With open hostilities between Iran and the U.S. subsiding for now, the Trump administration is seeking to keep pressure on Iran without pushing the region into a volatile new confrontation, U.S. and regional officials said. U.S. officials said they are increasingly confident Iran and its Mideast allies are looking to avoid a head-on fight with America, even as Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, delivered a firebrand message during prayers on Friday in Tehran.
An Iranian lawmaker announced a 3 million dollar award to "whoever kills Trump", Iranian semi-official News agency reported. "On behalf of people of Kerman province, we will pay 3 million dollar award in cash to whoever kills Trump," Ahmad Hamzeh told parliamentarians, according to ISNA. He did not elaborate whether it was a decision made by Iran's clerical rulers to threaten U.S. President Donald Trump.
Cybersecurity researchers and U.S. government officials said hackers linked to Iran are probing American companies for vulnerabilities. The warnings suggest that the next phase of hostilities between the U.S. and Iran, following the Jan. 3 killing of a top Iranian general in an American drone strike, is likely to play out in cyberspace. The Iranian regime is accused of being behind some high-profile online operations against American targets in recent years.
UANI IN THE NEWS
"It's a way for the regime to save face - at home and abroad," said Jason Brodsky, policy director at the advocacy group United Against a Nuclear Iran. It was "also in line with the supreme leader's conspiratorial worldview," which sees nefarious U.S. plots across the region, Brodsky added.
NUCLEAR DEAL & NUCLEAR PROGRAM
Iran will withdraw from a major non-proliferation treaty if European nations attempt to refer the Islamic Republic to the UN Security Council over its infringements of the 2015 nuclear deal, the country's foreign minister said. The U.K., France and Germany said last week they would trigger the accord's dispute resolution mechanism, which could eventually mean the matter being referred to the Security Council. The move inflamed tensions with Tehran, which is locked in an economic confrontation with the U.S. that this month sparked a military exchange.
Iran's steps in reducing commitments to the 2015 nuclear deal are over, Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said on Monday, according to the parliament's news site ICANA. "The steps of reducing commitments are finished but if the Europeans continue their improper behavior or send Iran's file to the Security Council, we will withdraw from the NPT," Zarif said.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and French President Emmanuel Macron reiterated their commitment on Sunday to the Iran nuclear deal and agreed a long-term framework was needed, Downing Street said on Sunday. "On Iran, the leaders reiterated their commitment to the JCPoA (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action) and also acknowledged the need to define a long-term framework to prevent Iran acquiring a nuclear weapon," a Downing Street spokeswoman said in a statement after the two met on the sidelines of a Libya summit in Berlin.
Iran would be protected from threats if it had nuclear weapons, Iranian lawmaker told parliament on Tuesday, according to the semi-official ISNA news agency, adding that Iran should build missiles with "unconventional" warheads. "If we had nuclear weapons today, we would be protected from threats ... We should put the production of long-range missiles capable of carrying unconventional warheads on our agenda. This is our natural right," he was quoted as saying by ISNA.
The influential speaker of Iran's parliament has warned European powers against "for any reason" taking an "unfair" approach to the dispute mechanism in the 4-year-old nuclear deal that has been in the balance since a U.S. pullout in 2018. Tehran would "seriously reconsider our cooperation" with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) as a result, the speaker, Ali Larijani, who is also a former chief nuclear negotiator for Tehran, was quoted as saying by state TV.
SANCTIONS, BUSINESS RISKS, & OTHER ECONOMIC NEWS
Iran's six-year push to integrate with the global economy appears to be coming to an end. On Monday, Iran threatened to withdraw from its last remaining commitments to the 2015 deal that limited its nuclear program in exchange for the lifting of international sanctions. On the same day, Foreign Minister Javad Zarif pulled out of this week's World Economic Forum, the global economy's annual networking event in Switzerland.
The U.S. State Department said on Saturday it had imposed sanctions on a general of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps who commanded units blamed for a massacre of protesters in November. The U.S. State Department has said previously it had received videos of the Revolutionary Guards opening fire without warning on protesters in Mahshahr county in southwest Iran.
Iran said Sunday that two newly constructed satellites have passed pre-launch tests and will be transported to the nation's space center for eventual launch, without elaborating. Telecommunications Minister Mohammad Javad Azari Jahromi tweeted about the development, calling it an "important research step." Iran has not said when it will launch the satellites, but often coordinates its launches with national holidays.
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif responded to opposition lawmakers' questions in the Parliament on Monday and said he has defended Iran's missile program more than anyone else.. "I have played my role by defending all of the policies of the Islamic Republic. Nobody has defended Iran's missile force as much as I have," Zarif told the Parliament.
PROTESTS & HUMAN RIGHTS
US government-funded technology companies have recorded an increase in the use of circumvention software in Iran in recent weeks after boosting efforts to help Iranian anti-regime protesters thwart internet censorship and use secure mobile messaging. The outreach is part of a US government programme dedicated to internet freedom that supports dissident pressure inside Iran and complements America's policy of "maximum pressure" over the regime.
U.S.-IRAN RELATIONS & NEGOTIATIONS
Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has branded the U.S. a "highway bully" that is only targeting his nation because leaders in Washington cannot brook dissent. Speaking in Tehran on Monday, Khamenei cast his regime as a "religious democracy" that is refusing to bow to an American-dominated world order, the state-controlled Press TV reported. "The resistance of the Islamic Republic of Iran against America and the Iranian nation's refusal to undergo bullying is a fascinating fact for the world and this fascination should be used to spread the truth about Islam and the Iranian nation," Khamenei said.
In the quick escalation of tensions and attacks between the United States and Iran this month, each side threw down a gauntlet. Secretary of State Michael Pompeo defined America's goal as to "confront and contain." Iran's rulers said they won't be satisfied until America leaves the Middle East. Confronting and containing Iran may sound wise. But what worked in the past will not work this time. President Trump faces a Middle East that is vastly different from the one with which his predecessors grappled.
As the war of both arms and words between Washington and Tehran continues, it's a good time to consider humiliation, the emotion that more than any other drives the conflict between the United States and Iran. It is more important than battle plans or geopolitical strategy. It shapes the words and actions of President Trump and his Iranian counterparts. Earlier this month, we were all at its mercy, and we will soon be again. It is curious that we hear so little about humiliation, because people who study conflict talk about it all the time.
After the assassination of Iranian General Qassem Soleimani on January 3, many feared a major war would break out in the Middle East. Iran's retaliation came quickly but it did not provoke a conflict. On January 8, two bases hosting US and coalition troops were hit by a barrage of missiles. Many perceived the attack as a sign of de-escalation as it did not result in human loss and the Iraqi authorities were warned about it in advance.
MILITARY/INTELLIGENCE MATTERS & PROXY WARS
A German-Afghan man who worked for years as an interpreter and adviser for the German military went on trial Monday on charges of spying for Iranian intelligence. The 51-year-old man, who has been identified only as Abdul S. in line with German privacy rules, is charged with "a particularly serious case" of treason and with breaching official secrecy laws in 18 cases. Prosecutors have given few details of the case.
Qatar Airways, Emirates and several other Gulf airlines still fly in Iraqi and Iranian airspace and to cities in both countries, even as other international carriers have rerouted planes since the United States and Iran traded military strikes. Executives and analysts said carriers in the Gulf, a major transit stop between European and Asian destinations, have few alternative routes to choose from in an area where much of the airspace is kept clear of civilian aircraft for military use.
IRANIAN INTERNAL DEVELOPMENTS
The Iranian official leading the investigation into the Ukrainian jetliner that was accidentally shot down by the Revolutionary Guard appeared to backtrack Sunday on plans to send the flight recorders abroad for analysis, a day after saying they would be sent to Kyiv. Hassan Rezaeifar was quoted by the state-run IRNA news agency as saying "the flight recorders from the Ukrainian Boeing are in Iranian hands and we have no plans to send them out."
A slew of influential Iranian artists, television personalities and sports stars have publicly broken with Tehran after the government denied for days that it shot down a Ukrainian passenger plane this month. "Apologies for lying to you for 13 years," Gelareh Jabbari, a host on the state-run Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting TV network, wrote last Monday in an Instagram post. The post has since been deleted, but it was seen by NBC News.
When Ayatollah Ali Khamenei led prayers at Tehran's Grand Mosque for the first time in eight years on Friday, Iran's supreme leader described the downing of Ukrainian Airlines Fight 752 by his military as a "bitter accident"-one that enemies abroad were exploiting as an excuse to discredit the Islamic Republic. But the real threat to the regime, which has spent decades trying to cement its rule, is the discontent of the Iranian public.
The frenetic pace of the daily news cycle has already pushed the death of Qassem Soleimani - and the Iranian response - from the front pages, but the U..S. killing of the Islamic Republic of Iran's top military official remains one of the most significant and impactful recent events in the Middle East, with repercussions to be felt for years to come. The death of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corp (IRGC) Commander, who oversaw Iran's special overseas operations branch known as the Qods (Qods (Quds)) Force, is likely to shape the coming decade in Iran, in the Middle East and globally.
The Association of Air Transport and Tourist Agencies of Iran revealed that the tourism sector in Iran was badly hit in the first week of the downing of the Ukrainian plane which killed all 176 people on board. The Iranian Labour News Agency (ILNA), on Saturday, reported on statistics of foreign tourists showing a dramatic decline at a time Iran suffers from great economic pressures as a result of US sanctions.
GULF STATES, YEMEN, & IRAN
A missile attack launched by Shiite rebels in Yemen hit an army camp Saturday, killing at least 60 troops and injuring dozens of others, Yemeni officials and Saudi state television said. The strike in the central province of Marib wounded about 10 others. Officials said they expected the death toll to rise as burn victims were rushed to hospitals. Marib lies about 70 miles (115 kilometers) east of the capital, Sanaa.
Last year, Saudi Arabia's brash young leader, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the de facto power behind the throne, was instructing his allies in the Trump administration that Iran "must be hit hard." Now, however, as tension boils between the United States and Iran, the crown prince, fearing Saudi Arabia could get caught in the crossfire, is urging restraint. Recent months have already demonstrated how U.S. pressure on Iran can also bite the Saudis.
OTHER FOREIGN AFFAIRS
Iran's top diplomat has cancelled his trip and will not be attending the Davos Forum, the Iranian Foreign Ministry said Monday amid a crisis with Washington and disputes with Europe over Iran's nuclear steps. The summit in the Swiss resort also comes after Iran earlier this month shot down a Ukrainian passenger plane, killing all 176 people on board. Tensions also remain high between Iran and the U.S. after an American drone killed Revolutionary Guard Gen. Qassem Soleimani in Baghdad.
The bodies of the 11 Ukrainian citizens who died when a passenger plane was accidentally shot down by Iran this month were brought back to Ukraine on Sunday in a solemn ceremony at Kiev airport. All 176 on board the Ukraine International Airlines flight from Tehran to Kiev were killed when the Boeing 737-800 was shot down on Jan. 8, at a time when Iran was on high alert for a U.S. attack. Most of those on board were Iranians or dual nationals. Canada had 57 citizens on board. Nine of the Ukrainian citizens were crew members.
Experts are warning that the U.S. should expect more cyberattacks by Iranian hackers in retaliation for the death of General Qasem Soleimani in a targeted drone strike. Maybe they're right. But let's not kid ourselves: Iran would be launching lots of cyberattacks anyway. And the danger of escalation would be ever-present. So far, despite the warnings, security researchers report that little has yet materialized.