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2020 Ends as It Began: With the Looming Threat of a US War With Iran

2020 Ends as It Began: With the Looming Threat of a US War With Iran

2020 began and ended with high-profile assassinations of Iranians, a buildup of the US military on Iran’s borders, and fears of another major war in the Middle East.

Finding A Way Around The World’s Largest Oil Chokepoint

Finding A Way Around The World’s Largest Oil Chokepoint

Oil is sometimes referred to as ‘black gold’. The discovery and export of fossil fuels have led to tremendous wealth creation for certain countries. In this sense, no region in the world is more blessed than the Middle East. Especially the countries surrounding the Persian Gulf are rich in oil and gas deposits. Unfortunately, political instability is almost a synonym for the Middle East. The risk of supply disruptions is a significant threat for those heavily reliant on fossil fuel sales. Therefore, risk mitigation is an important part of the business.

The antagonism between Iran and the U.S. escalated significantly under President Trump. According to sources, Washington came close to acting militarily but the President was dissuaded when informed on the risks and potential losses. Skyrocketing oil prices are one of those consequences as Tehran has repeatedly threatened to close off the Strait of Hormuz in case it is attacked. Approximately 20 percent of the world’s oil travels through the narrow strait separating mainland Iran from Oman and the UAE. Even a short disruption of supplies will most definitely have a devastating effect on prices. Circumventing the Strait, therefore, is essential to maintain exports to markets.

While Iran has been the most vocal when it comes to threats concerning the Strait, it has a contingency plan if the situation escalates. The country is currently building a pipeline from Goreh near the border with Iraq and Kuwait where the majority of the country’s oil is produced to Jask on the Gulf of Oman. The project is slated to be finished in March 2021 and has a capacity of one million barrels per day (mbpd).

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

No Matter Who Wins, The War Machine Wins

No Matter Who Wins, The War Machine Wins

The US government is pushing yet another unproven election meddling narrative about yet another disobedient government, this time targeting Iran and Russia.

This is exhausting. Do I really need to type this bullshit out?

Fine. Okay. Here we go again:

At a press conference with Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe and FBI Director Christopher Wray it was announced that Iran and Russia have separately obtained some voter registration information, and that Iran has been using its information to send bizarre threatening emails to Democratic voters with the goal of swaying the election.

As usual, no evidence of these allegations has been provided. Democrats are saying this completely unsubstantiated claim proves the Iranians want to help Trump, Republicans are saying it proves they’re trying to help Biden. Both are ridiculous.

The Reuters write-up on the allegations cites one source who says it’s unclear who was actually behind the threatening emails, and that “the evidence remains inconclusive” that Iran had anything to do with them. Washington Post‘s report notes that the allegation against Iran “was leveled without specific evidence”, and that metadata gathered from the emails points to “the use of servers in Saudi Arabia, Estonia, Singapore and the United Arab Emirates, according to numerous analysts.” No attempt is made to address this discrepancy.

If the US government held a press conference announcing that Iran is in the Middle East I’d have to check a map just to make sure it’s not an island in the South Pacific or something, that’s how much constant, shameless lying they’ve been doing about that nation lately. There is no reason whatsoever to believe unproven assertions by opaque government agencies who have an extensive and well-documented history of lying about governments they want to target.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Iran Says It Chased Off US Spy Plane During Large-Scale Hormuz Exercises

On Friday the AFP reported on some surprising statement from Iran’s military, which however remains unconfirmed from the US side:

The Iranian navy on Friday said it drove off American aircraft that flew close to an area where military exercises were underway near the Strait of Hormuz.

US Navy P-8A Poseidon, file image via Boeing

Specifically it was claimed that three total American aircraft, including a P-8 spy plane, a MQ-9 drone and a RQ-4 drone, were caught entering Iran’s air defense identification zone and were picked up by their radar.

Iran’s navy claimed that after “ignoring warnings by Iran’s defense systems to keep away from the drill zone” the American planes were tracked by an Iranian drone before “they changed course and left the zone.”

The Iranians are in the midst of three-day “Zolfaghar 99” exercises in the Strait of Hormuz, a key oil transit point, with the drills stretching into the Indian Ocean.

Despite Washington’s maximum pressure campaign still intense as ever in the form of sanctions, the kind of direct conflict witnessed early this year with the killing of the IRGC’s Qassem Soleimani has been largely absent this summer.

Iranian Fotros drone, via state media

Recall that days following the US drone strike on the elite commander while exiting the Baghdad airport, Iran responded with major missile strikes on US bases in Iraq, which in a sense remained “the final word” on the matter.

Likely not wanting to escalate things to a full-blown war, the Trump administration did not retaliate for the missile attack, which reportedly left dozens of US troops with concussion type injuries.

Iran Conducts Annual War Drill To Thwart “Foreign Threats And Possible Invasion”

Adding to the regional instabilities in the Gulf of Oman, near the strategic Strait of Hormuz waterway, the Iranian military launched its annual three-day naval exercise on Thursday.

Iranian commander Admiral Habibollah Sardari, who is leading the drills, told Iranian state TV that the exercise would allow the military to thwart future “foreign threats and any possible invasion.”

Reuters notes the exercise is being conducted in the eastern side of the strait in the Gulf of Oman, a hot spot that was the site of last year’s tanker attacks.

The annual exercise, dubbed as Zolfaghar-99, will include naval, air, and ground forces. The drill will also include warships, submarines, fighter jets, and unmanned aerial systems.

The location of the exercise is situated near the world’s most important oil chokepoint, the Strait of Hormuz, which has large volumes of oil that flow through the strait via tankers, accounting for about 30% of all the world’s oil traded in a given year.

Tensions have risen between Tehran and Washington this summer, mostly after Iran’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard blew up a replica aircraft carrier in the strait.

Then in August, the Iranian Navy briefly boarded a Liberian-flagged oil tanker. The area has also seen a rise in Iran threatening oil tankers and US warships.

Ahead of the war drill, we noted last week how Iran’s state-controlled Afkar News saying that “American Soil Is Now Within the Range of Iranian Bombs.” The report bragged about the damage that the Iranian military could inflict on the Western powers:

“By sending a military satellite into space, Iran now has shown that it can target all American territory; the Iranian parliament had previously warned [the US] that an electromagnetic nuclear attack on the United States would likely kill 90 percent of Americans.”

With Iran increasingly flouting its military strength ahead of the election, tensions between Tehran and Washington will continue to rise.

Putin Sees US & Iran Headed Toward War – Proposes Urgent World Summit To Stop It

Russia thinks war between the US and Iran is on the horizon, and is proposing steps to stop it:

Russian President Vladimir Putin on Friday proposed a video summit with the United States, Britain, France, China, Germany and Iran in a bid to avoid “confrontation and escalation” at the United Nations, where Washington is trying to extend an arms embargo on Tehran, reports Reuters.

But it’s hard to know what could be done at this point. Not only did the Trump administration void the 2015 nuclear deal (JCPOA), but long-standing hawks like Pompeo have sought to ramp up sanctions at every turn.

AFP/Getty Imags

The situation has been stalemated, with Tehran demanding easing of sanctions or erasure altogether as a condition for fresh talks, but with the White House alternately saying Iran has to first abandon all development related to nuclear power (which the US says is actually for nuclear weapons) and its ballistic missile program.

But if Gaddafi’s fate is anything to go by (who abandoned his WMD program in the early 2000s and was “brought in from the cold” as they say – only to be overthrown by US-NATO military intervention and summarily executed in the street years later), the view from Tehran is that any ‘deal-making’ with the United States is impossible.

“The issue is urgent,” Putin said of his plan in Friday comments. He explained the alternative remains “only further escalation of tensions, increasing risk of conflict – such a scenario must be avoided.”

Iranian ballistic missiles, via Iran Focus

When asked about Putin’s proposal and a press briefing on Friday, President Trump responded: “I hear there’s something, but I haven’t been told of it yet.”

However, given Iran essentially sees the US as in a state of war with the Islamic Republic – especially given the January assassination of IRGC Quds Force chief Qassem Soleimani, it will likely less than optimistic for any UN deconfliction meeting to succeed.

Blast Hits Power Plant In Central Iran Sunday As Mainstream Media Admits ‘It’s Likely Israel’

Blast Hits Power Plant In Central Iran Sunday As Mainstream Media Admits ‘It’s Likely Israel’

Yet another strange and unexplained explosion has rocked central Iran on Sundayreports state-owned Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA).

Citing no injuries during the large explosion, it occurred at a power station in the city of Islamabad, which is in the central province of Isfahan. 

At this point, the spate of ‘mystery’ blasts and fires which has damaged key military, nuclear, and industrial sites across Iran – especially in and around Tehran – is approaching a dozen in only the past month.

A separate, prior explosion in Iran over the weekend.

Like with many of the prior incidents, many of which were deadly, Iranian officials downplayed that it was potentially Israeli or US-backed sabotage on its facilities, saying it was likely caused by the erosion of a transformer.

Separately on Sunday, cellophane factory in northwest Iran erupted in fire. Video and images showed a huge cloud of smoke billowing from the site through the day as firefighters struggled to put it out.

Iran’s civil defense organization chief, Ghulam Reza Jalali, was cited in state media as saying Iran is not ruling out sabotage on the power plant either by internal opposition groups or externally supported entities.

To review, all of this comes after earlier this month an advanced centrifuge assembly plant at Iran’s Natanz nuclear site was destroyed in a mysterious fire which is increasingly being blamed on Israeli or US intelligence:

A former official suggested the blaze could have been an attempt to sabotage work at the plant, which has been involved in activities that breach an international nuclear deal.

On 26 June, an explosion occurred east of Tehran near the Parchin military and weapons development base that the authorities said was caused by a leak in a gas storage facility in an area outside the base.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

VIPS MEMO: To the President—Avoid Hostilities Over Iranian Fuel Shipment to Venezuela

VIPS MEMO: To the President—Avoid Hostilities Over Iranian Fuel Shipment to Venezuela

The Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS) urges Donald Trump to avoid the slippery slope toward armed conflict as an Iranian oil tanker nears Venezuela on Sunday.

MEMORANDUM FOR: The President

FROM: Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS)

SUBJECT: Avoiding Hostilities Over Iranian Fuel Shipment to Venezuela

Mr. President:

Recent U.S. rhetoric and actions against Venezuela — most immediately regarding Iran’s shipping of gasoline desperately needed during the pandemic — puts the U.S. at risk of an outbreak of dangerous and almost certainly counterproductive hostilities, not only in the Caribbean, but also in waters closer to Iran. As five Iranian tankers approach Venezuela, with the first due to arrive Sunday, hardliners in both Washington and Iran would relish a chance to give a bloody nose to the other side, but it may not be that simple. 

While the U.S. can invoke the Monroe Doctrine in Latin America, geography trumps doctrine. True, the U.S. holds the upper hand in the Caribbean. It does not have tactical advantage in the Persian Gulf — despite the formidable amount of U.S. weaponry already deployed in the area. We believe there is a good chance Iran will pick the Gulf as the place to retaliate for any quarantine or more warlike actions off Venezuela.

As former intelligence officers and other national security practitioners with many decades of experience, we understand the frustration your Administration feels as its “maximum pressure” campaign to remove Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro enters its 17th month without much progress. Our purpose is not to defend Maduro, whose economic performance has alienated many and compounded Venezuela’s problems.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Iran & Venezuela Hail Victorious ‘Defiance’ Over US As 1st Tanker Is Escorted By Maduro Forces

Iran & Venezuela Hail Victorious ‘Defiance’ Over US As 1st Tanker Is Escorted By Maduro Forces

The first among five Iranian fuel-laden tankers has arrived in gasoline-starved Venezuela amid US threats to intervene against the ‘sanctions-busting’ activity by two official Washington enemies. 

Reuters reports: “The tanker, named Fortune, reached the country’s waters at around 7:40 p.m. local time (1140 GMT) after passing north of the neighboring dual-island Caribbean nation of Trinidad and Tobago, according to vessel tracking data from Refinitiv Eikon.”

Multiple tanker tracking monitoring sites have confirmed the arrival of the ‘Fortune’ off Venezuela’s coast last Saturday.

Maduro’s economy vice president and recently named oil minister celebrated on Twitter:  “The ships from the fraternal Islamic Republic of Iran are now in our exclusive economic zone,” amid broader claims of ‘victory’ on state media. 

And per Reuters“Venezuelan state television showed images of a navy ship and aircraft preparing to meet it.” 

The other trailing tankers are also expected to enter Venezuela’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), or within 200 miles of the coast, in the coming days. 


Camila@camilateleSUR

Venezuela’s Yekuaka PO13 Ocean Patroller rendezvoused with the 1st Iranian tanker “Fortune” at 3pm on Saturday in international waters. This was the moment captured by @madeleintlSUR.

Embedded video

Iran’s IRGC-aligned Tasnim media hailed the safe arrival of the first tanker as “A turning point for Venezuela’s sovereignty and independence,” according to a state media report.

Over the past month Tehran and Caracas have become aggressively vocal in touting their “brotherhood” and joint defiance of Trump administration sanctions, for which US officials have recently threatened response, including the possibility of military intervention against the vessels in the Caribbean. Trump months ago reportedly ordered more Navy ships to the area to crackdown against what was dubbed the Maduro regime’s alleged narcotrafficking.


Iran@Iran

#Photos

First #Iran-flagged tanker Fortune reached the #Venezuela coasts while being escorted by the country’s navy forces

View image on Twitter
View image on Twitter
View image on Twitter
View image on Twitter

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Oil Turns Negative After Russia, Saudis Agree To Cap Output At 8.5MM B/D For 2 Months

Oil Turns Negative After Russia, Saudis Agree To Cap Output At 8.5MM B/D For 2 Months

Update (1350ET): What started off euphorically, has quickly become R-OPEC’s latest dud, with oil now sliding red on the day after earlier surging more than 10%, following the latest news out of the oil producerteleconference, according to which Russia and Saudi Arabia agree to cap production to 8.5MM b/d, indicating a production cut of about 23% each, and which will last for just two months, May and June. 

Furthermore, as Iran’s oil minister explains, the total cut of 10MMb/d (which will include several non Russia/Saudi producers) will ease to 8MMb/d in July and then after Jan 2021, the cut will decline to just 6 million b/d production cut.

In a nutshell, R-OPEC is hoping for two things: i) oil demand will rebound after the summer and the oil market will stabilize organically as the global economy recovers from the coronavirus and ii) the US and other G20/non-OPEC producers join the cuts voluntarily, which however is far from assured.

Meanwhile, even with the 10mm b/d cut (which is really about 7 millions if one uses Saudi Arabia’s Feb production numbers) will be nowhere near enough to offset the global demand plunge which according to industry watchers such as Trafigura is as large as 35mmb/d!

And now that the initial euphoria has worn off and traders are able to do math again – and realize that the cuts are not nearly enough – oil has slumped and was trading in the red last as once again, OPEC has failed to live up to the hype.

Finally, as a reminder, here is why Goldman believes that after today’s pomp and circumstance, oil is still going to $20:

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

As Iran Hits 20,000 Cases, US Says ‘Coronavirus Won’t Save You From Sanctions’

As Iran Hits 20,000 Cases, US Says ‘Coronavirus Won’t Save You From Sanctions’

Even amid a global pandemic that’s altering daily life as everyone knows it, and with borders shut, markets collapsing, and talk of mobilizing the military domestically, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is keeping up the administration’s “maximum pressure” campaign on Iran. 

“The United States sent Iran a blunt message this week: the spread of the coronavirus will not save it from U.S. sanctions that are choking off its oil revenues and isolating its economy,” Reuters reports

Consider too the blunt headline to the report — U.S. to Iran: Coronavirus won’t save you from sanctionsThis as a top Iranian health expert warned his fellow citizens to brace for “millions” possibly killed as a result of the deadly pandemic. “Our policy of maximum pressure on the regime continues,” Brian Hook, the US Special Representative for Iranian Affairs, told reporters this week.

But as Spencer Ackerman reports, this policy will actually make the Covid-19 spread more dangerous for us all:

“We are not safe in any place until everyone all over the world is safe,” Paul Anatharajah Tambyah, the president of the Asia-Pacific Society of Clinical Microbiology and Infection, told the Wall Street Journal about a new wave of COVID-19 cases in east Asia.

“You have to facilitate these medical goods. Anyone who argues otherwise, or does otherwise, is a sociopath or a moron,” [bold mine-DL] said Jarrett Blanc, a former State Department official who monitored Iran’s compliance with the nuclear deal that the Trump administration abandoned. “The U.S. should be busting its ass to make sure permissible medical exports are available to Iran. It’s in our self-interest.”

The administration gleefully (and fanatically some would say) rolled out with new sanctions this week targeting over a dozen Iran-linked entities and individuals. 

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

The Virus is a Time Machine

The Virus is a Time Machine

Heinrich Hofmann Christ and the Rich Young Man  1889

Around mid-January I started including coronavirus news in the daily Automatic Earth “Debt Rattle” news aggregators, and wrote the first essay on the topic on January 29. Tons of people since have asked why, but I thought the virus had “potential”. Though not everybody would agree, I still think that. So the Debt Rattles are full of coronavirus these days.

For a proper understanding, we must remember that China was 4-5 weeks too late in reporting the disease, and after that the west was 4-5 weeks late in acting on the news. This happens simply because a politician who cries wolf will have a short career, and reporters, certainly today, follow that same model.

I explained 5 weeks ago why this happens the way it does in China in The Party and the Virus, but western countries’ political and media systems are structured very much the same way. Being early to warn does not help your job prospects. Unless you’re 100% sure, but then you won’t be alone and there’s nothing left to warn about. So might as well stay mum.

Until you must speak, and then you’re way behind, and you’ll be as wrong as you are late. Cast in stone. Bias “R” Us. But then, that’s why there’s the Automatic Earth. The Matrix is never perfectly sealed.

In the case of COVID19, the story is not about the numbers of cases or fatalities at any given point after two months and change, it’s about the disruption it will cause. We have a highly contagious virus that can cause death. That is all you need to know really. Feel free to claim that reactions and measures are over the hill, but no government has the option to say things are not all that bad and it’s business as usual.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Are Russia and Turkey on a Collision Course?

Are Russia and Turkey on a Collision Course?

The murder of the Iranian hero-martyr General Soleimani created a situation in which a war between Iran and the Axis of Kindness (USA/Israel/KSA) became a real possibility but, at the very last minute, Uncle Shmuel decided that he had no stomach for a full-scale war against Iran. Wise decision.

This, however, does not at all imply that the AngloZionist Empire decided to stand by idly, far from it. The need to take quick and determined action became particularly acute following the huge anti-US demonstrations in Iraq (well over one million people in the streets!) which directly put at risk the US occupation (the MSM would call it “presence”) in both Iraq and Syria.

At the same time, Turkish President Erdogan’s refusal to remove all the “bad terrorists” from the Idlib province eventually resulted in a joint Syrian-Russian offensive to liberate the province. That offensive, in turn, clearly infuriated the Turks who warned of a major military operation to prevent the Syrians from liberating their own country.

This begs the question: are Russia and Turkey really on a collision course?

There are certainly some very worrying warning signs including a number of very harsh statements by Erdogan himself, and a suddenly re-kindled Turkish interest for the US “Patriots”.

On the ground in Idlib, the Turks have clearly provided the “bad terrorists” with a lot of support including equipment, MANPADs, tanks and armored personnel carriers. The Turks actually went as far as sending special forces to assist the “bad terrorists” directly. Finally, from footage taken by Russian and Syrian drones, and even the “bad terrorists” themselves, it appears undeniable that Turkish MLRS and regular artillery provided the “bad terrorists” with fire support.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

NYT: ‘Iran-Backed Militia’ Attack That Provoked Soleimani Killing Was Possible ISIS False Flag

NYT: ‘Iran-Backed Militia’ Attack That Provoked Soleimani Killing Was Possible ISIS False Flag

The initial major rationale and justification the US administration offered for the drone assassination of IRGC Gen. Qassem Soleimani and commander of Iraq’s Popular Mobilization Forces Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis was the Dec.27 rocket attack on K1 camp in Kirkuk, which houses coalition forces. 

That attack involving surface-to-surface missile strikes killed an American contractor and reportedly wounded several US troops. Washington immediately blamed the Iran-backed Iraqi paramilitary group Khataib Hezbollah, with Mike Pompeo saying of the attack: “We will not stand for the Islamic Republic of Iran to take actions that put American men and women in jeopardy,” after he briefedPresident Trump. But top Iraqi military and intelligence officials are now calling this entire narrative into question.

A new lengthy New York Times investigative report cites multiple top Iraqi officials who go on record to say of their analysis of the Dec.27 Kirkuk incident: “These facts all point to the Islamic State, Iraqi officials say.”

ISIS terrorists in Iraq, file image.

The Pentagon says it has evidence decisively pinning it on Khataib Hezbollah, known for its closeness to Tehran; however, the paramilitary group itself has denied that it was behind the operation. US officials have from the start been scant on details and have not made public any evidence or intelligence.

This led some analysts in the days after the attack to question whether ISIS cells, still known to be active in the area, might have been behind it — given also it would be to the Sunni terrorist group’s benefit to sow a major rift between US and local Iraqi Shia forces, which is precisely what happened (Trump has recently gone so far as to threaten “very big sanctions” on Baghdad if US forces are kicked out). Alternately the White House perhaps appeared ready to manufacture a justification to take out Soleimani.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…


Iran War Was “Closer Than You Thought”, Trump Admits

Iran War Was “Closer Than You Thought”, Trump Admits

In what the administration has described as an “off-the-record lunch” on Tuesday, President Trump told television anchors hosted at the White House that war with Iran was “closer than you thought,” according to The Wall Street Journal.

It’s an annual tradition for the president to host television anchors from major networks just ahead of the State of the Union address, which was delivered last night.

The private luncheon marks the first time the president gave candid remarks confirming the US stood very close to entering another major war in the Middle East, which was on the heels of the Jan.3 assassination of IRGC Quds Force chief Qassem Soleimani and subsequent Iranian ‘retaliatory strike’ on Jan.8 against a US base in Iraq. 

During that time in early January the hashtag WWIII was trending on Twitter, along with countless social media viral memes warning the US stood on the brink of major war with Iran. 

In apparent confirmation that the public’s fears were justified, the WSJ describes further of the president’s off-the-cuff comments:

The president’s comment on Iran came after one attendee asked him how close the U.S. came to going to war with Iran earlier this year, after the U.S. killed a top Iranian military commander, Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani. Iran responded with a missile barrage on Iraqi bases housing U.S. and allied military forces. The Iranian strikes didn’t result in any U.S. deaths.

And further, the report notes: 

Mr. Trump didn’t elaborate on why war with Iran was “closer than you thought,” the people said.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Olduvai IV: Courage
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Olduvai II: Exodus
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