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Westlake Legal Group > Hook, Brian H

The U.S. Has Joined Secret Talks With Israel and the U.A.E. The Topic? Iran.

Westlake Legal Group 15dc-diplo-facebookJumbo The U.S. Has Joined Secret Talks With Israel and the U.A.E. The Topic? Iran. United States Politics and Government United States International Relations State Department Iran Hook, Brian H Embargoes and Sanctions Economic Conditions and Trends

WASHINGTON — The United States is participating in secret talks between the United Arab Emirates and Israel to confront threats posed by Iran, a shared adversary among the three countries.

The talks aim to broaden cooperation for military and intelligence sharing between the United Arab Emirates and Israel, two cautiously allied Middle Eastern nations, a foreign official with knowledge of the diplomacy said on Thursday.

The United Arab Emirates and Israel already share some security connections, experts said, and have held below-the-radar discussions in the past. Both view Iran as a top threat to the region, and Israel has sold fighter jet upgrades and spyware to the United Arab Emirates.

But including the United States in a new phase of security talks could signal the United Arab Emirates’s intent to demonstrate its commitment to the Trump administration’s so-called maximum pressure campaign against Iran — even as Emirati officials have stepped back from some of their own hard-line policies targeting Tehran.

The three-sided talks, which were first reported by The Wall Street Journal, grew out of a February conference in Warsaw that was billed as a Middle East security forum but was used by the Trump administration to push its campaign against Iran. Since then, the three allies have met twice.

The foreign official confirmed the talks were being coordinated by Brian H. Hook, the senior State Department envoy on Iran issues. The official spoke on the condition of anonymity to confirm the secret discussions.

Neither the State Department nor the Israeli Embassy in Washington responded to requests for comment, and Emirati officials refused to discuss the issue.

Last month, the United Arab Emirates pulled most of its forces from Yemen after years of supporting Saudi Arabia’s efforts there against Houthi rebels supported by Iran. Emirati officials also recently held maritime security talks with Tehran.

Emirati officials are trying to “strike a very careful balancing act,” said Ilan Goldenberg, the director of the Middle East Security Program at the Center for a New American Security.

“They want to signal to the Trump administration and members of Congress — especially Republicans — that they aren’t walking away from the administration’s policies and the maximum pressure campaign against Iran,” he said.

The Trump administration’s campaign against Iran has been met with mixed success since the United States withdrew in May 2018 from a nuclear accord between Tehran and world powers.

United States sanctions have stopped Iran from exporting oil and other goods to foreign buyers, starving its economy. But the economic constraints have also irritated American allies and other nations that had sought to open markets in Iran.

On Thursday, in a sign of the diplomatic strain, the authorities in Gibraltar released an Iranian oil tanker that the United States had sought to seize. Gibraltar is a semiautonomous British territory.

The United Arab Emirates and other Arab states are generally careful to avoid appearing too close to Israel, given longstanding disputes over the rights of Palestinians and access to the Al Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem, one of the holiest sites in Islam.

Mr. Goldenberg said it was surprising that Emirati officials would agree to allow the United States into its longstanding and secretive talks with Israel.

“It is a sign they are willing to lean further forward, that they are not as worried about secrecy as they were,” said Mr. Goldenberg, who worked on regional security issues at the State Department and Pentagon during the Obama administration.

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To Evade Sanctions on Iran, Ships Vanish in Plain Sight

A week ago, a small tanker ship approached the Persian Gulf after a 19-day voyage from China. The captain, as required by international rules, reported the ship’s position, course, speed and another key detail: It was riding high in the water, meaning it was probably empty.

Then the Chinese-owned ship, the Sino Energy 1, went silent and essentially vanished from the grid.

It reported in again on Sunday, near the spot where it had vanished six days earlier, only now it was heading east, away from the Strait of Hormuz near Iran. If past patterns hold, the captain will soon report that it is riding low in the water, meaning its tanks are likely full.

As the Trump administration’s sanctions on Iranian oil and petrochemical products have taken hold, some of the world’s shipping fleets have defied the restrictions by “going dark” when they pick up cargo in Iranian ports, according to commercial analysts who track shipping data and intelligence from authorities in Israel, a country that backs the Trump crackdown.

[Iran breached a nuclear fuel limit in what it said was a response to the reimposition of sanctions by the Trump administration.]

“They are hiding their activity,” said Samir Madani, co-founder of TankerTrackers.com, a company that uses satellite imagery to identify tankers calling on Iranian ports. “They don’t want to broadcast the fact that they have been in Iran, evading sanctions. It’s that simple.”

ImageWestlake Legal Group 02ghostships-articleLarge To Evade Sanctions on Iran, Ships Vanish in Plain Sight United States International Relations Trump, Donald J Sinochem Ships and Shipping Oil (Petroleum) and Gasoline Nuclear Weapons Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps Iran Hook, Brian H Gulf of Oman Incident (June 2019) Embargoes and Sanctions Defense and Military Forces China

Smaller ships like the Sino Energy 1 are harder to track than big oil tankers when they go off the grid.CreditMartin Klingsick

A maritime treaty overseen by a United Nations agency requires ships of 300 tons or more that travel international routes to have an automatic identification system. The gear helps avoid collisions and aids in search-and-rescue operations. It also allows countries to monitor shipping traffic.

It is not illegal under international law to buy and haul Iranian oil or related products. The Trump administration’s sanctions, which went into effect last November after the United States pulled out of the Iran nuclear agreement, are unilateral.

But foreign companies doing business with American companies or banks risk being punished by the United States. Actions can include banning American banks from working with them, freezing assets and barring company officials from traveling to the United States, said Richard Nephew, a research scholar at Columbia University who oversaw Iran policy on the National Security Council during the Obama administration.

“We have sanctioned dozens of Chinese state-owned enterprises for nuclear, missile, arms and other forms of proliferation,” Mr. Nephew said. “But it is not entered into lightly.”

A State Department spokeswoman said, “We do not comment on intelligence matters.”

Chinese Tankers Keep Disappearing in the Persian Gulf

Westlake Legal Group 1 To Evade Sanctions on Iran, Ships Vanish in Plain Sight United States International Relations Trump, Donald J Sinochem Ships and Shipping Oil (Petroleum) and Gasoline Nuclear Weapons Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps Iran Hook, Brian H Gulf of Oman Incident (June 2019) Embargoes and Sanctions Defense and Military Forces China

The SC Mercury, an oil and chemical tanker owned by Sinochem until April 2019, sails regularly from Chinese ports into the Persian Gulf.

Westlake Legal Group 2 To Evade Sanctions on Iran, Ships Vanish in Plain Sight United States International Relations Trump, Donald J Sinochem Ships and Shipping Oil (Petroleum) and Gasoline Nuclear Weapons Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps Iran Hook, Brian H Gulf of Oman Incident (June 2019) Embargoes and Sanctions Defense and Military Forces China

On the morning of Jan. 27, 2018, it disappeared. The Mercury’s A.I.S. transponder — a device that broadcasts a ship’s location continuously, required by an international maritime treaty — fell silent.

Several days later, the transponder came back to life, tracking the Mercury as it sailed toward ports in India. Having deposited its cargo, it turned back toward the gulf.

On Feb. 15, 2018, the ship went dark again as it navigated the Strait of Hormuz, reappearing days later to begin a weekslong journey back to Shanghai.

All ships 300 tons or greater on international journeys are required to broadcast their location, course and speed on the system, but sometimes, to hide their activities from competitors, ships “go dark,” analysts say.

Westlake Legal Group 3 To Evade Sanctions on Iran, Ships Vanish in Plain Sight United States International Relations Trump, Donald J Sinochem Ships and Shipping Oil (Petroleum) and Gasoline Nuclear Weapons Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps Iran Hook, Brian H Gulf of Oman Incident (June 2019) Embargoes and Sanctions Defense and Military Forces China

The Persian Gulf isn’t the only place in the world where ships go silent. It also happens in the South China Sea, but there, one analyst said, the reason may be because the sheer number of ships overwhelms the system.

Westlake Legal Group 4 To Evade Sanctions on Iran, Ships Vanish in Plain Sight United States International Relations Trump, Donald J Sinochem Ships and Shipping Oil (Petroleum) and Gasoline Nuclear Weapons Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps Iran Hook, Brian H Gulf of Oman Incident (June 2019) Embargoes and Sanctions Defense and Military Forces China

In the case of the Mercury, outages appeared to be more selective. In April and May 2018, the ship’s transponder stayed active as it visited ports in Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates.

When a ship goes dark in the Persian Gulf, it may be related to dodging sanctions, not technical problems, said Samir Madani of TankerTrackers.com, which uses satellite technology to monitor ships. Countries and companies that import Iranian oil risk punishment from the United States.

Westlake Legal Group 5 To Evade Sanctions on Iran, Ships Vanish in Plain Sight United States International Relations Trump, Donald J Sinochem Ships and Shipping Oil (Petroleum) and Gasoline Nuclear Weapons Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps Iran Hook, Brian H Gulf of Oman Incident (June 2019) Embargoes and Sanctions Defense and Military Forces China

In the past 18 months, the five ships, which regularly sail between China and the Persian Gulf, made only two port visits in Iran, according to information from their A.I.S. data. In contrast, those ships made close to 50 stops in ports in Bahrain, Oman, Saudi Arabia and the U.A.E. In another 28 instances, the ships vanished in the region for days or weeks.

By Rich Harris and Derek Watkins. Source: VesselsValue

debug 1128: waiting for message…….

Brian Hook, the United States special representative for Iran, told reporters in London on Friday that the United States would punish any country importing Iranian oil. Mr. Hook was responding to a question about reports of Iranian oil going to Asia, according to the Reuters news agency.

President Trump’s efforts to halt Iranian oil and petrochemical exports are at the heart of rising tensions between the two countries. Last month, he imposed new sanctions on Iran’s leaders after it downed an American surveillance drone and nearly precipitated a counterstrike that was called off at the last minute. The attack on the drone came a week after the United States accused Iran of being responsible for explosions that had crippled two tankers near the Strait of Hormuz.

American and Israeli intelligence agencies say the country’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps is deeply entwined with its petrochemical industry, using oil revenues to swell its coffers. Mr. Trump has labeled the military group a terrorist organization.

Iran has been trying to work around the American sanctions by offering “significant reductions” in price for its oil and petrochemical products, said Gary Samore, a professor at Brandeis University who worked on weapons issues in the Obama administration.

Brian Hook, left, the United States special representative for Iran, has said the American government would punish any country importing Iranian oil.CreditYasser Al-Zayyat/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

When shipping companies defy the sanctions, they weaken their effectiveness, especially if the companies — or the countries where they are based — see no consequences, analysts said. Some shipping companies with direct Iranian ties do not try to hide their movements, according to data collected by the commercial tracking sites.

Last month, the Salina, an Iranian-flagged oil tanker under American sanctions, docked in Jinzhou Bay, a port in northeastern China, according to data from VesselsValue, a website that analyzes global shipping information. The Salina regularly reported its position, course and speed via the automatic identification system.

Oil tankers like the Salina, which can transport as much as a million barrels of crude, or about 5 percent of the daily consumption of the United States, are so big that they can call on only a limited number of ports. They are also more easily spotted by satellites than smaller ships like the Sino Energy 1.

That vessel, and its more than 40 sister ships, are far more difficult to track when they go off the grid. They were owned until April by a subsidiary of Sinochem, a state-owned company in China that is one of the world’s biggest chemical manufacturers.

Sinochem has extensive business ties in the United States. It has an office in Houston and works with big American companies including Boeing and Exxon Mobil. In March, it signed an agreement with Citibank to “deepen the partnership” between the two companies, Sinochem said. In 2013, a United States subsidiary of Sinochem bought a 40 percent stake in a Texas shale deposit for $1.7 billion.

In April, it sold a controlling share in its shipping fleet to a private company, Inner Mongolia Junzheng Energy & Chemical Group Co., whose biggest shareholder is Du Jiangtao, a Chinese billionaire who made his fortune in medical equipment, chemicals and coal-generated power.

A person answering the phone at Junzheng’s investor relations office was not familiar with the newly acquired shipping business. For now, Junzheng owns 40 percent of Sinochem’s former shipping fleet, with the rest owned by two Beijing companies.

Frank Ning, the chairman of Sinochem, speaking in a brief interview in Dalian, China, said that shipping had not been central to the company’s business. In a statement, the company said it had “adopted strict compliance policies and governance on export control and sanctions,” though a former employee who had helped manage the shipping business, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said the company had shipped petrochemicals from Iran for years.

The tracking data also show that some of the Sinochem ships made trips to Iran before the fleet was sold, and both before and after the American sanctions went into effect.

In April 2018, for example, one of the ships, the SC Brilliant, was moored at Asalouyeh, a major Iranian petrochemical depot on the Persian Gulf, according to data from VesselsValue. The SC Brilliant’s voyage was easy to plot. Its captain made constant reports via the automatic identification system, broadcasting its course, speed and destination.

But after Mr. Trump’s announcement last August that he would reimpose sanctions on Iran’s petroleum industry, the SC Brilliant’s voyages became less transparent.

In late September and early October, shortly before the sanctions took effect, the ship went off the grid for 10 days in the same stretch of the Strait of Hormuz where the Sino Energy 1 disappeared last week. When the SC Brilliant went off the grid, it appeared empty; when it re-emerged, it appeared full.

The pattern was repeated in February, with the ship disappearing for four days, according to the tracking data.

That month, another Sinochem ship, the SC Neptune, stopped transmitting its position when it approached the Strait of Hormuz, the tracking data show. Four days later, for a brief period, it appeared back on the grid, transmitting its location from an export terminal on Iran’s Kharg Island. It then went quiet for another 24 hours, reappearing on its way out of the strait.

Iran’s Kharg Island (pictured in a screenshot from Google Maps), where a Chinese ship called SC Neptune briefly reported its position in February after going off the grid.

In some parts of the world, including the South China Sea, it is not uncommon for ships to go silent because the automatic identification system may be overloaded by the volume of vessels, said Court Smith, a former officer in the United States Coast Guard who is now an analyst at VesselsValue. Sometimes they do so for competitive reasons, he added.

But in the Persian Gulf, where traffic is lighter, Mr. Smith said, vessels generally do not turn off the system, known in the industry as A.I.S.

“If the A.I.S. signal is lost, it is almost certainly because the A.I.S. transponder has been disabled or turned off,” Mr. Smith said of ships in the Persian Gulf. “The captain has decided to turn off the A.I.S.”

Another possible clue that Iran-bound ships are disabling their reporting systems is that ships making trips to countries on the western part of the gulf are not going off the grid.

The SC Mercury, another of the Sinochem ships, disappeared for about nine days at the end of December and into January, vanishing close to where the Sino Energy 1 disappeared last week, the tracking data show. But in early April, the ship’s course through the Persian Gulf had no interruptions in its signal. The destination that time was the United Arab Emirates.

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

Iranian Force Exults in Downing of U.S. Drone With a Feast and a Prayer

Seated on the floor of a villa in northeast Tehran around a tablecloth spread with platters of saffron chicken and rice with barberries, about 30 officials of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps and guests gathered Thursday night for a prayerful celebration.

“A special blessing for the commander who ordered the attack on the American drone and for the fighters who carried it out,” a preacher declared, as recalled by one of the guests present, who said a raucous chorus of “amen” arose from the room.

Their success earlier that day at shooting down an unmanned American Global Hawk surveillance drone (list price $131 million) surprised even some leaders of the Revolutionary Guards. They had wondered themselves whether they could hit an American target so high in the sky, according to the guest.

In fact, the Revolutionary Guards sought to take out the drone in large part to prove they could do it, according to that guest and four other Iranians, including two senior current members. The others were two former Guard members and one who is affiliated with the elite military unit, which reports directly to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and operates outside the control of Iranian elected officials.

Guard leaders, these people said, had been incensed by recent statements from American officials belittling Iran’s military prowess, like an accusation by Brian Hook, the State Department’s special envoy for Iran, that Iran had “photoshopped antiquated aircraft” to overstate its capabilities.

And now, these people said, the Guard leaders feel even further vindicated by the news that — as they celebrated into the night in Tehran — President Trump was simultaneously pulling back at the last minute from a retaliatory airstrike he had ordered just hours before.

ImageWestlake Legal Group merlin_156747945_5dd611e9-6682-454d-83e9-e9f23f72145e-articleLarge Iranian Force Exults in Downing of U.S. Drone With a Feast and a Prayer Persian Gulf Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps Iran Hook, Brian H Defense and Military Forces

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, top left, National Security Adviser John R. Bolton, center, and White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, right, watching President Trump speak in the Oval Office on Thursday.CreditErin Schaff/The New York Times

While Mr. Trump’s advisers have argued his contemplation of a strike should stand as a warning to Iran, some Guard leaders appear to have concluded the opposite: that Mr. Trump is determined to avoid a fight, and that the downing of the drone has strengthened their hand in any future negotiations.

“What happened in the past 48 hours was extremely important in showing Iran’s strength and forcing the U.S. to recalculate,” said Naser Imani, a political analyst who was formerly a member of the Revolutionary Guards’ political bureau. “No matter how you look at it, Iran won.”

How widely or deeply those sentiments are shared within the Iranian government could not be determined. Discussions within the Revolutionary Guards, a powerful wing of Iran’s armed forces, are highly secretive, and the people who described those discussions spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals.

The public bravado of voices close to the Revolutionary Guards, like Mr. Imani, may mask deeper worries about the superior strength of the American military.

Jack Keane, a retired general with close ties to Mr. Trump, said Friday that American intelligence had learned that “Iranian national leaders”— including at least one senior commander in the Revolutionary Guards — “were frustrated or furious with the tactical commander who made the decision to shoot down the American drone.”

Any indications of the thinking among Revolutionary Guards leaders, though, are significant in part because of its singular role in both the formulation and execution of Iranian national security and foreign policy.

Members of the Revolutionary Guards force in Tehran earlier this year.CreditVahid Salemi/Associated Press

It is the branch of the Iranian military that operates around the region, often training and arming local militias to thwart American policies or interests in places like Iraq, Syria or Lebanon. The Trump administration, as part of its intensified sanctions against Iran, designated the Guard as a foreign terrorist organization in April.

The Guard controls its own business empire, collaborates with hard-line political factions, and commands “a loud voice” in the council that controls any use of Iranian military power, said Ali Vaez, Iran project director at the International Crisis Group.

“The I.R.G.C. is the tip of the spear,” Mr. Vaez said, arguing that “the risk of Trump’s Iran policy is in fact that it empowers the I.R.G.C. because the more the country is threatened, the more the I.R.G.C. is empowered.”

Although the Guard has backed local militias in Iraq who attacked American soldiers, the organization itself has almost never hit American targets directly.

This was not the first time the Guard has claimed triumph in downing an unarmed American drone. In 2011, its computer hackers evidently sabotaged a radar-evading RQ-170 Sentinel surveillance drone, which American officials said had been flying over Afghanistan but ended up landing in northern Iran because of a malfunction.

The United States did not retaliate for the loss of the drone. President Obama said the United States had “asked for it back,” but the Iranians instead claimed to have reverse engineered it and even produced toy replicas for children.

A scale model of the American drone that Iran captured in 2011 on display in Tehran’s Azadi Square in 2012.CreditRaheb Homavandi/Reuters

Until recently, Guard commanders and other Iranian leaders had appeared to refrain from direct confrontations with the United States military, even after President Trump withdrew last May from the 2015 deal to lift economic sanctions in exchange for limits on Iran’s nuclear program and began to reimpose harsh sanctions.

The Guard’s naval forces continued to avoid skirmishes with United States forces in the Persian Gulf that had once been a regular occurrence. And the Guard declined any attempt to retaliate against Israel after it repeatedly attacked Guard operations inside Syria, analysts said.

That posture changed in the past few months when the Trump administration designated the Guard as a terrorist group and added sanctions to block Iran’s oil sales, a critical revenue source for the country.

With oil revenue plummeting while unemployment and inflation were soaring, Iranian leaders denounced the sanctions as economic warfare and declared that they would take steps to restart their nuclear program.

The United States has also accused Iran of planting naval mines that damaged six tankers in two incidents in the waters around the Persian Gulf, and Western officials say those attacks were carried out by the Revolutionary Guards — although Iranian leaders have disclaimed responsibility.

As tensions escalated, Senator Tom Cotton, the Arkansas Republican and a leading advocate of confronting Iran, raised alarms in Tehran by declaring in television interview in May that a war with Iran would require only “two strikes, the first strike and the last strike.”

Brian Hook, the State Department’s special envoy on Iran, checks what Saudi officials said were Iranian-made missiles and drones used by Houthi rebels in Yemen and intercepted over Saudi territory during a visit to a Saudi base on Friday.CreditFayez Nureldine/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Then this month, Mr. Hook, the United States special envoy for Iran, seemed to all but dismiss Iranian defenses and accuse Tehran of lying about them.

Their comments — both quickly derided in Iranian state media —- helped convince Guard leaders to show off their missiles to deter an attack, according to several Iranians in or close to the Guard.

“American officials like Mssrs. Hook and Cotton are underestimating Iran’s military capabilities,” said Foad Izadi, a conservative professor at Tehran University and a commentator for Guard publications. “This is an impression that Iranian leaders wanted to correct. Iran needed to send this message to the other side that attacking us would be extremely costly.”

Perhaps because of the mild response to the hacking of the surveillance drone in 2011, many of the Guard officials who gathered in celebration on Thursday expressed surprise at the level of American outrage over the takedown of another one, according to the person who attended the dinner.

Throughout the day and through the celebration, this person said, Guard officials nervously checked their mobile devices for news from Washington and signs that a military attack might be coming.

An Iranian nuclear power plant reactor in 2010. Iran has said it will restart some activities curtailed by the 2015 nuclear agreement. President Trump withdrew from that agreement and has reimposed tough sanctions.CreditMajid Asgaripour/Mehr News Agency, via Associated Press

Iranian officials soon began to say publicly that they had consciously hit only an unmanned drone but had refrained from attacking an American spy plane nearby in part because it carried 35 crew members.

“We could have hit that plane,” Gen. Abulfazl Hajizadeh of the Guard’s air force said, according to Iranian state media. “It was our right but we struck the drone with no passengers.”

American officials said the spy plane was outside Iranian air space and could not hold so large a crew.

Western analysts said they doubted claims that Guard leaders had failed to anticipate the severity of the American reaction to shooting down the drone, noting the caustic warnings recently issued by John R. Bolton, the national security adviser, and Mr. Trump himself.

“To say that they were surprised is just inaccurate,” Mr. Vaez of the International Crisis Group said.

Some current and former American military officials, though, said that they had also concluded that the Guard did not foresee the backlash.

“This wasn’t a mistake” or “some rogue guy just pushing a button,” said retired Vice Admiral John W. Miller, a former commander of the American Navy’s Fifth Fleet based in Bahrain. “It was a complex accomplishment by Iran that was well planned,” he said, but “a miscalculation.”

Still, at the celebratory dinner Thursday night, exultant Guard leaders bragged that they had done it with an Iranian-made missile instead of one acquired from the Russians or Chinese, according to the person present. That claim that could not be independently confirmed, but it was repeated Saturday in the Iranian state media.

“Bolton and Hook keep whispering in Trump’s ears that Iran is all show-off and if you attack it, the regime will fold like puff pastry,” the host of the event, Col. Gholamreza Ashrafi, told his guests, according to the person present. “We showed that we are no puff pastry.”

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

With a Feast and a Prayer, Iranian Force Exults in Downing of U.S. Drone

Seated on the floor of a villa in northeast Tehran around a tablecloth spread with platters of saffron chicken and rice with barberries, about 30 officials of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps and guests gathered Thursday night for a prayerful celebration.

“A special blessing for the commander who ordered the attack on the American drone and for the fighters who carried it out,” a preacher declared, as recalled by one of the guests present, who said a raucous chorus of “amen” arose from the room.

Their success earlier that day at shooting down an unmanned American Global Hawk surveillance drone (list price $131 million) surprised even some leaders of the Revolutionary Guards. They had wondered themselves whether they could hit an American target so high in the sky, according to the guest.

In fact, the Revolutionary Guards sought to take out the drone in large part to prove they could do it, according to that guest and four other Iranians, including two senior current members. The others were two former Guard members and one who is affiliated with the elite military unit, which reports directly to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and operates outside the control of Iranian elected officials.

Guard leaders, these people said, had been incensed by recent statements from American officials belittling Iran’s military prowess, like an accusation by Brian Hook, the State Department’s special envoy for Iran, that Iran had “photoshopped antiquated aircraft” to overstate its capabilities.

And now, these people said, the Guard leaders feel even further vindicated by the news that — as they celebrated into the night in Tehran — President Trump was simultaneously pulling back at the last minute from a retaliatory airstrike he had ordered just hours before.

ImageWestlake Legal Group merlin_156747945_5dd611e9-6682-454d-83e9-e9f23f72145e-articleLarge With a Feast and a Prayer, Iranian Force Exults in Downing of U.S. Drone Persian Gulf Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps Iran Hook, Brian H Defense and Military Forces

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, top left, National Security Adviser John R. Bolton, center, and White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, right, watching President Trump speak in the Oval Office on Thursday.CreditErin Schaff/The New York Times

While Mr. Trump’s advisers have argued his contemplation of a strike should stand as a warning to Iran, some Guard leaders appear to have concluded the opposite: that Mr. Trump is determined to avoid a fight, and that the downing of the drone has strengthened their hand in any future negotiations.

“What happened in the past 48 hours was extremely important in showing Iran’s strength and forcing the U.S. to recalculate,” said Naser Imani, a political analyst who was formerly a member of the Revolutionary Guards’ political bureau. “No matter how you look at it, Iran won.”

How widely or deeply those sentiments are shared within the Iranian government could not be determined. Discussions within the Revolutionary Guards, a powerful wing of Iran’s armed forces, are highly secretive, and the people who described those discussions spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals.

The public bravado of voices close to the Revolutionary Guards, like Mr. Imani, may mask deeper worries about the superior strength of the American military.

Jack Keane, a retired general with close ties to Mr. Trump, said Friday that American intelligence had learned that “Iranian national leaders”— including at least one senior commander in the Revolutionary Guards — “were frustrated or furious with the tactical commander who made the decision to shoot down the American drone.”

Any indications of the thinking among Revolutionary Guards leaders, though, are significant in part because of its singular role in both the formulation and execution of Iranian national security and foreign policy.

Members of the Revolutionary Guards force in Tehran earlier this year.CreditVahid Salemi/Associated Press

It is the branch of the Iranian military that operates around the region, often training and arming local militias to thwart American policies or interests in places like Iraq, Syria or Lebanon. The Trump administration, as part of its intensified sanctions against Iran, designated the Guard as a foreign terrorist organization in April.

The Guard controls its own business empire, collaborates with hard-line political factions, and commands “a loud voice” in the council that controls any use of Iranian military power, said Ali Vaez, Iran project director at the International Crisis Group.

“The I.R.G.C. is the tip of the spear,” Mr. Vaez said, arguing that “the risk of Trump’s Iran policy is in fact that it empowers the I.R.G.C. because the more the country is threatened, the more the I.R.G.C. is empowered.”

Although the Guard has backed local militias in Iraq who attacked American soldiers, the organization itself has almost never hit American targets directly.

This was not the first time the Guard has claimed triumph in downing an unarmed American drone. In 2011, its computer hackers evidently sabotaged a radar-evading RQ-170 Sentinel surveillance drone, which American officials said had been flying over Afghanistan but ended up landing in northern Iran because of a malfunction.

The United States did not retaliate for the loss of the drone. President Obama said the United States had “asked for it back,” but the Iranians instead claimed to have reverse engineered it and even produced toy replicas for children.

A scale model of the American drone that Iran captured in 2011 on display in Tehran’s Azadi Square in 2012.CreditRaheb Homavandi/Reuters

Until recently, Guard commanders and other Iranian leaders had appeared to refrain from direct confrontations with the United States military, even after President Trump withdrew last May from the 2015 deal to lift economic sanctions in exchange for limits on Iran’s nuclear program and began to reimpose harsh sanctions.

The Guard’s naval forces continued to avoid skirmishes with United States forces in the Persian Gulf that had once been a regular occurrence. And the Guard declined any attempt to retaliate against Israel after it repeatedly attacked Guard operations inside Syria, analysts said.

That posture changed in the past few months when the Trump administration designated the Guard as a terrorist group and added sanctions to block Iran’s oil sales, a critical revenue source for the country.

With oil revenue plummeting while unemployment and inflation were soaring, Iranian leaders denounced the sanctions as economic warfare and declared that they would take steps to restart their nuclear program.

The United States has also accused Iran of planting naval mines that damaged six tankers in two incidents in the waters around the Persian Gulf, and Western officials say those attacks were carried out by the Revolutionary Guards — although Iranian leaders have disclaimed responsibility.

As tensions escalated, Senator Tom Cotton, the Arkansas Republican and a leading advocate of confronting Iran, raised alarms in Tehran by declaring in television interview in May that a war with Iran would require only “two strikes, the first strike and the last strike.”

Brian Hook, the State Department’s special envoy on Iran, checks what Saudi officials said were Iranian-made missiles and drones used by Houthi rebels in Yemen and intercepted over Saudi territory during a visit to a Saudi base on Friday.CreditFayez Nureldine/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Then this month, Mr. Hook, the United States special envoy for Iran, seemed to all but dismiss Iranian defenses and accuse Tehran of lying about them.

Their comments — both quickly derided in Iranian state media —- helped convince Guard leaders to show off their missiles to deter an attack, according to several Iranians in or close to the Guard.

“American officials like Mssrs. Hook and Cotton are underestimating Iran’s military capabilities,” said Foad Izadi, a conservative professor at Tehran University and a commentator for Guard publications. “This is an impression that Iranian leaders wanted to correct. Iran needed to send this message to the other side that attacking us would be extremely costly.”

Perhaps because of the mild response to the hacking of the surveillance drone in 2011, many of the Guard officials who gathered in celebration on Thursday expressed surprise at the level of American outrage over the takedown of another one, according to the person who attended the dinner.

Throughout the day and through the celebration, this person said, Guard officials nervously checked their mobile devices for news from Washington and signs that a military attack might be coming.

An Iranian nuclear power plant reactor in 2010. Iran has said it will restart some activities curtailed by the 2015 nuclear agreement. President Trump withdrew from that agreement and has reimposed tough sanctions.CreditMajid Asgaripour/Mehr News Agency, via Associated Press

Iranian officials soon began to say publicly that they had consciously hit only an unmanned drone but had refrained from attacking an American spy plane nearby in part because it carried 35 crew members.

“We could have hit that plane,” Gen. Abulfazl Hajizadeh of the Guard’s air force said, according to Iranian state media. “It was our right but we struck the drone with no passengers.”

American officials said the spy plane was outside Iranian air space and could not hold so large a crew.

Western analysts said they doubted claims that Guard leaders had failed to anticipate the severity of the American reaction to shooting down the drone, noting the caustic warnings recently issued by John R. Bolton, the national security adviser, and Mr. Trump himself.

“To say that they were surprised is just inaccurate,” Mr. Vaez of the International Crisis Group said.

Some current and former American military officials, though, said that they had also concluded that the Guard did not foresee the backlash.

“This wasn’t a mistake” or “some rogue guy just pushing a button,” said retired Vice Admiral John W. Miller, a former commander of the American Navy’s Fifth Fleet based in Bahrain. “It was a complex accomplishment by Iran that was well planned,” he said, but “a miscalculation.”

Still, at the celebratory dinner Thursday night, exultant Guard leaders bragged that they had done it with an Iranian-made missile instead of one acquired from the Russians or Chinese, according to the person present. That claim that could not be independently confirmed, but it was repeated Saturday in the Iranian state media.

“Bolton and Hook keep whispering in Trump’s ears that Iran is all show-off and if you attack it, the regime will fold like puff pastry,” the host of the event, Col. Gholamreza Ashrafi, told his guests, according to the person present. “We showed that we are no puff pastry.”

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Facing Intensifying Confrontation With Iran, Trump Has Few Appealing Options

President Trump’s last-minute decision to pull back from a retaliatory strike on Iran underscored the absence of appealing options available to him as Tehran races toward its next big challenge to the United States: building up and further enriching its stockpile of nuclear fuel.

Two weeks of flare-ups over the attacks on oil tankers and the downing of an American surveillance drone, administration officials said, have overshadowed a larger, more complex and fast-intensifying showdown over containing Iran’s nuclear program.

In meetings in the White House Situation Room in recent days, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo contended that the potential for Iran to move closer to being able to build a nuclear weapon was the primary threat from Tehran, one participant said, a position echoed by Mr. Trump on Twitter on Friday. Left unsaid was that Iran’s moves to bolster its nuclear fuel program stemmed in substantial part from the president’s decision last year to pull out of the 2015 international accord, while insisting that Tehran abide by the strict limits that agreement imposed on its nuclear activities. Mr. Trump has long asserted that the deal would eventually let Iran restart its nuclear program and did too little to curb its support for terrorism.

Now, with the immediate crisis over the drone abating, Mr. Trump has dispatched envoys to the Middle East to consult with allies as he and his national security team appear focused on a two-tier strategy for confronting the nuclear issue. First, they intend to maintain and intensify the sanctions the United States has used to squeeze Iran’s economy, chiefly by choking off its ability to sell oil to the world.

During White House deliberations, Mr. Pompeo and others made the case that Tehran’s lashing out in the Persian Gulf was in direct response to the sanctions. He and Mr. Trump are telling allies and members of Congress that Iran’s leaders will eventually no longer be able to tolerate the devastating economic and domestic political costs, perhaps forcing them to agree to a new nuclear accord tougher than the one they negotiated with President Barack Obama.

At the same time, administration officials have signaled that they continue to weigh more aggressive options, including military strikes and cyberattacks. Those options could come into play if Iran does not buckle under economic pressure or follows through on the warning it issued on Monday: that it would breach the 2015 accord’s limits on how much low-enriched nuclear fuel it can hold, and that it was pointedly leaving open the possibility of further enriching the fuel, edging it closer to the purity necessary to build a bomb.

Mr. Trump’s hawkish national security adviser, John R. Bolton, arrived in Israel on Saturday for a previously scheduled meeting with his Israeli and Russian counterparts to discuss what the White House calls “regional security.”

ImageWestlake Legal Group merlin_156786963_7922a3f9-008c-4adb-b394-9f5d8a6635ec-articleLarge Facing Intensifying Confrontation With Iran, Trump Has Few Appealing Options Zarif, Mohammad Javad United States International Relations United States Cyber Command Trump, Donald J State Department Nuclear Weapons National Security Agency Iran Hook, Brian H Embargoes and Sanctions Defense and Military Forces Cyberwarfare and Defense Bush, George W Bolton, John R

Brian Hook, the State Department’s special representative on Iran, on Friday inspecting what Saudi officials said were remnants of an Iranian missile in Riyadh.CreditFayez Nureldine/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

While there he will meet with the head of the Israeli Atomic Energy Commission and other officials who, during the Obama administration, repeatedly ordered practice bombings to simulate taking out Iran’s nuclear facilities. Israel stopped short of bombing but, a decade ago, joined the United States in conducting a sophisticated cyberattack against Iran’s major enrichment site.

As Iran vows to gradually kick its nuclear production back into gear, both options are being revisited, officials say, in case Iran carries through its declared nuclear plans. This coming week it is likely to have amassed more than 660 pounds of low-enriched uranium, the limit set in the 2015 pact.

The marginal move over the limits “might not be a big deal,’’ said Philip H. Gordon, a former State Department official now at the Council on Foreign Relations, “but exiting the nuclear deal is a big deal because it’s a slippery slope toward not having any of those constraints at all.”

But stopping those activities, with a military attack or the kind of complicated online sabotage that the United States and Israel conducted a decade ago, would carry huge risks. And this time, the element of surprise would be gone.

The State Department’s Iran coordinator, Brian Hook, is also in the gulf, trying to coordinate a response — and perhaps an opening for talks with Tehran — with Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait and Bahrain, all among Iran’s greatest rivals. The State Department did not say whether he would go to Oman, which acted as the back channel for opening nuclear negotiations during the Obama administration.

Missing from any coalition, at least for now, are the Europeans, the Chinese and the Russians, all of whom participated in those negotiations and say that Mr. Trump created the current crisis by abandoning a nuclear accord that was working, even if imperfectly.

“Trump thinks that if he just turns the oil spigot off the Iranians, and bring crude oil revenue to near zero, the Iranians will fold negotiate a new deal,” one European official who was deeply involved in negotiating the agreement said, speaking on the condition of anonymity to avoid alienating the administration. “It won’t work.”

Some leading members of Congress and current and former diplomats say the bet that sanctions will drive the Iranians to the negotiating table — and force them into a more restrictive deal than they gave Mr. Obama — is a fantasy.

Filling up in Tehran. President Trump seems intent on bolstering the sanctions that have squeezed Iran’s economy.CreditAtta Kenare/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

“The question is how do the Iranians react now,” said Senator Jack Reed of Rhode Island, the top Democrat on the Armed Services Committee. “Will they give up or act much more aggressively to get out of this dilemma? What we are seeing is that they act more aggressively.”

Iran, he said, is practiced at both tolerating international isolation and carrying out asymmetric warfare — finding targets it can hit despite having far less traditional military ability than the United States — and can be expected to ramp up counterpressure before the loss of oil revenue completely cripples it.

Two weeks ago Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, rejected any negotiation with the United States.

“Khamenei has made it clear in his speeches: He sees an American plot to weaken Iran and lure it into negotiations,” said Suzanne Maloney, an Iran expert at the Brookings Institution. “And so after a long waiting period, they are choosing this moment to escalate, so far in a carefully calibrated way. But they have many more options.”

In fact, while Iran is weaker economically than it was a year ago, it has developed skills it did not possess during the last major nuclear crisis. It can strike ships with more precision and shoot planes out of the air. It now has a major cyber corps, which over the last seven years has paralyzed American banks, infiltrated a dam in the New York suburbs and attacked a Las Vegas casino.

These abilities have altered the risk calculations, making the problem Mr. Trump faces with Iran even more vexing than those that confronted President George W. Bush or Mr. Obama.

The least-fraught course for the United States is to bank on sanctions eventually working. Under tighter sanctions, Iran’s economy has contracted sharply and inflation is running at 50 percent.

But sanctions themselves are not a solution; they are a means to getting a country to change its behavior. Sometimes nations resist: Decades of sanctions against Cuba failed to have the intended effect. In Iran’s case, its old logic — that it could wait out the Trump administration — has been replaced by a new theory, that the United States will relent only when it begins to suffer as well.

Iran’s Natanz nuclear enrichment facility. One option the United States could take is to attack Iran’s nuclear capacity.CreditHasan Sarbakhshian/Associated Press

The Europeans and Russians have talked about setting up a barter system to avoid American-imposed sanctions and keep Iran complying with the deal, but so far those efforts have come to naught.

The test may be how far the Iranians go in breaking free of the current nuclear limits. If they hover just above the ceilings set in the 2015 pact, but do not race to return to where they were a few years ago, their defiance may not blossom into a crisis. If the Iranians aggressively increase the size and potency of their fuel stockpile, Mr. Reed said, the administration might “make a case the nuclear threat has grown enough that we have to act.”

If he cannot make progress by relying on sanctions, Mr. Trump will almost certainly find himself being pressured, perhaps by Saudi Arabia or Israel, to “solve” the nuclear problem by taking out Iran’s facilities.

In the first year of the Trump administration, Lt. General H.R. McMaster, the president’s second national security adviser, ordered that the plans to do so be updated. But the Iranians have not been sitting still, either.

To reduce its vulnerability to airstrikes, Iran has built mazes of underground bunkers, tunnels and compounds to house many of its nuclear facilities — especially those involved in making nuclear fuel, the main hurdle to building an atom bomb.

At Natanz, the primary uranium enrichment site, the desert around the facility has been ringed with antiaircraft guns. In 2007, satellite images showed Iran building a tunnel complex nearby, suggesting new precautions to shield from aerial strikes.

Similarly, Iran has sought to harden its sprawling nuclear complex at Isfahan, where uranium ore is turned into a gas that can be spun to produce enriched uranium.

If they are attacked, the Iranians appear to have the capacity to respond, including militias and proxies near the gates of American bases in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere in the Middle East.

Mike Pompeo, left, the secretary of state, and John Bolton, the national security adviser, key advisers to the president on Iran.CreditMichael Reynolds/EPA, via Shutterstock

A decade ago, facing the same dilemma about Natanz that Mr. Trump faces now, the Obama administration, along with Israel, stepped up a covert operation, known as Olympic Games. The attack on Iran’s centrifuges used computer code that sped up and slowed down their nuclear centrifuges until they spun out of control.

The Iranians did not see it coming. They spent more than a year trying to determine why their centrifuges were exploding, and spreading radioactive material inside the plant’s giant underground enrichment hall. They learned the answer when the code was accidentally released.

While the National Security Agency and United States Cyber Command have looked at other cyberoptions — including Nitro Zeus, a plan to shut down the country’s power grid and communications systems in the opening days of a war — they concluded the effects on Iran’s population could be huge. Narrower, stealthy attacks would be difficult, because the Iranians are now looking for a second wave.

More worrisome, the Iranians have built their own online corps, and have been increasingly effective breaching American banks and power systems, and have even experimented, in small ways, with influence operations during the midterm elections, the government reported.

Mr. Trump’s other option would be to reverse course, as he did with North Korea, and move from threats to a diplomatic embrace. He has regularly telegraphed his desire to open a channel for negotiation, and many countries and politicians have volunteered to act as intermediaries, most recently Prime Minister Abe of Japan, whose entreaties were rejected by Iran’s supreme leader.

But Iran is not like North Korea. There is not one power center, no figure like Kim Jong-un to meet. The military and the clerics have a role. The 2015 agreement was negotiated between Secretary of State John Kerry and Iran’s foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, over a period of years; President Obama never met President Hassan Rouhani.

Moreover, the Iranians have said that Mr. Trump must first re-enter the old deal before negotiating a new one. Mr. Trump has refused, and Mr. Pompeo has said that to come to an accord, the Iranians must comply with his demands for 12 huge changes in their behavior, like ceasing support of terrorism and giving up all things nuclear.

“I can imagine talks,” Mr. Gordon said. “What’s harder to imagine is the deal would come anywhere close to what the Trump administration says is an absolute minimum.”

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