IRANIAN MISSILES REPORTEDLY HIT ISRAELI-OWNED CARGO SHIP IN ARABIAN SEA (PHOTOS)

South Front

 25.03.2021

Iranian Missiles Reportedly Hit Israeli-Owned Cargo Ship in Arabian Sea (Photos)

On March 25, Iranian missiles hit an Israeli-owned cargo ship as she was sailing in the Arabian Sea, according to the Israeli media.

The ship, identified by some observers as “LORI,” was sailing from Tanzania to India, when she came under attack. The missile strike caused material losses. However, no casualties were reported.

The incident was reported to Israel’s security establishment as well as to the owners of the cargo ship, the Haifa-based XT Management which is chaired by Israeli Udi Angel.

This was not the first alleged attack on an Israeli ship near Iran’s waters. On February 26, the Israeli-owned MV HELIOS RAY experienced a number of explosions while sailing in the Sea of Oman. Israel claimed that the vessel was attacked by Iranian forces. However, Tehran denied these claims.

Later on March 11, an explosion rocked an Iranian-owned ship named SHAHR E KORD off the shores of Syria. Tehran said that the incident was a “terrorist attack”.

The new attack in the Arabian Sea will likely lead to more tensions between Israel and Iran, who appear to be engaged in a covert naval war. A recent report by the Wall Street Journal revealed that Israel targeted over a dozen Iranian ships bound for Syria in the last two years. Most of the targeted vessels were carrying oil.

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Russian naval presence in Indian Ocean

By Nat South for The Saker Blog

I am interested in the way that narratives that shape individual events are crafted, curated and disseminated, because ultimately there is a tendency to focus mostly on specific events and ignore the wider context. Ultimately, we end up with being presented with a series of disjointed events, not really understanding the history or the detailed framing of these events. One such example would be “Russian ships are prowling around undersea cables”, in the tenor of overstating the Russian threat. Often, the complexity and background of the issue is left completely blank and important facets are blurred. At worst, we are simply presented with a series of ‘soundbites’ such as this stark example: “Russia invaded Crimea”.

The starting point for this naval oriented briefing is the widely reported incident between a U.S. Navy destroyer and a lightly armed Russian navy intelligence reconnaissance ship somewhere in “northern Arabian Sea”. The U.S. Fifth Fleet alleged that on January 9, a Russian Navy ship ‘Ivan Khurs’ (AGI),“aggressively approached” USS Farragut, an Arleigh Burke DDG (guided missile destroyer), “conducting routine operations in the North Arabian Sea”, (in the words of the U.S. Navy press release). Subsequently, Moscow dismissed Washington’s claims.

Note the tone of stating “aggressively approached”, not really a nuanced interpretation of events. What wasn’t mentioned the likelihood that this took place not far from the carrier, ‘USS Harry S. Truman’. No context whatsoever was provided by authorities on this incident. A classic example of a specific event being framed without any further details as to why and how it happened. Nothing mentioned on what took place before the video snippets that don’t make much sense. What is the wider context to this incident? (More on this specific incident later on in this article).

Without getting into details on the well-publicised Iran / U.S. tensions and U.S. naval deployment to the region, I would like to turn to other broader aspects touching upon the Russian naval presence in the region. In January, a series of articles appeared on the geopolitical aspects of the Indian Ocean, such as this on China’s increased presence , “the Russians are coming”, and this that gives an all-round Indian focused overview. Taking an excerpt from the latter:

During the unipolar moment from 1991 till 2010s, Washington still felt comfortable in its position; however, over the last few years, the situation has changed dramatically.”

The most recent element in the turning point that shows the dramatic change would certainly be the late December trilateral naval exercise between Russia, Iran & China. The high-profile, three-day naval exercise took place in the Indian Ocean and Gulf of Oman and Arabian Sea. Although not a major strategic exercise, the naval drills conveyed a slight political undertone, particularly with the presence of the Chinese Navy. China’s regional policy remains the same, to engage with all countries in a cautious and balanced manner. This is reflected by the fact the PLAN also held joint naval exercises with Saudi Arabia in November 2019, with the practically the same theme of enhancing maritime security.

The Pentagon’s plan for continued domination of the sea lanes of the Indian Ocean as per Mahan Doctrine in a unipolar world, is started to be eroded by the presence of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army Navy, (PLAN). On paper, the numbers involved is very small compared to the overall U.S. Navy presence in the region. Yet, Chinese encroachment into a space seen by Washington as their turf is already enough of an issue to warrant increased attention in recent years. So far, this has resulted in the creation of dedicated military structures, namely the Indo-Pacific Command, (USINDOPACOM) in 2018 and the release in June 2019 of a US military strategy report specifically on the region.

On top of all of Washington’s angst, is also the presence of the Russian Navy in the region. So, are the Russians just coming to the region now? No. The only noticeable change of recent is the taking part in multi-national exercises, (in Iran and South Africa) jointly with the Chinese.

The Russian Navy has been an occasional visitor for two decades, limited to one combat ship with two support deploying to either bilateral exercises or simply showing the flag as part of naval diplomacy. Take for example the annual bilateral exercises between Russia with India since 2003, (INDRA), with Pakistan since 2014, (Exercise Arabian Monsoon). Both of which are aimed at: “increasing inter-operability amongst the two navies, developing common understanding and procedures for maritime security operations.” Both activities clearly underline the “naval diplomacy” being used by Russia, striking a balance between two significant opposing countries.

What is changing is the nature and format of other newer joint or multilateral exercises. A glimpse of this is the Army International Games “Depth-2019”, competition in July 2017 in Iran. The Black Sea Fleet based rescue tug “Professor Nikolai Muru”, (Project 22870), made a first-ever passage to the Gulf to participate in the event. Insignificant, in the greater scheme of things, probably yes, but interesting the Russian Navy did this.

Lastly let’s not forget that the Russian Navy had infrequently participated in the Horn of Africa anti-piracy missions, probably best remembered by an epic video of the Russian Navy dealing with a pirate boat. Conversely, the PLAN has been a more consistent participant of these types of missions for almost two decades. Nevertheless, as I write this, the Baltic Fleet based ‘Yaroslav Mudry’ is out in the region having recently called in to the Omani port of Salalah. It is in the Gulf of Aden as part of the latest Russian anti-piracy deployment to the Indian Ocean.

A first in the Southern Hemisphere took place in late November 2019 in Cape Town, when Russia and China held their first trilateral naval exercise with South Africa. Exercise ‘Mosi’ was the first time that three countries belonging to BRICS exercised together. Participants included a type 054A frigate Weifang (550) and Slava-class Project 1164 cruiser Marshal Ustinov (055) and the South African Valour class frigate ‘Amatola’.

9th January 2020

Back to the 9th January incident, reminiscent of the era of the Soviet Navy, when there were numerous ‘interactions’ of this kind on and below the waves. Any naval Cold War veteran is able to attest to this. An example of maybe hundreds of incidents and accidents is when the Soviet destroyer ‘Bravyy’ on 9th November 1970, while observing a NATO exercise, collided with the British aircraft-carrier HMS Ark Royal. Other notable incidents were the Black Sea “bumping incidents”, although the context for this was slightly different, taking place in home waters, involving both the USS Caron and the ‘USS Yorktown’, under the activity of “innocent passage and freedom of navigation”. An issue that still provokes intense debate and U.S. FONOP activities, (notably in the South China Sea) as mentioned in a previous article on the Arctic. A snapshot of this rationale for carrying out freedom of navigation voyages can be found in the introduction of a paper presented here.

I had a deja-vu feeling when I heard about this incident. It seems to me practically a re-run of the ‘USS Chancellorsville’ & ‘Admiral Vinogradrov’ incident back in June 2019. I see that many instant experts on Rule 15 have suddenly popped up on social media, hence this specific commentary.  Essentially several things could have done been done to avert this close call situation. The U.S. ship could have speeded up considerably to give the Russian ship more sea room to cross astern with plenty of space. There’s a lot more to this incident than just the videos extracts released by the U.S. Navy. However, this and the June 2019 incident needed to be contrasted with the shenanigans done in 60, 70s and also the 1988 Black Sea bumping incidents. Personally, this is pretty tame stuff in comparison.

The question is why this happens in this manner, (maybe due to saving face or not backing down). The carefully selected excerpts of videos, showing a fraction of the incident in question don’t help to understand the length, context or extent of the incident. The tetchy moments on who had ‘right of way’ (the nautical version of the Road Code – known as COLREGS) regarding the ‘Ivan Khurs’ close encounter with ‘USS Farragut’ can be regarded as just a “braggadocio” event aimed at media sensationalism. Well, not quite. There’s more the story than what it first seems.

As with the June 2019 incident, the U.S. ship was on the port side of the Russian vessel, considered to be a “Constant bearing, decreasing range” (CBDR) situation. Many arguments happened over whether the Ivan Khurs was in crossing situation or overtaking one, (was it 22.5 / 30 degrees angle? Essentially that’s a redundant point given the closeness and the continued CBDR situation, running out of safe sea space). A grey area well-known to mariners, hence the need to be quite clear in intentions from the outset. The video excerpts are equally unhelpful in determining the situation since some time must have passed between the video snippets.

The question that no one asked was why did both sides act early enough to avoid such close approach in the first place. It seems to me, in general one side was blatantly ignoring the CBDR situation and the finer points of Rule 15 or 17 COLREG, while the other won’t try or consider slowing down or bearing away from US ship. Essentially, a total farce where both sides seem to wind each up until the last minute, when finally, the U.S. destroyer actually opens up a bit the throttle. Given that it is a DDG, I’m sure that the USS Farragut has a higher speed than the ‘Ivan Khurs’, so the Russian ship can cross astern safely. Seemingly, neither budged and importantly both sides were basically ignoring parts of Rule 8 which sets out good seamanship practice, well before the Rule 15/17 situation arose, as both had each other on radar and visually for many nautical miles.

The other question is why did this incident occur? Essentially, eyeing each other for intel gathering. Scenario 1: I suspect it is the U.S. ship taking a keen interest, given the ‘Ivan Khurs’ is a probable newcomer to the waters, but was this was close to the area of the U.S. carrier operations. Scenario 2: Possibility of the USS Farragut either wanting to keep the Russian ship away from the U.S. carrier or maybe possibly deploying ASW array.

Of interest to note is the ad hoc presence of Russian AGIs and intelligence reconnaissance ships in the vicinity of U.S. carrier groups. This has been the case elsewhere, in the Eastern Mediterranean particularly, but seemingly a first for the Arabian Sea, (in many decades).

Summary

The Russian Navy is not the Soviet Navy in scope or numbers. As such the remaining current cold war era CCGs & DDGs that visit the region will gradually fade away, to be replaced by a smaller fleet of FFGs & corvettes; yet it will continue to visit the Indian Ocean. Although many pundits see this as a growing Russia’s return to the Indian Ocean as being relatively recent, when in fact it isn’t. So, the muted outcry by Washington of “the Russians are coming” is rather feeble and reveals a deep level of geopolitical insecurity. To paraphrase the Chinese delegate’s question at the Munich Security Conference recently, (see here):

“Do you really think the U.S. Navy presence in the Indian Ocean is so fragile it could be threatened by the occasional visit of Russian and Chinese warships?”

Seemingly yes.

Russia has a new limited strategic presence in the Middle East and Africa and the naval visits are part of the bigger picture. Russian presence will continue given the backdrop of the U.S. public wish for an expansion of a NATO footprint into Gulf & Iraq, adding to the ongoing presence in Afghanistan since 2001.

Russia also has defence-cooperation agreements with about 15 African countries. This is somewhat reflected in the port call make by the ‘Marshal Ustinov’, (en route to South Africa, including Egypt & Algeria, Equatorial Guinea and Cape Verde.

NB:The ‘Marshal Ustinov’ also called into Greece, Cyprus, Turkey (some are NATO countries).

By looking at the Russian Navy’s timid visits, the Indian Ocean is not a high priority regarding Russian maritime presence. Nevertheless, Russia has certainly stepped up its naval diplomacy in the region in different ways, making infrequent regular yearly visits to ports in the region, such as Pakistan, India and Sri Lanka and high-level working visits by heads of navies. Russia is also attentive to maintaining special relationships that it already has with countries like India and Pakistan.

Lastly, I cannot compare the minuscule presence of Russian Navy in region with that of the PLAN which is quickly building a larger force projection capability than the Russian VMF can realistically hope for these days. Let’s be frank, the Chinese PLAN is expanding considerably each year. 2019 alone saw another: 1 aircraft carrier, 1 LDP, 1 LHD & eight 7000t & two 13000t destroyers commissioned) plus 17 corvettes in one year!) The new tonnage must eye watering hard for the West to contemplate.

Further Reading

See this detailed article below I entirely agree with the author, as a civilian ex-mariner.

Who provokes whom and with which goal? https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/us-russian-navy-near-miss-incident-gunter-sch%C3%BCtze

Extra information on the geopolitics of the Indian Ocean:

Indian Ocean: strategic hub or zone of competition? https://uwidata.com/7211-indian-ocean-strategic-hub-or-zone-of-competition/

An visual overview of both recent Chinese and Russian naval port visits in the Indian Ocean is presented on the blog Warvspeace.org


Nat South’s sideline is occasionally commenting on maritime & naval related subjects ,with a special interest in the polar regions.

CHINA-IRAN -RUSSIA ALLIANCE ENDING US UNILATERAL GLOBAL HEGEMONY

Posted on 30/12/2019 by Elijah J Magnier

By Elijah J. Magnier: @ejmalrai

The “maritime security belt” trilateral four-day drill between Iran, China and Russia in the sea of Oman and the Indian Ocean will mark the Middle East for decades to come. It signals the end of US absolute hegemony and control of the Middle East- and of the world. The joint drills are being carried out at the heart of the zone of US maritime influence. The drills are tactical exercises simulating the rescue of frigates under attack by a mutual enemy over a 17,000 km area. They are not strategic, because China and Russia will not have access to Iranian harbours on an ongoing basis. No common adversary is expected to face Russia, China or Iran together in these waters. The aim of these exercises is for all three countries to send a common message to the US. The maritime ‘message’ addressed to the world this December 2019 realistically is that the period of the global dominance of the USA as the sole and self-elected “policeman of the world” is coming to an end.

It was the first time Iran has held a joint exercise with two major world naval powers on this scale since the “Islamic Republic” in 1979. Iran invited and hosted the trilateral drills, starting from its southeastern port of Chabahar, to challenge the US “maximum pressure” policy. Tehran is sending a message to the world that it is developing its military capabilities in the midst of the harshest ever US sanctions, demonstrating that the US policy of isolating Iran is ineffective. President Donald Trump and his team have  managed to hurt the Iranian population with their unprecedented sanctions and siege: but the government of Tehran has effectively adapted to these punitive measures, countering with a new “budget of Resistance” to limit its dependence on oil exports.

President Donald Trump’s policy is speeding the formation of an alliance between Iran, China and Russia (all affected by US sanctions). These countries, notwithstanding the “maritime security belt” drills, have not actually signed strategic alliances among themselves, but are finding ways to protect themselves while operating in the Sea of Oman and the Indian Ocean. These drills can be considered a challenge to US sanctions, taking place in the most important worldwide maritime traffic waterway, considered vital to the US with 18.5 million barrels of oil transiting through this area daily.

The US sun is setting. It has shone brightly since 1991 when the cold war ended between Washington and Moscow. This is when President George Bush announced US policy and the vision of “a new world order where diverse nations are drawn together in common cause to achieve the universal aspirations of mankind: peace and security, freedom and the rule of law.”

That day marked the beginning, in fact, of an imbalanced world order based on the political, economic and military dominance of the US. It was the beginning of a “destructive-constructive” strategy to crush any country rejecting US hegemony. Iran was at the top of the list.

Under President George W. Bush, Washington decided to surround Iran, China and Russia further and occupied Afghanistan – due to its geopolitical strategic position overlooking at the west of China, middle of Asia and the east of Iran and its richness of Uranium – and then Iraq. The control of Middle Eastern oil was the priority followed by a “new Middle East” plan to break Iran’s alliance with Lebanon (Hezbollah) and the Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

The US has constantly been looking for ways to divide continents, to rule them and thus prevent the emergence of any threatening alliance. Eurasia, which contains two-thirds of the world’s energy, was under constant close US watch, similar to Iran.

But Iran 2019 is different from Iran in 1979. Following the “war of the tankers” in the Straits of Hormuz, the downing of the most expensive US drone and the targeting and destruction of Saudi Arabia’s oil facilities (reducing its export capability by half) with Iranian precision cruise missiles, the US discovered a bitter reality. All US military bases surrounding Iran were easy targets for Iran cruise missiles in the case of a decision by Washington to attack the “Islamic Republic”. Iran didn’t need to bother looking for a US target in far off territories.

Moreover, Iran did not hesitate to intercept and confiscate a British tanker, sending a confrontational message to Great Britain and expressing its readiness for a military skirmish if necessary. Iran signalled its ability to fight on multiple fronts against its enemies. Iranian officials made crystal clear to all surrounding countries’ leaders (Saudi Arabia, the Emirates, Iraq, north-east Syria, Israel) that its precision missiles would spare no country where a US base is stationed or used as a starting point for an attack on Iran.

Many elements indicated Iran was ready for the worst-case scenario and was trained for an extreme situation, knowing that the US would not venture into an unpredictable war where victory is far from guaranteedPresident Trump was ready for a few battles here and there, a “battle between wars” Israeli-style rather than a totally destructive war. Trump and his team became aware that the US’s enemies had equipped themselves with enough missiles to be simultaneously engaged on multiple fronts in different Middle Eastern countries.

Trump has sought to avoid human losses during his presence in office. He knows that Iran’s allies will dive into any future confrontation against the “Islamic Republic” and will hit US allies in the Middle Eastern region.

Iran has equipped its strongest and most organised ally in the Middle East, Hezbollah in Lebanon, with tens of thousands of rockets and precision missiles, enough to destroy Israeli targets, already included in its bank of objectives. The Israeli targets are within a few kilometres of Hezbollah bases, not far enough for the Israeli interception missiles to neutralise all missiles and rockets if simultaneously launched. But that is not the real problem: in fact, the Israeli domestic front is far from ready for war, as even Israeli military officials acknowledge.

Hezbollah managed to break the Israeli deterrence policy and succeeded in breaking the will of Israel, as the world observed in the last confrontation. Indeed, Israel chose to abandon for two weeks all positions along 100 kilometres from the Lebanese borders and 5 kilometres deep due to a single threat launched via local television by Hezbollah Secretary General Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah. A very strong indication that though Israel can continue verbally threatening Lebanon, war is unlikely for a very long time to come.

Iran’s allies are also present in Syria, Iraq and Yemen, all equipped with precision missiles. The US and its allies are not in a position to ignore this reality and the fact that (notwithstanding the US and Israel’s great destructive power) serious damage can be inflicted on the US camp in case of war.

Another crucially important element, not to be neglected, is the fact that the US is taking further distance from the Middle East. In 2019 I witnessed the US’s clear detachment from the Iraqi selection of a Prime Minister, for the first time since 2003. The US is also, unusually, not intervening in Lebanon’s choice of a Prime Minister. These are two important countries where the US was positioned in the front line to curb Iran’s influence. Likewise, in Syria (where the US is flagrantly stealing Syrian oil), the US seems to have lost its appetite to remain in the Levant and compel Iran’s departure from Syria- to the great discontent of Israel.

Only the weapon of economic sanctions remains for the US, a weapon that soon will be less efficient as countries adapt to their new situation. Trump is sanctioning his friends, enemies and competitors, exhausting US financial power. That is giving an advantage to the countries concerned to prepare themselves for counter-measures in the long-term. The US, despite its attempt at hegemony, is returning to the era before the 1991.

It is true that the US has managed, under President Trump, to sell huge quantities of weapons to Middle Eastern countries. The US military industry has benefitted for a few years but this is coming to an end. These weapons will no longer be used in any future war because the possibility of a military confrontation in the Middle East is fading and all parties and potential belligerents are well equipped and armed with destructive firepower.

Today the US is looking at Russia, China and their allies as sources of danger from highly competitive technology and artificial intelligence developments. There is little room for future military confrontation. The time has finally come for the Middle Eastern countries to solve their domestic and regional problems among themselves without outside interference. 

Proofread by  Maurice Brasher and C.G.B.

This article is translated free to many languages by volunteers so readers can enjoy the content. It shall not be masked by Paywall. I’d like to thank my followers and readers for the confidence and support. If you like it, please don’t feel embarrassed to contribute and help fund it for as little as 1 Euro. Your contribution, however small, will help ensure its continuity. Thank you.

Copyright © https://ejmagnier.com  2019

Rouhani: Foreign Forces Main Source of Tension in the Region

By Staff, Agencies

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani stressed that any presence of foreign forces in the Gulf will only cause even more tension in the region, amid reports that the UK and the US are pushing for a joint force to escort oil tankers as they pass through the Strait of Hormuz off Iran.

Iran makes constant efforts to ensure the Sea of Oman, the Gulf and the Strait of Hormuz remain safe passageways for international shipping, Rouhani said during a meeting with visiting Omani Foreign Minister Yusuf bin Alawi in Tehran on Sunday.

“The presence of foreign forces wouldn’t help the regional security, and if anything, it would actually be the main source of tension,” he added.

The remarks come as both the UK and the US are leading two sharply different plans for patrols in the Gulf.

Washington has been pushing for a scheme whereby nations protect their own ships but partake in joint operations to monitor the waterways to prevent incidents.

The administration of US President Donald Trump claims that the patrols are needed to protect the ships from threats it says are coming from Iran, following several mysterious attacks that damaged oil tankers and cargo ships in the Sea of Oman over the past weeks.

The US and some of its allies have blamed Iran for the attacks, a claim Tehran has vehemently denied. Iranian officials have warned countries in the region to watch out for false flags by “foreign players.”

The UK, on the other hand, has been trying to put together a European force to protect vessels moving through the Strait of Hormuz, after Iran seized a British-flagged tanker this month for attempting to flee the scene of a collision with an Iranian fishing boat in violation of international rules.

Tensions flared up between London and Tehran after the UK navy seized Iranian oil tanker Grace 1 in Gibraltar, claiming that it was carrying oil to Syria in violation of the European Union’s sanctions against Damascus.

Elsewhere in his remarks, Rouhani told Bin Alawi that London’s move was illegal and would prove “costly” for them.

Rouhani asserted that Iran continues to stand against any breaches of law that endangers the safety of shipping in the Gulf, the Strait of Hormuz and the Sea of Oman.

He argued that all of the regional issues were connected and, therefore, every government in the region needed to help maintain peace and stability there.

Reconstructing Syria and paving the way for Syrian refugees to return, ending the Saudi-led war on Yemen and stopping ongoing “Israeli” crimes against the people of Palestine were some of the key issues that he said had to be resolved.

Rouhani reiterated that Tehran has never started tensions in the region, unlike the American officials, whom he accused of causing frictions with their “delusions” and their decision to leave the 2015 Iran nuclear deal.

Bin Alawi, for his part, said Oman and Iran needed to overcome all challenges and help keep the region secure.

He emphasized that without Iran it was not possible to keep the region safe.

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