The US announced sanctions on Lebanon-based Arch Consulting and Meamar Construction on Thursday, a week after it backlisted two former ministers accused of enabling Hezbollah. The US said it sanctioned the two companies for being owned, controlled, or directed by Hezbollah. It also added Hezbollah Executive Council official Sultan Khalifah Asaad, who it said was tied to both companies, to its OFAC list of sanctioned individuals. “Through Hezbollah’s exploitation of the Lebanese economy and manipulation of corrupt Lebanese officials, companies associated with the terrorist organisation are awarded government contracts,” said Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin.
U.S. President Donald Trump plans to issue an executive order allowing him to impose U.S. sanctions on anyone who violates a conventional arms embargo against Iran, four sources familiar with the matter said on Thursday. The sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the executive order was expected to be issued in the coming days and would allow the president to punish violators with secondary sanctions, depriving them of access to the U.S. market. The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Iranian hackers targeted aerospace and satellite technology companies at the behest of the country’s military, according to an indictment unsealed Thursday in federal court in Alexandria. Prosecutors say one of the three accused, 34-year-old Said Pourkarim Arabi, is a member of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, an elite Iranian security force that is designated by the United States as a terrorist group. Another is the head of a hacking collective called the Iranian Dark Coders Team, according to the indictment. Arabi and the other two people are accused of using social engineering, rather than sophisticated hacking techniques, to steal sensitive information.
UANI IN THE NEWS
…Jason Brodsky, policy director for United Against Nuclear Iran, told The Media Line: “I don’t think normalization in relations between Israel and Saudi Arabia is imminent, but they are inching toward that goal. King Salman publicly stated − only days ago − that the Arab Peace Initiative is a precondition to normalization. However, that calculus could change after succession.” Ibish feels it is difficult to imagine normalization taking place while Salman is still in power. “King Salman remains very committed to the Arab Peace Initiative and supportive of the Palestinian cause,” he noted.
…The US-based non-government organisation, United Against Nuclear Iran, wrote to Gabon’s transport minister on September 14, saying that the vessel Ark Rescue had made numerous loads of Iranian crude from Kharg Island via ship-to-ship transfers from NITC vessels. The vessel’s Automatic Identification System was switched off, while it sailed in the direction of Basrah, Iraq, later diverting without the AIS to give the impression of an Iraqi call. An earlier letter about the practices went unanswered. Satellite imagery from Planet Labs showed the vessel Balder loading near Kharg Island on August 22, UANI showed in the letter. Balder had also called at Bandar Mahshahr on August 9, from where crude and condensates are shipped.
SANCTIONS, BUSINESS RISKS, & OTHER ECONOMIC NEWS
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Thursday that he expected every nation to comply with a U.N. Security Council resolution regarding a “snapback” of sanctions on Iran. “The United States is intent on enforcing all the U.N. Security Council resolutions, and come Monday, there will be a new series of U.N. Security Council resolutions to be in force, and we intend to ask every country to stand behind them,” he said during a joint press conference with Suriname President Chandrikapersad "Chan" Santokhi in Paramaribo.
With the rial, Iranian's national currency, recently setting a new low record against the U.S. dollar, the Governor of the Central Bank of Iran (CBI), Abdol-Nasser Hemmati, says that, along with "heavily injecting" foreign currencies into the local forex market (NIMA), the bank has permitted the petrochemical, steel, and mineral conglomerates to sell their forex income from exports to the authorized exchange bureaus. Before the new decision, the giant corporations were only allowed to sell their collected forex to the bank's bureaus.
PROTESTS & HUMAN RIGHTS
Babak Paknia, an attorney involved in Navid Afkari's legal case, dismissed as "unfounded" the Fars provincial judiciary's statement on carrying out the death penalty against the young athlete. Following the outcry over the 27-year-old national wrestling champion's hanging on Saturday in the notorious Adelabad prison in Shiraz, Fars' judiciary published a statement insisting that it had respected all legal requirements in Afkari's hanging.
U.S.-IRAN RELATIONS & NEGOTIATIONS
The Politico report on Sunday about a possible Iranian plot to kill the U.S. ambassador to South Africa, Lana Marks, should have been a blockbuster coming out of the Middle East. But it has been overshadowed by the breakthrough in relations between Israel and the Arab world, superintended by President Trump and his team. The White House signing ceremony for the agreement called the Abraham Accords, with Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates normalizing relations with the Jewish state, was a historic moment and merited all the attention it received. Yet the Politico story, and its implications, deserve plenty of discussion too.
IRANIAN INTERNAL DEVELOPMENTS
Ali Asghar Mounesan, Iran's Minister of Cultural Heritage, Tourism and Handicrafts, says that if coronavirus-related restrictions persist, the country's tourism industry will be eradicated and all parties involved will be "bankrupt." Mounesan also announced that he would meet with Iran's Health Minister, Saeed Namaki, to attempt to lift travel bans within the next week. “To prevent the destruction of the Iranian tourism industry, 'smart and responsible traveling' should replace "do not travel' recommendations," Mounesan said.
U.S. President Donald Trump and his Democratic rival, Joe Biden, differ on most foreign policy issues, including on how to deal with Iran. But former Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad told RFE/RL in an exclusive interview that regardless of which man wins the November 3 presidential election, Washington’s policies are unlikely to change. “It doesn’t matter to me who wins. Why would it matter who gets the [most] votes? This is an internal U.S. issue. What is important are U.S. international policies that don’t change under different presidents. We’re seeking a change in those policies,” Ahmadinejad said via Skype from Tehran.
The plight of Iran’s mountain couriers is once again under the spotlight after the Islamic Republic’s border guards shot dead at least 15 of them this summer, local officials said. In Iranian Kurdistan, mountain couriers are relied on to carry commodities across the Iraqi border. They are locally known as a “kolbar,” a Kurdish word meaning someone carrying heavy loads over their shoulders. In recent years, the term has come to be used for young Kurds who cross the rugged mountains with essential goods in a region battered by unemployment, poverty and a host of other maladies.
IRAQ & IRAN
Furious over the targeted killing of Iranian Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani by the US military in Bagdad, Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei demanded in January that “the Americans’ corruption-stirring presence should come to an end” in Iraq. As it happens, Christmas came early for Khamenei, at least in part. Gen. Frank McKenzie, commander of US Central Command, announced on September 9 a drawdown of US troops in Iraq from 5,200 to 3,000.
OTHER FOREIGN AFFAIRS
The Australian lawyer leading the charge for Iran to be exiled from international competition over the execution of a champion wrestler has rejected the contention it was unrelated to sport, saying he “can’t think of a more grievous attack on the humanitarian values of the Olympic movement”. From the European Union to US presidential candidate Joe Biden, the condemnation of the Islamic republic over the hanging of 27-year-old Navid Afkari last weekend has been far and wide.