By Manal Ahmed | Political Editor
Colonel Ahmad Hajian, a commander in the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, announced on 20 November that a “foreign ship carrying smuggled diesel” had been seized in the Persian Gulf and its 11 crew members were detained. The identities of those detained have yet to be revealed.
More than 150,000 litres of diesel were found aboard the vessel in the latest incident of a foreign ship being seized in the area. On 10 November, Iran announced the release of a Vietnamese tanker, after it had been seized the previous month in the Sea of Oman.
The frequent reports of fuel smuggling by land and sea from Iran to neighbouring or close countries is in large part due to the low cost of consumption caused by subsidies on energy prices, as well as the accelerated devaluation of the Iranian rial after former president Donald Trump withdrew from the Iran nuclear deal – officially known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) – in 2018 and imposed sanctions. The Islamic Revolutionary Guards intend to “deal decisively” with the problem to protect the economy.
Earlier this month, President Biden’s special envoy for Iran, Robert Malley, travelled to allies in the Middle East ahead of the indirect U.S.-Iranian talks, which are expected to resume later this week in Vienna after a five-month pause. Malley’s visit to Saudi Arabia, UAE, Israel, and Bahrain was intended to “coordinate our approaches on a broad range of concerns with Iran”, according to a statement made by the US State Department.
The special envoy’s tour came as the first joint naval exercise between Israel and the previously mentioned Gulf states – excluding Saudi Arabia – occurred, coordinated by the US. The purpose of the exercise was to “enhance interoperability between participating forces’ maritime interdiction teams”. This joint five-day drill is part of a number of measures to further normalise ties between signatories of the Abraham Accord, signed in September 2020. While Saudi Arabia has yet to formally establish a diplomatic relationship with Israel, it is expected that this will occur soon.
The US’s Gulf allies have voiced opposition to the re-establishment of the JCPOA, Israel in particular creating a significant barrier to peace in the region. US officials have warned Israel that while consistent attacks and strikes on Iran’s nuclear and missile facilities may feel satisfying, the speed at which Iran was able to restart operations in previously incapacitated and bombed facilities suggests that these attacks will do nothing to hinder Iran’s nuclear programme and may serve as a motivation, according to the New York Times. Israel has expressed that they have no intention of decreasing their attacks in Iran, a position that has frequently been a cause of contention between the two allies.
While US officials will not be inside the negotiating room during the Vienna talks, caused by Iran’s refusal to meet US officials after Trump withdrew from the JCPOA, Biden intends to reassert a commitment to a peaceful relationship between the two nations while newly-elected President Ebrahim Raisi hopes to end the American-imposed sanctions and improve the economy. These talks may be in vain as the hope to prevent Iran from nuclear proliferation is dwindling among the US and its allies, as the latter intends to turn to China and Russia to place pressure if the talks fail.
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