The United States is in discussions with its allies to set up a naval task force to guard ships traveling through the Red Sea after the latest attack on several commercial vessels in what appears to be an escalating extension of Israel’s war with Hamas by Iranian-sponsored proxy forces. Jake Sullivan, President Biden’s national security adviser, said on Monday that such patrols or escorts could be the appropriate response to the targeting of ships in the region. He compared the mission to similar task forces in the Gulf, where Iranian naval forces have at times been aggressive with other ships, and off the coast of Somalia, where pirates have preyed on private vessels in the past. “We are in talks with other countries about a maritime task force of sorts involving the ships from partner nations alongside the United States in ensuring safe passage of ships in the Red Sea,” Mr. Sullivan told reporters at the White House. “Those talks are ongoing as we speak.
Iran intends to retaliate against Israel in response to an airstrike that killed two senior Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps generals in Syria on Saturday, according to a top diplomatic spokesman. “No action against Iran, its interests, or our advisory forces will go unanswered,” Iranian Foreign Affairs Ministry spokesman Nasser Kana’ani said Monday, per an Iranian media outlet. Israel has bombarded Iranian forces in Syria throughout Tehran’s intervention in the Syrian civil war in a bid to preempt Iranian threats to Israel from that northern border. The latest bombardment figures into a wider standoff between Israel's and Iran’s proxies throughout the Middle East in the wake of the Oct. 7 terrorist attack that ignited the war with Hamas in Gaza.
Iranian political prisoners Sepideh Gholian and Mahboubeh Rezaei, incarcerated in Tehran's notorious Evin prison, have warned about the deteriorating health of fellow inmate Zahra Sarv, who has been on a hunger strike since early December to protest against the harsh treatment and injustices she has faced since her arrest in October 2021. The plight of Sarv, detailed in a letter obtained by RFE/RL's Radio Farda, outlines a pattern of disregard for prisoner rights within the Iranian judicial system. Despite having served one-third of her sentence, Sarv's conditional release has been repeatedly denied, reportedly due to the objections of her case interrogator. The situation has reached a critical point, with Sarv being compelled to endure a 6 1/2-year sentence handed to her by Branch 26 of the Tehran Revolutionary Court on charges of "conspiracy and collusion to act against national security" and "propaganda against the system."
UANI IN THE NEWS
‘This is what happens when there’s no deterrence, when we try to de-escalate the Houthis and IRGC try to escalate’ Says @JasonMBrodsky, Policy Director of United Against Nuclear Iran, following yesterday’s Houthi attack of a U.S. warship.
SANCTIONS, BUSINESS RISKS, & OTHER ECONOMIC NEWS
Iran and Cuba vowed Monday to strengthen relations and stand together against sanctions imposed on them by the United States. "What can neutralize the sanctions is the exchange of capacities between the two countries," Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi said during a joint statement with his visiting Cuban counterpart Miguel Diaz-Canel. Cuba has been under a U.S. embargo since 1962 and is included on the American list of countries supporting terrorism — like Iran, which is also subject to severe sanctions linked primarily to its nuclear program. "There is a serious determination between the two countries to develop relations," Raisi said, adding that "the common feature of the two countries is that they both stand against the system of domination." Diaz-Canel, who arrived in Tehran on Sunday after participating in the U.N.'s COP28 climate talks in Dubai, thanked Iran for supporting his country's "fight against the cruel embargo" imposed by the United States.
Iran's Ministry of Foreign Affairs claims that the $6 billion in resources released by the United States in Qatar are accessible to Iran in spite of calls from Washington to withhold it. Nasser Kanaani said Monday that “the country has the freedom to utilize the funds based on its needs", in response to the approval of a bill in the US Congress aimed at blocking Iran's assets in Qatar. Kanaani said, "The bill necessitates approval from the US Senate and the President of the United States to become operational. The US government, bound by its international commitments and agreements with Iran concerning the released financial resources involving third-party countries, is obligated and committed. We have secured necessary assurances in this regard." On Thursday, the US House of Representatives passed a bipartisan measure titled the "No Funds for Iranian Terrorism Act.
TERRORISM & EXTREMISM
Police in Berlin are investigating a suspected arson attempt early Monday at the office of an Iranian opposition group. Members of the group noticed flames at a window of the building in Berlin's Schmargendorf district at about 2:15 a.m. and were able to extinguish them before they spread inside, police said in a statement. No one was hurt, and a police investigation was under way. The statement didn't give further details or say who might have been responsible. The group, the National Council of Resistance of Iran, claimed that assailants affiliated with the Iranian government “initiated the attack by throwing incendiary materials towards the building.” The NCRI is the political wing of the Mujahedeen-e-Khalq, which is considered a terror organization by Iran and was once designated as such by the United States until it was delisted in 2012. The EU removed the group from its terrorism list in 2009.
PROTESTS & HUMAN RIGHTS
Iranian authorities have fined a former woman wrestler for posting a picture of her without a mandatory headscarf on social media. Massoumeh Suleimani recently revealed on her Instagram page that she has been fined 50 million tomans ($1,000) for what the Khorramabad Prosecutor's Office deemed as "acts of violence in cyberspace." The picture in question showed Suleimani without a head covering at the gravesite of a victim of the brutal state crackdown on nationwide protests that erupted last year. Suleimani, who gained recognition as a successful wrestler and international referee, was earlier forced to withdraw from the sport due to pressures from the security apparatus. In defiance of a stern warning by the International Olympic Committee (IOC), the Islamic Republic continues to interfere in sports, repressing athletes and infringing the rights of sportswomen.
The Baha’i International Community (BIC) has denounced an “escalation and intensification” of the Iranian government’s “policy of systematic persecution” against the religious community. Baha’is, the largest non-Muslim religious minority in Iran, have been persecuted since the 1979 Islamic Revolution, and are today “suppressed in all areas of life,” BIC says in a statement on December 4. It said the authorities are using a range of “new and ever harsher methods” to persecute the Baha’is, including “home raids and searches, arrests, trials, prison terms, land and property confiscations, hate speech, the denial of education, and the denial of burial rights and of basic citizenship rights.” The aim of these new tactics is “to sow fear and confusion, to disenfranchise and further impoverish Baha’is, to prolong the harassment of individuals, and to instill feelings of uncertainty and thus rob all Baha'is of peace and security in their daily lives.” There are currently at least 70 individuals either in detention or serving prison sentences, the largest number in the past six years, BIC says.
MILITARY/INTELLIGENCE MATTERS & PROXY WARS
US forces killed at least five Iran-backed militia members in a drone strike after the US “identified an imminent attack” was likely to be launched by militia forces in Kirkuk, Iraq, on Sunday, a US official said. It wasn’t immediately clear which group the forces killed on Sunday belonged to. Deputy Pentagon Press Secretary Sabrina Singh said Monday that the militia members were “preparing to launch a one-way attack drone,” and the US responded with “an armed US uncrewed aerial system killing all five militants and destroying the drone.” Iraqi security forces were notified of the strike, Singh said, and she confirmed the death of the militants and destruction of the drone. The number of attacks by Iran-backed proxy groups on US and coalition forces in Iraq and Syria has risen to 76 since October 17, a defense official told CNN.
After the recent attacks by the Houthis on the USS Carney, retired Lt. Gen. Steph Twitty says Iran is trying to broaden the war from a regional perspective to bring the U.S. in and “disrupt the shipping lanes” to create havoc within the Middle East.
IRANIAN REGIONAL AGGRESSION
Iran's U.N. envoy Amir Saeid Iravani said his country has not been involved in any actions or attacks against U.S. military forces, the semi-official Tasnim news agency reported on Tuesday. The United States has blamed Yemen's Iran-allied Houthi group for a series of attacks in Middle Eastern waters since war broke out between Israel and the Palestinian militant group Hamas on Oct. 7. Iran-backed militias have also been carrying out attacks targeting U.S. forces in Iraq and Syria.
CONGRESS & IRAN
Nearly two months have passed since Hamas’ unprovoked, barbaric attack on Israel. Among those killed or taken hostage are citizens from numerous nations, including the United States. A surge in western support for the attackers, among activists and some of the media, brings focus to a lack of understanding of who the aggressors in the region are, and why they continue to carry out acts of terrorism. The Israeli Defense Forces (IDF), alongside their countrymen, include volunteers from various religions and ethnicities among Israel’s population, who are coalesced around upholding freedom, democracy and Western values. In contrast, Hamas is a terrorist organization of military-trained and government-backed soldiers whose founding document claims that Jewish people are responsible for the French Revolution, World War I and the Russian Revolution, amongst others, and indeed includes archaic language rooted in deep antisemitism and fundamentalist oppression.
GULF STATES, YEMEN, & IRAN
The State Department said Monday that the US special envoy for Yemen is traveling to the Gulf amid Iranian and Houthi attacks on international shipping, which is threatening almost two years of joint progress to end the war in Yemen. Tim Lenderking will also emphasize the need to contain the Israel-Hamas conflict, according to a readout of his planned trip. The Iran-backed Houthis have lobbed missiles and other projectiles at Israel since the fighting began following the Hamas attack on Israel on October 7. This violence has also threatened the upend progress made on the yearslong war in Yemen, which has pitted the internationally recognized Yemeni government against the Houthi militia Lenderking will continue “intensive” US diplomacy and regional coordination to safeguard maritime security in the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden as these Houthi and Iranian attacks increase, the State Department said.
Russia's President Vladimir Putin is said to visit Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates on Wednesday, said Kremlin's spokesperson Dmitry Peskov. He stated that Russia's leader aims to discuss the bilateral relations with his counterparts as well as the situation in the Gaza Strip and the OPEC+ cuts. When asked about the situation at the oil market, Peskov stated: "These talks are being conducted within the OPEC+ format, but, of course, interaction in this area is always on the agenda. The market is very large, so sometimes such decisions are delayed," referring to the uncertainty over voluntary output cuts by OPEC+. In terms of Gaza talks, Putin's visit is not promising significant outcomes following a similar BRICS+ meeting of heads of states or the joint Arab-Muslim forum in Riyadh, both held in back in November.
AFGHANISTAN & IRAN
Iran has banned millions of Afghan refugees and migrants in the country from living in, traveling to, or seeking employment in just over half of the country's 31 provinces. On December 3, Hamzeh Soleimani, the director-general of citizenship and foreign nationals affairs of the western Kermanshah Province, confirmed the ban was in place in 16 provinces nationwide. "Numerous construction projects, greenhouses and livestock farms underwent inspection under the plan. [This led] to the arrest and expulsion of Afghan workers from the province," he said. Iranian media have identified 15 of the 16 provinces, including Kermanshah, East Azarbaijan, West Azerbaijan, Ardabil, Zanjan, Kurdistan, Hamedan, Gilan, Mazandaran, Sistan-Baluchistan, Ilam, Lorestan, Chaharmahal and Bakhtiari, Kahgiluyeh and Boyer Ahmad, and Hormozgan.