How Iran’s Yemeni Proxy Uses a Looming Environmental Catastrophe as Leverage

Oct. 14 2021

In 1987, a Texas-based oil company converted the Safer, a massive tanker, into a “floating storage-and-off-loading facility” for storing Yemeni petroleum where it can easily be picked up by smaller tankers. But the Safer has long fallen into disrepair thanks to the country’s civil war, and the one-million barrels of oil onboard are in constant danger of exploding or leaking into the Red Sea. Ed Caesar reports:

Many people familiar with the Safer liken it to the dockside warehouse in Beirut, packed with ammonium nitrate, that exploded last year. That blast killed 218 people and destroyed a swath of the city: nearly 8,000 apartments were damaged. Beirut’s plight was predicted, too—six months before the explosion, officials inspecting the consignment of ammonium nitrate on the waterfront warned that it could “blow up all of Beirut.” [One official] described the Safer to me as a “bomb.”

A fire or an explosion on the Safer could pollute the air for up to eight million Yemenis, and would complicate the delivery of foreign aid to the western coast. A spill would be even more calamitous. Yemen’s Red Sea fishing industry has already been ravaged by the war. An oil slick would knock it out entirely. A big spill would also block the port of Hodeidah, which is some 30 miles southeast of the tanker. Two-thirds of Yemen’s food arrives through the port. . . . In the worst forecasts, a large volume of oil would reach the Bab el-Mandeb Strait—the pinch point between Djibouti, on the African mainland, and Yemen.

The UN, the Saudis, and other international players have tried to organize an effort to prevent a catastrophe, but the Houthis—the Iran-backed group that controls the ship and the Hodeidah port—have stood in their way. After all, Caesar writes, the fate of the Safer has given them “leverage in broader negotiations concerning the war.”

Some observers also believe that the Houthis have laid mines in the waters around the Safer. Many coastal regions under Houthi control have been booby-trapped this way. If explosives indeed surround the ship, nobody knows their exact locations.

If every party were committed to a resolution of the crisis, all the oil could be removed from the Safer within a month or so. . . . Yet the Houthis have frustrated the UN’s attempts to take any steps toward removing the oil, despite having begged the organization for help in 2018. . . . Indeed, some UN contractors worry that the Houthis may have actually weaponized the ship. In 2020, during preparations for an inspection that never occurred, a UN contractor advised that experts check the ship for “mines or explosives or improvised explosive devices.” Another UN source said that the vessel was an integral part of the Houthis’ defense of Hodeidah.

Read more at New Yorker

More about: Iran, Oil, Red Sea, Yemen

The U.S. Is Trying to Seduce Israel into Accepting a Bad Deal with Iran. Israel Should Say No

Last week, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) released its quarterly report on the Iranian nuclear program. According to an analysis by the Institute for Science and International Security, the Islamic Republic can now produce enough weapons-grade uranium to manufacture “five nuclear weapons in one month, seven in two months, and a total of eight in three months.” The IAEA also has reason to believe that Tehran has further nuclear capabilities that it has successfully hidden from inspectors. David M. Weinberg is concerned about Washington’s response:

Believe it or not, the Biden administration apparently is once again offering the mullahs of Tehran a sweetheart deal: the release of $10 billion or more in frozen Iranian assets and clemency for Iran’s near-breakout nuclear advances of recent years, in exchange for Iranian release of American hostages and warmed-over pious Iranian pledges to freeze the Shiite atomic-bomb program.

This month, intelligence photos showed Iran again digging tunnels at its Natanz nuclear site—supposedly deep enough to withstand an American or Israeli military strike. This tells us that Iran has something to hide, a clear sign that it has not given up on its quest for a nuclear bomb.

Meanwhile, Antony Blinken today completes a three-day visit to Saudi Arabia, where he is reportedly pressing the kingdom to enter the Abraham Accords. This is no coincidence, for reasons Weinberg explains:

Washington expects Israeli acquiescence in the emerging U.S. surrender to Iran in exchange for a series of other things important to Israel. These include U.S. backing for Israel against escalated Palestinian assaults expected this fall in UN forums, toning down U.S. criticism regarding settlement and security matters (at a time when the IDF is going to have to intensify its anti-terrorist operations in Judea and Samaria), an easing of U.S. pressures on Israel in connection with domestic matters (like judicial reform), a warm Washington visit for Prime Minister Netanyahu (which is not just a political concession but is rather critical to Israel’s overall deterrent posture), and most of all, significant American moves towards reconciliation with Saudi Arabia (which is critical to driving a breakthrough in Israeli-Saudi ties).

[But] even an expensive package of U.S. “concessions” to Saudi Arabia will not truly compensate for U.S. capitulation to Iran (something we know from experience will only embolden the hegemonic ambitions of the mullahs). And this capitulation will make it more difficult for the Saudis to embrace Israel publicly.

Read more at Israel Hayom

More about: Antony Blinken, Iran nuclear program, Israeli Security, Saudi Arabia, U.S.-Israel relationship