Hackers based in Iran and implicated in attacks on the U.S. and Western allies were behind a computer breach of Australia's Parliament and political parties, a U.S. cyber research company alleged. This month's attacks were part of a global espionage campaign that cybersecurity companies say began last year and that has mostly targeted the Five Eyes intelligence alliance comprising the U.S., Canada, the U.K., Australia and New Zealand.
Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif accused Israel of engaging in "adventurism" with its bombing campaigns in Syria and said he could not rule out the possibility of a military conflict between the countries. Zarif told the Sueddeutsche Zeitung newspaper that Iran was in Syria at the invitation of the Syrian government, while Israel was violating Lebanese and Syrian air space, as well as international law.
Two years ago Hossein was optimistic about the future of his booming Iranian oil services businesses. Iran's landmark nuclear agreement with world powers had lifted the economy out of recession, western companies were re-engaging with the Islamic republic and his revenue was surging. But in May last year everything changed. US president Donald Trump pulled out of the nuclear deal and began the process of reimposing American sanctions.
NUCLEAR DEAL & NUCLEAR PROGRAM
President Trump understands that Iran is the root cause of terrorism in the Middle East and beyond and poses a danger to America and our allies. This is why the president is so concerned by the Islamic Republic's support for terrorist groups, its intervention in foreign wars, its creation of unrest in sovereign countries, and its determination to possess nuclear weapons and long-range missiles.
Israeli Ambassador to the UN Danny Danon sent a letter to the members of the United Nations Security Council on Wednesday, calling on them to act against Iran's nuclear threat. In his letter, Danon mentioned that Iran had a failed attempt to launch a satellite into space at the beginning of February, and was carried by a rocket that is capable of carrying a nuclear head.
SANCTIONS, BUSINESS RISKS, & OTHER ECONOMIC NEWS
Oil prices hovered just below 2019 highs on Thursday, bolstered by OPEC-led supply cuts and U.S. sanctions on Venezuela and Iran. U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude oil futures were at $57.30 per barrel at 0046 GMT, up 14 cents, or 0.2 percent, from their last settlement and not far off their 2019 high of $57.55 reached the previous day. International Brent crude futures had yet to trade, but also hit a 2019 peak the day before, at $67.38 per barrel.
Budget carrier Norwegian Air expects to fly a plane out of Iran in the next few days after it made an emergency landing there in December and became stranded, partly due to U.S. sanctions on Tehran. The plane took off from Dubai on Dec. 14 bound for Oslo but had to land in Shiraz in Iran because of problems with one of its engines.
Commander of the IRGC Aerospace Force, Brigadier General Amir Ali Hajizadeh, said on Wednesday that Iran has thwarted an attempt to infiltrate its missile program through a range of indigenous equipment and spare parts. IRGC news agencies also quoted Hajizadeh denying recent claims made by US officials that Washington has managed to sabotage Tehran's missile program, describing them as "a very big lie".
U.S.-IRAN RELATIONS & NEGOTIATIONS
The US State Department released a video showing what it called a well-looked after Iranian embassy in Washington and sending a message to the Iranian people that all the items at the location are being maintained once diplomatic ties are restored. The Trump administration's special representative for Iran, Brian Hook, is shown in the highly-produced video strolling past the embassy.
U.S. prosecutors announced last week that a former Air Force intelligence specialist defected to Iran, and charged her with espionage for allegedly sharing sensitive national security information with the Tehran regime. The revelation has reopened an uncomfortable conversation about treason. It is also raising questions about the murky world of Americans who cooperate with the Iranian regime. Hundreds of thousands of American citizens, through heritage or marriage, are eligible to become citizens of Iran.
As a former CIA station chief, I know that the men and women who serve in the military and civilian components of the U.S. intelligence community are loyal, dedicated and brave American patriots. Yet on extremely rare occasions, a few switch sides - betraying their country and colleagues to spy for one of our foreign adversaries. Monica Elfriede Witt, 39, a former Air Force counterintelligence specialist who once held a top-secret security clearance, stands accused of being one of these disloyal Americans.
MILITARY/INTELLIGENCE MATTERS & PROXY WARS
Iran's navy says it will hold an annual drill in the strategic Strait of Hormuz as pressure mounts on the country months after the United States re-imposed sanctions on Iran, targeting its vital oil sector. The strait is located at the mouth of the Persian Gulf and is crucial to global energy supplies, with about a third of all oil traded at sea passing through it.
IRANIAN INTERNAL DEVELOPMENTS
After a calm period in the Iranian markets, the Iranian rial has returned to drop against the dollar over the past two days. Tehran Police Chief Brigadier General Hossein Rahimi announced the arrest of 20 active "brokers" in the dollar market. There are more than 190 detainees on charges of selling dollars in light of the drop in the local currency, ISNA quoted Rahimi as saying.
With the signatures of 94 lawmakers, a bill has been presented to the Iranian parliament's presiding board, titled, "Support for Whistleblowers of Economic and Administrative Corruption." If approved by the presiding board, the bill could become law and facilitate the government campaign to fight corruption. Tackling corruption has been on the Iranian government's agenda since the mid-2000s. In fact, the abovementioned bill was initiated based on a 2008 law, "Promotion of Administrative Compliance."
2018 was a busy year for Iran's former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who began a transformation from statesman to opposition leader. Ahmadinejad is trying to restore the popularity he lost during his second presidential term, especially following the Green Movement protests in 2009. The question is: will Ahmadinejad's methods work or is he just a controversial has-been with good a good Twitter account? After Ahmadinejad left office in 2013, he kept a low public profile for about a year.
"A social Democrat pursuing political revolution in the United States," wrote Iran's official IRNA news agency of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders after he launched his campaign for the Democratic Party's nomination in the 2020 presidential race for the White House. Sanders introduced his fight as one about "creating a government based on the principles of economic, social, racial and environmental justice." Based on that agenda, "Sanders has come forth with 'revolution' as his slogan," reported leading Iranian business daily Donya-e Eqtesad.
RUSSIA, SYRIA, ISRAEL, HEZBOLLAH, LEBANON & IRAN
Iranian-led efforts to upgrade Hezbollah's missile arsenal in Lebanon represents the most dangerous regional flashpoint that could trigger an Israeli counter-strike, according to UK defence think-tank RUSI. The smuggling of precision-guided missile systems into Lebanon represents the most "serious risk" of starting a major war with Iran that could involve the United States, according to new research by the group published on Thursday.
CHINA & IRAN
China's desire to develop close ties with Iran will remain unchanged, regardless of the international situation, President Xi Jinping told the speaker of Iran's parliament, ahead of Thursday's visit to Beijing by Saudi Arabia's crown prince. China has traditionally played little role in Middle East conflicts or diplomacy, despite relying on the region for oil, with Iran its fourth largest supplier last year, but has been trying to raise its profile, especially in the Arab world.
IRAQ & IRAN
Iraq is close to finalizing a deal that will allow it to import Iranian energy despite American sanctions by avoiding the U.S. dollar, an Iraqi official said. "A big delegation came from the Iranian central bank and the idea was proposed to trade with Iran in euros," Abdulkarim Hashim Mustafa, special adviser to Iraq's prime minister, said in an interview Tuesday in Moscow on the sidelines of a Middle East conference hosted by the Kremlin-backed Valdai discussion club. "There are other ideas to pay in Iraqi dinars, or in oil."
OTHER FOREIGN AFFAIRS
Pakistan has rejected allegations by senior Iranian officials that it is harbouring the armed group, Jaish al-Adl, which claimed responsibility for last week's attack that killed 27 members of the elite Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) in the southern province of Sistan-Baluchestan.
France is in touch with Iran to improve the conditions of a French woman who was arrested in October on the Gulf island of Kish for allegedly signing an illegal mining contract, Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said on Wednesday. Nelly Erin-Cambervelle, a 59-year-old businesswoman from Martinique, had been on the island as part of her import-export business and her arrest until now had not been made public.