A strike near a U.S. base in Syria killed six members of a U.S.-allied militia Monday, the group said, despite the U.S. pounding Iran-allied militia sites with airstrikes over the weekend, underscoring the challenge Washington faces in its goal of keeping the conflict in the Middle East contained. A U.S. military official confirmed that there were fatalities from an attack on the al-Omar oil field, part of a complex that includes a U.S. base and is jointly controlled with the American military. The official declined to comment further. The Syrian Democratic Forces, a U.S.-allied Kurdish militia, said six of its fighters had died in a drone strike on al-Omar. The Islamic Resistance in Iraq, an umbrella of Iran-backed armed groups, claimed responsibility for the attack, and the SDF threatened to retaliate.
Despite new U.S. attacks on Iran-backed Houthi rebels, the militant group has carried out more attacks on ships in the Red Sea. NBC's Courtney Kube is the only reporter with American service members aboard the U.S.S. Eisenhower, a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier from which attacks were launched. She spoke exclusively with some of those involved in the operations.
An Iran-backed militia group in Iraq claimed responsibility Monday for a drone strike against a base in eastern Syria used by U.S. troops that killed six American-allied Kurdish fighters. The attack, which caused no American casualties, appeared to be the first significant response from what the U.S. calls Iran's proxy groups to U.S. airstrikes against the militias in the region. On Friday, the U.S. started striking the militias of an umbrella group known as the Islamic Resistance in Iraq in response to those groups' stepped-up attacks on U.S. bases in the region — including the deadly drone strike on a base in Jordan that killed three U.S. service members on Jan. 28. The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces said Monday that a drone struck a training ground the previous night at the al-Omar base in Syria's eastern province of Deir el-Zour. The SDF trains commandos there, and some of the roughly 900 U.S. troops deployed in Syria as part of the ongoing mission against ISIS have been based there.
UANI IN THE NEWS
... US pressure group United Against Nuclear Iran traced the illicit transfer and alerted Euronav, who told Lloyd’sList on March 30 that it was investigating the claims. The Belgian giant was said to be co-operating withseveral authorities including the US Office of ForeignAsset Control, Lloyd’s List reported at the time. The unsealed documents show the court authorised aseizure warrant for the cargo, valued between $25mand $35m, on July 3. The same day, the 440,000 dwt Oceania began a STS with another Euronav tanker, CapFelix (IMO: 9380738), Lloyd’s List Intelligence data shows.
NUCLEAR DEAL & NUCLEAR PROGRAM
A new report from the Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS) is sounding the alarm on Iran’s closeness to going nuclear, upgrading its threat level to “Extreme Danger,” the highest of its six ratings, for the first time since the group began following the Iranian nuclear program in the 1990s. Since 2022, the report says, Iran’s ‘breakout’ time has been zero— that is to say, Iran “has more than enough… highly enriched uranium (HEU) to directly fashion a nuclear explosive.” Uranium itself is not the only component required to fashion a nuclear weapon, though it is by far the hardest to come by. “If Iran wanted to further enrich its 60 percent enriched uranium up to 90 percent weapon-grade uranium (WGU)... it could do so quickly,” the report says. “[Iran] can break out and produce enough weapon-grade enriched uranium for a nuclear weapon in a week,” it goes on, “using only a fraction of its 60 percent enriched uranium. This breakout could be difficult for inspectors to detect promptly, if Iran took steps to delay inspectors’ access.”
SANCTIONS, BUSINESS RISKS, & OTHER ECONOMIC NEWS
Santander (SAN.MC), opens new tab and Lloyds (LLOY.L), opens new tab shares fell on Monday after the Financial Times (FT) newspaper reported that Iran used accounts held at the banks in the United Kingdom to covertly move money around the world in a sanctions-evasion scheme backed by Iran's intelligence services. Lloyds and Santander UK provided accounts to British front companies allegedly secretly owned by a sanctioned Iranian petrochemicals company based in London, the FT reported citing documents the newspaper had obtained. Shares in Madrid-based parent Santander fell as much as 6.1% and were down 4.9% at 1503 GMT, wiping off around 3 billion euros in value from the euro zone's second biggest lender by market capitalisation, according to data from LSEG, while shares in Lloyds declined 0.5%.
President Biden’s retaliatory strikes in Iraq and Syria on the weekend were targeted to avoid hitting Iranians to avoid escalation. Imagine the restraints on the U.S. when Iran has nuclear weapons and the missiles to deliver them against U.S. allies or the U.S. homeland. That’s the specter raised by Iran’s launch on Jan. 20 of a satellite 450 miles into space. There’s significant overlap between the technologies used for space-launch vehicles and longer-range ballistic missiles, including intercontinental ballistic missiles. In 2019 then-Secretary of State Mike Pompeo described these technologies as “virtually identical and interchangeable.” In its recent launch Iran for the first time used an all-solid propellant launcher, incorporating a state-of-the-art technology commonly used for long-range missiles, according to Fabian Hinz of the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies.
TERRORISM & EXTREMISM
... According to sources close to the police investigation, the couple was acting on behalf of the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, IRGC. IRGC is a brutal military and intelligence organization, which has been accused of numerous acts of violence abroad. IRGC has been classified as a terrorist organization by the United States, among others. The alleged goal of the operation in Sweden was to murder three Swedish Jews, according to the Swedish Radio investigation. ”I think that, at least initially, it affected me a lot of thinking of my responsibility as a father, as a husband, towards my family,” said Aron Verständig.
PROTESTS & HUMAN RIGHTS
The U.N. human rights office has issued its first statement about a U.N. rights official’s controversial visit to Iran, telling VOA it is aware of rights groups’ concerns that Tehran will exploit the visit for propaganda but is confident the world body’s work will not be undermined. In the statement emailed to VOA on Monday, U.N. rights office spokesperson Ravina Shamdasani confirmed that Nada Al-Nashif, deputy high commissioner for human rights, arrived in Iran on Friday and was due to depart later Monday. She said the visit entailed “meeting with relevant state interlocutors, including judicial officials, and U.N. partners.” Iranian state media had published a preview of Al-Nashif’s visit but did not report anything about her meetings while she was in the country. Rights activists inside and outside Iran had urged Al-Nashif to use her three-day visit to inspect the conditions of dissidents languishing in Iranian prisons and to meet with political prisoners, injured protesters and other Iranians deprived of basic rights, while ensuring such meetings are held in safe environments free of intimidation from authorities.
MILITARY/INTELLIGENCE MATTERS & PROXY WARS
Russia accused the United States on Monday of aggression against Iraq and Syria aimed at preserving its global dominance and salvaging the Biden administration’s “image” ahead of U.S. elections. The U.S. retorted that its military response to unjustified attacks by Iranian-backed proxies against American forces is not only legal but will continue. The exchange came at a contentious U.N. Security Council meeting called by Russia, Syria’s closest ally, where both countries also said they did not want an escalation and spillover of the Israel-Hamas war. Many council members expressed fears of a growing Mideast conflict and urged de-escalation and stepped-up peace efforts. Russia’s U.N. Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia accused the U.S. of violating international law and continuing “to sow chaos and destruction in the Middle East.”
IRANIAN INTERNAL DEVELOPMENTS
Over 430 civil and political activists in Iran have slammed Iran's execution spree which goes against the country's own legal system. Via the Telegram channel of Kalameh on Sunday, a statement penned by the activists said “recent executions have been driven more by a desire for retribution, instilling fear, and asserting power, rather than serving justice", as the regime struggles to quash dissent. The executions of Mohammad Ghobadlou, a protester from the 2022 demonstrations, and Farhad Salimi, a Kurdish political prisoner accused of murder, have sparked widespread condemnation from both domestic and international human rights organizations. Prominent critics of the Islamic Republic, such as Hamed Esmaeilion, Nazanin Boniadi, Prince Reza Pahlavi, and Masih Alinejad, have called on the international community to address the ongoing execution surge.
RUSSIA, SYRIA, ISRAEL, HEZBOLLAH, LEBANON & IRAN
According to Iran's Foreign Investment Organization, Russia funded the regime with $2.7bn under the Ebrahim Raisi administration. The head of the FIO, Ali Fekri, disclosed the figures on Monday, stating that the majority of direct investment from abroad came from Russia, the UAE, China, Turkey, Iraq, India and Oman. “Over the course of the Raisi administration until December, a total of $10.6 billion in capital entered Iran, with Russia accounting for approximately $2.7 billion of the amount. The oil and gas sector saw the highest capital attraction, with five investments totaling around $4.8 billion," he said. Comparing foreign investments, Turkey received $4.8 billion in foreign direct investments only in the first half of 2023. Saudi Arabia is aiming to attract $3 trillion in foreign investment by 2030, to improve economic development, technology transfer, job creation, and boosting non-oil exports.
GULF STATES, YEMEN, & IRAN
Yemen's Iran-aligned Houthis fired missiles at two vessels in the Red Sea, they said on Tuesday, causing minor damage to a cargo ship that was sailing off the coast of Yemen's Hodeidah. The Houthis have been targeting commercial vessels with drones and missiles in the Red Sea since mid-November, in what they describe as acts of solidarity with Palestinians against Israel in the Gaza war. The group's military spokesman said it fired naval missiles at the Morning Tide and Star Nasia, identifying the Barbados- and Marshall Islands-flagged ships, respectively, as British and American.
IRAQ & IRAN
Iraq is working for regional "de-escalation," Prime Minister Mohamed Shia al-Sudani said Monday as he welcomed a senior Iranian security official to Baghdad, with tensions high over U.S. strikes in the country and the war in Gaza. Ali Akbar Ahmadian, secretary of Iran's Supreme National Security Council, also spoke with the Iraqi national security councilor Qassem al-Araji and discussed the "regional political and security" situation. Tehran, one of Iraq's leading trade partners, wields considerable political influence in Baghdad. Its Iraqi allies dominate parliament and appointed the current government. "Iraq has deployed, and continues to deploy, important efforts towards preserving stability and establishing de-escalation, in the interests of all the people of the region," Sudani told Ahmadian, according to a statement from his office. On Friday, the United States launched a wave of strikes in Syria and Iraq against elite Iranian forces and pro-Tehran armed groups.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken has arrived in Saudi Arabia on his latest visit to the region to push for the release of hostages, an extended humanitarian pause to the fighting in Gaza and increased aid to the enclave. The framework for a deal agreed to in Paris is being reviewed by Israel and Hamas, with a U.S. official saying ''the ball is in Hamas' court.''