Cyber attackers in Iran could be behind a wave of hacks on government and communications infrastructure that will require a coordinated global response to repel, according to cybersecurity firm FireEye Inc. FireEye researchers have identified attacks on dozens of Internet sites belonging to entities across the Middle East, North Africa, Europe and North America, the firm said in a report published Thursday. The actor or actors have "a nexus to Iran," it said.
Iran said on Wednesday that it would reciprocate after the European Union added two Iranian individuals and an Iranian intelligence unit to the bloc's terrorist list. EU ministers agreed on Tuesday to add the names to the list and freeze their assets, effective from Wednesday, as the Netherlands accused Iran of two killings on its soil and joined France and Denmark in alleging Tehran plotted other attacks in Europe.
The European Union on Tuesday imposed new sanctions against Iran for the first time since the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action came into effect. This is a welcome, if belated, acknowledgment that the 2015 nuclear deal has failed to change Tehran's behavior. Over the summer European authorities prevented a bomb attack on Iranian dissidents in Paris coordinated by Iranian intelligence across the Continent. In October Denmark announced it had stopped a plot to assassinate an Iranian opposition figure on Danish soil. The Dutch government has also accused Iran of assassinating two Dutch citizens of Iranian origin in the Netherlands in recent years.
NUCLEAR DEAL & NUCLEAR PROGRAM
By now, it has escaped few that rather than a new beginning between Iran and the West, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action has become another chapter in a long saga of broken promises. But beyond empty pledges on the part of Europe, and more so the United States - which withdrew from the landmark accord last May - the Iranians have also broken their promises to themselves.
Iran's president said Thursday the Islamic Republic soon will send two new satellites into orbit using Iran-made rockets, despite U.S. concern the launch could help further develop its ballistic missiles. President Hassan Rouhani's comments, during a commemoration for the late President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, confirmed the rocket launches would take place. Iran typically displays achievements in its space program in February, during the anniversary of the 1979 Islamic Revolution.
SANCTIONS, BUSINESS RISKS, & OTHER ECONOMIC NEWS
In what seemed to be fresh diplomatic pressure on Iran, the European Union announced Jan. 8 that it was freezing assets belonging to a unit of Iran's Intelligence Ministry and two of its officials. But that's not where it came to an end. The Netherlands also leveled accusations against Iran, saying Tehran had plotted two murders on its soil. In doing so, Dutch officials joined French and Danish counterparts in implicating Iran in alleged attacks on European soil.
When a technical error forced a Norwegian Air jet to land at Shiraz Airport in Iran last month, the Boeing 737 touched down in uncharted territory. The airline, known for cheap long-haul flights from Europe, does not have a base in Iran. It had never flown there before. And nearly a month after it left Dubai, the brand-new American-made jet, delivered to Norwegian Air only in October, was still sitting in Shiraz.
Iranian Oil Minister Bijan Zanganeh said on Thursday U.S. sanctions against his country were "fully illegal" and Tehran would not comply with them. Zanganeh, speaking at a joint news conference in Baghdad with Iraqi Oil Minister Thamer al-Ghadhban, said Iran would not discuss the volume or destination of its oil exports while it remained under U.S. sanctions. Ghadhban said Iraq had not yet reached an agreement with Iran to develop joint oilfields.
South Korean oil buyers are expected to restart Iranian oil imports in late January or early February, the head of South Korea's SK Innovation, which owns South Korea's biggest oil refiner SK Energy, said on Wednesday. In November, South Korea won a six-month waiver from sanctions imposed by the United States allowing the purchase a limited amount of Iranian oil, but the country has not imported any crude from the country since September.
Unemployment rates rose dramatically in Iran as US sanctions continue to take effect, according to a report on Radio Farda. Omid Ali Parsai, chairman of the Iranian Statistical Center (ISC), announced that the official unemployment rate among Iranian youth has reached 27 percent, and has surpassed 40 percent for university graduates. Parsai added that since March, 550,000 jobs have been created. However, 900,000 new jobs is the target figure needed annually to create the needed amount of employment opportunities, a number unlikely to be reached before the end of the Iranian year.
Satellite imagery broadcast on CNN on Tuesday January 7, showed Iran apparently preparing to launch a remote-sensing satellite into the space. Researchers at Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey told CNN that "The high-resolution satellite images, captured by Planet Labs on January 4, 6 and 7, show activity at the Imam Khomeini Space Center consistent with steps that were taken prior to a previous launch in 2017."
The European Union on Tuesday passed a series of pathetic sanctions on Iran. These follow Iran's repeated terrorist acts and attempts on European soil. While lauded by European multilateralists, the sanctions are too weak to affect Iran's future cost-benefit analysis of terrorist plotting. Indeed, their weak quality will likely embolden Iranian terrorist plotters. Of course, EU officials see things differently.
TERRORISM & EXTREMISM
The European Union has named two Iranian officials who, along with Iran's intelligence services, have been targeted by fresh sanctions for their suspected involvement in assassination plots in France, Denmark, and the Netherlands. The listings in the EU's terrorism sanctions list were agreed to on January 8 and published on January 9 in the EU's Official Journal. The two individuals were identified in the Official Journal as Assadollah Asadi and Saeed Hashemi Moghadam.
PROTESTS & HUMAN RIGHTS
Iranian State TV has aired previously unseen footage of what appears to be the arrest of jailed Iranian-British dual national Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe in Tehran in April 2016. The approximately minute-long video, which has been edited, shows Zaghari-Ratcliffe being pulled aside by someone off camera at an airport and questioned, according to Mashregh News. In the line of questioning a man asks her about her travel intentions and informs her that there is a warrant for her arrest and that she is not permitted to leave the country.
A female civil rights activist who was arrested in November and spent close to one month in detention has talked about "brutal torture" of her and a labor activist arrested with her. Sepideh Qolian was at the Haft-Tapeh Sugar Mill in November, where workers were on strike and protesting for their unpaid wages, when security officers attacked and detained her with several labor activists.
U.S.-IRAN RELATIONS & NEGOTIATIONS
Iran confirmed on Wednesday it had arrested an American, confirming U.S. media reports about a case that risks further worsening relations with Washington. The New York Times reported on Monday that Michael White, a 46-year-old U.S. Navy veteran, was arrested while visiting Iran and had been held since July on unspecified charges.
As expected, the Iranian intelligence minister, Mahmoud Alavi, warned on 25 December, 2018, that efforts and consultations are intensifying among the non-Persian ethnic nationalities, the nationalist parties, and the Iranian opposition groups. They seek to unite their ranks to overthrow the rule of the velayat-e faqih, i.e., the rule of Shiite theocracy in Iran.
MILITARY/INTELLIGENCE MATTERS & PROXY WARS
The Islamic Republic of Iran Air Force (IRIAF) has launched two days of military exercises, involving bombers, drones and missiles, with the aim of testing its capabilities in protecting the country's airspace against possible enemy threats. The eighth edition of the annual drills, dubbed Defenders of Velayat Skies, began at Shahid Babaei Air Base in the central province of Isfahan on Thursday following days of preparations.
IRANIAN INTERNAL DEVELOPMENTS
Iran's National Cyberspace Council is planning to block Instagram, the last social-media platform freely accessible in the country. This is unlikely to trouble Iranian Instagrammers, who will continue to use the platform through virtual private networks, or VPNs, that route traffic through internet connections abroad. This easy workaround allows Iranians to evade government filters and access banned platforms like Twitter, Facebook and YouTube, and use messaging apps like WhatsApp and Telegram.
RUSSIA, SYRIA, ISRAEL, HEZBOLLAH, LEBANON & IRAN
A former Israeli government minister charged with spying for archenemy Iran will serve 11 years in prison as part of a plea bargain with authorities, Israel's justice ministry said Wednesday. The ministry said Gonen Segev agreed to the deal after confessing to severe espionage and passing information to an enemy. The plea bargain will be brought to a judge next month and no further information was provided.
Contradicting President Donald Trump's announcement that he plans to completely withdraw US forces from Syria, the United States reportedly plans to keep some troops in the country to counter Iran. National Security Adviser John Bolton just returned from a trip to Turkey, where he had aimed to coordinate the withdrawal of 2,000 US troops from Syria. US forces are in the country to counter ISIS, but last month, Trump declared the terrorist group defeated and announced his plan to bring US troops home.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu has called for joint control with Russia and Iran of US troops' withdrawal from Syria, saying Washington is facing "certain difficulties" with the planned exit. "The United States [has] been facing certain difficulties with the process of the troops' withdrawal from Syria. We want to coordinate this process with Russia and Iran, with which we had arranged work in the framework of the Astana process," Cavusoglu said Wednesday.
GULF STATES, YEMEN, & IRAN
In their continuous attempts to abort the Sweden peace agreement brokered by the United Nations - the pro-Iranian Houthi militias launched on Thursday, a drone attack targeting a military parade by the Yemeni National Army in al-Anad military base in Lahaj province. Al Arabiya news channel correspondent reported that six soldiers of the Yemeni Army were killed and 20 others injured, among them journalists as well as the governor of Lahaj, the deputy chief of army staff, the head of the intelligence unit, the commander of the military police and the army commander of the fourth region.
Qatar did well by putting the record straight and calling things by their names. It officially announced, through its ambassador to Moscow, its true position towards the Iranian occupation of Syria, by considering that Iran has "legitimate" interests in Syria and supporting Tehran's quest to maintain those interests; and that the "Syrian regime, which oppressed its opponents, is responsible for allowing for international and regional foreign intervention, which should not be blamed on others."
IRAQ & IRAN
Iraqi leaders implored Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to maintain a U.S. troop presence in the country, seeking U.S. reassurances after the Trump administration announced plans to withdraw troops from elsewhere in the region. Mr. Pompeo's visit to Iraq on Wednesday underscored the challenge U.S. officials face in persuading regional partners that the administration will remain involved in the turbulent region after President Trump's decision in December to withdraw troops from Syria and to reduce troop levels in Afghanistan.
OTHER FOREIGN AFFAIRS
As Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was recently blaming Iran's influence on Palestinians for the lack of progress in peace talks, Iran seemed more than happy to accept responsibility. In an interview with Globo TV during his Jan. 1 visit to Brazil, Netanyahu said, "Half of them [Palestinians] are already under the gun of Iran and of radical Islam."
Iran and Israel have been bitter enemies since 1979, when Iranian revolutionaries toppled the Pahlavi regime and established the Islamic Republic in its stead. The hostility has since spilled over into regions beyond the Middle East - its hot spot - and affected the national security and foreign policies of nations across the world. South America with its revolutionary history and traditionally leftist politics is one such region where Tehran and its Lebanese proxy Hezbollah have sought, with relative success, to undermine Israeli interests.