Iran has executed a former employee of the defense ministry who was convicted of spying on behalf of the Central Intelligence Agency, the country’s judiciary said Tuesday. It was the second such execution in the past month. The report said Reza Asgari was executed last week. Judiciary spokesman Gholamhossein Esmaili said Asgari had worked in the airspace department of the ministry and retired in 2016. “In the last years of his service, he joined the CIA, he sold information about our missiles ... to the CIA and took money from them,” Esmaili said. “He was identified, tried and sentenced to death.”
The Iranian rial fell to its lowest ever rate against the U.S. dollar on the unofficial market on Monday, a foreign exchange website reported, as the economic impacts of U.S. sanctions and the coronavirus pandemic worsen. The dollar was being offered for as much as 235,500 rials, according to website Bonbast.com, which tracks the unofficial market. The official rate on the central bank website is 42,000. U.S. President Donald Trump withdrew from a multilateral deal aimed at curbing Iran’s nuclear programme in May 2018 and reimposed sanctions that have battered the economy.
Iran has been closely watching the use of drone and missile attack combinations being used by its Houthi allies in Yemen. This week, the Houthi rebels announced yet another new type of ballistic missile, showing footage of drones and other weapons they have used in recent years. Iranian media has focused on this use of missiles and drones at the same time in an attack. In the past, Iran has used drones to monitor its use of ballistic missiles. In the fall of 2018, Tehran used ballistic missiles to target ISIS in Syria and Kurdish dissidents near Koya in Iraq's semi-autonomous Kurdistan region.
UANI IN THE NEWS
"The tempo and tenor of the recent explosions in Iran have been unusual. There is evidence of a concerted campaign underway to thwart Iran's nuclear program," Jason Brodsky, Policy Director of United Against Nuclear Iran (UANI), told Fox News. "The more Iran advances its nuclear program in violation of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the greater the likelihood for additional strikes." He continued: "Additionally, Tehran is distracted by the coronavirus and economic problems. The public is increasingly disenchanted with the regime's ability to govern the country. The conditions are ripe for additional kinetic activity."
It appears that a huge explosion occurred at the plant, specifically at a warehouse used to construct advanced centrifuges. Iran had hoped to roll out a large number of such machines to boost its uranium enrichment capacity. The U.S. press has speculated that Israel was responsible. In the past few months, there have been various accidents at Iran’s military facilities, including at a missile production factory. Amid widespread speculation of sabotage, Iranian leaders have not confirmed the cause of the explosion, but they say it will likely lead to delays in developing advanced centrifuges.
SANCTIONS, BUSINESS RISKS, & OTHER ECONOMIC NEWS
In its new annual report published on Monday, July 13, the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) announced Iran's revenue from total crude oil exports and oil products in 2019 was just over $19 billion, less than a third of the previous year. Iran's income from selling oil and oil products amounted to 60.5 billion in 2018, while it was $110 billion in 2011. In the meantime, OPEC's new annual report says Iran's average daily crude oil exports last year were 651,000 barrels per day, of which about 60,000 barrels went to Turkey and the rest to Asia.
TERRORISM & EXTREMISM
Since Hamas and Islamic Jihad remained on the sidelines in the Syrian civil war and left their respective offices in Damascus in 2012, Iran, a staunch ally of the Syrian regime, suspended its financial support to both movements, cutting off their largest sources of funding. The return of these relations, however, seems to be in the offing, especially with the recent events in the region. On May 28, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced that his government intends to annex 30% of the West Bank. Head of the Hamas political bureau Ismail Haniyeh said July 6 that he had received a message from Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, confirming that his country will continue to provide support to the Palestinians.
PROTESTS & HUMAN RIGHTS
Kurdistan Human Rights Network (KHRN) reported that Iran has executed two Kurdish prisoners in the central prison of Urumiyeh in the early morning hours of Tuesday despite pleas from various rights organizations to drop the death penalty. The two prisoners, Diako Rasoulzadeh and Saber Sheikh-Abdollah who were sentenced to death by the Revolutionary Court in Mahabad for "enmity against God" and being members of Komala, were transferred to solitary cells on Monday in preparation for their execution. Komala is a banned Kurdish political party.
MILITARY/INTELLIGENCE MATTERS & PROXY WARS
A judicial official in Iran has announced Monday that “several people” working for foreign intelligence organizations and opposition groups have been tried and their verdicts have been issued in the city of Kerman. The head of the Revolutionary Court in the city said these cases were “examined”, presumably by the same court but did not mention the number of people convicted or their sentences, state-controlled ISNA news website reported. On October 3, 2019 Fars news agency affiliated with Iran’s Revolutionary Guard reported that a plot was discovered in Kerman to assassinate former Qods Force commander Qassem Soleimani.
IRANIAN INTERNAL DEVELOPMENTS
Iranian police are investigating after a fire broke out at an industrial complex in northeast Iran where gas condensate storage tanks are sited, one of which exploded, the Mehr news agency reported on Monday. Javad Jahandoust, the fire chief at the Kavian Fariman industrial complex, some 20 miles (32 kilometers) south of the city of Mashhad, was quoted as saying six storage tanks had caught fire, including the one that exploded. He said the fire was under control and there were no casualties, but police were investigating the cause.
Iran has been rocked by a series of mysterious explosions in recent weeks, prompting speculation that an outside power or internal dissident group is embarking on a sabotage campaign to undermine the regime in Tehran and slow key industrial and military research programs. The latest explosion occurred this weekend in the capital Tehran, rocking a residential area and reportedly injuring at least one person. Authorities said it was caused by the explosion of several gas canisters being stored in the basement of the building, Reuters reported citing local media.
A judicial official in Iran has threatened that knowingly spreading the coronavirus should be punishable by death, based on the Islamic principle of an eye for an eye. A local news website quoted the Deputy of the Justice Minister for Human Rights and International affairs, Mahmoud Abbasi as saying, “Someone who is fully aware of his infection and without wearing a mask sneezes and coughs…spreads the coronavirus to others and ultimately causes their death. This means deliberate murder and is subject to Qisas.”
IRANIAN REGIONAL AGGRESSION
Iran is persisting in its goal of “regional hegemony” despite the killing of its military mastermind, Qassem Suleimani, in January, the head of the US Central Command said on Tuesday. Kenneth McKenzie told reporters that Iran is continuing to “contest” US presence in the Arabian Gulf, but also is aware of the cost of military confrontation. “Since the exchange in January we are in a period of contested deterrence,” Mr McKenzie said, referring to Iran's retaliatory missile attacks on US forces in Iraq after a US drone strike killed Suleimani in Baghdad on January 3.
CHINA & IRAN
Rather than being a celebrated landmark deal between Iran and China, the reported $400 billion, 25-year deal has brought a great deal of controversy to the Hassan Rouhani administration. When news of the deal first broke, one of the first critics was former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who asked, “Are you guys the owner of the country that, without informing the nation, you hand its purse to other countries?” He added, “We had a revolution so that no issue, especially an important issue, would be hidden from the public and no one would see themselves as the owner of the nation.”
China and Iran have negotiated a deal that would see massive investments flow into Iran, oil flow out, and collaboration increase on defense and intelligence. Why it matters: If the proposals become reality, Chinese cash, telecom infrastructure, railways and ports could offer new life to Iran’s sanctions-choked economy — or, critics fear, leave it inescapably beholden to Beijing. The deal has not yet been finalized, but both sides acknowledge it’s in the works (though China has been more circumspect).
OTHER FOREIGN AFFAIRS
Israelis and Jews as well as their organizations are the focus of Iran’s infamous intelligence apparatus in Germany, according to an eye-popping passage in the federal government’s newly released domestic intelligence report. “Spying activities against (pro) Israeli and (pro) Jewish targets in Germany are therefore part of the task of intelligence agencies in Iran,” wrote the German intelligence officials in the report that was released on Friday.