Latest figures released by Iran on December 30, indicate that the country's non-oil exports have halved alongside a plunge in oil exports, after the United States imposed oil-related sanctions on November 4. The country exported only $1.867 billion non-oil goods during November 21-December 22, less than half of Iran's monthly average during the current fiscal year, which started on March 21, 2018.
Authorities in Iran are preparing to block access to Instagram, extending their crackdown on social media to the only major platform still freely available. The National Cyberspace Council approved steps toward blocking the service, Javad Javidnia, deputy for cyberspace affairs at the public prosecutor's office, was cited as saying by the semi-official Donya-e Eqtesad newspaper. Instagram would join Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and Telegram in being banned in the Islamic Republic, ostensibly for reasons of national security.
Afghan forces have killed two Iranian members of the Taliban in northern Faryab province, local army said Tuesday. The militants were identified as Ahmad and Jundullah, according to 1Tv News. The site added that they were among 29 militants who were killed during clashes, airstrikes, and supplying forces convoy on highway between Shirin Tagab and Khwaja Sabz Posh districts. The deaths include also two local Taliban commanders Nasratullah and Sadi who were killed in airstrikes, the statement added.
SANCTIONS, BUSINESS RISKS, & OTHER ECONOMIC NEWS
The Iraqi foreign minister says his country is "not obliged" to abide by unilateral US sanctions against Iran, stressing that Baghdad is considering options to bypass those bans and maintain trade ties with its neighbor. "These sanctions, the siege, or what is called the embargo, these are unilateral, not international. We are not obliged [to follow] them," Mohamed Ali al-Hakim told reporters on Wednesday. He said Baghdad is looking into possible options to keep bilateral trade routes open, including "dealing in Iraqi dinars in bilateral trade" and creating a fund for payments to Iran.
The administration of President Donald Trump imposed a new round of sanctions on the Iranian regime on Nov. 4, 2018, following the president's announcement the United States would cease participation in the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), better known as the Iran Deal. These sanctions are said to be some of the harshest ever imposed on the Islamic Republic of Iran.
Iran is closer to achieving self-sufficiency in gasoline by raising its national production capacity to more than 100 million liters daily, Iranian media report. The increase will come from a capacity increase at the Persian Gulf Star refinery on the Persian Gulf, which is fed condensate from the giant South Pars gas field that Iran shares with Qatar. The Persian Gulf Star began operation in 2017, with a production capacity of 12 million liters of gasoline and diesel daily.
Reuters has surveyed 32 economists and analysts to find out what are their predictions for oil prices in 2019 and it seems that no one expects to see more expensive oil, at least for a while. The experts believe North Sea Brent will hover around $70 a barrel in 2019, which is close to the 2018 average. Currently Brent is trading at $54. So, it will take time for oil to climb back to $70 a barrel, if favorable conditions prevail.
PROTESTS & HUMAN RIGHTS
Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, the British-Iranian charity worker in prison in Tehran on espionage charges, is to go on a hunger strike in protest at the "inhuman" denial of medical care. Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe, writing from Evin prison, said she intends to go on a three-day hunger strike later this month alongside prominent human rights activist Narges Mohammadi to demand access to a doctor.
The family of Nizar Zakka, a Lebanese citizen imprisoned in Iran, has expressed fears that he could die under torture, after it had not been able to reach him for more than three weeks. "Almost three weeks have passed since our last contact with our son Nizar after it was revealed that the Revolutionary Guards had taken him from his detention in (Tehran's) Evin Prison to one of their private jails for questioning," the family said in a statement on Wednesday.
The food served at the Great Tehran Penitentiary (GTP) is unsanitary and has been found to contain rodent feces, making some prisoners sick, the wife of a political prisoner held there told the Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI). On December 26, 2018, Mohammad Sharifi Moghaddam, a Sufi Muslim dervish of the persecuted Gonabadi order who is being held in the facility's security wing, received medical attention hours after suffering food poisoning, his wife, Faezeh Abdipour, told CHRI.
IRANIAN INTERNAL DEVELOPMENTS
Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has appointed Ayatollah Sadegh Amoli Larijani as chairman of the influential Expediency Council amid heavy speculation about who will succeed Larijani as head of the powerful judiciary. One top name circulated for the post is Ebrahim Raisi, the conservative who lost the 2017 presidential election.
For the first time in the history of the Islamic Republic, a woman from Iran's Sunni minority has been offered an ambassadorship. Homeira Rigi, currently the governor of a southeastern town, is set to make history as the head of the Iranian mission in Brunei. The 43-year-old Reformist has been serving in different executive positions for the past 20 years. First Vice President Eshaq Jahangiri announced the appointment during his visit to Ghasrghand, an impoverished town in the underdeveloped Sistan and Baluchistan province.
Iranian theatre director Hossein Parsaee calls Victor Hugo's classic a "masterpiece without borders" but his groundbreaking production of "Les Miserables" that has hit the stage in Tehran has a few unique twists. For a start, none of the actresses are allowed to reveal their own hair, and in case their wigs look too natural, the poster advertising the show carries a bright red notice underscoring that their locks are fake.
Iran's prosecutor-general says he is "ashamed." In June, for the first time since 1981, Tehran allowed women to enter Azadi Stadium for a soccer match - or, more precisely, for a live broadcast of a soccer match in Russia, host of the 2018 World Cup. As they watched Team Melli, their national team, compete against Spain, numerous women removed their hijabs, or headscarves, and sang and danced - a deliberate act of defiance against the Islamic Republic's religious norms. It's "disgraceful," complained Mohammad Jafar Montazeri.
Residents of Tehran complained about the spread of "bad odors" in various parts of the Iranian capital even as authorities appealed to citizens to help them search for the source of smell, Iranian media reported. "The reason for the bad smell is the explosion of a sewage pipe network in the Enghelab (revolution) square in central Tehran," the government-run newspaper Iran said.
A television executive in Iran has been fired after a local channel aired a Jackie Chan movie featuring an uncensored sex scene. Television viewers on Iran's Kish Island resort were shocked to see the Hong Kong actor having sex with a woman in the 2009 movie Shinjuku Incident, the BBC reported. According to local media, the "immoral" broadcast was brought to light after a viewer shared a clip of the scene online, local media reported, according to BBC.
RUSSIA, SYRIA, ISRAEL, HEZBOLLAH, LEBANON & IRAN
U.S. President Donald Trump said on Wednesday the United States would get out of Syria slowly "over a period of time" and would protect the U.S.-backed Kurdish fighters in the country as Washington draws down troops. Trump did not provide a timetable for the planned military exit from Syria, which he announced last month against the advice of top national security aides and without consulting lawmakers or U.S. allies participating in anti-Islamic State operations.
Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei met with Secretary General of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad Ziad al-Nakhala in Teheran on Monday to emphasize his support for the Palestinian people, the Iranian network Press TV reported Monday. "As long as there is resistance, the Zionist regime's downfall and demise will continue," said Khamenei.
Oman informed Iran before Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visited Oman in October, according to an interview with Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif. In the interview with Iran's Hamshahri newspaper published Online by Fars News, Zarif spoke about Iran's role in the region and Israel. According to Zarif, the government of Oman informed Iran about Netanyahu's trip since Iran was against Netanyahu's visit.
GULF STATES, YEMEN & IRAN
Yemen's Minister of Information, Muammar Al Iryani, has commended the World Food Programme (WFP)'s reaction to Al Houthi militia's manipulation of food aid. In statement to the Yemeni News Agency, Al Iryani said, "The WFP's account indicates that the Al Houthi militia is deliberately exacerbating humanitarian crisis, causing people in its controlled regions to suffer starvation in order to capitalise on their torment to gain politically and militarily."
IRAQ & IRAN
The leader of Iraq's second largest party, Hadi al-Amiri, called on foreign forces to leave Iraq over the weekend. Slamming US President Donald Trump's visit, in which Trump did not meet Iraqi officials, he intimated that the US should also draw down its forces. This comes at the same time as Maj.-Gen. Tamir Hayman, head of Israel's military intelligence, warned at a conference in Tel Aviv that Iraq is under growing influence of Iran.
OTHER FOREIGN AFFAIRS
When the migrant crisis started, about three years ago, it was seen as a mainly Syrian affair. Caught in the crossfire between Bashar al-Assad and sundry jihadist groups, ordinary Syrians were heading for Europe, part of the largest mass movement of people since the second world war. But as we now know, that analysis was wrong. Or rather, it was only one facet of the historical migration phenomenon that was unfolding then and still is today