Iran’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard launched underground ballistic missiles as part of an exercise involving a fake aircraft carrier in the Strait of Hormuz, state television reported Wednesday, the latest barrage in a drill that saw two American bases temporarily go on alert over the launches. Drones separately targeted the bridge of the fake aircraft carrier, according to the state TV report. The TV did not immediately air footage of the launches or the drone attack, nor did it identify the missiles used in the drill. However, the message of the drill was clearly targeted at the United States.
While the latest customs data from China show no imports of Iranian oil in June, data intelligence firm Kepler told Radio Farda Iran has shipped oil to the Asian economic giant. Senior Kepler expert Homayoon Falakshahi said on July 28 that in early May the tanker Giessel with two million barrels of oil left for China and arrived at port on June 13. Falakshahi believes the oil was shipped for China’s Sinopec in lieu of Iranian debt to the company.
A British-Australian academic serving a 10-year sentence in Iran for espionage has been moved to a remote prison south of Tehran that is said to be riddled with coronavirus cases, according to rights activists, raising further concerns about her deteriorating health. The academic, Kylie Moore-Gilbert, a Cambridge-educated professor in Islamic studies at the University of Melbourne, was arrested in 2018 at the Tehran airport as she tried to leave Iran after a conference. Her detention was publicly confirmed a year later by the Australian authorities.
PROTESTS & HUMAN RIGHTS
In an open letter, more than 500 Iranian film directors, authors, and legal experts have expressed concern over restrictions on the Imam Ali Society and demanded the immediate release of its founder and director. The Imam Ali's Popular Students Relief Society, usually referred to as Imam Ali Society -- was founded in 1999 as the first non-political student NGO at Tehran's Sharif Industrial University. It now has an extensive network of thousands of volunteers, even in the remotest areas of Iran.
U.S.-IRAN RELATIONS & NEGOTIATIONS
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said that he turned down around 23 requests for talks after US President Donald Trump withdrew from the nuclear deal and reimposed sanctions on Tehran. Addressing a meeting of Iranian officials, he said that over the past two years and three months he received 23 requests to meet US officials. "We did not hesitate to negotiate, but we are not looking for a show," he added, reported IRNA.
US Special Representative for Iran, Brian Hook stressed on Monday that Washington is continuing its efforts to extend the arms embargo against Iran, which was enforced 13 years ago, for the sake of achieving stability in the region and the world. Based on the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran, the UN Security Council will lift the arms embargo by October 18. Washington has prepared a draft resolution it has submitted to the UNSC members to extend the embargo beyond the deadline.
Fox News correspondent Lucas Tomlinson says U.S. forces went on high alert after three missiles hit the waters near their military bases in Qatar and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) in the Persian Gulf. The incident occurred during the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps naval drill in Iran’s coastal waters around the Strait of Hormuz. An official also told Fox News that the missiles landed close enough to the U.S. airbases in Al-Uded in Qatar and Al-Dhafra in the UAE, to cause concern.
IRANIAN INTERNAL DEVELOPMENTS
Iran’s daily death toll from the coronavirus reached a record high Tuesday, as authorities grapple with a recent surge after rolling back restrictions in an attempt to salvage the country’s struggling economy. After locking down parts of society in February to curb the pandemic, which has hit Iran harder than any other country in the Middle East, Tehran began easing those measures in April as the number of daily cases waned. In the past two weeks, Iran has reported about 200 deaths every day, hitting a high of 235 on Tuesday.
As the coronavirus crisis in Iran shows no sign of abating, the clerical rulers have to decide what to do with upcoming religious ceremonies that are highly important for the regime both ideologically and in terms of financial interests of hardliners. As the mourning month of Muharram is approaching fast, medical and public health experts in Iran oppose busy religious congregations, while hardliners including those at the conservative-dominated Judiciary insist that religious gatherings should be held, albeit with a degree of care for safety of the congregants.
A group of fuel storage tanks exploded in western Iran, state news reported Tuesday, marking the latest in a series of suspicious blasts across the country. Iran's semi-official ISNA reported six trucks carrying fuel caught fire Monday morning in a parking lot in the Dolat Abad industrial area of Kermanshah province. Keyvan Maleki, deputy head of the Kermanshah Fire Department, told ISNA there were no casualties but a few people were injured in the blaze.
RUSSIA, SYRIA, ISRAEL, HEZBOLLAH, LEBANON & IRAN
At the request of the Republic of Azerbaijan Russia handed over an individual accused of receiving “terrorist” training in Iran, TASS and Azerbaijani media reported July 28. Russian Federation Prosecutor General’s Office announced that Mehdi Shukurov, an Azerbaijani citizen sought by Baku was handed over for criminal prosecution. The accusation against Mr. Shukurov is that in 2016 he crossed the border into Iran and joined an “illegal armed group” receiving training in the use of firearms and explosives and other terror techniques. The group in question is not named and it is not clear whether the Iranian government was involved in any way or Shukurov joined an underground group.
Iran has been surprisingly quiet amid the growing Israel-Hezbollah tensions. Part of that is due to the fact that Iran is running a massive military drill off its coast where it has been using new missiles and showing the US it can harass a model aircraft carrier. However, Iran’s real position may be more complex, because it knows the high stakes of escalation and different advisors within the government, though the Ayatollah’s office and Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps may prefer quiet over massive conflict. Yossi Mansharof of the Jerusalem Institute for Strategy and Security, an expert on Iran, argues that a reading of some Iranian press may hint at the regime’s complex policy during the tensions.
CHINA & IRAN
After an 18-page draft agreement of an economic and security partnership between Iran and China was leaked earlier this month, there has been wide speculation on what the deal — if realized — would mean for the region. One country that has the potential to be significantly impacted is Pakistan. As various reports about the deal fed the media hype and prompted domestic criticism in Iran, Mahmoud Vaezi, the chief of staff for Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, said a final agreement could be reached by the end of the current Iranian year in March 2021.
OTHER FOREIGN AFFAIRS
Britain’s failure to include senior figures in the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps in its new sanctions is a “striking omission” that must be addressed, the head of a parliamentary committee said. No senior Iranian leaders were listed among 49 people and organisations from countries including Russia, Myanmar and North Korea as the UK embarked on its own independent sanctions programme outside the EU. MP Tom Tugendhat, the committee’s chairman, said the process was suited to punishing Iranian leaders for the regime’s dire human rights record, including jailing dual citizens for political purposes and the death penalty.
With a mid-size economy and a merely nascent technology scene, Iran was not an obvious suspect when it came to cyber-strikes that swing US presidential elections. Still, William Evanina, director of America’s National Counterintelligence and Security Centre, graded Tehran among his top three threats to the November 3 ballot, when voters decide between Republican President Donald Trump and his Democratic rival Joe Biden. Mr Evanina said Iran was “spreading disinformation on social media and recirculating anti-US content” online to weaken institutions and divide Americans as the campaign heats up.