Iran’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard fired a missile from a helicopter targeting a replica aircraft carrier in the strategic Strait of Hormuz, state television reported on Tuesday, an exercise aimed at threatening the U.S. amid tensions between Tehran and Washington. The drill, in a waterway through which 20% of all traded oil passes, underlines the lingering threat of military conflict between Iran and the U.S. after last summer saw a series of incidents targeting oil tankers in the region. In January, a U.S. drone strike killed a top Iranian general in Baghdad and Tehran responded by firing ballistic missiles targeting American forces in Iraq.
Parviz Fattah, Head of Khamenei-controlled Mostazafan Foundation, on Monday said the conglomerate's revenues increased by 34 percent to reach 360 trillion rials (approximately $2.5 billion) in the Iranian calendar year ending 20 March, 2020. Speaking at a press conference to report on his one year as the head of the Foundation, Fattah said the charitable organization will net 7 trillion rials in gross profit.
Some 60 pro-Iranian militants have been killed in attacks targeting Iranian strongholds in Syria since May, many of which were alleged Israeli airstrikes, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR). Over 10 sites have been targeted throughout Syria since May, including warehouses and headquarters belonging to Iran and pro-Iranian militias. The targets included Iranian sites in Quneitra, Daraa, Homs, Aleppo, Deir Ezzor, Hama and Damascus. A large number of ammunition and weapons depots were destroyed in the strikes.
NUCLEAR DEAL & NUCLEAR PROGRAM
In mid-July, International Atomic Energy Agency director-general Rafael Grossi gave an unprecedented interview to The Wall Street Journal in which he essentially gave Iran an August 1 deadline to cooperate with three unresolved nuclear program issues or face "bad" consequences. He added, "I keep insisting on the absolute necessity for us to resolve this issue very soon," and that the issue was not just going to go away.
PROTESTS & HUMAN RIGHTS
A British-Australian academic serving a 10-year-prison sentence in Iran for espionage has been moved to a remote desert prison, notorious for violence and reportedly stricken with coronavirus. Cambridge-educated Kylie Moore-Gilbert, a Middle East scholar, had been held in Tehran’s Evin Prison for nearly two years, before her sudden move three days ago to Qarchak women’s prison, south-east of Tehran.
Iran's Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance, which oversees censorship in the clergy-dominated country, has cnesured Etemad, a local pro-reform daily for an interview touching upon the sensitive issue of revolt against the regime. The foreboding is based on Etemad's interview with a former Shiism scholar and human rights advocate, Emaduddin Baqi (Baghi.) In the interview published on July 9, Mr. Baqi defended people's right to "revolt" and "subvert" the ruling establishment if the dominant political system violates its contract with the masses.
MILITARY/INTELLIGENCE MATTERS & PROXY WARS
Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps held “large-scale” military drills off the Strait of Hormuz on Tuesday, according to a statement on its Sepah News website. The exercise involved naval and air forces and the Nour satellite Iran launched into orbit earlier this year was part of it, Sepah News reported. The drills concluded with an “operation against a mock” U.S. aircraft carrier, the semi-official Tasnim news agency reported. The Strait of Hormuz is a chokepoint through which about one-third of the world’s oil passes through.
IRANIAN INTERNAL DEVELOPMENTS
Iran detained two Swedish nationals over drug smuggling, the website of the country’s judiciary reported on Tuesday. The spokesman for the judiciary, Gholamhossein Esmaili, was quoted by the Mizan news agency as saying the case is under investigation and that Iran has informed the Swedish government and its embassy in Tehran about the development. The report did not say where in Iran the Swedes were detailed or what type and quantity of drugs were confiscated from them. The Swedish Foreign Ministry only confirmed that two of its nationals are being held in Iran but gave no other details, citing its policy not to give out details in consular cases. According to Swedish television, the two have reportedly been held in Iran since January.
Iranian government spokesman Ali Rabiei has been hospitalized with COVID-19, the Mehr news agency reported on Monday, the latest among several officials to have been infected with the new coronavirus. Iran has the Middle East’s highest number of recorded COVID-19 cases and infections and deaths have risen sharply since restrictions on movement began to be eased in mid-April. There have been a total of 293,606 cases and 255,144 recoveries in the Islamic Republic, Health Ministry spokeswoman Sima Sadat Lari announced on state TV on Monday.
Despite massive efforts, lockdowns and province by province policy, Iran continues to grapple with the coronavirus, which shows no signs of slowing down as officials warn they are running short of medical workers. According to Health Ministry Spokesman Sima Sadar Lari, 212 people died from the virus in the last 24 hours. In April, Iran was able to bring its daily death toll down to below triple digits, but in the last two weeks the country has been seeing on average 200 deaths a day — its highest average since the Health Ministry began publicly announcing numbers. Iran’s total number of confirmed coronavirus-related deaths is now 15,912.
Another explosion rocked Iran this weekend, this time on Qeshm Island in southern Iran. Local residents believe an ammunition dump blew up, officials said it was an earthquake. The blast is the latest in a long series. Last week a power station at Isfahan blew up causing a blackout. Previous explosions hit Tondgooyan petrochemical plant, Shahid Medhaj Zargan power plant and a gas storage tank complex near Mashad, not to mention the Natanz nuclear facility — all in the month of July. Are these just accidents, or attacks – and if they are attacks, how are they being carried out and by who?
RUSSIA, SYRIA, ISRAEL, HEZBOLLAH, LEBANON & IRAN
Tensions between Israel and Hezbollah in Lebanon escalated Monday as Israeli forces repelled what security officials described as a border infiltration with heavy shelling in a clash that had both sides on high alert. Hezbollah, which is known for claiming responsibility for its actions, denied launching an operation against Israel. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu accused its patron, Iran, of stoking the unrest by "entrenching its military in our region." In a televised address, Netanyahu said Hezbollah leader Hasan Nasrallah was "embroiling Lebanon" at the behest of Iran. "Hezbollah needs to understand that it is playing with fire," Netanyahu said. "Any attack against us will be met with great strength."
CHINA & IRAN
Two key questions logically arise from last week’s announcement from Iran’s Petroleum Ministry that it has awarded a US$1.3 billion development deal to more than double oil production at the supergiant South Azadegan oilfield, the second such oil project signed this month, the other being a US$300 million development contract for Yaran. The first question is, given the fact that Iran is technically bankrupt, how can it afford such projects? The second is, given the swingeing U.S. sanctions still in place – including against the main tanker fleets of the National Iranian Tanker Company and the Islamic Republic of Iran Shipping Line – where is any of this increased oil supply meant to go?
GULF STATES, YEMEN, & IRAN
A former president of Iran, known in the West for speeches that assert the Holocaust was invented and that Israel should be erased from the map, has written a chummy letter to his country’s most ardent Arab foe: the crown prince of Saudi Arabia. So far, at least, it appears to be a one-way exchange. Nonetheless, the letter by the former president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is striking in that Mr. Ahmadinejad wrote it at all. Other members of Iran’s hierarchy, led by Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, have described the 34-year-old crown prince, the de facto ruler of Saudi Arabia, as adventurous, brutal and immature. And for his part, the crown prince has compared Ayatollah Khamenei to Hitler and called any engagement with Iran useless.
OTHER FOREIGN AFFAIRS
An Iranian delegation will visit Ukraine on July 29 and 30 to discuss compensation for a Ukrainian jet shot down by Iran on Jan. 8, the Ukrainian Foreign Minister said on Monday. “Given the circumstance of what happened, there are all reasons to ask from Iran to pay the highest price for what it did,” Dmytro Kuleba, speaking in English, told a news conference during a visit to the Polish capital Warsaw.