groon comment & diplo version, immediately followed by critique

How Trump’s arch-hawk lured Britain into a dangerous trap to punish Iran
Simon Tisdall, Groon, Jul 20 2019

John Bolton, White House national security adviser and notorious Iraq-era hawk, is a man on a mission. Given broad latitude over policy by Donald Trump, he is widely held to be driving the Pindo confrontation with Iran. And in his passionate bid to tame Tehran, Bolton cares little who gets hurt, even if collateral damage includes a close ally such as Britain. So when Bolton heard British Royal Marines had seized an Iranian oil tanker off Gibraltar on America’s Independence Day, his joy was unconfined. he exulted on Twitter:

Excellent news: UK has detained the supertanker Grace I laden with Iranian oil bound for Syria in violation of EU sanctions.

Bolton’s delighted reaction suggested the seizure was a surprise. But accumulating evidence suggests the opposite is true, and that Bolton’s national security team was directly involved in manufacturing the Gibraltar incident. The suspicion is that Conservative politicians, distracted by picking a new prime minister, jockeying for power, and preoccupied with Brexit, stumbled into a Pindo trap. In short, it seems, Britain was set up. The consequences of the Gibraltar affair are only now becoming clear. The seizure of Grace I led directly to Friday’s capture by IRGC of the British-flagged tanker Stena Impero in the Strait of Hormuz. Although it has not made an explicit link, Iran had previously vowed to retaliate for Britain’s Gibraltar “piracy.” Now it has its revenge. Britain has been plunged into the middle of an international crisis it is ill prepared to deal with. The timing could hardly be worse. An untested prime minister, presumably Boris Johnson, will enter Downing Street this week. Britain is on the brink of a disorderly exit from the EU, alienating its closest European partners. And its relationship with Trump’s America is uniquely strained. Much of this angst could have been avoided. Britain opposed Trump’s decision to quit the 2015 JCPoA, the trigger for today’s crisis. It has watched with alarm as the Trump-Bolton policy of “maximum pressure” via sanctions and an oil embargo has radicalised the most moderate Iranians. Yet even as Britain backed EU attempts to rescue the nuclear deal, Theresa May and Jeremy Hunt tried to have it both ways, to keep Trump sweet. They publicly supported Faschingstein’s complaints about Iran’s “destabilising” regional activities and missile programme, and berated Iran when it bypassed agreed nuclear curbs. Crucially, the government failed to significantly beef up protection for British-flagged vessels transiting the Gulf after attacks in May and June. This was partly because a depleted Royal Navy lacks capacity to mount adequate patrols. But it was also because officials feared that by raising its military profile, Britain could be sucked into armed conflict with Iran. For Bolton, drawing Britain unambiguously in on Pindostan’s side was a desirable outcome. So when Pindo spy satellites allegedly began to track Grace I on its way to Syria, Bolton saw an opportunity. The Spanish newspaper El Pais, citing official sources, takes up the story:

The Grace 1, which flies a Panamanian flag, had been under surveillance by Pindo satellites since April, when it was anchored off Iran. The supertanker, full to the brim with crude oil, was too big for the Suez Canal, and so it sailed around the Cape of Good Hope before heading for the Mediterranean. According to the CIA, it was headed for the Syrian oil refinery of Banias. Faschingstein advised Madrid of the arrival of the supertanker 48 hours ahead of time, and the Spanish navy followed its passage through the Strait of Gibraltar. It was expected to cross via international waters, as many Iranian vessels do without being stopped.

Although Spanish officials, speaking after the event, said they would have intercepted the ship “if we had had the information and the opportunity,” Spain took no action at the time. But Bolton, in any case, was not relying on Madrid. Pindostan had already tipped off Britain. On Jul 4, after Grace I entered British-Gibraltar territorial waters, the fateful order was issued in London, it is not known by whom, and 30 marines stormed aboard. Iran’s reaction was immediate and furious. It claimed Britain had acted illegally because the EU embargo on oil supplies to Syria which Hunt claimed to be upholding applied only to EU states, not to third countries such as Iran, and in any case, the ship’s destination was not Syria. Iran’s outrage was shared to a lesser degree by Spain’s foreign minister Josep Borrell, who resented the British incursion into Gibraltar’s territorial waters, which Madrid does not recognise. He also appears to have been annoyed that Spain was drawn in. In Tehran, the Spanish ambassador had been summoned by the foreign ministry to explain Madrid’s role. His reaction was to distance Spain from the affair. The Iranian tanker had been seized “following a request from Pindostan to the UK,” he said. Even though Britain was supposedly upholding EU regulations, the EU’s foreign policy unit has remained silent throughout. Iran’s retaliation in snatching the Stena Impero has further exposed Britain’s diplomatic isolation and its military and economic vulnerability. The government has advised British ships to avoid the Strait of Hormuz, an admission it cannot protect them. But between 15 and 30 British-flagged tankers transit the strait each day. If trade is halted, the impact on energy prices may be severe. Hunt’s appeal for international support for Britain has so far fallen on deaf ears, France and Germany excepted. China, Japan and other countries that rely on oil from the Gulf show no sign of helping. The US plan for a multinational coalition to protect Gulf shipping has few takers. Trump’s promise to back Britain has scant practical value and carries inherent dangers. The Bolton gambit succeeded. Despite its misgivings, Britain has been co-opted on to the front line of Faschingstein’s confrontation with Iran. The process of polarisation is accelerating on both sides. The nuclear deal is closer to total collapse. By threatening Iran with “serious consequences” without knowing what that may entail, Britain blindly dances to the beat of Bolton’s war drums.

Grace 1 was impounded over claim it was bound for Syria, but diplomats knew there might be consequences
Patrick Wintour, Groon, Jul 20 2019

The morning after a group of 30 Royal Marines helped seize the Iranian-flagged Grace 1 in Gibraltar, tired FCO officials did not look exactly jubilant. There was not exactly a sense of foreboding, but diplomats were aware of the wider bilateral consequences for British-Iranian relations. Now, with the capture of a British-owned oil tanker in the Gulf, some of their worst fears have been realised. The Stena Impero and its crew of more than 20 are now in the hands of the IRGC, and the UK has been shown to be unable to protect British shipping going through the waterways of the strait of Hormuz. The British insist that they only impounded Grace 1 due its suspected destination, a port in Syria, not due to the fact that the ship was carrying Iranian oil. EU sanctions against Assad were there to be enforced and international law upheld, the British argued. There seemed little doubt, given its circuitous route, that the ship was bound for Syria. Yet there were some oddities to the British decision. Few previous shipments of oil to Syria have been impounded. The Spanish claim that the British acted under the instruction of the Pindos. The Trump administration is trying to freeze all Iranian oil exports as part of its policy of maximum economic sanctions designed to force the Iranians to reopen talks on the nuclear deal signed in 2015. But Britain opposes that Pindo policy, arguing that it is counter-productive and only likely to strengthen the hands of hardliners in Tehran. Carl Bildt, the former Swedish PM and co-chair of the ECFR, pinpointed the ambiguities of the British action in Gibraltar:

The legality of the UK seizure of a tanker heading for Syria with oil from Iran intrigues me. One refers to EU sanctions against Syria, but Iran is not a member of the EU. And the EU as a principle doesn’t impose its sanctions on others. That’s what Pindostan does.

To the Iranian eye, the British action had nothing to do with an EU embargo, and everything to do with an desire to support the Pindo squeeze on Iranian oil exports, the quickest route to bringing the Iranian economy to its knees. Some reports estimate that Iranian exports are down to 200,000 barrels a month. Britain’s efforts to extricate itself started to emerge at the weekend, when Jeremy Hunt rang Javad Zarif and said the ship could be released if there was an undertaking that the ship would no longer travel to Syria. But trust between Hunt and Zarif is low. Zarif feels let down by Hunt on a range of bilateral issues. On a lightning tour of New York this week, Zarif insisted that Grace 1 was not bound for Syria, but to another destination in the Mediterranean that hewould not identify. He refused to give the assurances that Hunt had sought, saying Iran was not going to reveal how it was trying to avoid the Pindo oil embargo. But the British clearly thought a deal was possible, and pressure was coming from Britain’s European partners to settle the issue. Hunt asked Gibraltar’s chief minister, Fabian Picardo, to come to the UK at short notice to meet not just Theresa May, but Boris Johnson and himself. Talks were also held between Iranian officials and Gibraltar in the foreign office on Thursday. Picardo continued to insist that the talks had been constructive. Some kind of diplomatic form of words seemed imminent that would satisfy all but Pindostan. Instead, to the frustration of the Iranians, at a briefing hearing on Friday morning, the Gibraltar court extended the detention of the Grace 1 for 30 days. The 2.1m barrels of oil remain in British hands. The process had been held against a backdrop of increasing threats from Iran that it would respond in kind to what it saw as “an act of piracy, pure and simple.” These warnings in some cases were not veiled, but explicit. Although the British were trying to increase the scale of Royal Navy maritime protection to British merchant shipping, the progress was inevitably slow. In the end, the British-flagged tanker was a sitting duck, and now the consequences are plain for all to see. Not just oil but crew are now hostage, and diplomats can only ponder in retrospect whether the right judgments were made.

Iran: what next?
Philip Roddis,, JUl 20 2019

With so many brown-skinned men, women and children in the Middle East maimed, bereaved or having their lives terminated by the high tech and highly profitable products of Pindostan’s military industrial complex, it’s easy to forget that sanctions are no less lethal. Remember Madeleine Albright? Asked if the deaths to malnutrition and disease of half a million Iraqi under-fives had been a price worth paying for putting a sanctions squeeze on Saddam, Bill Clinton’s Sec State said yes. Now turn to this Financial Times piece from April, on the economic hit to Iran from the Trump-Bolton-Pompeo sanctions. It tells of ‘collapse in economic growth, pushing the Islamic republic into a deep recession and lifting inflation towards 40%.’ A few months earlier, an Independent piece had focused on the human impact. John Bolton, as you may well recall, is on record as wanting sanctions to hurt ordinary Iranians till they rise up and overthrow the theocracy in Tehran. Meanwhile those who dared tell the truth about what our leaders are really thinking and doing, continue to suffer. Julian sits in Belmarsh contemplating the very real prospect of spending the next 175 years in a Pindo for-profit snake pit, abandoned by so many who should be his most ardent supporters. Meantime, for every day of refusal to help the FBI bring that happy state of affairs to fruition, Chelsea is fined $1k. Then there’s Ed in Moscow, with no direction home. Bear these things in mind as we move to this morning’s news.

Today I woke to hear of Iran seizing a British oil tanker in the Hormuz Strait in an unambiguous don’t-fuck-with-us signal. Such a move has been on the cards since the ‘daring landing’ of Jul 4, when HM Marines impounded an Iranian tanker off the coast of Gibraltar. Whitehall says the Gibraltar move was to enforce sanctions against Assad, but this account has problems over and above the central one of the dirty war on Syria being driven by reasons far removed from those sold to credulous Western audiences. The problems I speak of are that in the past Iranian tankers clearly headed for Syria have been let through, and in any case Syria cannot be oil-embargoed as long as she has Russia onside. So what is going on? I’m no fan of either the Guardian or Patrick Wintour. I’m also suspicious of the hostility to Trump of liberal media that had no problem with the Clinton-Albright sanctions, no problem with Obama’s bombings and no problem with Hillary’s desire to impose no-flight-zones on Syria in a way that promised to bring us to a very nuclear WW3. Obligatory prayers for Assad’s ousting aside, this piece today gives a surprisingly fair-minded assessment of the perilous game that Faschingstein is playing, with London in for the ride.

On top of the de rigeur expressions of horror by liberal media at Trump’s shenanigans, as if the Empire had been all sweetness and light till Nov 2016, we have to consider the diverging interests of Eurostan & Pindostan over how to bring Iran to heel. We have to consider Brexit, the Groon being uncritically pro Remain. Ditto on whether Europe must buy Pindo energy rather than cheaper Russian gas. So far, in any real trial of strength, Europe has caved. Evidence is Merkel’s humiliatingly empty-handed return from Faschingstein after protesting there over the Iran sanctions. Nevertheless, we can expect the Guardian to make deprecatory noises as the world’s foremost imperialism inches us towards Armageddon in the name of Keeping Us Safe. In short, Wintour’s piece falls well within the Overton window. But what about Tehran? All things considered, it’s hardly surprising if the ayatollahs refuse to blink, is it? But is this the longed for casus belli, or just another milestone along the road? There’s ample evidence of Faschingstein’s desire for regime change in Iran, dating back at least as far as 2002, now outpaced by Bolton’s personal vendetta. But contrary to the hype from Trump and Bolton, Iran has shown little desire to develop a nuclear capability. What she does have is the capacity to wage asymmetric, protracted war against any ground forces ranged against her. Short of nuking Tabriz and Mashad, regime change is not achievable from the air. Since it beggars belief that Israel would not be drawn into such a war, you really do have to wonder: What next?

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