Dire Straits. Three boats believed to belong to Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps attempted on Wednesday to divert a British oil tanker in the Strait of Hormuz, U.S. and British officials said. (The unnamed American officials, who presented the initial account, said there were five boats.) HMS Montrose, a British frigate, reportedly got between the tanker and the unknown boats and verbally warned them away. (Again, the U.S. account was a bit more exciting, saying that the frigate also trained its deck guns on the unidentified boats.) Iran has denied these claims, but the U.S. said it had tapes – according to CNN, a U.S. surveillance aircraft was overhead at the time of the incident. An already tense situation in the gulf got even tenser last week when British Royal Marines boarded an Iranian tanker off the coast of Gibraltar; various IRGC commanders have responded with threats, including a rear admiral who said on Thursday that the U.S. and U.K. would “certainly regret” the Iranian tanker’s seizure, and Iran’s president said Wednesday that the U.K. would face “consequences.”
With a little help from Japan. Japan is reportedly exploring ways to contribute forces to a U.S.-led naval coalition to escort ships through the Persian Gulf. This comes after U.S. President Donald Trump’s call for others to take a more active role in securing their energy supplies from the Middle East. We’ve always assumed that Japan’s near-total dependence on imported resources would force it to become more militarily active, especially on the open seas. The problem is that Tokyo has always been hampered by domestic political and legal constraints. The government is still bound by them to some degree, but the administration of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has proved capable of finding ways around them – by blurring the legal lines, for example, of the size and shape of the military and how far it is allowed to be deployed. Assuming Tokyo is serious about wanting to send ships to the Strait of Hormuz – at a politically sensitive time, with Upper House elections less than two weeks away – whether or not it follows through will shed light on just how steep these legal and political restraints still are.
Lonely Cyprus. The European Union reached a tentative agreement on punitive actions against Turkey for drilling for oil and natural gas in disputed waters near Cyprus. Reuters got access to a draft statement that calls for an end to high-level meetings with Turkish officials, a suspension of negotiations on the Comprehensive Air Transport Agreement, a reduction of pre-accession aid in 2020, and an invitation to the European Investment Bank to review its lending to Turkey. The agreement isn’t final and won’t be adopted until July 15 at the earliest. Most interesting was a frank quote in Reuters’ reporting from an anonymous EU diplomat, who effectively acknowledged the toothlessness of the EU’s response. The diplomat noted that the EU had to proceed carefully because of the importance of Turkish cooperation in countering migration and terrorism, and Turkey’s role in energy transit for some member states, not to mention its status as a NATO partner. The EU statement said more restrictive measures could be in the offing if Turkey doesn’t halt its drilling, but as the unnamed diplomat said, “Don’t expect any wide economic sanctions.”
- U.S. President Donald Trump threatened to levy additional sanctions against Iran after Washington imposed new sanctions on Hezbollah officials earlier this week.
- Later this month, Europe will begin using a new mass notification system for its various militaries.
- Taliban and Afghan officials agreed to take steps to limit civilian casualties in the Taliban’s ongoing offensive. The Taliban also pledged to stop targeting “religious centers, schools, hospitals, educational centers, bazaars, water dams and work places,” according to Germany’s Afghanistan envoy. The U.S. and Taliban, for their part, are scheduled to resume negotiations on Tuesday.
- Russian energy company Gazprom announced that its revenue from natural gas exports decreased by 38 percent in the second quarter of 2019 compared with the first quarter of 2019 and by 21 percent year over year.
- Bolivian President Evo Morales arrived in Moscow for a working visit.
- France’s Parliament approved a 3 percent tax on large internet companies’ domestic revenue – a day after U.S. President Donald Trump called for an investigation into whether the levy unfairly targets American firms.
- Venezuelan military exercises scheduled to take place on July 25 will feature Russian equipment, Russia’s deputy foreign minister said. Russia has served as a major supplier of military hardware to Venezuela for decades.