**NOTE: Eye On Iran will be suspended on Monday, February 17 in observance of Presidents' Day. It will resume Tuesday, February 18.**
A U.S. Navy warship seized weapons believed to be of Iranian "design and manufacture," including 150 anti-tank guided missiles and three Iranian surface-to-air missiles, the American military said on Thursday. In a statement, the military said the guided-missile cruiser Normandy boarded a dhow, a traditional sailing vessel, in the Arabian Sea on Sunday. "The weapons seized include 150 'Dehlavieh' anti-tank guided missiles (ATGM), which are Iranian-manufactured copies of Russian Kornet ATGMs," the statement said.
The Senate voted on Thursday to require that President Trump seek congressional authorization before taking further military action against Iran, as Democrats joined forces with eight Republicans to try to rein in the president's war-making powers weeks after he escalated hostilities with Tehran. The bipartisan vote, 55 to 45, amounted to a rare attempt by the Senate to restrain Mr. Trump's authority just over a week after it voted to acquit him of impeachment charges, and nearly six weeks after the president moved without authorization from Congress to kill a top Iranian security commander.
Iran's crude-oil sales have been battered by a sudden downturn in demand from its last big trading partner, China, following the deadly coronavirus outbreak, U.S. and Iranian officials said, a blow that lands as the Islamic Republic faces the risk of an economic collapse. In addition to declining oil sales, turmoil in China also is disrupting the supply of spare parts and cheap goods Tehran needs for its factories and bazaars. "The Iranian economy is already in bad shape," said Ali Amirliravi, a Tehran-based commodities trader.
SANCTIONS, BUSINESS RISKS, & OTHER ECONOMIC NEWS
U.S. prosecutors on Thursday accused Huawei of stealing trade secrets and helping Iran track protesters in its latest indictment against the Chinese company, escalating the U.S. battle with the world's largest telecommunications equipment maker. In the indictment, which supersedes one unsealed last year in federal court in Brooklyn, New York, Huawei Technologies Co was charged with conspiring to steal trade secrets from six U.S. technology companies and to violate a racketeering law typically used to combat organized crime.
Tensions with Iran may be behind U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin's cryptocurrency compliance comments on Wednesday. The New York Times reported the Trump administration "has expressed growing concern" that this technology is being used to "evade American sanctions on countries like Iran." Earlier this week, the Parliament of Iran Research Center published a report suggesting cryptocurrency mining licenses issued in January could generate new tax revenue and bureaucratic fees.
U.S.-IRAN RELATIONS & NEGOTIATIONS
In late September, a plane carrying senior Iranian officials touched down in Abu Dhabi, the gleaming capital of the United Arab Emirates. The Middle East had witnessed a summer of violence, and a meeting with the Iranians was part of a quiet strategy by Emirati leaders to defuse the tension. The small but powerful Persian Gulf nation wanted to broker a separate peace - avoiding violence that could shatter its decades-long effort to present itself as a modern, stable oasis in a volatile region.
Iran and the U.S. came to the brink of war in January, but the two sides are still keeping open a diplomatic channel to discuss the fate of Americans imprisoned in Iran, according to multiple sources familiar with the talks. The communication is indirect, with messages passed through the Swiss government, which has handled U.S. interests in Tehran since the U.S. and Iran severed diplomatic relations 40 years ago. The Swiss ambassador to Iran, Markus Leitner, has made frequent trips to Washington in recent months to relay information on the prisoners' status and messages from Tehran, a European diplomat and two sources familiar with the matter told NBC News.
The Pentagon announced that a rocket struck an Iraqi base housing American troops today and that US forces had intercepted a Yemen-bound dhow carrying Iranian-designed weapons days earlier, extending the ongoing military tit-for-tat with pro-Iranian forces. A defense official told Al-Monitor that the K1 base in the oil-rich Iraqi city of Kirkuk was hit by a Katyusha rocket at 8:45 p.m. local time today, causing no injuries. The Iraqi media also reported today that troops found the launch pad and 11 rockets near the base, but had not tracked down the perpetrators.
On January 7, hours after Iran fired missiles at a base in Iraq housing American troops, the Iranian Foreign Minister, Javad Zarif, said that was the end of his country's response to the killing of Iranian General Qasem Soleimani. Nobody should be fooled. Only a few hours later, Iran's Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, tweeted that "such military actions are not enough." We likely haven't seen Iran's real response to Soleimani's death, and it's very hard to predict when and where it will come.
MILITARY/INTELLIGENCE MATTERS & PROXY WARS
Iran is ready to strike the United States and Israel if they give it any reason to do so, the head of the elite Revolutionary Guards said in a live speech on state television on Thursday. "If you make the slightest error, we will hit both of you," Major General Hossein Salami said at a ceremony marking the 40th day since the death of top commander Qassem Soleimani. Soleimani, who was head of the Quds Force, a branch of the Guards responsible for operations outside Iran, was killed by a U.S. drone in Baghdad on Jan. 3 along with Iraqi militia commander Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis.
IRANIAN INTERNAL DEVELOPMENTS
Four days after heavy snowfall hit the province of Gilan, northern Iran, thousands of people in the urban and rural areas of the region are still without water and electricity. At least eight people have been killed and 145 more injured in the snow-hit province, while many rural roads are blocked. Over 250,000 people in Gilan are suffering from a power outage, the state-run Khabar-Online news agency reports. Local and national authorities have promised to restore power and water supply later today, February 13.
Iranian war veteran Rahmat has fallen on hard times, his cotton farm destroyed by salt water flooding from a local dam. In frustration and anger, he gathers local farmers and persuades them to drive in their tractors to Tehran, the capital of the Islamic republic, and complain to a president who no longer seems to care. Rahmat's story is the heart of Exodus, an Iranian road movie that while thematically similar to its American counterparts has in recent weeks raised eyebrows at home and abroad not least because it was funded and conceived by the Revolutionary Guards, the Islamic Republic's high-level military guard.
RUSSIA, SYRIA, ISRAEL, HEZBOLLAH, LEBANON & IRAN
A missile attack launched from Israel on military targets near Damascus overnight killed three Syrian and four Iranian fighters, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Friday. According to the Observatory, the strikes on the Damascus airport area had killed at least three Syrian soldiers and four members of Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps. Earlier, regime media said that Syrian air defenses intercepted missiles over the capital, without specifying the source of the attack.
GULF STATES, YEMEN, & IRAN
Emirati and Iranian officials held secret talks in the UAE capital of Abu Dhabi in September in an effort to cool Middle East tensions amid escalating violence between Tehran and Washington, according to a Thursday report. The meeting in the UAE, a key US ally, was held behind Washington's back, and alarmed the White House and American security officials when their intelligence agencies found out about it, The New York Times reported.
Government-backed Iranian hackers have targeted universities in Europe, the United States and Australia in recent months, consultancy PricewaterhouseCoopers has found, Dutch broadcaster NOS reported on Friday. It is unclear whether the attempts to break into computer systems, including those of three Dutch universities, were successful. The hackers were attempting to steal academic literature and course material to use in Iranian schools, the NOS said, citing PricewaterhouseCoopers' cyber security specialist Gerwin Naber.
Facebook has removed two separate networks of fake accounts originating in Iran and Russia, for "engaging in foreign or government interference". The Russian operation, which Facebook linked to the country's military intelligence services, focused primarily on Ukraine and neighbouring countries. The small Iranian operation used accounts and personas on Facebook and Instagram to post content about US politics and the 2020 presidential election.