The U.S. plans a sanctions campaign against Iran’s evolving capabilities for precision strikes using drones and guided missiles, according to U.S. officials, amid concerns over the threat these weapons represent to American and allied interests. The effort comes as Western security officials say they see those capabilities as a more immediate danger to Middle East stability than Iran’s nuclear-enrichment and ballistic-missile programs. The U.S. has sanctioned some of Iran’s missile programs in past years, but officials said that targeting Iran’s procurement networks, such as the providers of parts used to build the drones and precision-guided missiles, could more effectively disrupt those activities.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Thursday the negotiating process with Iran to revive a 2015 nuclear deal could not go on indefinitely, and that the ball is in Tehran's court. Indirect talks between Tehran and Washington to revive the nuclear pact, from which then-President Donald Trump withdrew the United States in 2018, adjourned on June 20, two days after the hardline cleric Ebrahim Raisi was elected president of the Islamic Republic. Raisi takes office on Aug. 5.
Cybersecurity researchers said that hackers with ties to the Iranian government targeted U.S. defense contractors in attempts to install malware, including by posing as a United Kingdom-based aerobics instructor. Security software firm Proofpoint said in a Wednesday report that researchers had identified “a years-long social engineering and targeted malware campaign by the Iranian-state aligned threat actor TA456,” also known as “Tortoiseshell.” The California-based cybersecurity firm said that “TA456 built a relationship across corporate and personal communication platforms with an employee of a small subsidiary of an aerospace defense contractor,” by using the social media persona "Marcella 'Marcy' Flores."
NUCLEAR DEAL & NUCLEAR PROGRAM
Iran’s new president, Ebrahim Raisi, is due to take office next week on August 3, though aspects of the transition are expected to continue into mid-August. His ascension to power and replacing outgoing President Hassan Rouhani has brought negotiations between the Islamic Republic, the US and the world powers to a standstill now for over two months with no clear end in sight. Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei remains the final word in the country, especially on major strategic issues like the nuclear negotiations.
Since taking office, President Joe Biden and his top advisers have made it clear that there is almost nothing Iran can do to get his administration to rescind its offer to negotiate a return to the 2015 nuclear deal that Biden’s predecessor abandoned. Thankfully, that might finally be changing. On Wednesday Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei trashed his government’s past nuclear negotiations in front of the outgoing and incoming presidents. He told the new president he should learn from his predecessor’s experience not to trust the West.
SANCTIONS, BUSINESS RISKS, & OTHER ECONOMIC NEWS
Iran has experienced recent issues with rolling blackouts and power shortages that have been blamed on new bitcoin mining farms in the region. After suffering through numerous power outages in Tehran and several other large cities, the Iranian government has placed the blame on Bitcoin miners. Specifically, new operations that have sprung up in the wake of China’s sweeping bans on crypto-mining claims a new report by CNBC. Many of these mines are also operating illegally without a license, according to government officials.
PROTESTS & HUMAN RIGHTS
Iran is currently experiencing a significant wave of unrest. Protests began on July 15 in the southwestern Khuzestan Province. The initial focus was a scarcity of water in recent months, which has led to deaths among livestock and consequent impoverishment among farmers in the ethnically diverse province. The lack of water is also leading to a breakdown in electricity provision and frequent blackouts. But while scarcity of water was the initial trigger, the protests soon began to include more generalized slogans against the ruling Islamist regime.
The rising death toll and mass arrests raise grave concerns about the Iranian authorities’ response to recent protests in Khuzestan and other provinces, Human Rights Watch said today. The authorities should immediately and unconditionally release peaceful protesters, provide information about deaths, and allow an independent international investigation into security agencies’ alleged use of lethal force. All those responsible for abuses should be held to account. “The Iranian political leaders’ primary response to widespread demands for basic rights has been unchecked repression,” said Tara Sepehri Far, Iran researcher at Human Rights Watch.
This week the world came one step closer to holding accountable the perpetrators of the 1988 massacre of some 30,000 political prisoners in Iran. Sweden’s public prosecutors on Wednesday filed an indictment against one such perpetrator, Hamid Noury, who was arrested in November 2019 by Swedish police. Noury is being indicted for crimes against international law i.e. “war crimes and murder.” The 1988 massacre took place after the Iranian theocracy’s founder Ayatollah Khomeini issued a religious decree, or fatwa, ordering the execution of all affiliates of the main opposition group People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI or MEK).
MILITARY/INTELLIGENCE MATTERS & PROXY WARS
Here's What You Need to Remember: The Iranians might have to ambush the Americans in order to force the fight to close range. It’s unclear how the Iranians might do so, given the Americans’ huge advantage in sensors and situational awareness. Amid escalating tensions between Iran and the United States, in part resulting from U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision unilaterally to withdraw the United States from the 2015 deal limiting Iran’s nuclear program, the U.S. armed forces have deployed a wide array of ships, planes and other weapons to the Middle East.
IRANIAN INTERNAL DEVELOPMENTS
Years of mismanagement has left Iran facing “irreversible” water shortages that threaten to trigger conflict across the Middle East and North Africa, an exiled former minister has warned. Kaveh Madani, a scientist who served as deputy environment minister, told The Times that Iran was “water bankrupt” - when consumption is greater than renewable water availability - as reservoirs, rivers and groundwater begin to run dry. And the shortages are “being replicated across the region”, says the paper, “with the marshes of southern Iraq starting to dry out again despite restoration efforts, and eastern Syria suffering a significant drought”.
Despite its defiant stance toward the US and the West in general, the Iranian regime cares about how it is perceived outside its borders. Therefore, through its lobbying and friendly media outlets, it works hard on the image projected to international audiences. It also targets a specific line of thought that can mobilize pressure on the political leaders in Washington or Brussels. This image is key for the mullahs. It is an image they work on very consistently and strategically. It is the image of a country of resistance; a country that stands with the oppressed; a country that stands against the evil and powerful “Uncle Sam.”
Communications Minister Mohammad-Javad Azari-Jahromi, who leaves office next week, wrote Thursday that approval of a bill entitled ‘Legislation to Protect Cyberspace Users’ Rights’ would result in "broad restriction of social messaging platforms and their filtering" and weaken Islamic Republic’s political system. Suggesting the law would cause popular discontent, Azari-Jahromi warned in a Telegram post that the proposed legislation would not establish 'cyber-sovereignty' as its advocates have claimed. Critics of the bill suggest it could undermine small businesses, with Iranians making at least 400,000 purchases daily through Instagram and Telegram.
GULF STATES, YEMEN, & IRAN
In order to divide and rule, one of the core pillars of the Iranian regime’s foreign policy is to create rifts between long-term allies by playing up or capitalizing on disagreements and disputes. One example was during the Trump administration, when the theocratic establishment fully exploited and took advantage of the disagreements between the EU and the US. But the disagreements between these two powers were not as permanent as the Iranian regime attempted to project. The US-EU alliance remains strong.
TURKEY & IRAN
In a bid to stop the flow of migrants, Ankara has decided to expand the construction of a security wall along its border with Iran to cover the entirety of the 295-km frontier amid rising public discontent after an increased number of Afghan migrants entered the country from Iran. The Turkish government has reportedly been pursuing its wall project since 2017. So far, 149 km have been completed, spanning several border cities, including Agri, Hakkari, Igdir and Van.
For 49 years through 11 consecutive Olympic Games, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) refused to formally honor the memory of 11 Israeli athletes murdered by Palestinian terrorists at the 1972 Munich Games. The Simon Wiesenthal Center (SWC) lobbied for the Los Angeles Games back in 1984 to do just that. Our pleas fell on deaf ears and instead we convened our own memorial at the SWC for the families – including for Mimi Weinberg and her young son, Guri Weinberg, who still grieve for Israeli wrestler Moshe Weinberg, whose heroics allowed other athletes to escape while he blocked the murderers at the door.