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


How the U.S. Is Financing Bashar al-Assad

Due to a long history of supporting terrorism and having waged a brutal and devastating war on its own people, the Syrian regime is subject to numerous U.S. sanctions. But that doesn’t stop American tax dollars from going to President Bashar al-Assad and his cronies, via the United Nations. David Adesnik explains:

UN agencies have spent $95.5 million over the past eight years to house their staff at the Four Seasons Damascus, including $14.2 million last year. New Yorkers know good hotel rooms don’t come cheap, but the real problem in Damascus is that the Four Seasons’ owners are the Assad regime itself and one of the war profiteers who manages the regime’s finances.

The hotel would likely go under if not for UN business; Damascus is not a tourist destination these days. The UN claims keeping its staff at the Four Seasons is about keeping them safe. Yet there has been little fighting in Damascus since 2017. A former UN diplomat with experience in the Syrian capital told me the regime tells UN agencies it can only guarantee the safety of their staff if they stay at the Four Seasons.

What makes the Four Seasons debacle especially galling is that it’s been public knowledge for seven years, and the UN has done nothing about it—or the many other ways the regime siphons off aid for its own benefit. One of the most lucrative is manipulating exchange rates. . . . One of Washington’s top experts on humanitarian aid crunched the numbers and concluded the UN lost $100 million over eighteen months to this kind of rate-fixing.

What the United States and its allies should do is make clear to the UN they will turn off the spigot if the body doesn’t get its act together.

Read more at New York Post

More about: Bashar al-Assad, Syria, U.S. Foreign policy, United Nations