An oil tanker called “Fortune” has sailed into Venezuela from Iran, the first of five ships expected to arrive in a nation so starved of gasoline that the docking of a single tanker was hailed on Monday by government officials as a victory. The move represented a deepening of economic relations between Venezuela and Iran, two pariah states run by authoritarian leaders subject to punishing sanctions by the United States government. Representatives of both nations cast the transaction as a sign of strength.
The U.S. military showcased its "awesome firepower" last week in the Persian Gulf, officials said, the same day it warned vessels in the Mideast against approaching within 100 yards of its warships after encounters with Iranian gunboats. A U.S. Air Force AC-130 gunship engaged in live-fire training in the Persian Gulf with the USS Bataan Amphibious Ready Group (ARG) and embarked 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) between May 19 and 21, military officials said Saturday in a news release.
France’s foreign minister said on Tuesday that relations with Iran had become more difficult after Tehran sentenced a French-Iranian academic to prison in what he said was a politically motivated decision. “This sentencing was founded on no serious elements and was politically motivated. So we firmly say to the Iranian authorities to release Fariba Adelkhah without delay,” Jean-Yves Le Drian told France Inter radio. “This decision make our relations with the Iranian authorities a lot more difficult.”
UANI IN THE NEWS
Diplomats at the United Nations have less than six months to stop Iran — the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism, violator of nuclear nonproliferation agreements and catalyst for regional warfare — from buying weapons from the world’s most eager salesmen, Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping. The U.N. arms embargo on Iran is scheduled to sunset starting in October, and if it does, Tehran and its terror proxies, regional allies and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps will be stronger than ever. Our first priority should be to extend and strengthen the embargo.
…Proponents of the administration's tough stance on Iran said the president must act decisively to deter Iran from increasing its footprint in Latin America. "Iran's decision to send a five-strong fleet of sanctioned tankers carrying sanctioned petroleum to the Maduro regime is a brazen attempt to push the limits of U.S. patience," said Daniel Roth, research director at United Against Nuclear Iran, a watchdog group with close ties to the administration. "With a potential reactivation of Tehran's network of South American terror sleeper cells, now is the time to build a strong and unified coalition in the Americas against the deadly Iranian regime."
NUCLEAR DEAL & NUCLEAR PROGRAM
The global body overseeing the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), is soon to release an updated report on Iran's compliance with its Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) obligations. It won't be a good one. At its quarterly meeting in June, the IAEA will tell its Board of Governors whether the Islamic Republic has allowed full and unrestricted access to key nuclear sites and answered outstanding questions pertaining to the agency's investigation into suspected nuclear activities in Iran.
SANCTIONS, BUSINESS RISKS, & OTHER ECONOMIC NEWS
Businesses in Iran, including those deemed “high risk,” should resume work Tuesday, the state-run Islamic Republic News Agency reported, citing the head of the Tehran Chamber of Trade Unions. The advice is based on guidance from the government’s coronavirus task force, according to Qassem Nodeh Farahani, head of the trade body, IRNA said. The so-called high-risk businesses include restaurants, cafes, gyms, saunas and wedding halls, Nodeh Farahani said, adding that they have to keep abiding by social-distancing rules.
A second tanker dispatched by Iran was welcomed Monday by Venezuelan naval frigates and helicopters as it entered national waters, a lifeline for embattled Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro that reflects the closer ties being forged between Tehran and U.S. adversaries in Latin America. The first of five tankers carrying 1.5 million barrels of gasoline, the Fortune, arrived in the predawn hours at El Palito, a refinery near Puerto Cabello, in defiance of U.S. sanctions that largely prohibit oil trading with the fuel-starved country.
Iran's non-oil exports, which have suffered from weaknesses in its economic and management systems as well as from various sanctions over the years, is facing new problems following the coronavirus outbreak. According to the Iranian Customs Administration, the total volume of Iran's exports and imports in April was reduced by 27 percent compared to the same month last year and reached to a little over $3.5 billion. The biggest loss was in the export sector that marked a 36 percent decline reaching to $1,652 million compared to $2,595 last April.
PROTESTS & HUMAN RIGHTS
Hundreds of protesters were killed or wounded by Iranian regime forces in demonstrations that took place in cities across the country in November 2019. The Iranian people were protesting in response to the government raising the price of gasoline. These protests were much bloodier and more serious than the ones that erupted in 2009 in the aftermath of the rigged elections in favor of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the scattered anti-regime protests of 2017.
Amid a worsening economy in Iran a new wave of worker protests have sprang up in the country in recent weeks, as government coffers empty out and many employers are unable to pay wages. Municipal workers have been taking part in protest gatherings during the past week in at least two cities in Iran's Khuzestan Province, one of the areas worst hit by the coronavirus outbreak. Meanwhile, coal miners in Kerman Province, machine manufacturers in Arak in the Central Province, and nurses in Tehran, Gilan and Isfahan Provinces have also taken part in industrial actions and protest gatherings during the past month.
U.S.-IRAN RELATIONS & NEGOTIATIONS
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo accused Iranian Foreign Minister Javid Zarif of "echoing Hitler's call for genocide" in a Friday morning tweet regarding an Iranian push for what organizers call a "final solution" referendum aimed at creating an official Palestinian state. That terminology was used by the Nazis during the Holocaust. "Incredible that @JZarif and Iran’s Supreme Leader are echoing Hitler’s call for genocide," Pompeo wrote. "This depravity should dispel any notion the regime belongs in the community of nations. We stand with Germany and Israel against this oldest & most vile form of hatred, and say #NeverAgain."
IRANIAN INTERNAL DEVELOPMENTS
For the past four decades, on the last Friday of Ramadan, supporters of Iran’s government have marched to denounce Israel. They burn Israel’s flag. They mock effigies of the leaders of Israel and of its patron, the United States. They chant pledges to liberate Jerusalem, or Quds, as the city is known in Arabic. But the coronavirus pandemic forced Iran to cancel its annual Quds Day parade on Friday. Instead, Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, delivered a televised speech, compensating in rhetoric for the silence in the streets.
RUSSIA, SYRIA, ISRAEL, HEZBOLLAH, LEBANON & IRAN
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said Friday morning that the State of Israel was the greatest threat to international peace and security. "Jerusalem Day is the day to revive Palestinian rights and for the occupation and settlers to disappear," Zarif said on Twitter. "Israel is the largest human rights violator and the only holder of nuclear weapons in the region. The official continued, saying Israel is "the most serious chronic threat to international peace and security," adding that US President Donald Trump's "racist" Deal of the Century "proved Washington to be a hopeless partner of the aggressor."
Iran’s parliament has passed a law criminalizing any prearranged contact with Israelis. The punishment, depending on the background of the defendant and the prerogative of the judge, could include anywhere from six months to two years in prison, 31 to 74 lashes or 20-80 million tomans (about $1,200-$4,800) in fines. There are also other less severe forms of punishment at the judge's disposal that include depriving the guilty party of benefits such as housing, state pensions and state education for a period of six months to five years.
IRAQ & IRAN
Mustafa al-Kadhimi, Iraq’s new prime minister as of May 12, has already announced a bold intention. In a short government manifesto he submitted to the Iraqi Parliament, Kadhimi emphasized his plans to “impose the state’s prestige” by bringing armed groups under government control. To observers of post-Saddam Hussein Iraq, the manifesto’s meaning is clear: the damage to the state’s “prestige” has, after all, come mainly from pro-Iranian militant groups who answer to the commanders of the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), rather than to Iraq’s commander in chief.
Israel was the target of a cyber attack of rare proportions on the night of April 24. It hit Israeli water and sewage facilities, penetrating the computer systems of several regional water facilities and briefly disrupting their operations. Israel’s National Cyber Directorate identified an attempt to take control of the chlorine control system, some pumps and the command and control center of Israel’s Water Authority. Cyber defense systems identified and blocked the attack before it did more than disable a few pumps for several minutes.
Iran has been accused of using a “sophisticated state-sponsored program” of cyber disinformation to identify and arrest supporters of a London-based Persian-language news outlet. Iran International has been targeted by cybercriminals, thought to be working for the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, who have made replicas of the channel’s social media accounts and their most popular reporters. Mahmood Enayat, general manager at Iran International, said this is an attempt to identify and arrest the channel’s supporters in the country.