a major Iranian nuclear site in July and the assassination of Iran’s top nuclear scientist last November. Israel has not publicly acknowledged either operation.

The Israeli offensive against Iranian shipping has two goals, analysts and officials said. The first is to prevent Tehran from sending equipment to Lebanon to help Hezbollah build a precision missile program, which Israel considers a strategic threat.

The second is to dry up an important source of oil revenue for Tehran, building on the pressure American sanctions have inflicted. After the United States imposed sanctions on Iran’s fuel industry in late 2018, the Iranian government became more reliant on clandestine shipping.

Sima Shine, a former head of research at Mossad, the Israeli intelligence agency.

The attacks typically feature limpet mines and sometimes torpedoes, the American official said. They generally target the ships’ engines or propellers, one Israeli official said. And they are intended to cripple but not sink the ships, the American and Israeli officials said.

a recent oil spill that left tons of tar on the beaches of Israel and Lebanon.

Within Israel, there is concern among maritime experts that the cost of a sea war may exceed its benefit.

While the Israeli Navy can make its presence felt in the Mediterranean and Red Seas, it is less effective in waters closer to Iran. And that could make Israeli-owned ships more vulnerable to Iranian attacks as they pass Iran’s western shores on their way to ports in the Gulf, said Shaul Chorev, a retired Israeli admiral who now heads the Maritime Policy and Strategy Research Center at the University of Haifa.

“Israeli strategic interests in the Persian Gulf and related waterways will undoubtedly grow,” he wrote in a statement, “and the Israeli Navy does not have the capabilities to protect these interests.”

Patrick Kingsley reported from Jerusalem, Ronen Bergman from Tel Aviv, Farnaz Fassihi from New York, and Eric Schmitt from Washington.

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Saudi Arabia Offers Cease-Fire in Yemen and Lifting of Blockade

Saudi Arabia proposed what it described as a new peace offering on Monday to end the kingdom’s nearly six-year-old war on the insurgency in neighboring Yemen, pledging to lift an air-and-sea blockade if the Houthi rebels agree to a cease-fire.

The offering, announced by Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister in Riyadh, the Saudi capital, came as pressure has escalated on the country to help break a stalemate in the Yemen conflict, which the United Nations has called the world’s worst man-made humanitarian disaster.

Millions of Yemenis, including children, are verging on famine partly because of the blockade, which has choked the delivery of food and fuel to the country, the Arab world’s poorest.

The Saudi foreign minister, Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud, was quoted by Arab news media as saying that if the Houthis agreed to a cease-fire, the country would allow the reopening of the airport in Sana, the Yemeni capital, and would permit fuel and food imports through Hudaydah, a major Yemeni seaport. Both are controlled by the Houthis.

announced an end to American logistical and intelligence support for the Saudi war effort in Yemen.

United Nations humanitarian officials have been pleading for eased access to vulnerable Yemenis isolated by the war, warning that famine already is beginning to take hold. After a visit to Yemen in early March, David Beasley, executive director of the World Food Program, the U.N.’s anti-hunger agency, said “the famine is on a worsening trajectory.”

Six years of war, Mr. Beasley said, had “completely devastated the people, in every respect.”

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Saudi Arabia Offers Cease-Fire Deal in Yemen

RIYADH—Saudi Arabia unveiled a proposal for a cease-fire aimed at disentangling itself from Yemen’s civil war, as rebel forces press an offensive and the Biden administration seeks to extricate the U.S. from the six-year-old conflict.

The proposal announced Monday includes a nationwide cease-fire, reopening of both the airport in the capital San’a and the country’s largest port at Hodeidah, as well as the start of political consultations under United Nations supervision, which have so far failed to resolve the conflict between the Saudi-backed forces and the Houthi rebels.

“We want the guns to fall completely silent. That is the initiative and that is the only thing that can really help us get to the next step,” Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan told reporters Monday. “We hope that we can have a cease-fire immediately, but the onus is on the Houthis.”

The Houthis, who are aligned with Saudi archenemy Iran, dismissed the proposal as containing nothing new.

“Any positions or initiatives that don’t recognize that Yemen has been subjected to hostility and blockade for six years, and don’t separate the humanitarian aspect from any political or military bargain or lift the blockade are nothing new or serious,” said the group’s spokesman, Mohammed Abdel Salam.

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Endangered Gazelles Make a Comeback on the Edge of a War Zone

KIRIKHAN, Turkey — Turkey’s southern border with Syria has become a place of hardship and misery, with tented camps for people displaced by a decade of war on the Syrian side and a concrete wall blocking entrance to Turkey for all but the most determined.

Yet amid the rocky outcrops in one small area on the Turkish side, life is abounding as an endangered species of wild gazelle is recovering its stocks and multiplying.

The mountain gazelle, a dainty antelope with a striped face and spiraling horns, once roamed widely across the Middle East, and as Roman mosaics reveal, across southern Turkey as well. But by the end of the last century, it was hunted almost to extinction, with only a dwindling population of 2,500 left in Israel, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

In Turkey, the gazelle was forgotten and thought to no longer exist. The only ones officially recorded were a subspecies, known as goitered gazelles, in Sanliurfa Province in the southeast of the country.

The rediscovery and survival of the mountain gazelle in Turkey has been largely thanks to one man and his love of nature.

Yasar Ergun, a village teacher who became a veterinarian and professor at Hatay Mustafa Kemal University in the city of Antakya, heard in the mid-1990s from an old hunter that there were wild gazelles in the mountains along the border with Syria.

A keen hiker, he set out to try to find them. Barely 25 miles from Antakya — the ancient city of Antioch — Kurdish villagers knew about them and shepherds occasionally saw them. The gazelles live on the rocky hillsides, where their markings and coloring make them almost invisible. But they come down in groups to graze and find water on the surrounding agricultural land.

The professor spotted his first one in 1998 and, after a decade of observing them, estimated that there were about 100 living in the area.

With a small grant for a teaching project, he bought a camera and telephoto lens, which led to a close encounter and a breakthrough discovery.

“It was the mating season,” he recalled. “I ran to the road, and the male ran toward me to defend his females. It was very unusual.”

When he examined the photos, he realized the gazelles differed from those in southeastern Turkey.

“This one was light brown, with some parts white, and the horns were completely different,” he said. He was sure he was looking at the mountain gazelle, but found little interest in his claims in academic circles, he said.

“I sent the photographs around — professors just laughed,” he said.

He drew on the help of Tolga Kankilic, a biologist, who gathered samples of dung, fur and skin from the remains of dead gazelles for genetic testing, and found that the DNA matched that of mountain gazelles.

The discovery presented Mr. Ergun with an altogether more important task: to help the gazelles survive. There were several threats to them — lack of water and habitat especially — but by far the greatest danger was illegal hunting. Hunting is allowed only under license in designated areas in Turkey, but illegal hunting is rife.

The gazelles had disappeared completely from other regions, including Adana, farther west, where American soldiers stationed at Incirlik air base used to hunt them 20 years ago, he said.

“The end of a genetic source is the same as the collapse of Earth,” he said. “Nature needs biodiversity.”

He won a grant from the World Wildlife Fund in Turkey for a grass-roots project with local villagers and bought mountain gear and amateur walkie-talkies for several shepherds, who began monitoring the gazelles. They dug basins in the rock to collect water for the gazelles, though it took the animals months to trust the water source.

With his knowledge of village life, Mr. Ergun began softly, gaining the support of local shepherds, educating children to protect the gazelles and even encouraging a local Kurdish legend of a holy man who lived with the gazelles and milked them.

With the hunters, Mr. Ergun and his helpers adopted an approach of traditional courtesy and respect, drinking tea with them but never mentioning their hunting.

“We never tried to use force to stop them,” he said. “We would say, ‘Hello, we are from the Nature Project.’ Sometimes silence is more powerful than talking.”

The local people were Kurds, a mountain people with their own language and culture — and a history of resistance to the Turkish state.

“If you make an enemy, just one, in 10 years you will have 10 enemies, and in 100 years you will have 1,000,” Mr. Ergun said. But as the shepherds began monitoring the gazelles, the hunters got the message.

Mr. Ergun also needed the cooperation of the Turkish Army, which has a base in the area. The gazelles occupy a narrow strip of territory along the border a few miles wide and less than 20 miles long that is mostly a restricted military zone.

Yet the military restrictions, and the outbreak of war across the border in Syria 10 years ago, helped the gazelles in unexpected ways. Turkey built a cement wall along the border and dismantled an old buffer fence, which opened up more territory for the gazelles and protected them from straying into Syria, where hunting remains a threat.

The project grew, securing government support for a breeding center and sanctuary for orphaned and injured gazelles. The gazelles began to thrive, increasing from about 235 in 2012 to more than 1,100 last year, according to an official count by Turkish government agencies.

In 2019, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey declared a protected area of 50 square miles for the gazelles, and plans for a cement factory and quarries in the area were canceled.

Turkey is enormously rich in flora and fauna, but is industrializing rapidly and lagging in nature conservation, said Sedat Kalem, the conservation director of the World Wildlife Fund Turkey, which gave two small grants to help start the gazelle project. The government did not step in to rescue the gazelles, and it was left to a local initiative, he said.

“But we were happy to be instrumental in this result,” he said. “The locals have done a great job. If everybody can take care of their own environment, that is the key for overall success for protecting biodiversity.”

Not all of the villagers are convinced of the importance of protecting the gazelles.

“It’s actually a pain,” said Nuray Yildirim as she baked flatbread in an outdoor oven in the village of Incirli. “There are too many of them, and they eat the chickpeas and the wheat.”

But others described the gazelles as a blessing, even holy.

“They have been living here since the time of our ancestors,” said Mehmet Hanafi Cayir, a farmer. “The richness they bring will come to our door.”

Mr. Ergun’s attachment is primarily scientific. He said the increase in gazelles had brought wolves and even hyenas back to the region, which reflects a healthy ecosystem.

He also has plans for the future. As the numbers increase, he wants to reintroduce gazelles to other areas of Turkey and beyond.

“The habitat is suitable for these gazelles,” he said.

“Maybe we can reintroduce them in Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Syria, Iraq,” he added. “They lost them just 30 years ago. The people of the Middle East suffered so much. We should offer them this.”

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As Biden Seeks to End U.S. Involvement in Yemen, Iran-Backed Fighters Launch More Attacks

MARIB, Yemen—A detachment of Saudi-backed Yemeni soldiers—armed with AK-47s, rocket-propelled grenades and a single tank—keep watch from a rock outcropping, scanning the vast expanse of desert below them for signs of activity by Iranian-backed Houthi fighters.

“They’re out there,” said Yemeni Maj. Gen. Ameen Alwaili. “They’re pushing in from three sides.”

This small outpost is on the front lines of a continuing battle between the Houthi rebels and Yemen’s U.N.-recognized government, which is trying to hold on to Marib, its last stronghold in the north of the country and site of a coveted oil refinery.

In recent weeks, Houthi forces, using armed drones, ballistic missiles and mortars, have moved within a few miles of the city.

If Marib falls, Yemeni government and Saudi officials warned, it would give the Houthis and their Iranian allies control of a strategically valuable area that could serve as a launchpad for continued strikes on Saudi Arabia’s oil industry infrastructure and other targets.

A fighter with forces loyal to Yemen’s Saudi-backed government mans a heavy machine gun northwest of Marib in central Yemen on Feb. 11.

Photo: Agence France-Presse/Getty Images

Saudi and Yemeni officials said recent moves by President Biden to disentangle the U.S. from the grinding six-year civil war appear to have emboldened Houthi fighters. Last month, the Houthis launched more drone and missile strikes than in any other month during the conflict, U.S. officials say.

“The Houthis misunderstood Biden’s moves and saw them as a green light,” said a senior Saudi official.

Mr. Biden has scaled back U.S. support for the Saudi war effort and dispatched a special envoy to try to broker a cease-fire and eventual peace deal between the two sides. Ending Houthi strikes on Saudi Arabia is a central goal of Washington’s diplomatic push, U.S. officials said.

“If we cannot make progress now, the country will spiral into greater conflict and instability,” Tim Lenderking, the special U.S. envoy, said last week after presenting the Houthis with a new proposal to end the fighting. “Let us seize this moment.”

The war in Yemen has become a political albatross for Riyadh and Washington, with both trying to find an exit strategy from a conflict that has spawned what the U.N. calls the world’s worst humanitarian catastrophe. Aid groups say diplomatic deadlock is deepening the crisis by holding up delivery of food and fuel needed to avert widespread famine in Yemen.

The Saudi-led coalition mounted a series of airstrikes on Yemen’s rebel-held capital Sanaa on March 7.

Photo: Hani Al-Ansi/Zuma Press

A recently-released Houthi prisoner visits a cemetery in Sana’a, Yemen, March 3.

Photo: yahya arhab/Shutterstock

Soon after taking office, Mr. Biden put a hold on arms sales to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, which has been Riyadh’s most important ally on the ground in Yemen. He also reversed a last-minute Trump administration move to officially declare the Houthis terrorists and impose economic sanctions on key leaders of the group.

Aid groups have applauded that move, saying a terror designation would have made it impossible for them to work in Houthi-controlled areas.

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman sent the Saudi military into Yemen in 2015 to support a weak Yemen government struggling to stop the Houthis. The intervention quickly became a military quagmire, Iran stepped up support for the Houthis and the rebels captured the splintered country’s capital.

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Errant airstrikes that killed thousands of women and children over the years have eroded Western backing for the Saudi effort. Under pressure, then-President Trump reduced U.S. support for Saudis in 2018 by curtailing aerial refueling for planes carrying out the airstrikes.

But he also agreed to some key requests from the Gulf nations. Shortly before leaving office, Mr. Trump signed off on multibillion-dollar arms deals for the UAE and Saudi Arabia, including more precision-guided missiles used in Yemen.

The new approach to Yemen is part of a broader Biden administration shift in U.S. relations with Saudi Arabia. Riyadh’s support in Washington has plunged in recent years. The war in Yemen and the 2018 killing of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul fueled bipartisan discontent. Securing a peace deal in Yemen is one way U.S. officials say Riyadh can begin to repair its relationships in Washington.

The Pentagon is now focusing on providing assistance that’s defensive in nature, such as helping the Saudi military shoot down Houthi missiles and drones targeting the country.

The U.S. has also scaled back intelligence support for the Saudis. “It is more limited than it’s ever been,” one U.S. military official said.

More on Yemen’s Civil War

U.S. officials said surveillance flights over Yemen are more focused on the parallel threat posed by the country’s branch of al Qaeda, which is considered the most dangerous branch of the extremist group behind the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

The U.S. has carried out scores of drone strikes over the past decade on al Qaeda forces in Yemen, where thousands of its members are believed to still operate. The U.S. will keep warning the Saudis of imminent Houthi rocket and drone strikes if they get intelligence on them, the official said.

While the U.S. is working to get out of Yemen, Iran is trying to deepen its reach, Saudi, Yemeni and U.S. officials say. The U.S. has repeatedly seized Iranian-made weapons off the coast of Yemen that American military officials said were sent by Tehran to aid Houthi forces.

Iran denies the American accusations.

U.S., Saudi and Yemeni officials also say Hasan Irlu, an Iranian military commander serving as Iran’s diplomat in Houthi-controlled Yemen, has brought a new level of battlefield sophistication to the Houthis.

Last December, the Trump administration accused Mr. Irlu of training Houthi fighters to use advanced weapons. The U.S. imposed economic sanctions on Mr. Irlu.

So far, the Houthis have rebuffed U.S. diplomatic pressure to agree to a cease-fire with Saudi Arabia, after which the Saudis would end their blockades of the Red Sea port of Hodeida, the main gateway for humanitarian aid, and the Sana’a airport.

Houthi leaders have said they would only agree to a national cease-fire if the Saudis end the blockades first.

One Houthi official briefed on the continuing talks accused the U.S. of siding with Saudi Arabia by condemning Houthi missile and drone strikes on the Saudis.

“The U.S. doesn’t seem serious about ending the war in Yemen,” the official said. “When they show seriousness, we can meet and talk directly with them.”

Saudi officials want Mr. Biden to release his hold on the sale of precision-guided missiles, which they say are used only to defend their allies from Houthi attacks. U.S. officials expressed little openness to approving the sales, but suggested they might revisit the issue if Saudi Arabia disengages from Yemen.

A soldier stands at the Yemen military position on the front lines of the fight against Houthi forces outside Marib, Yemen, on March 9.

Photo: Dion Nissenbaum/The Wall Street Journal

From a command center bored into a gravel-covered hillside near Marib, Lt. Gen. Mohammed al-Maqdishi, defense minister for the U.N.-backed government in Yemen, accused the Houthis of “using waves of soldiers like sheep.”

He said he hoped the U.S. would rethink its approach. “People trust the U.S. to stand with Saudi Arabia against Iran and its proxies,” he said. “We are putting our hope in that.”

Write to Dion Nissenbaum at dion.nissenbaum@wsj.com

Copyright ©2020 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved. 87990cbe856818d5eddac44c7b1cdeb8

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As Oil Prices Rise, Executives Aim to Keep Them High

HOUSTON — Even as oil and gasoline prices rise, industry executives are resisting their usual impulse to pump more oil out of the ground, which could keep energy prices moving up as the economy recovers.

The oil industry is predictably cyclical: When oil prices climb, producers race to drill — until the world is swimming in petroleum and prices fall. Then, energy companies that overextended themselves tumble into bankruptcy.

That wash-rinse-repeat cycle has played out repeatedly over the last century, three times in the last 14 years alone. But, at least for the moment, oil and gas companies are not following those old stage directions.

An accelerating rollout of vaccines in the United States is expected to turbocharge the American economy this spring and summer, encouraging people to travel, shop and commute. In addition, President Biden’s coronavirus relief package will put more money in the pockets of consumers, especially those who are still out of work.

to less than zero.

That bizarre day seems to have become seared into the memories of oil executives. The industry was forced to idle hundreds of rigs and throttle many wells shut, some for good. Roughly 120,000 American oil and gas workers lost their jobs over the last year or so, and companies are expected to lay off 10,000 workers this year, according to Rystad Energy, a consulting firm.

Yet, even as they are making more money thanks to the higher prices, industry executives pledged at a recent energy conference that they would not expand production significantly. They also promised to pay down debt and hand out more of their profits to shareholders in the form of dividends.

“I think the worst thing that could happen right now is U.S. producers start growing rapidly again,” Ryan Lance, chairman and chief executive of ConocoPhillips, said at the IHS CERAweek conference, an annual gathering that was virtual this year.

several million barrels of oil off the market. OPEC’s 13 members and nine partners are pumping roughly 780,000 barrels of oil a day less than at the beginning of the year even though prices have risen by 30 percent in recent months.

rising concerns about climate change reduce the demand for fossil fuels in favor of electric and hydrogen-powered vehicles. Russia has been pressing Saudi Arabia to loosen production caps, while Kazakhstan, Iraq and several other countries are exporting more. Even Iran and Venezuela, which have struggled to sell oil because of U.S. sanctions, are beginning to export more.

attacked American military forces.

Some tensions in the region could ease if the Biden administration and Iranian officials restart negotiations on a new nuclear agreement to replace the one that was negotiated by the Obama administration and abandoned by the Trump administration. Iran would then most likely export more oil.

Of course, U.S. oil executives have little control over those geopolitical matters and say they are doing what they can to avoid another abrupt reversal.

“We’re not betting on higher prices to bail us out,” Michael Wirth, Chevron’s chief executive, told investors on Tuesday.

Chevron said this week that it would spend $14 billion to $16 billion a year on capital projects and exploration through 2025. That is several billion dollars less than the company spent in the years before the pandemic, as the company focuses on producing the lowest-cost barrels.

“So far, these guys are refusing to take the bait,” said Raoul LeBlanc, a vice president at IHS Markit, a research and consulting firm. But he added that the investment decisions of American executives could change if oil prices climb much higher. “It’s far, far too early to say that this discipline will last.”

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