Iran’s military kicked off a ground forces drill on Tuesday along the coast of the Gulf of Oman, state TV reported, the latest in a series of snap exercises that the country is holding amid escalating tensions over its nuclear program and Washington’s pressure campaign against Tehran. According to the report, commando units and airborne infantry were participating in the annual exercise, along with fighter jets, helicopters and military transport aircraft. Iran’s National Army chief Abdolrahim Mousavi was overseeing the drill.
Iran urged the United Nations’ nuclear watchdog to avoid publishing “unnecessary” details on Tehran’s nuclear program, state TV reported Sunday, a day after Germany, France and Britain said Tehran has “no credible civilian use” for its development of uranium metal. The report quoted a statement from Iran’s nuclear department that asked the International Atomic Energy Agency to avoid publishing details on Iran’s nuclear program that may cause confusion.
The head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization Ali Akbar Salehi says the country is producing some 500 grams of uranium enriched to 20% purity a day, after beginning to do so earlier this month in breach of the 2015 nuclear accord. Salehi tells the Khamenei.ir website, the official site of Iran’s supreme leader, that nuclear scientists “are producing 20 grams every hour, meaning that practically, we are producing half a kilo every day.” Salehi says if other parties to the deal return to it, “we will return to our undertakings too.”
NUCLEAR DEAL & NUCLEAR PROGRAM
Washington's European allies hope the incoming Biden administration will take swift steps to restore the Iran nuclear deal amid mounting pressures, including Tehran's boost in uranium enrichment and elections later this year that could usher in a more hard-line government. President-elect Joe Biden had expressed continued support for the pact forged while he was vice president in the Obama administration, which granted some sanctions relief to Iran in exchange for curbs on its nuclear program. Biden's nominee for deputy secretary of state, Wendy Sherman, helped hammer out the Iran deal in 2015.
SANCTIONS, BUSINESS RISKS, & OTHER ECONOMIC NEWS
The United States on Friday imposed sanctions on companies in Iran, China and the United Arab Emirates for doing business with the Islamic Republic of Iran Shipping Lines and on three Iranian entities over conventional arms proliferation. They are the latest in a series of measures aimed at stepping up pressure on Tehran in the waning days of President Donald Trump’s administration, which ends on Wednesday. U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Washington had sanctioned seven companies, including Chinese-based Jiangyin Mascot Special Steel Co and UAE-based Accenture Building Materials, and two people for shipping steel to or from Iran.
Iran’s central bank criticized a European Union payment channel designed to allow European companies to avoid U.S. sanctions, portraying it as useless and saying Iran won’t be diverting resources to it. European governments have “no idea” how to finance the conduit set up two years ago, known as Instex, and “have not had enough courage to maintain their economic sovereignty,” the Central Bank of Iran said in comments on Twitter. Iran’s comments coincide with the U.S. presidential transition from Donald Trump to Joe Biden, who was vice president under Barack Obama.
Tankers carrying oil from Iran to Syria have been intercepted in the Red Sea and delayed shipments of oil to Syria, the Prime Minister of Syria, Hussein Arnous, was quoted as saying. According to the prime minister of the conflict-ravaged Syria, as many as seven oil tankers en route to Syria have been intercepted in what he called "terrorist attacks." Two of the oil tankers have been delayed for more than a month in the Red Sea before loading, Reuters reported, citing state media which carried Arnous' words.
Long-range missiles from Iran splashed down close to a commercial ship in the Indian Ocean Saturday and 100 miles from the Nimitz aircraft carrier strike group, Fox News has learned, in the latest example of rising tensions in the region. U.S. officials say at least one of the missiles landed 20 miles from the commercial vessel but refused to offer more specifics about the ship, citing privacy concerns. The officials requested anonymity to discuss sensitive intelligence.
PROTESTS & HUMAN RIGHTS
The Kurdistan Human Rights Network reported on Wednesday, January 13, that Iranian intelligence agents had arrested at least 26 Kurdish students and civil rights activists in recent days in Karaj, Mahabad, Rabat, Marivan, Bukan, and Sarvabad. The latest arrests were made on Wednesday morning in Selin's village in Oraman, during which the agents of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps' (IRGC) Intelligence Organization detained Akram and Siamak Advaei.
MILITARY/INTELLIGENCE MATTERS & PROXY WARS
An attack by ISIS militants on power transmission towers south of Baghdad caused the explosions mistakenly reported by regional media as US airstrikes on sites belonging to pro-Iranian militias in Jurf al-Sakhar south of Baghdad on Monday night, Iraq's Security Media Cell confirmed on Tuesday morning. On Monday night, the Hezbollah-affiliated Al-Mayadeen news, as well as Al-Hurra and Al-Arabiya, reported that explosions were heard near Jurf al-Sakhar overnight after airstrikes targeted sites in the area. While Al-Mayadeen claimed that US airstrikes had targeted sites belonging to the Iraqi Armed Forces, Al-Hurra and Al-Arabiya claimed that the sites allegedly targeted belonged to the pro-Iranian Kataib Hezbollah militia, with multiple deaths and injuries reported in the alleged incident.
Iran’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard conducted a drill Friday that saw “suicide drones” crash into targets and explode, triangle-shaped aircraft that strongly resembled those used in a 2019 attack in Saudi Arabia that temporarily cut the kingdom’s oil production by half. Iran has long denied launching the attack on the sites of Abqaiq and Khurais while Yemen’s Iran-backed Houthi rebels initially claimed the assault.
An Iranian-American businessman has been sentenced by a court in Tehran to 10 years in jail for spying, NBC news reported. Quoting a family friend whom it didn’t identify, NBC news said Emad Shargi was first summoned to court on Nov. 30 and told he had been convicted. He was arrested while trying to leave the country via its western border on Dec. 6 after being released on bail on charges of spying and “gathering military intelligence,” Iran’s state-run Young Journalists’ Club reported last week.
IRANIAN INTERNAL DEVELOPMENTS
There have been many rumors and reports about Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei’s deteriorating health for several years. This raises an important question: What will happen when Khamenei, supreme leader for almost 32 years, dies? Experts, scholars, policy analysts and some politicians may jump into naming candidates who could replace him. But Khamenei’s death might lead to a nationwide uprising against the theocratic establishment, endangering its hold on power.
RUSSIA, SYRIA, ISRAEL, HEZBOLLAH, LEBANON & IRAN
Iranian forces and affiliated militias in Deir ez-Zor province in eastern Syria carried out new redeployment and repositioning operations after their military sites and barracks were subjected to airstrikes, believed to be carried out by Israeli aircraft Jan. 13. The redeployment included evacuating the sites affected by the bombing, emptying several weapons depots, and moving weapons to other locations in various neighborhoods in the cities of Deir ez-Zor, Abu Kamal and Mayadeen.
GULF STATES, YEMEN, & IRAN
Qatar has urged Gulf Arab nations to enter a dialog with Iran, saying the time was right for Doha to broker negotiations now the neighbors have begun to patch up their own differences. Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani, who’s long called for a summit between leaders of the six-member Gulf Cooperation Council and the Islamic Republic, said his government was “hopeful that this would happen and we still believe this should happen.”
IRAQ & IRAN
Baghdad was working to prevent further attacks on the Green Zone, Iraq’s Foreign Minister told AL Arabiya TV on Monday. The missile attacks on the Green Zone were embarrassing for the government, Fuad Hussein said, adding that a number of those connected to the attacks were arrested. “We are working with diplomatic missions to provide the necessary protection,” he said.
OTHER FOREIGN AFFAIRS
The U.N. chief says nine African nations and Iran are in arrears on paying their dues to the United Nations’ operating budget and should lose their voting rights as required under the U.N. Charter. In a letter to General Assembly President Volkan Bozkir circulated Monday, Secretary-General Antonio Guterres listed the minimum amount that the 10 countries need to pay to have their voting rights restored.