The deployment of 14,000 additional American troops to the Persian Gulf region since the spring has probably not dissuaded Iran from planning a major attack on the scale of the recent missile and drone assault on Saudi Arabia's oil fields, the commander of American forces in the Middle East says. The officer, Gen. Kenneth F. McKenzie, the head of the military's Central Command, said the additional troops, fighter jets and air defenses that the Pentagon has dispatched might have deterred Iran from attacking American targets - like Iran's downing of an unmanned surveillance drone in June.
Mehdi Nekouee should have been fighting for his life on a hospital ward. The 20-year-old law student was one of the first of hundreds shot by Revolutionary Guard in spontaneous anti-government protests that swept across Iran last week. But instead of lying in a hospital bed - or the rack of a morgue - Mr Nekouee's family believe he was spirited away by intelligence officers removing dead and injured protesters to hide the true scale of the government's brutal crackdown.
Four months before a swarm of drones and missiles crippled the world's biggest oil processing facility in Saudi Arabia, Iranian security officials gathered at a heavily fortified compound in Tehran. The group included the top echelons of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, an elite branch of the Iranian military whose portfolio includes missile development and covert operations. The main topic that day in May: How to punish the United States for pulling out of a landmark nuclear treaty and re-imposing economic sanctions on Iran, moves that have hit the Islamic Republic hard.
UANI IN THE NEWS
Sen. Lieberman: "There is also unrest because people feel suppressed. They don't have economic opportunities; they don't have freedom. I believe from sources I have that a lot of people who are protesting in the streets just asking for lower gas prices, were actually killed by the government in Iran, over the last week. So, I think we've got to keep economic pressure on. I hope that the Europeans will join America in the maximum pressure economic campaign and eventually the Mullahs who run Iran are going to have to decide to come back and sign a better nuclear agreement, or they are going to face an uprising from the people that will push them out of power."
"The Trump administration somehow has not issued a single new sanctions designation for human rights violations in well over a year. There are over 60 Iranian human rights abusers that the EU sanctioned a long time ago, but the U.S. never has," added Alan Goldsmith, an analyst with United Against Nuclear Iran (UANI). "Washington should start by sanctioning all of them-and additional people who bear significant responsibility for the repression of the current protests. The bottom line is the regime is ready, willing, and able to use force to put down protest and unrest; it views its own survival at risk."
SANCTIONS, BUSINESS RISKS, & OTHER ECONOMIC NEWS
Iran has asked Russia to provide an additional $2 billion loan for projects including the construction of thermal power plants, hydroelectric power plants, railroads and subway carriages, Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak said on Saturday. "They're asking for about $2 billion... They say they were promised $5 billion in 2015... We had loans allocated to them, they ask us to bring the total amount up to $5 billion," Novak said, without providing further details.
Internet connectivity in Iran surged on Saturday, a day after the United States imposed sanctions on an Iranian minister over a week-long shutdown imposed by the regime as part of a crackdown on nationwide protests against higher fuel prices. Iranian officials said on Thursday that internet connections were being gradually restored, suggesting that the unrest had been quelled, and on Saturday connectivity suddenly reached 60 per cent by afternoon, according to the internet advocacy group NetBlocks.
Iran has showcased a new generation of "Mersad-16" missile system during a military exercise in Semnan Province, southeast of Tehran, IRGC-linked Tasnim news agency reported on Saturday November 23. According to Tasnim, the system was successfully used against drones and other forms of unmanned flying objects. The report says the new generation of Mersad-16 missile systems are mobile, use new radars and launcher boxes, and can work also with the newly showcased missile Shalamcheh-2.
TERRORISM & EXTREMISM
Sheikh Ra'ad Salah, the former head of the northern branch of Israel's Islamic Movement, was convicted on Sunday of incitement to terrorism and support for illegal organizations. Salah was arrested during the summer of 2017 after police alleged he had praised a terrorist attack that summer on Jerusalem's Temple Mount and incited violence at the funeral of the three assailants in that attack, who were from the Israeli Arab town of Umm al-Fahm. Two Border Police officers were killed and another was wounded in the incident at the entrance of the Temple Mount.
PROTESTS & HUMAN RIGHTS
Machine gun fire answers rock-throwing protesters. Motorcycle-riding Revolutionary Guard volunteers chase after demonstrators. Plainclothes security forces grab, beat and drag a man off the street to an uncertain fate. As Iran restores the internet after a weeklong government-imposed shutdown, new videos purport to show the demonstrations over gasoline prices rising and the security-force crackdown that followed. The videos offer only fragments of encounters, but to some extent they fill in the larger void left by Iran's state-controlled television and radio channels.
Iran restored internet access in large parts of the country after a weeklong shutdown aimed at stifling nationwide protests, but threatened more arrests in a brutal crackdown that exposes the challenges facing a government struggling to cope with harsh U.S. sanctions. Iran has accused the U.S. and other rivals of fomenting the unrest, as it justified using force that left more than 100 people dead, according to rights groups. Hundreds have been detained as they protested higher fuel prices.
A pro-government rally in Tehran on Monday will show the world who "real" Iranians are, Iran's Foreign Ministry said, expressing surprise at foreign statements of support for a wave of protests against the authorities over a fuel price rise. The protests grew into anti-government unrest that saw at least 100 banks and dozens of buildings torched in the worst violence at least since Iran put down a "Green Revolution" in 2009, when dozens were killed over several months. Iran has blamed "thugs" linked to exiles and foreign foes - the United States, Israel and Saudi Arabia - for stirring up the street unrest.
Iran has promised to severely punish "mercenaries" arrested over nationwide street protests sparked by a fuel-price rise as much of the country came back online after a week-long internet blackout. A senior commander of Iran's elite Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) on Sunday urged the country's judiciary to mete out harsh sentences to those involved in the deadly demonstrations.
Violence by Iranian security forces against protestors in over 100 Iranian cities during the past week have given rise to many political discussions among the people and in the media. The main question is where are widespread protests and social upheavals headed? Can these upheavals pave the way for a serious change in Iran? Or, do they pose a serious threat to the Islamic Republic?
Prominent Iranian intellectual Abdolkarim Soroush has said frustrated protesters in Iran may take up arms if the government refuses to meet their demands. Speaking on the anti-government protests that have rocked Iran for longer than a week now, Soroush said: "Things like that can happen when the people cannot find any other outlet" to vent their frustration. However, he stressed in his speech that "violence is not the solution". Soroush lives in exile in California and his remarks were published on Saturday.
U.S.-IRAN RELATIONS & NEGOTIATIONS
A U.S. federal judge has awarded a Washington Post journalist and his family nearly $180 million in their lawsuit against Iran over his 544 days in captivity and torture while being held on internationally criticized espionage charges. The order in the case filed by Jason Rezaian came as Iranian officials appeared to begin restoring the internet after a weeklong shutdown amid a security crackdown on protesters angered by government-set gasoline prices sharply rising.
The top U.S. general is visiting Tel Aviv for meetings with Israeli military leaders amid heightened tensions with Iran in the Mideast. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley met Sunday with Israeli counterpart Lt. Gen. Aviv Kohavi. Israel's military said in a statement that Milley's visit was a sign of "the depth of the partnership between the forces and its importance in promoting regional stability." Milley's visit comes amid rising tensions between Israel and regional rival Iran.
The United States has called on social-media giants Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter to suspend accounts linked to Iranian government leaders until Internet coverage is restored in that country. "It is a deeply hypocritical regime," Brian Hook, the U.S. special representative for Iran, told Bloomberg News in an interview posted on the official State Department Twitter account. "It shuts down the Internet while its government continues to use all of these social-media accounts."
France's Minister for Armed Forces Florence Parly has given a forceful speech Saturday warning of the dangers of U.S. disengagement from the Middle East and not responding to attacks. Parly made the comments Saturday, addressing the annual Manama Dialogue in Bahrain, where she said "gradual U.S. disengagement" in the Middle East was worrisome and its failure to respond to provocations blamed on Iran set off a dangerous chain of events.
MILITARY/INTELLIGENCE MATTERS & PROXY WARS
The State Department reported on Nov. 1 that Iran is not only the deadliest of terror-sponsoring states in the world but is expanding the scope and nature of its deadly attacks. Missile expert Uzi Rubin recently informed an international conference on air and missile defense in Dresden, Germany, that Iran is the most prolific builder of ballistic missiles in the Middle East. Moreover, its space launch vehicles are a precursor for the development of intercontinental-range ballistic missiles.
IRANIAN INTERNAL DEVELOPMENTS
Days of widespread anti-government protests and violence in Iran have renewed debate over the status of minorities in the country, with some experts warning that Iranian authorities are blaming minority groups for the unrest in a bid to justify further clamping down on them. The nationwide protests in Iran erupted late last week because of frustration over an abrupt increase in gas prices by the government. Watchdog group Amnesty International reported Tuesday that at least 100 protesters had been killed by security forces and more than 1,000 people had been arrested.
Iran faces a time of reckoning, and the stakes couldn't be higher: potential war with the United States, the reversal of its gains across the Middle East and the future of its revolutionary state. It would surprise most Americans how little the Arab public and media here - nine time zones from Washington, D.C. - were occupied this week with the congressional hearings on impeaching President Donald Trump. They instead were focused on the crisis in Iran, just 600 miles away from the UAE as the drone flies.
An advocacy group says internet connectivity is rapidly being restored in Iran after a weeklong government-imposed shutdown in response to widespread protests. The group NetBlocks said Saturday that connectivity had suddenly reached 60% Saturday afternoon. It said on Twitter: "Internet access is being restored in #Iran after a weeklong internet shutdown amid widespread protests."
The protests in Iraq, Lebanon, and Iran are proving an existential battle between Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and the people of these countries. The leadership of the IRGC, Iran's paramilitary wing, believes that the mass protests in their country can only be contained using excessive force and is certain that the world will be powerless to intervene no matter how harsh the degree of their repression. It is preparing to officially seize power in Tehran after it engineers the resignation of President Hassan Rouhani.
IRANIAN REGIONAL AGGRESSION
Iran's meddlesome acts in the Arab world were at the focus of a major security forum in Bahrain on Saturday with senior officials blaming Tehran for regional instability. UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Dr Anwar Gargash said Iran's expansionist policy was a reason for instability in the region, calling for "firm" measures to stabilise the vital area. His call comes amid months-old tensions resulting from a string of attacks on commercial vessels in the Gulf and on Saudi oil facilities for which Iran was squarely blamed.
CONGRESS & IRAN
The Speaker of the U.S. House of Representative Nancy Pelosi has voiced concern at the death of more 100 protesters in Iran, joining other Democrats and Democratic presidential candidates who had already condemned the killings. Earlier, Bernie Sanders, Hillary Clinton, several Democratic presidential candidates and lawmakers had spoken out on violent suppression of protests and the Internet blackout by the Islamic Republic. "All Iranians should be able to make their voices heard", tweeted Pelosi "without fear of reprisal."
RUSSIA, SYRIA, ISRAEL, HEZBOLLAH, LEBANON & IRAN
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday accused Iran of planning attacks against the Jewish state and said everything possible would be done to prevent them. The premier, who was indicted on corruption charges on Thursday and is seen to be battling for his political life, made his remarks on a visit to an army base near the border with conflict-ravaged Syria. "Iran's aggression in our region, and against us, continues," Netanyahu said.
Clashes broke out between anti-government demonstrators and supporters of the Shi'ite groups Hezbollah and Amal in the Lebanese capital, Beirut, early on Monday, as tensions escalated when demonstrators blocked a main bridge. Lebanon has faced five weeks of anti-government protests, fueled by anger at corruption among the sectarian politicians who have governed Lebanon for decades. Demonstrators want to see the entire ruling class gone from power.
IRAQ & IRAN
Iraq's southern border with Iran reopened to travelers on Saturday after a week-long closure during mass protests in both countries, the Iraqi border ports commission said in a statement. It did not give a reason for the decision. The Shalamcheh crossing near the southern city of Basra was shut to travelers after a request from Iran last Saturday, a security source and an Iranian diplomat said at the time. The closure did not affect goods or trade.
OTHER FOREIGN AFFAIRS
Iranian Vice-President Eshaq Jahangiri on Saturday warned regional countries of unspecified dire consequences if it is proven that they meddled to stoke unrest in Iran, the semi-official news agency Fars reported. "Some countries in the region should know that they will be not have an easy life in the region if clues are found that show they intervened to create unrest in Iran," said Jahangiri, quoted by Fars.