Saudi Arabia said it dismantled a terrorist cell with ties to Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, the latest indication of heightened tensions in the Middle East as the two longtime rivals compete for regional supremacy. Saudi security forces arrested 10 people on Sept. 23, including three the kingdom said had received military training and instruction in making bombs in late 2017 at sites in Iran belonging to the Guards, the Saudi national security agency said late Monday. It didn’t identify the suspects, citing continuing investigations.
Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps has released a video of its newest naval ballistic missile, which state media claims has doubled the service's strike range at sea. The state-backed Press TV channel published a video of the third generation Zolfaqar-e Basir missile on Monday, following IRGC commander Major General Hossein Salami's announcement of the weapon on Sunday. Press TV said the ballistic missile has a range of some 434 miles—more than double that of Iran's previous generation Khalij-e Fars and Hormuz naval ballistic missiles.
The Islamic Republic of Iran is holding a witness to the brutal torture of the executed champion wrestler Navid Afkari incommunicado, according to a new report. The NGO Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI) reported on its website on Tuesday that Shahin Naseri, who witnessed the shocking torture of Afkari, was transferred from prison more than two weeks ago, and is being held in solitary confinement. Naseri‘s lawyer Babak Paknia told the Center for Human Rights in Iran on September 27 that since he was relocated to the police security unit in Shiraz, Fars Province, Naseri has been allowed to make only one short telephone call, to his father-in-law.
UANI IN THE NEWS
It’s a brand-new Middle East. Within the span of only a month, the United States has brokered peace between Israel and two Arab countries—first the United Arab Emirates, then Bahrain. Both deals are revolutionary in scope: By normalizing ties and focusing on business, trade, and travel, these “warm peace” agreements go beyond the often tenuous “cold peace” that Egypt and Jordan made with the Jewish state decades ago. Not only do the UAE and Bahrain deals set the stage for a sea change in Arab-Israeli relations, but they might even present a novel opportunity to finally solve the most intractable conflict between the two sides: the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
NUCLEAR DEAL & NUCLEAR PROGRAM
The U.N. nuclear watchdog has inspected the second of two suspected former secret atomic sites in Iran, as agreed with Tehran last month in a deal that ended a standoff over access, the agency said on Wednesday. The International Atomic Energy Agency has not named either of the two undeclared sites but it has described activities it suspects took place there in 2003, the year when it and U.S. intelligence services believe Iran halted a secret and coordinated nuclear weapons programme. Although the IAEA says it has the power to carry out snap inspections anywhere in Iran it deems necessary, Tehran had denied it access to the two sites for seven months until the deal was struck for access on specific dates this month.
Saudi Arabia's Cabinet reiterated the Kingdom's position that the international community must take a firm stand towards Iran, and deal seriously against its violations related to its nuclear program, the state news agency reported in a statement early on Wednesday.
SANCTIONS, BUSINESS RISKS, & OTHER ECONOMIC NEWS
An Iranian tanker is close to reaching Venezuela, ship tracking data has revealed. It is one of several Iranian vessels facilitating fuel deals with the crisis-stricken South American country in the face of US sanctions. The Iran-flagged tanker Forest sent out a signal from the Caribbean Sea off of Venezuela’s northern coast Monday, according to the website Marine Traffic. There are other Iranian ships that are possibly en route to Venezuela. The tanker Fortune departed from the United Arab Emirates and sailed west around southern Africa toward South America earlier this month.
Iran held an exhibition of its missiles and drones over the weekend that showcased its successes in recent years. The exhibition is supposed to show the successes the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps aerial power. The show was open to government leaders and apparently the public, with the regime trying to show off its greatness ahead of the end of an arms embargo. Basically Tehran was saying: Look what we made despite the sanctions.
TERRORISM & EXTREMISM
Iran rejected on Tuesday an accusation by Saudi Arabia that it had trained a terrorist cell, which Riyadh said it had taken down. Saudi Arabia said on Monday it had arrested 10 people earlier this month and seized weapons and explosives from a terrorist cell that had received training from Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards. “The repetitive and worthless accusations of the Saudi rulers are not the way for Riyadh to achieve its goals, and our recommendation is that Saudi Arabia choose the path of honesty and wisdom instead of worthless scenarios,” Iranian state TV quoted Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh as saying.
U.S.-IRAN RELATIONS & NEGOTIATIONS
Iran was hoping that America would close its embassy in Baghdad after threats from the US State Department. However, 72 hours after the threats, Tehran is stumped because it can’t figure out what the Americans are up to. Iran isn’t the only one: Iraqis and others are also confounded by US policy in Baghdad. News reports indicated the US was on the verge of leaving Baghdad and moving personnel to Erbil in the Kurdistan Region after dozens of rocket and IED attacks over the last six months. A Katyusha rocket even killed several Iraqi children on Monday, one of many rockets that have targeted US facilities in Iraq.
MILITARY/INTELLIGENCE MATTERS & PROXY WARS
Referring to the U.S. operation that killed the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps' (IRGC) former Chief Commander of the Qods Force, Major General Qassem Soleimani, the Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said the Americans "hit so hard that we are left with only one arm.” In a speech at a public ceremony on Monday, September 28, Zarif commemorated Soleimani as "ISIS' enemy number one," adding that the deadly operation was proof of the Americans' "cowardice and savagery."
Three members of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards were killed by unknown assailants on Tuesday in the country’s southeastern province of Sistan-Baluchistan, state media reported. “At 4 PM (1230 GMT) today, two cars belonging to Nikshahr county’s Basij (state-sanctioned volunteer militia) were attacked by the passengers of a Peugeot 405 while on the road,” IRNA news agency said, quoting a statement by the Guards. A Guards’ member was also wounded, it added, saying the identity of the assailants was under investigation. Sistan-Baluchistan has long been a flashpoint where Pakistan-based Baluchi separatists and jihadists carry out cross-border raids.
IRANIAN INTERNAL DEVELOPMENTS
Iran’s parliament on Tuesday approved President Hassan Rouhani’s nominee for trade and industry minister. Ali Reza Razmhosseini will take on the post as Iran faces an unprecedented economic downturn amid intense pressure from the United States after President Donald Trump pulled America out of Iran’s nuclear with world powers and reimposed sanctions on the country. The sanctions have sent the country’s economy into freefall. Iran’s currency has dropped to its lowest value ever against the dollar.
Iran’s confirmed COVID-19 cases crossed the 450,000 threshold on Tuesday with 3,677 infections identified in the last 24 hours, a health ministry spokeswoman told state TV, as the Islamic Republic’s death toll spiked to 25,986. Sima Sadat Lari said 207 people had died in the past 24 hours and the total number of infection cases reached 453,637. Coronavirus has surged in almost all of Iran’s 31 provinces, but President Hassan Rouhani said last week that his government had no plans to impose a complete lockdown despite the growing number of cases.
OTHER FOREIGN AFFAIRS
After years of an inconclusive cease-fire punctured with occasional flare-ups, the Azerbaijan-Armenia stand-off over the disputed Nagorno Karabakh territory and its adjacent areas has in recent days turned into an inter-state military conflict with potentially destabilizing implications. Gone are the previous optimistic predictions that pragmatism and outside mediation, particularly the so-called Minsk Process led by Russia, the United States and France, could yield a peaceful resolution to a vexing ethnic and territorial dispute rooted in history.