The powerful Lebanese Hezbollah militia has thrived for decades on generous cash handouts from Iran, spending lavishly on benefits for its fighters, funding social services for its constituents and accumulating a formidable arsenal that has helped make the group a significant regional force, with troops in Syria and Iraq. But since President Trump introduced sweeping new restrictions on trade with Iran last year, raising tensions with Tehran that reached a crescendo in recent days, Iran's ability to finance allies such as Hezbollah has been curtailed.
Middle East tensions appeared to ease over the weekend after the Trump administration moved to de-escalate two weeks of crisis, while Saudi Arabia and Iran toned down their threatening rhetoric in an attempt to avoid military conflict. Saudi Arabia and arch rival Iran lashed out at each other last week following attacks on the kingdom's oil assets, for which Riyadh and some U.S. officials blamed Tehran. Iran denied the allegations and accused its rivals of trying to frame it to provoke a confrontation after the U.S., citing unspecified intelligence, flagged increased threats from Iran and its allies.
A rocket hit the Green Zone in Baghdad on Sunday night, home to Iraqi government offices and those of other foreign governments, where tensions were already high amid a standoff with Iran. No one was hurt, said Gen. Yahya Rasool of the Baghdad Joint Command, which includes American and Iraqi forces. He confirmed that a Katyusha rocket had landed in the heavily fortified zone and said it had been fired from across the Tigris River. The American Embassy said that there was no damage to American facilities and that no one had claimed responsibility.
UANI IN THE NEWS
But the EU has now been forced to wade into the bitter spat after the Iranian regime confirmed it would break its commitments under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) and resume its nuclear programme. David Ibsen, president of United Against Nuclear Iran, told Express.co.uk the EU strategy on Iran would be stuck after it broke the "only promise that maintained the EU in the Iran deal". He said: "If the decision of the US to exit the Iran deal last year marked the death of JCPOA, today should be regarded as the day it is buried for good. "Now is the time for European and US leaders to work together on a new direction which holds Iran genuinely accountable for the domestic abuses of the regime and for its aggressive behaviour abroad."
SANCTIONS, BUSINESS RISKS, & OTHER ECONOMIC NEWS
Iran has adopted new tactics and new destinations in shipping its oil exports following the re-imposition of U.S. sanctions, a senior Iranian maritime official was quoted as saying on Saturday by the semi-official ILNA news agency. "The Oil Ministry's tactics in exporting oil and petroleum products have changed, ... and perhaps the destinations of oil cargoes from our ports have changed," Hadi Haqshenas, maritime affairs deputy director at Iran's Ports and Maritime Organization, told ILNA.
Across Iran's capital, the talk always seems to come back to how things may get worse. Battered by U.S. sanctions and its depreciating rial currency, Iran's 80 million people struggle to buy meat, medicine and other staples of daily life. Now they wonder aloud about America's intentions as it rushes an aircraft carrier and other forces to the region over a still-unexplained threat it perceives from Iran.
Sources in the Iraqi oil industry and a senior Iraqi official said Saturday that Exxon Mobil, an American oil and gas corporation, had begun evacuating its entire foreign staff - around 60 people - from the West Qurna 1 oil field in the southern Iraqi province of Basra. The evacuation came just days after the US pulled out its nonessential staff from its embassy in Baghdad, citing a threat from Iran, which has close ties with Iraq.
PROTESTS & HUMAN RIGHTS
Iran's elite Revolutionary Guards force has raided three underground modeling agencies, accusing the companies and their aspiring models of flouting strict Islamic dress codes for women, Iranian news agencies reported on Saturday. General Mohsen Karimi, a Guards commander in the central city of Arak, said staff at the agencies had been arrested for "promoting vulgarity", partly through sharing portfolio pictures of models on social media, the semi-official news agency Fars reported.
Iran's supreme court has upheld the death sentence of an Iranian man for killing an American woman seven years ago to steal her car, the state-run daily Iran reported on Saturday. The mother of three, identified as Theresa Virginia, had been reported missing in 2012 when she had traveled to Iran to visit her Iranian husband's family, the newspaper said.
U.S.-IRAN RELATIONS & NEGOTIATIONS
Commercial airliners flying over the Persian Gulf risk being targeted by "miscalculation or misidentification" from the Iranian military amid heightened tensions between the Islamic Republic and the U.S., American diplomats warned Saturday, even as both Washington and Tehran say they don't seek war.
Two years ago, almost to the day, a convoy of 20 vehicles drove toward a stretch of desert in southern Syria, near the Jordanian border. This terrain was unremarkable but for the fact that it encircled a military base known as al-Tanf where 200 American soldiers, most of them Marines and Special Forces, were garrisoned alongside British counterparts and an Arab counterinsurgency group.
President Trump said in a Sunday night Fox News interview that he doesn't want to go to war with Iran but emphasized he will never allow the nation to develop nuclear weapons. "I will not let Iran have nuclear weapons," Trump told Fox News host Steve Hilton. "I don't want to fight. But you do have situations like Iran, you can't let them have nuclear weapons - you just can't let that happen."
A top Republican lawmaker said Friday that the threat from Iran picked up by U.S. intelligence - which sparked a U.S. military deployment to the Middle East and heightened tensions across the region - was very specific and involved the possible kidnapping and killing of American soldiers. "To the extent I can discuss it, it was human intelligence," Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, the ranking Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, told USA TODAY on Friday. He was referring to intelligence information that prompted the Pentagon to deploy an aircraft carrier, along with B-52 bombers and other military forces, to the Middle East.
President Trump warned Sunday that threats from Iran against the United States would mark that nation's "official end" - taking a sharply more aggressive tone after a rocket landed inside Baghdad's fortified Green Zone near the U.S. Embassy amid increasing tensions in the region. No one has claimed responsibility for the incident, which caused no injuries or serious damage, but suspicion among Iraqi officials and Western diplomats fell on one of the Shiite militias that draw their strength from Iranian support.
U.S. President Donald Trump threatened Iran in a tweet on Sunday, raising concerns about a potential U.S.-Iran conflict at a time when tensions between Washington and Tehran have risen. If Iran wants to fight, that will be the official end of Iran. Never threaten the United States again," Trump said in a tweet. Trump has tightened economic sanctions against Iran, and his administration says it has built up the U.S. military presence in the region. It accuses Iran of threats to U.S. troops and interests.
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said on Saturday he did not believe a war would break out in the region as Tehran did not want a conflict and no country had the "illusion it could confront Iran", the state news agency IRNA reported. Tensions have escalated in recent days, with growing concerns about a potential U.S.-Iran conflict. Earlier this week the United States pulled some diplomatic staff from its embassy in Baghdad following weekend attacks on four oil tankers in the Gulf.
Iran is not pursuing war, the head of the elite Revolutionary Guards said on Sunday, according to the Fars news agency. "The difference between us and them is that they are afraid of war and don't have the will for it," Major General Hossein Salami said.
A rocket was fired into the Iraqi capital Baghdad's heavily fortified Green Zone, which houses government buildings and diplomatic missions, on Sunday night, falling near the U.S. Embassy but causing no casualties, the Iraqi military said. The attack came two weeks after U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo warned Iraqi leaders during a surprise visit to Baghdad that if they failed to keep in check Iran-backed militias, which are expanding their power in Iraq and now form part of its security apparatus, the United States would respond with force.
The Federal Aviation Administration has issued an advisory to U.S. commercial airliners flying over the waters of the Gulf and the Gulf of Oman to exercise caution as tensions between Washington and Tehran continue to simmer. The advisory, issued by the FAA on Thursday and circulated late on Friday, said the warning came amidst "heightened military activities and increased political tensions in the region which present an increasing inadvertent risk to U.S. civil aviation operations due to the potential for miscalculation or mis-identification".
U.S. President Donald Trump issued a new threat to Tehran on Sunday, tweeting that a conflict would be the "official end" of Iran, as Saudi Arabia warned it stood ready to respond with "all strength" and said it was up to Iran to avoid war. The heightened rhetoric follows last week's attacks on Saudi oil assets and the firing of a rocket on Sunday into Baghdad's heavily fortified "Green Zone" that exploded near the U.S. embassy. "If Iran wants to fight, that will be the official end of Iran. Never threaten the United States again!" Trump said in a tweet without elaborating.
Blunt, ignorant and confused are some of the criticisms voiced by allies on U.S. policy toward Iran. But none sees the Trump administration preparing for war. Governments worldwide are alarmed at the tension between Washington and Tehran, concerned about the risk of escalation or military miscalculation and frustrated at a lack of communication about U.S. goals. What keeps the anxiety in check from Berlin to Moscow to Ankara is President Donald Trump's oft-stated aversion to starting fresh wars.
Sometimes it's important to write a column about something you're pretty sure isn't going to happen. In this case, that thing is war with Iran, which Donald Trump clearly doesn't want, and which he will therefore probably avoid. But since the president's current foreign policy is making war more likely, it's still worth saying clearly that it would be a terrible idea for the United States to enter into a serious armed conflict with the Islamic Republic of Iran.
President Donald Trump appears to be paving the way for negotiations with Iran as tensions in the Middle East steadily escalate and send oil prices higher this week. However, energy industry watchers and experts in the region believe the Iranian leadership in Tehran is not ready for talks. They say the Islamic Republic will first seek to strengthen its hand after the Trump administration tightened sanctions on the nation's lifeblood, oil exports, and designated the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps a terrorist group.
Former CIA Director David Petraeus warned Iran that it is going to have to be "very careful" as tensions between the Middle Eastern nation and the United States continue to ratchet up. "They are going to have to make a decision. Either they are going to have to really tighten their belt and keep tightening, because it's going to get worse," Petraeus said on ABC's "This Week."
White House national security adviser John Bolton is becoming a flashpoint in the internal Republican debate over how to respond to Iran amid a fast-developing military buildup in the Middle East that has stoked war fears on Capitol Hill. Bolton's hawkish stance on the Islamic republic is stirring up concerns among GOP lawmakers who are scrambling to make sense of confusing signals coming from the Trump administration.
MILITARY/INTELLIGENCE MATTERS & PROXY WARS
Adam Schiff, the combative chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, didn't contest the recent intelligence that the Trump administration said was behind its newly aggressive posture toward Iran. Nor did he accuse the White House of misrepresenting it. Instead he returned to a critique that Democrats have made of Trump's hawkish Iran policy from the start: that it will lead America down the path of an ill-planned confrontation.
GULF STATES, YEMEN, & IRAN
Issham Beshir is two years old. She's twig-thin and so badly malnourished she's yet to take her first steps. The world is trying to help her and nearly 16 million more hungry people in Yemen by sending food. But, according to UN reports and CNN reporting on the ground, some of that food is being stolen by Iranian-backed Houthi rebels, on a scale far greater than has been reported before.
Iran was "highly likely" behind the attacks on the four tankers off the coast of the United Arab Emirates, according to the official assessment by the US. The US has evidence - photos of the damage and forensics - linking Iran or its proxies to the attacks, reported NBC News. Explosive charges were used to damage the four ships, two from Saudi Arabia and one each from the UAE and Norway, off the coast of Fujairah emirate in the UAE on Sunday.
IRAQ & IRAN
It's hard to tell what's really on the minds of Iranian and US officials in the flurry of words they've exchanged this week, but Baghdad has been perfectly clear about any potential confrontation between the two: not in my backyard. Amid prolonged dares and double-dares between Tehran and Washington - punctuated with claims from both sides that they don't want a war - Iraq has made it known it won't become a proxy battleground. The issue becomes a bit murky, however, when factoring in Iraq's pro-Iranian armed military factions.
Bahraini authorities said Monday they have tracked a network of destabilising electronic accounts operated in several countries including Iran and Qatar amid rising tensions in the Gulf over Iranian practices. The sites are aimed at inciting sedition, threatening social peace and destabilising security in Bahrain, the kingdom's head of the economic and electronic security department said.
OTHER FOREIGN AFFAIRS
U.S.-allied Bahrain warned its citizens on Saturday against travel to Iraq and Iran and asked those already there to return "immediately" for their safety, state news agency BNA said. The Bahrain foreign ministry cited, "unstable regional circumstances, dangerous developments and potential threats," according to BNA. The warning comes amid simmering tensions between the United States and Iran.