Category Archives: Iran

Maersk Tigris expected to be released within days

Posted on in Iran title_rule

In a statement today, Maersk announced that they had provided a letter of undertaking relating to a original 10-year old cargo case that resulted in last week’s seizure of container vessel Maersk Tigris by Iranian Authorities. Maersk added, “We are continuing to do everything we can to assist in the safe release of the crew and vessel.”

On 28 April, Iranian Revolutionary Guards forces boarded the Maersk Tigris, a Marshall Islands-flagged cargo ship in the Gulf. The container ship had been following a normal commercial route, sailing from the Jeddah in Saudi Arabia, bound for the UAE port of Jebel Ali. The vessel was anchored off the Iranian coast between the islands of Qeshm and Hormuz when Iranian patrol boats fired warning shots across its bow and ordered it deeper into Iranian waters. The vessel issued a distress call which was received by US forces operating in the region. The Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps naval units seized the vessel and its crew. The vessel’s manager, Singapore-based Rickmers Shipmanagement, reported that there were 24 crew members, mostly from Eastern Europe and Asia. Maersk reported on 29 April that the crew on board are safe and “in good spirits.” The carrier remains in close contact with the Danish Foreign Ministry.

Iranian maintains that the ship’s seizure is a civil matter with no military or political dimension.

Two reports have emerged regarding the reasons for the ship’s capture. Financial Times and other sources report that the ship was taken as the result of a 2005 incident in which ten shipping containers were delivered by Maersk to Dubai for Pars Tala’eyeh Oil Products Company. The containers were disposed of when no one came forward to claim them. In the initial legal proceedings, Iranian courts found in favour of Maersk, but a February 2015 appeal overturned the ruling, fining Maersk $3.6 million. Maersk claims it was unaware of the appeal.

Meanwhile, Hellenic Shipping News has reported information from Hamidreza Jahanian, managing-Director of Pars Tala’eyeh Oil Products Company. Jahanian reports that the seizure stems from a 2003 dispute wherein “a number of containers sent by Pars Tala’eyeh Oil Products Company through the Maersk Line Shipping Company were not delivered to the customer in Jebel Ali in 2003.” He adds that Maersk had some differences with its representative in Iran, and “refrained from delivering the goods to the customer.” Jahanian states that Pars Tala’eyeh Oil Products Company filed a lawsuit, and the court ruled in favour of the Iranian company. They maintain that Maersk owes $10 million, the estimated amount the company incurred in losses.

Iran’s Port and Maritime Organization (IPMO) sanctioned the vessel’s detention following the court ruling. The Iranian company has warned that vessel could be put up for auction if compensation is not paid by Maersk. Maersk demanded legal documentation from Iran regarding the ship’s seizure. As of 4 May, the company says it had not received written confirmation of court rulings or the ship arrest warrant. A statement from Maersk reads, “We have […] not received any written notification or similar pertaining to the claim or the seizure of the vessel. We are therefore not able to confirm whether or not this is the actual reason behind the seizure. We will continue our efforts to obtain more information.”

Lawyers have stated that maritime law allows a nation to arrest a foreign ship based on this type of dispute under certain conditions: the ship needs to be in port, and the seized ship must be the ship against which the claim was filed.

With regard to the 2005 case, the Maersk Tigris was not the ship in question, nor was it at port. Maersk Tigris was in international waters when warning shots were fired, and the vessel was instructed to sail into Iranian waters. Further, despite the name, the Maersk Tigris is not owned by Maersk; it is chartered by them. The vessel is owned by private equity fund Oaktree Capital Management. Therefore, its seizure cannot be used to settle the claim against Maersk. Finally, there are no grounds which allow Iran to detain the vessel’s crew. As such, many have stated that the taking of the vessel is a violation of international maritime law.

The situation is expected to be resolved in the coming days. Iranian state-run news agency IRNA quoted Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Marzieh Afkham as telling a news conference, “The negotiations between the private complainant and the other party are going on and possibly the issue will be resolved in a day or two.”

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US closes Embassy in Saudi Arabia amid a week of threats

Posted on in Iran, Saudi Arabia, United States title_rule

The United States has closed its embassy in the Saudi Arabian capital of Riyadh and suspended all consular operations and services for two days due to security concerns.

A statement from the embassy said that consular services in Riyadh, Jeddah and Dharan would not be available on Sunday and Monday due to “heightened security concerns.” The embassy told US citizens to “be aware of their surroundings, and take extra precautions when travelling throughout the country.”

The embassy statement coincides with a security message issued on 13 March which warned that “individuals associated with a terrorist organisation could be targeting Western oil workers… for an attack(s) and/or kidnapping(s).” The message did not indicate a specific militant group. The security message called for US citizens to avoid large crowds, identify safe areas before walking in public, carry a phone at all times and to report any concerns to the Embassy. Two days later, the embassy announced that Consular sections’ telephone lines will not be open during the two days. The State Department in Washington said it had no further comment.

Ghanem Nuseibeh, founder of Middle East risk adviser Cornerstone Global Associates in Dubai, states that consular services are closed in response to specific intelligence information, rather than a general increase of risk. It is likely that the US consulate was reacting to a defined and credible threat.

Earlier last week on 9 March, the US embassy in Riyadh announced that they had become aware of a possible plot to attack employees working with oil giant Chevron in Saudi Arabia, the world’s largest oil supplier. The embassy said they had received information which indicated that, “as of early March, individuals associated with a terrorist organisation are targeting employees of Chevron in Saudi Arabia.” The message was emailed to American citizens over the weekend, and added “There is no further information on the timing, target, location, or method of any planned attacks.”

An email statement from Chevron said they are monitoring the situation, reassuring employees that their security is “paramount.” The oil company did not elaborate on the nature of the threat, stating, “It is not Chevron’s policy to discuss details related to the security of our employees or facilities.”

Saudi Arabia is in the geographic and political centre of international affairs that have that have caused the nation to become acutely vigilant regarding domestic security. In Yemen, the weakness of the government, which has been de-facto overthrown by Shiite Houthi rebels, has caused concerns in the Kingdom that Yemen will now become a proxy war for Iran. Diplomatic concerns have been raised between the US and Saudi Arabia due to talks between the US and Iran over an extension of Iran’s nuclear programme. The kingdom is concerned that the P5+1 nuclear negotiations could lead to greater aggression from Iran. In a meeting earlier in March, Secretary of State John Kerry visited Riyadh to reassure King Salman and foreign minister Saud al-Faisal that a nuclear accord would not cause the US to let down its guard against any Iranian interference in Saudi Arabia.

Saudi Arabia has been attempting to build a Sunni bloc to contain Iran and its influence abroad. The alliance has so far been met with a setback from Pakistan. Islamabad has opted, at least for now, to avoid becoming entangled in the sectarian cold war between Riyadh and Tehran.

Foreign nationals in Saudi Arabia have been targeted in a series of attacks since the kingdom joined the anti ISIS coalition last year. The last security incident to take place in Saudi Arabia involving US citizens was last October when a US citizen working for an American defence contractor was killed in Riyadh. A month later, a Danish citizen shot and injured.

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Why is it taking so long to defeat ISIS?

Posted on in Africa, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, ISIS, Islamic State, Jordan, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Terrorism, Turkey, United States title_rule

In June 2014, the Islamic State of Iraq and al Sham (ISIS) has metastasised into one of the most horrific fighting groups of this century. The group has become renowned for rampant murder, the pillaging of villages and cities, widely publicised beheadings, the theft of oil and artefacts, and more recently of human organs.

Since they appeared on the world stage, ISIS has come to remind many of a combination of the worst villains Hollywood has ever imagined. More terrifying, the group’s combination of savvy marketing and recruiting, has resulted in numerous would-be fighters attempting to travel to ISIS strongholds to join the group.

The Debate: What does ISIS want?

ISIS seeks to form a caliphate that extends to the Mediterranean Sea. Their ideology has sparked numerous debates on whether they are a political group with a religious foundation, or a religious groups with a political foundation.

There is no denying that ISIS perceives themselves as an Islamic group; it’s in their name. However ISIS has modified their interpretation to create their own version of Islam. Their brand of Islam is a combination of fundamentalism similar to Wahabism in Saudi Arabia, but it is coupled with “violent Salafism” which deviated from evangelical Salafism in the 1960s and 70s. Further, the group has enacted a series of its own rulings or “fatwas” that are often in direct contradiction to Islam (for example, the burning of humans is strictly forbidden in ever interpretation of Islam—except for that which is held by ISIS).

ISIS has based its ideology on an apocalyptic message. Their magazine, Dabiq refers to a city in Syria that is said to be a site of great fighting during Armageddon (Malahim). The magazine states, “One of the greatest battles between the Muslims and the crusaders will take place near Dabiq.” However the mention of this end-times battle is not found in the Qur’an. It is believed to be in one of the “lesser” Hadiths. This is an important point: in Islam, the Hadith is a collection of stories recounted of the prophet Muhammad. Each Hadith, over time, has been studied carefully to determine whether it can be verified and whether it is consistent with the Prophet’s teachings. Greater Hadiths are those which have extensive historical and scholarly evidence to support them. Lesser Hadiths have limited evidence to support them.

Despite their religious ideology, at the core of ISIS beliefs is an equal mix of political ideology. ISIS conducts itself as a state; collecting taxes and implementing its own version of judicial law and social controls. It grew out of region wide crisis in Iraq and flourished in the aftermath of the Iraq War. Here too, their political ideology has been the source of great debate. Some argue that US intervention was responsible for the creation of ISIS; others argue that former Iraqi President Nouri al Maliki institutionalised sectarian division in the nation, instigating a violent response among militant Sunni groups which already existed in the nation. The political goal of ISIS is to restore Sunni Islam to a place of (at least) equality, and their political message initially gained the support of non-militant Sunni Muslims who were marginalised by the nation’s government. In addition, ISIS often calls for the erasure of the Sykes-Picot lines which, in 1916, divided the Arab provinces of the Ottoman Empire outside the Arabian Peninsula into areas of British and French control or influence.

The question of what ISIS really wants has made it difficult to know how to deal with them. ISIS governs itself as an extreme Islamic caliphate, organises like a modern state, and fights like a guerrilla insurgency.

Impact of Global Politics

ISIS is believed to have amassed over 200,000 fighters, with potential members coming from as many as 90 nations. As stated earlier, ISIS has developed a savvy social media presence, and nations are stopping people on a near daily basis from travelling to the region.

Despite a US led coalition of forty nations that have agreed to fight ISIS, the battle against the terrorist group has become. However since the initiation of the coalition in August 2014, ISIS has continued to grow.

In part, ISIS has thrived because of the complexity of international politics. The main fighting forces on the ground are the Kurdish Peshmerga, who belong to a political movement known as the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). The PKK has sought an autonomous Kurdish state in parts of Syria, Iraq, Iran and Turkey. The conflict between the PKK and the Turkish government reached its zenith in 2005 when the PKK conducted a series of bombings, leading them to become a designated terrorist group in Turkey, the United States, NATO, and the European Union. The EU Court removed its status as terrorist organisation in April 2008. However, the designation by the US and Turkey has brought with it problems of arming the PKK; the only group that has successfully battled ISIS on the ground.

To add to the complexity, another nation that has a vested interest in defeating ISIS is Iran, which is on the US “enemies” list. As such, Iran, with over 500,000 active troops, is not a member of the coalition. Iran has been facing heavy sanctions that have been put in place by the west; the US has taken the lead in negotiating nuclear reduction in Iran. The US believes that Iran could use nuclear infrastructure to build weapons which could be a direct threat to Israel. Iran maintains that the facilities are part of their energy infrastructure.

In Iraq, the Iraqi military fell apart with alarming speed when ISIS first came onto the scene. It has been reported that when ISIS militants sought to overtake a region, the generals left first, leaving the soldiers uncertain of what to do; and so they left as well. Under Maliki, it is believed that the Sunni members of the army were unhappy to fight for a nation that had alienated them. With a new president in place, the 350,000 member army is currently being trained by Western forces in order to engage in battle against ISIS. However in the meanwhile, Shiite militias have been remobilised to fill the vacuum, however their presence has left Sunni Muslims in a precarious situation.

The Syrian army is believed by many to be the most likely to contain the ISIS threat. In early February, Syrian forces together with the Kurdish fighters repelled an ISIS advance in north-eastern Syria. However, Syrian troops have been divided between fighting in a protracted civil war and fighting ISIS forces. This has decreased their ability to focus on a single target.

Why are more Arab ground troops not involved?

ISIS has overtly stated that they seek to gain ground in Lebanon, Jordan and Saudi Arabia. In North Africa, ISIS has established a presence in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula and along the Libyan coastline. In mid-February, Egyptian conducted airstrikes against ISIS positions in Derna, Libya, following the beheading of 21 Coptic Christian Egyptian nationals. Shortly after the airstrikes, Egyptian President Sisi called for a joint Arab military force to tackle extremist groups in the region, and called for a United Nations mandate for foreign intervention in Libya. Sisi’s call raises an important question: why have Arab nations —particularly those at greatest risk from ISIS— not sent in ground troops to fight ISIS?

In short, many Arab militaries have not acted as fighting forces for some time. For example the Egyptian army had not engaged in ground war since the three-day border war with Libya in 1977. Further, the Egyptian military has not been deployed to a foreign nation since the North Yemen civil war of the 1960s, where it was defeated. The story is similar for many militaries in the region. Another problem arises from the history of Arab cooperation in defence. Divisions along political lines (Turkey and the Kurds, for example), prevent full trust and therefore full cooperation. Western analysts espouse hope that the GCC Peninsula Shield, a 40,000-strong force made up of countries in the Persian Gulf, will be deployed to fight ISIS, however the group is designed to prevent political unrest in existing regimes. It is a force for suppression, not battle. The GCC Peninsula shield was most recently deployed to quell unrest in Bahrain in 2011. Their targets were unarmed, disorganised civilians. It is unlikely that they are prepared to engage in battle against armed, methodical militants.

This does not mean that the battle against ISIS cannot be won. However it will require renewed training of security forces, the updating of weaponry, and the combined efforts of both Middle Eastern and Western forces. The biggest advantage that ISIS has is the political divides that keep forces from uniting. As long as nations around the world debate whether to send forces, or to interfere on sovereign land, or base their involvement on political conditions, ISIS will continue to thrive.

Lebanon’s battle with ISIS: a proxy war for Saudi Arabia and Iran

Posted on in Iran, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Syria title_rule

On Wednesday, Lebanon’s Parliament voted to extend their terms in office to 2017, arguing that the nation’s fragile security situation makes it too difficult to hold elections. The lawmakers, who were elected to four-year terms in 2009, voted last year to remain in office, citing the same security threats. The decision has been denounced by foreign diplomats and human rights organizations who feel that the vote undermines the democratic process. However to many Lebanese citizens, the decision does not come as a surprise.

Lebanon’s government has been paralysed by disagreements among powerful political blocs, and decisively split on the issue of Syria’s civil war. The Prime Minister appointed a new cabinet in February, but the group has been unable to achieve much. Nearly two decades after the end of their own civil war, policymakers have only agreed to prevent new battles from erupting within the nation.

Lebanon has been without a president since May. The Lebanese Parliament does not elect the president; rather the chosen leader is “rubber stamped” after a regional consensus is met. Currently, the conflict between Saudi Arabia and Iran is forestalling that agreement, and Lebanon’s growing battle with ISIS has become a proxy battle between the two nations.

ISIS relies upon a strategy of destabilising a region and entrenching themselves, while avoiding local organised fighting forces until they are ready to engage. This strategy is currently being enacted on the Syrian border with Lebanon. Last week, the terror group killed 11 soldiers north of Tripoli, and ISIS leaders have threatened to plunge the country into another civil war.

Lebanon, a member of the US led coalition to combat ISIS, has received approximately $1 billion in training and equipment from the US since 2006. However the US has been constrained in providing further support as the threat of ISIS encroaches upon the Lebanese border. This is in part due to an American domestic law that guarantees that the US will provide Israel a “qualitative military edge” over its neighbours in the region.

In the absence of US support, Saudi Arabia and Iran have offered competing aid packages to Lebanon; the combined offers amount to billions of dollars in arms from the two opposing nations. However, the offers of assistance are being perceived as political one-upmanship between the foes. Lebanon’s acceptance of either aid package amounts to tacit approval of either the Shiite or Sunni dominated governments.

On Tuesday, France and Saudi Arabia signed a contract to give $3 billion worth of French-made weapons to Lebanon’s military. In August the kingdom provided a $1 billion grant for emergency aid to Lebanon’s military and intelligence agencies. The combined pledges are more than twice the Lebanese estimated annual military budget. The aid, which is set to arrive in the first quarter of 2015, will include training, as well as land, sea and air equipment, including armoured vehicles, heavy artillery, anti-tank missiles, mortars and assault weapons.

In September, Ali Shamkhani, secretary to Iran’s Supreme National Security Council offered a package consisting of antitank weapons, artillery and heavy machine guns. Lebanese Defense Minister Samir Moqbel’s delegation declined to formally respond to Iran’s offer, which could violate a 2007 U.N. Security Council resolution restricting Iranian arms trade.

The Saudi government believes that the Iranian weapons will be directed toward Hezbollah; a Shiite dominated political organization that is opposed by Saudi Arabia. Hezbollah supports President Assad, whose troops are battling Sunni opposition, which is backed by Saudi Arabia. The Kingdom believes that Iran is more interested in countering Saudi backing than assisting the Lebanese military.

The 65,000-strong Lebanese military (arguably the least sectarian organization in the country), is less effective than Hezbollah, whose armed wing is better equipped and organized, and battle hardened after wars with Israel. However as many Hezbollah fighters have deployed to the war in Syria, the group has become increasingly reliant on the Lebanese military. The Lebanese military has not prevented Shiite Hezbollah fighters from entering Syria to confront Sunni militants fighting against Assad, and they deploy to areas that Hezbollah has cleared and set up checkpoints.

Because of this relationship, Tehran now has a perceived interest in supporting the Lebanese military. However, this relationship has also led the Sunni Muslim community in Lebanon to believe that the army is now taking orders from Hezbollah.

As ISIS moves closer to Lebanon’s border, they benefit from the Lebanese military’s unwillingness to cooperate with Assad. Experts believe that Syria has the only Arab military currently capable of confronting ISIL. More worrisome, Hezbollah has shown a reluctance to battle ISIS, arguing that their involvement will enflame already strained sectarian tensions in Lebanon. It is this enticement that leads ISIS to believe they can ignite a second civil war. ISIS has expressed interest to create new supply routes between Lebanon and Syria as winter unfolds.

In recent weeks, the Lebanese army has suffered setbacks along its long border with Syria. Lebanon shares a short border and rocky relationship with Israel on its only other border. Israel is not a member of the ISIS coalition. The nearest ally, Jordan, does not have the capacity to confront ISIS in Lebanon and protect its own borders with Syria.

Meanwhile, in the absence of a president and a split parliament, the Lebanese policymakers are in gridlock, agreeing only to preserve civil peace and avoid civil or sectarian clashes. However in the face of a growing threat, it is likely that peace will become more difficult to maintain.  The nation is relying on a consensus between Saudi Arabia and Iran before it can put its government in working order, and it appears that consensus is not forthcoming.

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Iraqi Parliament Selects New Prime Minister

Posted on in Iran, Iraq title_rule

On 11 August, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki was effectively deposed. Early in the day, the Iraqi National Alliance, a coalition of mostly Shi’a political parties, nominated deputy parliament speaker Dr. Hadier al-Abadi to become the new Prime minister. Shortly after newly elected President Fouad Massoum asked officially gave al-Abdadi his first responsibility as prime minister: to form a new government within the next 30 days. Nouri al-Maliki has declared that he will fight the decision, stating that Abadi’s nomination has no legitimacy. He called the move “dangerous violation” of the constitution, and vowed to “fix this mistake.” Under the Iraqi constitution, the president must appoint the chosen nominee of the largest parliamentary bloc. Al-Abadi comes from the same political party as Maliki. Immediately prior to the decision, Maliki had ordered his elite army units into the streets of Baghdad in a show of force. However, a senior government official said commanders of military forces that Maliki deployed around Baghdad had pledged loyalty to President Fouad Masoum, and agreed to to respect his decision to ask Abadi to form a new government. On 12 August, a statement appeared on Maliki’s official website ordering security forces not intervene in the conflict over who will be the next prime minister. Rather, they should remain focused on defending the country. Maliki has been widely derided for implementing pro-Shi’a sectarian regulations that have widely disenfranchised and alienated Sunni Muslims in Iraq during his eight-year tenure. It is believed that his sectarian policies spurred the actions of ISIS, the terrorist organisation that has taken over vast swaths of Iraqi land and Syria in recent months. Despite Maliki’s claims that the ouster was illegitimate, Iraqi media channels have already widely welcomed al-Abdadi, with some pro-Sunni stations criticising his refusal to step-down for the sake of the nation. Beyond Iraq, the appointment of al-Abadi has been met with welcome by many among the international community. Jordanian media has issued congratulations to the new Prime Minister. EU foreign policy Chief Catherine Ashton called Abadi’s appointment a “positive step”. US Secretary of State John Kerry stated that Washington is prepared to “fully support a new and inclusive Iraqi government”, urging Abadi to quickly form a fully functional cabinet: “We are prepared to consider additional political, economic and security options as Iraq’s government starts to build a new government.” In Iran, a nation that was once considered an ally by al-Maliki, the decision to remove him from office has been regarded as a positive one. Ali Shamkhani, secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, has offered his congratulations to al-Abadi and the Iraqi people. Shamkhani is a close ally of Iranian President Rouhani, and a representative of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. The Iranian recognition of Abadi appears to eliminate Maliki’s main avenue of support of regaining power. Iran perceives ISIS as a threat to their national security. The Iranian government believes that in order to quell the spread of the terror group, Iraq must have a unity government, which Maliki has openly opposed. Abadi, a British-educated electrical engineer in his mid 60s, also served as an intermediary between diplomats and Western journalists in Iraq. He was exiled to England during the reign of Saddam Hussein when the Dawa party which he represented was banned from the country. He is perceived as a considerably more moderate and unifying figure than his predecessor. In order to prove his ability to form a unity government, he must reintroduce Sunni and Kurdish officials into senior positions in the Iraqi government and military. Under Maliki’s regime, all senior positions were held by Shi’a officials. He has little time to not only implement a unity government, but to also raise morale in the nation, as Sunni Muslims and other denominations will want to see immediate change, and the Kurds are pushing ever harder for an autonomous state. As one writer put it, the threat to Iraq is “existential, not political.”

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