A massive explosion and fire at a highly sensitive Iranian nuclear facility last week was likely an act of sabotage, intelligence officials and weapons experts said Monday, but analysts were divided over the severity of the damage to Iran’s nuclear program. Satellite photos released over the weekend show a gaping hole in a large industrial building where Iranian technicians assembled machines that make enriched uranium. The building, on the grounds of Iran’s sprawling Natanz uranium enrichment complex, was rocked early Thursday by a mysterious blast that Iranian officials acknowledge caused “significant” damage.
The European Union’s top diplomat said Friday that he has received a letter from Iran that triggers a dispute mechanism in the international agreement limiting Tehran’s nuclear ambitions, citing concerns that Britain, France and Germany are not living up to their side of the deal. The accord, which Iran signed with the U.S., Britain, Germany, France, China and Russia in 2015, has been unraveling since President Donald Trump pulled Washington out in 2018, unleashing sanctions designed to cripple the Islamic Republic’s economy.
Tehran has built underground “missile cities” along the Gulf coastline, Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Navy chief said on Sunday, warning of a “nightmare for Iran’s enemies”. “Iran has established underground onshore and offshore missile cities all along the coasts of the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman that would be a nightmare for Iran’s enemies,” Rear Admiral Ali Reza Tangsiri told the Sobh-e Sadeq weekly.
NUCLEAR DEAL & NUCLEAR PROGRAM
The top foreign policy aide to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei has criticized UK, France and Germany for voting against Iran at the latest meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). Kamal Kharrazi who is known for furthering Khamenei's policy on Europe, also accused IAEA Chief Rafael Grossi of behaving "suspiciously." Kharrazi's remarks appeared as an identical article in several major Iranian news agencies, meaning it was more of a statement meant to be published and not part of a speech.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Monday, July 6, that Middle Eastern countries demand to extend Iran's arms embargo, and the United Nations Security Council should listen to them. Citing a remark by Pompeo, the State Department said, "from Israel to the [Persian] Gulf, countries in the Middle East - who are most exposed to Iran's predations – are speaking with one voice: Extend the arms embargo. UNSC has a responsibility to listen to them."
SANCTIONS, BUSINESS RISKS, & OTHER ECONOMIC NEWS
Desperate to afford her daughter's overseas university fees, 58-year-old retired Iranian teacher Maryam Hosseini withdrew all her savings from the bank to buy U.S. dollars. It was not enough. With three years of study still to do, her daughter is heading back home, her future now on hold. Hosseini's tale of growing poverty is an increasingly familiar one among Iranians, who have long bought U.S. dollars to support their children financially or squirrel away savings.
Venezuela’s long gas station lines are coming back after a short reprieve from shipments of Iranian fuel in May as the country struggles to repair its ailing refineries. Lines at the pump had disappeared following the arrival of five Iranian tankers in May, carrying a total of 1.5 million barrels of fuel. Relief is unlikely to return without more fuel imports from abroad. Domestic gasoline production was also rising with the help of technicians from Iran who spent two months in the country inspecting and repairing refineries, according to people familiar with the matter who asked not to be identified because the information isn’t public.
In the last several days, Iranian media have highlighted the possibility of a 25-year memorandum or agreement with China that would see Iran benefit from China’s robust and strong economy and help increase the partnership between the two countries. Iran and China already have warm relations, and China is likely keen to knit Iran into its various economic plans, such as the Belt and Road Initiative. Iran has been ready for participation in these initiatives and sought to turn to Turkey, Russia, India and China due to US sanctions.
The Iranian rial fell to a new low against the U.S. dollar on the unofficial market on Saturday, as the economy comes under pressure from the coronavirus pandemic and U.S. sanctions. The dollar was offered for as much as 215,500 rials, softening from 208,200 on Friday, according to foreign exchange site Bonbast.com. The economic daily Donya-e-Eqtesad’s website gave the dollar rate as 215,250, compared with 207,500 on Friday. In May 2018, President Donald Trump withdrew the United States from a multilateral deal aimed at curbing Iran’s nuclear programme and reimposed sanctions that have since battered the economy.
Beijing's increasing political influence in Tehran during the past five years, and the unusual growth in military cooperation and trade between the two have turned China into the biggest winner of the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran, says Iranian analyst Reza Taghizadeh. On 29 June the Iranian Foreign Ministry Spokesman Abbas Mousavi called the document about this cooperation "a source for pride" while former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad described it as another Treaty of Turkmenchai; the 1828 agreement between Iran and Russia based on which Iran (then called Persia) ceded large parts of its territory to the expansionist northern power.
Iran has slashed crude oil production to its lowest level in four decades as storage tanks and vessels are almost completely full due to a fall in exports and refinery run cuts caused by the coronavirus pandemic, industry data showed. Total onshore crude stocks surged to 54 million barrels in April from 15 million barrels in January, and swelled further to 63 million barrels in June, according to FGE Energy.
PROTESTS & HUMAN RIGHTS
A US envoy who was one of the most high-profile members of President Donald Trump’s administration on Sunday blasted Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei for his regime’s elimination of homosexuals. On July 1, Khamenei tweeted: “I definitely wear a mask in meetings.” In response, Richard Grenell fired back: “Do you wear a mask when you push gays off buildings?”
U.S.-IRAN RELATIONS & NEGOTIATIONS
The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) on Friday said it has obtained an audio recording that suggests Iranian authorities did not close the airspace over Tehran on January 8 to conceal their plans to strike U.S. military bases in Iraq, leading to the shooting down of a Ukrainian airliner. The Kyiv-bound Ukraine International Airlines aircraft was shot down by two missiles fired by the Revolutionary Guard air defense. The crash killed all 176 passengers and crew members on board. Only after three days did the Guard take responsibility for the tragedy.
A Washington, D.C. federal court has ordered the Islamic Republic of Iran to pay $879 million in its decision after finding the Iranian defendants directed the 1996 terrorist bombing of the Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia where U.S. forces were housed, according to MM~LAW LLC and co-counsel. Lead attorney Adora Sauer, of MM~LAW LLC, said, "Justice has not forgotten these brave U.S. Air Force veterans and their families. It is an honor and privilege to fight for justice and compensation for these families. The passage of over two decades since the Khobar Towers attack has not thwarted our efforts. We will continue to seek to hold the Government of Iran accountable for this terrorist attack as long as is necessary."
IRANIAN INTERNAL DEVELOPMENTS
Iran's hardline lawmakers plan to summon the president for questioning, a move that could ultimately lead to impeachment, media reported on Monday, amid growing discontent over the government's economic policies. Iranians' daily struggle to make ends meet has become harder since the reimposition of U.S. sanctions in 2018, and the economy has been further damaged by rising inflation, growing unemployment, a slump in the rial and the coronavirus crisis.
Iran on Sunday instituted mandatory mask-wearing as fears mount over newly spiking reported deaths from the coronavirus, even as its public increasingly shrugs off the danger of the COVID-19 illness it causes. Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei publicized an image of himself in a mask in recent days, urging both public officials and the Islamic Republic’s 80 million people to wear them to stop the virus’s spread. But public opinion polling and a walk through any of the streets of Tehran show the widespread apathy felt over a pandemic that saw Iran in February among the first countries struck after China.
RUSSIA, SYRIA, ISRAEL, HEZBOLLAH, LEBANON & IRAN
Israel said it successfully launched a new spy satellite into space on Monday as its leaders hinted it was behind a massive fire at an Iranian nuclear site last week — potentially ratcheting up a long-running covert war. If Israel was responsible for the fire at the heavily fortified Natanz facility, it would mark another in a series of daring strikes against Iran’s nuclear program attributed to Israel, while also risking Iranian retaliation on either Israeli or Western targets.
Israeli media have widely covered recent mysterious explosions in Iran, especially those related to the Islamic Republic's military and nuclear installations, reflecting analysts' assessments of the incidents. A mysterious explosion or fire in the early hours of July 2 destroyed a building at Natanz enrichment facility and many believe it was an Israeli operation, whether through a cyberattack or some sort of air strike. There have also been other mysterious explosion and fires both at military and vital economic facilities.
OTHER FOREIGN AFFAIRS
An Iranian conglomerate owned by the country’s military and tied to its missile program has established a retail foothold in Venezuela, according to officials and records detailing the move, deepening Tehran’s involvement with the Maduro government. The Iranian firm is working with the Maduro government’s troubled emergency food program, which is the subject of U.S. enforcement action as an alleged money-laundering operation, compounding U.S. concerns regarding the move.
Iran will retaliate against any country that carries out cyber attacks on its nuclear sites, the head of civilian defence said, after a fire at its Natanz plant which some Iranian officials said may have been caused by cyber sabotage. The Natanz uranium-enrichment site, much of which is underground, is one of several Iranian facilities monitored by inspectors of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the U.N. nuclear watchdog.
A fire at an Iranian nuclear plant is threatening to spark a major hacking conflict that could embroil U.S. industry. Three Iranian officials have anonymously blamed a foreign cyberattack for the fire, which caused significant damage and threatens to slow the nation’s development of advanced centrifuges by months, Reuters reports. Other officials blamed the attack on a powerful bomb, the New York Times reports. It's not clear if the fire itself was caused by a cyberattack, though some Iranian officials have suggested such attacks could have been launched by the United States or Israel.