The United States on Wednesday imposed broad sanctions targeting Iran, blacklisting a foundation controlled by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and taking aim at what Washington called Iran’s human rights abuses a year after a deadly crackdown on anti-government demonstrators. The sanctions announced by the U.S. Treasury Department, which also targeted Iran’s intelligence minister, are the latest action to reinforce the “maximum pressure” campaign on Iran pursued by President Donald Trump’s administration. They come little more than two months before Trump is due to hand over power to Joe Biden after losing a Nov. 3 election.
Iranian state shipping routes are continuing to evade U.S. sanctions by operating via a complex network of companies and subsidiaries registered in Hong Kong, dozens of which are traceable to a purported individual in Shanghai named on publicly available records as Shen Yong, a recent RFA investigation has revealed. RFA had earlier linked Shen Yong to four shipping companies -- Reach, Delight, Gracious and Noble -- registered in Hong Kong that were named as having done business with the Islamic Republic of Iran Shipping Lines (IRISL), using company records in Hong Kong.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Wednesday said that the unwinding of the U.S. sanctions regime against Iran would be “a dangerous choice,” obliquely expressing concerns that the incoming Biden administration would ease the four-year economic pressure campaign. President Trump’s top diplomat, in comments accompanying new Treasury Department sanctions targeting Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei’s business empire, defended the campaign as critical to U.S. national security.
UANI IN THE NEWS
Israel's normalization agreements with the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and now Sudan have raised expectations of a "domino effect" of similar accords. While it is reasonable to anticipate additional Arab countries like Oman will follow suit, Lebanon certainly won't anytime soon. Beirut's maritime border demarcation talks with Jerusalem, if they even succeed, are meant strictly to resolve a specific technical matter. Rather than paving the way for Israeli-Lebanese peace, Beirut's officials are seeking to reap an economic windfall from offshore hydrocarbon deposits, circumvent the painful reforms necessary to build a sustainable Lebanese economy and perhaps obtain sanctions relief from the United States.
NUCLEAR DEAL & NUCLEAR PROGRAM
The U.N. nuclear watchdog and the United States pressured Iran on Wednesday to finally explain the origin of uranium particles found almost two years ago at an old but undeclared site that Israel has called a “secret atomic warehouse”. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu drew attention to the Turqazabad site in Tehran in a speech to the United Nations in September 2018, urging the International Atomic Energy Agency to visit it. Iran called it a carpet-cleaning facility.
Iran has admitted a further breach of the 2015 nuclear deal by firing up advanced uranium-enriching centrifuges installed at its underground plant at Natanz. The finding was made by the UN nuclear weapons inspectorate, the International Atomic Energy Association, and confirmed by the Iranian ambassador to the IAEA. Donald Trump last week considered but rejected a military strike on Natanz, south of Tehran and the country’s main uranium-enrichment site. But the latest move by Iran may be regarded by his administration as a provocation that changes his, or Israel’s, calculation of risk.
Iran said Wednesday that it would "automatically" return to its nuclear commitments if U.S. President-elect Joe Biden lifts sanctions imposed over the past two years by President Donald Trump. But even as it dangled the offer, Tehran kept the pressure on the U.S. and other countries by forging ahead with its nuclear program in violation of the 2015 international nuclear pact that Mr. Trump abandoned. Tehran's return to its commitments under the deal "can be done automatically and needs no conditions or even negotiations," Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said in comments published in the state-run Iran daily.
PROTESTS & HUMAN RIGHTS
One year after protests that were harshly suppressed by the Iranian authorities, grief over the hundreds of mainly young lives lost is matched by anger over the lack of accountability for a crackdown whose scale is only now beginning to emerge. The protests, of a magnitude rarely seen in Iran following the 1979 Islamic Revolution and the biggest since 2009 rallies over a disputed election, erupted nationwide in November 2019 after a sudden hike in fuel prices.
U.S.-IRAN RELATIONS & NEGOTIATIONS
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani is keeping up Tehran's drumbeat of anti-American criticism as the regime waits to see what President-Elect Joe Biden will do once he takes office in January, accusing the country of acting as "a terrorist.". Meanwhile, Iranian-backed militias in Iraq—the primary battlefield for the U.S.-Iranian conflict—appear to have resumed rocket attacks against the American embassy in Baghdad after a month hiatus, killing one child and injuring five others.
MILITARY/INTELLIGENCE MATTERS & PROXY WARS
Iran’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard said it launched a heavy warship Thursday capable of carrying helicopters, drones and missile launchers amid ongoing tensions with the U.S. Photographs of the ship, named after slain Guard naval commander Abdollah Roudaki, showed it carrying truck-launched surface-to-surface missiles and anti-aircraft missiles. It also carried four small fast boats, the kind the Guard routinely uses in the Persian Gulf. Sailors manned deck-mounted machine guns. The Guard said the ship has a length of 150 meters (492 feet). By comparison, a U.S. Nimitz-class aircraft carrier has a length of 332 meters (1,092 feet). The Guard’s ship does not have a runway, but includes a landing pad for a helicopter.
RUSSIA, SYRIA, ISRAEL, HEZBOLLAH, LEBANON & IRAN
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and his Bahraini counterpart landed in Israel on Wednesday to mark a new, U.S.-brokered normalization deal just hours after Israeli forces carried out retaliatory airstrikes on Iranian targets in Syria. The strikes, which Syria’s state media said had killed at least three Syrian soldiers, came a day after Israeli forces found antipersonnel mines planted in Israeli-held territory along the boundary with Syria. They were part of a long-running campaign as Israel tries to thwart what it describes as a concerted effort by Iran to entrench itself on the Syrian side of the Golan Heights, a strategic plateau that overlooks northern Israel.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Wednesday issued a stark warning to Iran as he marked new diplomatic breakthroughs here between Israel and its Arab neighbors. “These [normalization] agreements . . . tell malign actors like the Islamic Republic of Iran that their influence in the region is waning and that they are ever more isolated, and that this shall forever be until they change their direction,” he said at a press briefing with Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu and visiting Bahraini foreign minister Abdullatif bin Rashid Al Zayani.
IRAQ & IRAN
Iran has sought to shore up air, land and sea defense cooperation with neighboring Iraq, seeking a series of security deals as its rival, the United States, pulls out more troops in an effort to draw down its protracted war effort in the Middle East. Just one day before the Pentagon's acting chief announced the decision to reduce the number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan and Iraq to 2,500 by January 15 as part of Trump's plans to end the United States' "perpetual war" abroad, Revolutionary Guard aerospace commander Brigadier General Amir Ali Hajizadeh railed against the United States on Monday in part of a series of meetings between senior Iranian and Iraqi military officials in Tehran.