Iran's Secret Oil Tanker Mission

Clay Curtis
March 15, 2019

Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told naval officers last week that Iran was still resorting to clandestine measures to ship fuel, and said the Israeli navy could act against Iranian oil "smuggling" to enforce United States sanctions.

The United States introduced sanctions aimed at crippling Iran's oil revenue-dependent economy in November but gave a six-month waiver to eight nations, including India, which allowed them to import some Iranian oil.

Following the last round of sanctions imposed by the United States on Iran this past November that further crippled its oil-based economy, the Islamic Republic resolved to "proudly bypass" them claiming they violated global law after the United States made a decision to quit the 2016 JCPOA that stalled sanctions in exchange for Iran's curtailing its nuclear program.

On March 6, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called on the world community to prevent Iran from dispatching oil overseas.

Hatami said such confrontation would be considered as "piracy" and warned that "if it happens, we will firmly respond".

Iran has more than 50 tankers, but this month, for example, it's using 12 of those to store oil in floating storage at sea, according to MarineTraffic data cited by Reuters.

"Whatever sector you look at, companies will keep in mind being cut off from the USA financial system when deciding whether to trade with Iran", said Mehdi Varzi, an independent oil consultant who has previously worked at the state-run National Iranian Oil Co.

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On Friday, the navy intervened to repel pirates who attacked an Iranian oil tanker in the Gulf of Aden. "We hope the aggressors do not need to understand this point by trying it and paying a high price", Major General Gholamali Rashid was quoted as saying by Tasnim news agency.

He claimed that Iran is trying to "covertly" ship fuel over maritime routes to "circumvent" the USA sanctions. India was granted a waiver from Iran oil sanctions in November and has been seeking to extend it until May.

"I call on the worldwide community to halt, by any means, Iran's attempts to bypass the sanctions via the sea", Netanyahu said.

The US Navy's 5th Fleet is based in nearby Bahrain and over the years has had aircraft carrier groups patrol the seas off of Iran in a show of force.

The Trump administration has used the threat of insurance liabilities to pressure countries into blocking Iranian ships.

Brian Hook, the State Department's special representative on Iran, on March 13 reiterated the US policy, telling an industry conference in Houston that Washington was committed to bringing Iranian crude exports to zero.

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