US Tracks Iranian Ships That May Be Heading For The Atlantic and Venezuela – Politico

  POLITICO: Compiled from Several Sources

At the Pentagon and other agencies, officials in the United States have been monitoring two ships from the Iran Navy for about two weeks.

Politico said it contacted the spokespersons for the Venezuelan Foreign Ministry; the Iranian Mission to the UN; and White House and Pentagon spokespersons. All of them, however, have declined to comment on the matter.

An Iranian frigate and the Makran, a former oil tanker that was converted to a floating forward staging base, have been heading south along the east coast of Africa, according to people who spoke on condition of anonymity.     

The ships have been off the east coast of Africa for several days. While they were initially due to bypass the Cape of Good Hope at the southern tip of the continent between June 9 and 11, experts following their movement say they should now arrive in July.

Pentagon spokesman John Kirby, speaking generally of the possibility of any Iranian arms shipment to the Western Hemisphere, said it would be an “act of provocation” and a threat to allies of the United States.  Therefore, they reserve the right to take appropriate action – together with our partners – to deter the delivery or transit of such offensive weapons.

The concern of the United States is whether the Iranians are transferring attack boats to Venezuela. These fast and nimble ships are often used by the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps in the Persian Gulf to harass and invade commercial or military ships, including US Navy and Coast Guard vessels operating there. They can be equipped with a variety of weapons ranging from small arms to anti-ship missiles and torpedoes.

One of the Iranian ships, a floating base named Makran, was seen in late April on satellite images from Maxar Technologies in the port of Bandar Abbas with seven small, fast attack boats on its deck. A smaller frigate accompanies the Makran. Politico was the first to report US concern over the ships.

Officials say they do not know if there are any weapons on board any of the Iranian ships. “The problem would be that they are missile attack boats,” said a defense official. “This type of weapon is something we wouldn’t want near our shores.”

The semi-official Mehr news agency reported that the deputy head of the Iranian parliament’s national security and foreign policy committee said that “the threat to Iranian ships is a violation of international law, and if it continues, the United States Navy will certainly be in danger, as we can threaten American ships in the waters of the region.”

There is some uncertainty as to the trajectory of the vessels. A US official told CNN that for the past few days they have been sailing in a confusing manner, which has left observers wondering if they will continue on their way to the Atlantic.

As the United States tries to assess Iran’s intentions, two sources claim that one working theory is that Iran is trying to tout its ability to operate in the Atlantic – a “hey, we are here and present”. The two officials stressed that the warship and accompanying frigate are not of great concern at the moment and there is hope that Iran will find a face-saving way to turn them around and send them home.

“This is not a navy designed for blue water operations,” said one of the defense officials. The US military generally refers to “blue water” navies as those who can easily operate on the high seas at great distances from their home countries and support operations for long periods of time.

The United States thinks they might have a hard time making such a long trip. For now, US officials are monitoring to see if any ports allow the ships to enter for fuel and resupply before they attempt to cross the Atlantic.

The potential trip to the waters of the Atlantic Ocean would mark a step forward for the Iranian Navy, said Behnam Ben Taleblu, who monitors the Iranian military for the Foundation for Defense of Democracies think tank. Taleblu and others are keeping a close eye on the Makran due to a promise made by Iran in 2016 to develop a naval capability in the Atlantic Ocean. An attempt to sail ships around Africa the same year was unsuccessful, Taleblu said, when the ships had to make an emergency stop in Durban, South Africa, curtailing the effort.

“If this trip is successful (…) it does not mean that Iran will have a blue water navy right away, but it could represent a significant evolution of the conventional Iran Navy, which has atrophied compared to the elite corps of Revolutionary Guards,” he said.

Iranian officials have touted the Makran as a forward expeditionary base, a platform from which they could launch suicide drones, helicopters, attack craft and the like, Taleblu said.

In a thinly veiled criticism, Kirby blamed Iran’s actions on the Trump administration and its campaign of maximum pressure of sanctions against Iranian officials. Instead, Kirby highlighted diplomatic efforts, in coordination with U.S. allies, to curb Iran’s nuclear activities.

“This is a situation that the current administration has inherited, and like many things with regard to Iran – including its rapidly expanding nuclear program without the limits imposed by the Iran Nuclear Deal – we are now working to resolve through diplomacy and other means,” he said. 

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  • Clyde Duncan  On 06/06/2021 at 12:20 am

    Politico reported: Some U.S. officials are surprised that the ships — the Sahand, its newest frigate; and the Makran, a former oil tanker converted to a floating forward staging base — made it even this far and doubt that they are capable of completing the arduous journey across the Atlantic.

    The Drive reported: Satellite imagery that emerged earlier this week, which was first reported by USNI News, indicated that Makran was carrying up to seven small fast attack craft on its top deck. These appeared to be members of Iran’s Peykaap family of boats, the original version of which was derived from a North Korean design, or some other similar design. The Peykaap II and Peykaap III variants, the latter of which are also referred to as Zolfaghars, can carry anti-ship cruise missiles.

  • Clyde Duncan  On 06/06/2021 at 5:07 pm

    Iran Needs the Nuclear Deal to Keep Russia and China at Bay

    Geopolitical Gains Will Last Longer Than Military Concessions

    Jamsheed K. Choksy and Carol E. B. Choksy | Foreign Affairs

    THE UNITED STATES UNILATERALLY WITHDREW FROM THE 2015 IRAN NUCLEAR DEAL IN MAY 2018, declaring the accord’s provisions inadequate and Iran in violation.

    The administration of former President Donald Trump began reinforcing sanctions, much to the chagrin of the accord’s other signatories; BUT IRAN DID NOT ANNUL IT. Rather, Tehran steadily increased pressure, directly on Washington and indirectly through other signatory nations, to restore the deal.

    WHY DOES IRAN’S GOVERNMENT STILL REQUIRE A NUCLEAR DEAL?

    Because in the long term, Tehran stands to gain much economically and geopolitically while giving up little tactically.

    Iran has vocally insisted that “the nuclear deal it made” in 2015 be restored and “implemented word by word”. But in practice, the Islamic Republic has actually shown considerable flexibility.

    A senior member of Iran’s parliament, taking his cue from Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has suggested that negotiations in Vienna will result in “a new and binding agreement”. The diplomatic door is open for the United States and Iran to reach a more robust deal that will weather transitions of administrations in both countries.

    The Iran nuclear deal was an arms control agreement designed to abridge Tehran’s nuclear ambitions. Its terms may have felt restrictive in 2015, but conditions have changed, and today Iran stands to gain far more than it would lose by adhering to the accord’s constraints or even agreeing to modifications.

    TO BEGIN WITH, IRAN HAS ADVANCED ITS NUCLEAR PROGRAM CONSIDERABLY. Washington’s withdrawal from the agreement freed Iran to seek higher levels of uranium enrichment. Tehran breached the low-enriched uranium stockpile limit in July 2019, and it ceased enrichment compliance altogether in January 2020.

    Now, the country has reached 63 percent enrichment — still short of the 90 percent needed for the weapons capability that Iran steadfastly claims it does not seek.

    Nevertheless, it is far more likely now than in the past that Iran can realistically achieve nuclear breakout — once the original deal’s enrichment limit ends in October 2030 or even when an enhanced deal’s timelines eventually expire.

    By continuing enrichment, Iran has demonstrated to itself and to the world that it can overcome strikes against its nuclear facilities and the assassinations of its scientists.

    Thus, the international agreement is no longer an absolute obstacle to Iran’s nuclear quest, which began under the last shah and continues under the Islamic Republic. Nor is the agreement much of an impediment to Iran’s conventional capabilities. The deal’s conventional arms embargo ended in October 2020, and the ballistic missile embargo ends in October 2023.

    Iran would lose little in conventional military ability by returning to full compliance for the remainder of these timelines or even for more drawn-out ones. Tehran has likely calculated that resuming its obligations under the nuclear deal would cost its military programs very little.

    On the other hand, eliminating sanctions would greatly benefit the country economically and geopolitically. Direct and indirect financial pressure from the United States has made Iran dependent on a handful of trading partners.

    By 2019, China had gained a stranglehold of 48.3 percent of Iran’s exports and 27.5 percent of the country’s imports. So long as sanctions on Iran and secondary sanctions on its trading partners stay in place, Tehran remains economically vulnerable and reliant on those nations that dare to breach Washington’s will.

    THE DIPLOMATIC DOOR IS OPEN FOR THE UNITED STATES AND IRAN TO REACH A MORE ROBUST DEAL.

    Similarly, during the period of heightened pressure from Washington, Tehran had little recourse but to seek diplomatic and defensive protection from the other two great powers. Russia, close at hand, has emerged as Iran’s primary security guarantor, military collaborator, and materiel supplier.

    China has also rapidly expanded its cooperation in those sectors. Both Russia and China have exercised their UN Security Council vetoes and persuasive abilities to protect Iran from American demands. Most recently, Moscow and Beijing have publicly opposed Washington’s insistence that Iran accept enhancements to the nuclear deal as a condition for U.S. re-entry.

    Yet Iran’s history of colonial exploitation predisposes its polity to view with deep suspicion any reliance on global players in national and international affairs.

    Iranian officials have good reasons for caution.

    Russia allegedly made a clandestine attempt in 2015 to stop the nuclear deal by exploiting struggles within the Iranian ruling class. And, through the recently announced Iran-China partnership, China seeks to gain military and surveillance access to and control of Iran’s ports and airports.

    Reviving the nuclear deal will loosen the grip of these two superpowers on Tehran. Factions within Iran’s political system would then become less amenable to foreign pressure and more mindful of Iran’s geopolitical autonomy.

    A BETTER DEAL IS POSSIBLE

    For their part, American policymakers are seeking more than a mere return to the 2015 status quo.

    Iran’s leaders are listening, even as they play diplomatic hardball. In his annual national address on March 21, Khamenei suggested that Iran might be open to modifying the deal — so long as the changes are “in favor of Iran”, meaning that they benefit the nation and its regime.

    Iranian officials almost daily urge the United States to lift the sanctions and have declared their country’s willingness to return to compliance in exchange. Pre-emptively, they even are spinning new concessions as gains:

    “Vienna talks will end with [the] Iranian nation’s victory,” Rouhani has said.

    At those meetings, the United States must emphasize that significant enhancements to the nuclear deal will reduce the risk of future sanctions. Through tough but fair negotiations, the Biden administration can indeed achieve its stated objectives of not only forging a “longer and stronger” agreement but also opening the way for further constructive engagement.

  • Clyde Duncan  On 06/07/2021 at 6:01 pm

    Loss of Iranian Navy Ship Mutes Tehran’s Global Ambitions

    By: H I Sutton | USNI News

    New satellite images released Thursday show the sunken hull of what earlier this week was one of Iran’s largest warship, IRIS Kharg an Ol-class replenishment oiler, caught fire on the evening of June 1.

    The crew battled the fire with only 33 injured and no deaths but could not save the ship. In the end only the sea could extinguish the flames. Kharg burned for hours before slowly listing to starboard and sinking stern-first, within sight of the Iranian port of Jask, according to imagery provided to USNI News by Maxar.

    The Ol-class ship was built in the U.K. and delivered to Iran in 1984. Kharg displaced 33,544 tons and was 679 feet long – about the size of a U.S. San Antonio-class amphibious warship.

    For many years IRIS Kharg was the largest ship in the Iranian fleet, but the oiler had recently been surpassed by the IRIS Makran.

    Kharg did give the Iranian Navy potential for much longer voyages. The loss of Kharg, Iran’s only replenishment ship, created new challenges for the under-resourced Iranian Navy. The fleet oiler was an essential unit in Iranian ambitions to operate beyond the Middle East.

    For example, when Iranian warships sailed to the Mediterranean in 2011 Kharg was a key part of the group. In 2014, when Iran said that it was sending warships to the Atlantic, Kharg was present.

    After several training exercises, Makran has been loaded with seven fast attack craft and sent down the East Coast of Africa, USNI News reported this week.

    Accompanied by an Iranian Navy frigate, the lack of an oiler on the deployment implies Makran could make the journey and support the frigate escort on its own.

    U.S. officials have said the destination is Venezuela. However, Kharg’s sinking may have interrupted the transport of the boats to Venezuela.

    There are unconfirmed social media reports that Makran has been diverted to replace Kharg in a training exercise with the Russian Navy.

    The Iranian Navy IRINS Makran supposedly headed to Venezuela is ordered back home as a result of IRIS Kharg sinking in the Gulf of Oman. She will replace Kharg in the IRIN training mission to Russia.

    This won’t be officially confirmed as they weren’t officially headed to Venezuela.

  • Kman  On 06/07/2021 at 7:09 pm

    Iran needs to protect itself against Israel and the USA.

    The Us should start tracking trump and other imbeciles, and leave Iran and other countries alone. Who died and make America God?

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