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Putin’s Syrian Withdrawal Could Strengthen Iran

here was a Hollywood film of yesteryear with the title “The Russians Are Coming.”

If one were making that film today it might be called “The Russians Are Going.”

In a move that has surprised many in our State Department, Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered the withdrawal of the “main part” of the Russian military contingent from Syria.

He noted that the principal tasks “for the armed forces were accomplished,” i.e. stabilizing the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

There is no doubt Russian airpower pushed back rebel forces in key areas and reinforced the Shiite hold as Assad’s military force around the northern city of Aleppo.

With settlement talks underway in Geneva, Putin believes a cease fire can be brokered with Assad affixed to the future of Syria and a U.S. team, left without any alternative, accepting Assad.

Keep in mind, President Obama on several occasions argued “Assad must go.”

That refrain is a distant memory.

Some analysts have speculated that Assad was resisting Russian demands for a near term power sharing arrangement and long term constitutional reform.

But, as I see it, this speculation enters the realm of wishful thinking.

Assad is in the driver’s seat, firmly ensconced by the combination of Russian air power, Iranian military force and U.S. equivocation.

Moreover, the Russian draw-down should not be considered a regional withdrawal. Russia will continue to maintain a presence in Syria with an airbase in Hmeimin and a naval base in Tartus.

Some contend the price tag associated with this military engagement was not worth the investment. Here too I would take exception.

The relatively modest investment has given Russia a foothold in the Middle East and a key seat at the table during ceasefire deliberations.

Moreover, the Russian initiative diminished the role and stature of the United States. Putin can assert “we stand by our allies.” It would be hard for President Obama to make the same claim to the Syrian rebels he once supported.
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Others attempting to explain Russian motives contend that Putin wished to extricate himself from a Middle East quagmire. While there are pathologies in the region that won’t soon be resolved or even fully understood, it is precisely this confusion and the power vacuum created by U.S. withdrawal that allowed for the ease of Russian intervention.

Mr. Putin has consolidated his alliance with Iran and by creating the illusion of “responsible” behavior through the draw-down of forces, he undoubtedly hopes to gain concessions from the U.S. and Europe on sanctions relief which had been imposed over the Russian invasion of Crimea.

Looking at this partial withdrawal of Russian forces dispassionately, it appears as if Putin has grabbed the mantle of moderation and is regarded as the stabilizing influence in Syria.

This has been accomplished with a modest outlay of resources and without the loss of Russian lives.

The downside — if there is a downside — is that Putin’s strategy reinforced the Iranian goal of a Persian Crescent throughout the region.

That condition could come back to haunt the Russians through Iranian influence in Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Kazakhstan on Russia’s southern flank.

An Iran with nuclear weapons and a missile delivery system is not only a threat to Israel and the Sunni nations, but to Russia as well.
At the moment the Russian-Iranian alliance is intact because those states each benefit from the relationship. However, if history is any guide, Russians are nervous about Shia ambitions and Iranian religious views aren’t exactly compatible with the Russian Orthodox Church.

So the globe spins and the Middle East spins even faster than the rest of the world. Where it lands and when it lands is anyone’s guess; but these questions will surely confound for a lifetime, if not longer.

 

Source: https://www.newsmax.com/HerbertLondon/Assad-Putin/2016/03/21/id/720128/

The Chinese Smuggler and the Iran Deal

On February 1, 2016, Sihai Cheng was sentenced to nine years in prison after pleading guilty to six charges related to the diversion of U.S.-manufactured pressure transducers to Iran. The plea brings to an end a lengthy legal process that started with an indictment in 2013. Cheng is one of two individuals who have faced justice over the diversion of a substantial number of specialist pressure transducers to Iran’s uranium enrichment program. Shortly after Cheng entered his guilty plea, and shortly before his sentencing, charges were dropped against Cheng’s Iranian conspirator as part of a prisoner exchange timed to coincide with the implementation of the Iran nuclear deal. The case thus raises questions about the deterrence messages being sent to would-be middle men and proliferators. It also highlights yet again a critical weakness in the non-proliferation regime related to the procurement of goods from specialist suppliers via non-state actors has not yet been addressed. Addressing this challenge in order to detect and prevent such trade is vital if the Iran deal is to be successfully implemented over the next decade.

The Cheng Case

Cheng had apparently been procuring goods on behalf of Iranian entities for a number of years when his Iranian contact – Seyed Abolfazl Shahab Jamili – asked if he could procure pressure transducers made by MKS, a company in Andover, Massachusetts. Pressure transducers are a specialist item necessary in most uranium enrichment processes – including centrifuge enrichment. The items are manufactured by fewer than 10 firms worldwide and they are thus seen as a “chokepoint technology” whose adequate control can prevent clandestine uranium enrichment from taking place.

It was shown in court that Cheng (and indeed Jamili) knew that they were procuring the items on behalf of Kalaye Electric Company, a subsidiary of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran with responsibilities for centrifuge enrichment.

In this case, Cheng was the key facilitator in the network, approaching MKS Shanghai Ltd to enquire about procurement of the pressure transducers. Staff of MKS Shanghai Ltd (a Chinese subsidiary of MKS Instruments Ltd in Andover, MA), recognising the sensitive nature of the procurement, informed Cheng that they could not sell the goods to him directly. However, Cheng was also advised that the goods could be procured through another Chinese businessman – Wang Ping. Cheng approached Ping, who then over the course of a number of years allegedly worked with Qiang Hu of MKS Shanghai Ltd and Cheng to have thousands of pressure transducers shipped to Iran.

Cheng, Ping and Hu of MKS Shanghai Ltd are understood to have conspired to have products made by MKS in Andover diverted. Between the two individuals, false end user undertakings were prepared and sent to Andover to have the goods shipped to Wang’s companies, which included Shanghai Racy Systems Integration Co,. Ltd,. In some instances, the names of real MKS customers were utilized for this deception. Cheng is personally alleged to have stripped the labels from the boxes before they were shipped to Iran’s enrichment program.

The collective effect of the actions of the individuals was that more than 1000 US-origin pressure transducers were diverted to Iran. Many, but perhaps not all, of these goods were sent to Iran. Given the importance of pressure transducers to Iran’s nuclear enrichment program, it seems certain that the illegal activity was of substantial benefit to Iran’s program, which has been prohibited by UN sanctions from receiving such goods for much of the last decade.

Cheng was arrested at London’s Heathrow airport in late 2014, purportedly after flying to the U.K. to watch a football game. An extradition process then took place that saw Cheng extradited to the U.S. in December 2014. Interestingly, the extradition nearly did not come to pass after it was suggested (incorrectly) in court that the export of such goods from the U.K. to Iran would not have been an offence prior to the adoption of EU regulation 428/2009. In fact, the extradition hearing highlights the challenges associated with enforcing export control regulations in many countries, with the barrister acting on behalf of the crown describing export controls as a “turgid” area of the law.

Caught in the Middle?

At nine years, the sentence that Cheng received appears severe. Hu, the former sales manager of MKS Shanghai who was lured to Boston in 2012, was sentenced to 34 months in prison. Charges were dropped against Jamili – the Iranian involved in the case as part of the prisoner swap mentioned above and will face no further action. Cheng has already lodged an appeal against his sentence, with his lawyer arguing that Cheng would not have entered into the plea agreement had he known that the charges against Jamili would soon be dropped. Nonetheless, reading the government’s sentencing memorandum, it is clear that Cheng was the central character in the illicit procurement network. In this case, it could be argued – and indeed was argued in court – that the sentencing is proportionate and will act to deter others from repeating Cheng’s activates.

Nonetheless, the dropping of charges against Jamili in particular raises complex questions about the deterrence value of this case and the messaging to other would-be proliferators. It is also notable that the prosecution of these cases has taken place in the United States rather than in China where the individuals were resident and where the crimes are alleged to have taken place.

The decisions of the United States to lure Hu from China to the U.S. and to seek the extradition of Cheng from the U.K. are controversial. At a workshop on export controls for Chinese industry co-organized by the author in early 2015, a Chinese government official rebuked the U.S. for taking enforcement actions against Chinese citizens – to applause from the Chinese industrialists present at the workshop. It is likely that China will seek to shield its citizens from extraterritorial actions.

The decision, however, was likely taken out of frustration: U.S. officials have complained for many years about an apparent lack of action by the Chinese government to enforce export controls in cases where goods could contribute to WMD programs. This has led to a widely held view that Chinese export controls are weak, which in turn has led some states to take a cautious approach to licensing exports of sensitive goods to China. There are signs that China is committed to improving its export control systems. Recently, for example, China created a new bureau in its Ministry of Commerce for this purpose. This unit includes an enforcement team responsible for pursuing violations of export control laws. China has also apparently created a cross-government “emergency reaction mechanism” through which it can respond to intelligence information about possible violations.

Despite this, it is unclear how the export control landscape affects decision-making in Chinese industry. There have been very few enforcement actions undertaken by the Chinese government in relation to export controls. While the risk of U.S. extraterritorial punishment might deter Chinese industry might be deterred from committing export control violations, the apparent willingness of the Chinese government to defend its citizens and the dropping of the charges against Jamili may lessen this effect.

Implications for the JCPOA?

The case also raises questions about future efforts to prevent illicit trade, particularly in the context of theIranian nuclear agreement of summer 2015, which came into force on January 16 – the same day as the prisoner swap. As part of this agreement, Iran has agreed to procure nuclear-related items through a dedicated channel – the “Procurement Channel,” and has acknowledged that further illicit procurement of such pressure transducers would constitute a breach of the nuclear agreement.

The case highlights the importance of the procurement channel and the limitations of traditional export controls. Under the procurement channel, the Iranian government would be required to sign an end user undertaking for any nuclear-related items that are imported – including the types of pressure transducer acquired by Iran in this case. If Iran imported such items without the required end user undertaking and permission from the Procurement Working Group of the joint commission, it would be in violation of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), as the Iran deal is officially known.

The procurement channel was established because of the limitations of traditional export controls. The U.S. government issued export licenses for the goods to be exported to China. In some cases, the U.S. government appears to have allowed the goods to be held in stock by MKS Shanghai, probably because of the company’s good reputation with regards to export controls.

It is not yet clear how this case came to light, but it seems likely that authorities learned about the Cheng network through information gleaned from intelligence agencies rather than from information obtained in the export control process. This highlights a key challenge in implementing the procurement channel. Much of the enforcement action that takes place in relation to export control violations is initiated based on information from intelligence. Thus a key challenge for implementation of the Iran deal will be in ensuring that such information can be acted upon both in terms of national disruption of procurement networks, but also in terms of holding Iran to account for any non-compliance with the terms of the JCPOA.

Given that intelligence information is by its nature unreliable and usually cannot be shared widely, it is desirable that some investigatory body exists that can independently investigate whether a violation actually occurred. The UN body assigned to this task in relation to the implementation of sanctions – the Iran Panel of Experts – was disbanded on implementation day. It is not yet clear whether an alterative body will take up this mandate. Notably, the MKS case, despite taking place during the Panel of Expert’s mandate, was never reported to the panel. Given that the panel could generally only investigate cases that are reported to it, this has meant that the independent UN body has never investigated whether Iran breached sanctions in this case, even though two individuals have pleaded guilty to related offences. This is an unhelpful precedent for implementation of the JCPOA.

Significant Prosecutions, Strategic Gaps

Prosecutions for export control violations are relatively rare. The fact that two individuals have been brought to justice in this case, which relates to a substantial diversion of particularly sensitive instruments, is to be welcomed. On closer look, however, the case highlights numerous gaps and limitations in the non-proliferation regime. In the context of implementation of the JCPOA, it is vital not only that efforts to enforce export controls and investigate possible violations continue, but that they be ramped up. Fail to do so may derail the JCPOA’s chances of constraining Iran’s nuclear program.

Gold Trader at Heart of Turkey Graft Scandal Charged in U.S.

Reza Zarrab, a gold trader at the center of a bribery scandal that engulfed Turkey’s leadership more than two years ago, was charged by the U.S. of running a scheme to help the Iranian government launder hundreds of millions of dollars and evade economic sanctions.

Zarrab, 33, owner and operator of Royal Holding A.S., and two others, are accused of using a web of companies over five years to induce U.S. banks to unwittingly process transactions that violated international sanctions against Iran, according to an indictment unsealed on Monday.

The charges are a blow to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has repeatedly insisted that allegations of corruption against him and his inner circle were nothing more than a coup attempt. In response to the scandal centered around Zarrab in 2013, Erdogan turned Turkey’s bureaucracy upside-down, dismissing thousands of state employees, police officers and prosecutors, with many jailed. He also labeled a group of former allies he blamed for the accusations, the Gulen religious movement, a terrorist organization.

Zarrab had denied any wrongdoing amid the Turkish investigation, saying the business was legitimate. The ministers also denied the charges. All charges against him and members of Erdogan’s government were eventually dropped.

Khamenei Letter

The U.S. indictment suggests “that the allegations of sanctions-busting were strong enough to merit U.S. action, regardless of the political consequences,” said Aaron Stein, senior fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Hariri Center for the Middle East and author of the book “Turkey’s New Foreign Policy.” This “is a big deal because of Zarrab’s obvious connections to the AKP,” he said, referring to the party Erdogan founded, which has governed Turkey since 2002.

In December 2011, Zarrab received a draft letter in Farsi addressed to the general manager of Iran’s central bank and prepared for Zarrab’s signature, according to the U.S. indictment. It praised the role of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s supreme leader, and officials at Markazi Bank for action which “wisely neutralizes the sanctions and even turns them into opportunities.”

‘Economic Jihad’

The letter volunteered the services of the Zarrab family, which it said had “half a century of experience in foreign exchange,” for anti-sanction policies in an “Economic Jihad” endorsed by Khamenei.

Zarrab, who holds Turkish and Iranian citizenship, was charged and detained in the graft probe in Turkey in 2013. In that case, he was accused of bribing ministers in Erdogan’s cabinet with millions of dollars in cash and gifts to help facilitate trade in gold with Iran, according to police and court documents in Turkey reviewed by Bloomberg News.

Zarrab and his accomplices began using a network of companies in Turkey and the United Arab Emirates to transact business on Iran’s behalf and defraud the U.S. from “at least in or about 2010 and including in or about 2015,” according to the indictment. Companies benefiting from the scheme included Bank Mellat, an Iranian government-owned bank, the National Iranian Oil Company and the Naftiran Intertrade Company, it said.

Stuffed Shoeboxes

Not mentioned in the U.S. indictment is Turkiye Halk Bankasi AS, the Turkish state-run bank that processed Zarrab’s payments and whose former chief executive officer, Suleyman Aslan, was also embroiled in the scandal and briefly jailed. Police found millions of dollars stuffed into shoe boxes when they raided Aslan’s home in Dec. 2013. He said the money was donations he was collecting for Islamic schools in Turkey and Macedonia.

In a television interview on Turkey’s ultra pro-government A Haber news in April 2014, Zarrab estimated he had facilitated the transfer of about $12 billion in gold, or about 200 tons, to Iran. The surge in exports driven by that business was so rapid and so extensive — gold transfers to Iran jumped from $53 million in 2011 to $6.5 billion in 2012 — that it distorted Turkish trade figures.

Erdogan defended Zarrab after the probe, calling him a “philanthropist” whose business had “contributed to the country.” In June of 2015, a year and a half after the Turkish corruption scandal broke, Zarrab received an award in Turkey for export performance. Numan Kurtulmus, now deputy prime minister, Nihat Zeybekci, who was then economy minister, and Mehmet Buyukeksi, head of the Turkish exporters’ group, presented the citation. Erdogan was in the audience.

Erdogan’s Visit

An e-mail sent to Royal Holding AS after regular business hours seeking comment on Zarrab’s arrest wasn’t immediately returned. Seyda Yildirim, his lawyer in Turkey, didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

The announcement of Zarrab’s arrest in Miami comes a week before Erdogan is scheduled to visit the U.S., where he’ll open a Turkish-funded mosque in Maryland and attend a nuclear security summit in Washington. Erdogan is scheduled to be in the country from March 29 to April 2. A meeting with President Barack Obama hasn’t yet been confirmed.

Zarrab in 2014 owned a private jet and yacht and shared a $72 million villa on Istanbul’s waterfront with his pop-star wife, Ebru Gundes, a Turkish celebrity. In recent weeks, Turkish media had reported that he’d begun selling his real estate assets in Turkey. The reports of those sales followed the sentencing of Babak Zanjani, an Iranian businessman, to death for corruption in Iran. Zanjani and Zarrab were associates, though Zarrab has denied that they were partners.

‘A Message’

Zarrab, who’s also known as Riza Sarraf, is charged with conspiracy to commit bank fraud, which carries a maximum 30-year prison term, money laundering and sanctions evasion. He was arrested March 19 and ordered held without bail after appearing in court in Miami, according to a spokeswoman for U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara.

“For almost five years, from 2010 to 2015, the defendants allegedly conspired to thwart U.S. and international economic sanctions against Iran by concealing financial transactions that were on behalf of Iranian entities,” FBI Assistant Director-in-Charge Diego Rodriguez said in a statement published Monday by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York. “The charges announced today should send a message to those who try to hide” their true business partners, he said.

Bashing Both Iran and Obama, Trump Scores Points at AIPAC

Bashing Both Iran and Obama, Trump Scores Points at AIPAC

The GOP front-runner told a skeptical audience exactly what they wanted to hear, calming his critics — and winning some new supporters along the way.

One of America’s most indelicate men tackled some of the world’s most delicate issues on Monday — and escaped unscathed.

In an address to the powerful American Israel Public Affairs Committee in Washington, D.C., Republican front-runner Donald Trump received raucous applause and repeated standing ovations for his self-professed love of Israel and self-declared hatred for its enemies.

In a skillful reading of his audience — a mixture of around 18,000 hawkish pro-Israel activists — the populist real estate tycoon hit all the key applause lines: He slammed the “incompetence” of the United Nations; the fecklessness of U.S. President Barack Obama; the “catastrophic” nature of the Iran nuclear deal; and the “culture of hatred” in Palestinian society. He also promised to move the American embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, which he referred to as the “eternal capital of the Jewish people.”

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“I am a newcomer to politics but not to backing the Jewish state,” he said. “We will send a clear signal that there is no daylight between America and our most reliable ally, the state of Israel.”

Despite vowing that he “didn’t come here tonight to pander to you about Israel,” he boasted at length about his ties to the pro-Israel community, citing such things as his leadership role in a pro-Israel parade in 2004, the time he lent his personal jet to the former mayor of New York for a trip to Israel, and the fact that his daughter Ivanka, who converted to Judaism, is expecting a baby any day now.

“My daughter Ivanka is about to have a beautiful Jewish baby,” he said, prompting a large round of applause.

Trump appeared most comfortable in bashing the Iran deal, which places an elaborate set of curbs on the country’s nuclear program in exchange for tens of billions of dollars in economic sanctions relief. The agreement was secured by the Obama administration and world powers last summer, but Trump has insisted that he could negotiate a better deal.

“I have been in business a long time. I know deal making. And let me tell you, this deal is catastrophic — for America, for Israel, and for the whole of the Middle East,” he said.

Yet he seemed to offer contradictory messages about what he would do with the agreement once in office, promising at one point to “dismantle the disastrous deal with Iran” but at another vowing to enforce the deal.

“We will enforce it like you’ve never seen a contract enforced before, folks, believe me,” he said.

On issue after issue — from countering Iran’s rising regional influence to protecting Israel — the mogul gave the audience what they wanted to hear without explaining in detail how he would actually do any of it. “Believe me,” he told the crowd after each chest-pounding promise.

Despite the mixed messages and vagueness of his speech, he received sustained applause from the audience. “We love you Trump!” yelled one attendee.

Trump capped off a day that began with a fiery speech from Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton, who had tough talk of her own about Iran and repeatedly jabbed Trump for his earlier promise to be a “neutral” broker in the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians.

“We need steady hands, not a president who says he’s neutral on Monday, pro-Israel on Tuesday, and who-knows-what on Wednesday, because everything’s negotiable,” she said.

Clinton, in a speech earlier on Monday, also said she would “vigorously oppose any attempt by outside parties to impose a solution, including by the U.N. Security Council.”

Trump echoed that promise in his own remarks Monday evening.

“Let me be clear: An agreement imposed by the United Nations would be a total and complete disaster,” he said. “The United States must oppose this resolution and use the power of our veto.”

The Obama administration has considered a U.N. proposal by the French aimed at advancing the peace process but has never publicly supported it.

Prior to the speech, it was not clear at all that Trump would garner a positive reception. For weeks, Trump has been criticized by his Republican rivals for saying he would be “sort of a neutral guy” when brokering peace negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians in order to secure the “deal of all deals.”

“It’s probably the toughest negotiation anywhere in the world of any kind,” Trump has said.

Although the position does not stray from official U.S. policy on the Middle East conflict, Trump’s Republican rivals have bucked the long-standing view and repeatedly equated Palestinians with terrorists who are not fit for negotiations. Separately, a number of more liberal rabbis had vowed to walk out during Trump’s speech.

Earlier in the day, Trump, who has long avoided releasing a full list of his foreign-policy team, revealed the advisors helping to shape his atypical worldview.

The advisors, who he discussed with the Washington Post editorial board, are not major fixtures in official Washington, though some have courted controversy.

Interest in Trump’s foreign-policy brain trust has spiked as the real estate tycoon continues to surprise observers with views that challenge Washington orthodoxy, including a deep skepticism of international trade and American military adventurism abroad. The advisors included Walid Phares, Carter Page, Joseph Schmitz, and Keith Kellogg.

Phares has received criticism for his association with Christian Lebanese militia groups in the 1980s during that country’s brutal civil conflict. After being named a foreign-policy advisor to former GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney, the Council on American-Islamic Relations, a Muslim advocacy group, called for his expulsion from the campaign due to his membership in the fighting groups.

Schmitz, a former inspector general of the Pentagon during the administration of President George W. Bush, runs a consulting firm and has worked for Blackwater Worldwide, the disgraced private security firm linked to the 2007 Nisour Square massacre in Baghdad. It’s unclear what type of advice he has given Trump, but he told the Post that he has consulted with Sam Clovis, another Trump policy advisor, for the past month.

Page, like Trump, has a fair amount of experience doing business in Russia, where he was responsible for opening Merrill Lynch’s Moscow office and advising on major transactions for big companies, including the Russian energy giant Gazprom. According to Page’s company bio, he was a fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and was “responsible for energy-related research on the Caspian Sea region.” It’s unclear how or whether Page has influenced Trump’s thinking, but on the campaign trail, Trump’s unusually favorable views of Russian President Vladimir Putin have stuck out among the GOP and Democratic fields.

“Wouldn’t it be nice if actually we could get along with Russia?” Trump saidrecently. He’s also said he “would probably get along with [Putin] very well.”Page is currently the managing partner of Global Energy Capital.

Kellogg, a former Army lieutenant general, has worked inside and outside the military on communications and computer systems for years. According to the IT trade publication Defense Systems, Kellogg served as a principal advisor to the Joint Chiefs of Staff on issues related to command and control, as well as other Pentagon jobs. He’s currently an executive vice president at CACI International, a Virginia-based IT consulting firm. According to thePost, “he has experience in national defense and homeland security issues and worked as chief operating officer for the Coalition Provisional Authority in Baghdad following the invasion of Iraq.”

Trump routinely criticizes the Iraq invasion and subsequent occupation, which he has labeled a disaster brought on by Bush’s incompetence and dishonesty.

 

Source: https://foreignpolicy.com/2016/03/21/bashing-both-iran-and-obama-trump-scores-points-at-aipac/

Iran wants to make statue of captured US sailors as ‘tourist attraction’

Iran is planning to make its recent capture and release of US Navy sailors into a “tourist attraction.”

Commander Ali Fadavi, the head of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard naval forces, said the military is planning on building a statue of the 10 American sailors who were held for a day in January.

“There are very many photographs of the major incident of arresting US Marines in the Persian Gulf in the media and we intend to build a symbol out of them inside one of our naval monuments,” he told Iran’s Defense Press news agency, according to The Telegraph.

The sailors were held at gunpoint for a day and paraded in front of cameras – drawing outrage from the Obama administration — before being released.

The statue is expected to be built on Kharg Island in the Persian Gulf, near where the sailors were captured, The Telegraph reported Friday.

Iranian hardliners are under pressure after the negotiation of the nuclear deal with the US – and with moderate allies of President Hassan Rouhani making gains in last month’s elections.

The construction of the statue would fit into a pattern of provocative behavior intended to show that the Revolutionary Guard is still a major force in Iran, according to the newspaper.

Earlier this month, the Guard fired two ballistic missiles with the words “Israel must be wiped out” written on their sides in Hebrew while Vice President Joe Biden was visiting Israel.