Iran’s strategy of state piracy menaces Middle East oil lanes

When Iranian “armed soldiers” boarded the South Korean-flagged oil tanker Hankuk Chemi on Jan. 4, 2021, they were implementing a longstanding if unstated policy of state piracy in the waters of the Gulf and the Strait of Hormuz. (AFP/File Photo)
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When Iranian “armed soldiers” boarded the South Korean-flagged oil tanker Hankuk Chemi on Jan. 4, 2021, they were implementing a longstanding if unstated policy of state piracy in the waters of the Gulf and the Strait of Hormuz. (AFP/File Photo)
The Strait of Hormuz, a narrow entrance to the Gulf from the Arabian Sea, has emerged as a favorite hunting ground for Iranian IRGC naval units looking to harass oil tankers, of which the Hankuk Chemi, seized on Jan. 4, 2021, is only the latest. (Reuters/WANA)
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The Strait of Hormuz, a narrow entrance to the Gulf from the Arabian Sea, has emerged as a favorite hunting ground for Iranian IRGC naval units looking to harass oil tankers, of which the Hankuk Chemi, seized on Jan. 4, 2021, is only the latest. (Reuters/WANA)
Two oil tankers were damaged in twin attacks close to the Iranian coast on June 13, 2020, just outside the Strait of Hormuz. The Kokuka Courageous was struck in the Gulf of Oman by a limpet mine resembling Iranian weapons, according to the US military in the Middle East. (AFP)
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Two oil tankers were damaged in twin attacks close to the Iranian coast on June 13, 2020, just outside the Strait of Hormuz. The Kokuka Courageous was struck in the Gulf of Oman by a limpet mine resembling Iranian weapons, according to the US military in the Middle East. (AFP)
The Japanese vessel Kokuka Courageous was struck in the Gulf of Oman by a limpet mine resembling Iranian weapons, according to the US military in the Middle East. It was one of two oil tankers damaged in twin attacks close to the Iranian coast on June 13, 2020, just outside the Strait of Hormuz.
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The Japanese vessel Kokuka Courageous was struck in the Gulf of Oman by a limpet mine resembling Iranian weapons, according to the US military in the Middle East. It was one of two oil tankers damaged in twin attacks close to the Iranian coast on June 13, 2020, just outside the Strait of Hormuz. (AFP/File Photo)
The British-flagged oil tanker Stena Impero was seized in July 2019 by IRGC units and held off Bandar Abbas port in southern Iran for more than two months as a tit-for-tat move against the detention of an Iranian vessel suspected of shipping oil to Syria in breach of EU sanctions. (AFP file photo)
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The British-flagged oil tanker Stena Impero was seized in July 2019 by IRGC units and held off Bandar Abbas port in southern Iran for more than two months as a tit-for-tat move against the detention of an Iranian vessel suspected of shipping oil to Syria in breach of EU sanctions. (AFP file photo)
In July 2019, it was the turn of the British-flagged oil tanker Stena Impero, which was seized by IRGC units and held off Bandar Abbas port in southern Iran for more than two months as a tit-for-tat move against the detention of an Iranian vessel suspected of shipping oil to Syria in breach of EU sanctions. (AFP/File Photo)
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In July 2019, it was the turn of the British-flagged oil tanker Stena Impero, which was seized by IRGC units and held off Bandar Abbas port in southern Iran for more than two months as a tit-for-tat move against the detention of an Iranian vessel suspected of shipping oil to Syria in breach of EU sanctions. (AFP/File Photo)
Iran-backed Houthi militias have repeatedly rebuffed UN pleas to allow an inspection team to enter the FSO Safer, abandoned off the port of Hodeidah with 1.1 million barrels of crude on board, to conduct repairs. The UN expressed fears on July 15, 2020, of
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Iran-backed Houthi militias have repeatedly rebuffed UN pleas to allow an inspection team to enter the FSO Safer, abandoned off the port of Hodeidah with 1.1 million barrels of crude on board, to conduct repairs. The UN expressed fears on July 15, 2020, of "catastrophe" if the vessel ruptured into the Red Sea. (AFP/File Photo)
The UN expressed fears on July 15, 2020, of
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The UN expressed fears on July 15, 2020, of "catastrophe" if the FSO Safer, abandoned off Yemen's coast with 1.1 million barrels of crude on board, ruptured into the Red Sea. Iran-backed Houthi militias, who control Hodeidah port, have repeatedly rebuffed UN pleas to allow an inspection team to enter the ship to conduct repairs. (AFP/File Photo)
A group of 15 British Royal Navy personnel celebrated their release in April 2007 after nearly two weeks of captivity in Iran. They had been seized by Iran in northern Gulf waters in an act of gunboat diplomacy that sparked weeks of wrangling between the two countries. (AFP/File Photo)
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A group of 15 British Royal Navy personnel celebrated their release in April 2007 after nearly two weeks of captivity in Iran. They had been seized by Iran in northern Gulf waters in an act of gunboat diplomacy that sparked weeks of wrangling between the two countries. (AFP/File Photo)
In April 2007, 15 British Royal Navy personnel celebrated their release after nearly two weeks of captivity in Iran. They were seized by Iran in northern Gulf waters in an act of gunboat diplomacy that sparked weeks of wrangling between the two countries. (AFP/File Photo)
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In April 2007, 15 British Royal Navy personnel celebrated their release after nearly two weeks of captivity in Iran. They were seized by Iran in northern Gulf waters in an act of gunboat diplomacy that sparked weeks of wrangling between the two countries. (AFP/File Photo)
British servicemen were made to march blindfolded on the banks of the Shatt al-Arab waterway where they were detained in June 2004 by Iranian troops. The eight were arrested allegedly for straying into Iranian waters. The Shatt al-Arab straddles the border between Iran and southern Iraq. (AFP/File Photo)
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British servicemen were made to march blindfolded on the banks of the Shatt al-Arab waterway where they were detained in June 2004 by Iranian troops. The eight were arrested allegedly for straying into Iranian waters. The Shatt al-Arab straddles the border between Iran and southern Iraq. (AFP/File Photo)
Detained by Iranian troops in June 2004, eight British servicemen were made to march blindfolded on the banks of the Shatt al-Arab waterway after they allegedly strayed into Iranian waters. The Shatt al-Arab straddles the border between Iran and southern Iraq. (AFP/File Photo)
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Detained by Iranian troops in June 2004, eight British servicemen were made to march blindfolded on the banks of the Shatt al-Arab waterway after they allegedly strayed into Iranian waters. The Shatt al-Arab straddles the border between Iran and southern Iraq. (AFP/File Photo)
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Updated 07 January 2021

Iran’s strategy of state piracy menaces Middle East oil lanes

A picture obtained by AFP from the Iranian news agency Tasnim on January 4, 2021, shows the South Korean-flagged tanker being escorted by Iran's Revolutionary Guards navy after being seized in the Gulf. (AFP/File Photo)
  • Iran’s IRGC naval units and their Houthi proxies thumb their nose at the world by seizing oil tankers plying the Gulf
  • The South Korean-flagged Hankuk Chemi is just the latest in a long line of vessels seized by Iran in the Strait of Hormuz

LONDON: Iran dialed up tensions in the Gulf this week when its troops stormed a South Korean-flagged tanker as it transited through the strategic Strait of Hormuz — a choke point through which a fifth of world oil output passes. The incident is only the latest in a long line of Iranian acts of “state piracy” in the flashpoint region.

The MT Hankuk Chemi was en route from Saudi Arabia’s Jubail to the UAE’s Fujairah on Monday when members of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) navy boarded the vessel and brought it to the port of Bandar Abbas in southern Iran, placing its multinational crew of 20 under arrest.

Iranian authorities alleged the tanker, carrying 7,200 tons of ethanol, was seized for infringing maritime environmental laws — claims the vessel’s owner denies.

Observers suspect the ship was in fact taken hostage as part of an ongoing row with Seoul over $7 billion in revenue from oil sales that remain frozen in South Korean banks under US sanctions imposed against Iran by the Trump administration.

Although the MT Hankuk Chemi is the first major vessel to be seized by Iran in more than a year, incidents of this kind have become all too common in the Strait of Hormuz and nearby shipping lanes. Several vessels have been boarded or mysteriously attacked since President Donald Trump ramped up his “maximum pressure” campaign, with Iran named as the likely culprit.

The IRGC navy has long used its fleet of speedboats to harass commercial shipping and military vessels in the region, seizing at least six ships in 2019 over alleged fuel smuggling. Iran has also repeatedly threatened to blockade the strait if it is attacked.

Several incidents pre-date the current tensions. In January 2016, the IRGC seized two US Navy riverine command boats after they entered Iranian territorial waters near Iran’s Farsi Island. After a flurry of phone calls between then-US secretary of state John Kerry and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, the sailors were released unharmed 15 hours later.




Iran's ambassador to South Korea Saeed Badamchi Shabestari arrives at the Foreign Ministry in Seoul on January 5, 2021, after he was summoned over a South Korean oil tanker being seized by Iran. (AFP/YONHAP)

In March 2007, the IRGC detained 15 British navy personnel from HMS Cornwall as they were searching a merchant vessel off the Iran-Iraq coast. They were released 13 days later. A similar incident occurred in 2004 when six Royal Marines and two Royal Navy sailors were captured by the IRGC in the Shatt al-Arab waterway. They were released three days later.

The Iran-backed Houthi militia in Yemen has also launched repeated attacks on ports and ships in recent years, routinely planting marine mines in the southern Red Sea and in the Bab Al-Mandab Strait in the path of commercial shipping.

The militia has repeatedly rebuffed UN pleas to allow an inspection team to enter the FSO Safer, a 45-year-old oil tanker abandoned off the port of Hodeidah with 1.1 million barrels of crude on board, to conduct urgent repairs. In an extraordinary session, the UN expressed fears on July 15, 2020, of "catastrophe" if the vessel ruptured into the Red Sea.




This CCTV image provided by South Korea's Taikun Shipping Co. shows the moment a South Korean tanker was captured by an Armed Iranian Revolutionary Guard speedboat, right, on the waters of the Persian Gulf and the Strait of Hormuz Monday, Jan. 4, 2021. (AFP/File Photo)

In May 2019, Washington deployed the USS Abraham Lincoln carrier strike group and four B-52 bombers to the Middle East, citing unspecified Iranian threats. A matter of days later, on May 12, four commercial ships, including two Saudi Aramco oil tankers, were damaged near the port of Fujairah in the Gulf of Oman in what the UAE called a “sabotage attack.”

On June 13, the oil tankers Front Altair and Kokuka Courageous were also both rocked by explosions, thought to have been caused by limpet mines or flying objects. Days later, on June 20, Iran shot down an American RQ-4A surveillance drone flying over the Strait of Hormuz, raising tensions further.

At the time, US President Donald Trump said Iranian boats harassing the US navy “will be shot out of the water.”

INNUMBERS

Iranian Piracy

 

* 20 - Civilian sailors aboard South Korean-flagged Hankuk Chemi.

* $7bn - Amount claimed by Iran to be in a South Korean bank.

The following month, the IRGC held the British-flagged oil tanker Stena Impero for two months for allegedly ramming a fishing boat. The move was widely seen as an act of retaliation after British Royal Marines detained an Iranian tanker, the Grace 1, in the Strait of Gibraltar on suspicion of violating EU sanctions on Syria.

In the wake of the incident, US Central Command established Operation Sentinel, invited nations to coordinate on surveillance and provide escorts to their flagged commercial vessels in the Gulf, the Strait of Hormuz, the Bab el-Mandeb Strait and the Gulf of Oman.

After European powers voiced qualms about the possibility of being dragged into a war with Iran, the US rebranded Operation Sentinel as the “International Maritime Security Construct” in Sept. 2019, headquartered in Bahrain.

The world’s eyes are once again on Iran as it uses the capture of the Hankuk Chemi to win concessions from South Korea. Seoul has confirmed it is in talks with Tehran and Washington to use the frozen Iranian money to purchase coronavirus vaccines for the country.




This undated picture taken in an unknown location and released on January 5, 2021 by Yonhap news agency in Seoul shows South Korean Navy's destroyer ROKS Choi Young. South Korea will send a government delegation to Iran "at the earliest possible date" to negotiate the release of a seized oil tanker and its crew, Seoul's foreign ministry said on January 5. (AFP/File Photo)

At the same time, South Korea’s foreign ministry said it is launching legal action to demand the ship’s release. Its defense ministry has also deployed its 300-strong Cheonghae anti-piracy unit to the Strait of Hormuz aboard the destroyer Choi Young to “ensure the safety” of South Korean nationals.

Shin Beom-chul, chief researcher at the Korea Research Institute for Economy and Society, told Arab News that the Iranian move is a desperate bid to get recognition from the incoming Biden administration in the US, which is expected to take a relatively softer stance vis-a-vis Iran.

“Tehran is sending a clear message that it can ratchet up aggression in the region any time, while the issue of frozen money in South Korea is just part of the Trump administration’s financial sanctions,” Shin said.

Iran is reeling from sanctions reintroduced after the Trump administration withdrew from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), better known as the Iran nuclear deal, in May 2018. Iran’s economic woes have been compounded by one of the worst coronavirus outbreaks in the region.




This handout photo provided by Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) official website via SEPAH News on November 19, 2020, shows a military drone parked on a warship named after slain Naval commander Abdollah Roudaki, sailing through the waters in the Gulf during it's inauguration. (AFP/File Photo)

European powers, meanwhile, are scrambling to salvage the JCPOA, just as Iran announced on Monday it has stepped up its uranium enrichment to 20 percent purity — far beyond the limits set by the deal.

Tehran’s successive breaches of the nuclear deal are widely interpreted as a means of pressuring European signatories to provide sanctions relief — a move that Washington has branded “nuclear extortion.”

Also fresh in Tehran’s mind this week is the killing of Qassem Soleimani, the IRGC’s extraterritorial Quds Force commander, who was eliminated with a US drone strike near Baghdad airport one year ago.

Struggling with sanctions and COVID-19, and bruised by strategic setbacks, Iran appeared to rein in its extra-legal naval activities in 2020. But now the IRGC seems to be reasserting itself in the waning days of the Trump administration.

With little sign of de-escalation in the Gulf, the Hankuk Chemi may not be the last commercial ship to be targeted by Iran in 2021.

-------------------

Twitter: @RobertPEdwards

 

Soleimani’s shadow
Qassem Soleimani left a trail of death and destruction in his wake as head of Iran’s Quds Force … until his assassination on Jan. 3, 2020. Yet still, his legacy of murderous interference continues to haunt the region

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Yemen launches first round of COVID-19 vaccination campaign

Philippe Duamelle, UNICEF’s representative in Yemen, receives the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine at a medical center in Aden, Yemen April 20, 2021. (Reuters)
Philippe Duamelle, UNICEF’s representative in Yemen, receives the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine at a medical center in Aden, Yemen April 20, 2021. (Reuters)
Updated 7 min 49 sec ago

Yemen launches first round of COVID-19 vaccination campaign

Philippe Duamelle, UNICEF’s representative in Yemen, receives the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine at a medical center in Aden, Yemen April 20, 2021. (Reuters)
  • The 12-day campaign was launched in the temporary capital Aden and 13 Yemeni governorates
  • The campaign aims to reach 317,363 people in 133 districts

RIYADH: Yemen launched the first round of its COVID-19 inoculation campaign on Tuesday in the temporary capital, Aden.
The campaign is supported by the World Health Organization (WHO), UNICEF, and the King Salman Humanitarian Aid and Relief Center (KSrelief).
Yemeni Minister of Public Health and Population Qasim Buhaibeh, Minister of Civil Service and Insurance Abdul Nasser Al-Wali, Governor of Aden Ahmed Hamed Lamlas, Yemen’s representative for UNICEF Philippe Duamelle, and director of the WHO office in Aden Noha Mahmoud all received the vaccine in a show of support, Saba News Agency reported.
Yemen received 360,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine on March 31, part of a consignment from COVAX expected to total 1.9 million doses this year.
Buhaibeh said this was the first step toward reaching the ministry’s goal of administering 12 million vaccines by the end of the year, urging doctors, the elderly and those with chronic diseases to register to receive the jab.
Duamelle said frontline workers, the elderly and those with certain health problems would be prioritized.
“The launch of the campaign against the coronavirus is an important day in Yemen’s history,” he said, adding that the health minister and other ministers have taken the vaccination confirming its safety.
The 12-day campaign aims to reach 317,363 people in 133 districts across 13 Yemeni governorates under the control of the internationally recognized government.
There has been a dramatic spike in coronavirus infections in Yemen since mid-February, further straining a health system battered by the conflict.
The government’s health ministry has previously said the COVAX vaccines will be free, and distributed across the country. COVAX is co-led by the Gavi Vaccine Alliance and the WHO to provide COVID vaccines to low-income countries.
Tuesday’s rollout covered only government-held parts of the country, said Ishraq Al-Seba’ei who is with the government’s emergency coronavirus committee. But she said 10,000 doses were being sent to Sanaa via the WHO.
Yemen’s emergency coronavirus committee registered 42 confirmed cases and six deaths on Tuesday. It has recorded 5,858 coronavirus infections and 1,132 deaths so far though the true figure is widely thought to be much higher as the war has restricted COVID-19 testing.
The Iran-backed Houthi militia, which controls the capital Sanaa and much of the north have provided no figures since a couple of cases last May.
Meanwhile, KSrelief said it has provided support for protection projects within Saudi Arabia’s grant for the Yemen Humanitarian Response Plan 2020. 
The center cooperated with UNICEF to provide protection services by enabling children and their families to access psychosocial support and mental health services, totaling $4 million.
(With Reuters)


Shadow war no more: The tussle between Iran and Israeli spy agency Mossad

A grab of a videoconference screen of an engineer inside Iran's Natanz uranium enrichment plant, shown during a ceremony headed by the country's president on Iran's National Nuclear Technology Day, in the capital Tehran. (AFP/File Photo)
A grab of a videoconference screen of an engineer inside Iran's Natanz uranium enrichment plant, shown during a ceremony headed by the country's president on Iran's National Nuclear Technology Day, in the capital Tehran. (AFP/File Photo)
Updated 20 April 2021

Shadow war no more: The tussle between Iran and Israeli spy agency Mossad

A grab of a videoconference screen of an engineer inside Iran's Natanz uranium enrichment plant, shown during a ceremony headed by the country's president on Iran's National Nuclear Technology Day, in the capital Tehran. (AFP/File Photo)
  • Natanz nuclear plant sabotage lays bare vulnerability to betrayal at the hands of own population
  • Analysts say Tehran’s tepid response is a sign of its desperation for sanctions relief above all else

LONDON: Analysts have said that the blast that struck Iran’s most critical nuclear facility on April 11 is another significant event in a decades-long shadow war between Tehran and its regional adversary Israel.

They say the sabotage has not only exposed Iran’s vulnerability to betrayal at the hands of its own population, but its tepid response has revealed its desperation for sanctions relief above all else.

Unnamed intelligence officials from Mossad told Israeli media and the New York Times last week that the mysterious Natanz explosion was their handiwork. And, according to Yossi Mekelberg, associate fellow with the Middle East and North Africa program at Chatham House, it is a continuation of the spate of blasts, blackouts, and fires that swept across the Islamic Republic last year — but with one major difference.

“What has changed from last year is how public it is. (Israel) is ready to take responsibility. From a shadow war it has moved to the forefront,” Mekelberg told Arab News.

“This confrontation has been taking place for two decades now, at least. Cyberattacks, assassinations of scientists, attacks on ships — this is something that is ongoing. What you have seen in the last year or so is that it is becoming open, from covert to overt.”

In the past year alone, Iran has been rocked by a relentless series of attacks, assassinations, and sabotages. The country’s top nuclear scientist was killed in a sophisticated attack.

Their entire nuclear archives were stolen and smuggled out of the country, and nuclear, military, and logistics sites across the country have suffered from a series of mysterious setbacks.

An image grab from footage obtained from Iranian State TV IRIB on April 17, 2021 shows the portrait of a man identified as 43-year-old Reza Karimi, saying the intelligence ministry had established his role in last week's "sabotage" on the Natanz nuclear facility. (AFP/File Photo)

According to Mekelberg, these incidents have not only hindered Iran’s economy and nuclear program, but also exposed a fundamental weakness in the regime.

“They have a real issue inside their nuclear program,” he said. “The idea that their top scientist, they couldn’t protect him, and that someone managed to take your nuclear archives out of the country — that is not something you can simply put in your pocket.”

Iranian state television named 43-year-old Iranian national Reza Karimi as the prime suspect in the April sabotage — but said he had already fled the country in the hours before the blast occurred.

Mekelberg and other experts believe the involvement of an Iranian national is indicative of the regime’s core vulnerability: Turncoats within its population, and even within the nuclear program itself.

INNUMBERS

Iranian oil

* $40 - Price per barrel of oil used in Iran’s budget calculations.

* 300,000 - Estimated oil exports in barrels per day (bpd) in 2020.

* 2.8m - Iranian oil exports in bpd in 2018.

“They have a real issue with security. I assume that the more things like this happen, the more paranoid they become about who they can trust, who is working with foreign agencies. Obviously, someone is,” Mekelberg said.

Olli Heinonen, a non-proliferation expert and distinguished fellow at the Washington-based Stimson Center, believes the sophistication of the Natanz attack means there is little doubt that local collaborators from within the regime enabled it.

“Those who have designed and executed these actions have insider information and highly likely local contributors,” Heinonen told Arab News.

This handout satellite image provided by Maxar Technologies on January 8, 2020 shows an overview of Iran's Natanz nuclear facility, south of the capital Tehran. (AFP/Maxar/File Photo)

Like Mekelberg, Heinonen highlighted Iran’s apparent ineptitude in defending even its most critical nuclear facilities and pointed to the stark contrast between the country’s record and another global pariah state’s nuclear program.

“It is worth noting that we have not heard about similar incidents in North Korea,” he said. “It is evident that the (Iranian) security forces have not been able to protect the assets as the leadership had expected.

“This does not come as a surprise. Not all Iranians, including technical professionals, buy the reasonability of the enrichment efforts, the investments for which could be used better elsewhere, even within the nuclear program.”

Tehran has admitted that the attacks caused serious damage at the Natanz facility. Last week, Alireza Zakani, a regime hardliner who heads the Iranian parliament’s research center, referred to “several thousand centrifuges damaged and destroyed” in an interview on state television.

A handout picture released by the official website of Iran's Revolutionary Guard on August 25, 2014, shows an alleged Israeli drone that was shot down above the Natanz uranium enrichment site. (AFP/File Photo)

“From a technical standpoint, the enemy’s plan was rather beautiful,” the head of the Iranian parliament’s energy committee said. “They thought about this and used their experts and planned the explosion so both the central power and the emergency power cable would be damaged.”

Heinonen said the attacks have “certainly slowed production” of 20 percent enriched uranium, which is above the enrichment level needed for nuclear power, but far below the 90 percent required for weapons-grade uranium.

However, he cautioned that production could begin to ramp up again within three months of the attack, and Tehran’s promise to begin enriching uranium to 60 percent in response to the attack could act as a springboard toward rapid development of a nuclear bomb.

“In a short term (60 percent enrichment) does not contribute much to breakout time, but it demonstrates the fact that uranium enrichment is mainly designed to build a nuclear latency; to be in a position to relaunch in short interval a full nuclear weapon acquisition program, if such a decision is made,” he said.

The response to the attacks is part of a delicate balancing act by Tehran, according to Nader Di Michele, an Iran-focused analyst at political risk consultancy Prelia.

This handout powerpoint slide provided by U.S. Central Command damage shows an explosion (L) and a likely limpet mine can be seen on the hull of the civilian vessel M/V Kokuka Courageous in the Gulf of Oman, June 13, 2019. (AFP/File Photo)

“They do not want escalations but the government has to show a response in terms of its foreign policy. That could be aimed at international actors or even its domestic population,” he told Arab News.

Beyond increasing uranium enrichment, it was reported that unknown actors targeted an Israeli-owned cargo ship in the following days. However, Di Michele thinks the damage caused by that attack was, by design, minimal compared with the devastation caused by the Natanz attack.

“There always has to be a response to these attacks, but I think the Iranian delegation understands that there is a limit to what they can do if they want sanctions relief.”

Di Michele said if the ongoing negotiations in Vienna prompt a lifting of sanctions and release of various assets that, in turn, deliver a financial boost to the regime, “we can never be sure what proportion of that would go to support which activities.”

He added: “It can be assumed that a proportion of those assets released would go toward foreign policy activities. What those entail, I couldn’t speculate on.”

---------------

Twitter: @CHamillStewart


Turkey logs highest daily COVID-19 deaths since pandemic started -data

Turkey logs highest daily COVID-19 deaths since pandemic started -data
Updated 20 April 2021

Turkey logs highest daily COVID-19 deaths since pandemic started -data

Turkey logs highest daily COVID-19 deaths since pandemic started -data
  • Turkey registered its highest daily toll of 346 deaths from COVID-19 on Tuesday
  • Total cases stood at 4,384,624 while the total death toll rose to 36,613

ISTANBUL: Turkey recorded 346 deaths from COVID-19 in the last 24 hours, health ministry data showed on Tuesday, registering the highest daily death toll since the beginning of the pandemic.
The data also showed the country recorded 61,028 new coronavirus cases in the same period.
The total number of cases stood at 4,384,624 while the total death toll rose to 36,613, according to the data.
Turkey currently ranks fourth globally in the number of daily cases based on a seven-day average, according to a Reuters tally.


Defiant Lebanese judge referred to Judicial Inspection Authority

Defiant Lebanese judge referred to Judicial Inspection Authority
Ghada Aoun. (Photo/Twitter)
Updated 3 min 57 sec ago

Defiant Lebanese judge referred to Judicial Inspection Authority

Defiant Lebanese judge referred to Judicial Inspection Authority
  • Ghada Aoun has six criminal cases and 28 complaints against her
  • Judge Ghada Aoun had been investigating the Mecattaf money exchange company and Societe Generale Bank for allegedly withdrawing US dollars from the market and shipping the funds abroad

BEIRUT: A Lebanese judge who defied a decision dismissing her from an investigation into possible currency export breaches was Tuesday referred to the Judicial Inspection Authority over her actions.

Judge Ghada Aoun had been investigating the Mecattaf money exchange company and Societe Generale Bank for allegedly withdrawing US dollars from the market and shipping the funds abroad.

She staged two raids on a currency exchange earlier this month, defying a decision from Public Prosecutor Judge Ghassan Oweidat to dismiss her from the case. There have been six criminal cases and 28 complaints filed against Aoun.

Lebanon’s Supreme Judicial Council met the judge on Tuesday, deciding to refer her to the authority and asking it to take the necessary measures.

“Any investigation or judicial case will be followed up to the end by the competent judiciary whoever the judge may be and regardless of any considerations outside of the judicial framework,” the council said, emphasizing that judicial authority was exercised by all judges. “It is their responsibility to preserve and protect it, abide by their oath and not mix between their duty and issues that do not come in line with the nature of proper judicial work.”

Aoun’s actions gained political traction when she was accompanied on one of the raids by supporters of the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM), the political party led by MP Gebran Bassil.   

A number of FPM supporters accompanied Aoun on Tuesday to the vicinity of the Justice Palace in Beirut.

They waited for her on the street while she attended the council session, which lasted for 40 minutes and took place amid strict security measures taken by the army and Internal Security Forces.

On Monday, rival protests had to be broken up after fighting erupted between those who supported her and those who did not.

The conflict between Aoun and Oweidat temporarily diverted attention away from the months-long political deadlock that has stopped a new government from being formed.

But the involvement of FPM supporters has angered some, who said the judge was being used as a tool to settle political scores.

The council downplayed the idea that there was a dispute, judicial or political.

“What happened is not a dispute between those who want to fight corruption and hold the corrupt accountable, and those who do not want to and are preventing it, or a conflict between the prosecutor general and the region public prosecutor. It definitely is not a political dispute between two parties, as some are portraying it.”

The council said it had asked the Court of Cassation’s Public Prosecutor and the head of the Judicial Inspection Authority to take the necessary measures, each within his jurisdiction, regarding her actions, to listen to her before the council due to her “violation of the obligation to exercise reserve, recurrent failure to meet the commitments she expressed before the council, and refusal to come to the Cassation Public Prosecution.”

Its statement also referred to Aoun’s “positions and actions” following Oweidat’s decision, in which he amended the distribution of work at Mount Lebanon Public Prosecution.

The council’s term ends in June and it tried, through the position it adopted on Tuesday, to save face due to the judiciary’s image suffering in the past few days.

 


Gaza Strip’s Karmousa Kitchen offers Ramadan delicacies

Gaza Strip’s Karmousa Kitchen offers Ramadan delicacies
Women shared the work among themselves, with each group undertaking a specific task that they must finish in the shortest period of time. (Supplied)
Updated 20 April 2021

Gaza Strip’s Karmousa Kitchen offers Ramadan delicacies

Gaza Strip’s Karmousa Kitchen offers Ramadan delicacies
  • Karmousa, named after an Algerian delicacy, relies on social media platforms to promote and market its products

GAZA: Warda Erbee and other women are busy preparing Ramadan foods and sweets in a Gaza Strip kitchen.

Erbee and her colleagues work in Karmousa Kitchen, from the Baraem Development Association, for about seven hours a day to cater for the increased demand during the fasting month.

Erbee, who joined the team in 2017, became the main breadwinner for her family after her husband lost his job due to the pandemic.

She works every day, from 7 a.m. until 2 p.m.

“We work throughout the year at a normal pace, but work increases significantly in the blessed month of Ramadan as the demand is greater for items related to this month, specifically the kubba and sambousak,” she said.

The kitchen’s stand-out offering the rest of the year is the maftool, which is made from wheat or white flour and has earned the satisfaction and admiration of customers.

Karmousa, named after an Algerian delicacy, relies on social media platforms to promote and market its products.

The goal of the Baraem Development Association when launching this project was to help marginalized women cope with poor living conditions.

Kitchen manager Khetam Arafat said that while work did not stop throughout the year, its production doubled during Ramadan and provided additional job opportunities for poor women.

Women shared the work among themselves, with each group undertaking a specific task that they must finish in the shortest period of time.

They need to maintain high levels of accuracy and quality to meet the demands of customers, maintain the position of their products in the market and compete with other factories and kitchens.

According to Arafat, the kitchen’s most famous products are the vegetable and cheese-stuffed sambousak and the Syrian kibbeh made of bulgur and stuffed with minced meat.

“Preparing for Ramadan begins days before in order to meet the demands received by the kitchen and to produce large quantities of items that are in high demand and consumption during this month.”

Despite the emergency conditions resulting from the pandemic, Arafat believed that the demand for Ramadan appetizers and sweets was in line with the annual average.

“Because of an increase in demand this year, the number of female workers has doubled from five to 10, and the number depends on the quality and quantity of the orders.”

From the middle of Ramadan until its end, work in Karmousa is focused on making cakes and maamoul, which are sweets associated with Eid Al-Fitr.

But Arafat feared that an increase in COVID-19 infections in Gaza may lead to a comprehensive closure and inflict heavy losses on the kitchen and all economic sectors.