Three rockets, apparently fired by an Iranian-backed Iraqi militia, landed in the U.S. Embassy complex within Baghdad’s fortified Green Zone late Tuesday, amid rising tensions with Iran in the waning days of the Trump administration. A U.S. military official, speaking on the condition of anonymity in advance of a formal statement, said initial reports indicated there had been no injuries to U.S. personnel or damage to American facilities. Another rocket reportedly landed elsewhere in the zone, and the Iraqi army said in a statement that another three fell outside the area, killing a young child and wounding five Iraqi civilians.
Iran has begun feeding uranium hexafluoride (UF6) gas feedstock into the advanced IR-2m uranium-enriching centrifuges installed at its underground plant at Natanz, according to a UN nuclear watchdog report obtained by Reuters on Wednesday. The move is the latest nuclear standoff escalation by Iran with the US, Israel and their allies. According to the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, the Islamic Republic can only accumulate enriched uranium with first-generation IR-1 machines, which are the only ones it can operate at the underground plant.
President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. has promised to move quickly to rejoin the nuclear deal with Iran so long as Iran also comes back into compliance. But that vow is easier said than done. While Mr. Biden’s pledge pleased the deal’s other signatories, who were angry that President Trump withdrew from it two years ago, returning to the way things were may be impossible, complicated by both Iranian and American politics. President Trump, even as a lame duck, is moving quickly to increase American sanctions against Iran and sell advanced weapons to its regional enemies, policies that would be difficult for a new president to reverse.
SANCTIONS, BUSINESS RISKS, & OTHER ECONOMIC NEWS
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said Iran would fully implement its 2015 nuclear deal if U.S. President-elect Joe Biden lifts sanctions on Tehran, which Zarif said could be done swiftly through “three executive orders”. “If Mr. Biden is willing to fulfill U.S. commitments, we too can immediately return to our full commitments in the accord... and negotiations are possible within the framework of the P5 + 1 (six world powers in the accord),” Zarif said in the interview posted on the website of the state-run daily Iran on Wednesday.
Recently released figures on the cost of essential items for lower-income segments in Iran show that the rise in the price of these items — predominantly food products — has indeed put a lot of pressure on vulnerable groups in the country. During the period from March 2019 to September 2020, Iranians have witnessed prices of goods skyrocket from 55% to more than 100%, according to a study published in October by the Institute for Trade Studies and Research, a think tank under the Ministry of Industry, Mine and Trade. For instance, pasta, imported rice and legumes have increased in price by more than 100%.
In recent years, barely a week has passed without a media appearance of Amirali Hajizadeh, the media-savvy commander of the IRGC Aerospace Force. Charming, gregarious and always wearing a smile, Hajizadeh doesn't miss any opportunity to talk about drones, domestic car production and the rapid growth of Iran's missile force while carefully ignoring more inconvenient topics such as the downing of Flight 752. It came as a bit of a surprise, then, when on November 11, his deputy Seyyed Majid Mousavi attended in his absence the presentation of two new missile-related books published on the anniversary of the martyrdom of Hassan Tehrani Moghaddam, the founder of Iran's missile force.
PROTESTS & HUMAN RIGHTS
Iranian authorities have done little to hold accountable those responsible for the brutal clampdown on nationwide protests that erupted a year ago, according to Human Rights Watch. “One year after the November crackdown, Iranian authorities have avoided any measure of accountability and continue to harass the families of those killed during the protest,” Human Rights Watch Iran expert Tara Sepehri Far said in a statement Tuesday.
U.S.-IRAN RELATIONS & NEGOTIATIONS
Joe Biden promises on his campaign website to “revitalize our national commitment to advancing human rights and democracy around the world.” If he’s serious, he should thank President Trump for helping out. In early November, Elliott Abrams, Mr. Trump’s envoy for Iran and Venezuela, was touring allied Mideast countries—Israel, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia—coordinating new measures against Iran. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is following up with a similar tour. A new set of Iran sanctions reportedly will be announced each week until Jan. 20, some targeting Iranian entities not directly involved in the nuclear field.
When President-elect Joe Biden finally starts getting intelligence briefings, he may want to pay special attention to Israel’s successful operation against Abu Muhammad al-Masri, al-Qaeda’s second in command. The significance of that operation, which took place in August and saw al-Masri shot dead in the street, is its location: Iran. According to the center-left conventional wisdom, this sort of thing should be impossible. While many analysts acknowledge that senior al-Qaeda leaders fled to Iran after the fall of the Taliban in Afghanistan, they have insisted that there was no significant relationship between the Shiite majority regime in Tehran and the Sunni-jihadist terrorist group.
IRANIAN INTERNAL DEVELOPMENTS
Iran's Vice President, Eshaq Jahangiri, has accused the Speaker of Iran's Majlis parliament of having the "least possible knowledge of the economy." During a Majlis meeting on Monday, the parliamentary speaker, Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf, commented that the government should seek new sources of essential goods, suggesting an increase of customs duties. Qalibaf made the comment at a debate about passing into law a parliamentary motion for supplying essential goods.
The Iranian government has announced a stimulus plan and a rapid COVID-19 test as cases continue to soar in the country. On Tuesday, the state-run Press TV reported that a company in Tehran had developed a coronavirus testing kit that can deliver results in 15 to 20 minutes. The kit will become available in the “near future,” according to the outlet. Rapid COVID-19 tests are already available in some parts of the world, including the United States.
RUSSIA, SYRIA, ISRAEL, HEZBOLLAH, LEBANON & IRAN
Israel launched air strikes against the Syrian army and Iran’s Quds Force in Syria on Wednesday after explosive devices were planted in the Israeli-held Golan Heights, the Israeli military said. The Syrian state news agency reported that three military personnel were killed and one was wounded in “Israeli aggression” over Damascus. In a statement, the Israeli military said its planes hit storage facilities, military compounds and Syrian surface-to-air missile batteries.
OTHER FOREIGN AFFAIRS
Iran’s foreign ministry on Tuesday summoned Italy’s envoy, who represents Canadian interests in Tehran, to protest what it called Canada’s lack of cooperation in setting up consular services for a large Iranian-Canadian community, state media said. In the meeting with the ambassador, the ministry also accused Canada of not helping apprehend a Canada-based former Iranian banker wanted by Tehran for alleged financial crimes, state broadcaster IRIB said on its website.