A small instrument inside the drones that targeted the heart of Saudi Arabia's oil industry and those in the arsenal of Yemen's Houthi rebels match components recovered in downed Iranian drones in Afghanistan and Iraq, two reports say. These gyroscopes have only been found inside drones manufactured by Iran, Conflict Armament Research said in a report released on Wednesday. That follows a recently released report from the United Nations, saying its experts saw a similar gyroscope from an Iranian drone obtained by the U.S. military in Afghanistan, as well as in a shipment of cruise missiles seized in the Arabian Sea bound for Yemen.
Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) confirmed Tuesday that he met with Iran's foreign minister in Germany over the weekend, drawing criticism from conservatives, including President Trump, who suggested the senator may have violated an obscure law that prohibits U.S. citizens from negotiating with foreign governments. In a sprawling Medium post, Murphy explained that he sought out Mohammad Javad Zarif at the Munich Security Conference on Saturday to bolster diplomatic relations between Iran and the United States, which have worsened in recent years.
Israel's military will set up a special branch in its general staff dedicated to threats from Iran, it said Tuesday. The military said it will appoint a major general to head the command, which is part of a broader restructuring in the general staff. A statement by the military offered few details about the new command, saying the nature of the new branch's work was "yet to be determined." But the move highlights the importance Israel places on the threats it views coming from Iran.
SANCTIONS, BUSINESS RISKS, & OTHER ECONOMIC NEWS
Iran has had to reduce oil production projects because of a lack of funds and a drop in income from oil exports, Oil Minister Bijan Zanganeh said on Tuesday, according to the official IRNA news agency. "All attacks are against us and the income from oil exports has been reduced. We have reduced many production projects because we don't have money at all and side projects have been closed for a long time," Zanganeh said. U.S. President Donald Trump pulled out of a multilateral nuclear deal with Iran in 2018 and reimposed sanctions that have hammered the Islamic Republic's economy and reduced crude oil exports by more than 80%.
U.S. prosecutors overlooked apparent violations of U.S. sanctions against Iran by HSBC Holdings in exchange for the British bank's cooperation with a government investigation of Huawei Technologies, lawyers for the Chinese telecoms giant said "The government agreed to overlook HSBC's continued misconduct, electing not to punish the bank, prosecute its executives or even extend the monitorship,'' Huawei's lawyers wrote in a Feb. 10, 2020 letter filed in U.S. District Court in Brooklyn, New York. The letter was seen by Reuters on Tuesday.
PROTESTS & HUMAN RIGHTS
In its annual report on the situation of human rights in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), Amnesty International (AI) says the renewed wave of mass uprisings were met with brutality and repression during 'year of defiance.' "In Iraq and Iran alone, the authorities' use of lethal force led to hundreds of deaths in protests; in Lebanon police used unlawful and excessive force to disperse protests, and in Algeria, the authorities used mass arrests and prosecutions to crackdown on protesters.
Ali Khraybit's best friend just proposed to a girl he met marching in Baghdad's Tahrir Square, the anti-government movement's epicenter. Like other squares, Tahrir has become a social experiment, a free space where conservative norms have been toppled. "We scored one goal by bringing down the government, but socially we achieved much more," Khraybit, 28, told Agence France Presse. Since October, the country of 40 million has been rocked by a historically large grassroots movement with big goals: ending corruption, unaccountable sectarian parties and overreach from neighboring Iran.
U.S.-IRAN RELATIONS & NEGOTIATIONS
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Wednesday said authorities in Washington were prepared to talk to Iran "anytime", but that it needed to "fundamentally" change its behavior and that a campaign of maximum pressure against it would continue. "We are not rushed, the pressure campaign continues. It's not just an economic pressure campaign... it's isolation through diplomacy as well", Pompeo told reporters in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa before boarding a flight to Saudi Arabia.
The White House added to its ever-evolving list of justifications for killing top Iranian commander Qassem Soleimani last week when in a memo addressed to Congress, it did not specifically cite the "imminent threat" the Trump administration had previously said the Iranian general posed in justifying its January attack. In a legally-mandated memo, the White House told Congress that Trump "directed" the strike that killed Soleimani "in response to an escalating series of attacks in preceding months by Iran and Iran-backed militias on the United States forces and interests in the Middle East."
When it comes to Iran, critics claim that reimposed U.S. sanctions have targeted ordinary Iranians, especially by making importing medicine impossible. However, these claims rely on misleading media reports that put their preferred narrative over the truth. Here's the background. On Jan. 30, the Treasury Department announced the completion of initial financial transactions benefiting Iranian medical patients through a humanitarian channel in Switzerland. This channel is known as the Swiss Humanitarian Trade Arrangement.
MILITARY/INTELLIGENCE MATTERS & PROXY WARS
In the early hours of 3 January, Iraq's prime minister, Adel Abdul Mahdi, frantically phoned his advisers. "Something big has happened," he said, summoning them to a meeting in his office. "You need to come now." Like their boss, the advisers had heard the boom of the explosions that crunched into the airport road just after 1am, and their phones had been ringing incessantly. Each call had brought the unthinkable closer to shocking reality: Qassem Suleimani, the revered commander of Iran's Quds Force and the most powerful man in Iraq, had been killed, and so had nearly all of his closest aides.
IRANIAN INTERNAL DEVELOPMENTS
Last month, a strategist for Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps proposed an alarming tactic to revive the ailing economy: Take an American hostage every week and ransom them back for $1 billion each. "That's the way to do it," Hassan Abbasi told a public meeting in Nowshahr, a port city on the Caspian Sea. Abbasi's bombast, widely viewed on YouTube, has been disowned by the IRGC's leadership and isn't policy. Yet it raises a vital question: What would hard liners do differently if they secured control over all branches of power in Iran?
Iranian authorities confirmed on Wednesday two cases of the new coronavirus, the first in the country, the semi-official ISNA news agency reported, saying also that there was an unspecified number of other suspected cases and that those individuals have been quarantined. The report did not elaborate on the nationality of the two people infected by the virus or the state of their health. ISNA quoted an official in the country's health ministry, Kiyanoush Jahanpour, as saying that "in the past two days, some suspected cases of the new coronavirus were found" in the central city of Qom.
Iran's electoral watchdog on Wednesday defended its decision to disqualify thousands of candidates for a parliamentary election in two days, saying it was done in accordance with the law. The Guardian Council, a powerful body that vets candidates for Iranian elections, also said it expected at least 50 percent of registered voters to turn out at Friday's election. Thousands of candidates, most of them moderates and reformists, have been barred from entering the race by the Council, which is dominated by ultra-conservatives.
As mayor of Tehran, Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf expanded the city's highways, spent money on public art, opened new cinemas and created cycling routes. Now the politician many voters associate with heavy spending and the modernisation of Tehran has become one of the most divisive candidates in Friday's parliamentary polls. Some hardliners fear victory for Mr Qalibaf will embolden him in a third bid for the presidency next year - but also that their opposition to him could ensure victory for reformist candidates in the capital.
As elections near, Iranian leaders appear to be worried about several crises that have left people with little hope for the future. Tensions with the United States, economic weakness and the shooting down of a Ukrainian passenger airplane have tired Iranian voters. Elections are to be held on February 21. This is not good news for leaders who hope that a lot of people will vote. If many people vote, it sends a message to the U.S. that Iran has not been hurt by sanctions.
AFGHANISTAN & IRAN
The assassination last month of Qassem Suleimani, the leader of the elite Quds Force of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), has set off a wave of debates in the United States about Iranian foreign policy. Tehran's opportunistic and pragmatic foreign policy does not always fit neatly into contemporary left- or right-wing narratives-especially when it comes to Afghanistan, where Suleimani played a critical role.
OTHER FOREIGN AFFAIRS
Iran has released a German citizen sentenced to three years in jail, Iran's judiciary said, as part of a prisoner swap for an Iranian held in Germany on suspicion of violating US sanctions. The announcement of his release came on Tuesday, a day after Tehran said a jailed Iranian accused of violating US sanctions had returned home from Germany.
The black box of a Ukrainian passenger plane shot down accidentally in Iran last month is significantly damaged, Iran's defence minister said on Wednesday, according to state media. The box "has sustained noticeable damage and it has been requested of the defence industry to help in reconstructing (it)," Amir Hatami said. "The reconstruction of the black box is supposed to take place first and then the reading."