Wall Street Journal cited American officials saying Iranian oil tankers are constantly using Iraqi waters to transfer their cargo to other tankers.
According to the report, Iranian oil tankers transfer their oil to other tankers near the al-Faw port.
Wall Street Journal added: During this transfer, Iranian oil is mixed with other cargo in order to hide the source and finally be sold in global markets.
According to the report, this operation is part of a very profitable business during which Iranian oil cargos are transferred several times to other ships and get mixed with other cargo and are finally sold as Iraqi oil, which is more expensive than Iranian oil.
The WSJ sources say satellite images show these activities are on the rise in response to the increased pressure of sanctions on the Islamic Republic.
The WSJ recently reported from informed sources that the Trump administration is designing more sanctions against Iran before the presidential election to solidify the Maximum Pressure Campaign and prevent the efforts to render it ineffective in the future.
A former official in the Trump administration says that if Biden comes to power, he might be able to remove some sanctions on Iran as a gesture of goodwill, but he won’t be able to remove the bigger sanctions related to terrorism.
Biden has said that if he becomes president, he would return the US to Iran nuclear deal if Iran returns to compliance with its commitments.
Iran's Aviation Protection Guard Says It Foiled A Hijacking Attempt
An attempt to hijack a civilian airliner in Iran Thursday night failed after the hijacker was arrested by security forces, the Aviation Protection Guard said in a brief statement published by news agencies in Iran on Friday.
The place, a Fokker 100 passenger plane took off from the southwestern city of Ahvaz at 10:22 local time en route to northeastern city of Mashhad. The hijacking attempt forced the plane to land in Esfahan, central Iran where apparently the hijacker was arrested.
Iran’s Aviation Protection Guard is part of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC).
The statement refers to one hijacker and says the individual’s aim was to force the plane to fly to “one of the countries in the Persian Gulf”. It provides no details about possible motives or any information on the identity of the hijacker.
Iran’s last case of a plane hijacking took place in late 2001, when three brothers attempted to take over the plane flying out from Ahvaz and redirect it to the United States. Five passengers and a crew member were injured in the incident.
The statement also says no one was injured during the incident. Since last week, there have been anti-government protests and clashes with security forces in Iran’s Sunni populated southeastern region.
Security-related claims by the IRGC and Iran’s Intelligence Ministry cannot be independently verified, as public trials of people accused of terror activities rarely take place and officials often do not issue updates or answer questions by the media.
US VP Kamala Harris And Israel's Netanyahu Discuss Iran In Phone Call
US Vice President Kamala Harris in a call with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reiterated Washington’s support for Israel and the two sides pledged cooperation over Iran’s nuclear program and its “dangerous behavior”.
Israeli leaders are concerned about the Biden Administrations efforts to return to the Obama-era nuclear deal with also referred to a the JCPOA. Israel has argued that the agreement does not prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons after its sunset clauses expire.
Returning to the agreement would also mean lifting sanctions that former President Donald trump imposed after he abandoned the deal in 2018. Critics of the agreement say this would prop up Tehran’s finances allowing it to prop up extremist allies in the region.
Harris "emphasized the United States’ unwavering commitment to Israel’s security," the statement added.
Harris spoke with Netanyahu to reiterate the Biden Administration’s opposition to an International Criminal Court probe of possible war crimes in the Palestinian Territories, a White House statement said on Thursday.
The call, the first between the two since Harris and President Joe Biden took office in January, came a day after the ICC prosecutor said she would launch the probe, prompting swift rejections by Washington and Jerusalem.
Harris and Netanyahu noted their governments’ "opposition to the International Criminal Court’s attempts to exercise its jurisdiction over Israeli personnel," the White House said.
US Welcomes European Powers Dropping IAEA Resolution Against Iran
The United States State Department Spokesperson Ned Price on Thursday [March 4] welcomed the decision by European powers to withdraw a draft resolution censuring Iran at the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), a move seen as conducive to diplomacy aimed at reviving Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal with world powers.
Price said the US was committed to “principled, clear-eyed, constructive negotiations in the context of the P5+1 with the Iranians, where we can discuss the very issues that might be at play.” He reiterated that if Iran resumed “full compliance with the JCPOA,” the US would be “prepared to do the same.” He suggested the US was flexible regarding methods of reviving the nuclear deal.
Iran signed the 2015 agreement – the JCPOA (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action) − with the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council plus Germany (the P5+1), and has suggested that before rejoining JCPOA structures, the US should lift draconian sanctions imposed by President Donald Trump after quitting the JCPOA in 2018. Washington in turn has argued Tehran should first reverse measures taken since 2019 expanding its nuclear program beyond JCPOA limits.
While IAEA chief Rafael Mariano Gross said back in December said agreement was needed on synchronizing steps taken by Washington and Tehran to revive the deal, it has been unclear in which forum it might be reached.
“We’re not dogmatic about the format,” Price said Thursday. “What we are dogmatic about is our overarching objective, and that is to ensure that Iran is subject to permanent, verifiable restrictions that prevent Iran from ever obtaining a nuclear weapon.”
Israel Updating Plans To Attack Iran Nuclear Facilities: Defense Minister
Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz, said his country’s armed forces are updating their plans for attacking Iran’s nuclear facilities, and if the international community cannot do anything, Israel is prepared to take action alone.
"If the world stops them before, it's very much good. But if not, we must stand independently and we must defend ourselves by ourselves," Gantz said in his first sit-down interview with an American media outlet.
Sharing a classified map of targets with Fox News, Gantz said the Iran-backed Lebanese paramilitary group Hezbollah is in possession of “hundreds of thousands of rockets” and many of them are in civilian areas.
"This is a target map. Each one of them has been checked legally, operationally, intelligence-wise and we are ready to fight," Gantz added.
According to the Israeli army’s annual intelligence report, Tel-Aviv is preparing itself for another “several-days war” with Hezbollah. Israeli media have estimated that in the next potential conflict, three thousand Hezbollah positions will be targeted each day, and 300 Hezbollah fighters will be killed every 24 hours.
The Israeli Defense Minister confirmed the reports from Israeli media about Israel’s efforts to form a defense pact with Arab countries of the region against Tehran but said the issue is not a defense pact but these countries are trying to set up a special security mechanism against Iran.
The head of the Israeli Defense Force recently reported that since the beginning of 2020, Israel has targeted the positions of over 500 Iranian-backed forces in Syria.
Israeli officials have repeatedly warned the Biden administration against returning to the 2015 nuclear deal.
Citizen Arrested in Iran For Protesting the Killing Of Fuel Carriers In Saravan
Videos released on social media show security forces arresting a citizen in Karaj city, near tehran on Wednesday, February 4, for protesting the killing of fuel mules in Sistan-Baluchistan province last week.
The videos show the citizen climbing a charity box protesting the shooting of people carrying small amounts of fuel to Pakistan and the suppression of protesters in Sistan-Baluchistan province. Security forces pulled the man down, arrested and took him away.
According to the Human Rights Activists News Agency (HRANA), the security forces making the arrest faced protests from the people present at the scene, and one of the security forces, “without facing any provocation or threat of violence attempted to shoot in the air in a populated area of the city in order to cause panic.”
Security forces facing protests by onlookers initially released the man but a few minutes later arrested him again and took him to an undisclosed location.
The protests in Sistan-Baluchistan followed an incident at the border with Pakistan on Monday when at least ten Baluchis were killed and more injured. A video posted on Twitter on Monday showed heavy gunfire in a field. Some social media sources have claimed that more than 35 Baluchis were killed by Iranian Revolutionary Guards, after soukhtbar (‘fuel carriers’) tried to take fuel into Pakistan.
Netayahu: I Will Never Allow 'A Bunch Of Ayatollahs' In Iran Wipe Israel Off Map
In an interview with Fox News, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said he will never allow “a bunch of Ayatollahs” in Iran to wipe his country off the map.
"As the prime minister of the one and only Jewish state, we are not going to let a bunch of ayatollahs... wipe us off the map of history," Netanyahu said.
The Israeli Prime Minister’s comments come at a time when the Biden administration has begun its efforts to revive negotiations over the nuclear deal with Iran.
As a strong opponent of the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, also referred to as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), Netanyahu alluded to his friendship of 40 years with President Joe Biden, and called him a friend of Israel, adding that “sometimes you can have disagreements with the best of friends”.
The recent explosion in an Israeli ship in the Gulf of Oman that has been attributed to Tehran has brought tensions in the Middle East between Iran and Israel to a boiling point.
“The most important thing that I think Joe Biden understands is that my commitment to prevent Iran from getting nuclear weapons is absolute,” the prime minister continued. “And I hope that we see eye-to-eye on everything. But one thing I believe he understands and respects, is that as the prime minister of the one and only Jewish state, we are not going to let a bunch of Ayatollahs wipe us out from the face of the earth or from the map of history. So I will do everything in my power to prevent Iran from getting nuclear weapons, and so far, we’ve been successful.”
Iran Gives Positive Signals On Informal Nuclear Talks - French Source
PARIS, March 4 (Reuters) - Iran has given encouraging signs in recent days about opening informal talks with world powers and the United States, a French diplomatic source said on Thursday after European powers scrapped plans to criticise Tehran at the U.N. nuclear watchdog.
Iran has so far refused to take part in a meeting brokered by the European Union between world powers and the United States on reviving its 2015 nuclear deal.
"Things are moving in the right direction and we have had positive signals this week and especially in last few days," the source told reporters. "We are seeing movements we weren't seeing last weekend," he said.
The source added the objective was to get everyone around the table before the start of Nowruz, the Iranian New Year, on March 20, when Iran slows down administratively.
He added that the window would also narrow from mid-April when Iran's presidential election campaign kicks in.
"We are putting all our efforts so that this (meeting) can take place in the days or coming weeks," the source said.
French President Emmanuel Macron and his foreign minister both spoke separately with their Iranian counterparts earlier this week.
The source added that another positive indication was that Iran had reportedly suspended its production of uranium metal, one of its latest violations of the nuclear accord, although that had not been verified by the IAEA.
Britain, France and Germany decided to pause the submission of a resolution critical of Iran at the International Atomic Energy Agency on Thursday to not harm the prospects for diplomacy and after what they said were concessions gained from Iran to deal with outstanding nuclear.
Iran Contacting Old Oil Customers In Case US Sanctions Are Lifted
Iran has reached out to some of its traditional customers in Asia to assess the market if they would be interested to resume buying its oil once US sanctions are lifted, Bloomberg reported on March 3.
Iranian officials have been claiming that crude exports have increased since September last year from extremely low levels after the US imposed full sanctions on its exports in May 2019. But there is no independent evidence given Iran’s secretive methods of loading tankers and hiding their tracks.
Bloomberg says that talks are “preliminary, with no discussion on volumes or prices yet,” but Iran’s oil Minister Bijan Zanganeh recently claimed the market is ready to receive Iranian oil as soon as sanctions are lifted.
One refiner has been contacted twice this year after a long time, a source told Bloomberg.
Iran’s claims of suddenly exporting more oil and having customers ready to resume imports could be related to posturing ahead of any nuclear talks with the United States. President Joe Biden’s administration has been pursuing diplomacy to open talks with Iran, so far with no success.
“I expect most buyers in Asia to say they would be happy to resume importing crude, provided U.S. sanctions are lifted,” Vandana Hari, founder of Vanda Insights in Singapore told Bloomberg. “Iran is probably hopeful and impatient to get its oil back into the market, but the diplomatic road to that seems like a long and difficult one.”
US To Identify Culprits For Rocket Attack In Iraq, Promises Necessary Response
US officials announced that they are investigating Wednesday’s attack on Ayn al-Asad airbase in Iraq that hosts US-led coalition forces to find the culprits of the attacks.
"Thank God no one was killed by the rocket. We're identifying who’s responsible and we'll make judgments at that point," President Joe Biden told reporters.
White House spokesperson Jen Psaki also announced that Washington is trying to identify those behind the attack on Ayn al-Asad airbase and if it becomes clear that a missile attack is needed as a response, the US will do so again.
The US State Department also announced that the US will coordinate with the Iraqi government and its allies for any response to the attack.
"We cannot attribute responsibility at this time, and we do not have a complete picture of the extent of the damage," Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said.
Western intelligence sources have told France News Agency that the rockets that hit Ayn al Asad airbase were Iranian “Arash” models.
Hours after the rocket attack, the security office of the Kurdistan region reported that an arrested member of Kata’ib Sayyid al-Shuhada brigade has confessed that the rockets used in the attack were made by Iran.
At least 10 rockets targeted a military base in western Iraq that hosts US-led coalition troops on Wednesday, the coalition and the Iraqi military said. It was not immediately known if there were any casualties.
Iraqi Militia Member: Rockets Used Against US Forces Were Made By Iran
Hours after the rocket attack on the American base in Iraq on Wednesday, March 3, the security office of the Kurdistan region reported that an arrested member of Kata’ib Sayyid al-Shuhada brigade has confessed that the rockets used in the attack were made by Iran.
A Kurdistan TV channel reported that on Wednesday two of the four people involved in the attack on Erbil International airport were arrested.
The attack near Erbil International Airport on February 15 against the US-led coalition killed two and injured at least five, including an American soldier. There was another attack on Wednesday, March 3, where at least 10 rockets targeted a military base in western Iraq that hosts US-led coalition troops. There is no report on the number of casualties yet.
One of the arrested individuals, Heidar al-Bayati, said in his confessions that the Iran-backed Kata’ib Sayyid al-Shuhada brigades were responsible for both attacks, and that the rockets used in the attacks were made by Iran.
According to Bayati, it took the operatives several days to prepare for the attack and take the rockets from Mosul to the launch are near the airport.
Their arrest comes hours after today’s attack on Ayn al Asad American airbase in Iraq, in which Pentagon announced a contractor died from a heart attack.
Ayn al Asad is the same base that was targeted in retaliation to the killing of former Quds Force commander Qasem Soleimani by the United States.
The Iraqi prime minister called today’s attack on the American base unjustifiable and attributed it to groups that do not have allegiance to Iraq. Mustafa al-Kadhimi demanded the arrest and interrogation of the culprits for the sake of Iraq’s security.
Israeli Minister Demands Biden Impose ‘Enormous Pressure’ On Iran
Any new nuclear deal between world powers and Iran should be “dramatically improved” from the 2015 agreement known as the JCPOA (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action), the Israeli Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz said on Wednesday.
Steinitz, a close ally of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, urged United States President Joe Biden to put “enormous pressure” on Iran to change behavior and dismantle its nuclear program, which he claimed could affect not only the Middle East, but Europe and the US.
“All countries in the Middle East see eye to eye that this is a devastating threat that should be prevented in advance,” Steinitz said at the CERAWeek by IHS Markit online conference, speaking alongside counterparts from Egypt and the United Arab Emirates.
“Iran is a big shadow,” Steinitz said, denouncing Iran’s influence and alliances in Iraq, Lebanon, Syria and Yemen. The Israeli minster charged that Tehran was “violating all their commitments” under the JCPOA, which Iran began to breach in 2019, a year after President Donald Trump withdrew from the nuclear deal and imposed stringent sanctions.
Steinitz charged that the JCPOA was “far from being sufficient” and that any new agreement over Iran’s nuclear program “should be dramatically improved.” While Netanyahu opposed the JCPOA, delivering a critical speech to a joint session of Congress in 2015, he has criticized Iran for not abiding by it.
Reporting by Reuters
US Officials Met Houthis In Undisclosed Talks To End War In Yemen
Senior US officials have held a first direct meeting with representatives from the Iran-backed Houthi movement as the new Biden administration pushes to end Yemen’s six-year war, two sources have told Reuters.
US Yemen envoy Timothy Lenderking and the Houthi’s chief negotiator Mohammad Abdulsalam conducted the secret talks in the Omani capital Muscat on February 26, at a time when Washington has not succeeded in bringing Iran to the negotiating table to revive the 2015 nuclear deal.
Yemen’s civil war started months after the Houthi’s captured the capital in 2014 and expelled the internationally recognized government. Saudi Arabia intervened to support the government with help from other Persian Gulf Arab states and enjoyed strong support from Trump’s administration.
President Joe Biden has adopted a different policy, distancing the United States from the Saudi military effort, delisting the Houthis from the US terrorist designation while criticizing the Houthis for continuing offensive operations and sending armed drones against Saudi civilian targets.
The US Treasury Department on Tuesday imposed new sanctions on two Houthi military leaders, accusing them of procuring weapons from Iran and organizing attacks, after the group stepped up attacks.
The sources said Lenderking had pressed the Houthis to halt offensives and encouraged the movement to engage actively with Riyadh in virtual talks on a ceasefire.
A US State Department spokesperson said Lenderking has been meeting with regional senior government officials and has met with UN special envoy Martin Griffiths during his trip.
"We will not be commenting on all his engagements," the spokesperson told Reuters.
Reporting by Reuters
Human Rights Group Claims 23 Protesters Killed In Iran’s South-East
At least 23 people have been killed by Iranian security forces during protests in Sistan-Baluchestan province, southeast, since February 22, the New York-based Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI) reported on Wednesday March 3.
The CHRI includes ten reportedly killed on February 22 when security forces reportedly opened fire after border guards at a crossing near Saravan stopped ‘fuel mules’ transporting fuel to sell in Pakistan. Raha Bahraini, spokesperson of Amnesty International, last week said Iranian Revolutionary Guards had deliberately shot dead ten ‘fuel mules.’
Officials have admitted only three deaths in the incident. One police officer was killed on February 25 when protesters stormed a police station near Zahedan, authorities have said.
The region is populated mainly by Baluchis, who are Sunnis and who straddle the borders with Pakistan and Afghanistan, and who allege they face discrimination in the mainly Shia Islamic Republic of Iran. Authorities have blamed protests on “foreign enemies” and Sunni extremists, a common claim made during any anti-government manifestations. Videos received outside Iran last week showed columns of special security forces moving from other provinces.
Authorities have also cut off internet services in Sistan-Baluchestan to prevent news of protests reaching the rest of Iran and the outside world, and to block attempts to coordinate protests.
CHRI and other human rights organizations, including Amnesty International, have demanded an end to the use of force by the government and an investigation into the initial incident at the border. CHRI reports dozens of people have been wounded, some critically, but there is no exact number because of difficulties in eastablishing contact with the region.