Iran’s attorney general said the country had disbanded its so-called morality police and is considering altering the requirement that women cover their heads in public, a move that analysts said was aimed at peeling away support for antigovernment protests. Mohammad-Jafar Montazeri outlined the steps Saturday, saying the law requiring veils, known as hijabs, was under review by Iran’s Parliament and judiciary, and that the morality police had been abolished, according to government-run news agencies.
The US will concentrate on Iranian weapons supplies to Russia and on supporting protesters in the country, rather than on stalled talks to revive an international nuclear deal, the Biden administration’s top Iran envoy said. “Iran is not interested in a deal and we’re focused on other things,” US Special Envoy for Iran Robert Malley said in an interview on Saturday. “Right now we can make a difference in trying to deter and disrupt the provision of weapons to Russia and trying to support the fundamental aspirations of the Iranian people.”
The United States on Friday designated China, Iran and Russia, among others, as countries of particular concern under the Religious Freedom Act over severe violations, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said. Blinken in a statement said those designated as countries of particular concern - which also include North Korea and Myanmar - engaged in or tolerated severe violations of religious freedom. Algeria, the Central African Republic, Comoros and Vietnam were placed on the watch list.
UANI IN THE NEWS
An Iranian-flagged tanker on Friday delivered an oil shipment to Syria which the United States had previously confiscated around Greece, ending months of uncertainty about the cargo, a ship tracker said. The seizure from the Lana, formerly the Pegas, prompted Iranian forces in May to seize two Greek tankers in the Middle East Gulf which were released on Nov. 16. Satellite tracking data showed the Lana had discharged the cargo of around 700,000 barrels in the Syrian port of Banias, said Claire Jungman, chief of staff with U.S. advocacy group United Against Nuclear Iran (UANI), which monitors Iran-related tanker traffic through ship and satellite tracking.
…Satellite tracking data showed the Lana had discharged the cargo of around 700,000 barrels in the Syrian port of Banias, said Claire Jungman, chief of staff with US advocacy group United Against Nuclear Iran (UANI), which monitors Iran-related tanker traffic through ship and satellite tracking. Jungman told Reuters Iran’s shipments to Damascus “are regarded as a way of strengthening the country’s regional position and are also a major part of the regime’s survival strategy.” The Lana's last reported position on Nov. 20 was anchored off Syria's coast, according to ship tracking on Eikon.
…While international organizations have called for efforts to help the Lebanese state rebuild its infrastructure to provide basic needs for its citizens, “you can’t support Lebanon without supporting Hezbollah,” warned David Daoud, research director of Lebanon, Israel, and Syria and United Against Nuclear Iran and a non-resident fellow at the Atlantic Council. Founded in 1982 by Iran’s Revolutionary Guards and designated as a “terrorist organization” by the United States and other Western governments, Hezbollah has a powerful grip on Lebanon’s political, social, and economic spheres due to its heavily armed militia that has fought several wars against Israel.
…The company said it had no reason to doubt this was the case. It did not identify who the client was.
The quality certificate was shared with Reuters by advocacy group United Against Nuclear Iran (UANI), which tracks shipments potentially violating sanctions. Shipping database Equasis listed contact details for the Young Yong’s owner Technology Bright as care of Hong Kong-based East Wind Ship Management. A Reuters reporter could not find East Wind Ship Management at the address listed in the database nor find a contact elsewhere to seek comment. Reuters was unable to identify the buyer of the oil in China.
… The Iranian watchdog organization United Against Nuclear Iran (UANI) reported yesterday for example that “31 vessels found to have switched from helping Tehran export Iranian oil to now helping Moscow transport Russian oil or petroleum products” since the invasion of Ukraine in February. Highlighting their so-called “switch list,” the NGO said “UANI first predicted that Russia would turn to the ‘Ghost Armada’ to keep the crude flowing to its Chinese partner in May 2022. Since then, the number of tankers that have made the switch has grown.”
…According to data from the US-based United Against a Nuclear Iran lobby group, Syria received around 1.39 million barrels of oil from Iran in November alone. These oil shipments alleviate Syria’s crisis and improve Iran’s standing as an energy exporter – a role that it has been working hard to expand despite the sanctions imposed by Washington. As the west fights to survive the man-made energy crisis and the ramifications of the Ukraine war, Iran has been attempting to build a strong economy based on mutual cooperation aimed at circumventing the sanctions against it.
For eight weeks, Iranians have taken the streets with a basic rallying cry: “Woman, life, freedom!” Tehran cannot and never will heed that call — the regime is built on misogyny, killing, and tyranny. That’s why protesters have chanted “[Iranian Supreme Leader Ali] Khamenei will be overthrown this bloody year!”, “Death to Khamenei!”, and “Death to the dictator!” It is time for the U.S. to endorse what the Iranian people want: The end of the “Islamic Republic” and the establishment of a free democracy. Supporting those goals does not require military intervention.
…The investigation of the attacker’s infrastructure showed that the same group registered the domain uani[.]us, a typo-squatted domain that copies an advocacy group based in the United States called United Against Nuclear Iran, which was targeted by Charming Kitten in November 2021. All of the IP addresses used to connect to the compromised accounts were from the Express VPN (Virtual Private Network) service. Nevertheless, Human Rights Watch found one Iranian IP address, 5.160.239.XXX, that connected to one of the target’s inboxes. This could potentially be the public IP address of the attacker’s own network, perhaps revealed after they forgot to enable their VPN before connecting.
…Russia does have other options. Hundreds of tankers have been sold to unknown buyers this year, creating the possibility that the trade could continue under anonymous ownership in friendlier jurisdictions. Russian exporters can also draw on the shadow fleet of tankers that serve the sanctioned Iranian and Venezuelan trades. According to United Against Nuclear Iran (UANI), 31 tankers involved in the Iranian oil trade have switched to handling Russian crude so far this year. Insurance is another matter. Without EU and UK-domiciled P&I cover, Russian cargoes will have to rely on alternative insurers and reinsurers, like Russia's Ingosstrakh Insurance Company and the Russian National Reinsurance Company. Top importers like China and India may also seek to self-insure using domestic risk pools, like the $60 million fund set up by Indian national reinsurer GIC Re.
…The investigation also discovered that the same attackers had registered a domain to mimic that of an advocacy group based in the United States called United Against Nuclear Iran, which was targeted by the Iran-backed Charming Kitten (APT35) hacker group in November 2021. The HRW and Amnesty International investigation additionally found that Google's security protections were not working adequately, with the individuals successfully targeted by the attack telling HRW that they did not realize their Gmail accounts had been compromised or that their data had been exported.
…Now US advocacy group United Against Nuclear Iran (UANI) says the former Pegas has discharged 700,000 barrels of crude in Banias. The tanker was released last month in coordination with the freeing of the two Greek ships. The cargo has previously been reported as Iranian in origin. Greece confirmed it detained the vessel due to European Union sanctions against Russia, however. UANI chief of staff Claire Jungman told Reuters that Iran’s shipments to Syria “are regarded as a way of strengthening the country’s regional position and are also a major part of the regime’s survival strategy”. The Lana’s last reported position was 21 November off Banias. Syria is undergoing heavy fuel rationing as a response to shortages.
…Reacting to the original Times report, United Against a Nuclear Iran policy director Jason Brodsky said it was incorrect to call Montazeri’s comments “a major victory for feminists.” “That’s not what happened. The legal framework over hijab is still in place,” he said. “This is overhyping & helps regime.” In an appearance on CBS’ “Face the Nation,” Blinken was asked about the “breaking news overnight out of Iran.” “They have abolished the morality police,” said host Margaret Brennan. “This is after months of protests following the death of Mahsa Amini, who died because – she was taken into custody since her head wasn’t adequately covered. Does this stop the protests that have been raging?”
… D’autant que l’abolition de la police des mœurs n’a pas été confirmée officiellement par le régime. Et la loi sur le port obligatoire du voile n’a pas changé. Selon Jason Brodsky, directeur de l’ONG United against nuclear Iran, « il est incorrect de considérer les commentaires du procureur général sur la suspension des opérations par la police des mœurs comme « une victoire majeure pour les féministes ». Ce n’est pas ce qui s’est passé. Le cadre juridique sur le hijab est toujours en place. »
NUCLEAR DEAL & NUCLEAR PROGRAM
Iran on Saturday began construction on a new nuclear power plant in the country's southwest, Iranian state TV announced, amid tensions with the U.S. over sweeping sanctions imposed after Washington pulled out of the Islamic Republic's nuclear deal with world powers. The announcement comes as Iran has been rocked by nationwide protests challenging the theocratic government that began after the death of a young woman in police custody over an allegedly violation of the Islamic dress code.
Iran appears to be at odds with the U.N. nuclear watchdog over information it should be providing regarding its atomic programme, the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency said on Friday. "We don't seem to be seeing eye-to-eye with Iran over their obligations to the IAEA," Rafael Grossi told a conference in Rome, adding that he was concerned over a recent announcement by Tehran that it was boosting its enrichment capacity. "We need to put our relationship back on track," he said.
Iran has tripled its capacity to enrich uranium to 60 percent purity, the head of the UN nuclear watchdog agency said Friday, as Tehran remains at odds with the West over its nuclear program. Uranium enriched to 60% purity is a short technical step away from weapons-grade levels of 90%. Iran said last month that it had moved ahead on uranium enrichment that Western governments worry is part of a covert nuclear weapons program.
SANCTIONS, BUSINESS RISKS, & OTHER ECONOMIC NEWS
Canada has issued additional sanctions against Iran over its denial of rights for women and girls and for cracking down on peaceful protests, Minister of Foreign Affairs Mélanie Joly said in a statement on Friday. The latest sanctions target four individuals and five entities that Ottawa said were tied to Tehran's "systematic human rights violations" and actions that "threaten international peace and security." "Canada will not stand idly by while the regime’s human rights violations increase in scope and intensity against the Iranian people," the statement said.
TERRORISM & EXTREMISM
German authorities believe that Iran’s powerful Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) has been using a Hells Angels leader to orchestrate recent attacks on Jewish targets in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia, according to a report. Citing an investigation due to be taken over by the state’s attorney general, German public service broadcaster ARD reported that investigators believed that attacks last month on synagogues in Essen and Bochum, and an attempt to incite an arson attack on a synagogue in Dortmund, were ordered by IRGC, which has long carried out attacks against perceived enemies of the Islamic Republic overseas.
PROTESTS & HUMAN RIGHTS
President Ebrahim Raisi on Saturday hailed Iran's Islamic Republic as a guarantor of rights and freedoms, defending the ruling system amid a crackdown on anti-government protests that the United Nations says has cost more than 300 lives. A top state security body meanwhile said that 200 people, including members of the security forces, had lost their lives in the unrest, a figure significantly lower than that given by the world body and rights groups. The protests, in their third month, were ignited by the death of 22-year-old Kurdish woman Mahsa Amini in the custody of morality police enforcing strict mandatory hijab rules.
A prominent Sunni cleric said on Friday it was wrong to charge protesters with capital offences as renewed demonstrations shook Iran's restive southeast in the third month of protests despite a violent state clampdown. Videos posted by the Iran Human Rights group showed minority ethnic Baluch women chanting "I will kill whoever killed my brother", and police shooting what it said was birdshot and teargas at demonstrators. Another unverified video showed injured protesters treated at a makeshift clinic in a mosque.
The family home of Iranian rock climber Elnaz Rekabi has been demolished, according to the pro-reform news outlet IranWire, after she rose to international prominence this fall for competing with her head uncovered. Rekabi competed without her hijab in South Korea in October, just as anti-regime protests swept Iran following the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini while in the custody of the morality police for allegedly not wearing her hijab properly. Some Iranian demonstrators saw Rekabi as a symbol of the national uprising calling for greater freedoms for women. However, human rights groups expressed fears for her safety when she returned to Tehran.
Businesses in some parts of Iran went on strike on Monday as part of anti-government protests, even as the Islamic Republic vowed to implement harsh sentences on people demonstrating, including the death penalty. Footage shared on social media showed entire streets of shops shuttered in parts of the capital, Tehran, and the cities of Arak, Bushehr, Kermanshah, Shiraz and parts of Esfahan. None of the videos could be verified by Bloomberg.
MILITARY/INTELLIGENCE MATTERS & PROXY WARS
The US Navy said Saturday it had seized one million rounds of ammunition along with rocket fuses and propellant being smuggled on a fishing trawler from Iran to war-torn Yemen. The cargo was discovered on Thursday "during a flag verification boarding", the Bahrain-based United States Fifth Fleet said in a statement, noting it was the "second major illegal weapons seizure within a month" along the maritime route. "This significant interdiction clearly shows that Iran's unlawful transfer of lethal aid and destabilising behaviour continues," Vice Admiral Brad Cooper said.
Iranian authorities executed four people Sunday accused of working for Israel’s Mossad intelligence agency, the state-run IRNA news agency said. Three others received lengthy prison sentences. IRNA said the country’s powerful Revolutionary Guard announced the arrests of a network of people linked to the Israeli agency. It said the members had previous criminal records and tried to disrupt the country’s security. Israel and Iran are regional arch-enemies and Iran occasionally announces the detention of people it says are spying for foreign countries, including the United States and Israel.
RUSSIA, SYRIA, ISRAEL, HEZBOLLAH, LEBANON & IRAN
Iran has increased efforts to target critics of the regime living abroad, as well as planning attacks on Israelis and US citizens, often subcontracting the attacks to hired local proxies, according to a Thursday report. Members of the Jewish community and individuals with links to Israel were among those targeted, as well as dissidents and media outlets critical of Tehran, The Washington Post reported. The newspaper based its reporting on government documents and interviews with 15 officials in Washington, Europe and the Middle East.