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

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

Hamas Has Its Own Day-After Plan

While Hamas’s leaders continue to reject the U.S.-backed ceasefire proposal, they have hardly been neglecting diplomacy. Ehud Yaari explains:

Over the past few weeks, Hamas leaders have been engaged in talks with other Palestinian factions and select Arab states to find a formula for postwar governance in the Gaza Strip. Held mainly in Qatar and Egypt, the negotiations have not matured into a clear plan so far, but some forms of cooperation are emerging on the ground in parts of the embattled enclave.

Hamas officials have informed their interlocutors that they are willing to support the formation of either a “technocratic government” or one composed of factions that agree to Palestinian “reconciliation.” They have also insisted that security issues not be part of this government’s authority. In other words, Hamas is happy to let others shoulder civil responsibilities while it focuses on rebuilding its armed networks behind the scenes.

Among the possibilities Hamas is investigating is integration into the Palestinian Authority (PA), the very body that many experts in Israel and in the U.S. believe should take over Gaza after the war ends. The PA president Mahmoud Abbas has so far resisted any such proposals, but some of his comrades in the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) are less certain:

On June 12, several ex-PLO and PA officials held an unprecedented meeting in Ramallah and signed an initiative calling for the inclusion of additional factions, meaning Hamas. The PA security services had blocked previous attempts to arrange such meetings in the West Bank. . . . Hamas has already convinced certain smaller PLO factions to get on board with its postwar model.

With generous help from Qatar, Hamas also started a campaign in March asking unaffiliated Palestinian activists from Arab countries and the diaspora to press for a collaborative Hamas role in postwar Gaza. Their main idea for promoting this plan is to convene a “Palestinian National Congress” with hundreds of delegates. Preparatory meetings have already been held in Britain, Lebanon, Kuwait, and Qatar, and more are planned for the United States, Spain, Belgium, Australia, and France.

If the U.S. and other Western countries are serious about wishing to see Hamas defeated, and all the more so if they have any hopes for peace, they will have to convey to all involved that any association with the terrorist group will trigger ostracization and sanctions. That Hamas doesn’t already appear toxic to these various interlocutors is itself a sign of a serious failure.

Read more at Washington Institute for Near East Policy

More about: Gaza War 2023, Hamas, Palestinian Authority