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A weekly newsletter on all things Iran.
The Iranist
Week of December 8th

“The Iran nuclear deal is a key strategic priority for European security but also for regional and global security. Dismantling an agreement on nuclear issues that is workingas the International Energy Agency has certified nine timeswould not put us in a better position to discuss all the rest on the country.”

- EU Foreign Policy Chief Federica Mogherini,
at a joint press conference with her American counterpart


A BUSY WEEK
FILED UNDER:
 Foreign Policy

YEMEN
A report by United Nations monitors said that ballistic missiles fired at Riyadh are similar to those designed by Iranian military scientists (Reuters). While the report for the UN Security Council said it does not have evidence identifying the “broker or supplier” of the missiles, they are consistent with the Iranian designed and manufactured Qiam-1 missile.

Iranian-supported Houthi rebels killed former Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh as a punishment for switching sides with Saudi Arabia (The Guardian). His death came only days after Saleh called for a “new page” in ties with the Saudi-led coalition fighting in Yemen.

The death of Yemen’s ex-president received a lot of state media coverage, with many outlets calling his fate the result of his “betrayal” of the Houthis (Al-Monitor).

SYRIA

Israeli warplanes struck a military base near Damascus, killing 12 members of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (Times of Israel). There has been no official confirmation of fatalities by either Syrian or Iranian authorities, but reports on Lebanese and Saudi state television channels and Telegram accounts associated with the IRGC reported on the death toll. The attack came weeks after the BBC reported that Iran was building a permanent military base south of Damascus.

The Iranian foreign ministry spokesman denounced Israel’s repeated attacks on Syria (IFP). Spokesman Bahram Qassemi said the bombings were against all international laws and principles, and that the “raids are aimed at weakening the legitimate government of Syria.”

The Iranian foreign minister said that U.S. efforts to push Iran out of Syria will not succeed (RFERL). Mohammad Javad Zarif told a conference in Rome, “The U.S. and Russia cannot decide for Iran. We are there at the request of the Syrian government. It’s our region. It’s the Persian Gulf, not the Gulf of Mexico. We are going nowhere.”

Russia’s multilayered Syrian diplomacy worries Iran (Al-Monitor).


JERUSALEM
Senator Tom Cotton (R-AR) said a growing partnership between Israel and Arab leaders to counter Iran likely made it easier for the Trump administration to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital (Washington Examiner). The senator added, “While they might not prefer this choice, they understand that their main enemy—that Israel shares—is Iran.” Rumors are circulating that Cotton may replace Mike Pompeo as CIA director.

President Hassan Rouhani blasted Trump’s plan to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital (AFP). The Iranian president said it wouldn’t be tolerated while speaking to his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdoğan by phone, adding that the announcement was “wrong, illegitimate, provocative and very dangerous.”


The supreme leader accused Washington on social media of planning to wage a war in the region to promote Israeli interests (Reuters). Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s website also said the Trump administration’s intention to move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem was “because of their incompetence and failure.” Tehran has long supported several Palestinian militant groups—including Hamas and Islamic Jihad—in their struggle against Israel.

In a broadcast on state television, Rouhani said Muslims would disrupt a plot by unnamed countries in the region to build ties with Israel (Reuters). His comment seemed to be directed at Sunni Arab countries. While the Iranian Foreign Ministry issued a statement saying the move would “provoke Muslims and inflame a new intifada and an escalation of radical, angry and violent behavior.” (Arutz Sheva).

Meanwhile, Israel’s prime minister likened Iran to Nazi Germany at a forum in Washington (Haaretz). Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu expressed concern over the threat that Tehran poses for Israel. He told the Saban Forum that Iran has “ruthless commitment to terror” and “ruthless commitment to kill Jews” much like Nazi Germany during World War II. The Israeli PM also called on Trump to “erase the great flaws” of the Iran Deal.

At a separate conference, Netanyahu said Israel would not allow Iran to establish a military base in Syria (Jerusalem Post). Israel’s PM spoke at the Jerusalem Post Diplomatic Conference: “We have to act now against Iran.” He called on the world to halt Tehran’s development of ballistic missiles, nuclear power, and support for global terrorism.

A different perspective: Tehran already unknowingly recognizes Israel (IranWire).

Former senior State Department advisor believes that moving the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem could also strengthen Iran, giving back a mantle of resistance that Tehran lost when it sided with Syria’s government (New York Times). The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ Qods Force led by General Soleimani means “Jerusalem Force.”

Also, the CIA director sent a letter to Qods Force Commander Soleimani (The Guardian). In it, Mike Pompeo warned Soleimani about Iran’s activities in Iraq and that Tehran would be held accountable for any attacks on U.S. interests. Pompeo said the IRGC commander “refused to open the letter, didn’t break my heart to be honest with you.”


MORE POPCORN PLEASE
FILED UNDER:
 Iran Deal

The star witness in a major case regarding the evasion of sanctions on Iran said he earned an estimated $100 to $150 million (New York Times). In Reza Zarrab’s fifth day of testimony, he could not recall the exact sum of his earnings when he was cross-examined by a lawyer for a Turkish banker, Mehmet Hakan Atilla of Halkbank, who is also on trial for his alleged involvement in the sanctions evasion. Hakan Atilla’s defense lawyer highlighted evidence intended to shift blame to other executives (Bloomberg) The attorney introduced a series of telephone calls showing that Zarrab relied more closely on other Halkbank executives.

Here’s a good backgrounder on the Iran sanctions trial (New York Times).

Iranian state media is fixated on the Zarrab case because he’s linked with an Iranian billionaire who faces a death sentence (Al-Monitor) Businessman Babak Zanjani—worth an estimated $13.5 billion—is said to have withheld money owed to the Iranian Oil Ministry for exports, which resulted in his jailing and recent death sentence. Amir Abbas Soltani, a former lawmaker and former member of the parliamentary committee tasked with pursuing the billionaire’s case, said that while Zarrab mostly operated out of Turkey, he was “the manager of all of Zanjani's financial plans.”

The Turkish government seized the assets of Zarrab and 22 of his associates and partners, some of whom are Iranian (IranWire). Zarrab’s properties and assets include a $12 million private jet, 47 apartments, two floors of office space in Istanbul, and a number of villas, worth more than $300 million altogether.

What the Iran sanctions case in New York means for Turkey and Erdoğan (Washington Post).

The Brookings Institute conducted a poll on American attitudes towards Trump’s Middle East foreign policy (Brookings). Seventy percent of Americans believe the Iran Deal serves the national interests of the United States, while 55 percent believe it will reduce the chance of Tehran developing nuclear weapons. On decertification, 35 percent approve of Trump’s decision and 37 percent disapprove, while 27 percent are not sure.



BORIS TO THE RESCUE
FILED UNDER:
 Human Rights

The U.K. foreign secretary will travel to Tehran this weekend and push for the release of a British-Iranian mother imprisoned on espionage charges (The Guardian). Boris Johnson condemned Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s conviction for spying in Iran recently as a mockery of justice, adding that she was “simply teaching people journalism”—a statement her employer and family both said was false. Three days after Johnson’s statement to a parliamentary committee, Zaghari-Ratcliffe was summoned before an unscheduled court hearing in Tehran, where the foreign secretary’s comments were cited as proof that she was engaged in “propaganda against the regime.” Johnson also plans to end a legal dispute with Tehran over a 1976 arms deal. The four-decade legal dispute with the Iranian government is over hundreds of Chieftain tanks that Iran bought from the U.K. in 1976, but never received because of the 1979 Revolution. The British government admits it owes Tehran up to £300 million, but the countries have gone back and forth over the precise sum and whether any payment could be made while Iran was still under EU sanctions. Downing Street insists that there’s no link between this dispute and ongoing efforts to release Zaghari-Ratcliffe.

The Supreme Court allowed the third version of the Trump administration’s Muslim Ban to go into effect while legal challenges against it continue (New York Times). The court’s orders mean that the administration can fully enforce its new restrictions on travel from seven nations—Chad, Iran, Libya, North Korea, Somalia, Syria, Yemen—six of them predominantly Muslim. For now, most citizens from these countries will be barred from entering the United States, along with some groups of people from Venezuela.


OTHER NEWS THAT MADE HEADLINES
RIGHTS
+ Three activists sentenced to prison in trial “directed” by Intelligence Ministry.
+ Two officials publicly break rank and discuss discriminatory policies against Baha’is.
+ Hope for Baha’is as third leader is released.

DOMESTIC ISSUES
+ Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati says roots of sedition from 2009 ‘still strong’.
+ Reformist MPs call on Science Ministry to allow student activists to attend university.
+ Rouhani admin’s new “fair usage” internet price rates violate net neutrality.
+ Why it’s so difficult to tell the difference between Iranian hacking groups.
+ Strong earthquake rocks southeastern Iran; Dozens injured
+ Only married women allowed to play music in Kashan.
+ Iranian actress being harassed for talking about sexual harassment.

FOREIGN AFFAIRS
+ Iran memo demands U.S. account for death of Iranian-American
+ Tehran denies U.S. accusation of destabilizing the region.
+ France and Germany want Iran to reverse ballistic missile program
+ French president calls for Iraqi dialogue, dismantling of Iran-backed militia.
+ France should know that Iran’s missiles are not negotiable-spokesman.
+ Israeli tech puts Iranian ride-hailing startups in bind.
+ Does Iran’s deep religious influence in Iraq translate to politics
+ The ticking time bomb of Iran’s proxy industry.
+ Iran’s Rouhani calls for Mideast dialogue without foreign intervention.
+ Can Iran benefit from chaos in Nigeria?

IRAN DEAL + SANCTIONS
+ Rex Tillerson vows to hold Iran to the nuclear deal
+ U.S. says Dentsply Sirona to pay $1.2 million settlement over exports to Iran.
+ Iranian-born Montreal man sues TD Bank over closed accounts

ECONOMY + TRADE
+ Russia receives 1 million barrels from Iran in ‘oil for goods’ deal
+ Tehran inaugurates new extension to its main Arabian Sea port
+ Iran opens $1 billion extension at closest port to Indian Ocean
+ Analysis on Iran’s expanding economic relations with Asia.
+ Why is the Iranian rial suddenly weakening
+ Iran and Belarus on track to broaden banking cooperation
+ China pushing billions into Iranian economy as Western firms stall.
+ Iran moves to stamp out corruption opportunities in customs.
+ Hungary’s economic presence in Iran growing
+ Madrid to guarantee Spanish investments in Iran
+ Iran and Pakistan finalize draft of free trade agreement.
  
ART + CULTURE
+ An exhibition by Farhad Moshiri might be all we have left of winter in 100 years.
+ Iran hits the London art scene
+ There’s a whole bunch of concerts in Tehran these days with male singers.
+ Will ancient Persian artifacts be sold to the highest bidder?
+ Why does Iranian state TV censor movie trailers?

SCIENCE + ENVIRONMENT
+ Iran gives Muslim scientist prize to Turkish-French and Iranian national.

SPORTS
+ Weightlifting: Hashemi takes another gold for Iran
+ Iran in World Cup’s ‘Group of Death’.
+ Fire me if you don't like my opinions, coach Carlos Queiroz tells Iran
+ Did you know Iranian athletes don’t shake hands?

OTHER
+ Iranian-American lawyers: A growing presence in the nation’s capital.
+ ‘Zombiefied’ Angelina Jolie lookalike reveals she’s a total fraud.

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