Sunday, July 21, 2019

Sunday Globe Special: Operation Sentinel

Sworn to avenge, condemned to hell:

"US Central Command, which oversees Middle East military operations, repeated in a statement late Friday that it was working on a “multinational effort” under the name Operation Sentinel to police the shipping routes. The operation “will enable nations to provide escort to their flagged vessels while taking advantage of the cooperation of participating nations for coordination and enhanced maritime domain awareness and surveillance,” the statement said, but it emphasized that Washington would not shoulder the burden alone: “While the United States has committed to supporting this initiative, contributions and leadership from regional and international partners will be required to succeed.”

So that is what they have been laying the groundwork for the last month or two.

"UK warns Iran of ‘serious consequences’ for seizing oil tanker" by David D. Kirkpatrick and Stephen Castle New York Times, July 20, 2019

LONDON — Britain on Saturday threatened Iran with “serious consequences” for seizing a British-owned oil tanker the previous evening as the government warned ships to avoid the crucial shipping lanes of the Strait of Hormuz.

The British government said in a statement after an emergency meeting that it had “advised UK shipping to stay out of the area for an interim period.”

Has such an Iraq feel to it.

The crisis has caught Britain at a singularly vulnerable moment. Prime Minister Theresa May is expected to resign on Wednesday. A leadership contest within the governing Conservative Party to determine her successor has all but paralyzed the government, and now the uncertainty about Britain’s internal direction is compounding the problem of forming a response to Iran’s seizure of the tanker.

Some would call it tit-for-tat, and I'm no longer sure what to make of any of these claims more the pre$$ reports such as they are.

The British defense minister, Penny Mordaunt, said in a television interview on Saturday that the ship had been intercepted in Omani, not Iranian, waters and called the seizure “a hostile act.” By Saturday afternoon, Britain had summoned the Iranian ambassador to register its protest, and a second emergency Cabinet meeting was set to begin.

Maybe they want their oil tanker back.

The capture of the tanker — two weeks after British forces impounded an Iranian tanker near Gibraltar — sharply escalates a crisis between Iran and the West after three months of rising tensions that last month brought the United States within minutes of a military strike against targets in Iran. A fifth of the world’s crude oil supply is shipped from the Persian Gulf through the narrow Strait of Hormuz off the coast of Iran, and oil prices spiked sharply on Friday even before the British warning, but the next moves in the showdown over the tanker are likely to turn on the outcome of the British leadership contest, and the favorite, Boris Johnson, a flamboyant former mayor of London and former foreign minister, is famously unpredictable.

The interesting take-away there is the framing of the conflict as Iran alone against the West. It's not only obscures the U.S. hand behind it, it neatly conceals the deeper Zionist influence upon the policy.

He has said during his campaign that he stands with the other European powers in their wish to avoid a confrontation with Iran, but Johnson has also risen through his party railing against Europe and has sought closer ties to President Trump, who set the current cycle of confrontation in motion by attempting to squeeze Iran into renegotiating a 2015 nuclear accord with world powers.

Took 'em a while to get around to who the actual initiator of all this was; however, I suspect Boris will dutifully take orders dutiful wingman of the English vassal. If May doesn't stick around even longer due to national emergency, or if Hunt doesn't steal it.

That has increased speculation that the clash over the tanker may move Britain out of its current opposition to Trump over his feud with Iran. Britain has so far stood with the other European powers seeking to defy the president and preserve the accord.


“There has to come a moment where the British government, and maybe France and Germany ask, ‘Is it really worth fighting Trump on all these fronts?’ ” said Robin Niblett, director of Chatham House, a London research institute.

He just keeps on winning, huh?

Setting the stage for a prolonged standoff, Iranian news agencies reported on Saturday that all 23 crew members of the British-flagged tanker would be held onboard in Iran’s Bandar Abbas Port during a criminal investigation of the ship’s actions.

None of the crew members is British or American; their nationalities include Indian, Russian, Latvian, and Filipino, the ship’s owner said in a statement.

A spokesman for Iran’s powerful Guardian Council, which oversees major foreign policy decisions, sought on Saturday to justify the seizure as “reciprocal action” after British forces had impounded the Iranian tanker near Gibraltar.

Took them even longer to get to that, and that seizure was at the behest of the U.S. if the reporting is to be believed.

“The rule of reciprocal action is well known in international law,” the spokesman, Abbas Ali Kadkhodaei, said, according to the semiofficial Fars news agency, but other Iranian authorities on Saturday added other rationales for the seizure of the ship, saying for the first time that the vessel had been involved in an accident with an Iranian fishing boat and that the tanker had ignored distress calls.

I'm sure he is right; however, that no longer applies when you are dealing with Empire (something the British and their former subjects know all too well, from Ireland to India).

The Revolutionary Guard, which is in charge of Iranian naval activities in the Persian Gulf, had said on Friday that it had seized the ship for deviating from traffic patterns and polluting the waters. The Revolutionary Guard had not mentioned a fishing boat.

Stena Bulk, the owner of the ship, Stena Impero, said the tanker had been in “full compliance with all navigation and international regulations” when it was intercepted.

In Washington on Friday, Trump called Iran “nothing but trouble.”

The report I saw said they "were in big trouble," but if you cleaned it up and misquoted him, fine.

“We’ll be working with the UK,” Trump told reporters on the South Lawn of the White House. Referring in vague terms to the close American alliance with Britain, he added, “We have no written agreement, but I think we have an agreement that is longstanding.”

So you are in, whether you like it or not. 

Feels like the Tony Blair days, doesn't it?

US Central Command, which oversees Middle East military operations, repeated in a statement late Friday that it was working on a “multinational effort” under the name Operation Sentinel to police the shipping routes.

The operation “will enable nations to provide escort to their flagged vessels while taking advantage of the cooperation of participating nations for coordination and enhanced maritime domain awareness and surveillance,” the statement said, but it emphasized that Washington would not shoulder the burden alone: “While the United States has committed to supporting this initiative, contributions and leadership from regional and international partners will be required to succeed.”

France in a statement on Saturday called on Iran to respect “the principle of freedom of shipping in the Gulf.” Germany strongly condemned Iran’s actions as “unjustifiable.”

They are getting in line as well, and quite frankly, there was never any doubt. They have been all along.

“Another regional escalation would be very dangerous” and “undermine all ongoing efforts to find a way out of the current crisis,” the German government warned in a statement. The back-and-forth between Iran and the West has already included the imposition of sweeping new US economic sanctions. Iran has responded with the calibrated resumption of an Iranian nuclear energy program that the West fears might lead to a nuclear bomb. The United States and Britain have accused Iran of sabotaging six tankers in a tacit threat to gulf shipping routes.

I'm having an Edge of Darkness moment where the U.S. government was secretly manufacturing nuclear weapons intended to be traced to foreign nations if they were used.

The web version of the article kept sailing:

The United States and Iran have each said it had shot down an unpiloted surveillance drone flown by the other side. In a reminder that each minor collision risks the explosion of a more violent confrontation, Trump last month ordered a missile strike in retaliation for the Iranian downing of the American drone. He ultimately called the strike off only minutes before the launch.

He stopped WWIII, or so we were led to believe.

Trump said the next day that he had concluded the loss of life from a missile strike would have been disproportionate to the shooting down of a drone, but he later threatened the “obliteration” of parts of Iran if it targeted “anything American.”

That raises the question of whether he meant a nuclear response to, you know, immediately wipe Iran of the face of the map and carve open the underbelly of the Russian Bear (as they open up a 3,000-mile front on its western frontier).

At the core of the confrontation with the West is the Trump administration’s attempt to rip up and renegotiate the 2015 accord, which the United States and other world powers had reached with Iran to limit its nuclear program in exchange for relief from economic sanctions.

The deal is effectively dead due to the U.S. pullout and sanctions. 

Having pulled the United States out of the deal last year, the Trump administration added comprehensive sanctions in May that were intended to block all of Iran’s oil exports, the lifeblood of its economy. Iranian officials denounced the new penalties as “economic warfare.”

It could be taken as an act of war, yeah.

Iran has sought to push back against all the major powers, forcing them to feel some cost for their effective default on the promises of the 2015 accord as a result of Trump’s sanctions. That set the backdrop for a parallel clash with Britain that led to the seizure of the tanker.

The only problem with the framing there is it is Iran that's being forced into a corner.

Two weeks ago, the British military helped impound the Iranian tanker off Gibraltar on the suspicion that it was delivering oil to Syria in violation of European Union embargoes.

Iranian officials called the seizure of their ship an act of piracy and accused Washington of masterminding the capture as part of its pressure campaign. Officers of the Revolutionary Guard threatened eye-for-an-eye retaliation against a British ship. Iranian boats sought unsuccessfully to stop one a few days later, but an accompanying British warship drove them away.

Jeremy Hunt, the British foreign secretary, on Saturday charged that Iran’s seizure had violated international law but insisted that Britain had followed proper legal procedures in stopping the Iranian tanker, Grace 1, near Gibraltar.

They write the laws.

“Yesterday’s action in Gulf shows worrying signs Iran may be choosing a dangerous path of illegal and destabilising behaviour after Gibraltar’s LEGAL detention of oil bound for Syria,” Hunt wrote on Twitter Saturday morning.

“As I said yesterday our reaction will be considered but robust,” Hunt added. “We have been trying to find a way to resolve Grace1 issue but WILL ensure the safety of our shipping.”

The new prime minister?

He added later that he had “expressed extreme disappointment” in a phone call with Iran’s foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif. Recounting a conversation they had a week earlier, Hunt said that Zarif had said he sought de-escalation but that “they have behaved in the opposite way.”

“This has 2 be about actions not words,” Hunt said on Twitter.

Hunt is challenging Johnson in the runoff within the Conservative Party to become Britain’s next prime minister. If Hunt loses, his role overseeing the standoff with Iran might keep him in the job for the immediate term in the interest of continuity, but the results would also put a question mark over his standing and staying power, further complicating the British response.

The fate of the Iranian tanker impounded near Gibraltar is in the hands of the courts there, and an early release of the ship to mollify the Iranians would “look very weak,” said Michael Stephens, of the Royal United Services Institute, an independent research center. “I don’t think we are in a position where we have the luxury of backing down,” he added.

Yeah, you don't want to appease 'em.

That, in turn, adds to the pressure on the nuclear accord. Britain has collaborated with the other European powers in seeking to preserve the deal, even joining efforts to set up an alternative trading platform that would allow Iran to evade the American sanctions. 

That went nowhere, yet they keep bringing it up.

If Britain joins the United States in re-imposing sanctions on Iran, that would all but snuff out any hope of saving the 2015 accord.

How do you save something that is basically dead?

Tom Tugendhat, the chairman of the British parliamentary foreign affairs committee, wrote on Twitter that “the hiatus in power” in Britain had lasted too long. “We are being tested by friends and enemies. We need leadership,” he added.



"British Airways abruptly canceled all flights to Cairo on Saturday for what it described as security reasons, a day after the British government warned against traveling to some parts of Egypt. The British government released new travel advice for Egypt on Friday, warning against trips to most of the Sinai Peninsula and the area west of the Nile Valley and saying that travelers to Cairo should be cautious, too. “There’s a heightened risk of terrorism against aviation,” the government said..... (New York Times)."

And all we get is a submerged middle brief?

Start building the barracks!

"A key suspect in the 2017 Manchester Arena bombing that killed 22 people was arrested Wednesday at a London airport after being extradited from Libya, British police said. Greater Manchester Police said Hashem Abedi, the younger brother of suicide bomber Salman Abedi, has been arrested for murder, attempted murder, and conspiracy to cause an explosion likely to endanger life. He was taken to a London police station and is expected to appear in Westminster Magistrates’ Court in the coming days. ‘‘This is clearly an important moment in the investigation,’’ British Prime Minister Theresa May said. ‘‘I hope it is a welcome step for the loved ones of all the victims.’’ Authorities believe Hashem played a major role in planning the suicide bombing, the deadliest in a string of extremist attacks in London and Manchester in the spring and summer of 2017. Targets in London included Westminster Bridge and London Bridge. Salman Abedi, who set off the Manchester bomb at the end of an Ariana Grande concert on May 22, 2017, died in the explosion, which also wounded hundreds, including many with devastating injuries. British authorities have sought Hashem’s extradition for nearly two years. The Manchester bombing caused widespread anguish in part because so many of the dead and wounded were young fans of Grande, a pop star with a huge following....."

That's the official story, although at the time the whole event was basically exposed as a crisis drill. What usually happens is a staged and scripted crisis drill is then piggy-backed upon with real violence, thus splitting truth-seekers and investigative bloggers as to what actually happened, allowing the planners and purveyors to move on to the next agenda-pushing, mind-manipulating event.

"Tiny sliver of voters to pick leader for Brexit" by William Booth and Karla Adam Washington Post, July 17, 2019

YORK, England - At this pivotal moment in Britain’s history, with the future of its economy and its place in the world soon to be determined, the leader of the country will be chosen next week not through a grand national election, but by mail-in ballots from about 160,000 members of the Conservative Party who paid their annual dues.

That’s not a thin slice of the population, it’s a crumb — about 0.25 percent of the 66 million people in the United Kingdom, or about 0.35 percent of the total electorate, and it’s an unrepresentative crumb, at that: dominated by white men who tend to be older and better off than your average Brit — and more insistent in their desire to leave the European Union.

‘‘They’re consumed, if not obsessed, by Brexit,’’ said Tim Bale, a politics professor at Queen Mary University of London who has studied the party membership.

If the general public were voting, polls suggest they would prefer Jeremy Hunt, who as foreign secretary has supported Prime Minister Theresa May’s compromise vision of Brexit, to Boris Johnson, who headlined the winning Brexit referendum campaign in 2016. The most recent polls of Conservative Party members, however, favor Johnson over Hunt by more than 40 percentage points.

‘‘Imagine you’re a soldier in battle,’’ suggested Paul Sullivan, 61, a local councilor who was hoisting a quick pint before the start of a campaign event here in northern England. ‘‘You go with the general who wants to win it, right? Or you’ll end up dead on the field.’’

They may not have to imagine for much longer, as they look to be on the front lines, and I was told the Greens were on the march.

Johnson — a bombastic, erudite, crowd-pleasing former London mayor — has promised to either strike a fantastic new Brexit deal or leave the bloc without one by October. ‘‘Do or die,’’ he vows.

That goes over well here.

Many of those at the York convention hall resembled the Tory demographic. Silver-haired, wearing sensible shoes and ‘‘Back Boris’’ stickers, they were the sort that once ran small businesses, served as middle managers, or were homemakers.

‘‘I think of the hundreds of thousands, the millions of boys who died so we could be a nation,’’ said Brexit and Johnson supporter Carole Brown, 82. ‘‘And we’ve handed it over to Europe? Bring it back home, I say.’’

This generation harbors lots of World War II nostalgia, even if some don’t recall Winston Churchill so much as movies about Churchill.

It fills my ma$$ media as well, the greatest generation as it were.

In addition to these elders, there were surprising numbers of teenagers in the hall in York. That’s another oddity of this contest: children can vote. At least anyone 16 and older who is a member of the Conservative Party can. 

There is a push by some, including members of the Squad, to get that passed here.

In York, the Tories liked the idea of ‘‘taking back control’’ from Brussels, and they liked Johnson’s sunny optimism. They said they had had enough of the sour May, whom they cast as a failure, and they agreed with the characterization of Hunt as ‘‘Theresa in trousers.’’

When Johnson told the audience that what’s been lacking in Britain is ‘‘a bit more self-belief,’’ they harrumphed their support. They laughed when he said it was time to stop looking at Brexit ‘‘as a plague of boils,’’ but as an opportunity for Britain to shine.

Like a freshly minted war medal.

When pressed by a moderator on how he would get Britain out of the EU, Johnson didn’t really answer. He said that if the European leaders knew he was capable of leaving without a deal, they might very well give Britain what it wants.

What he has going for him is ‘‘charisma and courage.’’

A recent YouGov poll found that Conservative Party members would be willing to endure significant damage to the British economy (61 percent), the destruction of the Conservative Party (54 percent), and even the breaking up of the United Kingdom (63 percent) if it meant securing Brexit.....

At least Iran is farther away than Germany.


"Iran says it aided foreign oil tanker after distress call" by Erin Cunningham Washington Post, July 17, 2019

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — Iran says it came to the assistance of a foreign oil tanker that broke down in the Strait of Hormuz, as international concern mounted over the fate of an Emirati-linked ship that went missing four days ago in Iranian waters.

Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesman, Abbas Mousavi, said the tanker was approached by Iranian forces after sending a distress call and was towed into Iranian waters for repairs.

I was told there was no distress call.

‘‘A foreign oil tanker encountered a problem in the Persian Gulf due to technical failure, and Iranian forces, in accordance with international regulations, rushed to help it after receiving a distress call,’’ Mousavi said Wednesday, according to Iranian media.

Iran then ‘‘pulled it toward Iranian waters with a tugboat in order to carry out the necessary repairs,’’ Mousavi said, adding that more information on the incident would be announced later.

His remarks followed reports that the Panama-flagged Riah, an oil tanker based in the United Arab Emirates, disappeared in Iranian waters late Saturday. Shipping tracking data showed that it was on its way to Sharjah in the UAE before it stopped transmitting its position off the coast of Iran’s Qeshm Island in the Strait of Hormuz, the world’s most important oil choke point.

Emirati and US officials alike said the Riah, a small oil-products tanker, did not send a distress call.

A US defense official, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the situation, said Tuesday that the US military was aware of the disappearance and had no additional information to share.

There were conflicting reports about the ownership of the Riah, but according to Equasis, a shipping industry database, it is operated by Prime Tankers in Dubai.

An Emirati official said Tuesday that the tanker was ‘‘neither UAE-owned nor operated’’ and that it was not carrying any Emirati personnel.

The official spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly about the incident.

‘‘We are monitoring the situation with our international partners,’’ he said.

The mystery over the vessel comes amid soaring tensions in the Persian Gulf region following a spate of attacks on commercial tankers in recent months, which the United States has blamed on Iran.

Britain said last week that Iranian forces attempted to block a British oil tanker traversing the strait but were repelled by a royal navy frigate escorting the ship.

Iran has threatened to target British shipping assets in retaliation for the seizure of an Iranian oil tanker off the coast of Gibraltar earlier this month. British forces helped authorities in Gibraltar detain the vessel. Iran, however, has denied involvement in the attacks as well as the attempt to impede the British tanker, which was operated by London-based oil and gas firm BP.

The confrontation between Iran and Britain is part of a wider conflict brewing between Tehran and the West.

The Iranian Foreign Ministry Wednesday rejected remarks by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo suggesting Iran was ready for talks on its ballistic missile program. In an interview with NBC, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif had said that if the United States wants to discuss Iran’s missile development ‘‘they need first to stop selling all these weapons, including missiles, to our region.’’

Iran says that its missile force is part of its national defense strategy and provides a deterrent against well-armed regional adversaries, including Israel and Saudi Arabia.

Tehran’s mission to the United Nations, where Zarif is holding meetings, said that the foreign minister’s comments were ‘‘hypothetical.’’

‘‘Iran’s missiles are absolutely and under no condition negotiable with anyone or any country, period,’’ a spokesman for the mission, Alireza Miryousefi, said on Twitter Tuesday.

The United States has said that it is ready to talk to Iran without preconditions following the Trump administration’s decision to abandon the nuclear pact Tehran struck with world powers in 2015.

US officials have embarked on a ‘‘maximum pressure campaign’’ to compel Iran to negotiate a broader agreement on its nuclear program, ballistic missiles, and support for militant proxies.

Iran says that it is open to talks if the United States lifts its near-total embargo on the Iranian economy.....

Fat chance of that happening, but beyond that is the endless framing of U.S. officials seeking peace as they preside over endless wars.


"Trump says US Navy shot down an Iranian drone in the Strait of Hormuz" by Liz Sly Washington Post, July 18, 2019

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — A US naval ship destroyed an Iranian drone that flew too close and ignored multiple calls to stand down on Thursday, President Trump said.

The Iranian drone came within 1,000 yards of the USS Boxer in the Strait of Hormuz before the crew ‘‘took defensive action’’ and ‘‘immediately destroyed’’ it, Trump said in remarks ahead of a White House ceremony with a delegation from the Netherlands.

‘‘This is the latest of many provocative and hostile actions by Iran against vessels operating in international waters,’’ he said. ‘‘The United States reserves the right to defend our personnel, our facilities, and interests and calls upon all nations to condemn Iran’s attempts to disrupt freedom of navigation and global commerce. I also call on other nations to protect their ships as they go through the strait and to work with us in the future.’’

They are working on it.

Pentagon spokesman Jonathan Hoffman confirmed the action, which he said was taken ‘‘to ensure the safety of the ship and its crew.’’

The military action against the Iranian drone is the latest such incident in the vicinity of the Persian Gulf. Adding to those tensions, Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps said Thursday that it was responsible for the seizure of a tanker that went missing over the weekend in the Strait of Hormuz, the strategic waterway that controls access to the Persian Gulf and the oil that flows through it.

The tanker, based in the United Arab Emirates, and its 12-member crew were detained after they were found to be smuggling Iranian fuel, according to a statement by the Revolutionary Guard. The statement appeared to contradict an earlier claim by Iran’s Foreign Ministry that the ship was rescued by Iranian authorities after a breakdown.

Although Iran said the seizure was prompted by suspicions that the tanker was involved in smuggling Iranian fuel, shipping experts and diplomats noted that Iran has been engaged in a major effort to conceal the origins of Iranian oil shipments to circumvent the sanctions, which are aimed at shutting down Iran’s oil exports altogether.

A video posted on the website of Iran’s English-language Press TV showed Iranian boats circling and then closing in on a small tanker clearly marked with the name Riah — the same name as the UAE-based tanker that went missing. UAE officials have denied any association with the Panama-flagged tanker, its owners or its crew, although shipping records suggest it is owned by a UAE-based company and has spent the past few years operating solely out of Emirati ports.

According to the Revolutionary Guard’s statement, the tanker took a delivery of 1.1 million liters (264,000 gallons) of smuggled Iranian fuel from several smaller Iranian dhows, or fishing boats, near Iran’s Larak Island in the Strait of Hormuz, the narrow waterway through which a significant percentage of the world’s traded oil is transported from the Persian Gulf. The tanker was taken ‘‘by surprise’’ on Sunday as it headed away from Iranian waters to deliver the fuel to foreign clients ‘‘far from Iran,’’ the statement said.

Suspicions that Iran had seized the tanker were first raised by the US military this week. The tanker made a sharp turn toward Iranian waters on Saturday, then switched off its transponders, disappearing from the map, the US military said, but that claim was countered by a sharp denial from Iran’s Foreign Ministry, which said Iranian authorities went to the rescue of the tanker after it emitted a distress signal, then towed it to shore for repairs.

I think the receptive use of the word suspicions means something. That could be all this is, a 21st-century Gulf of Tonkin.

Iranian foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, speaking at a briefing for journalists at the United Nations in New York, seemed unsure whether the detained tanker was the same one that his ministry said had been rescued for repairs, but, he said, the seizure of the tanker reported Thursday should be seen in the context of Iran’s anti-smuggling efforts.

Maybe the additional web coverage will help clear things up.

‘‘There is a lot of smuggling out of Iran,’’ he said. ‘‘A lot of it goes through the Persian Gulf; a lot of it goes through our borders with Pakistan and Afghanistan. So we do things on our borders with them, we do things in the Persian Gulf, and this is one of those.’’

The claims and counterclaims surrounding the circumstances of the ship’s detention, its activities and its ownership raised many questions that could not immediately be answered.

The Trump administration’s ‘‘maximum-pressure’’ campaign of heightened sanctions seeks to force Tehran back to the negotiating table after the United States walked away from the nuclear deal last year. The new sanctions on Iran were imposed only by the United States, and Iranian oil exports to other countries are not illegal; however, shipping companies, insurers, and traders involved in any aspect of the oil trade with Iran could find themselves banned from US transactions if they are caught, a significant deterrent given the United States’ financial clout.

Some truth-telling there, meaning the Gibraltar seizure was in fact piracy, and an acknowledgement of the raw power of the U.S. due to the dollar's role as the reserve currency.

Other incidents in recent weeks have contributed to the heightened tensions. Iran had threatened to retaliate for the seizure by the British navy two weeks ago of a supertanker near Gibraltar in the Mediterranean as it was carrying Iranian oil to Syria. Last week, the British navy said it had thwarted an attempt by Revolutionary Guard boats to board a British tanker in the Strait of Hormuz.....


RelatedIran seizes British tanker in the Persian Gulf as tensions with the West escalate

Time to rev up the tanks.

"Morning coffee results in a $1,000 fine and expulsion from Venice" by Palko Karasz New York Times, July 20, 2019

LONDON —Venice, which for decades has been inundated with tourists from all over the world eager to see its unique architecture and experience its lifestyle, has struggled with overtourism. As for other popular destinations, the crowds have been both a blessing, bringing in much-needed revenue, and a curse, invading every inch of public space.

The struggle echoes that of Rome, where authorities have imposed heavy fines and added officers to stop people from wading into the city’s famous fountains. At the height of a heat wave in Europe last summer, two people skinny-dipped in the fountain at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, prompting a police hunt for the culprits.

Matteo Salvini, the country’s hard-line interior minister, called the men “idiots,” telling them “Italy isn’t their bathroom.”

The largest, most visible symbols of the onslaught of tourists on Venice’s canals have been cruise ships that carry hundreds of people into the heart of the historic center. Campaigners pushed through new regulations last year to divert the behemoths to a passenger port on the mainland, farther from the city’s fragile lagoon, but on a recent Sunday morning, a cruise ship plowed into a smaller tour boat and a wharf on a canal, injuring four people. Critics said the accident highlighted the need for regulation.

“Venice must be respected, and the rude people who think they can come to the city and do whatever they want must understand that, thanks to the girls and boys of the local police, they will be taken, sanctioned and removed,” Luigi Brugnaro, the mayor of Venice, said in a statement.

Now, visitors have to be careful where they brew a cup of coffee.

Both German travelers were ordered to leave the city.....

Italy turning on the Germans again.


Also see:

"The German government is proposing a measure to make measles vaccinations mandatory for children and employees of kindergartens and schools. In the phased-in program beginning in March, parents of school-aged children, starting at kindergarten, will have to provide proof of vaccination. Non-compliance means children will be refused admittance to kindergarten and their parents possibly fined....."

Dr. Mengele will see you know.

"Several thousand people attended a funeral service in Bosnia on Saturday for 86 Muslims who were slain by Serbs in one of the worst atrocities of the country’s 1992-95 war. The victims ranged in age from 19 to 61. The United Nations war crimes tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia sentenced several ex-Bosnian Serb policemen for separating civilians from a convoy of people being deported from Prijedor and killing them..... (AP)."

The Balkans will again be a bloodbath as they make their way down to secure Greece:

5.3 magnitude earthquake hits near Greek capital of Athens

Four were hurt.

As usual, Spain is neutral.

Speaking of remaining neutral:

"Turkey calls on US to reverse decision on F-35 exclusion" by Suzan Fraser Associated Press, July 18, 2019

ANKARA, Turkey — Washington’s decision to exclude Turkey from an American-led fighter jet program goes against the ‘‘spirit of alliance,’’ the Turkish government said Thursday, and called on its NATO ally to reverse the decision.

In a major break with a longtime ally, President Trump’s administration on Wednesday said Turkey is being kicked out of the F-35 program because it is buying the Russian S-400 air defense system. The United States says the S-400 would compromise the F-35 program and aid Russian intelligence.

In a statement, Turkey’s Foreign Ministry rejected that assertion.

‘‘This unilateral step is incompatible with the spirit of alliance and is not based on any legitimate justification,’’ the ministry said. ‘‘Not only is it unfair to keep Turkey out of a program of which it is a partner but the claim that the S-400 will weaken the F-35 is invalid.’’

The ministry said: ‘‘We call on the United States to come back from this mistake that will cause irreparable damage to our strategic ties.’’

Turkey began taking delivery of components of the Russian system last week. A Russian cargo plane carrying more parts of the system landed at an air base near Ankara for a seventh day running on Thursday. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said the system will be fully operational by April 2020.

On Wednesday, Ellen Lord, the Pentagon’s chief weapons buyer, told a news conference that the US has suspended Turkey from the F-35 program and is beginning the process of its formal removal.

The US government is concerned that the S-400 could be used to gather data on the capabilities of the F-35, and that the information could end up in Russian hands.

The real problem is it the system makes it a lot harder for the U.S. and Israel to operate with impunity.

Turkey has called for the establishment of a committee that would include NATO officials to study the risks.

Turkey refused to bow to US pressure to cancel the S-400 agreement with Russia, saying the deal is a matter of national sovereignty and that the agreement was a done deal.

Erdogan has said his government hopes to co-produce high-tech weaponry systems with Russia in the future, further defying the United States and other NATO allies.

On Thursday, the head of Russia’s state-controlled Rostech corporation said Moscow would be willing to sell Turkey its Su-35 fighter jets if Ankara ‘‘expresses interest.’’

Trump's loss is Russia's gain.

The head of Turkey’s defense industry body, Ismail Demir, said meanwhile that Turkey would look into possible ‘‘alternatives’’ and would also speed up efforts to develop Turkey’s own fighter jet project, state-run Anadolu Agency reported.

He also said Turkey has fulfilled all of its obligations concerning the F-35 program and that the United States could lose $8 million per aircraft following Turkey’s exclusion, Anadolu reported.

Turkey is both a producer and a customer of the F-35s. It makes more than 900 components for the stealth aircraft, which is sold internationally.

Lord, the Pentagon official, said Turkey stands to lose $9 billion in future earnings as an F-35 parts supplier.

She said the process of fully removing Turkey is underway and should be completed by March 31. She refused to say whether the decision could be reversed.


Better get NATO on board:

"American to lead NATO intelligence as Iraq-war-era concerns about United States linger" by Julian E. Barnes New York Times, July 18, 2019

ASPEN, Colo. — The United States will take over the top NATO intelligence post at the end of the year, alliance officials said, a move that some US officials hope could bolster a critical alliance capacity that President Trump has praised, but the appointment runs the risk of putting a US stamp on an office whose strength has been in building consensus among North Atlantic Treaty Organization members over controversial intelligence matters. Within the alliance, misgivings about US intelligence still run deep, more than a decade and a half after doubts over the US assessment about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq bitterly divided Europe and America.

David Cattler, a veteran of the Defense Intelligence Agency who now has a senior position with the director of national intelligence, has been appointed by Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg to take over the intelligence post, Oana Lungescu, the chief NATO spokeswoman, confirmed.

The appointment is expected to be announced shortly.

The intelligence chief post was created in 2016 to better coordinate intelligence about Russia and terrorism threats within the civilian and military staffs of NATO. Trump, a presidential candidate at the time, seized upon the move as evidence that the alliance was responding to his criticisms, one of the few times during the campaign that he complimented it.

Stoltenberg has often highlighted the creation of the intelligence post, and in an interview he said that the consensus that NATO intelligence has helped forge among member nations has been vital for the alliance.

“Common understanding and a common picture of the situation is a precondition for common action,” Stoltenberg said.

It is difficult to act on a piece of intelligence if it comes from just one country, alliance officials said. The NATO intelligence chief has solicited information from multiple countries and helped build the common picture that Stoltenberg said was critical in forging a single voice for the alliance.

“Joint intelligence, the sharing of intelligence has helped us to have this unity on these important issues,” he said.

What they do is they circle the propaganda and lies amongst each other, then all get together and say that's what I heard. It's like Cheney leaking to the NYT, then citing them on Meet The Press.

The alliance has used its intelligence arm during internal debates over the handling of Russian violations of the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces Treaty and the nerve agent attack in Britain last year against a former Russian intelligence officer, Stoltenberg said. Having intelligence analyses from multiple countries, he said, set the stage for NATO action.

The Russians are again Public Enemy #1.

After the nerve agent attack, NATO and its member nations expelled dozens of Russians from embassies across the alliance, a blow to Moscow’s intelligence network in Europe and the United States, and after the demise of the arms treaty, allies agreed to “deliver credible deterrence” and will announce more concrete measures to bolster their defenses after the end of the treaty next month, Stoltenberg said Wednesday at the Aspen Security Forum in Colorado. NATO has begun examining whether to expand its missile defense system to counter Russian intermediate missiles.

Some current and former alliance officials say they believe having a non-American at the head of the intelligence arm has helped NATO’s intelligence analysis supplement the US collection and not simply seem to be a rubber stamp, but the United States provides the bulk of the alliance intelligence, and some US officials remain reluctant to share some of their most important and sensitive intelligence in a multilateral setting.

As a senior US official, Cattler will be cleared to see much of the United States’ most sensitive intelligence. While he cannot decide on his own to share that with the alliance, he will be able to request that US agencies share their intelligence — and argue why they should reveal their secrets to the secretary-general or the alliance as a whole.

“With an American leading the NATO intelligence division, the alliance will have more access to the world’s most capable intelligence network,” said Douglas Lute, the former US ambassador to NATO in the Obama administration.

Then why do they get so much wrong?



"The Taliban forced a Swedish nonprofit group to close 42 health facilities it runs in eastern Afghanistan, the organization said Wednesday, the latest bid by the insurgents to show strength amid negotiations to end the country’s nearly 18-year war. In Sweden, the group’s director called the closures ‘‘an obvious violation of human rights and international humanitarian law’’ and demanded the facilities be allowed to reopen right away. The Taliban currently control nearly half of Afghanistan and are more powerful than at any time since the October 2001 US-led invasion....."

Sure looks like a LOSS to me, and the Russians had the same outcome when they tried it.


Taliban attack security checkpoint and hospital in Pakistan

Comes as Khan is visiting.

"A British warship tried but failed to prevent Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps from seizing a British tanker in the Strait of Hormuz last week, intercepted radio communications show, fueling a wave of recriminations in London on Sunday over who was to blame for the incident last week. In recordings obtained by the shipping consultancy Dryad Global and posted on its website Sunday, a member of the Revolutionary Guard is heard ordering the British-flagged Stena Impero tanker to divert course toward Iran. A British naval officer interrupts, telling the Stena Impero that it has the right to proceed through the waterway. Neither Britain nor Iran challenged the authenticity of the recordings. Iran says it detained the Stena Impero for unspecified ‘‘violations’’ of maritime law. A former head of the Royal Navy said the tanker should have been better protected before it was intercepted on Friday....."

So should the airliners be better protected:

"British Airways and Lufthansa have canceled all flights to Cairo over unspecified security concerns after the British government warned of a ‘‘heightened risk of terrorism against aviation.’’ The announcements Saturday by two of Europe’s biggest airlines caught some passengers off guard as they prepared to board their flights, the BBC reported. Cairo’s airport was apparently taken by surprise, too: A spokesman told the British news outlet that airport had not yet heard of the changes from British Airways. British Airways said it was suspending flights to Cairo for seven days, while Germany-based Lufthansa said flights were set to resume Sunday. In a statement, Lufthansa called the temporary suspension ‘‘a precaution due to an unclear security situation in Cairo.’’

Also see:

UK finance chief says he will quit


Iranian frigate opens fire on Portugal

Just as NATO prepares to open an Eastern Front.