Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards unveiled an underground missile base at an undisclosed Gulf location on Friday, Iranian state media reported, at a time of heightened tension between Tehran and the United States. “The base is one of several bases housing the Guards’ Navy’s strategic missiles,” the state media quoted the head of the Guards, Major General Hossein Salami, as saying.
An Iranian ship arrived at the Venezuelan port of La Guaira on Thursday, according to Refinitiv Eikon data, in what appeared to be a continuation of the commercial alliance between the two countries targeted by U.S. sanctions. Iran has been supplying gasoline to ease fuel shortages in Venezuela caused by decay of the South American nation’s refineries and worsened by sanctions. It has also shipped food to help the government of President Nicolas Maduro.
South Korea is mounting a diplomatic effort to free an oil tanker seized by Iran amid a dispute over frozen bank funds, the latest flare-up of tensions between Tehran and a U.S. ally. A South Korean delegation arrived in Tehran on Thursday, three days after the 9,797-ton oil tanker Hankuk Chemi and its 20 crew members were detained. The delegation is expected to lay the groundwork for a visit to Iran on Sunday by the country’s vice foreign minister, according to the South Korean Foreign Ministry.
UANI IN THE NEWS
… Qatar had been giving Iran $100 million annually to use its airspace due to the blockade, according to United Against Nuclear Iran policy director Jason Brodsky. Brodsky said that while the end of the blockade “may be a step in the right direction of fostering unity within” the GCC “against “the Iranian threat, this doesn’t necessarily solve the core concerns that the United States, and its allies and partners, have as it relates to Doha’s international posture.” For example, he said, “there have been recent allegations of funding originating in Qatar for Hezbollah, not to mention U.S. lawsuits alleging Qatari financing for Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad. Thus, there are still many unresolved issues that will contribute to disunity moving forward.”
NUCLEAR DEAL & NUCLEAR PROGRAM
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu praised US President Donald Trump’s administration for its Middle East policies on Thursday, as the American leader faced widespread criticism at home after hundreds of his supporters stormed the Capitol building the day before. “I want to thank President Trump and all of you in the administration for all you have done and are doing for peace. You’ve made a real difference, achieving one breakthrough after another, bringing the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Morocco and Sudan into the circle of peace. I have no doubt that more Arab and Muslim countries will follow,” Netanyahu said.
SANCTIONS, BUSINESS RISKS, & OTHER ECONOMIC NEWS
A complex international scheme to outmaneuver US sanctions against Iran has yielded the US government $7 million in Iranian funds that will now be used toward Americans affected by international state sponsors of terrorism, the US Justice Department announced on Tuesday. In coordination with the FBI, IRS, domestic offices and multiple foreign partners from the United Arab Emirates, South Korea and the country of Georgia, the US Department of Justice announced that the funds are just a piece of a much larger puzzle that includes up to a billion dollars worth of Iranian assets.
U.S.-IRAN RELATIONS & NEGOTIATIONS
The commander of the Quds Force, Esmail Qaani, has renewed threats of retaliation against Washington over the assassination of his predecessor, Qassem Soleimani, asserting that it will be done on US soil. Qaani said that his troops had already initiated their operations to avenge Soleimani’s death, adding that they will soon reach “endpoint.” Speaking during a ceremony in Soleimani’s hometown, Kerman, Qaani advised US officials to stay indoors, warning that the revenge has begun, according to local media.
The US military flew two B-52 bombers to the Middle East Thursday from their base in the United States -- the fourth such deployment and show of force by the US Air Force aimed at sending a message to Iran in the past two months. This latest mission was to "demonstrate the U.S. military's continuing commitment to regional security and deterrence to aggression," the Air Force said in a statement and comes amid concerns Iran may still seek to retaliate for the assassination of Tehran's top military commander in a US drone strike just over a year ago.
MILITARY/INTELLIGENCE MATTERS & PROXY WARS
The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps held naval drills involving hundreds of boats in the Persian Gulf, just as a South Korean delegation headed to Tehran to negotiate the release of a tanker seized by Iran earlier this week. The IRGC’s volunteer Basij paramilitary force led a parade of more than 700 light and mid-weight vessels in the waters off Assalouyeh on Thursday, around 450 kilometers (280 miles) west of the port of Bandar Abbas where the Korean ship is being held, according to a statement on the IRGC’s news website, Sepah News.
IRANIAN INTERNAL DEVELOPMENTS
In a letter to the Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the Sunni Friday Imam of Zahedan, Mawlana Abdul Hamid, his claiming that Sunni citizens in Iran are still considered "second-class citizens." The letter published on Tuesday, January 5, on the high-ranking Sunni cleric's official information site, is explicitly addressed to Khamenei. "Forty-two years after the victory of the Islamic Revolution, the Sunnis of Iran still face many problems and concerns about civil rights, to the extent that they feel as lower-class citizens in the Islamic Iran," Abdul Hamid wrote.
RUSSIA, SYRIA, ISRAEL, HEZBOLLAH, LEBANON & IRAN
Media chatter about the restoration of relations between the Syrian regime and the Palestinian Hamas movement has grown louder following the statements of Lebanese Hezbollah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah about a positive atmosphere surrounding efforts to restore relations between Hamas and the Syrian regime. In a long interview with Lebanese al-Mayadeen TV on Dec. 27, Nasrallah said, “This relationship must be restored, but it will take some time.”
OTHER FOREIGN AFFAIRS
It is too early to discuss how much compensation to pay relatives of those killed when Iran shot down an airliner last year, even though Tehran has suggested an amount, a Canadian adviser said on Thursday. Many of the victims were Canadian citizens or permanent residents of Canada. Last month Iran’s cabinet allocated $150,000 for each family of the 176 people who died when Revolutionary Guards downed the Ukraine International Airlines plane near Tehran on Jan. 8, 2020.
Speaking to Radio Farda, Ukraine's Deputy Foreign Minister, Yevhen Yenin, said on Wednesday, January 6, that Kyiv is waiting for the identification and punishment of the "real" Iranian officials responsible for shooting down Ukraine International Airline's passenger plane last January. Yenin, who is in charge of following up on the tragic case, asked that Tehran announce the real reasons behind targeting the plane with two deadly missiles.