Iran bypassing sanctions, secretly smuggling oil, Netanyahu claims

PM calls on international community to block Tehran’s attempts to skirt restrictions, tours US deployment of advanced anti-missile system in Israel

Stuart Winer is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a graduation ceremony for Israeli Navy cadets in Haifa on March 6, 2019 (Meir Vaknin/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a graduation ceremony for Israeli Navy cadets in Haifa on March 6, 2019 (Meir Vaknin/Flash90)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday accused Iran of secretly smuggling oil to get past economic sanctions, and called on the international community to take action against the activity.

“Iran is trying to bypass the sanctions on it through the covert smuggling of petroleum via the sea,” the prime minister said at a graduation ceremony for an Israeli Navy cadets course, held at the Haifa naval base. “As these attempts expand, the navy will have a more important role in efforts to block these Iranian actions.

“I call on the international community to halt, by any means, Iran’s attempts to bypass the sanctions via the sea,” Netanyahu said.

Israel, he added, constantly carries out sea-based operations against its enemies, “most of [which] are unknown.”

Last May the US pulled out of the landmark 2015 nuclear deal that saw stiff economic sanctions on Iran lifted in return for the dismantling of the weapons-capable elements of its nuclear development program. US President Donald Trump has said the deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, doesn’t go far enough in preventing Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons and does not restrict the Iranian missile development program.

Although the other parties to the deal — Britain, France, Russia, China, and Germany — are working to keep the pact alive with Iran, the US reimposed strict sanctions and Iran’s economy has suffered, with rising inflation and a devaluation of its rial currency.

In his remarks at the base, Netanyahu also revealed that US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, along with the leaders of Cyprus and Greece, will arrive in Israel in the coming days to advance a gas pipeline project that would supply Europe with natural gas from Israel’s offshore fields. “The navy will also protect this pipeline,” he said.

Earlier Wednesday Netanyahu toured an advanced US anti-missile system deployed in Israel as part of a military exercise, declaring that the presence of system was evidence of the strength of the military bond between the US and Israel.

He was accompanied on the visit by American ambassador David Friedman, the US Embassy said in a statement.

“The two officials received a briefing from the commanders in the field, and held a tour at the site,” the embassy said.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, with US Ambassador David Friedman as they tour a deployment of the US THAAD anti-missile defense system, March 6, 2019. (Matty Stern/US Embassy Jerusalem)

“This is a testament to the strength of the alliance between Israel and the United States. It’s never been stronger, and the coalition for common defense that is expressed here, not merely in expressed intentions, but in actual forces on the ground — I think is remarkable,” Netanyahu said. “So we’re very, very happy with the cooperation and with the American commitment often expressed by President Trump to Israel’s security.”

The Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system, known as THAAD, was deployed earlier this month as part of a joint exercise with Israeli forces and to practice deployment of the system, considered one of the most advance in the world, at different locations around the globe. It was the first time the system had been brought to Israel.

Friedman said it showed “the incredibly close and important cooperation between Israel and the United States.”

“This is an outstanding example of how the American forces have made a commitment to Israel’s safety and security,” he said. “They’ve done this in many other ways, but I can’t think of a better single example than what we are looking at right now. It’s a testament to the really unbreakable bound between Israel and the United States on so many different levels — including of course, most importantly, mutual safety and security.”

Netanyahu also used the visit to take a selfie photo with US troops operating the THAAD system, and then posted the image to his Twitter feed along with a poke at Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit, who last month forbade the prime minister from taking election campaign photos with Israeli troops.

“I took a photo with soldiers… Americans,” Netanyahu tweeted. “The alliance between the US and Israel is stronger than ever.”

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