The U.S. on Friday imposed sanctions on six people affiliated with the Iranian-backed Iraqi militia Kataeb Hezbollah, which is accused of being behind a spate of recent attacks against U.S. forces in Iraq and Syria following the October 7 attacks by Hamas against Israel. Included in the sanctions are the militia’s foreign affairs chief, a member of its governing council, its military commander and a media spokesman. The sanctions block access to U.S. property and bank accounts and prevent the targeted people and companies from doing business with Americans. A spate of drone attacks hit U.S. bases in Iraq as recently as Friday, as regional tensions have flared up following the bloody war between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip.
A U.S. jury has convicted two Texas men of trying to sell Iranian petroleum in violation of sanctions imposed by Washington and of conspiracy to commit money laundering, the Justice Department said on Friday. Zhenyu Wang, 42, and Daniel Ray Lane, 42, were found guilty on Wednesday, and each face a maximum penalty of 45 years in prison. The two men had planned to purchase petroleum from Iran, mask its origins, and then sell it to a refinery in China, the department said in a statement. Lane was president of privately held Stack Royalties, a Texas-based company that sells oil and gas mineral rights to investment funds and private equity groups.
Iran denied Israeli claims that it was involved in the seizure of a British-owned and Japanese-operated cargo ship in the southern Red Sea by Yemen's Houthis, Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Nasser Kanaani said on Monday at a press conference. "We have said multiple times that resistance groups in the region act independently and spontaneously based on their interests and that of their people," Kanaani said, adding that Israeli claims were aimed at diverting attention away from Israeli's "irreparable defeat" in its battle against Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip. On Sunday, Israel said the incident was an "Iranian act of terrorism" with consequences for international maritime security.
UANI IN THE NEWS
…A crucial piece of the puzzle to take such rigorous action against the IZH may have come from the US NGO United Against Nuclear Iran (UANI), as t-online information suggests. The head of UANI is the former US ambassador to the United Nations, Mark Wallace. “We have clear evidence that the IZH in Hamburg has close connections to a university in Iran and is in direct contact with the Islamic Revolutionary Guard and Hezbollah,” says Kasra Aarabi from UANI in an interview with t-online. He heads the research group that specializes in Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. The focus of his current research is the University of Religions and Denominations (URD) in the Iranian city of Qom. The threads come together on the URD board. The allegations that Aarabi and UANI cite: Ayatollah Reza Ramezani, who headed the center in Hamburg from 2009 to 2018, sits on the board of the URD and there comes into close contact with commanders in chief of the Revolutionary Guards and Hezbollah. He knows Hezbollah leader Nasrallah personally, as shown by photos that UANI provided to t-online.
…The involvement of a south London restaurateur in facilitating Iranian LPG shipments through a network of Panama-based companies, with seemingly little due diligence, highlights a critical loophole,” explained Claire Jungman who serves as chief of staff at the pressure group United Against Nuclear Iran (UANI) and tracks suspicious tanker trades. “Panama's continued role as a hub for these entities is extremely concerning, as it allows the diversion of funds from these illegal trades to support Iran's terrorist proxies like Hamas. This situation emphasises the urgent need for stronger oversight and enforcement mechanisms to close these gaps in sanction implementations,” said Jungman.
...The issue is critical, warns Iran expert Kasra Aarabi. “There is a direct terror threat against the Jewish community in the UK emanating from the IRGC,” he says. “We have hard evidence that the IRGC has put together a list of Jewish targets and is also proactively nurturing homegrown Islamist radicalization and extreme antisemitism in the UK, using tactics identical to proscribed terror groups from ISIS to Al-Qaeda.” But, notes Aarabi, the director of IRGC research at United Against Nuclear Iran, unlike ISIS and Al-Qaeda, the UK’s existing sanctions regime on the IRGC doesn’t prohibit its ability to spread its “jihadi propaganda” and conduct “soft-power” operations in Britain. “Proscribing the IRGC as a terrorist organization would fundamentally change this,” he says. “It would provide government, the police and tech companies with a mandate to impose an outright ban on any IRGC activity — including propaganda.”
…On Wednesday, a White House Energy Adviser Amos Hochstein said that the US will toughen up on Iran oil sanctions to curb the Islamic Republic’s revenues. “We are going to enforce the sanctions,” he said, “those numbers will come down.” Iran reportedly exported 1.4 million barrels of oil per day last month. This is almost twice as much as it averaged during Trump’s “maximum pressure” campaign, according to United Against Nuclear Iran.
…And yet there is obviously a lot of nervousness. This also has to do with the fact that the American organization United Against Nuclear Iran published a report two weeks ago that several German universities are working closely with the URD. This also includes that of Paderborn, where Mirsadri has been working as a postdoctoral researcher since 2021. The extent to which Swiss universities are also affected remains unclear. This year, the State Secretariat for Migration issued residence permits to around 150 students and researchers from Iran. It is clear that the Federal Intelligence Service (NDB) is keeping an eye on them. There are findings “that indicate an intensification of Iran’s intelligence activities in Switzerland,” writes the NDB upon request.
…Iran exported nearly 1.4 million barrels of oil per day in October, sustaining its average for 2023. This is up 80% from the 775,000 barrels per day Iran averaged under the Trump Administration’s “maximum pressure” strategy, according to United Against Nuclear Iran, the group of former U.S. Ambassador Mark Wallace and Sen. Joe Lieberman, whose Tanker Tracker generates the best public data we have.
…Iran exported nearly 1.4 million barrels of oil per day in October, sustaining its average for 2023. This is up 80% from the 775,000 barrels per day Iran averaged under the Trump administration's "maximum pressure" strategy, according to United Against Nuclear Iran, the group of former U.S. Ambassador Mark Wallace and Sen. Joe Lieberman, whose Tanker Tracker generates the best public data we have.
…Mousavian’s conduct raised alarm bells from the NGO United Against a Nuclear Iran after he attended the funeral of the U.S. and E.U.-designated Iranian regime terrorist Qassem Soleimani in Tehran in 2020 and appeared in a tribute to Soleimani in a 2022 Iran TV program.
NUCLEAR DEAL & NUCLEAR PROGRAM
As U.S.-Iran tensions flare over the war in Gaza as well as ongoing attacks on American troops by Iranian-backed militias, Iran is continuing to enrich uranium and may now have enough to build three atomic bombs, according to the UN’s nuclear watchdog. Meanwhile, the crisis in the Middle East and the upcoming U.S. presidential campaign both make a new deal to curb Iran’s enrichment activities extremely unlikely. Reuters reports that two new confidential assessments by the International Atomic Energy Agency have found that Iran is continuing to grow its stockpile of uranium enriched to the critical level of 60% purity. From there, it’s only a short technical step to enrich the uranium to 90%, or “weapons-grade” purity, though there’s no evidence that Iran has taken steps to do this. Iran would also still need to build a bomb and the means to deliver it.
Iran unveiled an upgraded version of its hypersonic Fattah missile and other advanced weapons at a military exhibition put on for Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ aerospace division in Tehran on Sunday. No information was provided about the speed and range of the upgraded version, Fattah II. However, IRGC officials have previously said that they are aiming to improve their hypersonic missile range to 2,000 kilometers (1,242 miles), which would reach Iran’s regional archenemy, Israel. A Fattah missile is a hypersonic glide vehicle, a precision two-stage missile designed to glide to its target after being launched, offering substantially more maneuverability than a standard ballistic missile. The name Fattah, which means “conqueror” or “victor” in Arabic, was chosen by Khamenei.
Iran unveiled on Sunday a newer version of what it claims is a hypersonic missile capable of maneuvering at high speeds to evade air defense systems. The Fattah II missile was put on display at Ashura Aerospace Science and Technology University, a division of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps in Tehran. Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei visited the site to review an exhibition of new weapons systems, among them the Fattah II. The display came as Israel has recently intercepted a number of ballistic missiles fired at it by Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen. The Israel Defense Forces said the long-range Arrow air defense system had been used to shoot down some of the missiles.
TERRORISM & EXTREMISM
An Iranian-American activist is accusing Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of “empty words” and “cliché” over the federal government’s handling of alleged Iranian agents operating on Canadian soil. Masih Alinejad, a Brooklyn-based journalist and women’s rights activist, told The West Block host Mercedes Stephenson that the Canadian government must do more to address threats against Iranian Canadians from the Islamic republic’s agents. “Iranian-Canadians in Canada, we love Canada. We love peace and security and democracy. We love Canada to be a shelter for, you know, decent people. And you’re putting the lives of Canadians in danger,” Alinejad said in an interview at the Halifax International Security Forum.
PROTESTS & HUMAN RIGHTS
Iranian authorities have released on bail a popular rapper jailed for more than a year over supporting nationwide protests sparked by Mahsa Amini's death in custody, local media have reported. Toomaj Salehi, 32, was arrested in October 2022 after publicly backing the wave of demonstrations which erupted a month earlier, triggered by the death of 22-year-old Amini, an Iranian Kurd, who had been taken into custody over an alleged breach of strict dress rules for women. In July, Salehi was sentenced to six years in prison on charges of "corruption on earth" -- one of Iran's most serious offences which carries a maximum penalty of death. The musician's lawyer, Amir Raisian, told Iran's reformist newspaper Shargh late Saturday that upon appeal, the Supreme Court had found "flaws in the initial sentence" and ordered that Salehi be "released from prison today on bail".
Candles, vigils, sobbing and lamenting mothers, and offerings of traditional food and snacks at cemeteries on colorful tablecloths are common scenes in Iran this week. Families of victims and ordinary people mark the 4th anniversary of the killing of at least 1,500 mostly young protesters in less than five days in November 2019. Photos of fallen protesters are circulating widely on social media, with users posting collages of hundreds of images of young men and women who lost their lives in one of Iran's bloodiest crackdowns on dissent under the Islamic rule. Days of intense nationwide protests, triggered by a sudden government decision to raise fuel prices, started on November 14, 2019, and marked the beginning of prolonged periods of dissent. What made the people angry was not simply a price rise.
Iran has increased repression of its Baha’i minority in recent months by engaging in more than 200 acts of persecution, including the arrests of 19 people last week, the Baha’i International Community, which represents world Baha’is, told VOA on Nov. 13. Simin Fahandej, a BIC representative to the United Nations, provided her organization's latest assessment of conditions in Iran in this week’s edition of VOA’s Flashpoint Iran podcast. Her assessment is consistent with an October report of increased harassment of Iran's Baha'is by a U.N. special rapporteur.
The University of Tehran's President Mohammad Moghimi has officially confirmed the increased presence of hijab enforcers at the capital's campus. He said women, "with seminary education," organized into "monitoring groups for students' hijab" are now on the university campus. Moghimi disclosed the development during a session of the Council for Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice at the university. He explained that the groups, comprised of women focused on “improving compliance with behavioral codes, are tasked with monitoring and enhancing the adherence to dress codes in alignment with religious rules, university regulations, and standards across all campuses of the University of Tehran.”
MILITARY/INTELLIGENCE MATTERS & PROXY WARS
Israel said that a cargo ship was hijacked in the Red Sea by Yemen's Houthi rebels on Iran's orders. The cargo ship, Galaxy Leader, was traveling from Turkey to India and sailing under the flag of the Bahamas when the incident occurred, the IDF wrote in a post on X, formerly Twitter. The ship was registered under a British company but operated by a Japanese firm, and at some point, it seems to have been partly owned by Israeli billionaire Rami Ungar, The New York Times reported. The rebels used a helicopter raid to hijack the ship at around 1 p.m. local time, three US officials told NBC News. Israeli President Benjamin Netanyahu's office released a statement saying that the boat was "hijacked on an Iranian whim by the Houthi militia in Yemen," The Times of Israel reported.
The former head of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps has warned that “new war fronts” could open if Israel continues its offensive in Gaza. Mohsen Rezaee, now the head of the Supreme Council for Economic Coordination, told the Hezbollah-affiliated Al Mayadeen: “The axis of resistance will play a bigger role in the future and the Zionist regime will definitely lose in this war.” He said he believed the war will cause the downfall of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and “in the coming years we will witness the downfall of the Zionist regime.”
IRANIAN INTERNAL DEVELOPMENTS
Thousands of Iranians held rallies across the country against Israel’s unrelenting bombardment of Gaza, with a top military commander warning that Israel was heading for a long and bloody war with Palestinian group Hamas. The demonstrations on Saturday in the capital Tehran and other cities were held in “support of the oppressed children of Gaza” under the slogan “Palestine is not alone”, according to local media…“Palestine stands on the path of a war of attrition … Israel will face a definitive defeat and end up in the dustbin of history,” Commander Hossein Salami from the powerful Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps told the rally in Tehran, which was aired live on state TV. “The battle is not over. The Islamic world will do whatever it has to do. There are still great [unused] capacities left,” Salami said, without referring to any possible moves by Iran to join the conflict.
CONGRESS & IRAN
U.S. Senator Jacky Rosen (D-NV) joined Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and a bipartisan group of senators in introducing a resolution supporting U.S. efforts to deter Iran. The resolution recognizes that deterrence is most credible when the President keeps all options on the table to deter attacks from Iran and its proxies. “Iran is the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism, and its actions are destabilizing the Middle East,” said Senator Rosen. “Iran’s support has been instrumental for terrorist groups like Hamas – which carried out brutal attacks on innocent Israelis – and its proxies who attack U.S. troops and pose the greatest threat to their safety. The U.S. must continue to stand with our allies and keep pushing back on Iran’s support of terrorism and attempts to thwart regional normalization and peace.”
U.S. Senators Bill Cassidy, M.D. (R-LA), Jerry Moran (R-KS), Bill Hagerty (R-TN), and 16 Senate colleagues urged President Biden to enforce oil sanctions on Iran as mandated by Congress. The senators also asked the administration to permanently freeze the $6 billion funding mechanism established in September’s hostage agreement with Iran. “For far too long, Iran has evaded consequence for its complacency in funding radical terror,” wrote the senators. “To prevent further atrocities and to fulfill our promise of providing unwavering support to our most important ally in the Middle East, we urge your administration to take the necessary means in severing financial avenues available to Iran, specifically cracking down on oil exports.” “The world is now seeing the direct result of allowing Iran’s oil revenues to grow and unfreezing billions of dollars in its extraterritorial bank accounts.
A House Committee has initiated an inquiry into the role of Hossein Mousavian at Princeton University, suspecting him of advancing Iran's interests. The House Committee of Education and the Workforce is probing the Pro-Tehran pundit who served as a key figure in Iran’s nuclear negotiations with the international community until 2005. He is currently a Middle East Security and Nuclear Policy Specialist at the Program on Science and Global Security at Princeton. Twelve Republican committee members have expressed concerns about Mousavian's influence on campus, citing his participation in Qassem Soleimani's funeral and an appearance on Iranian TV. Mousavian denies the allegations. The investigation aims to assess potential threats to national security and underscores broader worries about malign influences infiltrating US education.
RUSSIA, SYRIA, ISRAEL, HEZBOLLAH, LEBANON & IRAN
Israeli airstrikes reportedly killed two pro-Iranian fighters near the Syrian capital Damascus early on Friday, during raids targeting a Hezbollah arms depot and other sites near Syria’s capital. Israel has been said to hit targets in Syria several times in the past weeks as regional tensions rise over the Israel-Hamas war in the Gaza Strip. Citing a military source, Syria’s state news agency SANA earlier reported “material damage” from the strikes. “At around 2:25 a.m. (1125 GMT), the Israeli enemy carried out an aerial aggression from the direction of the occupied Golan Heights targeting several positions in the vicinity of Damascus,” SANA said.
Russia and Iran's foreign ministers on Sunday called for a ceasefire in Gaza and said that urgent assistance must be given to the civilian population there. Russia said Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov spoke to Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian at the request of Tehran. "During the conversation, main attention was focused on the current situation in the zone of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict," Russia's foreign ministry said. "General concern was expressed about the ongoing armed confrontation in the Gaza Strip," it said. "The need for an early ceasefire and urgent assistance to the affected civilian population was stressed."
AFGHANISTAN & IRAN
Afghan refugees are trafficked to Iran in a very coordinated manner and officials, from border police to authorities issuing legal documents might be involved, a recent report has revealed. An investigative report published on Wednesday about the system behind the trafficking on Farazdaily, a news website in Tehran, featured interviews with people smugglers and refugees. Currently, the Iranian government is being criticized for its seemingly lenient approach to Afghan refugees. Political opponents of the government have repeatedly warned of its "open borders" policy and possible hidden agendas. In response, the government has accused critics of inciting "Afghan-phobia" as a response to fast-growing anti-Afghan sentiment.
Former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said that he was "most surprised" that a Pentagon worker who has shown sympathy for Iran has not been let go of her job in the wake of the Hamas attack on Israel. Pompeo was asked about recent reports regarding Ariane Tabatabai, an Iranian-born Pentagon official, being allowed to keep her security clearance even though she was named as part of a covert influence campaign that is run by Tehran, the capital of Iran. It comes in the wake of Robert Malley, an envoy to Iran, having his security clearance suspended earlier this year.