Secretary of State Mike Pompeo warned Iran on Thursday against launching three spacecraft in the coming months, describing them as a cover for testing technology that is necessary to lob a warhead at the United States and other nations. His statement seemed intended to build a legal case for diplomatic, military or covert action against the Iranian missile program. It was surprising only because Iran has been launching modest space missions, mostly to deploy satellites, since 2005.
The Iranian navy will send warships to deploy in the Atlantic from March, a top commander said on Friday, as the Islamic Republic seeks to increase the operating range of its naval forces to the backyard of the United States, its arch foe. Iran sees the presence of U.S. aircraft carriers in the Gulf as a security concern and its navy has sought to counter that by showing the flag near American waters. A flotilla will leave for the Atlantic early in the Iranian new year, starting from March, Iran's naval deputy commander said.
Iran's Police Chief Hosein Ashtari has told Palestinian Islamic Jihad Leader Ziad al-Nakhaleh that his forces are prepared to offer training to the "Palestinian Resistance Front," ISNA reported on Wednesday January 2. The "resistance front" is Iran's nickname for groups such as HAMAS and Islamic Jihad in the Palestinian territories and Hezbollah in Lebanon.
SANCTIONS, BUSINESS RISKS, & OTHER ECONOMIC NEWS
Between 2016 and 2018, Iran's energy sector was the main beneficiary of the lifting of nuclear-related sanctions. Increased oil production and exports, the return of international oil companies (IOCs), massive investments in renewable energies, introduction of new technologies into upstream and downstream sectors, etc., were among key developments in the industry.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani started his first cabinet meeting this year by sending messages on both internal and foreign levels. He addressed his US counterpart Donald Trump saying that the latter's administration has failed to reduce Iran's oil exports to zero. This comes amid fears in Iran of increased prospects for military confrontation after Washington announced it would modify the presence of its troops in Syria and Afghanistan.
The Trump administration is "continuously evaluating" the waivers on sanctions against Iran, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told Newsmax TV on Thursday. "The sanctions and waivers are for six months," Pompeo told Newsmax TV host John Bachman in an exclusive interview at the State Department. "We are continuously evaluating whether they make sense, given our policy. "We still want to make sure we've got a well-supplied crude oil market - but, at the same time, we want to ensure that we're complying with the requirements."
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif rejected a U.S. warning against carrying out space vehicle launches and missile tests, saying on Thursday they did not violate a U.N. resolution. U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo issued a pre-emptive warning to Iran earlier on Thursday against pursuing three planned space rocket launches that it said would violate a U.N. Security Council resolution because they use ballistic missile technology.
Iran must not to proceed with a series of space-related tests that could disguise a ballistic missile program, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo warned Thursday. "The United States will not stand by and watch the Iranian regime's destructive policies place international stability and security at risk," Pompeo said in a statement. "We advise the regime to reconsider these provocative launches and cease all activities related to ballistic missiles in order to avoid deeper economic and diplomatic isolation."
PROTESTS & HUMAN RIGHTS
Two high-profile women prisoners at Iran's Evin jail are to go on hunger strike in protest at the failure by authorities to give them proper medical treatment. Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a British-Iranian dual national, and Iranian rights campaigner Narges Mohammadi jointly announced they would start an initial three-day protest on January 14 and continue until their demands were met.
U.S.-IRAN RELATIONS & NEGOTIATIONS
Secretary of State Michael Pompeo and National Security Adviser John Bolton plan to crisscross the Middle East to reassure nervous U.S. allies after President Donald Trump's surprise withdrawal from Syria and Jim Mattis's resignation as defense secretary. Bolton will depart Washington Friday for stops in Israel and Turkey, he said on Twitter. Pompeo will visit the region next week, according to an administration official.
U.S. national security adviser John Bolton says he will travel to Israel and Turkey to discuss the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Syria and how Washington and its allies intend to counter Iran's "malign behavior" in the region. In a tweet posted on January 3, Bolton also said he will discuss ways to prevent the "resurgence" of the Islamic State (IS) militant group in the region.
IRANIAN INTERNAL DEVELOPMENTS
Iran's health minister has resigned over proposed budget cuts, the official news agency IRNA reported, amid an economic crisis wrought by the reimposition of U.S. sanctions on Tehran. IRNA said on Thursday President Hassan Rouhani accepted the resignation of Hassan Ghazizadeh Hashemi, widely seen as the key official behind the 2014 launch of an ambitious plan for universal medical insurance sometimes dubbed "Rouhanicare".
Mohammad Yazdi, 87, a senior influential ayatollah says that in forty years since the 1979 revolution, Iran has had 400 years' worth of progress. Iran's conservative Student Agency reports that Yazdi on Thursday said, "In these 40 years 400 years' worth of service has been rendered to this country and we have had 400 years' worth of growth and progress; technology, gadgets, various equipment, population and lifestyle , and now it is totally different from the past".
Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran's supreme leader, has appointed to a key post in the Islamic establishment a hardline cleric sanctioned by the U.S. for human rights abuses and accused by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo of financial corruption. Sadeq Amoli Larijani, who has served as the regime's powerful judiciary chief for the past decade, has now been named chairman of the Expediency Council, a top consultative body.
As the leadership in Tehran prepares to mark the 40th anniversary of the Khomeinist revolution, a growing number of Iranians are wondering whether the time has come for their country to close that chapter and resume its historic path as a nation-state. The need for Iran to move beyond the Khomeinist revolution was the theme of a seminar last month at Westminster University in London where the return of Iran as a nation-state was highlighted as an urgent need for regional peace and stability.
The leader of Iran's pro-reform "Green Movement" has challenged the Islamic Republic's Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, by calling for the release of the uncensored video of their last meeting in 2009. Former Prime Minister Mir Hossein Mousavi (1981-1989), who has been under house arrest since 2011, was responding to footage recently published by Khamenei's official website.
Iran's up-and-coming artist Mehdi Yarrahi is believed to have been banned from performing a few days after releasing his anti-war 'Pareh Sang' song. Yarrahi, an Ahwazi Arab, is known for his highly controversial works and is one of the very few artists who maintained a daringly close take on social developments within the Iranian community.
RUSSIA, SYRIA, ISRAEL, HEZBOLLAH, LEBANON & IRAN
In the past four years American troops have helped crush Islamic State (is) in Syria. But President Donald Trump has had enough and he is bringing them home. All 2,000 are expected to be out in the next few months. The abrupt withdrawal has startled America's allies in the region, notably Syria's Kurds, and risks allowing the jihadists to regroup. It also cedes the eastern part of Syria, rich in oil, gas and arable land, to the government and its Iranian and Russian allies.
It did not take long for America's decision to withdraw from Syria to be felt across the Middle East. The Syrian regime, along with its Russian and Iranian allies, rejoiced. Arab states hurried to make up with Syria's leader, Bashar al-Assad. The Arab League will soon debate his return to the fold. America's Kurdish allies, crying betrayal, urged him to help fend off a looming Turkish invasion. Israel scrambled to contain the damage.
A day after US President Donald Trump said that "Iran can do what they want" in Syria, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made clear that this is not exactly the case, and that Israel continues to take action against Iran's effort to entrench themselves there. During an address to cadets of the IDF's officers course at a Bar-Ilan University symposium in honor of IDF commando Emmanuel Moreno who was killed during the Second Lebanon War, Netanyahu said that Israel acts with determination against all those trying to endanger it.
Of course, the soldiers in Operation Northern Shield are investing nearly all of their time eliminating Hezbollah's cross-border attack tunnels. But this week we learned loud and clear from IDF intelligence chief Maj.-Gen. Tamir Heyman that the real primary goal of the month-old IDF operation is deterrence. Not only that, but we learned that the next main goal of the operation is setting the stage for any future conflict with Hezbollah.
GULF STATES, YEMEN & IRAN
The theft of food aid in Yemen by Houthi rebels might be only the tip of the iceberg, officials believe, as questions multiply over international relief efforts in the famine-ravaged country. It has emerged that aid officials have been aware for months that armed groups - most prominently Houthi rebels in the capital, Sana'a - have been diverting food aid into the key areas they control, including by manipulating data in malnutrition surveys used by the UN.
Saudi Prince Khalid bin Salman posted a series of tweets on Thursday discussing Houthis' recruitment of children in Yemen. In his first tweet, he posted four pictures of children looking as young as five years old, some dressed in military clothing and others seemingly chanting.
OTHER FOREIGN AFFAIRS
The past year has been notable for the attention "fake news" has received. In the Middle East, however, fake news is old news. And the master of this is not Russia, but Iran. Indeed, Iran's mischief making in the region is not restricted to sponsoring foreign militias. It also includes funding, supporting or encouraging dozens of Arab media outlets - satellite TV stations, websites and social-media accounts - that are managed by Tehran's allies.
An Iranian cargo plane that has been flagged as flying suspicious cargo to Damascus and Beirut made dozens of flights in the fall of 2017, according to flight tracking data. An analysis of the flights shows that this plane routinely flies to Damascus and also has flown to Beirut, Qatar and Istanbul. Western intelligence sources said in September that Fars Air Qeshm, a civilian airline in Iran, was "suspected of smuggling weapons into Lebanon," reports indicated.