Iran in the News

Some troubling, sad, and downright puzzling stories

There are a number of stories about Iran in the news today. Some are troubling, some sad, and one is downright puzzling. Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu is ratcheting up the rhetoric against Iran:

JERUSALEM — The threat from Iran dwarfs all other challenges the Jewish state faces, Israel’s prime minister declared Sunday, as high-level hints of a possible Israeli attack on Iran’s suspect nuclear program mounted.

One indirect indication came Sunday, when Israel’s military began sending mock text messages to cellphones warning of incoming missiles, part of a nationwide experiment that is to continue through Thursday and reach hundreds of thousands of cellphone users. Last week, defense officials confirmed that Israel’s top-tier missile defense system has been upgraded.

“All threats directed at the Israeli home front are dwarfed by another threat, different in its magnitude and substance, and so I have repeated and shall repeat: Iran must not be allowed to obtain nuclear weapons,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told his Cabinet on Sunday.

The thing I find most concerning is that he may be serious. I fear that between now and the U. S. presidential election in November we will enter a very dangerous period.

In one graphic here’s an illustration of just how dangerous the situation may be:

As you can see it’s possible that the Iranian authorities may calculate that it’s in the country’s interests to increase the level of tension to one just short of war, thereby increasing the price of oil above Iran’s production break-even point. Unfortunately, miscalculations can happen. Hat tip: ZeroHedge

The confirmed death toll following the 6.4 and 6.3 earthquakes that struck northern Iran on Saturday has risen to 306:

TEHRAN, Iran — Iran Monday raised the death toll from Saturday’s twin earthquakes to 306, a day after rescuers called off the search for survivors, state media reported.

Heath Minister Marzieh Vahid Dastjerdi told a session of parliament Monday that the number jumped by about 50 after victims expired in the hospital. More than 3,000 people were injured in the earthquakes, she added in comments broadcast on state radio.

The death toll included some 219 women and children, Dastjerdi said, adding that around 2,000 injured people had been released from hospitals soon after the quake since they had only minor injuries.

Dastjerdi said her ministry has deployed scores of ambulances and medics to the region but still needs helicopters to transfer seriously injured people quickly.

Authorities say old, heavy roofs without frames were largely responsible for the death toll in the rural areas.

Scores of aftershocks have coursed through Iran’s mountainous northwest since the 6.4 and 6.3 magnitude quakes hit the region, where some 300,000 people live in an area around 2,300 square miles (6,000 square kilometers) that borders Azerbaijan and Armenia.

The back-to-back earthquakes completely leveled a number of villages. It’s terribly sad.

There’s reason to believe that Chinese companies are conniving with the Iranian authorities to evade the sanctions that have been placed on Iran:

The Chinese toymaker said he was seeking parts for a “magic horse,” a metal-framed playground pony. But the exotic, wildly expensive raw material he wanted seemed better suited for space travel than backyard play.

His shopping list, sent by e-mail to a Seattle factory, started with 20 tons of maraging steel, an ultra-strong alloy often used in rockets. The buyer didn’t flinch at the price tag — $2 million — but he repeatedly insisted on secrecy. “This material,” an associate confided in an e-mail, “are danger [sic] goods.”

Only in recent months did the full scope of the ruse become apparent. The destination for the specialty steel was not China but Iran, and the order had nothing to do with toy horses, U.S. investigators say.

“We are certain,” said a law enforcement official familiar with the case, “that the metal was meant for advanced centrifuges in Iran’s nuclear program.”

A spokesman said that Chinese companies are “moving into the void” left by other companies ending their trade with Iran. Moving into the void, indeed.

Finally, on Sunday a U. S. naval vessel collided with a Japanese-owned oil tanker near the Strait of Hormuz:

The U.S. Navy said one of its guided-missile destroyers collided with an oil tanker near the Strait of Hormuz in the Persian Gulf.

The collision between USS Porter and the Panamanian-flagged bulk oil tanker M/V Otowasan occurred at about 1 a.m. local time, Bahrain-based U.S. 5th Fleet spokesman Lieutenant Greg Raelson said in a phone interview today. The collision was not combat-related and overall damage to the ship is being evaluated, he said.

Strait of Hormuz is a narrow waterway carrying a fifth of the world’s traded oil that Iranian officials have threatened to block in retaliation for sanctions targeting the country’s nuclear program. The U.S. Navy has said it would move to stop any Iranian attempt block the waterway.

The tanker, owned by Tokyo-based Mitsui OSK Lines Ltd. (9104), can hold 2 million barrels of crude oil and is 95 percent full, according to ship-tracking data compiled by Bloomberg. The vessel loaded at Mesaieed in Qatar and was sailing to Fujairah, the region’s largest refueling port in the United Arab Emirates, the data show.

Galrahn has excellent coverage of the incident including links to the Navy’s statement on the incident, pictures, and videos of the damage. See, especially, his map of the course of the vessel prior to and after the collision. His observation:

The lack of situational awareness in hindsight of this incident suggests some explaining is necessary, because one would think a modern US Navy AEGIS destroyer could avoid ramming a 300,000 ton super tanker that reportedly has 95% of her 2 million barrels of fuel loaded and is apparently using AIS.

is what immediately occurred to me. Either there’s more to this story than is being reported or the mistake that was made was of a potentially disastrous scale.

BTW, if you’re wondering what a “Crazy Ivan” (alluded to by Galrahn) is, it’s a submarine maneuver consisting of a sharp turn, intended to clear the boat’s baffles to detect and, possibly, engage with followers. It’s a risky move most commonly used by Soviet commanders during the Cold War, hence “Crazy Ivan”.

FILED UNDER: National Security, Natural Disasters, , ,
Dave Schuler
About Dave Schuler
Over the years Dave Schuler has worked as a martial arts instructor, a handyman, a musician, a cook, and a translator. He's owned his own company for the last thirty years and has a post-graduate degree in his field. He comes from a family of politicians, teachers, and vaudeville entertainers. All-in-all a pretty good preparation for blogging. He has contributed to OTB since November 2006 but mostly writes at his own blog, The Glittering Eye, which he started in March 2004.

Comments

  1. Drew says:

    As I noted over at your sight, anyone who finds our energy dependence disconcerting would advocate and follow an energy policy 180 degrees opposite of the President’s.

    Shameful and reckless that we are even discussing the possibility of a full scale war based on a fringe lunatic, or at least wildly overblown, theory. Human lives are worth more than AGW drivel.

  2. Drew says:

    PS

    My bet is more to the story. Some things are beyond credulaty.

  3. Boyd says:

    FWIW, and I admit that my experience and knowledge is far from exhaustive, during my tenure in the Navy and in submarines, I never heard the term “Crazy Ivan,” and I can’t find any reference to using that term to describe a Soviet submarine clearing her baffles prior to The Hunt for Red October.

    We now return you to your regularly scheduled blog comment thread from this spontaneous digression.

  4. Neil Hudelson says:

    Video of an atmospheric crazy ivan (near the very end): http://community.ovationtv.com/_Firefly-Crazy-Ivan/video/1473318/16878.html

  5. michael reynolds says:

    @Drew:

    Please ignore the fact that our dependency on middle-east oil has never been lower in modern history.

    And please ignore the fact that a fracking deal in Canada would have exactly zero effect on the current situation.

    And by all means ignore the fact that Israel-Iran is not about oil at all, and that nothing Mr. Obama — or any administration — could have pulled off in the last 3 1/2 years would have any impact on Iran’s nuclear development or Israel’s paranoia about same.

    And certainly ignore the fact that your party is even more slavishly devoted to Mr. Netanyahu than the Democrats are and that your candidate is the one baying for Iranian blood and that it’s your party that opposes things like CAFE standards and conservation that would have real effects.

    Because if you don’t ignore all the facts you wouldn’t be able to blame Obama for all that is wrong with the world. Then you wouldn’t be Drew anymore.

  6. Drew says:

    Michael

    Drivel

  7. michael reynolds says:

    On the actual topic. . .

    There have been a number of earthquakes in Iran recently. I wonder if the people are feeling beleaguered and thus more united? Or are they wondering why their government doesn’t set some reasonable building standards?

    I agree it is inexplicable – barring some boarding maneuver or chase or something we don’t get — that the most sophisticated ship on the seas can manage to run into a giant tanker. Was someone playing Skyrim on the computer console?

    On the politics — if Netanyahu starts this thing before the election it does a couple of things. It forces Mr. Obama’s hand in either one direction or another, and in doing so makes him look weak. If Obama pulls a Suez he alienates a lot of votes, cements some others, so not sure where that breaks down but it could cost him Florida. If Mr. Obama opts to back Netanyahu’s play fully — make it look like a joint decision — he wins re-election easily but loses his soul and ends up looking like a version of Mr. Bush the Younger.

    The bitch of it is it all looks good for Netanyahu short term. He’s likely to get what he wants. And the US Congress is far too craven and co-opted to let him be punished for it.

  8. michael reynolds says:

    @Drew:
    And as usual: you got nothing beyond your initial “I hate Obama!”

    Empty suit. Just like your candidate.

  9. jan says:

    Michael’s ‘facts’ are more his ‘opinion’ mixed together with selective information he receives from his own partisan side of the aisle.

  10. jan says:

    Speaking of earthquakes, there have been a swarm of little ones in S. CA as well.

  11. Dave Schuler says:

    @michael reynolds:

    Was someone playing Skyrim on the computer console?

    That’s the basis of my concern. The situation is too serious and too sensitive for even one mistake. That’s the problem with brinksmanship.

    And I concur with your analysis of the political calculus of the situation fom Netanyahu’s point of view. So, we’ve got an Israeli PM who may well see a war with Iran as being in Israel’s interest and no time like the present, an Iranian regime who may well see a move towards the brink of war as being in Iran’s national interest, and a crowded Gulf with Americans not showing the necessary degree of caution. It’s not a good situation.

  12. slimslowslider says:

    @jan:

    Oh good lord.

  13. Chris Berez says:

    I’m extremely worried about the situation with Israel and Iran. The more they ratchet up the rhetoric, the more it looks like they’re going to attack. I realize of course that this could be exactly what the Israelis want everyone to think and they aren’t actually going to do it. But I don’t know. It makes me very nervous. The very last thing we need right now is to get pulled into a war with Iran.

  14. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Dave Schuler:

    So, we’ve got an Israeli PM who may well see a war with Iran as being in Israel’s interest and no time like the present, an Iranian regime who may well see a move towards the brink of war as being in Iran’s national interest, and a crowded Gulf with Americans not showing the necessary degree of caution.

    I see nothing good coming of this.

  15. michael reynolds says:

    @Dave Schuler:

    It’s not a good situation.

    He says, demonstrating the concept of “understatement.”

  16. It’s interesting. The US right wing has tangled motives with respect to Iran. They don’t want to see another nuclear power, and they want to be a staunch ally to Israel. This leads them to say things like “a nuclear Iran is unacceptable.”

    Do they not understand that “unacceptable” is diplomatic speak for “i will go to war on this?” We know Romney has maintained that he can say “unacceptable” and then accomplish it with “diplomacy” but that is contradiction on its face. If you publicly say “diplomacy” you’ve abandoned “unacceptable.”

    My guess is that it’s a Bush/Cheney style set-up.

    The real part is the “unacceptable” part, and they’ll go to war, perhaps letting Israel lead for diplomatic and political reasons.

  17. Rob in CT says:

    So, we’ve got an Israeli PM who may well see a war with Iran as being in Israel’s interest and no time like the present, an Iranian regime who may well see a move towards the brink of war as being in Iran’s national interest, and a crowded Gulf with Americans not showing the necessary degree of caution. It’s not a good situation.

    Well said. Scary stuff.

  18. Dave Schuler says:

    @john personna:

    The US right wing has tangled motives with respect to Iran. They don’t want to see another nuclear power, and they want to be a staunch ally to Israel. This leads them to say things like “a nuclear Iran is unacceptable.”

    Whatever the motivation it appears that’s a formulation that politicians on both sides of the aisle agree on.

  19. @Dave Schuler:

    I’m hoping that this was the threat that went with the cyber-attacks.

    I’m a bit less comfortable with the assassinations, but cold war is better than hot.

    Actually when you consider the level of cold war, the GOP demands that we go deeper in are pretty striking. Where do you go but hot war?

  20. TastyBits says:

    @Dave Schuler

    … we’ve got an Israeli PM who may well see a war with Iran as being in Israel’s interest and no time like the present …

    Maybe I am missing something, but I do not see how it is possible. I have no doubt that Israel is engaged in clandestine activities, but that has been going on for a while.

    … an Iranian regime who may well see a move towards the brink of war as being in Iran’s national interest …

    Iran also has constraints. Most of the world does not care if Iran has nuclear weapons. They may prefer Iran does not have nukes, but they are not going to do anything about it. Affecting the Straits of Hormuz would cause these countries to care.

    … a crowded Gulf with Americans not showing the necessary degree of caution …

    I am not a Navy guy, and I do not know how likely this type of collision is. The US Navy will take appropriate action. I do not think Iran wants the tanker wars of the 1980’s, but an incident would give their supporters another reason to protect Iran.

    With the recent foreign activities, I understand the concern, but the advocates of military action are clueless. Most people have not forgotten Iraq yet, and the US “intelligence” about the Arab Spring is just another reminder.

  21. stonetools says:

    My response:

    1.The USA should offer to help Iran with earthquake relief.
    2. The Administration should crack down hard on Chinese attempts to evade sanctions on Iran.
    3. The US should privately tell Israel that it under no circumstances will get involved if war should “somehow” break out between Iran and Israel in October.

    That is all.

  22. TastyBits says:

    @michael reynolds

    … nothing Mr. Obama — or any administration — could have pulled off in the last 3 1/2 years would have any impact on Iran’s nuclear development …

    I agree, but apparently, the US has been supporting Israel’s clandestine efforts. Also, President Obama has been able to get tough and effective sanctions against Iran. I doubt the Iranian uprising was going anywhere, and it probably would have been another Hungary 1956 or Iraq 1991.

  23. michael reynolds says:

    Maybe I am missing something, but I do not see how it is possible. I have no doubt that Israel is engaged in clandestine activities, but that has been going on for a while.

    The US – under Mr. Obama – shipped bunker-busters to Israel. I don’t believe they’re the latest version, but they’d make a good start. Also the UAE and/or other Gulf state, with the approval of Saudi Arabia, might well offer logistical support to Israel. That would make the IAF a great deal more effective.

    One of the problems would be that the IAF, as good as they are, are not our equals. So things like anti-aircraft suppression that we might do in 24 hours will take the Israelis longer. They can’t fly as many missions so the time line would likely become extended. The longer it goes on the more dangerous as the Iranians adapt and as political pressures rise. If things go south I wouldn’t entirely rule out the possibility that Israel will use its own nukes.

    I’ll be fascinated to see how or whether Mr. Obama can keep a leash on Mr. Netanyahu. And if he fails to control Netanyahu, how he’ll play it. My guess is he would use NATO as a vehicle to try and contain the spread beyond the two belligerents — sort of a “we’ll hold your coat,” approach, while keeping the straits of Hormuz open.

    Then the danger would worsen if Israel starts to get into trouble. And they could. The Iranians are not the Iraqis.

  24. Ron Beasley says:

    @michael reynolds: They did not send the latest bunkerbusters to Israel because they don’t have any aircraft that can carry them – too big.
    I just heard John Bolton on FOX and for the first time in his life he made sense. He said the Israelis won’t telegraph an attack but will keep quiet for several months.

  25. TastyBits says:

    @michael reynolds

    Those bunker-busters are not the large ones. Israel does not have bombers that can carry those. The problem for an Israel air strike is distance. They have no long range bombers, and the planes they would use do not carry enough fuel for a round trip. To get the planes back, they need to be refueled, and that is the problem. Israel would need to sacrifice equipment, and after the air strike, Israel would need all the equipment it could muster.

    If Azerbaijan allowed Israel to use its airbases for refueling or flying airborne tankers, it is possible. The next problem is airspace. Greece is the one country that might allow Israel to overfly it. Any Arab country allowing Israel to use its airspace uncontested might get a visit from the Arab Spring, and most of them are teetering in collapse.

    I do not know who or what is rattling Israel’s cage, but unless something changes, an Israeli airstrike “ain’t gonna happen”. I would recommend remaining vigilant, but when Israel goes silent, you should get very concerned.

    As to NATO involvement, the Europeans are doing anything militarily, and short of Iran invading deep into Europe, it “ain’t gonna happen”. The Straits of Hormuz have a different dynamic.

  26. Ben Wolf says:

    It gets no coverage, but our naval forces in the Gulf are operating at a very high tempo only a notch or two short of being actively engaged in hostilities. This has put an enormous strain on equipment and on personnel who become increasingly likely to make mistakes as the stress and lack of sleep begin to take their toll. Simply providing maintenance under such conditions requires a great deal of work,

    I’d be willing to bet the destroyer was in close proximity to the tanker for a reason, either to render some form of assistance, an inspection (if we’re doing this then we’re already effectively at war) or outright confrontation. A mistake under close quarters conditions is not unexpected given how draining our forces’ posture toward Iran has been.

  27. Andy says:

    A couple of things:

    First, I don’t think the ship collision means much of anything with respect to Iran.

    Secondly, Bibi’s bluster waxes and wanes and what he’s saying now is not significantly different than what he’s said before.

    Third, if Israel had the capacity to take out or materially damage Iran’s nuclear program, they would have attacked long ago and they wouldn’t have spent the last 5-6 trying to get the US to do it for them. Israel will attack if it believes Iran is on the cusp of obtaining a nuclear weapons, but despite the rhetoric even the Israelis are divided on this issue.

    Fourth, both Israel and the US have made their red lines crystal clear to the Iranians and, so far, Iran hasn’t crossed those lines.

    So in my judgment, little has changed and the prospect for a unilateral Israeli attack on Iran remains low and the prospect for a unilateral American attack are even lower.

    @john personna:

    The US right wing has tangled motives with respect to Iran. They don’t want to see another nuclear power, and they want to be a staunch ally to Israel. This leads them to say things like “a nuclear Iran is unacceptable.”

    Do they not understand that “unacceptable” is diplomatic speak for “i will go to war on this?”

    President Obama in March of this year:

    I also don’t, as a matter of sound policy, go around advertising exactly what our intentions are. But governments recognize that when the United States says it is unacceptable for Iran to have a nuclear weapon, we mean what we say.

    Yes, this is a “red line” I mentioned before- the US is saying, and has been saying for a long time now, that if Iran actually tries to develop a nuclear weapon, then we will go to war over that. Iran understands this and because Iran’s weaponization effort remains in cold storage, it’s on the “no war” side of that line even though it continues to progress on the other two legs of the nuclear weapons triad – fissile material production and missile delivery vehicles.

  28. Andy says:

    @Ben Wolf:

    It gets no coverage, but our naval forces in the Gulf are operating at a very high tempo only a notch or two short of being actively engaged in hostilities.

    It’s no different today that when I was in the Navy in the 1990’s. The tempo has been high for a few decades and we always maintain heightened alert in the Gulf.

    I’d be willing to bet the destroyer was in close proximity to the tanker for a reason, either to render some form of assistance, an inspection (if we’re doing this then we’re already effectively at war) or outright confrontation. A mistake under close quarters conditions is not unexpected given how draining our forces’ posture toward Iran has been.

    It appears that both vessels were beginning the transit out of the Gulf. A commenter over at Galhran’s replayed the AIS track and it appears the US Navy vessel tried to pass the tanker, misjudged oncoming traffic, and collided with the tanker when it tried to pull in front.

  29. Ben Wolf says:

    @Andy: I’ve seen conflicting reports that the destroyer was exiting/entering the Gulf. The press release itself doesn’t say either way. Anyone got a confirm on this?

  30. TastyBits says:

    @john personna

    Do they not understand that “unacceptable” is diplomatic speak for “i will go to war on this?” …

    This is for the public. Nobody is going to war over public pronouncements. Countries go to war to further their own interests. Iran is far more complex than most people think, and they will worry when their supporters begin to withdraw. From the Oval Office, the world looks a lot different. President Obama changed his rhetoric once he was in the chair.

  31. Mike says:

    When we’re talking about ships, it’s worth mentioning that even something as relatively maneuverable as a destroyer doesn’t exactly turn on a dime, so if you aren’t thinking several steps ahead it’s possible to get into a situation where you can see a collision coming from 20-30 seconds out but be unable to do anything to avoid it. A collision like this is definitely a screw-up of rather large proportions, but they didn’t have to be attempting to board or intercept or inspect or whatever…it’s entirely possible that this was just extremely poor shiphandling during normal operations (and based on the comments over at ID, it appears this is exactly what happened.)

  32. Andy says:

    @Ben Wolf:

    I think it was actually just entering the Gulf. I had assumed it was leaving since the ship’s deployment is scheduled to end in a little over a month, but there are reports it was in the Gulf of Oman in early August, so it probably was coming into the Gulf.

    In that case, Galrahn’s latest theory looks pretty good:

    f PORTER was exiting the Strait, and passing to the Starboard of the tanker in front of OTOWASAN, PORTER and OTOWASAN may not have seen each other until it was too late. Watch it again and you will see OTOWASAN approach the tanker in front of it on the back port, then cross all the way behind the tanker as it prepares to pass on the starboard. OTOWASAN may have popped out from behind that tanker right into the path of PORTER, been unable to turn to port because the tanker was there, and unable to slow down fast enough, thus rammed into PORTER which wouldn’t have seen OTOWASAN until it was too late and likely did manuever to avoid an even worse collision. Looks like a perfect storm.

  33. Dave Schuler says:

    @Andy:

    Galrahn works for the Navy and is generally well-informed and well-connected. If he thinks its puzzling or worrisome, I have no problem in thinking the same.

    I’m not breaking out in a cold sweat. More frustrated. As I said above it’s a crowed Gulf, mistakes happen, the situation is tense, and wars have started over pretty stupid things.

  34. Andy says:

    @Dave Schuler:

    I would agree if an Iranian ship had been involved. There’s no indication Iran was involved in any way in this incident so I don’t see what the big deal is or how this does anything to regional tensions.

  35. Carson says:

    @michael reynolds: Maybe you can help me on this one: why is the price of gas going up so much now? A month ago, I filled up at $2.82 a gallon, yesterday it was $3.34. Some guys that I talk to at the local gas station say that they don’t have a clue. I haven’t seen anything on the news, but the last few weeks it has been mainly Michael Phelps or the women’s volleyball. Probably some middle east potentate sneezed or got a headache. If everybody and Congress started pitching a fit about it, the price would go back down; happens every time.

  36. Drew says:

    @michael reynolds:

    More drivel.

  37. Drew says:

    The largest and most powerful economic entity in the world is dependent on the Middle East, the most politically unstable region in the world, for one of the most important resources in an advanced economy.

    And you guys are nibbling around the edges like quacking ducks. Yet, we have ginormous resources here.

    Are you kidding me? Are you kidding me. WTFU.

    You guys viddy yourself as smart. You are morons.

  38. michael reynolds says:

    @Drew:

    Man, you have just become self-parody now. It’s painful to watch.

  39. steve says:

    @Drew- The record amounts of natural gas we are pumping and the record, by recent standards, of oil being pumped dont count. We are actually exporting refined petroleum products. What more would you like done?

    Steve

  40. michael reynolds says:

    @steve:
    He would very much like a rich white guy exactly like himself to be president. Then the middle east will simply disappear in a puff of smoke.

  41. anjin-san says:

    an energy policy 180 degrees opposite of the President’s.

    As many have noted, drilling and production has soared in the last four years and we are now a net exporter of energy.

    It’s interesting how often we come back to Republican’s saying “give oil companies a blank check and all our problems will go away.” I guess the really miss the Cheney era, when Chevron & Exxon had the run of the west wing.