Iran's Revolutionary Guards said on Monday they plan to upgrade their speed boats in the Gulf with radar-evading stealth technology and new missile launchers as tensions rise between Tehran and Washington in the vital oil shipping route. Ending a long absence of U.S. aircraft carriers in the region, the USS John C. Stennis entered the Gulf last week, and was shadowed by the Revolutionary Guards' speed boats.
Iran's Guardian Council, a top political chamber of clerics and lawyers, has rejected for a second time an anti-terrorism financing bill aimed at bringing the lending sector closer to international standards, the semi-official Tasnim News agency reported. The council, which vets major parliamentary decisions and new legislation, said the bill was not yet compatible with Iran's constitution and Islamic law, Tasnim reported, citing a letter from the council to Parliament on Sunday.
India's finance ministry has exempted rupee payments made to the National Iranian Oil Co (NIOC) for crude oil imports from a steep withholding tax, according to a government order reviewed by Reuters. The exemption, put in place December 28 but backdated to November 5, will allow Indian refiners to settle about $1.5 billion of outstanding payments to NIOC.
SANCTIONS, BUSINESS RISKS, & OTHER ECONOMIC NEWS
An agreement for a long-term strategic cooperation between Iran and Syria was announced Sunday in Tehran to help the two countries avoid international sanctions that affected banks, companies and individuals. The agreement was signed by Minister of Economy and Foreign Trade Mohammad Samer al-Khalil and Iranian Minister of Roads and Urban Development Mohammad Eslami in attendance of ambassadors of the two countries, reported Syrian state agency SANA.
Iran will invest about 15 billion rupees to expand a refinery run by Chennai Petroleum Corp. in south India, the company's managing director said, amid U.S. sanctions on the Persian Gulf nation that have severely hit its oil exports. The state-run company is boosting capacity at its Nagapattinam facility by nine-fold to process 9 million tons per year and the investment is Naftiran Intertrade Co.'s share of the 275 billion rupees ($4 billion) expansion plan, Managing Director S.N. Pandey said in an interview in Chennai last week.
Financial pressure on the Iranian regime has been rising, and there exists no indication that Tehran will receive any sanctions relief for the next few years. US President Donald Trump is determined to sustain the primary and secondary sanctions that the Department of Justice re-imposed on Iran following Washington's withdrawal from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. These sanctions are critical due to the fact the they are choking off Iran's oil output, as well as restricting its banking and financial operations.
A plan for Iranian airlines to buy Russian-built passenger jets appears to have collapsed as a result of U.S. sanctions, marking a further set-back for the country's beleaguered aviation sector. Iranian airlines have been struggling to find ways to replace their ageing fleets ever since President Donald Trump announced in May 2018 that he was going to pull the U.S. out of the Iranian nuclear deal and reimpose sanctions.
PROTESTS & HUMAN RIGHTS
Iran deployed scores of policemen to disperse a brief protest in downtown Tehran over a bus crash last week that killed 10 people, including eight students. Monday's rally - which saw about 200 protesters gather - was the third consecutive day of demonstrations over the accident. Earlier protests took place inside the Azad University campus in northern Tehran. Protesters demand the dean and other university officials resign.
UK foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt has accused Iran of keeping a British-Iranian dual national in prison as a tool for diplomatic leverage, calling it "monstrous." Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe was arrested in April 2016 at the international airport in Tehran, when she was leaving the country after a visit with her family. She was charged with ambiguous accusations of spying and plotting against the Islamic Republic and sentenced to five years in prison.
With respect to my return from Iran to the UK (British-Iranian academic detained in Iran since April returns to UK, 25 December), it should be pointed out that, during my detention and confinement, my family and I neither sought nor received any consular support from the UK government. In addition, the Foreign Office was only informed about my return to the UK by Imperial College London, where I work.
U.S.-IRAN RELATIONS & NEGOTIATIONS
Iranian Major General Mohammad Bagheri headed on Monday to the occupied Emirati island of Abu Musa amid Iranian-US tension in the Gulf Sea. Bagheri was quoted as saying by Fars news agency, "Iran's regional enemies should know that alongside a pacifist doctrine, Iran has a powerful military force that are ready to protect Iran's territorial integrity, and also hold accountable countries that proposed (the US presence)." Bagheri's threats come two months after US introduced sanctions against Iran.
IRANIAN INTERNAL DEVELOPMENTS
By appointing a conservative ally to head the influential Expediency Council, Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei appears to have made a move to strengthen the hard-line camp and weaken the moderates -- and also may have cleaned up his line of succession. "This is not good news for the moderates within the establishment," Paris-based political analyst Taghi Rahmani said of Ayatollah Sadeq Amoli Larijani's appointment to both head the Expediency Council and take a seat the powerful Guardians Council.
Security forces clashed with students in Iran on Monday in the third day of protests over a deadly bus crash, online videos showed, adding to officials' fears that rising public unrest could threaten national security. President Hassan Rouhani has ordered an investigation into the accident at Tehran's Azad University that killed 10 students last week. Students have protested over the aging transport fleet and lack of accountability from the authorities.
Ayatollah Sadeq Amoli Larijani - the chief of Iran's hardline judiciary who has been blacklisted by Washington - was named on Sunday as the new head of the powerful Expediency Council, state television reported. The council is intended to resolve disputes between parliament and a watchdog body, the Guardian Council. Larijani, 57, was appointed by Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who also made him a member of the Guardian Council, which vets laws and elections for compliance with Iran's Islamic constitution, state television reported.
Eighteen lawmakers representing constituencies from the central Iranian province of Esfahan, where water scarcity has reached an alarming state, have resigned collectively in a symbolic move against what they believe is an unfair distribution of water resources. In response, their counterparts from three other provinces, which share the same water supplies, hit back.
RUSSIA, SYRIA, ISRAEL, HEZBOLLAH, LEBANON & IRAN
A group of 22 U.S. citizens is suing Hezbollah in Brooklyn Federal Court for the harm the terror group caused by lobbing rocket and missile attacks at northern Israel while they were living there in 2006. The group simultaneously filed a lawsuit against Bank Saderat Iran and Bank Saderat in the same court Monday, accusing the banks of providing Hezbollah with the material support to carry out the attacks.
Fars Air Qeshm cargo 747 airliner left Tehran at 8 a.m. on Sunday and landed in Damascus at 10:30 a.m., returning to Tehran at 5 p.m. The 747 allegedly transported weapons to Hezbollah in September, according to a report from Fox News that was based on Western intelligence assessments. The aircraft also made suspicious flights in July and August to Damascus and Beirut.
Iran could use its growing clout in Iraq to turn it into a springboard for attacks against Israel, the chief of Israeli military intelligence said on Monday. Israel sees the spread of Tehran's influence in the region as a growing threat, and has carried out scores of air strikes in civil war-torn Syria against suspected military deployments and arms deliveries by Iranian forces supporting Damascus.
Iran has denounced plans by Brazil's newly elected president to move its embassy to Jerusalem. Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Ghasemi said Monday that such a move "will not help with peace, stability, security and retrieval of the Palestinian people's rights." He added, however, that "relations with Brazil will eventually be continued." Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is visiting Brazil, said Sunday it is only a matter of time until Brazil moves its embassy to Jerusalem.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Tuesday that the United States would continue to cooperate with Israel over Syria and in countering Iran in the Middle East, even as President Donald Trump plans to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said as he met with Pompeo in the Brazilian capital that he planned to discuss how to intensify intelligence and operations cooperation in Syria and elsewhere to block Iranian "aggression."
Israel resumed its airstrikes on Syria this week, according to foreign reports. The reason was provided Wednesday night by a senior Israeli official who spoke with The Associated Press. Over the summer, Russia promised Israel it would keep Iranian forces 80 kilometers from Israel's border in the Golan Heights. In exchange, Israel promised not to interfere with the Assad regime's efforts to regain complete control over southern Syria.
Iran is asserting its dominance in Syria's post-war reconstruction drive, at a time when Gulf states are pushing for the reinstatement of diplomatic relations with the cash-strapped government in Damascus. Iranian public and private companies will be granted priority in Syria's post-war reconstruction, Syria's Minister of Economy and Foreign Trade Mohammad Samer Al Khalil said on Sunday, after signing a long-term economic cooperation agreement with senior Iranian officials in Tehran.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Monday that Arab countries viewed Israel as an "indispensable ally" fighting Iran and the Islamic State group. That evaluation, he told Brazil's Globo TV during a visit to Rio, has caused "a revolution in relations with the Arab world." The comments came as Israel has stepped up air strikes on Iranian positions in neighboring Syria, and as Israel digested an abrupt decision by President Donald Trump to withdraw US troops from Syria.
As the foreign policy establishment in the United State and abroad argue over the implications of President Trump's decision to withdraw American forces from Syria, the focus has been on how the Iranian regime will take advantage of this sudden vacuum. While there is merit in keeping an eye on Tehran's next moves in Syria, Washington's attention should also be focused on America's longtime ally in the region, Bahrain.
GULF STATES, YEMEN & IRAN
When Mohammed Bamuftah arrived at the post office to pick up his salary one day in 2015, he said a rebel fighter stopped him to inspect his ID card. The 55-year-old lawyer was from Aden, where Yemen's internationally recognized government was based. That was enough to get him arrested. By the time Bamuftah emerged from prison three years later, he had suffered shocks from an electric prod, he said. He had been hanged from a ceiling with his hands cuffed for three-hour stretches and beaten with rubber-coated electric cables.
The United Nations cast doubt Sunday on claims by Yemen's Shiite rebels to have withdrawn from the Red Sea port of Hodeida, saying such steps can only be credible if all other parties can verify them. Stephane Dujarric, spokesman for U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, said the rebels, known as Houthis, also failed to honor an agreement to open a "humanitarian" corridor between Hodeida and the capital, Sanaa, to deliver assistance. Both cities are under rebel control.
The U.N. World Food Programme says food aid meant for starving Yemenis is being stolen and sold in some areas controlled by the Houthi movement.
IRAQ & IRAN
It often happens that an excuse is even worse than the deed it seeks to justify. However, it is very rare to see so many people defending an excuse like we've seen after the Iranian ambassador to Baghdad, Iraj Masjedi, left an official celebration marking the first anniversary of Iraq's declaration of victory against ISIS. The movie appeared more of a deliberate act on his part and not an unintended faux pas, and a reflection of Iran's policy towards Iraq.
AFGHANISTAN & IRAN
The Taliban discussed Afghanistan's "post-occupation situation" with Iran in their latest meeting, the group said Tuesday, as Tehran makes a more concerted and open push for peace ahead of a possible US drawdown. The remarks come after Iran confirmed Monday that the Taliban had visited Tehran for a second round of talks in just a few days that are aimed at ending the 17-year conflict.
Iran said Taliban representatives from Afghanistan negotiated with Iranian officials in Tehran on Sunday, as the Islamic Republic seeks to advance peace talks in the neighboring country to curb the influence of other Islamist groups. The talks were held with the knowledge of Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani and were intended to set parameters for negotiations between the Taliban and the Afghan government, Iranian foreign ministry spokesman Bahram Qasemi said on Monday.
OTHER FOREIGN AFFAIRS
Six Iranian men have been found on a beach in southeastern England after crossing the English Channel, the latest in a wave of migrants coming from France that has raised concern in both countries. The men made the trip in an inflatable boat with a rigid hull on December 30, landing in Kingsdown, according to the British Home Office. They were handed over to immigration authorities after receiving medical attention