…As U.S. Warns Against Assisting Iranian Tanker Grace 1***
Israel bombed Iranian weapons warehouses in Iraq three times in recent weeks after reaching an understanding with the United States and Russia, the London-based pan-Arab daily Asharq Al-Awsat reported on Wednesday.
Western diplomatic sources told the newspaper the understanding stresses that Jerusalem not publicly take responsibility for the attacks in order to control regional blow-back.
Iraqi media reported that a weapons depot of the Popular Mobilization Forces was hit on Tuesday night. Israel has reportedly been behind bombings against Iranian targets in Iraq and Syria.
The head of an Iranian-backed Iraqi militia, Abu Mahdi al-Mohandes, claimed on Iraqi TV network Al Sumeria that the United States allowed Israeli aircraft to operate in Iraqi airspace to attack bases belonging to the militia.
“We have accurate and confirmed information that this year, the Americans allowed four Israeli drones [into Iraq] via Azerbaijan to work within the U.S. fleet to carry out sorties targeting Iraqi military headquarters,” said al-Mohandes.
Washington apparently gave Israel the “green light” as part of its plan to put maximum pressure on Iran.
It was reportedly done without affecting the U.S. military presence in Iraq. There was also the possibility of operational coordination between the United States and Israel, according to Western diplomatic sources.
Israel has carried out hundreds of airstrikes against Iran and Iranian-backed forces in Syria in recent years and there has been speculation that Israel may be now expanding its targeting of Iran into neighboring Iraq.
Asked about the strikes in Iraq by reporters, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said “Iran has no immunity, anywhere. … We will act—and currently are acting—against them, wherever it is necessary.”
In the meantime, as the recently-released Iranian tanker Grace 1 makes her way eastward across the Mediterranean, the U.S. State Department is making clear that it does not want to see any nation or entity providing her with assistance.
The Grace 1, recently renamed the Adrian Darya 1 and reflagged to Iran, departed Gibraltar Sunday after the territory’s supreme court ordered her release. As of Monday, her AIS signal showed her off the coast of Algeria, headed for Kalamata, Greece at about seven knots. She expects to arrive on August 26.
The United States and the UK both assessed that the Grace 1’s cargo of crude oil was originally headed for Syria, a violation of EU sanctions on the Syrian government. On July 4, Royal Marines boarded theGrace 1 and seized her on behalf of the government of Gibraltar, which detained her pending the outcome of an investigation. In retaliation, Iran seized the UK-flagged tanker Stena Impero, which is still in Iranian custody at an anchorage near Bandar Abbas.
On Tuesday, a U.S. State Department official said that assisting the Grace 1 could be interpreted as providing support to a U.S.-designated foreign terrorist organization (FTO). The U.S. has placed the Iranian government’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) on the FTO list, and the IRGC has ties to Iranian oil exports. The State Department has conveyed this warning to the Greek government, the official said.
The Greek government says that it has not received any formal notice from the Grace 1 for an intent to call at Kalamata or at any other Greek port. Kalamata’s small harbor would be an unusual destination for a fully laden VLCC: it has two small commercial piers with an eight meter depth alongside, far too little to accommodate such a large vessel. However, its anchorage could be a potential stopping point for onward travel.
It is the second time in a week that the State Department has threatened to use anti-terrorism laws to target maritime industry stakeholders who work with Iran’s oil industry. In a similar warning issued last Thursday, the State Department said that it may deny U.S. travel visas to any seafarers who work on vessels carrying Iranian oil. Critics noted that unlicensed (and even licensed) seafarers have little control over their vessel’s commercial activities, limited prior knowledge of its operations and reduced career prospects if they quit.
On Tuesday, Western officials told Fox News that another vessel carrying Iranian crude is bound for Syria, and it is likely to follow the same route as the Grace 1. The tanker Bonita Queen allegedly loaded 600,000 barrels of oil at the Kharg Island terminal early this month, and she is believed to be heading for Syria via the Cape of Good Hope and the Strait of Gibraltar. The Queen’s AIS signal currently broadcasts Kharg as her port of departure, confirming the origin point of her journey.
The Bonita Queen has recently been deflagged by St. Kitts and Nevis, and as recently as August 1, her Equasis record indicated that her flag state was unknown. Her last inspection, conducted in Iran in 2016, found an array of deficiencies related to the condition of her engine room and the structural safety of her ballast and fuel tanks.
The Queen’s ship manager is the same Singaporean firm listed as the operator of the Grace 1.
JNS with additional reports from Maritime Executive