Iran has moved a mock aircraft carrier to the strategic Strait of Hormuz amid heightened tensions between Tehran and the U.S., satellite photographs released Monday show, likely signalling the Islamic Republic soon plans to use it for live-fire drills. An image from Maxar Technologies taken Sunday shows an Iranian fast boat speed toward the carrier, sending waves up in its wake, after a tugboat pulled her out into the strait from the Iranian port city of Bandar Abbas.
The killing of a prominent researcher in Baghdad has sent shock waves through Iraq's government, underscoring the high stakes of its fight with powerful Iranian-backed militias and exposing the potential limits of the prime minister in taking them on. Advisers to Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi have been taken aback that violence could reach so close to his inner circle. Hisham al-Hashimi, who specialized in security affairs, was a confidant to many of them, and his assassination on July 6 drove home the fact that few in Iraq are untouchable.
A leading international rights group on Monday urged the U.N. Security Council to impose additional sanctions on Yemen’s Iran-backed Houthi rebels unless they provide U.N. experts access to an oil tanker moored off the coast of Yemen and in danger of leaking. The FSO Safer is loaded with 1.1 million barrels of crude. The Houthi rebels, who control the area, have denied U.N. inspectors access to the vessel. The U.N. warned earlier this month of an environmental, economic and humanitarian catastrophe from the ship, which hasn’t been maintained for over five years.
UANI IN THE NEWS
…Foreign Policy Analyst Jason Brodsky, who is Policy Director at the United Against Nuclear Iran, highlighted the controversy and conflicting remarks about the cause of the incident in a tweet saying that "Iran says US jet came within 100 meters of the Mahan Air flight, whereas US is saying its jets flew within roughly, 1,000 meters," adding that according to Mehr news agency, Iran is waiting for radar transmission data to come in from Syria. During the past year, Israel and the United States have accused Mahan Air of shipping weapons and fighters to the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah and Iran-linked groups in Syria and the region.
NUCLEAR DEAL & NUCLEAR PROGRAM
The United States Special Representative for Iran Brian Hook says conflicts in Syria and elsewhere will escalate if the United Nations arms embargo on Iran is lifted. Meanwhile, Hook added that the Islamic Republic of Iran has constantly continued to violate the terms of the arms embargo. Based on the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran the UN Security Council will lift the arms embargo imposed on Iran more than a decade ago by October 18. However, the United States has started an initiative to extend the embargo beyond the deadline, what seems to be part of its maximum pressure campaign.
SANCTIONS, BUSINESS RISKS, & OTHER ECONOMIC NEWS
The Secretary-General of Iran-Iraq Joint Chamber of Commerce announced that the volume of Iran's non-oil exports to Iraq dropped forty percent in the second quarter of 2020. According to the Iranian Chamber of Commerce website, Hamid Hosseini said that in the second quarter of this year, Iran exported five million tons of non-oil goods worth $ 1.45 billion to Iraq. Based on the same report, Iran's non-oil exports to Iraq decreased by "forty percent" in terms of volume and 38.3% in terms of value, compared with the same period last year.
With nearly a dozen explosive incidents occurring across Iran in the past three weeks—including one at a prominent nuclear facility in Natanz—renewed questions have emerged regarding Tehran’s nuclear enrichment activities. Iranian hesitance to retaliate may be due to its fear that the United States could invoke the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA)’s “snapback” sanctions, thus renewing a comprehensive multilateral sanctions regime against Tehran.
TERRORISM & EXTREMISM
US Special Representative for Iran Brian Hook has stressed that Tehran authorities pose a threat not only to countries in the Gulf region, but also to their people. In an interview with Asharq Al Awsat, Hook, also a senior adviser to the US Secretary of State, said Iran supports terrorists and rebels in Yemen, the Gulf, Lebanon and Israel. Hook added he held talks in Tunisia - a non-permanent member of the Security Council since the beginning of this year - as part of a tour that will include Gulf and European countries regarding the extension of the Security Council arms embargo imposed on Iran 13 years ago, which ends on October 18.
U.S.-IRAN RELATIONS & NEGOTIATIONS
The top U.S. general made an unannounced visit to Israel on Friday to discuss “regional security challenges” at a time of heightened tensions with Iran and its allies across the Middle East. Army Gen. Mark Milley, the Joint Chiefs chairman, met with senior Israeli military and intelligence leaders at an air base in southern Israel and held a video conference with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The visit came days after an air raid on the Syrian capital, Damascus, suspected to have been carried out by Israel, killed five foreign fighters, including a member of the Iran-backed Hezbollah.
MILITARY/INTELLIGENCE MATTERS & PROXY WARS
A weapons depot at al-Saqr base belonging to Iraq's federal police force but also used by pro-Iran paramilitaries exploded on Sunday in Baghdad's southern suburbs. Iraq’s military blamed the explosion on high summer temperatures and poor storage, but given continuous tensions in the region some say it could have been a possible attack. Pro-Iran militia sources claimed that United States forces bombed the base. Multiple explosions could be heard in Baghdad on Sunday evening. Videos on social media plumes of smoke rising and a huge fireball erupting. Security sources said the depot, which is part of a military base used by both the police and paramilitary forces, was one that had caught fire in August last year.
A short-circuit on a power line sparked a brush fire near a housing area for military officials in Tehran on Friday, police and the fire department said, denying there had been an explosion, Iranian news agencies reported. Since late June, a string of fires and blasts has been reported at military, industrial and nuclear sites in Iran as well as at oil refineries, power plants, factories and businesses. The deputy chief of Tehran police, Hamid Hadavand, told the semi-official news agency ILNA that the fire had been put out, while a fire department spokesman said there was no report of any explosion.
IRANIAN INTERNAL DEVELOPMENTS
Iran reported 216 new deaths from the novel coronavirus on Sunday, calling on its citizens to observe health protocols more closely to ease the burden on exhausted medical staff. The Islamic republic announced its first COVID-19 cases on February 19, and the outbreak quickly became the Middle East's deadliest. Declared coronavirus deaths have surged since the end of June and claimed more than 200 lives nearly every day in the past week, including a record 229 on Tuesday.
RUSSIA, SYRIA, ISRAEL, HEZBOLLAH, LEBANON & IRAN
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday said he the fight against Iran's nuclear program, ballistic missiles and the country's military presence in Syria has "continued' in recent days. Speaking at a press conference in Jerusalem on Thursday evening mainly dedicated to his plans regarding the coronavirus crisis the Israeli Prime Minister said the details of the actions taken "better remain untold.”
CHINA & IRAN
It seems that China has found a new partner in the form of Iran — so much so that the two countries have drafted an extremely important economic and security partnership agreement that may pave the way for billions of dollars of Chinese investments to flow into the energy sector and other industries within Iran. This would undermine the efforts of US President Donald Trump to impose isolation on the Iranian government because of its nuclear and military ambitions.
OTHER FOREIGN AFFAIRS
A Swiss pharmaceutical company has completed the first transaction under a new humanitarian trade channel with Iran, the government in Bern said on Monday. The Swiss Humanitarian Trade Arrangement (SHTA) channel to bring food and medicine to Iran started trial operations in January, helping supply Swiss goods to the struggling population without tripping over U.S. sanctions. “We would like to emphasize that the operationalization of the SHTA is progressing and that a number of companies have already been approved, more companies will follow. Further transactions should be carried out shortly,” the State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (SECO) said by email.
The transcript from the black boxes from a Ukrainian jet accidentally shot down by Iran on Jan. 8 confirm the fact of illegal interference with the plane, Ukraine’s deputy foreign minister wrote on Twitter on Friday. Yevhenii Yenin said Kyiv was expecting an Iranian delegation to visit Ukraine next week for talks. The Canadian Transportation Safety Board said on Thursday an international team examining the black boxes from the jet had completed a preliminary analysis of the data in France.
American intelligence officials issued a public warning on Friday that China was “expanding its influence efforts” in the United States ahead of the presidential election, along with Russia and Iran, but Democrats briefed on the matter said the threat was far more urgent than what the administration described. The warning came from William R. Evanina, the director of the National Counterintelligence and Security Center, in a statement 100 days before Americans go to the polls.