Posts Tagged ‘Revolutionary Guards’

Iran’s Revolutionary Guards says it held war games in Gulf — But offers no videos

August 5, 2018

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 state news agency IRNA reported.

U.S. officials told Reuters on Thursday that the United States 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 programme of the Guards’ annual military exercises,” Guards spokesman Ramezan Sharif said, according to IRNA.

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Ramezan Sharif

The U.S. 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.

Sharif “expressed satisfaction over the successful conduct of the Guards naval exercise, emphasising the need to maintain and enhance defence readiness and the security of the Gulf and the Strait of Hormuz and to confront threats and potential adventurous acts of enemies,” IRNA said.

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

U.S. 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 U.S. military to more aggressively counter Iran and its proxies.

Iran has been furious over U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision to pull out of an international agreement on Iran’s nuclear programme and re-impose sanctions on Tehran. Senior Iranian officials have warned the country would not easily yield to a renewed U.S. 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.

Reporting by Dubai newsroom; editing by Raissa Kasolowsky, Larry King

Reuters

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Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps on “War Footing” in Strait of Hormuz

August 2, 2018

IRGC exercise in Strait of Hormuz expected to be larger than in the past, with timing suggesting it is tied to recent threats to shut key oil shipping lane

Iranian navy personnel celebrate after successfully launching a Ghader missile from the Jask port area on the shores of the Gulf of Oman during a drill near the Strait of Hormuz, Tuesday, January 1, 2013. (AP/Jamejam Online, Azin Haghighi)

Iranian navy personnel celebrate after successfully launching a Ghader missile from the Jask port area on the shores of the Gulf of Oman during a drill near the Strait of Hormuz, Tuesday, January 1, 2013. (AP/Jamejam Online, Azin Haghighi)

Iranian forces are expected to launch a major exercise in the strategic Strait of Hormuz likely aimed at demonstrating an ability to close the key oil shipping lane, US officials told CNN Wednesday.

The drill by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, which the US officials said was likely to begin in the next two days, comes days after the country’s president threatened that it could close off the strategic waterway in response to the reimposition of US sanctions.

While Iranian forces drill in the Strait of Hormuz annually, one US official told the station that the exercise being planned appeared to be larger than those in years past and was timed unusually late in the year, indicating it was likely tied to recent tensions.

William Urban, chief spokesman for US Central Command, said the the military was closely monitoring Iranian troops movements in the area.

“We are aware of the increase in Iranian naval operations within the Arabian Gulf, Strait of Hormuz and Gulf of Oman. We are monitoring it closely, and will continue to work with our partners to ensure freedom of navigation and free flow of commerce in international waterways,”  he told CNN.

In this Tuesday, March 21, 2017 photograph, an Omani naval vessel sails alongside the USS George H.W. Bush as it travels through the Strait of Hormuz. (AP Photo/Jon Gambrell)

The Strait, a narrow passageway between Iran and Oman, is a key waterway through which a third of all oil traded by sea passes and it has been the scene of previous confrontations between the United States and Iran.

On July 22, Iranian president Hassan Rouhani gave a speech in which he threatened that Iran could block the passageway.

Satellite view of the Strait of Hormuz (photo credit: NASA/Public domain)

Satellite view of the Strait of Hormuz (photo credit: NASA/Public domain)

“We have always guaranteed the security of this strait. Do not play with the lion’s tail, you will regret it forever,” he said.

“Peace with Iran would be the mother of all peace and war with Iran would be the mother of all wars.”

The speech drew a furious response from US president Donald Trump, who warned Rouhani with dire consequences in an all-caps tweet.

“NEVER, EVER THREATEN THE UNITED STATES AGAIN OR YOU WILL SUFFER CONSEQUENCES THE LIKES OF WHICH FEW THROUGHOUT HISTORY HAVE EVER SUFFERED BEFORE,” Trump said on Twitter in a direct message to Rouhani.

Trump later said he would be willing to meet with Rouhani to negotiate a new nuclear deal, but the idea has been with a cool reception in Iran.

Trump withdrew from the 2015 nuclear deal in May, and sanctions are set to kick back in within months. Iran’s currency has taken a nose dive in recent days as the looming sanctions have wreaked havoc on international investment in the country.

On Tuesday, the head of Iran’s navy said keeping the Strait of Hormuz operating was dependent on sanctions not being reimposed.

“The Strait of Hormuz remaining open hinges on Iran’s interests and the international community should live up to its obligations towards the Islamic Republic,” Rear Admiral Hossein Khanzadi said, according to state-run media.

A number of other senior Iranian officials, including the head of the IRGC, have threatened that Tehran could close the strait at any time.

Times of Israel

https://www.timesofisrael.com/iranian-forces-gearing-up-for-massive-drill-in-strategic-waterway-report/

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Iran Military Planning Major Exercise, Show of Strength with Over 100 Warships, Republican Guard Vessels

August 2, 2018

The United States believes Iran is preparing to carry out a major exercise in the Gulf in the coming days, apparently moving up the timing of annual drills amid heightened tensions with Washington, U.S. officials told Reuters on Wednesday.

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

The U.S. military’s Central Command confirmed that it has seen an increase in Iranian activity, including in the Strait of Hormuz, a strategic waterway for oil shipments that Iran’s Revolutionary Guards have threatened to block.

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Iranian navy patrol boat launches a missile. FILE photo

“We are aware of the increase in Iranian naval operations within the Arabian Gulf, Strait of Hormuz and Gulf of Oman,” said Navy Captain Bill Urban, the chief spokesman at Central Command, which oversees U.S. forces in the Middle East.

“We are monitoring it closely, and will continue to work with our partners to ensure freedom of navigation and free flow of commerce in international waterways,” Urban added.

Urban did not provide further information or comment on questions about the expected Iranian drills.

But U.S. officials, speaking to Reuters on condition of anonymity, said Iran’s Revolutionary Guards has appeared to prepare more than 100 vessels for exercises. Hundreds of ground forces could also be involved.

They said the drills could begin within the next 48 hours, although the precise timing was unclear.

Details of the Iranian preparations were first reported by CNN.

U.S. officials said the timing of 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 U.S. military to more aggressively counter Iran and its proxies.

Trump’s policies are already putting significant pressure on the Iranian economy, although U.S. intelligence suggests they may ultimately rally Iranians against the United States and strengthen Iran’s hardline rulers, officials say.

Iran’s currency plumbed new depths this week as Iranians brace for Aug. 7 when Washington is due to reimpose a first lot of economic sanctions following Trump’s withdrawal from the nuclear deal.

A number of protests have broken out in Iran since the beginning of the year over high prices, water shortage, power cuts and alleged corruption.

On Tuesday, hundreds of people rallied in cities including Isfahan, Karaj, Shiraz and Ahvaz in protest against high inflation caused in part by the weak rial.

Reuters

Reporting by Phil Stewart; Editing by James Dalgleish

See also SPUTNIK:

Iran’s Navy Assembles Near Mouth of Persian Gulf, US ‘Monitoring it Closely’

https://sputniknews.com/middleeast/201808021066873307-Iran-Navy-Drills-Persian-Gulf-Hormuz-Monitoring/

Iraq’s Shia militias: capturing the state

July 31, 2018

The Iran-backed Popular Mobilisation Units were created to defeat Isis, but now they are forming political alliances and taking control of parts of the economy

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© Reuters

By Andrew England in Baghdad

Militiamen in pick-up trucks kitted out with weapons speed through Iraq’s western desert on a mission to Al-Qaim, a border town that was one of the last Isis strongholds to be liberated. In the video members of the paramilitary Popular Mobilisation Units, known in Arabic as the Hashd al-Shaabi, clamber up a rocky hill in the town, some brandishing US-made M16 rifles, others with Kalashnikovs. A voiceover describes the “bravery” of the PMU and the “fierce war” it fought with Isis in Iraq.

But this time, the battle-hardened men are not hankering for a fight. Instead, the video boasts of their role helping rebuild a local hospital after the jihadis were driven out of Al-Qaim in November, just a month before Iraq declared victory over Isis.

The video was posted on the PMU’s website, days before the paramilitaries’ recently formed political alliance — Fatah, or Conquest — stormed to second place in Iraq’s parliamentary elections in May. Now, as politicians jockey over the composition of the next government, both the video and Fatah’s strong electoral performance point to one of the most polarising questions in Iraq: will the estimated 120,000-strong PMU force have a constructive or destabilising role in the post-Isis era?

To supporters, PMU fighters are saviours who defended their nation in its darkest hour as Isis seized roughly a third of the country — about 8,000 of its members died in the three-year battle, officials say.

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Shia cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, left, and leader of the Popular Mobiliisation Units, Hadi al-Ameri, have formed a ‘national alliance’ as coalition talks get under way © Getty

But to detractors the PMU has become a powerful Iranian proxy and a potentially subversive force in a country that has endured periods of appalling violence over the past 15 years — much of it at the hands of militias that exploited the state’s weakness to stoke sectarian tension after the 2003 US-led invasion toppled Saddam Hussein.

Some Iraqi and western officials fear the predominantly Shia paramilitary groups could become a shadow force, modelled on Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps or Hizbollah, the Lebanese movement that has political and military wings.

“It’s an Iranian creation led by people who follow Iran: Iran has the Revolutionary guards, Iraq has the PMU,” says an Iraqi general.

Hadi al-Ameri, a veteran paramilitary leader-cum-politician who led the PMU into battle, bristles at such suggestions. “We [do] not accept this. This is the wrong mentality,” says Mr Ameri, who ditched his camouflage uniforms for sober suits to lead Fatah. “This is the same thing as the National Guards in America . . . this is an internal affair.”

The truth lies somewhere in between. Unlike the IRGC and Hizbollah, the PMU, which includes several dozen factions, is not a homogenous movement. And neither Washington nor Tehran want Iraq to become a theatre of conflict, analysts say.

As regional tensions mount, with the US, Israel and Saudi Arabia intensifying pressure on Iran following President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw from the nuclear deal with Tehran, the future role of the PMU is garnering more scrutiny. Some elements of the more pro-Iran militias in the PMU have dispatched forces to Syria to fight alongside the regime of Bashar al-Assad and have issued threats against US interests in Iraq.

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Political and economic grievances: protests in Baghdad in mid-July © Reuters

Mike Pompeo, US secretary of state, has accused Tehran of sponsoring “Shia militia groups and terrorists to infiltrate and undermine the Iraqi security forces and jeopardise Iraq’s sovereignty”.

Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, the PMU’s deputy leader, was hit with sanctions by the US Treasury in 2009 “for threatening the peace and stability of Iraq and the government of Iraq”, and his Hizbollah Brigades militia is designated a terrorist organisation. The Treasury said he was an adviser to Qassem Soleimani, the commander of Iran’s Quds Force, and as recently as October a state department spokesman described Mr Muhandis as a “terrorist”.

Last week, Mr Soleimani warned the US against threatening Iran: “We are near you, where you can’t even imagine,” he said, according to Iranian news agencies. It was a line that seemed to imply that Iran is prepared to use its troops and proxies outside the Islamic republic to fight the US.

Yet for three years, the US, the PMU and, indirectly, Iran, were in effect partners in Iraq with the shared goal of defeating Isis. It is what happens to the PMU next that has a “huge question mark” hanging over it, says a western diplomat in Baghdad.

Robert Ford, who was briefly kidnapped by a Shia militia in 2003 during the first of his three stints in Iraq as a US diplomat, believes Mr Ameri would prefer not to take sides between Iran and the US. But if hostilities between the foes “escalate sharply”, his loyalty would be to Tehran.

“Ameri and nearly all the Iraqi Shia understand that the American influence in the region sooner or later will diminish, but Iran will always be their neighbour,” says Mr Ford, a fellow at Washington’s Middle East Institute.

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The PMU militias were born after Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, Iraq’s top Shia cleric, issued a call to arms in June 2014 following the humiliating collapse of the Iraqi security forces that the US had spent more than $20bn equipping in the face of Isis’s onslaught. As the jihadis blitzed across northern and western Iraq, advancing towards Baghdad, young men lined up behind pick-up trucks and outside military bases to be ferried to the front lines.

Some were volunteers. Most were members of Shia militias that had been keeping low profiles, such as Mr Ameri’s Badr movement, formed in Iran during the 1980s to fight Saddam’s regime; Asaib Ahl al-Haq, a radical offshoot of Shia cleric Moqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army militia, which attacked US troops after Saddam was ousted; and the Hizbollah Brigades.

The PMU gradually drew in fighters from other communities, including Sunnis, Christians and Yazidis, taking on a less sectarian profile. They supported offensives led by the rebuilt Iraqi security forces and the US-led coalition that finally defeated the jihadis.

‘Nearly all the Iraqi Shia understand that the [US] influence in the region . . . will diminish, but Iran will always be their neighbour’

Robert Ford, former US diplomat in Baghdad

Since then, the paramilitaries have reduced their presence on Baghdad’s streets. But PMU leaders have resisted prime minister Haider al-Abadi’s efforts to integrate them into the armed forces. In November 2016, parliament passed a law making the PMU an independent force, which now has its own $1.6bn budget and ostensibly answers to the prime minister’s office rather than the interior or defence ministries.

Yet when Mr Abadi tried to obtain an independent audit of their numbers, PMU leaders pushed back, says one Iraqi politician. Today, the paramilitaries patrol areas liberated from Isis, including the strategic border with Syria around Al-Qaim, and operate checkpoints across the country.

Renad Mansour, an analyst at the Chatham House think-tank who has researched the PMU, says Mr Ameri “plays the game of the state when it suits him”. He adds: “The PMU’s endgame is either to take control of the state, or, if they can’t, [to at least] be part of the state.

“But they also have a plan B. If the state one day decides it needs to integrate or disband the PMU, they can gain power or influence through contesting the state economically and politically.”

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Hadi al-Ameri on the campaign trail in the southern Iraqi city of Basra before Iraqi elections in May © AFP

Experts say it is unrealistic to expect tens of thousands of armed men to simply pack up and go home. Indeed, such a move in a country awash with weapons and blighted by widespread joblessness would only risk exacerbating instability: Iraqis point to the chaos that erupted after the US’s decision to disband security forces in 2003. The vacuum allowed militias to flourish, including the rival Shia and Sunni groups that fought coalition forces and sectarian battles, and Peshmerga fighters loyal to the two main political groups in autonomous Iraqi Kurdistan.

“Armed groups linked to political parties or individuals is a problem throughout the whole country; the PMU may be the biggest example of it now,” Mr Mansour says. “This is part of the bigger issue of how to end the monopoly of legitimate violence throughout Iraq.”

Elements of the PMU were accused of committing abuses against Sunnis in the war with Isis. Amnesty International last year alleged the paramilitaries “executed or otherwise unlawfully killed, tortured and abducted thousands of men and boys”. US equipment supplied to the Iraqi army, including Humvees, M113 armoured personnel carriers and small arms, was being deployed by the militias, the report said.

Some Iraqis and analysts say PMU groups are also expanding their business interests and allegedly engaging in similar smuggling rackets that Isis once operated, from sheep to grain and oil. “Where Isis controlled territory, PMU groups have emerged manning checkpoints so smugglers taking stuff through Turkey or Syria must go through them,” says an Iraqi analyst. “Each of these groups are gangsters involved in looting this county,” says a rival politician.

The PMU’s website offers an alternative narrative. Statements highlight its work providing medical services, reconciling tribes and repairing mosques, roads, bridges and schools in liberated areas. Its leaders speak of their desire to establish a “martyrs university”.

Nathaniel Rabkin, a security analyst, says the attempted push into academia is an example of how the PMU wants to have an ideological role in “shaping the way Iraq goes forward”.

Part of that is curbing western influence, he says. “They are smart enough to understand it would be a mistake to make it exactly like the IRGC,” he says. “But you watch interviews with Ameri and he’s talking about how the PMUs are an ideological army and Iraq is in an ideological war and . . . it becomes clear he sees this project as about something much grander and longer-term.”

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Mike Pompeo, US secretary of state © AFP

Much will depend on where power lies in the next government. Mr Sadr, the Shia cleric whose Sairoon political alliance is leading talks to form a coalition after winning the largest share of the vote at May’s election, has previously called for the PMU to be disbanded and has railed against Iran’s influence. But he also has his own militia, the Mahdi Army. It retreated from the streets after a crackdown by the Iraqi and coalition forces in the late 2000s, and has since been rebranded the “Peace Companies”.

Last month, Mr Sadr and Mr Ameri joined forces to create a “national alliance” to lead talks on forming a government.

“Some PMU commanders are becoming politicians, but they are serving Iraq to protect the state,” says Karim al-Nouri, a Fatah politician, as pictures of him in uniform on the front lines of the battle against Isis hang outside his office. “We are going to enter parliament in civilian clothes, not uniforms.”

Another Iraqi analyst says that if the PMU’s gains are not threatened it could be a “good force”. “But they will have many demands and they will put their nose into everything, just like [Iran’s] IRGC,” the analyst says. “The most important pressure Iran has created after Hizbollah [the Lebanese Shia movement] is the PMU.”

Mr Ameri, a stocky man in his 60s, is having none of it. “Get rid of your Iran complex,” he says. “Go and disband the National Guard in America and Saudi Arabia and come back to me.

“If you disband the Peshmerga we will disband the PMU, but you accept the Peshmerga and cheer for them. This is double standards.”

Additional reporting by Asser Khattab in Beirut

***

Politics: water and fuel protests expose rising anger

A wave of protests across southern Iraq have exposed the weakness of the state and the mounting resentment many Iraqis feel towards their leaders.

Demonstrators have in recent weeks targeted government buildings and political party offices, including those belonging to the Badr movement and other groups on Hadi al-Ameri’s Fatah list. The protests began over electricity and water shortages in Basra, the country’s oil hub. But they are also symptomatic of growing anger over the dire state of public services and the economy.

The predominantly Shia southern provinces avoided the worst of the violence from the three-year battle with Isis in Iraq’s north and west. But families from the south provided the majority of sons, fathers and husbands who filled the ranks of the Popular Mobilisation Units from 2014. Now there is a sense that despite the sacrifices made by the south, it has been neglected by Baghdad.

There is also widespread anger about rampant poverty and unemployment in a region that is the country’s economic lifeline — oil exports from Basra account for more than 95 per cent of state revenues. Some protests have targeted oil and gasfields as people demand that companies provide more jobs.

The anger felt by many Iraqis towards their leaders was reflected in a record low turnout of 44.5 per cent at the May 12 elections. That worked in the favour of the Sairoon alliance, led by Moqtada al-Sadr, the Shia cleric, and the Fatah bloc, which came first and second in terms of seats won in parliament, according to initial results.

They, and other groups, are now in talks to form the next coalition government, a process that typically takes months given Iraq’s fragmented political system. But the continuing unrest underscores the challenges the next administration will face.

https://www.ft.com/content/ba4f7bb2-6d4d-11e8-852d-d8b934ff5ffa

Revolutionary Guards: Iran will resist Trump — “Trump cannot do a damn thing against Iran.”

July 23, 2018

Overnight threats by President Donald Trump against Iran amount to “psychological warfare”, and Tehran will continue to resists its enemies, a senior commander of Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards was quoted as saying on Monday.

“We will never abandon our revolutionary beliefs … we will resist pressure from enemies… America wants nothing less than (to) destroy Iran … (but) Trump cannot do a damn thing against Iran,” Iranian Students News Agency ISNA reported Gholamhossein Gheybparvar as saying.

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Gholamhossein Gheybparvar is a senior officer in the Revolutionary Guards

Trump told President Hassan Rouhani on Sunday to stop threatening the United States or face the consequences, hours after Rouhani told Trump that hostile policies toward Tehran could lead to “the mother of all wars.”

Reuters

US not ‘afraid to tackle’ Iran regime at ‘highest level’: Pompeo

July 23, 2018

The United States is not “afraid to tackle” Iranian officials with sanctions at the “highest level” of its government, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Sunday.

Following the US withdrawal from the Iran nuclear accord that stunned even Washington’s closest European allies, Pompeo on May 21 unveiled a “new strategy” intended to force Iran to yield to a dozen stringent demands.

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“We weren’t afraid to tackle the regime at its highest level,” Pompeo said in a speech in California, referring to sanctions leveled in January against Sadeq Larijani, the head of Iran’s judiciary.

Pompeo also confirmed that Washington wants all countries to reduce their imports of Iranian oil “as close to zero as possible” by November 4, part of US efforts to increase economic pressure on Tehran.

“There’s more to come,” Pompeo said.

US President Donald Trump on May 8 decided to restore all the sanctions that had been lifted as part of a multi-national agreement, signed on to by former president Barack Obama’s administration, in exchange for curbs on Iran’s nuclear program.

“Regime leaders — especially those at the top of the IRGC and the Quds Force like Qasem Soleimani — must be made to feel painful consequences of their bad decision making,” the top US diplomat said, referring to Iran’s special forces and Revolutionary Guards.

AFP

US vows to keep oil lanes open after Iran threatens to block key strait

July 5, 2018

IRGC commander says Iran could halt crude going through Strait of Hormuz, after Rouhani warns of ‘consequences’ to US sanctions

 

In this Tuesday, March 21, 2017 photograph, an Omani naval vessel sails alongside the USS George H.W. Bush as it travels through the Strait of Hormuz.  (AP Photo/Jon Gambrell)

In this Tuesday, March 21, 2017 photograph, an Omani naval vessel sails alongside the USS George H.W. Bush as it travels through the Strait of Hormuz. (AP Photo/Jon Gambrell)

The US military on Wednesday reiterated its promise to keep Persian Gulf waterways open to oil tankers, after an Iranian Revolutionary Guards commander vowed to disrupt global oil trade if the US prevents Iran from exporting its own oil.

Capt. Bill Urban, a spokesman for the US military’s Central Command, said that American sailors and its regional allies “stand ready to ensure the freedom of navigation and the free flow of commerce wherever international law allows.”

Iranian Revolutionary Guards commander Ismail Kowsari on Wednesday appeared to clarify Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s warning of “consequences” if the United States convinces its allies to stop buying Tehran’s oil.

“If they want to stop Iranian oil exports, we will not allow any oil shipment to pass through the Strait of Hormuz,” Kowsari said, according to the Young Journalists Club (YJC) website.

General Ismail Kowsari, Deputy Commander of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards’ Tharallah base, seen on Al-Alam TV on September 27, 2017. (YouTube screenshot/Middle East Media Research Institute)

Rouhani said Tuesday that regional oil supply could be jeopardized if the US continues to pressure Iran.

“It would be meaningless that Iran cannot export its oil while others in the region can. Do this if you can and see the consequences,” he said according to an English-language report of his statements provided by Iran’s Press TV.

When pressured in the past, Iran has threatened to close the strategic Strait of Hormuz, through which one-third of the world’s oil supply passes.

Since the US pulled out of the nuclear deal with Iran, known officially as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, Washington has been pushing allies to cut oil imports from the Islamic Republic altogether by November.

The Trump administration vowed Monday to stick with its pressure campaign against Iran, affirming its strategy to change Tehran’s behavior by gutting its oil revenue and isolating the country globally.

“Our goal is to increase pressure on the Iranian regime by reducing to zero its revenue on crude-oil sales,” said Brian Hook, the State Department’s director of policy planning, at a briefing with reporters.

He also suggested, however, that there would be some wiggle room to allow some countries that import Iranian oil to avoid immediate sanctions, once they are set to be re-imposed come November 4.

“We are prepared to work with countries that are reducing their imports on a case-by-case basis, but as with our other sanctions, we are not looking to grant waivers or licenses,” Hook said, in comments that were seen as a softening of the United States’ prior demands.

Iran is OPEC’s second-largest crude exporter with more than 2 million barrels a day.

Rouhani has asserted that Iran will not buckle under US pressure and urged dialogue to resolve the differences between the nations.

“Iran’s logic has not changed, one party without logic has left the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action with the goal of putting pressure on the Iranian nation,” he said Tuesday.

“We told all our foreign parties that if they speak to the Iranian nation with the language of logic and respect, then we can get problems solved… and that threats, pressure and humiliation will never work against the people of Iran,” he said.

Notable countries that import Iranian crude include Turkey, India, China and South Korea.

Since a US State Department official first told reporters on June 26 that the US was preparing to ask allies to cut their oil imports from Iran, the price of US crude jumped more than 8 percent.

Trump subsequently expressed concern about oil prices last week, announcing in a tweet that he and King Salman of Saudi Arabia had agreed to raise daily oil production by 2 million barrels.

Donald J. Trump

@realDonaldTrump

Just spoke to King Salman of Saudi Arabia and explained to him that, because of the turmoil & disfunction in Iran and Venezuela, I am asking that Saudi Arabia increase oil production, maybe up to 2,000,000 barrels, to make up the difference…Prices to high! He has agreed!

“Prices [too] high!” he said. “He has agreed!” It is not clear when that agreement will begin implementation.

Eric Cortellessa contributed to this report.

https://www.timesofisrael.com/us-vows-to-keep-oil-lanes-open-after-iran-threatens-to-block-key-strait/
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Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Prepared To Stop Hormuz Oil Exports After U.S. Threat

July 5, 2018
Strait of Hormuz is a chokepoint for 30% of global oil exports — U.S. wants Iran’s oil revenue to be zero: Brian Hook

Iran will stop oil exports from the Strait of Hormuz, the world’s most important oil chokepoint, if the U.S. succeeds in halting crude sales from the Persian Gulf nation, according to a Revolutionary Guards official.

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“Any hostile attempt by the U.S. will be followed by an exorbitant cost for them,” said Esmail Kowsari, deputy commander of the Sarollah Revolutionary Guards base in Tehran, according to the Young Journalists Club, affiliated with Iran’s national broadcaster. “If Iran’s oil exports are to be prevented, we will not give permission for oil to be exported to the world through the Strait of Hormuz.”

The Strait of Hormuz is at the mouth of the Persian Gulf, the world’s biggest concentration of tankers that carry about 30 percent of all seaborne-traded crude oil and other liquids during the year. President Donald Trump decided in May to back out of the 2015 nuclear accord with Iran, with sanctions set to be renewed in November. The U.S. threats come amid rising tensions, pitting Iran against Saudi Arabia and other Gulf Arab nations who maintain close ties with Trump.

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Esmail Kowsari

Kowsari comments follow remarks by Brian Hook, the State Department’s director of policy planning, who said Monday that the U.S.’s “goal is to increase pressure on the Iranian regime by reducing to zero its revenue from crude oil sales.”

The U.S.’s threat recently to prevent Iranian oil exports “called for a swift and smart stance” from Iran, Kowsari said, praising Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s reaction on Tuesday who said “it’s an incorrect belief that all oil producers would be able to export and Iran would be the only country unable to export oil.”

https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2018-07-05/iran-guards-says-can-stop-hormuz-oil-exports-after-u-s-threat

Iran: Leading Reformer Tells Government, “Enter into negotiations with the US soon before the situation gets worse”

June 25, 2018

Calls for domestic reforms and human rights — As public dissent grows, Hashemi says change is needed if system is to survive

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Faezeh Hashemi Rafsanjani spent six months in jail in 2012 on charges of fomenting anti-regime propaganda and faces new charges of acting against national security © AP

ByNajmeh Bozorgmehr in Tehran 


Her late father was a pillar of the Islamic republic. But for Faezeh Hashemi Rafsanjani, the survival of the system in Iran that her family helped create requires negotiations with the US president Donald Trump and the kind of domestic reforms the regime has avoided in its near 40-year rule.

“We should not act passively and [instead] enter into negotiations with the US soon . . . before the situation gets worse,” said Ms Hashemi, 56, an outspoken reform-minded politician. “We have no other choice . . . Belated negotiations could happen under more pressure.”

She went on: “Having no relations with the US was not right from the beginning . . . The Islamic republic should resolve its problems with the US . . . [because] having no ties with the superpower is costly for us.”

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Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani

The theocratic regime, established in 1979 by conservative clerics, including Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, is already under huge stress. The breakdown of the nuclear deal with the US, a plunging currency and high youth unemployment have contributed to rising unrest. Almost daily, there are reports of protests around the country.

“I do not see the danger of collapse [right now] but the country can go to that direction if solutions are not found,” Ms Hashemi said. “Now, the crisis has reached a climax . . . in all aspects . . . while the state pretends it is normal.”

Mr Trump pulled the US out of the 2015 nuclear accord last month and vowed to re-impose crippling sanctions on Iran unless the republic stopped its intervention in Syria and elsewhere and changed its ballistic missile programme. The Iranian rial has plummeted by more than 30 per cent this year and oil company Total and PSA, which produces Peugeot and Citroën cars, are among those re-considering their presence in Iran, fearing the impact of sanctions.

Even with growing unrest at rising prices and youth unemployment, Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has vowed neither to compromise with the hawkish administration in Washington nor to abandon a foreign policy that has seen it intervene across the region.

“These words are not Koranic verses,” Ms Hashemi said of the top leader’s tough stance. “We have said many things before but we are also wise and know what to do not to let the country be further damaged and fall apart.”

While few public figures have traditionally dared to voice public criticism of a system defined by its view of the US as an “arch-enemy” and perception of Israel as an “illegitimate regime”, this month about 100 reform-minded politicians made the unusual move of calling for “direct” and “unconditional” negotiations with the US.

We are used to resolving problems after they reach critical points

Iran’s senior commander of hardline Revolutionary Guards, Mohammad Ali Jafari, said on Tuesday that the move “if not treason was preparation for concessions with the US” which he said “would equal death of the Islamic revolution”.

But for Ms Hashemi — who spent six months in jail in 2012 for fomenting anti-regime propaganda and faces new charges of acting against national security — reforms are essential to save a political system “which is part of me and I am part of it”. Widely travelled, she has been banned from leaving Iran since May last year.

She questions the benefit to Iran of its foreign policy. “Iran should expand its influence in the region but if we do not have any loyal allies today — except for Lebanon’s Hizbollah — our approach must not be right,” she said, giving the example of how Russia promotes its own interests in Syria. “Iran drags Russia into Syria and now it is Russia that intends to kick Iran out of Syria.”

Ms Hashemi — whose family have long been associated with accusations of corruption and crackdowns but have since become vociferous champions of reform — called for an end to discrimination against women and ethnic and religious minorities, a fairer judicial system and a more open economy.

Reformists are increasingly critical of centrist president Hassan Rouhani whose major achievements, including the nuclear deal and curbing high inflation, are on the brink of collapse. He is seen as having failed to negotiate properly in the complicated corridors of Iranian power. “It feels like Mr Rouhani has abandoned the country’s affairs . . . and is passive vis-à-vis the institutions under the supreme leader’s authority,” she said.

The strength of the Revolutionary Guards — the elite hardline force and one of the country’s most resilient institutions — is seen as one of the biggest guarantors of stability. Any change rests on the Ayatollah Khamenei’s willingness to roll back hardline policies.

While there are no signs of any major turnround in policy, the system is known for its pragmatism. “We are used to resolving problems after they reach critical points . . . as we did when we released US hostages [in 1981] and accepted peace with Iraq [in 1988]. We will probably do the same with Mr Trump,” she said.

“Our religion [Shia] allows us to update Islam. Why cannot we update our policies?” Ms Hashemi said. “Iranian people will determine the future of the Islamic republic.”

https://www.ft.com/content/33399ab2-73ca-11e8-b6ad-3823e4384287

Russia Says Only Syrian Army Should Be on Country’s Southern Border With Israel

May 28, 2018

Russia gives some military direction to Iran — Get off the Syria-Israel border…

Israel believes Russia may agree to withdrawing Iranian forces and allied Shi’ite militias from Israel-Syria border

.Russian President Vladimir Putin with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in the Black Sea resort of Sochi, Russia, May 17, 2018
Russian President Vladimir Putin with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in the Black Sea resort of Sochi, Russia, May 17, 2018Mikhail Klimentyev/AP

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Monday that only Syrian government troops should have a presence on the country’s southern border which is close to Jordan and Israel, the RIA news agency reported.

Lavrov was cited as making the comments at a joint news conference in Moscow with Jose Condungua Pacheco, his counterpart from Mozambique.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke at the Knesset Monday, saying that “there is no room for any Iranian military presence in any part of Syria.”

Meanwhile, Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman said that “these things, of course, reflect not only our position, I can safely say that they reflect the positions of others in the Middle East and beyond the Middle East.”

On Sunday, Haaretz reported that Israeli political and military officials believe Russia is willing to discuss a significant distancing of Iranian forces and allied Shi’ite militias from the Israel-Syria border, according to Israeli officials.

Russia recently renewed efforts to try to get the United States involved in agreements that would stabilize Syria. The Russians might be willing to remove the Iranians from the Israeli border, though not necessarily remove the forces linked to them from the whole country.

Last November, Russia and the United States, in coordination with Jordan, forged an agreement to decrease the possibility of friction in southern Syria, after the Assad regime defeated rebel groups in the center of the country. Israel sought to keep the Iranians and Shi’ite militias at least 60 kilometers (37 miles) from the Israeli border in the Golan Heights, east of the Damascus-Daraa road (or, according to another version, east of the Damascus-Suwayda road, about 70 kilometers from the border).

According to Israeli intelligence, in Syria there are now around 2,000 Iranian officers and advisers, members of the Revolutionary Guards, around 9,000 Shi’ite militiamen from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq, and around 7,000 Hezbollah fighters. Israel believes that the Americans are now in a good position to reach a more effective arrangement in Syria in coordination with the Russians under the slogan “Without Iran and without ISIS.”

FILE – Iran's Army Chief of Staff Maj. Gen. Mohammad Bagheri, left, in Aleppo, Syria, in photo provided October 20, 2017
FILE – Iran’s Army Chief of Staff Maj. Gen. Mohammad Bagheri, left, in Aleppo, Syria, in photo provided October 20, 2017/AP

The United States warned Syria on Friday it would take “firm and appropriate measures” in response to ceasefire violations, saying it was concerned about reports of an impending military operation in a de-escalation zone in the country’s southwest.

Washington also cautioned Assad against broadening the conflict.

“As a guarantor of this de-escalation area with Russia and Jordan, the United States will take firm and appropriate measures in response to Assad regime violations,” State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said in a statement late on Friday.

A war monitor, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, reported on Wednesday that Syrian government forces fresh from their victory this week against an Islamic State pocket in south Damascus were moving into the southern province of Deraa.

Syrian state-run media have reported that government aircraft have dropped leaflets on rebel-held areas in Deraa urging fighters to disarm.

The U.S. warning comes weeks after a similar attack on a de-escalation zone in northeastern Syria held by U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces. U.S. ground and air forces repelled the more than four-hour attack, killing perhaps as many as 300 pro-Assad militia members, many of them Russian mercenaries.

Backed by Russian warplanes, ground forces from Iran and allied militia, including Lebanon’s Hezbollah, have helped Assad drive rebels from Syria’s biggest cities, putting him in an unassailable military position.