An Iranian oil tanker held for six weeks after being impounded left Gibraltar on Sunday, after the authorities in the British territory rejected a request from American officials to turn the vessel over to them, the latest development in an episode that has contributed to raised tensions between Iran and the West. A marine traffic monitoring website showed the tanker, the Grace 1, leaving Gibraltar's waters shortly after 11 p.m. local time, with a destination of Kalamata, a port city in southern Greece, a move that has raised hopes that Iran will now release a British-flagged ship.
Iran appears to be preparing another satellite launch after twice failing this year to put one in orbit, despite U.S. accusations that the Islamic Republic's program helps it develop ballistic missiles. Satellite images of the Imam Khomeini Space Center in Iran's Semnan province this month show increased activity at the site, as heightened tensions persist between Washington and Tehran over its collapsing nuclear deal with world powers.
Yemen's Houthi rebels struck Saudi Arabia's Shaybah oil field, one of the kingdom's largest, Saudi officials and the Houthis said, deepening tensions between Iran and its rivals that have engulfed the region's energy facilities. The Houthis said in a statement Saturday that they had targeted Shaybah with 10 drones. The Iran-aligned rebels said the attack was their largest of its kind on Saudi Arabia, which they have been fighting for control in Yemen since 2014.
NUCLEAR DEAL & NUCLEAR PROGRAM
The Islamic Republic of Iran is planning to work on introducing a new generation of uranium enriching centrifuges, a lawmaker told local media on Sunday August 18. The IR-8 Centrifuges are 20 times more powerful than the first-generation equipment Iran has been using for uranium enrichment.Hamid Reza Hajibabaee quoted the Iranian Atomic Energy Organization Chief Ali Akbar Salehi as telling parliamentarians that Iran has been producing IR-6 and IR-7 centrifuges so far, but it now plans to produce IR-8.
PROTESTS & HUMAN RIGHTS
The U.N. Special Rapporteur on human rights in Iran says last year saw increasing restrictions on the right to freedom of expression and continuing violations of the right to life, liberty and a fair trial in the Islamic Republic, including 253 reported executions of adults and children. Javaid Rehman who was appointed more than a year ago said in a report to the General Assembly circulated on August 16 that while executions were the lowest since 2007, "the number of executions remains one of the highest in the world."
Last week, Kameel Ahmady, a dual British-Iranian citizen, was arrested by Iran and incarcerated in Tehran's infamous Evin Prison, along with many other political prisoners. Ahmady, an anthropologist who has written about child marriage and female genital mutilation in Iran, is the latest Western dual national to be taken into custody by the Islamic Republic. At least three other such Britons are being held, a part of the growing number of Westerners jailed on charges mainly related to espionage.
The UN expert on human rights in Iran said last year saw increasing restrictions on the right to freedom of expression and continuing violations of the right to life, liberty and a fair trial in the Islamic Republic, including 253 reported executions of adults and children. Javaid Rehman said in a report to the General Assembly circulated Friday that while the number of executions was the lowest since 2007, "the number of executions remains one of the highest in the world."
U.S.-IRAN RELATIONS & NEGOTIATIONS
The presence of America and Britain in the Gulf region brings insecurity, the head of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards navy, Alireza Tangsiri, was reported as saying by the ILNA news agency. Tensions have spiked between Iran and the U.S. and Britain in the Gulf after the Islamic Republic shot down an American drone in June and seized a British tanker last month for violating maritime regulations. Iran seized the tanker two weeks after British Royal Marines detained an Iranian tanker on suspicion of violating European Union sanctions by taking oil to Syria, a close ally of Iran.
Iran has warned the United States against any new attempt to seize an Iranian oil tanker in open seas after it left Gibraltar, the Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman said on state television on Monday. The Iranian tanker caught in a standoff between Tehran and the West was sailing to Greece on Monday after leaving Gibraltar, shipping data showed, hours after the British territory rejected a U.S. request to detain the vessel further.
MILITARY/INTELLIGENCE MATTERS & PROXY WARS
Gunmen from opposition Iranian Kurdish parties are increasing their activities on the Iranian border, prompting the army to boost its presence along the border with Kurdistan Region, according to residents of the Sidakan village, 90 kilometers northeast of Erbil in the Soran district. Soran mayor, Kirmanj Izzat said the army has been amassing its forces there since last fall in anticipation of any military action. He told Asharq Al-Awsat that the military has set up more surveillance points on the mountains, but has not entered the Region yet.
IRANIAN INTERNAL DEVELOPMENTS
While attacks on Expediency Discernment Council Chief Sadeq Amoli Larijani continue, he has given a strongly worded answer to one of his critics, hardliner Ayatollah Mohammad Yazdi. Yazdi had last week accused Larijani of corruption, while also questioning his credentials as a Shiite seminary scholar, saying that he has never been effective in Qom, and his threat to leave for the Najaf Seminary was baseless as he lacked necessary scholarly qualifications.
RUSSIA, SYRIA, ISRAEL, HEZBOLLAH, LEBANON & IRAN
A U.S. agreement to set up a safe zone in northern Syria, a close ally of Iran, is "provocative and worrisome", the Iranian foreign ministry was reported to have said by the semi-official Fars news agency. The United States and Turkey last week agreed to set up a joint operations center for a proposed zone along Syria's northeast border. "Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi ... said the recent announcements and agreements by American officials about creating a safe zone in northern Syria are provocative and worrisome," Fars reported.
GULF STATES, YEMEN, & IRAN
Yemen's Houthi rebel government appointed its first ambassador to Iran, days after a delegation met Iran's supreme leader Ali Khamenei in Tehran, the rebel-held Saba news agency. The appointment of Ibrahim Mohammed Al-Dailami is meant to boost ties between Yemen and Iran, the rebel leader, Abdulmalik al-Houthi, said on TV. Al-Houthi said the relationship with Tehran will be better than it was in the past as it's based on "brotherhood and mutual causes," such as the Palestinian issue.
Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif arrived in Kuwait on Sunday and met with Crown Prince Nawaf Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah. The top Iranian diplomat also met with Kuwaiti Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Sheikh Sabah Al-Khalid Al-Sabah. The two sides reviewed bilateral cooperation and the latest regional developments.
IRAQ & IRAN
Iraq's most powerful political and military leaders were gathered in Baghdad's opulent presidential palace to discuss just one thing: how to stop the country's closest neighbour, Iran, and its most powerful ally, America, going to war on its soil. The May 19 meeting took place when US-Iran tensions over Tehran's nuclear programme and its backing of foreign proxies had put the Middle East on edge. Two weeks earlier, the US had dispatched an aircraft carrier strike group to the Gulf, citing Iranian provocation.
OTHER FOREIGN AFFAIRS
The Iranian tanker caught in a standoff between Tehran and the West left Gibraltar on Sunday night, shipping data showed, hours after the British territory rejected a U.S. request to detain the vessel further. British Royal Marines seized the tanker in Gibraltar in July on suspicion it was carrying oil to Syria, a close ally of Iran, in violation of European Union sanctions. That triggered a series of events that have heightened tensions on international oil shipping routes through the GUlf.