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The ‘Forgotten’ US shoot down of Iranian Airliner Flight 655

On the rare occasions the US mainstream media refer to the US shoot-down of an Iranian airliner in 1988, they sustain the myth it was simply a “mistake”.

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This summer marks 30 years since the shoot-down by the USS Vincennes of Iran Air flight 655, which killed all of the plane’s 290 civilian passengers. This shoot-down of a civilian airliner by a US naval ship occurred on July 3, 1988, toward the end of the eight-year Iran-Iraq War.

This incident is, of course, something that the people of Iran well remember. Americans who rely on the US mainstream media, on the other hand, would have to be forgiven for never having heard about it.

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Furthermore, in the rare instances when the media do mention it, to this day they tend to maintain official US government falsehoods about what occurred and otherwise omit relevant details that would inform Americans about what really happened.

The lack of mention of the incident or, when it is mentioned, the deceptive reporting about what occurred illustrates an institutionalized bias in the media. The consequence is that Americans seeking to understand US-Iran relations today fail to grasp a key historical event that has helped to define that relationship.

How the Mainstream Media Report the US shoot-down of Flight 655

If one does a quick Google search for relevant keywords specific to the shootdown, only a handful of US mainstream media reports turn up on first-page results.

Max Fisher in the Washington Post wrote a piece about it several years ago, appropriately titled “The Forgotten story of Iran Air Flight 655”. For context, Fisher asserted that “the Vincennes was exchanging fire with small Iranian ships in the Persian Gulf.” As explanation for how the Vincennes “mistook the lumbering Airbus A300 civilian airliner for a much smaller and faster F-14 fighter jet”, Fisher suggested it was “perhaps” due to “the heat of battle” or “perhaps because the flight allegedly did not identify itself.”

The Washington Examiner a couple years ago ran a piece with the headline “Iran says 1988 airliner shootdown is why U.S. can’t be trusted”. The author, Charles Hoskinson, stated simply that “An investigation revealed that the cruiser’s crew mistook the airliner for an attacking F-14 fighter jet while involved in a confrontation with Iranian gunboats.”

Fred Kaplan in Slate noted in a 2014 piece that the incident “is almost completely forgotten” (at least in the US). His article was appropriately subtitled “The time the United States blew up a passenger plane—and covered it up.” As a journalist who had reported on the incident at the time and challenged the US government’s official story, Kaplan noted that “American officials told various lies” intended to blame the Iranians for the tragedy.

The government had claimed that the Vincennes was in international waters at the time, that the plane was flying “outside of the prescribed commercial air route” and descending at the “high speed” of 450 knots directly toward the Vincennes, and that the plane’s transponder was squawking a code over a military channel.

In truth, the Vincennes was in Iran’s territorial waters, the plane was ascending through 12,000 feet at 380 knots within the established commercial air route, and its transponder was squawking the plane’s identity over a civilian channel.

The USS Vincennes

Like Fisher and Hoskinson, however, Kaplan nevertheless maintained the US government’s narrative that “the Iranian Airbus A300 wandered into a naval skirmish” and on that basis characterized it as a “horrible mistake”.

These are the only three examples from within the past decade that appeared in initial search results for various relevant keywords at the time of this writing. It’s also helpful see how America’s “newspaper of record”, the New York Times, has reported it over the years, by searching its online archives.

Doing various related keyword searches at the New York Times website turns up a smattering of articles. Without going further back, a November 1988 piece acknowledged that, contrary to the US government’s claims, “Flight 655 was behaving normally for a commercial jet”. The Times nevertheless maintained the government’s official line that “Iranian [air traffic] tower officials clearly are guilty of not listening to the dozens of radio warnings broadcast by the Navy and ordering the airliner to change course”.

The following month, the Times revealed that this attempt to blame the Iranians was also untruthful. As the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) determined in an investigation of the incident, seven of the eleven warnings issued by the Americans “were transmitted on a military channel that was inaccessible to the airliner crew.” The other four were transmitted on the international civil aviation distress frequency. Of these, only one, transmitted by the USS Sides “39 seconds before the Vincennes fired, was of sufficient clarity that it might have been ‘instantly recognizable’ to the airliner as being directed at it.”

The Times nevertheless sustained the US government’s narrative that Iran was at least partly to blame by “allowing an airliner to fly into the area at the time when warships were involved in an intense battle with Iranian gunboats.”

In May 1989, Iran sued the US in the International Court of Justice (ICJ) over the shoot-down. The Times ran a piece in July about how the US was trying to settle the matter by offering to compensate victims’ families with up to $250,000. The only details of the attack the Times offered readers was to relay the claim from a senior State Department official that “the Vincennes was defending itself against what it believed was a ‘coordinated attack’”.

Another Times article that August reported that Iran’s case was proceeding at the ICJ. For context, the Times simply parroted the government’s official line that, “At the time, the Vincennes was part of a group of American warships protecting neutral shipping in the [Persian] gulf during the war between Iraq and Iran.”

(The ICJ case was dropped in 1996 when the US and Iran reached a settlement in which the US “expressed deep regret” and agreed to pay $61.8 million to the victims’ families.)

In 1992, a Times article reported on the further unravelling of the US government’s official account. It noted that, contrary to the government’s claims, Flight 655 was ascending and flying within the commercial air corridor.

Vice President George H. W. Bush had told the UN that the shoot-down occurred “in the midst of a naval attack initiated by Iranian vessels against a neutral vessel and subsequently against the Vincennes.” In fact, as government officials were now admitting, the Vincennes was in Iranian waters at the time. Furthermore, an investigative report for ABC’s Nightline determined that it was not the Iranian ships that started the naval skirmish, but the US Navy’s.

The US government maintained that, while the Vincennes was admittedly within Iran’s territorial waters, it was the Iranian ships who initiated hostilities. However, even the commander of the USS Sides, Captain David Carlson, whose ship was in the same American convoy, had stated three years prior that the actions of the Vincennes under the command of Captain Will Rogers were “consistently aggressive.”

The Times also noted that neither Captain Rogers nor any other officers or crew of the Vincennes were disciplined.

There are only scarce mentions of the incident by the Times since. Columnist Roger Cohen in an August 2009 piece referred in passing to “the mistaken 1988 shooting-down of Iran Air Flight 655, in which 290 people perished”. A 2015 article mentioned it, stating that the Vincennes was “patrolling the strait [of Hormuz]” and that its crew “apparently mistook the plane for an Iranian F-14 fighter.” The most recent mention that turned up was from February 2 of this year, in an article that states simply that “Iran called the attack deliberate and the United States called it a mistake.”

The above is not an exhaustive list, but these examples illustrate that, on the rare occasions when the US mainstream media do mention the incident, to this day they sustain the US government’s narrative that this killing of 290 civilians was simply a “mistake” for which no one should be held criminally responsible.

So how well does this narrative hold up?

The Facts about the US shoot-down of Flight 655

After the Vincennes shot down Flight 655, as Fred Kaplan noted in his Slate piece, Vice President George H. W. Bush responded by saying, “I will never apologize for the United States of America—I don’t care what the facts are.”

The facts were that the Aegis cruiser USS Vincennes, under the command of Captain Will Rogers III, had entered Iran’s territorial waters and opened fire on and sank two Iranian gunboats posing no threat to the American vessels. (Aboard another Iranian boat the Vincennes was passing by at the same moment Rogers gave the order to open fire, the crew was seen relaxing topside, as captured by the camera of US Navy journalists.)

At the time, as a Navy investigation later acknowledged, the Vincennes detected a plane ascending “on a normal commercial air flight plan profile” and squawking a transponder signal identifying itself as a commercial aircraft.

Aboard the Sides, with identical radar information as received aboard the Vincennes, Captain Carlson determined the plane was a “non-threat”.

Aboard the Vincennes, Lieutenant William Montford warned Captain Rogers that the plane was “possible COMAIR”, but Rogers nevertheless ostensibly convinced himself that his ship was under attack from an F-14 fighter plane and minutes later ordered it shot down.

(Incidentally, the US had sold F-14s to Iran in the early 1970s while it was under the thumb of Washington’s strongman, Mohammed Reza Shah Pahlavi, who was put in power after a CIA-orchestrated coup in 1953 overthrew Iran’s democratically elected government by deposing Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddegh for having nationalized the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company. The Shah was in turn overthrown during Iran’s 1979 Islamic revolution.)

Well aware that his action might kill civilians, Rogers ordered his gunner to open fire on the plane, shooting it out of the sky.

The Navy’s self-investigation attributed the discrepancy between the known facts and Rogers’ actions to “scenario fulfillment”. Rogers had made “an unconscious attempt to make available evidence fit a preconceived scenario.”

In other words, even though the information the officers and crew aboard the Vincennes were receiving indicated that the plane was ascending along a commercial flight path and squawking its identify as a civilian airliner, Rogers imagined it to be an F-14 fighter jet coming down out of the sky to attack his ship.

US government officials evidently also suffered from “scenario fulfillment” as they proceeded to make claims about what had happened bearing no relationship to reality.

President Ronald Reagan claimed that the killing of 290 civilians was justified as “a proper defensive action”.

Never one to apologize, Vice President Bush, while campaigning for the presidency, called it “just an unhappy incident” and reassured Americans that “life goes on.”

As he was scheduled to speak before the UN Security Council about the incident, Bush said, “I can’t wait to get up there and defend the policy of the United States government” by presenting “the free world’s case” for why 290 mostly Iranian civilians were dead.

Speaking before the Security Council, Bush blamed Iran for allowing a civilian airliner to go about its business carrying passengers to Dubai at a time when an American warship was “engaged in battle”.

He declined to explain how the pilot, Captain Mohsen Rezaian, or the air traffic controllers at the airport in Bandar Abbas, where Flight 655 had taken off, could possibly have known that a US warship with an imaginative captain on board was in Iran’s territorial waters firing at anything that moved.

Bush lied to the Council that the Vincennes had “acted in self-defense” against “a naval attack initiated by Iranian vessels” on the American ship when it “came to the aid” of an “innocent ship in distress.”

Also not wont to question the actions of the US government, the New York Times in an editorial published July 5, 1988, urged Americans via their headline to put themselves “In Captain Rogers’s Shoes”.

Sympathizing with the killer, the Times editors described the shootdown as “horrifying”, but “nonetheless an accident.” It was “hard to see what the Navy could have done to avoid it.” Captain Rogers “had little choice” but to open fire, they opined, assuming the US government’s account “turns out even approximately correct”.

Of course, the official account turned out to be pretty much the opposite of the truth in virtually every aspect, but the Times was, as ever, not over-eager to seriously question the government’s claims.

Thus, the editors maintained the deception that the Vincennes was “in a combat zone” and “engaged in action against Iranian gunboats making high-speed runs against it.”

The editors also relayed as fact that the radar operators aboard the Vincennes had “reported an aircraft heading toward the ship and descending.” Furthermore, they “apparently had indications, which the Navy refuses to discuss, that the plane was a powerful F-14 jet.”

Unimaginatively, the Times editors failed to conceive of the most obvious reason why the Navy would refuse to discuss that claim: because there were no such indications.

The furthest the Times would go to question the official narrative was to state that it was “not yet clear why sophisticated radar did not distinguish between an F-14 and a much larger Airbus.”

The lie the Times was upholding then—as to this day—was that the ship’s sophisticated radar had indicated it was something other than a civilian airliner.

After axiomatically accepting this lie, the editors immediately urged their readers to “put yourself in Captain Rogers’s shoes”. They proceeded to assert that the “evidence” suggested “an imminent attack” by the plane on the Vincennes.

Note that the word “evidence” in this context is being used euphemistically by the Times’ editorial board to mean claims by US government officials that were directly contradicted by the actual evidence available to them.

The Times proceeded to state that, if the US government’s account was at least “largely correct”, then we could safely conclude that the Iran Air pilot was to blame “for failing to acknowledge the ship’s warnings and flying outside the civilian corridor. Iran, too, may bear responsibility for failing to warn civilian planes away from the combat zone of an action it had initiated.”

They concluded that “the onus for avoiding such accidents in the future” fell not on the captains of American warships operating in the territorial waters of other countries, but “on civilian aircraft” flying in their own airspace.

The takeaway lesson presented by the Times was that civilian aircraft should just “avoid combat zones, fly high, [and] acknowledge warnings.”

Finally, the editorial concluded that ultimate blame lay with the government of Iran, with the “accident” instructing the world that it was time for Tehran “to bring an end to its futile eight-year war with Iraq.”

Of course, as the Times editors were perfectly well aware, it was Iraq who started the war, which dragged on for eight long years in large part due to the fact that the US was backing the aggressor.

Far from being held accountable for the mass murder of 290 civilians, Captain Rogers was later presented with the Legion of Merit award “for exceptionally meritorious conduct in the performance of outstanding service” during his time as commanding officer when the shootdown occurred.

Rogers’ weapons and combat systems officer at the time, Lieutenant Commander Scott E. Lustig, received two commendation medals and was praised for “heroic achievement” for his conduct during the incident.

The entire crew of the Vincennes received combat action ribbons.

Conclusion

The US shootdown of Iran Air Flight 655 receives only rare mentions in the US mainstream media despite being a key incident in the history of the US’s relations with Iran that serves as critical context for understanding how Iranians today view the US government.

When it is mentioned, the media’s tendency is to characterize the mass killing as an honest “mistake”, resulting from an action any other country’s navy would have taken if put in the same position. Although it has long been known that the US government’s account of the incident was a pack of lies, the US media to this day characterize it as though the resulting death of civilians was just an unfortunate consequence of war.

When Max Fisher wrote in in the Washington Post in 2013 that “the Vincennes was exchanging fire with small Iranian ships in the Persian Gulf”, it is hard to fathom that he was unaware that the US warship was in Iranian waters; and yet he declined to relay that critical piece of information to his readers.

It is equally hard to fathom that he was unaware it was the Vincennes that initiated hostilities; yet this fact, too, he omitted.

Fisher also unquestioningly parroted the US government’s claim that the Vincennes’ crew “mistook” the plane for an F-14, which he attributed either to “the heat of battle” or the plane’s failure to identify itself.

It may be true that, as the naval investigation determined, Captain Rogers imagined it to be an F-14. Yet, as Lieutenant Colonel David Evans wrote in the US Naval Institute’s Proceedings Magazine in August 1993, the information received by the American ships from the plane’s transponder unambiguouslyidentified it as an ascending commercial aircraft.

“Both Captain Rogers and Captain Carlson,” Evans noted in his essay, “had this information.”

It is no less hard to fathom how Fisher could have been unaware of the fact that Flight 655 had been squawking its identify as a civilian aircraft, something even the most precursory research into the incident would have revealed to him.

It is therefore difficult to escape the conclusion that Max Fisher’s purpose in writing was not to educate Americans about what happened, but to sustain the central myth that the shootdown was merely an unfortunate accident of the kind that happens in the fog of war.

He was, in other words, dutifully serving his role as a propagandist.

Charles Hoskinson in his 2015 Washington Examiner piece was hardly more forthcoming.

Fred Kaplan was far more forthcoming in his Slate piece from three years ago; yet even in the face of his own contrary evidence, he still preserved the central myth that the shootdown was merely a “mistake” resulting from Iran Air Flight 655 having “wandered into a naval skirmish”.

This is the same false narrative that America’s “newspaper of record” maintains on those rare occasions when the incident receives a passing mention.

The real story, in sum, is as follows:

Twenty-nine years ago, on July 3, 1988, US warships entered Iranian waters and initiated hostilities with Iranian vessels.

The consoles of the radar operators aboard the USS Vincennes at the time unambiguously showed an aircraft ascending within a commercial corridor in Iranian airspace, with the plane’s transponder signaling its identity as a commercial aircraft.

Captain Rogers nevertheless ordered his gunner to open fire on the plane, shooting it out of the sky and killing the 290 civilians on board.

Subsequently, rather than being held accountable for committing a war crime, Rogers and his entire crew received awards for their actions.

Like Captain Rogers, the mainstream media establishment seems to suffer from institutional “scenario fulfillment”, in which this action did not constitute a war crime or, at best, an act of international terrorism.

In the case of the media, the preconceived notion is that the US is an exceptional nation whose government is sometimes capable of “mistakes”, but only ever acts out of benevolent intent.

It is an assumption that, while deemed axiomatic by the mainstream media establishment, is no less self-delusional than Captain Rogers’ imaginary scenario of this “forgotten” episode in US-Iran relations.

This article was adapted largely from material presented on pages 349-350 of the author’s book Obstacle to Peace: The US Role in the Israeli-Palestinian ConflictSee the book’s references for additional resources.

Via Foreign Policy Journal

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G GeorgeGonzogalregolo gelliniStop Bush and ClintonMarc Landreville Recent comment authors
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G George
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G George

This has been, and continues to be US behavior for over two centuries now. One of these days it will bite them in the ass; hopefully sooner than later.

Gonzogal
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Gonzogal

comment image comment image comment image

regolo gellini
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regolo gellini

Just hope that coward and assassin Captain Rogers, as well as his medal of honor, received a nice/nasty pancreas cancer ! May he burn in hell with all his family !

Stop Bush and Clinton
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Stop Bush and Clinton

I just shot Hitlery Clinton, John McCain, Lindsey Graham and some of their fellow warmongers. But you have to believe me, it’s because I imagined they were Putin!!! The justice system must let me get away with it and give me a medal for single-handedly defeating the Russian menace that was about to attack us!

Somehow I don’t think it would turn out that way for me.

I also think Rogers was carrying out orders to create a pretext to enter the war against Iran.

Marc Landreville
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Marc Landreville

Notwithstanding that the ship was inside Iranian waters, the shootdown was indeed a mistake. The radar officer that noted that the aircraft was descending was having a dyslexic episode, ostensably due to the pucker factor. The whole Vincennes operation was a comedy of incompetence and errors. They checked the airline schedules over that airway they were under, but failed to appreciate that the aircraft may have been late departing. In any case, after the face-saving and self-congratulatory medals were given, the US Navy never gave Capt. Rogers III another command. He was retired very prematurely the year after… in other… Read more »

Volker
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Volker

IMO it was an deliberate act of US-Terrorism and mass-murderer to provoke Iran in attacking the US-Terrorist Ship and lure them into a war, the USA give a shit about human lifes specially when their victims are non-americans, they give a shit about american lifes if they are black, brown, red or poor.

franz kafka
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franz kafka

If they had only stuck to shooting down airliners.’…

US Deep, and Shallow, State involvement was on full display following 9/11.
In fact, following the Silverstain, Busch, Cheney Demolition of the downtown core of Manhattan, the point man for spreading the OCT (Official Conspiracy Theory) was, if memery [sic] does not fail me, Head of FBI, Agent Mueller.

What a dreadful dejavu I just had.

Logan
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Logan

So while skirmishing with a US warship in the gulf why not just fly a civilian jetliner over them…how so very Persian.

normski1
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normski1

I still believe USA had a hand in the shoot down of MH17!.

Jordi Ferran
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Jordi Ferran

Worth remembering another past event:
” In 1980 NATO brought down Italian airliner in botched attempt to assassinate Gaddafi ”
http://www.minareport.com/2017/05/28/in-1980-nato-brought-down-italian-airliner-in-botched-attempt-to-assassinate-gaddafi/

This combined with NATO Gladio operations shows terrorism (even against your own civilians) has been a valid option for a very long time.

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Theresa May’s soft Brexit plan continues to fail, as EU now pushing for UK to leave (Video)

The Duran – News in Review – Episode 138.

Alex Christoforou

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Theresa May’s soft Brexit strategy has been such a monumental failure that even Brussels negotiators are now pushing for the UK to simply leave the union, in what has becoming a British debacle, and a thorn in the Conservative Party’s side.

Many media pundits and analysts are now asking if the latest impasse in Brexit talks means that we are indeed seeing the last days of Theresa May?

While much of the mess the Conservative Party finds themselves in because of Brexit is squarely Theresa May’s fault, much of the damage done by May’s inability to close the deal on Brexit will not go away, even if she does.

The Duran’s Alex Christoforou and Editor-in-Chief Alexander Mercouris discuss Theresa May’s continued failure to obtain her soft Brexit dream, placing herself (and her Conservative Party) in such an embarrassing position, that European Union negotiators, tired of never ending talks, are eager to see Britain go away, in what will be an inevitable hard Brexit.

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“Are these the last days of Theresa May?”, authored by Stephen Bush via The New Statesman:


Are these the last days of Theresa May? This morning’s papers are full of stories of plots and ultimatums to the Prime Minister unless she changes her Brexit strategy, whether from her Scottish MPs over any extension of the transition period due to concerns over fisheries policy, from her Brexiteer MPs over the backstop or from her Cabinet over practically everything.

All this before the Budget next Monday, when Philip Hammond is going to have to find some way to pay for the extra cash for the NHS and Universal Credit all while keeping to May’s pledge that debt will continue to fall as a share of GDP. So added to all May’s Brexit woes, a row over tax rises could be coming down the track.

Of course, the PM’s position has been perilous for a very long time – in fact, when you remember that her period of hegemony ran from July 2016 to June 2017, she’s actually been under threat for more of her premiership than she hasn’t. But just because you roll heads 36 times in a row doesn’t mean your chances of rolling tails aren’t 50/50 on roll 37, and May’s luck could well be running out.

But while May shares a good size of the blame for the mess that the Conservative Party are in, it’s not all her fault by any means and none of those problems will go away if May is replaced or changes tack to win over her internal opponents in the European Research Group.

Ireland has a veto over the end state and only an indefinite and legally binding backstop for the island of Ireland will do if any deal is to be signed off. It’s true to say that no deal also means a hard border on the island of Ireland, but it’s also true that it will always been in the political interests of whoever is in office in Ireland for a hard border to be imposed as a result of no deal rather than for the Irish government to acquiesce in the creation of one through a EU-UK treaty.

The DUP can bring the Conservative government to an early end so they, too, have a de facto veto over any deal that creates barriers between Northern Ireland and the United Kingdom. But the only UK-wide solution – for the backstop to encompass the whole of the United Kingdom – is nothing doing with pro-Brexit Conservative MPs who don’t want an indefinite backstop. It’s also politically tricky with many EU member states, who don’t want the default outcome of the talks to be a UK-wide backstop, which many regard as a threat to the sanctity of single market. (The only reason why it is acceptable on the Irish border is because Ireland is still a member state and because the Irish border was both the location and the cause of political violence within living memory.)

Added to that, the Conservative parliamentary party seems to be undergoing a similar psychological journey to the one that Steve van Riel described during the 2015 Labour leadership election: that groups of any kind tend to reach a more extreme position the longer an issue is debated. Brexiteers who spent 20 years saying they wanted a Norway style deal now talk of Norway as a betrayal. Leavers who cheerily talked about making Northern Ireland into its own customs area before Brexit now talk of the backstop as a constitutional betrayal. And Conservative Remainers who only reluctantly backed an In vote to avoid the political upheaval of negotiating Brexit, or the loss of David Cameron, now call for a referendum re-run and privately flirt with the idea of a new party.

Some of that is May’s fault, yes. But none of it is going to go away if she does and all of it makes the prospect of reaching a Brexit deal considerably less likely.

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Saudi Crown Prince Spoke To Khashoggi By Phone Moments Before He Was Killed: Report

The shifting Saudi narrative of the killing has been met with scepticism and condemnation from the international community.

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Via Zerohedge


In the latest bombshell report involving the Khashoggi murder, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman reportedly spoke on the phone with journalist Jamal Khashoggi moments before he was murdered in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. Turkish pro-government daily Yeni Safak disclosed the new alleged details of the case in a report on Sunday, contradicting claims by Saudi authorities that Prince Mohammed played no part in Khashoggi’s murder.

“Khashoggi was detained by the Saudi team inside the consulate building. Then Prince Mohammed contacted Khashoggi by phone and tried to convince him to return to Riyadh,” the report said.

“Khashoggi refused Prince Mohammed’s offer out of fear he would be arrested and killed if he returned. The assassination team then killed Khashoggi after the conversation ended,” it added.

While the report is so far unconfirmed, the New Arab reports that so far Turkish pro-government media have been receiving a steady stream of leaks many of which turned out to be accurate, including pictures of the hit team as they entered Turkey and reports of audio recordings of the murder said to be in the possession of Turkish authorities.

Meanwhile, the Saudi version of events has been changing significantly over the past two weeks with authorities conceded Saturday that Khashoggi, the Washington Post columnist and a Riyadh critic, was killed inside the kingdom’s Istanbul diplomatic compound following a “brawl”. The admission came after a fortnight of denials with the insistence that the journalist left the consulate alive, starting on October 5, when Crown Prince MBS told Bloomberg that Khashoggi was not inside the consulate and “we are ready to welcome the Turkish government to go and search our premises”.

On Saturday, the kingdom announced it had fired five top officials and arrested 18 others in an investigation into the killing – a move that has widely been viewed as an attempt to cover up the crown prince’s role in the murder.

The shifting Saudi narrative of the killing has been met with scepticism and condemnation from the international community, and has left the U.S. and other allies struggling for a response on Sunday. As Bloomberg reports, France demanded more information, Germany put arms sales to Riyadh on hold and the Trump administration stressed the vital importance of the kingdom and its economy to the U.S.

In Sunday radio and TV interviews, Dominic Raab, the U.K. politician in charge of negotiating Britain’s exit from the European Union, described the latest Saudi account as not credible; French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire called for “the truth’’; and Germany’s Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said his government would approve no arms sales so long as the investigation was ongoing.

Earlier on Sunday, Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir acknowledged a cover-up attempt. The dramatic reversal, after Saudi officials had previously said the columnist left the building alive, has only complicated the issue for allies.

Saudi Arabia’s al-Jubeir told Fox News on Sunday that the journalist’s death was an “aberration.”

“There obviously was a tremendous mistake made and what compounded the mistake was the attempt to cover up,” he said, promising that “those responsible will be punished for it.”

More importantly, he said that Prince Mohammed had no knowledge of the events, although if the Turkish report is confirmed, it will be yet another major flaw with the official narrative.

Several senior members of US President Donald Trump’s Republican Party said they believed Prince Mohammed was linked to the killing, and one called for a “collective” Western response if a link is proved. In an interview with The Washington Post, President Trump, too, said the Saudi narrative had been marked by “deception and lies.’’ Yet he also defended Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman as a “strong person,’’ and said there was no proof of his involvement in Khashoggi’s death. Some members of Congress have questioned his willingness to exonerate the prince.

“Obviously there’s been deception and there’s been lies,” Trump said on the shifting accounts offered by Riyadh.

On Sunday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan promised to disclose details about the case at a meeting of his AK Party’s parliamentary faction on Tuesday, Haberturk newspaper reported.

Meanwhile, as Western firms and high-ranked officials scramble to avoid any Saudi involvement, Russia is more than happy to step in and fill the power vacuum void left by the US. As a result, Russian businesses are flocking to attend the investment forum in Saudi Arabia, as Western counterparts pull out.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has had considerable success boosting Moscow’s influence in the Middle East at U.S. expense, by standing by regimes that fall afoul of the West, including in Syria and Iran. Last week Putin signed a strategic and partnership agreement with Egypt’s President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi, backed by $25 billion in loans to build nuclear reactors. Until El-Sisi came to power, Egypt had been closely allied to the U.S.

Meanwhile, all eyes are fixed squarely on the Crown Prince whose position of power is looking increasingly perilous. Congressional leaders on Sunday dismissed the story proffered earlier by the Saudis, with Republican Senators Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Bob Corker of Tennessee saying they believed the crown prince was likely involved in Khashoggi’s death.

Lawmakers said they believe the U.S. must impose sanctions on Saudi Arabia or take other action if the crown prince is shown to have been involved. Speaking on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois, the chamber’s No. 2 Democrat, said the Saudi ambassador to the U.S. should be formally expelled until a third-party investigation is done. He said the U.S. should call on its allies to do the same.

“Unless the Saudi kingdom understands that civilized countries around the world are going to reject this conduct and make sure that they pay a price for it, they’ll continue doing it,”’ Durbin said.

The obvious question is what happens and how the Saudi royal family will respond if it is pushed too far, and whether the worst case scenario, a sharp cut in oil exports, could be on the table if MBS feels like he has little to lose from escalating the situation beyond a point of no return.

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The Biggest Winners In The Mediterranean Energy War

Energy companies are flocking to the Mediterranean after oil and gas discoveries in the territorial waters of Israel, Cyprus, and Egypt.

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Authored by Vanand Meliksetian via Oilprice.com:


Former Vice-President of the United States Dick Cheney once said: “the good lord didn’t see fit to put oil and gas only where there are democratically elected states… Occasionally we have to operate in places where, all considered, one would not normally choose to go. But we go where the business is.” Europe is surrounded by states with abundant energy resources, but supply from these countries is not always as reliable. Russia, for example, is regularly accused of using energy as a weapon. However, major discoveries of gas in the Eastern Mediterranean could mitigate dependence on Russian gas.

The discovery of a gas field named Tamar near the coast of Israel in 2009 set off a wave of investments in the energy sector. After 9 years, companies are flocking to the region after other discoveries in the territorial waters of Israel, Cyprus, and Egypt. Ever larger finds in the Mediterranean Sea’s Levant Basin such as the Leviathan gas field in 2010 and Zohr in 2015, have the potential to transform the strategic importance of the region.

Turkey’s energy hub ambitions

Few states in the world are geographically so well positioned as Turkey. The country controls Russia’s only warm water port in the Black Sea and serves as a bridge between east and west. Therefore, during the Cold War Ankara was an indispensable member of NATO. More recently, Turkey has the ambition to become an energy hub for Middle Eastern and Caspian energy. Ankara has had mixed successes in attracting investors and maintaining political stability.

After Israel’s significant discoveries, a U.S. backed initiative presented Turkey as an energy hub. Although a land pipeline is the cheapest option to transport gas from the Mediterranean to Europe, political developments have stalled construction. President Erdogan’s escalating public denunciations of Israel have made Jerusalem look for other options. Furthermore, relations with Europe have also been damaged which would be dependent on Turkey as a transit country.

Egypt as the regional gas hub

Egypt’s has the third largest gas reserves in Africa. Therefore, its export-oriented LNG industry came on-stream in 2004 but was shut mid-2013 due to a lack of resources. The growth of the domestic market demanded ever larger volumes, which went at the expense of exports. Instead, Egypt started importing LNG. However, the discovery of the massive Zohr gas field, the largest in the Eastern Mediterranean, has turned around the situation. Egypt imported its last shipment of LNG in September 2018.

Although relations between Egypt and Israel are far from normal, privately held companies have been able to strike a deal. Starting from the first quarter of 2019, in 10 years 64 bcm worth $10 billion will be delivered. The agreement has stirred controversy in Egypt, which until recently was exporting to Israel. However, with this deal, Cairo comes closer in becoming an energy hub.

The recent signing of another agreement, this time with Nicosia to develop a subsea pipeline from Cyprus’ Aphrodite gas field, has been another important step. Cypriot gas will be pumped 400 miles (645 kilometers) to the south to Egypt’s LNG facilities. Difficult relations with Nicosia’s northern neighbors make a pipeline to the north highly unlikely.

Cairo has been able to act pragmatically concerning its relations with its neighbors such as Israel while taking advantage of the limited amount of options for exporting gas. The obvious winner in this context has been Egypt and its LNG industry. Its chances of becoming the regional energy hub instead of Turkey have significantly increased.

Turkey’s hope for luck

All littoral states of the Eastern Mediterranean struck ‘gold’ in the shape of natural gas except for Turkey. Ankara strongly opposes the exploitation of the gas resources in the exclusive economic zone of the Republic of Cyprus without a sharing agreement with Northern Cyprus’ Turkish inhabitants. The Turkish Navy prevented ships from Italy’s Eni from performing exploratory drilling off the coast of the Republic of Cyprus.

In search of its own luck, Ankara has set up a project to start looking for gas in the EEZ of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC), which is only recognized by Turkey. Kudret Özersay, TRNC deputy prime minister and minister of foreign affairs, proclaimed the desire to turn the TRNC into an energy and electricity hub. However, it seems unlikely that investors will be willing to participate due to political and legal reasons.

The legal situation of the TRNC is an impediment to any major decision involving a longtime commitment worth billions. From an international point of view, the region is de jure part of the Republic of Cyprus, despite holding no control over the region. The TRNC holds no seat in the WTO.

Large investments require solid legal and political support for companies to earn back their investments. The current economic situation of Turkey makes it dependent on foreign money. However, stringent due diligence rules could impede some international banks in lending the necessary funds.

The Eastern Mediterranean Sea basin promises great rewards, but the risks are also high. With Turkey potentially being the only country that doesn’t profit from the gas bonanza, Ankara has acted aggressively to get what it regards as its fair share. However, it faces a united front from the other littoral states of the Eastern Mediterranean. Therefore, it is highly unlikely that Turkey will be able to profit in the same way as Cyprus, Egypt or Israel.

By Vanand Meliksetian for Oilprice.com

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