Iran on Friday began large-scale naval drills at the mouth of the Gulf, which will feature its first submarine cruise missile launches, state media reported, at a time of rising tensions with the United States. More than 100 vessels were taking part in the three-day war games in a vast area stretching from the Strait of Hormuz to the Indian Ocean, the state news agency IRNA reported.
Iran has until June to fix its anti-money laundering and terrorism financing rules or face increased international scrutiny of its banks, a global watchdog said on Friday. Last October, the Paris-based Financial Action Task Force (FATF) watchdog had already given Iran until February to complete an action plan of reforms that would bring it in line with global norms, or face consequences.
The European Union is trying to have it both ways on U.S. sanctions against Iran. It voices solidarity with the Trump administration's concerns about the Islamic Republic's rising threat to stability in the Middle East - most recently by expressing alarm at Iran's ballistic-missile program and other "unacceptable behavior." At the same time, EU leaders condone efforts by their member countries to skirt U.S. restrictions - as if to reassure the Iranian regime that trade can continue despite the U.S. decision to pull out of the 2015 nuclear deal.
UANI IN THE NEWS
The U.S. administration's maximum pressure campaign against Iran can receive a boost when the Paris-based intergovernmental group chaired by the United States, the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), meets this week. The FATF, which develops policies to combat money-laundering and terrorist-financing, has the power to apply what it calls countermeasures that could further imperil Iran's economy.
SANCTIONS, BUSINESS RISKS, & OTHER ECONOMIC NEWS
In a stark indication of the impact of US sanctions and regional political tensions, the UAE's exports to Iran dropped by over 30 per cent in the first 10 months of the Iranian year, which began on March 21, 2018. Tumbling exports to the isolated country were recorded with four of Iran's largest trading partners - China, Turkey, Germany, and the UAE, according to data from Iran's customs administration. China, the top exporter of goods to Iran, saw the value of its imports decline 15 per cent, while Turkey saw an even steeper fall of 24 per cent.
To Iranians, Shiraz is known as the city of poetry and roses. To Norwegian Air Shuttle ASA, it has become the focus of a two-month battle to retrieve a Boeing Co. jet that's been trapped in the net of U.S. sanctions. The 737 Max aircraft made an emergency landing in Shiraz on Dec. 14 after developing engine problems while en route from Dubai to Oslo. Passengers were flown out the next day, but the stricken plane has been grounded in the ancient city at the foot of Iran's Zagros mountains ever since.
Renewed U.S. sanctions on Iran's oil exports are giving a boost to the profits of one of India's smaller state-owned banks, which has been struggling under the weight of a mountain of bad loans. Kolkata-based Uco Bank expects its privileged status processing refiners' payments for Iranian oil shipments to add more than 8 billion rupees ($110 million) to annual earnings, according to Chief Executive Officer Atul Kumar Goel.
Long before being famous for its firebrand hardliners, problematic missile and nuclear programs, chaotic foreign relations and compulsory hijab, Iran was always known as an oil-rich country. Yet the scarcity of gasoline has always been a major problem in the Islamic Republic's domestic energy market. Like most other things about Iran, there is yet another paradox about gasoline which remains a mystery to some observers.
As Iran continues to bear the brunt of punishing economic sanctions imposed by the United States, the regime is exploring creative new ways to raise much-needed capital. Among the strategies: exporting art. "The international sanctions against Iran exclude cultural products," Minister of Culture and Islamic Guidance Seyyed Abbas Salehi was quoted by Jordanian media as saying last week during a festival in Tehran. "We should take the export of art products seriously and use this opportunity."
TERRORISM & EXTREMISM
Islamic Republic's Intelligence Ministry announced on Thursday the arrest of 13 "elements" of the Islamic State group who it said had plans to launch "military" operations in Iran's Western Kurdistan province. The state financed ILNA quoted the ministry as saying the arrested individuals were operating in two teams "planning to plant bombs and kill people, as well as assassinate Sunni religious leaders" but were identified and arrested.
PROTESTS & HUMAN RIGHTS
Iranian security has arrested six Iranian Christian converts in the northern city of Rasht during February, according to sources who spoke to Radio Farda. Converting to another religion is forbidden in Islam and in countries where religious law applies converts can be prosecuted. Iran regularly arrests Christian converts, whose numbers have been rising in recent years, reaching tens of thousands or more according to some estimates.
The Iranian authorities must immediately halt plans to execute three young men who are on death row for crimes that took place while they were under the age of 18, said Amnesty International. The organization has learned that Mohammad Kalhori, Barzan Nasrollahzadeh and Shayan Saeedpour, who were all convicted for separate crimes that took place while they were minors, are at risk of imminent execution.
One year ago, the quiet, upper-class Tehran neighborhood of Golestan Haftom became a war zone. In late January 2018, bloody clashes broke out between dervishes of the Gonabadi Sufi order, a beleaguered religious minority in Iran, and the security forces of the Islamic Republic. When the carnage ended three weeks later, an untold number of dervishes were dead, as were three members of the police and Baseej (Basij) (paramilitary regime supporters).
MILITARY/INTELLIGENCE MATTERS & PROXY WARS
"The Iranian navy launched "large-scale" drills in the Strait of Hormuz and the Sea of Oman in a show of its maritime force amid escalating tensions with the United States in the region. Rear Admiral Hossein Khanzadi, commander of Iran's navy, said the manoeuvres began on Thursday and will run for a week. For the first time, the exercises will feature missiles launched from a submarine."
IRANIAN INTERNAL DEVELOPMENTS
When Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the final decision-maker on major matters of state, recently announced there would be a "second step" of the Islamic revolution, details were vague. However, on Feb. 11, Khamenei's website published a comprehensive statement on the "second step." Accompanying the statement was an illustration of Khamenei taking a step forward while leading a group of engineers, scientists and athletes.
RUSSIA, SYRIA, ISRAEL, HEZBOLLAH, LEBANON & IRAN
Iran's foreign minister has accused Israel of "adventurism" for its attacks in Syria and says he cannot rule out a military confrontation between Iran and Israel. In an interview with the German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung published on Thursday, February 21, Mohammad Javad Zarif said that Iran is in Syria by the invitation of the host government, but Israel with its attacks violates Syrian and Lebanese airspace and international law.
The Warsaw Conference on Middle East Peace and Security last week didn't seem to deliver much in the way of peace or security for the assorted countries attending. There was, to be sure, a lot of tough talk against Iran and the projection of a united front as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and several senior Arab officials all gathered in one room. Yet far away from the bright lights of the Trump-engineered summit, on the business end of the battle against Iran, Israeli security officials have a singular preoccupation: suitcases.
Hezbollah is "well-entrenched" in Venezuela - and will likely stay that way even if there is a regime change, according to RAND political scientist and analyst Colin Clarke. In a commentary, Clarke said no one should be surprised at Hezbollah's presence - or its incentive.
CHINA & IRAN
Amid the geopolitical quagmire among Iran, Saudi Arabia and the U.S. over a number of issues ranging from Tehran's nuclear ambitions, its ballistic missile program and its regional hegemony overtures which have Riyadh scrambling for a response, China is joining the fray. Yesterday, Chinese President Xi Jinping told the speaker of Iran's parliament that China's desire to develop close ties with Iran will remain unchanged, regardless of the international situation.
GULF STATES, YEMEN, & IRAN
The commander of the overseas arm of Iran's Revolutionary Guards threatened Saudi Arabia with revenge over a suicide bomb attack in southeastern Iran on Feb. 13 that killed 27 Guards members, the semi-official Tasnim news agency reported on Thursday. "Saudi Arabia is building its regional influence with money only. This is a false influence and a failure...We will take revenge for our martyrs...(and) it might be anywhere around the world," Qasem Soleimani said, according to Tasnim.
Representatives of international aid and humanitarian organizations operating in war-wracked Yemen say they are increasingly being targeted by the Iran-backed Houthi rebels on a scale that could jeopardize efforts to assist millions of civilians caught in what is already the world's worst humanitarian crisis. Aid workers told Foreign Policy that they are facing threats of attack in the areas controlled by the Houthis, which includes western parts of the country and Yemen's capital, Sanaa.
Yemen's government has urged the US to designate the Houthis as a foreign terrorist organisation, citing the Iran-backed rebels' human rights record. The Minister of Information, Muammar Al Iryani, said late on Wednesday that the crimes committed by some members of the Houthi group amount to war crimes. "Since the start of the war, Houthi rebels have mobilised a generation of Yemeni youths, in areas that are under their control, with terror and aggressive ideologies," Mr Al Iryani said during a meeting with the US Ambassador to Yemen, Mathew Tueller.
OTHER FOREIGN AFFAIRS
Jordan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced on Wednesday that Iran has informed the senior Jordanian diplomat about its decision to release three Jordanian detainees, who were held by Tehran around two months ago on charges of "mistakenly" entering the country's territorial waters while on a fishing trip off the UAE. Sufian Qudah, Jordan's Foreign Ministry spokesman, said in a statement that the Iranian Foreign Ministry has informed the Jordanian embassy of the decision.
Amnesty International (AI) has listed Iran among the fifty countries using "bullying techniques and repressive regulations" to prevent non-governmental organizations (NGOs) from doing their work. The February 21 report, titled Laws Designed to Silence: The Global Crackdown on Civil Society Organizations, accuses Tehran of suppressing NGOs by designing laws and regulations to criminalize and otherwise hinder their activity.