisis compounded by a coronavirus lockdown and a dollar liquidity crunch in neighboring Lebanon
  • The UN food agency said any further depreciation risked increasing the cost of imported basic food items

BEIRUT: Syria’s pound hit record lows on the black market Saturday trading at over 2,300 to the dollar, less than a third of its official value, traders said, ahead of new US sanctions.
Three traders in Damascus told AFP by phone that the dollar bought more than 2,300 Syrian pounds for the first time, though the official exchange rate remained fixed at around 700 pounds to the greenback.
After nine years of war, Syria is in the thick of an economic crisis compounded by a coronavirus lockdown and a dollar liquidity crunch in neighboring Lebanon.
Last month, the central bank warned it would clamp down on currency “manipulators.”
Analysts said concerns over the June 17 implementation of the US Caesar Act, which aims to sanction foreign persons who assist the Syrian government or help in post-war reconstruction, also contributed to the de fact devaluation.
Zaki Mehchy, a senior consulting fellow at Chatham House, said foreign companies — including from regime ally Russia — were already opting not to take any risks.
With money transactions requiring two to three weeks to implement, “today’s transactions will be paid after June 17,” he said.
Heiko Wimmen, Syria project director at the conflict tracker Crisis Group, said that with the act coming into force, “doing business with Syria will become even more difficult and risky.”
Both analysts said the fall from grace of top business tycoon Rami Makhlouf despite being a cousin of the president was also affecting confidence.
“The Makhlouf saga is spooking the rich,” Wimmen said.
After the Damascus government froze assets of the head of the country’s largest mobile phone operator and slapped a travel ban on him, the wealthy feel “nobody is safe,” he said.
They are thinking “you better get your assets and perhaps yourself out preparing for further shakedowns,” he said.
Mehchy said the impact of the pound’s decline and ensuing price hikes on Syrians would be “catastrophic.”
Most of Syria’s population lives in poverty, according to the United Nations, and food prices have doubled over the past year.
The UN food agency’s Jessica Lawson said any further depreciation risked increasing the cost of imported basic food items such as rice, pasta and lentils.
“These price increases risk pushing even more people into hunger, poverty and food insecurity as Syrians’ purchasing power continues to erode,” the World Food Programme spokeswoman said.
“Families may be forced to cut the quality and quantity of food they buy.”