The Justice Department on Tuesday sharply escalated economic pressure on Turkey by filing fraud and money-laundering charges against the country's second-largest state-owned bank, accusing it of helping Iran evade United States sanctions. The charges against the institution, Halkbank, came as the administration sought ways to project that it was taking a tough line with Turkey after President Trump effectively signaled this month that the United States would not stand in the way of Turkey's desire to send forces into northern Syria.
The United States carried out a secret cyber operation against Iran in the wake of the Sept. 14 attacks on Saudi Arabia's oil facilities, which Washington and Riyadh blame on Tehran, two U.S. officials have told Reuters. The officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the operation took place in late September and took aim at Tehran's ability to spread "propaganda." One of the officials said the strike affected physical hardware, but did not provide further details.
Iran's economy is expected to shrink by 9.5% this year, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) said, down from a previous estimate of a 6% contraction, as the country feels the impact of tighter U.S. sanctions. The IMF forecasts, published on Tuesday in the fund's World Economic Outlook report, are not far from estimates given last week by the World Bank, which said the Iranian economy by the end of the 2019/20 financial year would be 90% smaller than it was just two years ago.
SANCTIONS, BUSINESS RISKS, & OTHER ECONOMIC NEWS
The White House is warning Chinese shipping companies against turning off their ships' transponders to hide Iranian oil shipments in violation of U.S. sanctions, two senior administration officials said. "We've been messaging very heavily to the shipping companies, you don't want to do this, it's not worth it," said one official, who spoke to Reuters on condition of anonymity. "It's incredibly dangerous and irresponsible behavior." China is the largest remaining buyer of Iranian oil after U.S. President Donald Trump reimposed sanctions on Tehran's main export.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has once again slammed the United States for abandoning the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, a departure that reinstated onerous economic sanctions on his country and has dramatically reduced the Iranian public's purchasing power. Rouhani described the decision as a "disgrace" for the United States. "Even more disgraceful was the act of imposing sanctions on food and medicines destined for Iranians," he said in his Oct. 15 address to a summit of the World Health Organization's Regional Committee for the Eastern Mediterranean in Tehran.
One of the impacts of the current US sanctions on Iran is the loss of income as a consequence of lower oil export revenues. To make up for the lost inflows into the state budget, the government has increased its efforts to sell its shares in large Iranian enterprises. Since most of the shares sold on the capital markets end up in the hands of semi-state entities, the process will have both economic and political consequences.
Iran's customs chief has said that his country's non-oil exports increased by 22 percent from March 21-September 21, compared with the same period last year, reaching 70 million metric tons. He also said that the total value of these exports was close to $21 billion, but he did not mention the monetary value of exports last year. Iran's custom organization has not issued monthly reports on exports and imports in the current Iranian year, which started on March 21.
PROTESTS & HUMAN RIGHTS
A second French national is being detained in Iran and has been imprisoned since the summer, Le Figaro newspaper reported on Wednesday, which is likely to complicate France's efforts to defuse tensions between the United States and Tehran. Two sources aware of the matter confirmed to Reuters that Roland Marchal, a senior researcher from Science-Po university was being held in Iran, but declined to give further details given the sensitivity of the matter.
A prominent member of the Iranian Parliament (Majles) has expressed concern that Iranian intelligence officials might use a man arrested on charges of running an anti-regime social media platform to level incriminating accusations against innocent people. In an interview with the IRGC-linked Fars news agency on Tuesday October 15, Ali Motahari, the outspoken representative for Tehran, warned the Iranian intelligence community against using forced confessions by a suspect to incriminate others.
It was a day that many Iranian women will remember joyfully. On October 10, women were permitted to enter Tehran's Azadi Stadium to watch a World Cup qualifying match between Iran and Cambodia. More than Iran's 14-0 blowout victory, the major reason for the celebratory atmosphere was the women's authorized presence for the first time at what had been a venue exclusively for men.
U.S.-IRAN RELATIONS & NEGOTIATIONS
The attack on an Iranian oil tanker last week reignited tensions between Tehran and Riyadh. Iran and Saudi Arabia had seemingly pulled back from the brink of war last month, and tensions were on the wane as the U.S. and Saudi Arabia showed no appetite for military conflict following last month's attack on Abqaiq. But on October 11, an Iranian oil tanker was apparently hit by explosions, and Iranian officials denounced the attack while also saying that they were still looking at the evidence.
MILITARY/INTELLIGENCE MATTERS & PROXY WARS
The Islamic Republic of Iran has consistently proven how much damage it can cause without having access to high-tech military equipment and formal arms markets. The past few months are indeed instructive. Under a slashed defense budget and outmatched in terms of regional military spending, Iran still managed to turn-up the heat without inviting kinetic reprisal.
The Iranian air force is very outdated and this jet is no exception. Tehran is keen to produce its own jet fighters-but designing and manufacturing advanced combat jets poses formidable technological challenges difficult for an isolated industrial base to resolve on its own. Nonetheless, the Iranian air force has prominently showcased its development of several domestic fighter jets since the turn of the century, most notably the HESA Saeqeh ("Thunderbolt"), which Iranian media have claimed to be superior to the F-18 Hornet.
IRANIAN INTERNAL DEVELOPMENTS
Iran's semi-official Tasnim news agency is reporting that President Hassan Rouhani's brother has begun serving a five-year prison sentence on corruption charges. Tasnim said Wednesday that authorities had transferred Hossein Fereidoun to Tehran's Evin prison. Earlier in October, Iran's judiciary said an appeals court lowered Fereidoun's sentence to five years from seven on bribery charges. The charges date back to 2016, and were brought by hard-liners who dominate the country's judiciary.
The Supreme Court of the Islamic Republic (SCI) has dismissed a lower court verdict against a conservative politician and former Islamic Revolution Guards Corps commander. Salman Khodadadi, 57, was sentenced to two years' exile, a two-year ban on serving in public office, and 99 lashes for having an illegitimate affair with a woman who killed herself while the court was trying the legislator.
RUSSIA, SYRIA, ISRAEL, HEZBOLLAH, LEBANON & IRAN
There's lots of outrage about the United States abandoning our Kurdish partners in Syria, and rightly so. But the far greater impact of President Trump's disastrous and completely mishandled Syria withdrawal is that millions of other Syrian civilians will soon find themselves living under the control of the Bashar al-Assad regime or Iranian forces, which is a fate crueler than any other. The U.S. withdrawal from northern Syria abandons a five-year project that kept a full third of Syria free from Assad's control.
Both the Arab League and the Gulf Cooperation Council have already classified the Iran-backed Lebanese Hezbollah as a terrorist organization. The European Union, however, decided six years ago to put only the "military wing" of Hezbollah, an ally of Iran, on its terrorist list. At the time, this partial recognition was a success. The 28 Member States finally - after much resistance - added Iran-funded Hezbollah on the EU terror list.
GULF STATES, YEMEN, & IRAN
The October 11 attack on an Iranian oil tanker in Red Sea waters off the coast of Saudi Arabia stoked further friction in a region rattled by attacks on tankers and oil installations since May and increased fears of war between Riyadh and Tehran. Thus far, no one has claimed responsibility for the attack. Tehran, despite its history of swiftly blaming the United States and Israel for any perceived sabotage of its interests, refrained from accusing any specific party.
Yemen's Houthi rebels intensified their attacks against areas controlled by the pro-government forces in the country's southern part on Tuesday evening, a military official told Xinhua. The military source said on condition of anonymity that "Houthi fighters launched a series of attacks against different locations in areas controlled by the pro-government forces in the southern province of Dhale."
IRAQ & IRAN
Demonstrations over the past week in Shia-dominated southern Iraq have resulted in over 100 killed and 4,000 wounded according to the Human Rights Commission. The victims are primarily demonstrators, most in early 20s and younger who were barely in school when the Baathist government was toppled by the U.S.-led coalition. What could have been a bright future within an oil rich country was stolen from them. Religious extremists in Tehran had no intention of allowing a progressive democracy immediately across its western border.
OTHER FOREIGN AFFAIRS
Iran's top diplomat has said a foreign government was behind an alleged recent missile attack on one of the country's oil tankers in the Red Sea. Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif revealed on Tuesday further details about the ongoing investigation into yet unexplained blasts Friday that targeted the Sabiti vessel as it transited the Red Sea. Conflicting reports have emerged about the incident, which follows previous attacks similarly shrouded in mystery on tankers of various flags and nationalities in the Gulf of Oman.
The Turkish incursion into northern Syria is dominating the news, but an incident in the Red Sea on Friday morning could turn out to be of equal geostrategic significance. The Iranian tanker Sabiti, carrying 1 million barrels of oil destined for Syria, apparently was attacked by two explosive projectiles in the early hours. The National Iranian Oil Company said the damage had been caused "likely by missiles." The ship promptly turned around and headed back towards Iran.