Iran could soon receive Russian jet fighters and attack helicopters, the country’s state media reported on Tuesday, a move that will boost defence co-operation between the countries. Russia previously supplied its S-300 anti-aircraft and missile defence system to Tehran, but western threats of sanctions and a UN embargo on supplying Iran with weapons, or purchasing Iranian systems, held Moscow back. Russia completed S-300 deliveries to Iran in 2016, but Tehran has long wanted the Sukhoi Su-35 fighter jet, a modern variant of the 1980s-era Su-27 fighter, vaunted for its manoeuvrability. Iran has also supplied Russia with thousands of Shahed-136 one-way attack drones, or “kamikaze” drones. The cheap and expendable explosive aircraft have done a great deal of damage to Ukraine’s energy infrastructure. Washington fears Iran will send ballistic missiles to boost Moscow’s arsenal.
Senate Republicans are moving on legislation that would redesignate the Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen as a terrorist organization, citing the group’s weekend missile attacks on a U.S. warship as an alarming escalation, the Washington Free Beacon has learned. The legislation—led by Sen. Ted Cruz (R., Texas) and six Republican colleagues—will be introduced this week and will reapply all sanctions on the Houthis that were lifted in 2021 when the Biden administration took office and removed the Iran-sponsored rebel group from the U.S. terror list. Since Hamas’s Oct. 7 terror attack on Israel, Iranian proxies in the region have escalated their operations, launching dozens of strikes on U.S. assets in the area. The Houthis are responsible for a spate of missile attacks on U.S. and Israeli positions during the past several weeks, including a weekend ballistic missile strike aimed at an American warship in the Gulf of Aden.
Iran's foreign minister said he will miss a key meeting on Gaza at UN headquarters in New York later Wednesday, blaming the late delivery of US visas for his delegation. Hossein Amir-Abdollahian had been due in New York to attend a UN Security Council meeting on the Israel-Hamas war. "The Americans issued visas for me and all my companions at 1:00 am (2130 GMT)," Amir-Abdollahian said after a cabinet meeting. The delay meant it was "not possible" for the Iranian delegation to attend the meeting, which is due to begin at 1430 GMT, he added. Amir-Abdollahian said that despite his absence, Iran would exert "all efforts" for an extension to a humanitarian truce deal in Gaza.
UANI IN THE NEWS
…Iran exported nearly 1.4 million barrels of oil per day in October, sustaining its average for 2023. This is up 80% from the 775,000 barrels per day Iran averaged under the Trump Administration’s “maximum pressure” strategy, according to United Against Nuclear Iran, the group of former U.S. Ambassador Mark Wallace and Sen. Joe Lieberman, whose Tanker Tracker generates the best public data we have.
…Jason Brodsky, from United Against a Nuclear Iran (UANI), an advocacy group opposed to the Islamic Republic and critical of the Biden administration's Iran policy, called it an “excuse for more inaction from Biden.
Vice Admiral (Ret.) Eliezer (Eli) Marom, former Commander of the Israeli Navy, and Jason Brodsky, Policy Director of United Against Nuclear Iran, examine the dangers Iran’s aggression imposes on Israel and the world.
NUCLEAR DEAL & NUCLEAR PROGRAM
The UN nuclear watchdog claims Iran is not fulfilling commitments and there is no progress ahead, yet no resolution was issued at the body’s key summit. Washington and its European allies did not move to censure Iran at the critical meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in Vienna from November 20 to 24 while Tehran is enriching uranium at levels with no non-military use and is stockpiling more of it. After the previous round of the 35-nation IAEA Board of Governors meeting in September, the Islamic Republic ejected one-third of the inspectors with expertise in uranium enrichment. And each time the board issued resolutions as the IAEA decided it is “essential and urgent” that Iran act to fulfil its legal obligations and clarify all outstanding safeguards issues without delay, Iran responded by augmenting activities. Iran has steadily leveled up its nuclear game since 2021, developing more plants, enriching more uranium at higher levels, stockpiling more, and simultaneously eroding IAEA monitoring.
TERRORISM & EXTREMISM
Last week, Iranian Heritage Minister Ezzatollah Zarghami, formerly a senior general in the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), said in an interview that he himself was in the underground tunnels used by Hamas, and had trained terrorists to launch missiles and rockets. He also said that upon taking office he realized that his first task was to transfer missiles to Hamas and Hezbollah, and that this is an operation that Iran carries out and is not afraid to admit. At the beginning of this month, with the help of the “IntelliTimes” intelligence blog, the photos of two key operatives in the technology unit of the Quds Force, Hassan Kadam Qalan and Karim Hojjat Zadeh, were revealed here. The two activists recently arrived in Lebanon and helped Hezbollah in the field of electronic warfare, against the background of the organization’s fight against Israel.
U.S.-IRAN RELATIONS & NEGOTIATIONS
The federal government is investigating multiple hacks suspected to have been launched by an Iranian government-linked cyber group against U.S. water facilities that were using Israeli-made technology, according to two individuals familiar with the probes. One of the breaches made headlines Saturday after the Tehran-linked Cyber Av3ngers group claimed responsibility for hitting a water authority in Pennsylvania. In total, the government is aware of and examining a “single digit” number of facilities that have been affected across the country, according to the two people who were granted anonymity to discuss details that had not yet been made public.
PROTESTS & HUMAN RIGHTS
Iran has issued four people with death sentences after alleging their links to Israeli intelligence. The Islamic Republic’s judiciary handed custodial sentences of five to ten years to three other individuals over allegations of breaching national security laws, collaborating in kidnapping, and possessing illegal weapons. It comes as a wave of landmark protests continues to beleaguer the theocratic regime, which the latter has sought to blame on foreign interference. The four people sentenced to capital punishment were accused of cooperation with Israel’s national intelligence service, Mossad, and of committing kidnappings. The news was reported by the semi-government-owned Mehr news agency on Wednesday.
The United Nations said Tuesday it deplored the executions of a 17-year-old and a 22-year old in Iran and urged Tehran to immediately stop applying the death penalty. The UN Human Rights Office said it was troubled by Friday’s executions. “The execution of Hamidreza Azari, who was accused of murder, is the first reported execution of an alleged child offender in Iran this year,” spokesperson Elizabeth Throssell said in a statement. She reminded Tehran of its obligation under international conventions to prohibit death sentences and their implementation for crimes committed by individuals below the age of 18. “We are also troubled by the execution, on the same day, of 22-year-old Milad Zohrevand – the eighth person to be executed in the context of the September 2022 protests,” said Throssell.
The families of 13 Iranian political and civil activists detained in East Azerbaijan Province have accused Iranian authorities of failing to grant access to lawyers for their relatives while charges remain unclear. In an interview with RFE/RL's Radio Farda, Ayoub Shiri, brother of detained activist Davoud Shiri, said that since his brother's arrest outside his Tabriz home on September 22, the family has only received three brief phone calls. Shiri expressed frustration over the lack of clarity regarding his brother's charges. "We have no news. They did not tell us the subject of the accusation, and every time we go to follow up, they say the same thing. Then the authorities provide a different explanation each time they are in contact," he said.
MILITARY/INTELLIGENCE MATTERS & PROXY WARS
Iran has once again claimed it will soon receive its single largest procurement of military hardware from Russia in over 30 years. Completing the sale in a timely manner could become a win-win for both Moscow and Tehran or, at the very least, save some face in the two troubled capitals. Arrangements for Iran’s acquisition of Su-35 multirole fighters, Mil Mi-28 attack helicopters, and Yak-130 jet trainers for its regular armed forces have been finalized, Iranian Deputy Defense Minister Brigadier General Mahdi Farahi told Iran’s Tasnim News Agency on Tuesday. Since at least 2021, recurring reports indicated Iran would acquire approximately two dozen Su-35s Russia had previously built to fulfill an order from Egypt, reportedly canceled by Cairo under U.S. pressure. Since Russia launched its fateful invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, Moscow forged an unprecedented defense partnership with Tehran.
The U.S. has warned all commercial ships transiting the Indian Ocean to exercise caution after several clashes in the Red Sea this month involving pirates and Iranian-backed groups around the Middle East. The Maritime Administration, an agency within the U.S. Department of Transportation, issued an alert Monday directing all ships to “exercise caution when transiting these areas and remain cognizant of evolving threats in this region.” The alert, which will automatically expire Dec. 4, comes after two previous advisories from the Maritime Administration in September and October warning commercial boats to exercise caution and take preventive actions in waters around the Middle East.
IRANIAN INTERNAL DEVELOPMENTS
Devastating wildfires have engulfed vast areas of forests in the northern Iranian provinces of Gilan and Mazandaran over the past few days, causing widespread ecological damage and threat to the local communities. In Gilan, the fires burnt through an estimated 105 hectares of forest land, according to local authorities. Maziar Razavi, head of natural resources management in the province, attributed the blazes to strong gusts of warm wind, human negligence, as well as actions by illegal hunters. A fire in the western part of Mazandaran destroyed nine hectares of forests. Local communities have stepped up to help firefighters battling the blazes. Experts say firefighters lack modern equipment to battle wildfires in Iran’s forests. The arrests of environmental activists who have been working to protect the Zagros forests have exacerbated the situation.
RUSSIA, SYRIA, ISRAEL, HEZBOLLAH, LEBANON & IRAN
As the conflict in Gaza grinds on for a second month, there is mounting worry that the violence may engulf the surrounding region. Such worries are especially acute in Iraq and Syria, where Iran-backed militias have escalated attacks against US military installations in part of a long-running effort to dislodge America from what Tehran views as its own zone of influence. Iran-backed proxies in Iraq and Syria have targeted US positions 74 times since Oct. 17. In response, the US military carried out three rounds of airstrikes in Syria and one in Iraq. The attacks appear to have subsided after the truce between Hamas and Israel that went into effect on Nov. 24. That same day, Al-Monitor caught up with Commander in Chief of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) Mazlum Kobane at a secret location in northeastern Syria. Kobane, who led the battle against the Islamic State in Syria (ISIS) and is counted among the Pentagon’s most trusted allies, told Al-Monitor that his people do not want their territory to become a battleground between the United States and Iran-backed Shiite militias.