The United States is pressing ahead with plans to push for the extension of a U.N. arms embargo against Iran that is due to expire in two months under the 2015 nuclear deal, but it is likely to face stiff opposition from other nations, including Russia and China. “We have an objective to extend the arms embargo,” U.S. Special Envoy for Iran Brian Hook told reporters in a phone briefing Thursday. “That can be done the easy way, or it can be done the hard way, but it’s going to be extended.”
The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations has called Iran "the world’s No. 1 sponsor of terrorism," a day after Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the United States plans to hold a UN Security Council vote next week to extend an arms embargo against Iran. Ambassador Kelly Craft also warned Russia and China that they will become "co-sponsors of the No. 1 state that sponsors terrorism" if they use their veto to block the resolution to extend the embargo. The United States hopes Russia and China "will see the importance of peace in the Middle East," Craft said. But she added that the partnership between Russia and China was clear: "They're just going to be promoting chaos, conflict, and mayhem outside their borders, so we have to just corner them."
When Mohamad first got the text message offering him up to $10 million for information about attempts to interfere with the U.S. election, he thought it was “some kind of cyber attack.” But when the Tehran-based software developer logged on to Twitter he realized he was one of an unknown number of Iranian citizens who have received out-of-the-blue messages promoting the U.S. State Department’s recently announced effort to defend the American presidential election.
UANI IN THE NEWS
…“Following Tuesday’s blasts, rather than pointing fingers directly at Hezbollah or any one political actor, many are reviving the slogans of last October’s anti-government demonstrations: ‘All of them means all of them,’ meaning the whole government must go,” writes ToI’s Aaron Boxerman. Analyst David Daoud tells him that he predicts those protests could end up becoming sectarian, though it’s unclear if national anger will turn against Hezbollah: “There is talk on social media, among my contacts, of anger against Hezbollah, but this is already from people who are predisposed to dislike Hezbollah.”
U.S.-IRAN RELATIONS & NEGOTIATIONS
The top U.S. envoy for Iran, Brian Hook, is leaving his post and U.S. special representative for Venezuela, Elliott Abrams, will add Iran to his role “following a transition period” with Hook, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Thursday. Hook’s surprise departure comes at a critical time when Washington has been intensely lobbying at the United Nations to extend an arms embargo on Iran and as the U.N. Security Council prepares to hold a vote on the U.S. resolution next week. “We’re going to continue to make the case for this,” Hook told reporters on Thursday morning, hours before his departure was announced. “We hope that the council can find a way.”
IRANIAN INTERNAL DEVELOPMENTS
Tuesday's blast at Lebanon's Beirut port has been as much of a shock to Iran as anywhere else in the world. Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif tweeted condolences in Arabic and English and spoke with Lebanese Foreign Minister Charbel Wehbe. Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei tweeted condolences as well. Iran flew in three airplanes of aid to the country immediately after the explosion. Hossein Salami, commander of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, also vowed to help Iran.
As Iran’s economy continues to decline, many Iranians are struggling to make ends meet, unemployment and inflation are at a record high, and more people have become disaffected with the Islamic Republic. In the midst of this unprecedented crisis, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei is resorting to, and doubling down on, his tried and tested modus operandi: Dodging responsibility. Khamenei uses several scapegoats to avoid accountability. His most important strategy is blaming the West, specifically the US, for the country’s financial problems.
A member of Tehran City Council on Thursday said an oil depo in the north of the capital Tehran may cause a disaster worse than the explosion in Beirut. In an Instagram post on Thursday, Majid Farahani said lessons should be learned from the blast of neglectfully stored chemicals in Beirut on Tuesday. The blast of the chemicals stored unsafely that killed at least 137 and wounded thousands caused massive destruction in the Lebanese capital. Farahani warned about similarly stored highly flammable chemicals in storage facilities in various ports and in cities around the country.
RUSSIA, SYRIA, ISRAEL, HEZBOLLAH, LEBANON & IRA
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif visited Moscow last month for the third time in the past six months for meetings with senior Russian officials. Although they have often been adversaries since first establishing diplomatic relations in the 16th century, Iran and Russia are purposely seeking to develop an increasingly close bilateral relationship.
Bahrain foiled two attempts to smuggle explosives from Iran after seizing two cars loaded with explosive materials, the Ministry of Interior announced on Thursday. The ministry said those arrested confessed to Lebanon’s Hezbollah group being behind the operation. Hezbollah has previously attempted to conduct a similar operation in Bahrain in February 2011. Manama's authorities foiled at the time an attempt to smuggle a shipment of ammunition, explosives and weapons off the Bahraini coast and arrested a "terrorist cell" with links to Iran's Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) the same year. Four years ago, former IRGC commander Mohammad Ali Jafari admitted to recruiting 200,000 militants in regional countries, including Lebanon
Large Iranian planes, including 747s, have been flying into Beirut in the wake of the massive explosion that killed hundreds and wounded thousands. They appear to be joining an international airlift that has brought medical and search-and-rescue support for Lebanon. However, Iran’s media, usually quick to propagandize any Iranian accomplishment, has been silent on what the planes brought. This adds to a mystery of why so many large Iranian planes suddenly arrived in Beirut and leads to questions about whether they may be using the crisis as a cover.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu threatened on Wednesday to punish the Syrian regime for any threats following Israeli strikes in southern Syria. Israel had staged military strikes near al-Quneitra in southern Syria on Monday. The Israeli army announced that its strikes followed the thwarting of an attempt to plant landmines near the borders at the Golan Heights, which have been occupied by Israel since 1967. Israeli sources said that the cell that attempted to plant the landmines is tied to Iran.
OTHER FOREIGN AFFAIRS
An Iranian social-media Threat Network (ITN) is winning over Sunnis and supporters in Asia, Africa and Europe, a new think tank report obtained first by The Jerusalem Post reveals. In the report by the International Institute for Counter-Terrorism (ICT) of IDC Herzliya and by Cobweb Technologies, the findings indicate that the scope of Iran’s network “is far more global than previously known.” The network has expanded significantly in the last decade and goes far beyond the usual suspects of proxies associated with Iran, such as Hezbollah, Shi’ites in Iraq and the Houthis in Yemen.
Ukraine expects to receive full information from Iran about the circumstances in which Iranian forces shot down an airliner in January, the Ukrainian Foreign Minister, Dmytro Kuleba, told Mohammad Javad Zarif, on Wednesday, August 5. The report should respect all international standards, Kuleba reminded Zarif. The ministers also discussed the results of the first round of negotiations on compensation to the crash victims' families that ended August 2.