Iran's hierarchy often rails against the United States, Israel and Saudi Arabia as direct threats to its security and regional influence. But lately the authorities in Tehran have turned their attention to two new sources of worry: Lebanon and Iraq. Enormous antigovernment demonstrations in both countries, some tinged with hostility and resentment toward Iran, have suddenly put Iran's interests at risk. They have also raised the possibility of inspiring protests inside Iran itself.
Iran has spent $16 billion on its "militias" in Iraq and Syria, U.S. Special Representative for Iran Brian Hook told Saudi-owned Al Arabiya TV on Thursday. He did not give more details on the militias or say when Iran had spent the money. During the interview also he confirmed that Washington would continue to impose sanctions on Tehran, saying that they were a result of "destabilizing behavior in the region."
Israel's prime minister says Iran is becoming increasingly aggressive in the region due to the lack of response to its recent actions. Speaking at a military ceremony Thursday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Iran and its proxies are "relentlessly arming themselves." "Iran's threshold of daring in the region is rising and it grows even more in the absence of a response," he said. Netanyahu did not elaborate, but the comments come after a U.S. pullback of forces from Syria and a lack of response to an alleged Iranian attack on Saudi oil facilities.
UANI IN THE NEWS
..."The ominous unprecedented factor here is American Presidential candidates threatening to withhold American aid to Israel. This I fear is a reflection of what they are hearing among potential Democratic primary voters." In 2000, Lieberman became the first Jewish nominee on a major party presidential ticket when Democratic candidate Al Gore named him as his running mate. Today he is the chairman of a bipartisan advocacy group called United Against Nuclear Iran (UANI).
NUCLEAR DEAL & NUCLEAR PROGRAM
The Trump administration is keeping alive one of the last remaining components of the 2015 Iran nuclear deal by extending sanctions waivers that allow foreign companies to work with Iran's civilian nuclear program without U.S. penalties. The waivers had been due to expire Tuesday but were extended by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo for another 90 days. The extensions were not announced until Thursday. Pompeo has been a champion of President Donald Trump's maximum pressure campaign on Iran.
GOP Sens. Ted Cruz (Texas) and Lindsey Graham (S.C.) criticized President Trump on Thursday for reportedly deciding to renew nuclear waivers for Iran. "This is disappointing and another lost opportunity to tear up the catastrophic Obama-Iran nuclear deal once and for all," the senators said in a joint statement tweeted by Cruz. "President Trump should immediately order his administration to stop issuing civil nuclear waivers."
SANCTIONS, BUSINESS RISKS, & OTHER ECONOMIC NEWS
The United States said on Thursday it had imposed sanctions on the Iranian construction sector and trade in four materials used in its military or nuclear programs, even as it kept alive one of the last remaining components of the 2015 nuclear deal by extending sanctions waivers to let foreign firms continue non-proliferation work in Iran. President Donald Trump's administration last year pulled out of the 2015 deal in which Iran agreed to limit its nuclear program in return for the lifting of sanctions that crippled its economy.
The United States said on Thursday it had imposed sanctions on the Iranian construction sector and trade in four materials used in its military or nuclear programs, even as it waived sanctions to let foreign firms continue non-proliferation work in Iran. The decisions announced by the U.S. State Department reflect an effort to increase pressure on Iran by putting wider swaths of its economy under sanctions, while leaving a door open to diplomacy by allowing work to proceed at Iranian nuclear facilities that makes it harder for Iran to develop a nuclear bomb.
The Union of Oil Products Exporters in Iran says shipment of gasoline, diesel and other oil products continue to the Kurdish region of Iraq, despite U.S. sanctions. Seyyed Hamid Hosseini, the spokesman of the exporters' union in an interview with the official government news website IRNA said that oil products auctioned off at Tehran's stock and commodity exchange are exported, although no new consignments were offered to buyers in the last two weeks.
PROTESTS & HUMAN RIGHTS
The release of the British-Iranian dual national Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe is being held back by a UK government agency engaging in "every legal roadblock to delay and minimise the payment" to Iran of an acknowledged £400m debt, lawyers for her husband, Richard Ratcliffe, have claimed. Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who was accused of espionage, has been held in a Tehran jail, sometimes in isolation or on hunger strike, since 2016.
U.S.-IRAN RELATIONS & NEGOTIATIONS
U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin will hold talks with Indian leaders in New Delhi on Friday, Indian official said, as part of a tour to build support against Iran over its nuclear program and its ties to militant networks. On Wednesday, the United States and six Gulf countries agreed to jointly impose sanctions on 25 corporations, banks and individuals linked to Iran's support for militant networks including Hezbollah, the U.S. Treasury Department said.
A simmering regional standoff between the US and Iran shifted from the high seas to dry land over the past two weeks, as street protests from Beirut to Baghdad challenge existing political orders and alliances. The Trump administration's "maximum pressure" campaign, aimed at choking Iranian petroleum exports to zero and bringing the Islamic Republic to its knees, hit the rocks in the Persian Gulf over the summer. Explosions targeting oil tankers - capped by a precision attack on Saudi Aramco in September - drove home the message to Arab monarchies that their own interests would suffer should they continue to egg on the US campaign.
U.S. policy on Syria has been on a roller coaster ride in October. It's unclear what will come next because current options vary from withdrawing from part of Syria to leaving all of eastern Syria to increasing troop levels in areas where oil fields are located. President Donald Trump consults only a small team on Syrian issues and U.S. policy remains compartmentalized between the Pentagon and State Department. One thing is clear from the White House, the United States now wants to secure the oil.
MILITARY/INTELLIGENCE MATTERS & PROXY WARS
An outspoken member of the Iranian parliament, who often criticizes heavy-handed policies, has been summoned to court for a speech he made in 2016. In a tweet, Mahmoud Sadeqi (Sadeghi) disclosed that the first session of the hearing to review charges against will be held Saturday at Branch 28 of the Islamic Revolutionary Court. Sadeqi says that the prosecutor has accused him of anti-establishment propaganda, adding that a judiciary official at the Media and Culture Court of Tehran has file a complaint against him.
CONGRESS & IRAN
In a hearing at the U.S. Congress' Subcommittee on the Middle East Policy on October 30, the democrats criticized President Donald Trump's policy in the region, saying Iran has become more powerful and expanded its influence during this administration. The chairman of the subcommittee, Rep. Ted Deutch D-Florida in his opening remarks said, "While the administration counts its maximum pressure policy, Iran continues to destabilize" the region.
RUSSIA, SYRIA, ISRAEL, HEZBOLLAH, LEBANON & IRAN
Richard Grenell, the US government's most high-profile ambassador, on Wednesday sharply criticized German Chancellor Angela Merkel's government for its blasé dismissal of Iran's threat to destroy the Jewish state. "Threatening the destruction of Israel is something that should not be dismissed, especially when the threats come from Iranian regime officials who regularly use terrorism as a weapon of intimidation. When someone shows you who they are, believe them," Grenell, told Fox News.
A month ago, a little after the mass protests began in Iraq against the government, Iranian general Qasem Soleimani arrived on a night flight at the Baghdad airport. Soleimani continued on in a helicopter from the airport to the heart of the Green Zone in Baghdad, the area where the Iraqi government ministries and defense establishment are located - alongside the American Embassy, according to a report from The Associated Press.
GULF STATES, YEMEN, & IRAN
Saudi Arabia has freed 19 Iranian fishermen detained 10 months ago by the kingdom's coastguard, an Iranian official was quoted as saying on Thursday, following talks between the two regional rivals. The crews of two separate fishing boats had been captured when "bad weather forced the boats into Saudi Arabia's territorial waters", Iran's semi-official Tasnim News Agency quoted Iranian foreign ministry official Ali-Asgahr Arablou as saying. Arablou is the head of the foreign ministry's office in the southern Iranian province of Bushehr.
An attack on Saudi Arabia's Aramco oil facilities Sept. 14 and the subsequent brief slide in Saudi crude output quickly grabbed world headlines and sent Saudi-Iran tensions soaring once again. Yemeni Houthi fighters claimed responsibility for the strike, which was perhaps the largest-scale operation by the Shiite group during Yemen's 4½-year-old civil war. During that time, the Houthis have targeted Saudi interests with sophisticated missiles.
IRAQ & IRAN
Iran has stepped in to prevent the ouster of Iraqi Prime Minister Abdel Abdul Mahdi by two of Iraq's most influential figures amid weeks of anti-government demonstrations, sources close to both men told Reuters. Populist Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr demanded this week that Abdul Mahdi call an early election to quell the biggest mass protests in Iraq since the U.S.-led invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein in 2003. The demonstrations are fueled by anger at corruption and widespread economic hardship. Sadr had urged his main political rival Hadi al-Amiri, whose alliance of Iran-backed militias is the second-biggest political force in parliament, to help push out Abdul Mahdi.
Iran has spent $16 billion on its "militias" in Iraq and Syria, U.S. Special Representative for Iran Brian Hook told Saudi-owned Al Arabiya TV on Thursday. He did not give more details on the militias or say when Iran had spent the money.
As the second wave of Iraq protests continues since October 25 with new demands and anti-Iran slogans, Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei strongly expressed his opposition on Wednesday to both Iraqi and Lebanese uprisings. "The people have justifiable demands, but they should know their demands can only be fulfilled within the legal structure and framework of their country," Khamenei said on Twitter.
Senior Iraqi officials revealed on Wednesday that Iranian General Qassem Soleimani, head of the Iranian "Quds Force" unit that masterminds terrorism and repression beyond Iran's borders, was sent to Baghdad in the early hours of the current protest movement to strategize with Iranian security personnel. Soleimani reportedly appears to have taken over the Iraqi government's deadly response to the protests.