Iran’s foreign ministry said on Thursday foreign governments may have been behind recent cyberattacks on Iranian facilities, but played down the possibility of them having a role in a series of fires and explosions at military and other installations. Since late June, several fires or explosions have been reported at military, industrial and nuclear sites in Iran as well as at oil refineries, power plants, factories and businesses. Some Iranian officials have said a fire at the underground Natanz nuclear facility this month may have been caused by cyber sabotage. Other incidents have gone unexplained.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov held a lengthy round of talks on Tuesday with his Iranian counterpart, Mohammad Javad Zarif, on the latter’s second visit to Moscow in a month. At the conclusion of the talks, they stressed their determination to expand areas of cooperation between the two countries and work to “protect” the Iranian nuclear agreement. The two ministers announced during a joint news conference that they were working on a new comprehensive agreement for cooperation between them that would “meet the changes that the world has witnessed in two decades and respond to new threats.”
Congress is considering new legislation that would level sanctions on Chinese, Russian, and Iranian hackers who steal sensitive U.S. data, including new research on the coronavirus. The legislation came the same day the Trump administration unveiled an unprecedented indictment against two Chinese hackers who the United States alleges stole proprietary American data, including coronavirus research from medical institutions. U.S. law enforcement officials said the Communist Party-backed hackers had been running state-backed espionage operations for at least the last 10 years.
UANI IN THE NEWS
An international arms embargo is not a foreign policy weapon to be casually employed. Whether or not it has a debilitating effect on the target country, an arms embargo is a powerful symbol of the international community’s ire, and should be used only against nations that threaten global security and principles. Iran fits this definition. Over the past year, Iran has managed to carry out drone and cruise missile attacks on two Saudi oil facilities, seize ships in the Persian Gulf, shoot down a U.S. drone over international waters, fund and target deadly attacks on U.S. soldiers in Iraq as well as escalate the scope of violence in Syria, Yemen and Lebanon through its partners and proxies and, most recently, engage in aggressive, widespread cyberattacks against the international community’s efforts to mitigate the COVID-19 pandemic.
SANCTIONS, BUSINESS RISKS, & OTHER ECONOMIC NEWS
The currency exchange market in Iran is experiencing another volatility cycle with the Iranian rial (IRR), losing its value repetitively against foreign currency. The volatility cycles have become a frequent event in Iran’s economy, and no one finds them surprising. However, the government’s response to the increased ambiguity and volatility cycles remains the same. The Iranian authorities and policymakers always search for an individual or a group of individuals to blame for the unfolding crisis, since their adopted macroeconomic policies and monetary measures remain irreproachable.
PROTESTS & HUMAN RIGHTS
A group of UN human rights experts has called on Iran to immediately release imprisoned human rights activist Narges Mohammadi, who has reportedly been suffering from symptoms of COVID-19 -- the illness caused by the new coronavirus -- "before it is too late." "The group of 16 experts expressed grave concerns that Ms. Mohammadi appears to have contracted COVID-19 in Zanjan Prison," the UN Human Rights Council said in a statement on July 22.
A provocative street protest in southwestern Iran last week that was critical of the Islamic establishment has many predicting more demonstrations are coming amid the country's faltering economy and anger over the handling of the coronavirus pandemic. People in the city of Behbahan chanted anti-government slogans including "Mullah's regime, we don't want it!" before the July 16 protest was hastily broken up by police using tear gas.
U.S.-IRAN RELATIONS & NEGOTIATIONS
Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has repeated threats to further retaliate against the U.S. for its assasination of Major General Qassem Soleimani. The ayatollah met with new Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi in Tehran on Tuesday and vowed to deliver a "counter blow" to the U.S. for the drone strike that killed Soleimani in Baghdad in January. Khamenei also warned Kadhimi that U.S. presence in Iraq would only bring the country more destruction and corruption.
IRANIAN INTERNAL DEVELOPMENTS
A member of the Iranian Parliament's National Security Committee says the blast at Iran's main nuclear establishment in Natanz on July 2 was caused by a "security breach". The Persian word Javad Karimi Qoddousi has used to describe the cause of the blast can also be translated into infiltration of security, which makes it slightly different. He strictly rules out "a strike on the complex by an external object," the oblique jargon that means he believes no bombs or missiles have hit the building which is the main venue of uranium enrichment in Iran.
Though the recent stunning string of exploding installations in the Islamic Republic of Iran has been a heavy blow to the regime, Iran experts in Israel seemed united on Wednesday that the ayatollahs’ control of the country is not endangered. Speaking as part of an INSS videoconference, one expert after another described different reasons for the regime’s resilience despite the manifold challenges they face, including the seemingly endless and unstoppable series of explosions.
Tehran Immigration and Passport Police say that despite the approach of the Shiite holy months of Muharram and Safar, the demand for passports has sharply dropped in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. Deputy director Colonel Ali Moradi, said, "In the months of Muharram and Safar, we used to receive about 7,000 passport applications every day in previous years. Currently, the demand has dropped to a mere 400 to 500 a day.
In just under a year, Iran will elect a new president. Coming after the U.S. election this November, there is some hope that the occasion could usher in improved U.S.-Iranian relations. Yet, given the way Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei has been narrowing the field of candidates, that seems unlikely. Khamenei set the scene for the upcoming vote with a manifesto published in February 2019 with the title “The Second Phase of the Revolution.” In it, he reflects on the 40 years since the 1979 Islamic Revolution and charts a vision for the next 40.
IRAQ & IRAN
Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi arrived in Tehran July 21, heading a high-ranking delegation to discuss the bilateral relations in various aspects, including security cooperation and expanding economy relations. Kadhimi was welcomed officially by Iranian President Hassan Rouhani. “The relationship between Iraq and the Islamic Republic of Iran is not just a matter of having 1,485 kilometers [923 miles] of common borders, but it is rooted deeply in a long history of cultural, social and religious interactions,” Kadhimi said during a joint press conference with Rouhani.
TURKEY & IRAN
At least seven dissidents have been deported from Turkey to Iran since 2017 as the two countries bolstered relations. A further five are detained in Turkey and awaiting deportation, The Times reported. Turkey was once seen as a prime destination for Iranian visitors and a relatively safe place where those who fell foul of the regime could flee. However, increasingly close ties between Ankara and Tehran, and Iran’s growing use of the death penalty against activists have made exiled Iranians fearful they could be forcibly sent home.
A spokesperson for the Iran’s Foreign Ministry said Thursday that the country thwarts thousands of cyberattacks every day, with the US as the main suspect, but that recent fires at a number of sensitive Iranian sites were unrelated to those alleged efforts by foreign governments. Abbas Mousavi said that recently the cyberattacks have increased in scope and have been traced back to foreign governments. “Recent fires have nothing to do with cyberattacks,” Mousavi said, according to the official Mehr news agency.