Iranian naval forces seized two vessels on Wednesday that were allegedly smuggling fuel. The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) Navy seized the two ships south of the disputed Abu Musa island in the Gulf. The ships were allegedly smuggling 4.5 million liters (1.2 million gallons) of fuel. The IRGC Navy arrested 34 foreign crew members of the ships during the seizure, the Islamic Republic News Agency reported. Why it matters: Iran regularly works to prevent tankers from smuggling fuel and reported another seizure of foreign tankers in September. Low fuel prices in Iran due to subsidies and the weak value of the rial contribute to the occurrence of fuel smuggling, according to Iran International.
Some 91% of Iranian petroleum exports are purchased by China and the money Iran receives is used to fund terrorist operations, say congressmen who passed the SHIP Act in the House of Representatives and are urging the Senate to do the same. Iranian petroleum sales are booming despite international sanctions, thanks in large part to China, which has been buying record amounts of Iranian petroleum products in the last few years. The US House of Representatives is now hoping to cure China of its penchant for Iranian oil through secondary sanctions in new legislation. A report by The Washington Institute found that Iranian oil exports have increased more than threefold since 2020. From exporting fewer than 500,000 barrels per day after sanctions were imposed in 2018-2019, Iran was exporting an estimated 1.5 million barrels per day in September 2023. “China is the greatest purchaser of Iranian petroleum. It is totally insane,” Representative Mike Lawler (R-New York) said in a briefing hosted by the US Israel Education Association.
The southern Gaza Strip city of Khan Younis is a critical target for Israel’s military—strategically and symbolically. The centuries-old market town is the suspected hiding place of Hamas leader Yahya Sinwar and the militant group’s most significant remaining military stronghold. But the fight to capture it risks putting Israel on a collision course with the Biden administration, which has called on Israel to minimize civilian casualties and ease humanitarian deprivation in Gaza, and to hew to a more limited war aim of expelling Hamas from power. Khan Younis, a city of 400,000 people in normal times, almost doubled in size as Gazans fled there from the bombed-out remains of Gaza City. That makes it a treacherous battlefield as Israel fights militants in the midst of crowded neighborhoods.
SANCTIONS, BUSINESS RISKS, & OTHER ECONOMIC NEWS
Kazakhstan and Iran have signed a document aimed at increasing trade between the two countries to $3 billion. The protocol of the 19th joint intergovernmental commission and an action plan, signed by Kazakh Deputy Prime Minister Serik Zhumangarin and Iranian Agriculture Minister Mohammad Ali Nikbakht, sets the goal of boosting trade between the Caspian littoral states, as reported by Kazakhstan Today on December 4. The agreement was reached during the plenary session of the 19th meeting of the Intergovernmental Commission on trade and economic, scientific, technical, and cultural cooperation between the two nations.
TERRORISM & EXTREMISM
Oberlin College has placed Iran’s former UN ambassador, Mohammad Jafar Mahallati, on indefinite leave from his teaching position after a campaign by Iranian Americans. Oberlin College spokeswoman Andrea Simakis told Iran International, "On November 28, Professor Mahallati was placed on indefinite administrative leave." She declined to provide reasons for his removal. According to a statement released on Wednesday, the Alliance Against Islamic Regime of Iran Apologists (AAIRIA) organization announced that “today marks a pivotal development in their campaign. Mohammad Jafar Mahallati, formerly referred to as the 'professor of peace,' appears to have been placed on permanent administrative leave from his role in the Religion Department at Oberlin College. This action comes as a result of tireless advocacy and stark revelations about Mahallati's involvement in covering up human rights abuses and his antisemitic rhetoric, underscoring a long-awaited acknowledgment of the victims' suffering.”
U.S.-IRAN RELATIONS & NEGOTIATIONS
Former United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley said the U.S. needed to be more aggressive than the Biden administration in response to Iran “you’ve got to punch them hard.” She was responding to a question about a Wall Street Journal report that Iranian security officials helped plan Hamas’s surprise attack on Israel and gave the green light for the assault at a meeting in Beirut.
PROTESTS & HUMAN RIGHTS
Iranian protesters detained during months of nationwide protests as part of the “Woman, Life, Freedom” movement that emerged after the death in custody of Mahsa Amini were raped and subjected to other forms of sexual violence by Tehran’s intelligence and security forces, Amnesty International said in a report documenting the ordeals of 45 survivors. The report gathered testimonies from 26 men, 12 women and seven children as young as 12 who were subjected to rape and other forms of sexual violence and torture. Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old Iranian Kurdish woman, died on September 16 last year after being arrested by Iran’s “morality police” for wearing her hijab incorrectly. In a violent crackdown on the protests sparked by her death, Iranian law enforcement officers arrested tens of thousands of activists and demonstrators and subjected them to torture and other ill treatment, the 120-page report said.
Amirhossein Maghsoudloo, professionally known as Tataloo, has been handed over to Iranian authorities by Turkish police at the Bazargan border crossing, the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB) news agency reported Wednesday. The IRIB report cited charges of “spreading corruption and obscenity” for his arrest. The allegations also included the alleged presence of underaged people at his residence in Istanbul. Turkish authorities on Saturday arrested Tataloo following a complaint lodged by the Consulate of the Islamic Republic. According to Iranian domestic news agencies, Tataloo visited the consulate on Friday and became involved in a confrontation with its staff, resulting in a formal complaint. Experts speculate that he could be convicted in Iran of "corruption on Earth," a judgment that comes with the death penalty.
Mohammadi, 51, awarded the prize in October in recognition of two decades of work defending human rights in Iran, in defiance of constant persecution by the Islamic republic, remains in prison in Iran with no hope of release, let alone attending the glitzy event in Oslo on Sunday. Instead, it will be her twin children Ali and Kiana, 17, who will deliver her speech, sharing the message of a mother of whom they are fiercely proud but who they have not seen for almost nine years and not even spoken to by phone for 20 months. They now live in Paris with their father and Narges Mohammadi's husband Taghi Rahmani. The awards she has won weigh the bookshelves of their apartment which is marked by the spirit of the rights campaigner, even as she remains in jail thousands of kilometres away.
MILITARY/INTELLIGENCE MATTERS & PROXY WARS
Saudi Arabia has urged the United States to show restraint in responding to continued attacks on vessels in the Red Sea by the Iranian-backed Houthis in Yemen, Reuters reports. Two sources familiar with Riyadh’s messaging say the kingdom is seeking to limit spillover from Israel’s war against Hamas following the terror group’s October 7 massacres in southern Israel. This week, an hours-long missile assault by the Houthis on three commercial vessels in the Red Sea marked a significant escalation in a series of maritime attacks in the Middle East linked to the Israel-Hamas war. A US warship shot down three drones in self-defense during the assault Sunday, the US military said. A day later, the US said it may establish a naval task force to escort commercial ships in the Red Sea.
US National Security spokesman John Kirby emphasized on Wednesday that Washington will continue to hold Tehran and Moscow accountable for their growing military ties. Referring to Iran’s military assistance to Russia and to extremist militant groups in the Middle East, Kirby warned that the burgeoning relationship between Tehran and Moscow “is not only not good for the Ukrainian people but it’s certainly not good for the region.” If the Iranian regime avails itself of Russian military capabilities, it can become “more lethal and more dangerous to its neighbors,” he added against the backdrop of Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi’s visit to Russia on Thursday. According to Kirby, the US Department of Treasury has sanctioned nine entities and five individuals who facilitated Moscow’s access to electronics with military applications.
IRANIAN INTERNAL DEVELOPMENTS
The story: A state-linked polling agency has projected that most eligible voters will not cast ballots in Iran’s upcoming parliamentary elections. This comes as Reformist outlets have warned of the public’s reluctance to vote given the apparent "streamlining" of candidates in favor of hardliners, among other issues in the country. While the Islamic Republic has long hailed high voter turnout as proof of its legitimacy, it remains to be seen whether it will acknowledge the current trajectory as a serious problem. The coverage: The head of the state-run Academic Center for Education, Culture and Research (ACECR) in a Nov. 27 interview disclosed details of a recent survey by the ACECR-run Iranian Students Polling Agency (ISPA).
The Iranian government is reluctantly acknowledging one of the most significant cases of financial corruption in Iran, displaying a matter-of-fact attitude. Several government offices in both the current and previous presidential administrations are alleged to be involved in the nearly $3.5 billion corruption case. These include the ministers of agriculture, industry as well as the governors of the Central Bank of Iran and the chiefs of Iranian Customs Administration. However, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, who has not yet commented on the case, has consistently rejected statements about systematic corruption in Iran. The scandal comes at a time when the government has failed to lower inflation hovering above 50 percent and people face shortages of medicines and powdered baby formula. Last week, Iran’s Inspection Organization disclosed that a prominent tea importer is under scrutiny for questionable financial practices.
CONGRESS & IRAN
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., won't say if he will take up a House of Representatives bill freezing the $6 billion released to Iran by the Biden administration. Schumer gave an impassioned speech on the Senate floor last week, condemning the rise of antisemitism in America as well as the Oct. 7 surprise terrorist attacks on Israel by Iran-backed Hamas terrorists. Iran has been a staunch supporter of Hamas amid the Palestinian terrorist organization's war with Israel. Earlier this year, prior to the war, the Biden administration unfroze $6 billion in Iranian funds from banks in South Korea to Qatar in a prisoner exchange.
RUSSIA, SYRIA, ISRAEL, HEZBOLLAH, LEBANON & IRAN
Iranian President Ibrahim Raisi is heading to Moscow on Thursday to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin. The meeting comes in the wake of Putin’s trip to the UAE and Saudi Arabia this week. As such Russia will have done important outreach to numerous countries in the region. According to Russian state media, the Iranian leader is going to Moscow to discuss trade and economic cooperation. However, Iran also supplies Russia with drones and defense ties are important to both countries. Gaza is an important subject in the Russia-Iran talks, Iran’s pro-regime Tasnim media said.
GULF STATES, YEMEN, & IRAN
Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian warned of “terrible” days to come for Israel in a call with his Qatar counterpart, according to Iranian pro-regime media. The two men discussed the war in Gaza, Fars News and Tasnim News reported. Tehran and Doha have excellent ties and Iran’s foreign minister has traveled to Qatar to meet Hamas leaders over the last two months in the wake of the Hamas attack and massacre of people in Israel on October 7. According to Iranian media, the Iranian foreign minister discussed the West Bank and Gaza with the Qataris. He also discussed the “Zionist aggression” that Iran has slammed numerous times. Iran backs proxies in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, and Yemen and has sought to inflame the West Bank.
IRAQ & IRAN
A recent decision by Iraq's Supreme Federal Court to remove Mohammed al-Halbousi from the position of speaker in the Iraqi parliament has reignited discussion regarding the constitutional legitimacy of the court's rulings. The development has prompted many to question whether the court's decisions are driven by constitutional principles or influenced by political motives. Furthermore, there is a growing concern about whether the court, predominantly supported by Iran-backed Shia parties, has transformed into a political instrument rather than serving as an impartial adjudicator. On 14 November, Iraq's Supreme Federal Court nullified the parliamentary membership of Mohammed Al-Halbousi, the speaker of Iraq's parliament, citing forgery charges and thereby concluding the influential Sunni politician's tenure since 2018.
OTHER FOREIGN AFFAIRS
The acceptance of Iran into the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, south Africa) during the organization’s August 22-24 2023 summit Johannesburg South Africa highlights Iran’s accelerated reengagement with the international community, and with it, renewed opportunities for it not only to normalize its political and economic engagements, but to more completely circumvent sanctions and pursue activities to the detriment of the United States. In Latin America, Iran’s inclusion in the BRICS, will give it accelerated opportunities for political and economic interactions with current member Brazil, and future member Argentina. Iran’s reengagement with the region has actually, however, been underway since 2020, with limited attention by Washington or its neighbors. Iran’s activities in Latin America received substantial attention in Washington during the first decade of the 21st century, as a US attention focused on the Global War Against Terrorism, while Iran’s then President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad pursued high profile engagements with anti US populist leaders in the region, particularly those in Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador and Nicaragua.