‘Horrific for all’: Pentagon intelligence chief says Iran does not want war
James Kitfield is senior fellow at the Center for the Study of the Presidency & Congress, and author of “Twilight Warriors: The Soldiers, Spies and Special Agents Who Are Revolutionizing the American Way of War”
By Sylvia Westall and John Irish
DUBAI/PARIS (Reuters) – The United States is struggling to win its allies’ support for an initiative to heighten surveillance of vital Middle East oil shipping lanes because of fears it will increase tension with Iran, six sources familiar with the matter said.
Washington proposed on July 9 stepping up efforts to safeguard strategic waters off Iran and Yemen where it blames Iran and its proxies for tanker attacks. Iran denies the charges.
But with Washington’s allies reluctant to commit new weaponry or fighting forces, a senior Pentagon official told Reuters on Thursday that the United States’ aim was not to set up a military coalition but to shine a „flashlight” in the region to deter attacks on commercial shipping.
Because of fears of confrontation, any involvement by Washington’s allies is likely be limited to naval personnel and equipment already in place – near the Strait of Hormuz in the Gulf and the Bab al-Mandab strait in the Red Sea, two Gulf sources and a British security source said.
„The Americans want to create an ‘alliance of the willing’ who confront future attacks,” a Western diplomat said. „Nobody wants to be on that confrontational course and part of a U.S. push against Iran.”
Addressing such concerns or possible misunderstandings, Kathryn Wheelbarger, one of the most senior policy officials at the Pentagon, told Reuters in an interview that the new initiative was „not about military confrontation.”
Under Washington’s proposal, the United States would provide coordinating ships and lead surveillance efforts while allies would patrol nearby waters and escort commercial vessels with their nation’s flags.
Iran has said foreign powers should leave securing shipping lanes to Tehran and other countries in the region.
France, which has a naval base in the United Arab Emirates, does not plan to escort ships and views the U.S. plan as counterproductive to easing tensions because Tehran would see it as anti-Iran, a French official said.
The British security source said it was not viable to escort every commercial vessel, a view shared by several other countries.
A senior Western official based in Beijing said there was „no way” China would join a maritime coalition. A South Korean official said Washington had yet to make any official request.
A decision by Japan to join such an initiative would be likely to inflame a divide in Japanese public opinion over sending troops abroad. Japan’s military has not fought overseas since World War Two.
„The Americans have been talking to anyone interested about setting something up, mainly looking to Asia as it’s of vital importance to their security of (oil) supply and asking for ships, but it’s gone a bit quiet,” a Gulf official said.
India has deployed two ships in the Gulf to protect Indian-flagged vessels since June 20. Other Asian oil importers are unlikely to have anything but a symbolic presence, such as the involvement of a liaison officer, officials and diplomats said.
„It’s just impossible. The Strait is already too crowded,” an Asian official said of an escort system in the Strait of Hormuz which is 21 miles (33 km) wide at its narrowest point.
A second Gulf official said: „We’re not going to do anything like that, we are not going to do anything on our own.”
Tensions rose further on Thursday after Iran’s Revolutionary Guards said they had seized a foreign tanker smuggling fuel. A U.S. military commander in the region said the United States would work „aggressively” to ensure free passage of vessels in and around the Strait of Hormuz.
Tension has mounted since U.S. President Donald Trump last year quit a 2015 nuclear pact under which Iran agreed to curtail its atomic programme in return for relief from economic sanctions crippling its economy.
France, Britain and Germany, which with Russia and China are party to the agreement, have tried to rescue the deal and defuse tensions.
Failure to secure support for the maritime initiative would be a blow to efforts by the United States, and its Sunni Muslim allies Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, to isolate Shi’ite Muslim Iran and Iran-backed forces in the Middle East.
Saudi Arabia and the UAE are already patrolling the coastline off Yemen where they are leading a coalition battling the Iran-aligned Houthi movement, though the UAE has said it is scaling down its presence there.
Asked what role Riyadh could play in the U.S. initiative, a Saudi military official said it would be the role that the Saudi-led coalition has been playing for the past few years in the Red Sea as part of the war in Yemen, including escorting and securing commercial shipping.
The United States does not want to go it alone.
„There are enough resources in the region now for the job at hand. The Americans want an international stamp on this effort,” one of the Gulf sources said. „They (the United States) also don’t want to bear the financial burden.”
Technical and financial aspects, such as refuelling, bunkering and maintenance costs, still need to be ironed out before countries sign up, the source said.
Policing burdens would largely fall on the United States, which has protected shipping lanes in the region for decades with its Bahrain-based Fifth Fleet. It also heads the Combined Maritime Forces, a 33-nation naval alliance that carries out security and counterpiracy operations in the region.
Britain has a base in Oman and China has a military base in Djibouti, which lies off the Bab al-Mandab strait. Beijing has had to tread softly in the region because it has close energy ties with both Iran and Saudi Arabia.
Riyadh and Abu Dhabi support U.S. sanctions on Iran, which lacks a strong conventional naval fleet but has many speed boats, portable anti-ship missile launchers and mines.
A U.S. State Department official, who asked not to be named, said Bahrain would host a working group meeting on maritime and aviation security in the autumn as part of a follow-up to a global conference in Warsaw in February that gathered some 60 nations to discuss stability in the Middle East.
Gulf states, which are big purchasers of Western arms, have invested more in air and land capabilities than in naval assets, and have little experience coordinating large naval missions.
The majority of vessels are small patrol craft and corvettes that would struggle on extended missions, said Tom Waldwyn, research associate for The Military Balance at the International Institute for Strategic Studies.
Wheelbarger, the U.S. Pentagon official, suggested small, quick ships would be helpful. She said several countries has expressed interest in the initiative but did not name them.
(Additional reporting by Phil Stewart and Lesley Wroughton in Washington, Guy Faulconbridge and Jonathan Saul in London, Ben Blanchard and Cate Cadell in Beijing, Hyonhee Shin in Seoul, Alexander Cornwell and Ghaida Ghantous in Dubai and Stephen Kalin in Riyadh; Editing by Ghaida Ghantous and Timothy Heritage)
Discoveries of natural gas reserves in the Mediterranean Sea around Egypt, Cyprus, Israel and Greece are shaking up Europe’s energy politics. Traditionally, Russia has been Europe’s main supplier of gas, giving it significant influence over Europe. But this influence is under threat from various gas discoveries in the eastern Mediterranean and a tussle is taking place to control the region’s resources. Here are the key players:
Egypt was an importer of natural gas as recently as 2016. But a massive discovery of gas in 2015, in the Zohr field off Egypt’s coast by Italian energy firm Eni, could make Egypt the region’s most important gas exporter and hub. Zohr is the Mediterranean’s largest gas field and has since been developed, with production starting in January 2018.
At the same time, the Egyptian government is planning on launching 11 new gas projects and positioning itself as a regional hub for international gas trading and distribution. Meanwhile, the Egyptian army has upgraded its arsenal and training programme. Its all part of the government’s plan to regain its strategic regional role that was lost due to the Arab Spring and the political crises that followed.
2. Cyprus and Greece
Cyprus has been a bright spot for exploration, with a string of giant gas discoveries in recent years. These include ExxonMobil’s Glaucus in 2019 and Eni’s Calypso fields in 2018. There’s also the more developed Aphrodite plot, which was discovered in 2011 and is projected to have a net revenue of US$9.5 billion over 18 years from selling gas through Egypt’s Idku terminal.
But Cyprus is a divided state. The Greek side, the Republic of Cyprus, is the only side that is internationally recognised and, as a result, has sovereignty over the island’s territorial waters and exclusive economic zone, which is the neighbouring sea area that a country has rights to.
The northern, Turkish side, however, lays claim to gas in these waters and is getting support from the Turkish government in its efforts.
There have been no big gas discoveries made in Turkey’s part of the eastern Mediterranean but it has sent ships into the coastal waters of Cyprus to drill for gas. Turkey says it will continue drilling for gas in these waters if the internationally recognised Greek Cypriot government does not accept a cooperation proposal put forward by Turkish Cypriots.
In response, Cyprus and Greece issued an arrest warrant for any Turkish drill ships obstructing their gas operations, and the two countries have called on the EU to punish Turkey for its actions.
Turkey’s brinkmanship must be understood in the context of attempts by Egypt, Greece, Cyprus and Israel to create a regional energy architecture that will exclude Turkey from the eastern Mediterranean natural gas market. Agreements between Egypt and Cyprus would lead to the sale of gas from the eastern Mediterranean to Europe, bypassing Turkey and Russia’s pipelines.
Israel is adding further weight to Egypt’s potential as Europe’s new gas hub. The discovery and development of gas fields off the coast of Israel in the last 20 years has resulted in an abundance of gas, which the country is trying to use to its geopolitical advantage.
Israel has also built a strong relationship with Greece and Cyprus. The three countries conduct joint military exercises and coordinate on security operationsin the eastern Mediterranean.
They are also now collaborating to build a US$7 billion gas pipeline from Israeli and Cypriot gas fields through the Greek island of Crete and into Italy, in order to feed other European countries. This plan will become even more profitable if more natural gas reserves are discovered through the ongoing gas exploration activities around Crete.
Gas has also opened the door to talks with Lebanon, a country Israel has historically been at loggerheads with. Officials from both sides have agreed to discuss their sea border in talks mediated by the US. Newly discovered Mediterranean gas fields can only be safely developed when there is no threat of war between the two sides.
So, clearly, Israel’s offshore gas reserves are highly valuable to its economic and strategic concerns in the region. It has gone to great lengths to ensure its existing gas fields are secure as a result, and has also made agreements with Egypt and Jordan to sell surplus gas.
These developments are clearly worrying Russia. Russia, mainly through its oil and gas giant Gazprom, provides 37% of Europe’s gas supplies and Europe’s energy dependence has paid off for Russia.
The very real risk of losing this influence could result in military conflict. Turkey recently completed the purchase of a Russian anti-aircraft system. This will create a significant power imbalance in the region and give Ankara an advantage in controlling the airspace, especially in disputed areas.
Greece fears that Turkey may deploy the system along its southern coast, near places where Turkish naval forces already escort vessels to explore gas deposits in the eastern Mediterranean. As a result, the Greek armed forces are on high alert. Greece, along with the Egypt-Cyprus-Israel bloc seem to have US and EU backing, with Turkey being warned not to complete its purchase of the S-400 system.
Whatever happens, it looks like Europe’s energy map could look very different in a few years.
The authors do not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and have disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.
Ankara (AFP) – Turkey on Thursday launched an air attack on Iraqi Kurdistan in response to the killing of a Turkish diplomat in the region, the country’s defence minister said.
The Turkish vice consul to Iraq’s autonomous Kurdish region was shot dead Wednesday in the local capital Arbil. Police sources said two other people were also killed.
There was no claim of responsibility for the shooting, but many Iraqi experts have pointed to the probability that the Turkish separatist Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which Ankara considers a terrorist group, was behind the attack.
„Following the evil attack in Arbil, we have launched the most comprehensive air operation on Qandil and dealt a heavy blow to the (PKK) terror organisation,” defence minister Hulusi Akar said in a statement.
Targets such as „armaments positions, lodgings, shelters and caves belonging to terrorists” were destroyed.
„Our fight against terror will continue with increasing determination until the last terrorist is neutralised and the blood of our martyrs will be avenged,” he added.
The Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), which now leads the regional government, enjoys good political and trade relations with Turkey.
But Turkey has been conducting a ground offensive and bombing campaign since May in the mountainous northern region to root out the PKK which has waged an insurgency against the Turkish state since 1984.
Earlier this month, the PKK announced that one of those raids killed senior PKK leader Diyar Gharib Mohammed along with two other fighters.
A spokesman for the PKK’s armed branch denied the group was involved in Wednesday’s shooting.
Turkey Missile Defense
ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — NATO ally Turkey is being kicked out of the U.S.-led F-35 fighter jet program over its decision to buy the Russian-made S-400 air defense system.
The White House said Turkey’s decision to buy the Russian system „renders its continued involvement with the F-35 impossible” while the Pentagon suspended Turkey from the program and said it will be removed as a partner in making the planes.
Here is a look at the rift between the NATO allies over the deal.
WHAT ARE S-400s?
The Russian-made S-400 Triumph is a sophisticated long-range surface-to-air missile defense system capable of striking enemy aircraft and cruise missiles. It has a range of 400 kilometers (250 miles). The system can simultaneously engage multiple targets and is capable of shooting down ballistic missile warheads along with aircraft and cruise missiles.
Turkey reached a deal with Russia for the purchase of two batteries at a reported cost of $2.5 billion in December 2017. Erdogan has said the systems will both be operational by April 2020. Officials have refused to disclose where the systems will be deployed.
WHY IS NATO-MEMBER TURKEY BUYING THE RUSSIAN SYSTEM?
Turkey, which neighbors trouble spots such as Syria, Iraq and Iran, has long sought to address shortcomings concerning its air defenses. It says it was forced to negotiate with Russia for the purchase of the S-400s after the U.S. refused to sell the American-made Patriot system. Turkey has also argued that the S-400 is one of the best available systems and says the deal with Russia involves joint production and technology transfers which meet its long-term goals of defense self-sufficiency.
The United States says talks on a potential Patriot deal failed over Turkey’s insistence on technology transfer rights that would have allowed it eventually to make the missiles themselves. This ran against U.S. manufacturer’s propriety interests in addition to any national security concerns.
Turkey’s rapprochement with Russia and its decision to buy the Russian system also coincides with growing Turkish mistrust of the U.S. over its policies in Syria. More specifically, Turkey has been angered with U.S. support for a Syrian Kurdish group in Syria that is affiliated with Kurdish rebels fighting Turkey.
Turkey also distrusts Washington because Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen, whom Ankara says orchestrated a 2016 failed coup, remains free in the U.S. Gulen denies involvement in the coup attempt.
WHY DOES THE US OBJECT TO TURKEY’S S-400 PURCHASE?
The U.S. says the S-400s can’t be integrated into the NATO system and pose a threat to the F-35 fighter jet program. Washington is concerned that system could be used to gather data on the capabilities of the F-35, and that the sensitive information could end up in Russian hands.
Turkey insists the U.S. fighter jets won’t be compromised because the S-400 and F-35s will be deployed in separate locations and the S-400 will be under Turkish control. Turkey has also proposed the setting up of a joint working group to study how the S-400 system would interact with the fighter jets.
WHAT DOES TURKEY’S SUSPENSION FROM THE F-35 PROGRAM MEAN?
Pentagon’s chief weapons buyer, Ellen Lord, told a news conference that the U.S. has suspended Turkey from the F-35 program and is beginning the process of its formal removal. The process of removing Turkey permanently is underway and should be completed by March 31, she said.
Lord said Turkey, which makes more than 900 components of the stealth aircraft, stands to lose $9 billion in future earnings as its parts supplier.
Washington has already suspended a program of F-35 flight training for Turkish student pilots and instructor pilots at Luke Air Force Base in Arizona and given those personnel a July 31 deadline to leave the U.S.
Separately, the U.S. has also warned that Turkey could face economic sanctions under the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA). Previous U.S. sanctions on Turkey over its detention of an American pastor had caused a slide in the Turkish lira.
However, President Donald Trump, who has struck cordial relations with Erdogan, has taken a more conciliatory approach to Turkey, raising hopes in the country that it will avert harsh penalties. The U.S. State Department this week has been silent on whether those sanctions will be imposed.
Turkey says it is prepared for U.S. sanctions and can impose countermeasures of its own. Some media reports have said Turkey could launch an operation into northeast Syria in reaction to the U.S. sanctions.
HOW DOES THE DEAL AFFECT NATO?
Turkey has been a key member of the NATO alliance since it joined in 1952. It has the second-largest army in NATO after the U.S. and has been protecting the alliance’s southeastern flank for years.
It is unprecedented for a NATO ally to purchase such advanced defense weaponry from Russia, which is considered to be NATO’s main adversary. Turkey’s deal with Russia has raised questions over whether the country is moving under Russia’s influence and over its future membership.
However, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg has said Turkey’s contributions to NATO and the alliance’s cooperation with Ankara „is much broader” than the F-35 issue. He said: „I’m not underestimating the difficulty related to (the) S-400, but I’m saying that Turkey, as a NATO member, is much more than S-400.”
Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar has said the purchase „was not an option but rather a necessity” because of Turkey’s security concerns. He stressed that there was no change in Turkey’s „strategic orientation.”
The man in his 70s started a fire inside his vehicle parked in front of the Japanese embassy building and later died in hospital
An elderly South Korean man died on Friday after setting himself on fire outside the Japanese embassy in Seoul as a bitter diplomatic dispute over wartime forced labour compensation took a fatal turn.
The row has seen Tokyo restrict exports of chemicals vital to Seoul’s world-leading chip and smartphone industry in an escalation of a decades-long dispute over Japanese forced labour during World War II.
The man in his 70s started a fire inside his vehicle parked in front of the embassy building and later died after being treated in hospital, authorities said, adding around 20 disposable gas canisters were also found in the car.
He had spoken to an acquaintance on the phone while driving to the Japanese embassy from his home on Friday morning and told the person that he was „setting fire” to himself because of „his hostility against Japan”, a police officer at Seoul’s Jongno Police Station told AFP.
„His family members have also told us that his father-in-law was one of the victims of Japan’s wartime slavery.”
The suicide came as Japan’s foreign minister summoned the South Korean ambassador in Tokyo over the dispute which analysts say could batter the global tech market.
Taro Kono urged Seoul to „immediately take corrective measures” after South Korea’s high court ordered Japanese firms that used forced labour to compensate victims.
Japan says the issue was resolved under an agreement signed after relations with South Korea were normalised, which included a package of loans.
Tokyo also warned it would take unspecified „necessary measures” over the issue.
To Kono’s remarks, Seoul’s foreign ministry insisted Tokyo should „make efforts to heal the pain and wounds” of the Korean victims for the dispute to be „truly resolved”.
The Blue House said Japan’s claims that South Korea is violating international law are „simply wrong” and urged Tokyo to „withdraw unjustified export restriction measures and refrain from comments and measures that could further exacerbate the situation”.
– ‘Extremely rude’ –
Tokyo had asked South Korea to hold an arbitration meeting by Thursday on the issue.
On Friday, Kono summoned the South Korean Ambassador to Japan saying it was „deeply regrettable” that the deadline had passed.
„We strongly demand the South Korean government to immediately take corrective measures,” Kono said in a visibly tense meeting with the envoy.
Kono also slammed Seoul as „extremely rude” for continuing to suggest a joint compensation fund for forced labour victims be set up voluntarily by Japanese and South Korean firms.
Early this month, Japan announced restrictions on the export of several chemicals to South Korea that are key to the chip and smartphone industries.
The move triggered anger in Seoul, but also raised international concern about the effect on the global tech supply chain and the possibility of price hikes for consumers.
Tokyo says the move was made necessary by a „loss of trust” in relations with Seoul, but also accuses South Korea of improperly handling exports of sensitive materials from Japan.
Seoul has threatened to take the issue to the World Trade Organization and also urged Washington to intervene.
Relations between the American allies have long been strained over issues related to Tokyo’s brutal 1910-45 colonial rule of the Korean peninsula.
But the recent court rulings and Japan’s export restrictions have seen relations sink to their lowest point in years.
On 50th anniversary of Apollo 11 landing, here’s why ‘moon truthers’ still existAbby HaglageThis Saturday marks the 50th anniversary of when the Apollo 11 first touched down on the moon, securing the United States’ spot as the winner of fiercely competitive “space race.” But despite impenetrable proof that the landing itself happened, many still use the day as a way to perpetuate conspiracy theories.This “moon truther” movement, as it’s called, has gained momentum in recent years, with one Gallup poll finding that six percent of Americans believe the moon landing was faked. Marcus Allen is the U.K. publisher of a conspiracy-based magazine and is one in a minority of people who believe the landing was a hoax.“I do not believe that a human has landed on the moon, let alone in 1969,” Allen tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “The technology did not exist then and it does not exist now to enable humans to safely land on the lunar surface and return to earth.” Allen, who watched the landing himself as a kid, says his argument boils down to three things: “rockets, radiation and re-entry.”Allen says he doesn’t think the rockets were “powerful enough to launch into earth orbit,” that humans weren’t able to be “protected” from the radiation, and that there wasn’t enough of a “heat shield” to complete re-entry. Many news organizations, along with the U.S. government and NASA, have provided further proof dispelling claims like Allen’s, but his mission to prove them false continues.But even Allen can understand why the event itself captivates the nation. “We really want to believe this — the whole society wants to believe this because if it’s true, it’s an incredible achievement.”