“The evidence is clear and the facts speak louder than the self-serving political statements we are hearing today”, Gibraltar’s government said Friday, in response to US pressure regarding the supertanker Grace 1, which was seized with the help of British special forces last month.
The commandeering of the tanker, which was originally headed to a sanctioned facility in Syria, set the stage for some high maritime drama in the Strait of Hormuz, where the IRGC set about harassing and detaining a handful of ships, including one UK-flagged vessel.
On Thursday, Gibraltar decided to release the Grace 1 after receiving assurances from Iran that it won’t ultimately find its way to Syria, but rather to port, in the Mediterranean.
Long story short, the US is having none of that.
The Trump administration has now issued a warrant to have the Grace 1 seized and the $995,000 in petro products it’s carrying forfeited.
The Justice department is basing this on “violations of the International Emergency Economic Powers Act, bank fraud statute, and money laundering statute, as well as separately the terrorism forfeiture statute”.
A complaint unsealed on Friday “alleges a scheme to unlawfully access the US financial system to support illicit shipments to Syria from Iran by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps”, a statement reads. The US of course designated the IRGC a terrorist organization in 2017.
“The scheme involves multiple parties affiliated with the IRGC and furthered by the deceptive voyages of the Grace 1”, the DoJ alleges, on the way to saying that “a network of front companies” may have been involved in “launder[ing] millions of dollars in support of such shipments”.
Naturally, the Trump administration is going to try and use the UK’s precarious political situation against it, or at least that’s how it appears. That is, Trump will doubtlessly tell the UK that allowing the Grace 1 to go on its way will amount to Boris Johnson’s fledgling government sending the “wrong” message to Washington.
Considering the US president’s penchant for conflating trade deals with national security, the White House could end up trying to tie a post-Brexit trade deal to the UK’s willingness to further Trump’s Iran agenda, and the Grace 1 could retroactively be viewed through that lens.
For its part, the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office struck a somewhat indignant tone in a statement e-mailed to the media this week. “There is no comparison or linkage between Iran’s unacceptable and illegal seizure of, and attacks on, commercial shipping vessels in the Strait of Hormuz and the enforcement of EU Syria sanctions by the Government of Gibraltar”, it reads.
Suffice to say the Trump administration disagrees and thinks there is very clearly a “linkage”.
You can read the full complaint and arrest warrant below.
Meanwhile, the IRGC-backed Houthis (in Yemen) launched another drone attack on the Saudis Saturday, hitting the Shaybah oil field, where a “limited” (to quote Saudi Aramco) fire broke out. (Yemen has recently devolved further into a “civil war within a civil war”, as a UAE-backed separatist faction split with the forces of President-in-exile Hadi, much to the irritation of Riyadh.)
Separately, CNN says the US has “classified imagery” which suggests Iran is going to launch a rocket next week as part of a covert effort to further its controversial ballistic missile program.
Tehran says it’s putting a harmless satellite into orbit, but US officials claim “the program utilizes the same technology that would be needed for an intercontinental ballistic missile – the type that could someday strike the US”.
CNN cited commercial images of the launch site they procured from Planet Labs Inc. and the Middlebury Institute in saying the Iranians will, in fact, launch something imminently.
One imagines Trump will take any opportunity to malign the Iranians, especially considering how opposed the administration is to Tehran’s missile program.
All of the above suggests tensions between the US and Iran may be set to flare up again, after abating a bit over the past three or so weeks.
Although Trump proved in June that he isn’t trigger happy, one can’t help but fret that the next time the US military is “cocked and loaded” (as the president put it), the White House won’t call the operation off in time.
Grace 1 complaint2019_08_16_amended_complaint_19cv1989_0
Grace 1 arrest warrant2019_08_16_warrant_for_arrest_in_rem_19cv1989_0