Iran drone and tanker attacks ‘a bid to fight back against ‘status quo’ as economic sanctions bite’

Iran‘s attacks on a US drone and oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman are a bid to push back against sanctions imposed by Washington, a Defense Intelligence Agency warned.

Lt Gen Robert Ashley Jr said the recent attacks were a bid to change the ‘status quo’ as the US-imposed sanctions have started to hit the Iranian economy.

The director of the agency warned that the Iranians believe they are in a ‘favorable’ position due to their influence over the Iraqi government and regional ally Syrian President Bashar al-Assad likely to remain in power after a devastating eight-year civil war.  

In an interview with Fox News, Lt Gen Ashley also said the sanctions imposed by the US after leaving the Iran nuclear deal are having ‘an impact on the entire nation’ as the country slides into recession.

He claimed the attacks were a bid to change the path negotiations are heading.

Lieutenant General Robert Ashley Jr director of the US Defense Intelligence Agency

Lieutenant General Robert Ashley Jr director of the US Defense Intelligence Agency

Lieutenant General Robert Ashley Jr director of the US Defense Intelligence Agency

US Air Force file photo similar to the downed US drone

US Air Force file photo similar to the downed US drone

US Air Force file photo similar to the downed US drone 

Ashley told Fox News: ‘As you look at the developments of JCPOA [the Iran deal], the lack of an economic outcome for them and then, really, the sanctions which have put a lot of pressure on the Iranian government. 

‘I think this uptick that you’ve seen is a reflection of them trying to kind of change the status quo in the path that they’re on.

‘I would say the pressure campaign is working and there is hardship. And, you know, the president has asked the question before, ”Does this have an impact on the Iranian people?” And, it has an impact on the entire nation when you look at their economy, because the economyʼs moving into a recession and they are struggling.’   

Tensions remain high between between Iran and the United States after President Trump said on Friday that he called off a military strike to retaliate for Iran’s downing of an unmanned US drone out of concern it would have been a disproportionate response.

Iran has played down the impact of any new US sanctions, claiming they were ‘just propaganda, as all sanctions have been imposed and there are no more sanctions left’, Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi said.

Last year Trump withdrew the US from a 2015 accord between Iran and world powers that curbed Tehran’s nuclear program in exchange for easing sanctions. Relations in the region have worsened significantly since then. 

President Trump said on Friday that he called off a military strike to retaliate for Iran's downing of an unmanned US drone

President Trump said on Friday that he called off a military strike to retaliate for Iran's downing of an unmanned US drone

President Trump said on Friday that he called off a military strike to retaliate for Iran’s downing of an unmanned US drone

Iran has played down the impact of US-impose sanctions after Trump pluued out of the nuclear deal. Pictured is President Hassan Rouhani

Iran has played down the impact of US-impose sanctions after Trump pluued out of the nuclear deal. Pictured is President Hassan Rouhani

Iran has played down the impact of US-impose sanctions after Trump pluued out of the nuclear deal. Pictured is President Hassan Rouhani

Iran denies seeking nuclear weapons and refers to a fatwa or religious decree issued in the early 2000s by Iran’s top authority Ayatollah Ali Khamenei that bans the development or use of nuclear weapons.

Diplomatic efforts are underway to ease the crisis following attacks on oil tankers in the Gulf in recent weeks that the United States blames on Iran and the shooting down of the American drone last week. 

Tehran has denied involvement in the tanker attacks, which no one has claimed responsibility for. 

Andrew Murrison, Britain’s minister for the Middle East and North Africa, said on Sunday that he had ‘open, frank and constructive’ talks with Iranian government representatives in Tehran. 

But the Iranian foreign ministry spokesman said today that the US Middle East peace plan that is set to be presented at an international conference in Bahrain this week is ‘shameful’ and ‘doomed to failure’. 

An oil tanker seen after it was attacked at the Gulf of Oman, in waters between Gulf Arab states and Iran on June 13

An oil tanker seen after it was attacked at the Gulf of Oman, in waters between Gulf Arab states and Iran on June 13

An oil tanker seen after it was attacked at the Gulf of Oman, in waters between Gulf Arab states and Iran on June 13

Tehran threatened last week to surpass the enriched uranium limits brokered by the Obama administration as part of the now abandoned deal.

Director Ashley told Fox: ‘They’re looking to go beyond 300 kilograms, and with the Iraq heavy water nuclear reactor, to start increasing the – the heavy water – that that produces as well.’

Ashley said his agency has been analyzing Iran’s military capability and assessing the regime’s likely response to diplomatic pressure.

He also said he believes it could be a year before Iran could develop an operational  nuclear weapon if they started a full building program. 

The general added: ‘We map those things out for the chairman, for the secretary, for the warfighters, so that they can have a sense of, what are the capabilities the Iranians have, what are the possible reactions that they might take if pressure’s put upon them. 

‘And so, we give them options to understand what are the low, mid, and high probability kind of reactions from the Iranians.

‘I think one of the things that Iranians and we assess is, they want to figure out how they can also leverage the European nations to come back in and bring the dialogue back to the floor and to have those discussions.

‘If they were to break out and start fully building out the program, then it’s still about a year out before they can actually get to a weapon.’ 

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