The U.S. on Wednesday blacklisted a series of companies it accused of helping Iran transport weaponry to regional militia groups, including missile parts to Houthi rebels in Yemen. The sanctions followed the seizure of a small boat last week by the U.S. Navy that was carrying Iranian missile parts bound for Yemen, the Treasury Department said, the latest such U.S. action in the region's waters. The move also comes amid rising concerns among some national security officials that Tehran might escalate attacks against the U.S. and its allies as the Trump administration's sanctions take a deepening toll on the country's economy.
A senior U.S. military official said on Wednesday attacks by Iranian-backed groups on bases hosting U.S. forces in Iraq were gathering pace and becoming more sophisticated, pushing all sides closer to an uncontrollable escalation. His warning came two days after four Katyusha rockets struck a base near Baghdad international airport, wounding five members of Iraq's elite Counter-Terrorism Service. It was the latest in a spate of rocket strikes in the past five weeks on military installations hosting members of the U.S.-led coalition whose objective is to defeat Islamic State insurgents.
A total of $784.6 million foreign finance has been directly invested in 55 projects in Iran in the past seven months, the Islamic Republic Ministry of Industry, Mine and Trade (MIMT) says in a new report. In the same period in 2017, when Washington had not yet withdrawn from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) or Tehran's nuclear deal with world powers, the figure amounted to $1.88 billion. Based on the data provided by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), Iran succeeded in obtaining nearly $3.5 billion of Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) in 2018, which is almost 30% less than the previous year.
NUCLEAR DEAL & NUCLEAR PROGRAM
Iranian and Japanese officials are reportedly finalizing the arrangements for a visit by President Hassan Rouhani to Japan. The host, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, has been leading a mediation drive aimed at resolving all-time-high tensions between Washington and Tehran over the Iran nuclear deal, also known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). Without specifying a date, Abe said earlier this week that Rouhani's trip was being deliberated.
SANCTIONS, BUSINESS RISKS, & OTHER ECONOMIC NEWS
The United States on Wednesday imposed new sanctions on Iran's biggest airline and its shipping network, accusing them of transporting lethal aid and weapons of mass destruction proliferation. The new sanctions come just days after a weekend prisoner swap between the historic foes, a rare act of cooperation since tensions escalated after U.S. President Donald Trump withdrew from the 2015 Iran nuclear accord.
More than three years after it was first introduced, landmark legislation that would provide for U.S. sanctions against the Assad regime, Russia and Iran for past and ongoing war crimes in Syria is on the verge of finally passing in Congress. Expected to become law, the "Caesar Bill" could offer not only for some justice and accountability for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's victims - it could also give the United States leverage in seeking a political solution to the Syrian war.
The Trump administration on Wednesday hit Iran with new sanctions that target several transportation firms as it continues its "maximum pressure campaign" against the Islamic Republic over its nuclear and ballistic missile programs. The sanctions target Iran's state shipping line and a China-based company that has been involved in delivering missile parts to Iran. They also add a layer of new penalties to a previously sanctioned Iranian airline, Mahan Air, which is accused of sending weapons to Iranian proxies in Lebanon and Yemen, and three of its sales agents.
PROTESTS & HUMAN RIGHTS
After an Iranian scientist was released over the weekend as part of a prisoner exchange, federal prosecutors on Wednesday dismissed charges against two of his former students who were accused along with him of violating trade sanctions. Iranian officials on Saturday handed over Chinese-American graduate student Xiyue Wang, who had been held on widely criticized espionage charges, in exchange for Iranian scientist Masoud Soleimani. Soleimani had faced federal charges in Georgia accusing him of violating sanctions by trying to have biological material brought from the U.S. to Iran.
The mid-November protests in Iran, during which hundreds of protesters were killed by security forces, changed many things, some forever. Among other things, it has drastically changed the attitude of many politicians and ordinary people toward elections in the country. Posts on social media reflect an explosive blend of disillusionment, frustration, anger, and even lost confidence among those whose belief in the Islamic Republic appeared to be unshaken until quite recently.
Iran ranks just below China, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Eritrea, and Vietnam, at the top of the list of the countries that keep journalists behind bars, the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) disclosed on Tuesday, December 10. For the fourth consecutive year, at least 250 journalists are kept in jails across the world, CPJ says in its report, adding that authoritarian figures such as China's Xi Jinping, Turkey's Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Saudi Arabia's Mohammad Bin Salman Al Saud, and Egypt's General Abdel Fattah el-Sisi have shown no sign of relaxing their tightened iron grip on the media.
U.S.-IRAN RELATIONS & NEGOTIATIONS
Top American officials say the U.S. is hopeful that the recent prisoner exchange will lead to a broader discussion on consular affairs between the U.S. and Iran. In an interview with VOA on Wednesday, Brian Hook, the U.S. special representative for Iran, recalled some of the emotional moments of witnessing the release of Xiyue Wang, a Chinese American detained in Iran, and said Wang will be "working with us and doing everything we can to get out people like Bob Levinson and then the Namazis and others."
MILITARY/INTELLIGENCE MATTERS & PROXY WARS
A leading Iranian military official revealed new details about his country's first-ever trilateral exercise with major powers Russia and China, claiming Iran's ships would also soon traverse the Atlantic Ocean toward the Americas. Speaking to the semi-official Tasnim News Agency, Rear Admiral Habibollah Sayyari, Iran's deputy army chief for coordination, said Wednesday that the Islamic Republic's warships would defy a "12,000-mile line" drawn by "hegemonic powers" by entering the Atlantic Ocean.
IRANIAN REGIONAL AGGRESSION
As a new wave of demonstrations engulfs the Middle East, one common factor connects the protests from Baghdad to Beirut: a deep and widespread feeling of antipathy toward the Iranian regime. This is especially true in the bloodied towns and cities of Iraq-a country Iran's leaders have regarded as theirs since the 1979 Islamic Revolution. Since the outbreak of the protests in early October, various security forces, including Iranian-backed Shiite militias, have killed more than 400 Iraqis and wounded some 20,000 others.
CONGRESS & IRAN
Congress wants a report from the intelligence community and the Pentagon about the threat posed by Iran and its militias to a small garrison of special operators near the Iraq-Syria border known as al-Tanf. Al-Tanf houses a handful of American commandos who are tasked with training an anti-ISIS force dubbed Maghaweir Thowra. But national security experts have oft argued the garrison's existence is meant to check Iranian influence and block a highway that could push arms from Tehran to the Mediterranean Sea.
RUSSIA, SYRIA, ISRAEL, HEZBOLLAH, LEBANON & IRAN
Lebanese officials protested against a recent threat by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corp (IRGC) to attack Israel from Lebanon, calling the statement a violation of Lebanon's sovereignty, the Arabic newspaper Asharq Al-Awsat reported. "If the Zionist regime makes the smallest mistake toward Iran, we will reduce Tel Aviv to ashes from Lebanon," said IRGC commander Morteza Qorbani, adding that Iran wouldn't need to fire a single missile from its territories.
With telling embarrassment, Iran is rowing back comments made by an adviser to the commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. The problem? The adviser inadvertently admitted that Iran values Lebanon only as its puppet. Speaking on Monday, retired Gen. Morteza Qorbani told an Iranian news outlet that Iran did not need to use ballistic missiles in Iran to effectively attack Israel. Instead, Qorbani said, if "the Zionist regime makes the smallest mistake toward Iran, we will reduce Tel Aviv to ashes from Lebanon."
OTHER FOREIGN AFFAIRS
Iran dismissed as interference in its state matters French President Emmanuel Macron's call for the release of two French nationals jailed in the Islamic Republic since June, Iranian state news agency IRNA reported on Wednesday. "Iran's government and judiciary do not take advice from others ... Interference in our state matters is unacceptable," IRNA quoted Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi as saying. Macron on Tuesday demanded the immediate release of Fariba Adelkhah and Roland Marchal from prison in Iran.
A humanitarian channel to bring food and medicine to Iran could be up and running within months, senior Swiss and U.S. officials told Reuters, helping supply Swiss goods to the struggling population without tripping over U.S. sanctions. Food, medicine and other humanitarian supplies are exempt from sanctions that Washington reimposed last year after U.S. President Donald Trump walked away from a 2015 international deal over Iran's nuclear program.
Iran says it has "repelled" a cyberattack on its e-governance infrastructure that was allegedly "state-sponsored," according to the country's telecommunications minister, Mohammad Javad Azari Jahromi, as cited by local media. The security attack was "highly organized," he said, while adding that authorities were investigating its exact dimensions. The minister would not say which country allegedly attempted the attack or go into the specifics of which "electronic infrastructure" had been targeted. He promised that a report will be released on the attack "later."