Suspected Iran Drone Kills US Worker In Syria; US Retaliates | Associated Press
A strike Thursday by a suspected Iranian-made drone killed a U.S. contractor and wounded five American troops and another contractor in northeast Syria, the Pentagon said. American forces said they retaliated soon after with “precision airstrikes” in Syria targeting facilities used by groups affiliated with Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, with one activist group reporting the U.S. strikes killed fighters on the ground. The attack and the U.S. response threaten to upend recent efforts to deescalate tensions across the wider Middle East, whose rival powers have made steps toward détente in recent days following years of turmoil. U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said in a statement that the American intelligence community had determined the drone was of Iranian origin, but offered no other immediate evidence to support the claim. “The airstrikes were conducted in response to today’s attack as well as a series of recent attacks against coalition forces in Syria” by groups affiliated with the Revolutionary Guard, Austin said.
Iran Could Produce Nuclear Weapon in Several Months if It Decides to Do So, Mark Milley Says | Wall Street Journal
Iran would need only several months to build a nuclear weapon if Tehran opted to produce a bomb, Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told Congress on Thursday. Gen. Milley’s assessment provides a significantly shorter estimate for how quickly Tehran could become a nuclear power than other public estimates by Western officials and adds to mounting concern about the advances in Iran’s nuclear program. “From the time of an Iranian decision…Iran could produce fissile material for a nuclear weapon in less than two weeks, and would only take several more months to produce an actual nuclear weapon,” Gen. Milley said in his opening statement to the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense.
Iran Sentences Five To Death For Alleged Spy Operations With Israel | Radio Free Europe
Five Iranians -- four men and one woman -- in the northwestern Iranian city of Urmia have been sentenced by a court to death for allegedly engaging in intelligence cooperation and espionage activities that benefited Israel. Hengaw, a Norway-based group that monitors rights violations in Iran's Kurdish regions, said one of those sentenced to death is Mansur Rasuli, whose interrogation by Mossad agents in Iran made headlines last year. At least five other people have been sentenced to lengthy prison terms in the case, the report added. Last year, Israeli media reported that agents for the Mossad security service captured and interrogated a member of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps inside Iran. Later, a video was released in which a person who identified himself as Rasuli admitted he wanted to assassinate an Israeli diplomat working in the country's consulate in Istanbul, as well as a U.S. general stationed in Germany and a journalist in France.
UANI IN THE NEWS
The New ‘Wild West’ In Oil Shipping | Oilprice.com
…Claire Jungman of US advocacy group United Against Nuclear Iran (UANI) reports that Iran's shadow fleet has increased from 70 in November 2022 to 300 vessels right now. The latter could be correct, considering Iran's increased oil exports in recent months. Vessel data provider VesselsValue indicated that 774 tankers out of 2,296 worldwide are 15 years or older.
Ominous Oceans: Shadow Tankers Endanger Global Waters | Oilprice.com
…In eastern China, the Arzoyi tanker, which analysis from advocacy group United Against Nuclear Iran (UANI) showed was carrying Iranian oil, ran aground, causing a minor oil spill. Off the coast of Cuba, the Petion tanker, transporting Venezuelan crude, was involved in a collision with another tanker.
SANCTIONS, BUSINESS RISKS, & OTHER ECONOMIC NEWS
Iran Claims Oil Exports Surpass 1.3 Million Barrels Per Day | Iran International
Despite US sanctions Iran has reached its highest level of oil exports in at least two years surpassing 1.3 million barrels per day, the finance minister says. Ehsan Khandouzi stated in an interview with The Financial Times that non-oil exports of $53bn were also 12 per cent higher in the first 11 months of the past Iranian year than the same period the last year. Iran keeps its oil export destinations and revenues a secret because of US third-party sanctions on buyers. He further claimed that imports over the same period were $60bn showing that “Iran’s economy cannot be isolated”. Khandouzi also noted that Russia had invested $2.76bn in Iran’s industrial, mining and transport sectors during the current financial year that ended Monday. His comments come as Tehran does not reveal how much it earns from crude oil exports, but 1.3 million barrels per day with an average price of $60 p/b, revenues should total over $28 billion a year.
U.S.-IRAN RELATIONS & NEGOTIATIONS
VOA Interview: Family Of American Missing In Iran Discloses FBI Ad Campaign | Voice Of America
The family of retired American FBI agent Robert “Bob” Levinson, who disappeared in Iran after being abducted in 2007, says U.S. authorities are trying to reinvigorate interest in a reward for information leading to his return home. Levinson disappeared on March 9, 2007, at age 58 while visiting Iran’s Kish Island as a private investigator. He had retired in 1998 from a 22-year career with the FBI. U.S. officials and family members said in March 2020 they concluded that Levinson had died in Iranian custody at some point in the preceding years. Iranian officials have denied responsibility for Levinson's abduction and asserted that he left Iran many years ago. In a statement this month marking 16 years since Levinson disappeared, FBI Director Christopher Wray said, “We remain as committed as ever to bringing him home.”
PROTESTS & HUMAN RIGHTS
Iranian National Team Soccer Assistant Coach Fired For Online Posts Supporting Protesters | Radio Free Europe
An assistant coach with Iran's national soccer team has been fired amid a campaign by hard-liners to oust him over social media posts he made criticizing the government's response to protests sparked by the death of a young woman while in police custody. Rahman Rezaei, a former star player on the Iranian men's national soccer team, had come increasingly under fire after being named last week as an assistant coach for his comments online about the regime's crackdown on demonstrators, including one last October where he said, "Enough is enough. You should be tried in the nation's courts." On March 20, an official of the Sports Ministry wrote on Twitter: "Do you think that someone who insults the Islamic republic so brazenly can be trusted to serve honestly under the holy flag?" Soon after, the semiofficial Fars News Agency, which is close to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, announced Rezaei's dismissal.
MILITARY/INTELLIGENCE MATTERS & PROXY WARS
Iran Weapon Tech Smuggling Rings Indicted, Sanctioned By US | Jerusalem Post
Two networks of alleged Iranian operatives were indicted for attempts to procure and exports US weapons technology to Tehran, the US Department of Justice announced on Wednesday, and four connected companies were designated for sanctioning by the US Treasury Department on Tuesday. The schemes would have supported Iran's ballistic missile, unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) and weapons programs, in violation of the Arms Export Control Act and the International Emergency Economic Powers Act. Between 2012 and 2013, Iranian citizen Amanallah Paidar and Turkish citizen Murat Bükey conspired to secure a device to test fuel cells and a bio-detection system that has application in weapons of mass destruction research. The two planned to use their respective companies, Farazan Industrial Engineering and Ozon Spor Ve Hobbi Ürünleri to ship the equipment to Iran through Turkey. Farazan and Ozone were also used by Paidar and Bukey in the past to purchase European turbine engines for drones and surface-to-air missiles.
Iran Flexes Military Muscle After Joint Naval Drills With Russia, China | Al Monitor
Iran's military forces wrapped up naval drills jointly conducted with two top allies, China and Russia, in the Gulf of Oman in what Tehran has projected as a major show of military might to its Western foes. The four-day drills that were concluded last Sunday saw Chinese and Russian ships parading behind Iran's top destroyer, Jamaran, a Moudge-class frigate that joined the country's fleet in 2010. China’s South Sea Fleet warship, the Nanning, took part in the exercises, as well as Russian frigate Admiral Gorshkov, armed with hypersonic missiles. China's Nanning is a type 052D destroyer and bears similarities with the US Navy’s Arleigh Burke-class Aegis destroyers. China's CCTV reported that the drills included live-fire suppression and strike practice with nighttime communication exercises.
IRANIAN INTERNAL DEVELOPMENTS
Three Arrested At Khamenei’s Office For Suspected Leak | Iran International
The intelligence protection unit Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei’s offices has reportedly arrested and interrogated three people on suspicion of disclosing secret documents. The arrests come after Iran International and others published secret documents of a meeting of IRGC commanders with Khamenei in which the top officials expressed serious concerns about loss of loyalty among the ranks of the Revolutionary Guard (IRGC) amid the recent protests. Reports by Vaght-e Azadi Telegram channel say security agents in other intelligence agencies are also looking for people who played a role in leaking the document. Iran International on Monday published a copy of a 44-page document that contains citations of the remarks made by 45 IRGC commanders and clerics at the January 3 meeting. The meeting was held more than three months into the anti-regime protests following the death of the 22-year-old Mahsa Amini in the custody of ‘morality police’ and quickly spread across the country.
CONGRESS & IRAN
Biden Administration Showing 'Weakness On Iran': US Senator | Iran International
Pressure is mounting on the Biden administration to take harsher action on Iran as senators claim Iran’s oil wealth is helping fund Russia’s war on Ukraine. At a review of the 2024 State Department Budget Request on Wednesday, Republican Senator Ted Cruz called the Biden administration “weak”, claiming its weakness on Iran is indirectly supporting Russia’s war efforts, in addition to boosting its nuclear capacity. In a scathing attack, Cruz told Secretary of State Antony Blinken a walking back of the previous administration’s oil sanctions on Iran has led to empowering the regime's nuclear program and helped it support Russia’s military capacity through drone sales. “I'm deeply concerned, however, that no matter how much you may want to help Ukraine there is something the Biden administration wants more, which is to re-enter a nuclear agreement with Iran,” he said.
US Senators Urge EU To Designate Iran’s IRGC As Terror Group | Al-Arabiya News
A group of Republican senators have written to the European Union calling for Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) to be designated as a terrorist group. In the letter, dated March 22 and addressed to the EU’s foreign policy chief Josep Borrell, the senators, led by Senator James Risch, expressed disappointment in the EU’s “hesitation” to include the IRGC on the EU terror list. he senators cited Iran’s support for Russia in its war on Ukraine, saying: “EU reluctance both weakens our collective resolve against Russia and ignores the Iranian government’s goal of sowing terror in the West.” Ukraine and its Western allies have accused Iran of supplying Russia with armed drones for use in its war against Ukraine. Tehran, which maintains close ties with Russia, denies the charge. The senators also said that the growing military cooperation between Russia and Iran, including the use of Iranian drones in Ukraine, makes the IRGC complicit in “Russia’s terror.”
GULF STATES, YEMEN, & IRAN
After Iran, Saudi Arabia To Re-Establish Ties With Syria, Sources Say | Reuters
Syria and Saudi Arabia have agreed to reopen their embassies after cutting diplomatic ties more than a decade ago, three sources with knowledge of the matter said, a step that would mark a leap forward in Damascus's return to the Arab fold. Contacts between Riyadh and Damascus had gathered momentum following a landmark agreement to re-establish ties between Saudi Arabia and Iran, a key ally of President Bashar al-Assad, a regional source aligned with Damascus said. The re-establishment of ties between Riyadh and Damascus would mark the most significant development yet in moves by Arab states to normalize ties with Assad, who was shunned by many Western and Arab states after Syria's civil war began in 2011. The two governments were "preparing to reopen embassies after Eid al-Fitr", a Muslim holiday in the second half of April, a second regional source aligned with Damascus told Reuters.
OTHER FOREIGN AFFAIRS
Netanyahu In London To Talk About Iran As Israeli Tensions Soar | Bloomberg
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is in London to talk about the risks of Iran’s nuclear program and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine with UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, leaving behind rising criticism over his plan to reduce the power of the Supreme Court. On Thursday, tens of thousands of Israeli protesters blocked roadways and lay down in front of police stations, leading to the use of water cannons and dozens of arrests. The demonstrations, which have been going on twice weekly for three months, are the most sustained in Israel’s history. They are led by mostly secular liberals who fear that Netanyahu’s new right-wing religious coalition will strip the high court of its role as a check and balance on lawmaking, leading to reduced rights for minorities. The coalition ran partly on the need to stop the court from interfering in legislation.