The United States' attempts to isolate Iran, including by punishing Iraqi militias and politicians who are supported by Iranian officials, has deepened tensions not only between Washington and Baghdad but also within the Trump administration. American military and intelligence officials said the increasing pressure on Iraq risks infuriating its Parliament, including politicians linked to Iran, which could limit the movements of the 5,200 United States troops based in Iraq.
An influential Iranian cleric says Iran might bring Shiite militias to the country from other parts of the Middle East to fight threats to the government. Musa Ghazanfarabadi, head of the Tehran Islamic Revolution Courts, told religious students in Qom this month that his government could use foreign fighters to crack down on potential popular uprisings in Iran.
Iran and Syria on Monday demanded the United States withdraw its troops from Syria, and the Damascus government threatened U.S.-backed Kurdish forces with military defeat if they did not agree a return of state authority. The Iranian and Syrian military chiefs were speaking after a meeting in Damascus that also included their Iraqi counterpart, who gave a political boost to President Bashar al-Assad and Tehran by announcing the Syrian border would soon be reopened.
SANCTIONS, BUSINESS RISKS, & OTHER ECONOMIC NEWS
Just after dawn Fatemeh Ansari Mokhtari stood alone outside Tehran's Shahid Baharloo supermarket, gripping the edge of her black chador. Hours later she was still there, now at the head of a long queue, as a refrigerated van pulled up and the driver unloaded Australian-reared lamb wrapped in white muslin. The 69-year-old was eligible for 3 kilograms of state-subsidized meat, her monthly allotment."It's good we have this at least, otherwise what would we do?" she said. "It's bread and milk, too -- the pressure is immense."
Over the past few months, oil market participants and analysts focused on OPEC's production cuts, soaring U.S. shale output, the U.S.-China trade dispute, projections of slowing oil demand growth, and most recently-the U.S. sanctions on Venezuela's oil industry. While these factors are still on everyone's mind, the U.S. sanctions on Iran's oil are also returning to focus with the six-month waivers to key Iranian oil customers expiring in six weeks.
PROTESTS & HUMAN RIGHTS
There's not much good news to share in Iran as Nowruz, the Iranian new year, approaches. The economic situation that played a role in nationwide protests during December 2017 and January 2018 is still difficult as millions of Iranians struggle to live a decent life. Inflation and perceptions of widespread corruption further fuel popular frustration, prompting dozens of labor groups-including truck drivers, steel workers, and teachers-to lead protests against the Iranian government's economic policies over the past year.
U.S.-IRAN RELATIONS & NEGOTIATIONS
The attorney for imprisoned Navy veteran Michael White said he is concerned for his client's health but "hopeful" Iran will release him to the U.S. so he can be with his family. "He's actually quite ill. He's had cancer and other illnesses and we're concerned that's going to revive itself in his system. So we're hopeful that the Iranians will release him so he can come back home to his family," attorney Mark Zaid told Fox News's America's Newsroom on Monday.
Brian Hook, U.S. Special Representative for Iran, has responded to Iran's President Hassan Rouhani who told the Iranian people "to put a curse" on those who caused the current economic crisis in Iran. Tweeting in Persian, Hook said: "In response to the paralyzed economy, Rouhani asked the Iranian people to put a curse on United States, Israel and Saudi Arabia! By resorting to curses and magic he is after blaming others for his economic record."
RUSSIA, SYRIA, ISRAEL, HEZBOLLAH, LEBANON & IRAN
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres expressed "grave concern" that Hezbollah's weapons would "endanger the stability of Lebanon and the region." In an implicit reference to Iran, Guterres called on member states to "carry out their duties" in terms of not supplying arms and military equipment to entities and individuals in Lebanon. He also urged the Lebanese government to take "all necessary measures" to disarm the militias in accordance with the Taif Agreement and international resolutions.
"Hezbollah was planning to send 5,000 to infiltrate Israel," said Former IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot in an event commemorating former Mossad Chief Meir Dagan on Monday. "Looking at my term as chief of staff three years back, there were many events in which escalation was a hair's breadth from happening," stressed Eisenkot.
This week, Israel, Lebanon and Kuwait will be hosting US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on what will be yet another drive by the Donald Trump administration to push back against Iran's "maligned" regional interests. This visit comes on the heels of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani's visit to Iraq last week, one of whose goals is to do what the United States opposes: expand relations with regional countries, namely Iraq.
In the middle of December 2018, two senior members of the Shin Bet brought the following news to the office of former Lt. Gen. Chief of Staff (COS) and now head of the Blue and White party Benny Gantz: Hostile agents had hacked Gantz' cellular phone and acquired sensitive information that could embarrass him. Gantz' intentions of entering politics were only made known a short time before, in September 2018.
Iran expelled two Dutch diplomats earlier this month after the Netherlands accused Tehran of involvement in assassinations in the northwestern European nation. Amsterdam also recalled its ambassador for consultations. Now, Iranian media have pushed a complex conspiracy alleging that the Dutch diplomats were spies and that one of them is Jew-ish and connected to Israel.
IRAQ & IRAN
Iran-backed Shiite militias in Iraq are growing more powerful and confident as they operate with increasing impunity. Gunmen murdered Iraqi novelist Alaa Mashzoub, a chronicler of Iraq's lost Jewish community, as he rode his bicycle through his hometown of Karbala Feb. 3. Mashzoub was a bold critic of Iran's increasing power in Iraq. His relatives believe that was what led Shiite militiamen to target him.
AFGHANISTAN & IRAN
US officials are currently engaged in peace talks aimed at reaching a political settlement with the Taliban, driven by a desire for peace and security in Afghanistan, with the support of regional neighbors. This article focuses on Iran's role in promoting peace in Afghanistan due to its proximity and its interests in the country. It tries to answer questions about the extent of Iran's presence in Afghanistan, the scope of its interests and their prioritization.
TURKEY & IRAN
Turkey and Iran on Monday started a joint military operation against Kurdish militants on Turkey's eastern border, state-run Anadolu news agency quoted the interior minister as saying. Turkey has recently talked about a possible joint operation with neighbor Iran to counter outlawed militants from the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), but this is the first time Turkish authorities have confirmed a raid.
Turkey repeated on Monday that it and Iran were carrying out a joint operation against Kurdish militants, despite a denial from Tehran that it was involved. Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said the joint operation targeting militants from the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) on Monday was the first of its kind and that he hoped more would follow. It was not clear where the operation was happening.
Turkey's interior minister announced today that Ankara and Tehran have launched joint operations against Kurdish rebels along Turkey's eastern border. But Iran almost immediately denied the report, raising suspicion about Ankara's motives in making the assertion. Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu said the joint operation against the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) began at 8 a.m. local time on March 18 and marked "a first in history."
Iran this week faced a media industry outcry over its alleged systematic targeting of BBC Persian Service journalists including the "sexual defamation" of female staff. It follows a move by the European Parliament to back a resolution criticizing the treatment of BBC Persian service journalists by Iranian authorities. Writing in The Guardian, veteran UK media commentator Roy Greenslade said that "too little attention has been paid to an insidious long-run campaign of persecution by the Iranian authorities against the staff of the BBC Persian service."