Eye on Iran: UAE Exports to Iran Slide in First Half

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WSJ: "Re-exports to Iran from the United Arab Emirates dropped by nearly a third in the first half of 2012, as tighter international sanctions curbed one of the Islamic Republic's key trading relationships, according to U.A.E. officials. The contraction of the re-export trade from Dubai and other emirates in the U.A.E. is a dramatic illustration of the way sanctions have forced Iran to cut back on its consumer goods imports in the face of ever-tighter sanctions, which have led to a sharp drop in oil exports and a collapse in the Iranian currency. 'Of course the international sanctions on Iran have had a great impact on the size of trade and was the main reason behind the drop recorded,' said Abdulla Al Saleh, the U.A.E. undersecretary for foreign trade, in an interview. He said the U.A.E.'s re-exports to Iran fell to 13.28 billion dirhams ($3.6 billion) in the first half of 2012, down 32% from the same period of 2011. The U.A.E. remains one of Iran's largest Middle East trading partners, mainly due to the re-export trade, sending everything from tractors to television sets across the Persian Gulf to the southern port of Bandar Abbas." http://t.uani.com/U9k6To

NYT: "Iran reported a number of new cyberattacks on Tuesday, saying foreign enemy hackers tried in recent months to disrupt computer systems at a power plant and other industries in a strategically important southern coastal province as well as at a Culture Ministry information center. Accounts of the attacks in the official press did not specify who was responsible, when they were carried out or how they were thwarted. But they strongly suggested that the attacks had originated in the United States and Israel, which have been engaged in a shadowy struggle of computer sabotage with Iran in a broader dispute over whether Iran's nuclear energy program is for peaceful or military use... The latest Iranian sabotage reports raised the possibility that the attacks had been carried out in retaliation for others that crippled computers in the Saudi Arabian oil industry and some financial institutions in the United States a few months ago. American intelligence officials have said they believe that Iranian specialists in cybersabotage were responsible for those attacks, which erased thousands of Saudi files and temporarily prevented some American banking customers from gaining access to their accounts." http://t.uani.com/Tw2TIP
 
Bloomberg: "The Gulf Cooperation Council said it will form a unified military command structure at a time when Iran poses a 'very serious' security threat to the Middle East. The six-member group will coordinate air, land, and marine forces under one structure, Bahrain's Foreign Minister Sheikh Khalid Bin Ahmed Al-Khalifa said today in a press conference after a meeting of GCC heads of state in Manama, the Bahraini capital. Iran's nuclear program is a security threat to the region, he said. The GCC has accused Shiite-led Iran of intervening in the internal affairs of Arab countries in the Persian Gulf, home to three-fifths of the world's oil reserves. Saudi Arabia in November submitted a letter to the United Nations stating that Iranian aircraft strayed into the kingdom's territorial waters near oil and gas fields, Okaz newspaper said, citing Abdallah al-Mouallimi, the Saudi ambassador to the UN." http://t.uani.com/VigoKC

Nuclear Program

Reuters: "Iran will begin six days of naval drills in the Strait of Hormuz at the end of this week, an Iranian naval commander said on Tuesday, an exercise meant to showcase its military capabilities in what is a vital oil and gas shipping route. The 'Velayat 91' drills will be held from Friday to Wednesday across an area of about 1 million square kilometers in the Strait of Hormuz, the Gulf of Oman and northern parts of the Indian Ocean, said Habibollah Sayyari, according to Iranian media. Iranian officials have often said that Iran could block the strait - through which 40 percent of the world's sea-borne oil exports pass - if it came under military attack over its disputed nuclear program." http://t.uani.com/YfGVpO

Reuters: "Kuwait urged neighboring Iran on Monday to cooperate more with the U.N. nuclear watchdog to allay Gulf Arab concerns about the safety of an Iranian nuclear power plant that lies just across the waterway from the emirate. The emir, Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmed al-Sabah, said a recent shutdown at the Bushehr plant indicated Tehran had to work with the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy (IAEA) to ensure the safety of the facility near the coastal town of Bushehr... Bushehr, a Russian-built symbol of what Iran calls its peaceful nuclear ambitions, was shut down in October to limit any damage after stray bolts were found beneath its fuel cells, a Russian nuclear industry source said in November." http://t.uani.com/U9kd1f
 
AP: "An Iranian lawmaker is saying Russian women working in the country's sole nuclear power plant do not observe the strict Islamic dress code, though they are paid extra to comply. Under Iranian law, all women must cover themselves from head to toe in public. A Tuesday report by the semiofficial ISNA news agency quotes Mahdi Mousavinejad, a representative of the southern Iranian port of Bushehr, where the plant is located, as saying violation of dress code by the Russian workers has had a 'corrupting and negative impact' on his constituency." http://t.uani.com/Tw0DkD

Sanctions

Bloomberg: "Iran Khodro Co., the country's largest carmaker, can manufacture all automobile parts that PSA Peugeot Citroen (UG) used to supply, Tehran Times reported, citing Chief Executive Officer Javad Najmeddin. Iran Khodro can construct parts for its Peugeot 206 and Runna passenger cars without backing from the French company, Najmeddin said. PSA Peugeot Citroen suspended sales of car assembly kits to Iran in February, local reports said on July 31." http://t.uani.com/12F2rJK

Human Rights

Reuters: "There was little about Sattar Beheshti that made him stand out in a working-class suburb south of Tehran called Robat Karim. Like many of his peers, the 35-year-old laborer was devout and lived at home with his mother. But his life changed when he started a blog called 'My Life for Iran' last year. His entries often focused on the struggles of the working class as well as the political restrictions in Iran, sometimes mixed with personal anecdotes from Beheshti's daily life. As months passed, the tone on the blog became sharper and more political, with unveiled criticism of the establishment and even the Supreme Leader, a red line in the Islamic Republic... Other posts faulted Iran's unwavering support for Hezbollah in Lebanon or highlighted the plight of human rights activists. Retaliation quickly followed." http://t.uani.com/12OMXSq

Domestic Politics

Reuters: "Iran's parliament has banned on airplanes from flying in the country during the Azan call to Islamic prayer, the semi-official Mehr news agency reported on Wednesday. 'According to the new directive, airplanes are banned from flying during Azan, especially during the call to morning prayers,' Mehr quoted the spokesman for parliament's cultural committee Ali Taheri as saying. The head of the Aviation Organization, Hamid Reza Pahlevani, said aircraft will be allowed to take off 30 minutes after the call to the morning prayer so that passengers have the time 'to carry out their religious duties', the Iranian Students' News Agency ISNA reported. Iran has practiced Sharia law since its 1979 Islamic revolution. Hardliners have pressed for stricter enforcement of religious measures since President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad won office in 2005 promising a return to the revolution's values." http://t.uani.com/VihBBo

Opinion & Analysis

Lee Smith in The Weekly Standard: "An explosion in southern Lebanon last week destroyed what is believed to have been a Hezbollah weapons depot. This latest in a series of mysterious 'accidents' in Hezbollah-controlled precincts proved, as one Israeli official wryly remarked, that those who 'sleep with rockets and amass large stockpiles of weapons are in a very unsafe place.' With the Party of God's overland supply route through Syria choked off by the 22-month-long uprising against Syrian president Bashar al-Assad, and Israel virtually in total control of the maritime route, Hezbollah's stockpile is being systematically degraded. et the arsenal of Iran's other regional proxy force, Hamas, is growing. The Israeli Defense Forces' campaign against Hamas last month in Gaza targeted Iranian missiles, including the Fajr-5, capable of reaching Tel Aviv and other points north, and destroyed most of them within the first hours of the conflict. But Hamas is already rearming, and it's not clear that Israel or even Muslim Brotherhood-governed Egypt, which is ostensibly capable of controlling the Sinai tunnel networks through which Hamas receives its arms, can do much about it. Israel's next war with Hamas-a further confrontation is almost inevitable-may well feature not only Iranian missiles smuggled through Sudan, but NATO-quality small arms and shoulder-launched surface-to-air missiles that come by way of Hamas's most recent weapons supplier, post-Qaddafi Libya... Sudan is critical, agrees Michael Ross. 'This is where the parts for Iranian weapons are assembled. The guys in Gaza aren't too swift in putting together complicated systems like the Fajr-5. Some assembly may be required when it hits Gaza, but the more complicated, high-tech aspects of the weapons systems are assembled in Sudan by Iranians, who have a large presence in Khartoum, at places like the al-Yarmouk factory.' In October, an operation widely credited to Israel destroyed this key Iranian weapons depot. Other attacks on Sudanese soil attributed to Israel, such as the spring 2009 series of strikes on weapons convoys, have left some wondering what the government in Khartoum has to gain from painting a big target on its head for the IDF. Money is part of it, says Matthew Levitt, director of the Stein Program on Counterterrorism and Intelligence at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, who points to extensive economic cooperation between Iran and Sudan. 'But there are also ideological reasons. These are radical Islamists, they've been angry at the world since their president, Omar al-Bashir, was indicted for war crimes, and they don't like Israel.' Even if it were possible to convince Khartoum to sever ties with Tehran, says Oreg, 'the Iranians would find a replacement without too much difficulty, Eritrea or Somalia, both places where the central government is incapable of extending control over its territory.' In any case, the real problem is Egypt. Sudanese smugglers, mostly from the Rashaida tribe, transport the weapons from Port Sudan in trucks across the Nubian Desert to the Egyptian border, all the way through Egypt's Eastern Desert along the Red Sea, and through the Suez Canal deep into the Sinai Peninsula. 'The easiest way to cut off Hamas's weapons supply,' says Ross, 'would be to shut down the shipments coming out of Sudan, at the source, rather than in Sinai. The routes are limited, and this could easily be accomplished if the Egyptian military made an effort. But the army has always been the problem. While Mubarak was president, it was the intelligence service under Omar Suleiman that stopped shipments, kept radical elements at bay, and cooperated very closely with Israel. The military looks the other way and just doesn't care.'" http://t.uani.com/YMjx8l

John S. Park in The Diplomat: "How did Pyongyang pass the chronically elusive threshold of completing a three-stage rocket test and placing a satellite in orbit? The Iran factor has been hiding in the open. Cooperation between North Korea and Iran has been a critical - yet under examined - enabler of the recent success. What started as a transactional relationship, where Iran provided much-needed cash to North Korea in return for missile parts and technology, has evolved into an increasingly effective partnership. The time has come to view their previously independent ballistic missile programs as two sides of the same coin. Although sporadic cooperation between North Korea and Iran on missile development has been well documented, analysts viewed this interaction largely through the lens of serial commercial transactions. The conventional wisdom was that cash-starved North Korea found a lucrative client in Iran. As a result, analysts tended to view the two pariahs' long-range missile development programs as largely independent endeavors. However, North Korea's sudden success on December 12th was not the result of good fortune but rather was the fruition of its increasing institutional cooperation with Iran. In September 2012, North Korea and Iran signed a scientific and technological cooperation agreement. Largely dismissed as a propaganda ploy, it provided an organizational framework to set up joint laboratories and exchange programs for scientific teams, as well as to transfer technology in the fields of information technology, engineering, biotechnology, renewable energy, and the environment. In practice, the projects created a cover for these regimes to weather U.S.-led sanctions related to missile-proliferation activities. The new bilateral agreement thus appears to have formalized a recent mechanism through which both regimes had been regularly procuring specialized components, as well as sharing technical data and expertise. When one side masters or acquires a key missile-related technology, the other now institutionally benefits. Further technical analysis is likely to show that North Korea's recent success was rooted in Iran's orbital launch of its Omid satellite atop the Safir satellite carrier in February 2009. This landmark event was itself likely facilitated by Russian missile cooperation with Iran in the 2005 period. Under the innocuous title of 'civilian scientific and technological cooperation,' the North Korea-Iran agreement provides a conduit for Pyongyang to access earlier Russian inputs into the Iranian program. Of particular significance to North Korea is Russia's proven long-range missile technology. The fact that North Korea's rocket reportedly used red fuming nitric acid as a propellant further underscores this possibility. This bilateral partnership - and mutual reliance - is unique in the international community, especially given that North Korea and Iran lack any common ideology, religion, geographic space, or ethnicity. An overlooked reality is that each has helped the other cope during national emergencies. For Iran, North Korea was a vital supplier of conventional arms during the Iran-Iraq War. For North Korea, Iran has been a long-standing linchpin in Pyongyang's vitally important procurement activities in the Middle East and Eastern Europe - a role that China is now increasingly playing as a result of more foreign companies setting up production facilities targeting the growing Chinese market. What is to be done? The U.S. response to the fused North Korean and Iranian missile programs will require innovation and adaptation to better understand this new reality. The following initiatives could help bridge gaps resulting from obsolete frameworks of analysis: - The United States needs to identify and track the primary North Korean and Iranian state trading companies engaged in operationalizing the September 2012 agreement. Many analysts have traditionally examined supply chains, logistics, and procurement as separate activities. An integrated approach to analyzing the full life cycle of a North Korean-Iranian transaction is long overdue - and now possible given access to key defectors in Seoul who have worked in North Korean state trading companies." http://t.uani.com/V4vy3B