An American warship and several commercial ships came under attack on Sunday in the Red Sea, the Pentagon said, potentially marking a major escalation in a series of maritime attacks in the Middle East linked to the Israel-Gaza war. “We’re aware of reports regarding attacks on the USS Carney and commercial vessels in the Red Sea and will provide information as it becomes available,” the Pentagon said. In a statement, US Central Command (CENTCOM) confirmed there were four attacks by the Houthis against three separate commercial vessels connected to 14 separate nations. CENTCOM said in a statement, the American destroyer USS CARNEY responded to the distress calls from the ships and shot down three drones that were heading for the warship during the day. The US military said they have "every reason to believe" that these attacks were "fully enabled" by Iran and represent a direct threat to international commerce and maritime security.
A small western Pennsylvania water authority was just one of multiple organizations breached in the United States by Iran-affiliated hackers who targeted a specific industrial control device because it is Israeli-made, U.S. and Israeli authorities say. “The victims span multiple U.S. states,” the FBI, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, known as CISA, as well as Israel’s National Cyber Directorate said in an advisory emailed to The Associated Press late Friday. They did not say how many organizations were hacked or otherwise describe them. Matthew Mottes, the chairman of the Municipal Water Authority of Aliquippa, which discovered it had been hacked on Nov. 25, said Thursday that federal officials had told him the same group also breached four other utilities and an aquarium.
Two Iranian Revolutionary Guards members who served as military advisers in Syria have been killed in an Israeli attack, Iranian state media reported on Saturday, in the first reported Iranian casualties during the ongoing war in Gaza. A Revolutionary Guards statement did not give details of the attack. Syria earlier said its air defences repelled an Israeli rocket attack against targets in the vicinity of Damascus early on Saturday.
UANI IN THE NEWS
There are few places more dangerous for female human rights activists than Iran. The Iranian regime is engaged in a systematic war on women, a war best known because of Tehran’s persecution, and even killing, of women who refuse to wear the mandatory head scarf or hijab. Nonetheless, in the face of the regime’s repression, brave women continue to demand their rights and freedoms and call for the end of the Islamic Republic — and their stories must be told. One of those women is Fatemeh Sepehri. Sepehri, an Iran-Iraq War widow, first received public attention in 2019, when she and 13 other rights activists released a statement calling on Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei to resign. The statement urged Iranians to “demand complete transition away from the Islamic Republic and [the devising] of a new constitution” to replace a “misogynistic regime which has diminished human values.”
…The monthly average of Iran’s crude production was between 2.76 million b/d and 3.01 million b/d during Q3, the highest since 2018, according to the Platts OPEC survey by S&P Global. The official selling price of Iran Light, the country’s main export grade, increased from $77.598/b in June to $96.767/b in September for Asian buyers. “Higher oil prices present greater profit margins for sanctioned trades, making them more attractive to illicit traders,” said Claire Jungman, chief of staff at nonprofit United Against Nuclear Iran.
SANCTIONS, BUSINESS RISKS, & OTHER ECONOMIC NEWS
When Joe Biden became US president in January 2021, officials in the Islamic Republic of Iran expected that Donald Trump’s successor would not impose new sanctions on the country; in this, they were mistaken. President Biden’s administration was also expected to return to the nuclear deal known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) – and while it has not expanded nuclear sanctions against Iran it has imposed new sanctions related human rights violations and against the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) and its expeditionary Quds Force. The United States has, it is true, removed some Iranian nations from the sanctions list. And the US government has made it easier for pharmaceuticals and other companies to export covid vaccines and medical products to Iran. But this does not mean the overall sanctions regime has changed. Software export to Iran remains sanctioned, for instance, though Iranian students at American universities who have remained in Iran because of covid travel restrictions and other barriers can secure temporary permission to use these tools.
Iran denies challenges in obtaining foreign currency, contradicting tangible signs of shortages of vital imports in the Iranian market and a plummeting rial. Amid the government's faltering attempts to assert control over the foreign exchange market, Mohammad-Reza Farzin, the governor of the Central Bank of Iran (CBI), said Sunday that Iran faces no obstacles in acquiring dollars or euros. He also emphasized that the government has access to recently released funds from South Korea that are on deposit in Qatari banks. However, the market realities in Iran tell a different story. The United States agreed to unblock the funds and allow Iran to use the money for imports of non-sanctionable goods, presumably for vital needs such as food and medicine. The funds reached Qatar in September but so far there have been no reports of Iran spending it to ease shortages in the country.
Several thousand members of the Free Union of Iranian Workers went on strike Saturday against the Isfahan Steel Company, seeking higher wages and better working and living conditions. The scale and extent of the strike was significant, drawing attention even from state news agencies. The Free Union of Iranian Workers Telegram channel disclosed that the strike unfolded as part of an ongoing protest of the steel company and its failure to meet workers' demands. Workers assembled in front of the management building following a march within the factory premises. According to media reports, Isfahan steelworkers have been protesting inadequate living conditions and low wages, and they also are advocating for the proper implementation of a job classification plan, wage equity with other steel companies and "other related items." Last Sunday, Isfahan steelworkers declared a hunger strike, refusing to accept the company's food in protest.
TERRORISM & EXTREMISM
The latest US annual Terrorism Report reiterated that Iran “continued its extensive support for terrorism,” providing funding, training and weapons to militant groups. The 2023 report issued on November 30, covered the situation in 2022 and declared in its introduction to country reports that “Iran continued to be the leading state sponsor of terrorism, facilitating a wide range of terrorist and other illicit activities around the world.” The year the report covered coincided with extensive indirect negotiations between Washington and Tehran on Iran’s expanding nuclear program and increasing uranium enrichment. By the end of 2022, a new nuclear deal remained elusive, but the Islamic Republic had stockpiled enough fissile material to build at least three nuclear weapons.
PROTESTS & HUMAN RIGHTS
A new report by a human rights group which closely follows how many prisoners are executed in Iran each month offers a chilling look at the surge in capital punishment there. The Hengaw Organization for Human Rights has documented at least 100 executions in Iran over the past month, indicating a stark increase of more than 50% in comparison to the previous month. In a report released Saturday, Hengaw disclosed a notable surge of 56.5% in the number of executions during November, recording 122 compared to the 78 reported in October. According to Hengaw’s findings, nearly half of the individuals executed last month faced charges related to drug offenses. But the human rights organization says not all were connected to drug-related charges. It says at least 11 of those executed were political and religious prisoners. Two were juvenile offenders and two women were among those executed in November.
There just aren’t that many Iranian women in the art world,” says Shirin Neshat, the 66-year-old artist whose work in photography and film over the past 30 years has attracted acclaim and controversy in equal measure. Talking with her friends, art adviser Nazy Nazhand and artist Sheree Hovsepian, she adds: “I think that the connection between the three of us is that we feel kind of rare in this community. We each play a role.” All three women were born in Iran, but moved to the US in the 1970s and ’80s. In 1979, following the Iranian Revolution, Ayatollah Khomeini established the Islamic Republic of Iran. The regime immediately imposed severe restrictions: on freedom of speech, freedom of religion and the rights of women, who were forced to veil, restricted on their employment prospects and forbidden from taking part in activities such as dancing or singing. This year alone, more than 600 executions have been reported in Iran, according to the Abdorrahman Boroumand Center for Human Rights. Neshat, Nazhand and Hovsepian rail against these injustices and support unheard Iranian voices.
The wife of Iranian political prisoner Yashar Tabrizi has denounced the abrupt termination of a phone call with her husband after he mentioned experiencing "pressure, threats and torture” while in custody. In a statement posted on her Instagram page on December 3, Vahideh Imanzadeh said that the imprisoned activist’s call from Tehran’s Evin prison was cut off after two minutes after he began to speak about his loneliness, the mistreatment he has endured, and his deteriorating physical and mental condition. "The responsibility for safeguarding my husband's life and mental health lies entirely with the judiciary and the Prisons Organization," Imanzadeh wrote. Tabrizi was apprehended in the northwestern city of Tabriz ahead of the anniversary of Mahsa Amini's death and subsequently transferred to Tehran’s Evin prison on September 14.
MILITARY/INTELLIGENCE MATTERS & PROXY WARS
Ballistic missiles fired by Yemen’s Houthi rebels struck three commercial ships Sunday in the Red Sea, while a U.S. warship shot down three drones in self-defense during the hourslong assault, the U.S. military said. The Iranian-backed Houthis claimed two of the attacks. The strikes marked an escalation in a series of maritime attacks in the Mideast linked to the Israel-Hamas war, as multiple vessels found themselves in the crosshairs of a single Houthi assault for the first time in the conflict. The U.S. vowed to “consider all appropriate responses” in the wake of the attack, specifically calling out Iran, after tensions have been high for years now over Tehran’s rapidly advancing nuclear. “These attacks represent a direct threat to international commerce and maritime security,” the U.S. military’s Central Command said in a statement. “They have jeopardized the lives of international crews representing multiple countries around the world.”
An air strike Sunday killed at least five pro-Iranian militants in Iraq’s northern Kirkuk province, two Iraqi security sources told AFP. The raid targeted a site used by an armed group affiliated with Hashed al-Shaabi, a coalition of former paramilitary forces integrated into the Iraqi regular military, a senior security official in Kirkuk said without saying who had launched the attack. The airstrike came a day after Iraq’s prime minister warned Washington against any “attack” on Iraqi territory, after a resumption of fighting in the Israel-Hamas war renewed concerns of a wider conflict.
CONGRESS & IRAN
Today, U.S. Senator Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.), a member of the Senate Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee, joined 24 of her Senate colleagues, led by U.S. Senator Tim Scott (R-S.C.), in sending a letter to Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Secretary of the Treasury Janet Yellen, and Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin demanding answers over the administration’s lack of a cohesive Iran strategy, given the recent decision to extend an Iran sanctions waiver. As Israel continues to battle Iran-backed Hamas and the regime’s proxies increase their attacks against U.S. personnel in the Middle-East region, the Biden administration on November 13 issued a waiver allowing Iran access to approximately $10 billion.
RUSSIA, SYRIA, ISRAEL, HEZBOLLAH, LEBANON & IRAN
Iran will respond to attacks on its interests in Syria, Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Nasser Kanaani said on December 4 when asked about the killing by Israel of two Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) members in Syria last week. "No action against Iran's interests and our advisory forces in Syria will go unanswered," Kanaani said. Two IRGC members who served as military advisers in Syria were killed in an Israeli attack, Iranian state media reported on December 2, in the first reported Iranian casualties during the ongoing war in Gaza.
GULF STATES, YEMEN, & IRAN
Iran's naval forces held a joint drill with Oman near the strategic Strait of Hormuz on Thursday, as the American nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower was already in the Persian Gulf to back up Israel in its ongoing war against Hamas. The stated purpose of the drill, according to Iran's state media, was "to enhance combat preparedness … in the face of maritime security scenarios." It was part of earlier agreements reached at meetings of the Omani-Iranian Military Friendship Committee. Iran's regular army, known as Artesh, and its Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) both took part in the exercise, where they showed off copters, drones, reconnaissance aircraft and speedboats. The Iranian side also brought in its Sahand and Dena destroyers, which Tehran says have been built from scratch with Iranian technology and expertise. "The two destroyers exhibited a stunning image of national self-sufficiency in the field of naval defense," wrote the IRGC-affiliated Tasnim News Agency.
Saudi Arabia has reached out to Iran, offering to strengthen cooperation and invest in its economy. However, this offer comes with a condition: Iran must stop its regional weapons shipments, thereby halting the escalation of the Israel-Hamas conflict. Sources familiar with the matter reveal that this proposal has been communicated through various channels since the recent Hamas attack on Israel and the ensuing war in Gaza.
IRAQ & IRAN
At least 118 cross-border porters were killed or injured in November, the Hengaw Organization for Human Rights reported this week, adding that more than 93% of them resulted from shootings by the armed forces of Iran. Hengaw said Thursday that eight porters were killed, one of them a child, and 110 were injured, 14 of them children. The porters, called kolbars, carry everyday goods by donkey or other means across the mountainous border from Iraq to Iran. Iran considers some of the goods to be contraband. Analysis of the statistics from preceding months showed a significant surge in casualties, with November seeing a 293% increase compared with October 2023, when 30 kolbars were killed or injured. Kurdistan province accounted for the majority of the increase, 93 cases, followed by Kermanshah province with 22 cases and West Azerbaijan province with three instances.
AFGHANISTAN & IRAN
In a bizarre turn of events, the Taliban government's standards office has returned fuel tankers carrying Iranian gasoline, deeming the product below standard. In a message on Thursday, November 29, posted on X, the Taliban stated that 24 tankers carrying low-quality Iranian gasoline were returned to Iran through the Farah' border crossing in the previous two days. In the last week, a total of 74 tankers carrying Iranian-produced gasoline have been sent back from Afghanistan. The Afghan Islamic Emirate Standards Office has warned gasoline importers to avoid purchasing non-standard fuel, or they will face legal consequences. “Our utmost effort is for the people of Afghanistan to consume standard gasoline,” the statement said. Taliban had previously prevented the entry of shipments of non-standard gasoline produced by Iranian refineries into the country. One recent example was the return of 48 tankers carrying Iranian gasoline in September.
OTHER FOREIGN AFFAIRS
This visit to Iran follows the Iranian President's trip to Cuba in June 2023, during which the countries discussed their ongoing issues with the US. The last time a Cuban leader visited Iran was in 2001, when Fidel Castro travelled to Tehran.
Iran’s delegation to the United Nations’ annual climate talks, known as COP28, left the conference in Dubai on Friday to protest the presence of Israeli officials, according to state media agency IRNA. Energy Minister Ali Akbar Mehrabian of Iran, which doesn’t recognize the state of Israel, said the participation of Israeli representatives was “contrary to the goals and aims of the climate-change conference," IRNA reported. Among Iran’s goals in attending the conference was to “defend the oppressed Palestinian nation,” he said.