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Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) announced that it seized a British tanker in the Strait of Hormuz on July 19, and a second British-owned tanker was boarded before being released, in the latest escalation over control of one of the world’s most vital energy trade waterways.

The first tanker, the Stena Impero, was seized by Iranian boats after it ignored warnings to stop, according to Iranian officials. The second tanker, MV Mesdar, operates under a Liberian flag but is owned by UK company Norbulk Shipping.

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The United States claims a US navy vessel destroyed an Iranian drone on July 18, continuing the escalatory spiral between Iran and the United States in the Persian Gulf.

US President Donald J. Trump announced before a press conference with Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte that the USS Boxer “took defensive action against an Iranian drone,” which had come within 1,000 yards of the US ship. Trump said the drone ignored “multiple calls to stand down and was threatening the safety of the ship and the ship’s crew,” before it was “immediately destroyed.” According to CNN Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr, the drone was “brought down by electronic warfare jamming.”

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If the United States decides to strike back at Iran for its shooting down of a US drone on June 20, “the escalatory spiral” in the region “will only continue with potential disastrous consequences, according to Barbara Slavin, director of the Future of Iran Initiative at the Atlantic Council.

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Iran’s plans to violate a central tenet of the 2015 nuclear deal by exceeding limits placed on enriched uranium “will be the final blow to an agreement that the United States mortally wounded a year ago,” according to Barbara Slavin, director of the Atlantic Council’s Future of Iran Initiative

The nuclear deal—formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA)—was signed between Iran, the United States, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom, and China on July 14, 2015. The deal required Tehran to freeze aspects of its nuclear weapons program. In return, the other signatories would provide sanctions relief. On May 8, 2018, US President Donald J. Trump announced that the United States would withdraw from the JCPOA over concerns that it did not do enough to stop Tehran’s pursuit of a nuclear weapon or its “malign activity” in the Middle East.

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Iranian supreme leader rebuffs Japanese prime minister’s attempt at mediation

Iran is unlikely to agree to negotiations with the United States in the absence of US concessions, according to Barbara Slavin, director of the Atlantic Council’s Future of Iran Initiative.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who has offered to serve as a mediator between Washington and Tehran, traveled to Iran this week—the first Japanese prime minister to visit Iran in nearly forty years—in an attempt to facilitate negotiations. However, Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei rebuffed Abe’s effort.

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Rising tensions between the United States and Iran are causing grave concern in Iraq. Iraq’s security and political stability will suffer greatly if this tension erupts into a violent conflict. Iraq has only just snatched a difficult victory from the jaws of an existential terrorist threat posed by the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) and is coping with post-conflict challenges that range from the reconstruction of destroyed cities—where more than a million internally displaced people are still unable to return to their homes—to the rebuilding of its battered economy and the revival of its energy, agriculture, education, housing, transportation, and healthcare sectors. If a new conflict erupts in the region, it will complicate the situation for Iraq in some unimaginable ways, even if Iraq is not directly involved.

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Drones purportedly flown by Houthi rebels in Yemen attacked Saudi oil pumping stations on May 14, creating a new flash point in a region already on edge over rising tensions between the United States and Iran.

A Houthi military official claimed the group launched multiple attacks against “vital Saudi installations” using drones to deliver bombs. The Houthis have been fighting the Saudi-backed government in Yemen since 2015.

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