France and Germany are to take joint responsibility for an EU-Iran trade mechanism to minimize the risk of U.S. punishment but few now believe it will cover oil sales, heightening fears for the fate of the landmark international nuclear deal with Iran. Diplomats said the French-German gambit is a “safety-in-numbers” tactic to overcome the refusal of individual EU states to host the mechanism to sidestep the risk of being targeted by the revived U.S. sanctions regime against Iran.
U.S. officials said they would sanction two Iranians and seek the prosecution of two others for the “SamSam” cyberattacks that allegedly hacked into servers at hospitals, schools, ports and other institutions, then demanded bitcoin as ransom and laundered the money through online exchanges. Brian Benczkowski, head of the Justice Department’s criminal division, said the conspiracy represented an “extreme form of 21st-century digital blackmail.”
Iran’s state TV says the country’s navy has acquired two new mini submarines designed for operations in shallow waters such as the Persian Gulf. Thursday’s report says the one of the submarines — also known as midget submarines — was built in 18 months. The other, previously built, took 10 months to overhaul. The report says the two Ghadir-class submarines have sonar-evading technology and can launch missiles from under water, as well as fire torpedoes and drop marine mines.
UANI IN THE NEWS
…He said that Lebanon supports the “resistance” which is a reference to Hezbollah and that “we are with our resistance and terrorism.” He claimed that even if others call that terrorism it was a source of pride. David Daoud, a Research Analyst on Hezbollah and Lebanon at United Against Nuclear Iran (UANI) tweeted about the incident, noting the irony that in offering Lebanon’s “counterterrorism expertise,” the security chief was also praising Hezbollah.
NUCLEAR DEAL & NUCLEAR PROGRAM
European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini met Iranian foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif in Geneva on Wednesday and reiterated the bloc’s determination to preserve the multilateral nuclear deal, an EU statement said. Mogherini underlined need for continued full and effective implementation of the Iran nuclear deal by all parties, “including the economic benefits arising from it”, it said.
The Wall Street Journal reported Nov. 26 that Paris and Berlin are about to create a payments channel to maintain trade with Tehran in defiance of US sanctions. The news has been largely received in Iran as a signal that the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) will yet be salvaged. The channel, known as a Special Purpose Vehicle, has been under discussion for months by Iranian and European negotiators.
U.S.-IRAN RELATIONS & NEGOTIATIONS
On Nov. 4, Iran commemorated the 39th anniversary of the day some 400 militant Islamist students seized the U.S. Embassy in downtown Tehran. The United States marked the date, too: On Nov. 5, it imposed a new round of sanctions on Iran, which President Donald Trump’s administration has termed part of a “maximum pressure” campaign to bring the country back to the negotiating table. Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif quickly responded with a video message in which he told Trump to “dream on.”
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has said that Iran has no interest in easing the suffering of Yemen’s people and “the Mullahs don’t even care for ordinary Iranians”. Pompeo’s remarks coincided with a closed session of the United States Senate that debated a response to Saudi Arabia for the murder of columnist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. The senators passed a resolution to pull U.S. support from the war in Yemen, in what is seen as a rebuke to both Riyadh and President Donald Trump.
MILITARY/INTELLIGENCE MATTERS & PROXY WARS
Supreme Leader ayatollah Ali Khamenei on Wednesday asked the commanders of Iran’s navy to increase “power and readiness” so that “enemies will not dare to threaten the Iranian nation”. November 27 marks “Navy Day” in Iran and Khamenei met with commanders, according to his website. Iran's has two navies; the navy attached to the army and the Islamic Revolution Guard Corps Navy.
Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei called Wednesday for the country to boost its naval forces as a deterrent against its enemies and hailed the deployment of new ships. "Increase your capabilities and readiness as much as you can so that the enemies of Iran will not dare threaten this great nation," Khamenei said in a meeting with Iran's naval chiefs, quoted on his official website. The Islamic republic was confronted by "a vast lineup of enemies and rivals", he said.
IRANIAN INTERNAL DEVELOPMENTS
Lamal Chinar smiles as she operates a fairground ride in the snow-capped Mount Tochal, north of the ever-encroaching outskirts of Tehran. Schoolchildren on a trip away from the crawling traffic and smog of the Iranian capital scream with joy. But beneath the surface she worries. Like so many of her compatriots, Chinar is both bystander and victim in America’s expanding drive to immobilise the Iranian economy through sanctions. Her personal concerns are twofold – how to find the medicines her mother needs for a severe heart condition and how to transfer her money in and out of Iran.
When hard-liners in Iran succeeded in banning the popular smartphone messaging app Telegram, they were unlikely to have predicted that they would return to the very same platform seven months later. On April 30, the conservative-dominated judiciary ordered internet service providers to block access to Telegram, despite opposition from Iran's moderate government.
IRANIAN REGIONAL AGGRESSION
What times we live in. Sometimes it seems as if everything we used to believe about the Middle East and North Africa — indeed about the world — is crumbling to dust before our eyes. At other moments, we seem to find ourselves unexpectedly presented with scenes from an old and familiar play with a happy ending; only to find ourselves back in the theater of the absurd.
RUSSIA, SYRIA, ISRAEL, HEZBOLLAH, LEBANON & IRAN
There is broad agreement in Israel about the fact that Iran has captured the top spot on the list of the Jewish State’s bitterest enemies over the past decade. Israel views the “Iranian threat” as the sole existential threat to the country’s future. Iran is Israel’s last remaining significant strategic threat in all security-related respects. The Iranian nuclear program is considered a direct strategic threat, and Iran’s expansion throughout the Middle East and the Shiite axis it heads from the Persian Gulf in the south to the Syrian port of Latakia in the north are regarded as a significant conventional threat.
Russia, Turkey and Iran failed to make any tangible progress in setting up a Syrian constitutional committee at a meeting in the Kazakh capital Astana, the office of U.N. Syria envoy Staffan de Mistura said in a statement on Thursday.
GULF STATES, YEMEN, & IRAN
"The world's worst humanitarian crisis," said U.N. World Food Program Executive Director David Beasley, is in Yemen. He is not exaggerating. More than 75 percent of the country needs humanitarian aid — a greater percentage than any other nation on Earth. According to the U.S. Department of State, some 18 million Yemenis (out of a total population of 22 million) are hungry, homeless, and increasingly hopeless. How did the war start? Who is involved? Yemen has seen decades of war, first with the 1960’s civil war that ended
IRAQ & IRAN
Economic and political tensions are rising between Iran and Iraq. One of the major contributors is the souring of Muqtada al-Sadr’s personal relationship with Iran and, to a lesser extent, Iraq’s cooperation with the sanctions imposed on Iran by the United States this month. For much of his career as the leader of the Sadr Trend, Muqtada al-Sadr has had a very close relationship with the Iranian leadership – both political and religious.
The United States on Wednesday indicted two Iranians for launching a major cyber attack using ransomware known as “SamSam” and sanctioned two others for helping exchange the ransom payments from Bitcoin digital currency into rials. The 34-month long hacking scheme wreaked havoc on hospitals, schools, companies and government agencies, including the cities of Atlanta, Georgia, and Newark, New Jersey, causing over $30 million in losses to victims and allowing the alleged hackers to collect over $6 million in ransom payments.
Two Iranians were behind the ransomware attack that crippled Atlanta’s government for days this year, the Justice Department said in an indictment unsealed on Wednesday, detailing a sophisticated scheme of attacks on hospitals, government agencies and other organizations. The men, Faramarz Shahi Savandi and Mohammad Mehdi Shah Mansouri, chose targets with complex yet vulnerable systems — organizations that could afford to pay ransoms and needed to urgently restore their systems back online, prosecutors said.
During the six-hour drive from New York City to a tiny town in northern Vermont, Iranian student Shirin Estahbanati cried at the thought of seeing her father for the first time in nearly three years. Since then, he had suffered a heart attack, and she hadn’t dared leave America to comfort him. But as she traveled north, she also couldn’t stop worrying. What if she missed the turnoff and drove across the U.S.-Canadian border by mistake?