Multiple channels of Iran’s state television broadcast images on Thursday showing the leaders of an exiled dissident group and a graphic calling for the death of the country’s supreme leader, an incident that authorities later described as a hack. For several seconds, graphics flashed on screen, interrupting the broadcast to depict the leaders of the opposition group Mujahedeen-e-Khalq. The name of a social media account, which claimed to be a group of hackers who broadcast the message honoring the dissidents, also appeared. Two state radio stations were also interrupted. Shahin Gobadi, a Paris-based MEK spokesperson, later told The Associated Press: “We, like you, were just informed about the issue.”
White House Middle East coordinator Brett McGurk says the U.S. and Iran "are in the ballpark of a possible deal" to return to the 2015 nuclear agreement, but he “doesn’t want to put odds on it." Why it matters: That's the most optimistic statement from the Biden administration since the nuclear talks resumed in Vienna last December. McGurk, who was speaking at a Carnegie Endowment event, didn’t explain the reasoning behind his assessment. State of play: Biden administration officials have set the end of January or beginning of February as an unofficial deadline for the talks, in large part because they believe Iran's nuclear advances will soon render the 2015 deal ineffective.
When the Syrian military opened offices in the eastern province of Deir al-Zour last month to enlist former rebels and repentant army defectors, almost no one showed up. So few in fact that, according to a local news site, Syrian security officers had to pull able-bodied passersby inside in hopes of registering them. While Syria had promised forgiveness and a fresh start to many young men as part of broader reconciliation efforts, the initiative has faced a major obstacle: Iranian-linked militias active in the province have been offering a more attractive alternative, according to local experts and a former militia member.
Nuclear Deal & Nuclear Program
“We’re Going To Know Very Soon Whether Or Not It Is Possible For The Iranians To Return To Compliance With The Nuclear Deal On Terms That We And The International Community Can Accept,” Brett Mcgurk, Coordinator For The Middle East And North Africa, Told The White House National Security Council. Speaking At A Virtual Event Hosted By Aaron David Miller At The Carnegie Endowment For International Peace, The Envoy Addressed The Talks With Iran And The Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, Among Other Issues.
Qatar's top diplomat visited Iran on Thursday, Iranian state media reported, days before Qatar's ruling emir holds talks in Washington at a crucial time for efforts by Tehran and major powers to revive a 2015 nuclear pact. The visit by Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani's comes after his Iranian counterpart Hossein Amirabdollahian on Monday said Tehran is ready to consider direct talks with Washington if it feels it can get a "good nuclear deal". However, Iran's state news agency IRNA said the visit was not intended to help set up direct talks with Washington. "Although Doha and Tehran are experiencing good and close relations, this visit ... has fuelled some misconceptions. Some are fabricating it to facilitate direct talks with the United States," IRNA said.
IRANIAN INTERNAL DEVELOPMENTS
Iranian women were allowed Thursday for the first time in almost three years to attend a football match of their country’s national team in a Tehran stadium. “I am very happy. This is the first time I have attended a match at Azadi Stadium,” said a 26-year-old civil engineer who gave her name only as Mahya. She carried the national green, white and red flag, and covered her head with a grey scarf. The Islamic republic has generally barred female spectators from football and other stadiums for around 40 years. Clerics, who play a major role in decision-making, argue women must be shielded from the masculine atmosphere and sight of semi-clad men. World football’s governing body FIFA ordered Iran in September 2019 to allow women access to stadiums without restriction and in numbers determined by demand for tickets.
RUSSIA, SYRIA, ISRAEL, HEZBOLLAH, LEBANON & IRAN
Druze leader Walid Jumblatt said on Thursday that Iran had gained influence in Lebanon because Arab states had abandoned the country, stepping up criticism of the Iran-backed Hezbollah and suggesting Tehran wants to erase the Lebanese state. One of Lebanon's main politicians, Jumblatt was speaking days after leading Sunni Muslim politician Saad al-Hariri withdrew from political life, citing Iranian influence as one of the reasons he saw no hope of positive change. The move by Hariri, three times prime minister, has opened a new phase in Lebanon's sectarian politics, adding to uncertainties four months from a parliamentary election and as Lebanon faces a crippling financial crisis.
GULF STATES, YEMEN, & IRAN
At least five people were killed and 34 injured in what Yemeni-government media said was a Houthi missile strike on Marib city on Wednesday night, state news agency SABA said on Friday. A resident and a medical source said a missile on Wednesday had fallen next to a military building in the al-Matar area. Marib city is the Yemeni government's last northern stronghold. It sits in an energy-producing region which has been the focus of fighting over the past year, during which Iran-aligned Houthi forces advanced towards the city.
IRAQ & IRAN
Several rockets landed in the Baghdad International Airport compound and near an adjacent U.S. air base on Friday, damaging at least one disused civilian aeroplane, Iraqi police sources said. The police sources did not report any other damage or any injuries. The damaged aircraft was an out-of-use Iraqi Airways plane, they said. Iraq's state news agency reported, citing the country's aviation authority, that there was no disruption to travel. The U.S. air base, known as Camp Victory, is located around the perimeter of Baghdad's civilian airport. Rocket attacks have regularly struck the complex in recent years and are blamed by U.S. and some Iraqi officials on Iran-aligned Shi'ite militia groups who oppose the U.S. military presence in the region.
OTHER FOREIGN AFFAIRS
A British man pleaded guilty in Washington to charges related to illegal exports of sensitive military technologies to Iran in violation of U.S. sanctions, the Justice Department announced. Saber Fakih, 46, conspired with others in 2017 and 2018 to ship to Iran a high-powered, microwave-based directed-energy weapon system and technology that can be used to take control of an aerial drone, the department said in a statement Thursday. At the same time, a federal indictment was unsealed charging four others in the alleged conspiracy, the government said.