Iran cancels plan to have warships approach US borders in Atlantic

After a tense week of diplomacy between American and Iranian representatives, Iran has called off a deployment of warships to the Atlantic Ocean, the semi-official Fars news agency said on Sunday, shelving plans for its vessels to approach US maritime borders in response to the US navy’s presence in the Gulf.

The announcement comes shortly after Iran overturned the death sentence of a former US marine imprisoned in Iran on charges of working for the CIA. The American, Amir Hekmati, has had his sentence reduced to 10 years in prison by a supreme court decision. The commuted sentence is a positive signal for US-Iranian relations, but an ongoing debate over Iran’s nominated diplomat to the UN threatens to derail nuclear negotiations. The diplomat, Hamid Aboutalebi, is barred entry to the US due to alleged links to the 1979 hostage crisis, but Tehran has refused to consider a new candidate.

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Commodities: Iran challenges US sanctions with plans to double oil output by 2018

As already mentioned here a few times, third world countries have no bottom, thus making any sanctions against Iran’s oil industry worthless. The world has a high demand for oil and all sanctions will do is force the oil route to change direction towards another country.

Iran has unveiled plans to double its oil production by the end of the decade and, ignoring sanctions, pump billions of dollars of its currency reserves into developing its share of the world’s largest natural gas reservoir in the Persian Gulf.

The country’s new oil minister, Bijan Zanganeh, has set a new output target of 5.7m barrels per day (bpd) of crude by 2018, according to the official state-run news agency Shana. The latest figures produced by the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (Opec), show that Iran is currently pumping about 3m bpd of crude.

Tehran is also sending strong signals to the international community that it plans to press ahead with the development of vast natural gas reserves that it shares with Qatar in the Persian Gulf. Moshtaq Ali-Gohari, head of the National Iranian Oil Company, told Shana over the weekend that the Islamic republic plans to invest almost $14bn (£8.3bn) to develop oil and gas fields that it shares with neighbours in the region. This could signal that Tehran is preparing for the further development of the South Pars field in the Gulf. Continue reading

Sources: U.S. urges Israel to attack Syrian forces threatening CIA-trained rebels in Golan

It might seem here as if the current US administration is baiting Israel into a war. The United States regularly trains ‘rebels’ in various places throughout the Middle East and Africa. Why would these be any more special than the rest that are usually tossed aside after their mission is complete?

LONDON — The United States is pressuring Israel to attack the Syrian military in the Golan Heights.

Western diplomatic sources said the administration of President Barack Obama has urged Israel to stop a Syrian Army advance toward U.S.-trained rebels in the Golan Heights.

The sources said this marked the first U.S. request for Israel’s military to intervene in Syria. They said Obama and his aides had repeatedly warned Israel to refrain from striking Syria, which transferred long-range rockets and air defense systems to Hizbullah in neighboring Lebanon. Continue reading

Israeli launches spy satellite after US refusal to push for Iran’s weapons program’s dismantlement

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu decided not to delay the launch of Israel’s improved Ofek 10 spy satellite Wednesday night April 9, hours after the six powers and Iran wound up another round of talks in Vienna on comprehensive accord on its nuclear program. Israel decided to show some muscle over the Obama administration’s consent to raise Iran’s weapons program at the next round of nuclear negotiations next month, debkafile‘s Washington and Jerusalem sources report. But this assurance, relayed also to the Saudi government, was not accompanied by information on the points to be raised, or the US response if Tehran continued to maintain that its weapons program is non-existent and therefore not up for negotiation with the world powers. Continue reading

US arms Syrian rebels with first heavy weapons, anti-tank BGM-71 TOW missiles – raising war stakes

Two Syrian rebel militias judged moderate in Washington have in the last few days taken delivery and begun using – mostly in the Idlib region – the first advanced US weapon to be deployed in more than three years of civil war, debkafile’s military sources reveal. It is the heavy anti-tank, optically-tracked, wire-guided BGM-71 TOW, which is capable of piercing 50mm thickness of Syrian tank armor and Syrian fortifications at a range of 4 kilometers. Armed with this weapon now are Brig-Gen. Abdul-Hila al Bashir, the new commander of the rebel Free Syrian Army, which is headquartered at the Golan town of Quneitra, and Jamal Maarouf, head of the rebel Syrian Revolutionary Front fighting in the north.

The appearance of this advanced missile radically alters the balance of strength on the Syrian battlefield. It also denotes a striking change in Obama administration policy, which hitherto flatly resisted every demand to provide Syrian rebel groups with the heavy arms essential for them to have any chance of standing up to Bashar Assad’s superior military strength. Continue reading

Can Turkey Use Water to Exert Power Across the Middle East?

ISTANBUL — Turkey hopes to take a first step this year towards long-held ambitions to be a supplier of fresh water across the Middle East.

The first phase of a project to pump fresh water from the Anamur River in southern Turkey to the drought-stricken northern part of Cyprus is slated to be completed this year, according to the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus and the Turkish government in Ankara.

The 1.2 billion lira (Dh2bn) pipeline, which runs under the Mediterranean, is to bring 75 million cubic metres of water a year to Northern Cyprus, an isolated self-declared republic recognised only by Ankara.

The Turkish ministry for forests and water said in a statement that work will be finished by July 20, the 40th anniversary of Turkey’s 1974 military intervention in Cyprus. Several experts in Turkey said the Cyprus water project could be a first step for Ankara to boost its role as a regional power by providing water to Middle East countries.

“It is technically feasible,” Ibrahim Gurer, a hydrologist at Gazi University in Ankara, said. “And it’s possible not only for Cyprus, but also for other countries like Israel or even Libya. It is not a distant dream.” Continue reading

Dempsey claims Israel satisfied the US will use military option against Iran. DEBKAfile: Israel doesn’t say this

Gen. Martin Dempsey, Chairman of the Joint US Chiefs of Staff, flew out of Israel Wednesday, April 2, from three days of talks with Israeli leaders, asserting: “I think they are satisfied we have the capability [to use a military option against Iran]. I think they believe we will use it.”

debkafile sources tracking his talks did not receive that impression from Israeli officials. They did not subscribe to his statement that “Israel and the United States are in broad agreement about the threat that Iran poses to the region and how to deal with it.” Continue reading

U.S. suggests Israel form new alliances in changing Mideast

JERUSALEM — The United States has envisioned new power alignments in the Middle East that could include Israel cooperating more closely with the Gulf Arab states.

Officials said such factors as the Arab Spring, the threat from Iran and the ouster of the Muslim Brotherhood have opened opportunities throughout the Middle East. Continue reading

Israel report: Iran directed this month’s rocket attacks on Israel

The Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs asserted that Iran was ordering its Palestinian and Lebanese proxies to attack Israel. In a report, the center cited rocket and improvised explosive device strikes along Israel’s borders with Lebanon and Syria in March 2014.

“All of these attacks on Israel come in the wake of the green light given by Iran against the backdrop of changing power equations in the broader Middle East,” the report, titled “Iran’s Fortunes Rising in a Middle East Vacuum,” said. Continue reading

Egypt’s Gen. El-Sisi runs for president, sets up 10,000-strong crack force to defend his regime

Egypt’s Defense Minister Gen. Abdul-Fattah El-Sisi, 59, announced Wednesday, March 26, that he had resigned from the army after 45 years in order to run for president. No date has been set for the election, but it is expected to take place no later than July. His popularity as a strong leader in a country that craves stability above all after three years of turmoil is such that he can count on winning.

debkafile’s military sources disclose that in recent weeks Gen. El-Sisi took time off to create a new rapid intervention force as a powerful vehicle for buttressing his regime.

Maj. Gen. Tawfik Abdel-Samei, head of the Egyptian army’s central command, was chosen to head the force. He and El-Sisi handpicked 10,000 of the most able commando fighters from the various army units and consolidated them through intense courses into a special airborne force. Equipped with air transport and helicopters, it is capable of flying to the ends of the country in a crisis, along with tanks, self-propelled artillery and counter-terror measures. Continue reading

Pacific Cmdr.: U.S. lacks ability to conduct successful amphibious assaults

The head of U.S. Pacific Command believes America does not possess the capacity to conduct amphibious assaults in the wake of a crisis, as it did during World War II.

“We have had a good return of our Marines back to the Asia-Pacific, particularly as the activities in the Middle East wind down in Afghanistan. … But the reality is, is that to get Marines around effectively, they require all types of lift. They require the big amphibious ships, but they also require connectors (meaning landing craft and other amphibious vehicles). The lift is the enabler that makes that happen, so we wouldn’t be able to [successfully carry out a contested amphibious assault without additional resources],” Adm. Locklear said, Stars and Stripes reported.

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Israel-China Alliance Moves Forward With $2 Billion ‘Red-Med’ Freight Rail Link Alternative to Suez Canal

The growing economic alliance between Israel and China is moving forward with a $2 billion, 300 kilometer freight rail link connecting Eilat, on the Red Sea, with Ashdod Port, on the Mediterranean, Germany’s Deutsche Welle news magazine reported on Monday.

The project, nicknamed the ‘Red-Med,’ was greenlit by Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s cabinet, and construction, which is expected to take five years, will begin within the year.

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