Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Eye on Iran: Iran Launches 'Advanced' Rockets during Military Exercises

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Iran's elite Revolutionary Guard has launched several sophisticated rockets during military exercises, Iranian media reported on Monday... the launch of the "smart and advanced" rockets came during an annual three-day maneuver which began on Monday in Iran's central desert... Gen. Mohammad Pakpour, head of the Revolutionary Guards' ground forces told the channel that rockets with ranges of more than 100 kilometers (62 miles) as well as the Fajr-3, Fajr-4 and Fajr-5 rockets, all believed to have under 100-kilometer range, were all successfully tested in the exercise.

Saudi Arabia and Israel both called on Sunday for a new push against Iran, signaling a growing alignment in their interests, while U.S. lawmakers promised to seek new sanctions on the Shi'ite Muslim power. Turkey also joined the de facto united front against Tehran as Saudi and Israeli ministers rejected an appeal from Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif for Sunni Gulf Arab states to work with Tehran to reduce violence across the region. While Saudi Arabia remains historically at odds with Israel, their ministers demanded at the Munich Security Conference that Tehran be punished for propping up the Syrian government, developing ballistic missiles and funding separatists in Yemen... Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir called Tehran the main sponsor of global terrorism and a destabilizing force in the Middle East. He sidestepped a question about Israel's call for concerted action with Sunni Arab states amid growing speculation that the two countries could normalize relations and join forces to oppose Tehran, much as Turkey has done... "Iran remains the single main sponsor of terrorism in the world," Adel al-Jubeir told delegates at the conference. "It's determined to upend the order in the Middle East ... (and) until and unless Iran changes its behavior it would be very difficult to deal with a country like this."

Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei called on Tuesday for the "complete liberation" of Palestine from the "tumour" of Israel, renewing his regime's refusal to recognise Israel's right to exist. Khamenei was speaking at the sixth international conference in support of Palestinian intifada (uprising), one of a number of showcase events the Tehran authorities organise in solidarity with the Palestinians. "This cancerous tumour, since its start, has grown incrementally and its treatment must be incremental too," Khamenei said in a speech broadcast live on state television. "Multiple intifadas and continuous resistance have succeeded in achieving very important incremental goals. "It continues to advance towards its other objectives, ultimately the complete liberation of Palestine," he added... Moderate President Hassan Rouhani, and the conservative brothers who head parliament and the judiciary -- Ali Larijani and Ayatollah Sadegh Larijani -- flanked the supreme leader as he spoke.


Former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton, who is reportedly on President Trump's consideration list for the next national security advisor, said he does not think the Trump administration will be able to break up Russia and Iran's alliance. "I don't see how. They both are and have been strong supporters of the Assad regime. Russia is not going to back away from that regime," Bolton said after his recent speech at a United Against Nuclear Iran (UANI) and the Jewish Institute for National Security of America (JINSA) Capitol Hill briefing about the future of Iran policy... PJM asked Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) the same question. In his answer, Gardner referenced a letter that he wrote along with other senators to Trump about adopting a tougher policy toward Russia. "Every president in recent history has tried to start talking to Russia: President Obama did, President Bush did, President Trump did. But there are certain lines we cannot cross and certain things we cannot allow Russia to skate by with and that needs to be made clear. So do I think it's good to talk about things of mutual interest? Yes. Do I think it's bad to give up on national interest? Yes," he said.


U.S. Republican senators plan to introduce legislation to impose further sanction on Iran, accusing it of violating U.N. Security Council resolutions by testing ballistic missiles and acting to "destabilize" the Middle East, a U.S. senator said Sunday. "I think it is now time for the Congress to take Iran on directly in terms of what they've done outside the nuclear program," Senator Lindsey Graham, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, told the Munich Security Conference. Graham said he and other Republicans would introduce measures to hold Iran accountable for its actions. "Iran is a bad actor in the greatest sense of the word when it comes to the region. To Iran, I say, if you want us to treat you differently then stop building missiles, test-firing them in defiance of U.N. resolution and writing 'Death to Israel' on the missile. That's a mixed message," Graham said. Senator Christopher Murphy, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, told the same panel there was nothing preventing Congress from imposing sanctions beyond those that were lifted as a result of the 2016 nuclear agreement with Iran. Murphy, a Democrat, told the panel that he had backed the nuclear deal in the explicit understanding that it would not prevent Congress from taking actions against Iran outside the nuclear issue.

With a new leader in the White House bent on disrupting the status quo, could it also be time for a fresh approach to Middle East peace? The United States this week encouraged a "regional" solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, backing a proposal for the Jewish state to unite with Sunni Arab powers against Shiite Iran, their common foe... US experts said the alignment of interests between Israel and Sunni Arab countries against the Iranian regime should be supported by the Trump administration, which has already broken from the policies of predecessor Barack Obama who had signed the landmark deal giving Tehran sanctions relief in exchange for curbs on its nuclear ambitions.

Iran's foreign minister brushed aside new pressure from the United States on Sunday, declaring that his country is "unmoved by threats" but responds well to respect... "Iran doesn't respond well to threats," Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif told the Munich Security Conference, an annual gathering of top diplomats and defense officials. "We don't respond well to coercion. We don't respond well to sanctions, but we respond very well to mutual respect. We respond very well to arrangements to reach mutually acceptable scenarios"... He mocked "the concept of crippling sanctions," which he said didn't stop Iran acquiring thousands more centrifuges, used for enriching uranium, before talks with the U.S. on the nuclear agreement got underway... Sen. Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican, said that Iran has been working to try and build a nuclear weapon, and "if they say they haven't, they're lying." He proposed new sanctions in Iran for various reasons, including what he said were violations of U.N. resolutions and destabilizing the Mideast. "I think it is now time for the Congress to take Iran on directly," he said. "I think most Republicans are on board with that concept and we'll see where President Trump's at."

A group of nearly 100 prominent Iranian dissidents is demanding that Congress launch investigations into clandestine efforts by the Islamic Republic to influence U.S. policy using a network of lobbyists and propaganda pieces placed in Voice of America's Persian service, according to a letter sent to leading lawmakers and obtained by the Washington Free Beacon. The group of dissidents, composed of prominent Iranian voices that oppose the hardline regime in Tehran, says that Congress is not doing enough to expose the Iranian regime's lobbying efforts in D.C. and propaganda network, which is said to include some at VOA Persia... Organizations such as the National Iranian American Council, or NIAC, which played a key role in championing the Iran nuclear agreement and worked closely with the Obama administration, have long operated under a cloud of suspicion. Dissident voices maintain that NIAC in particular serves as a mouthpiece for Iran's regime in the United States. The group of dissidents-which includes foreign policy experts, university professors, interfaith leaders, prominent real estate developers, and human rights activists, among others-also requested that Congress shine a light on VOA Persia's activities... Peter Kohanloo, a chief architect of the letter and president of the Iranian American Majority, told the Free Beacon that the missive represents an unprecedented effort by Iranian dissidents to expose the Iranian regime's "influence-peddling agenda."


Iran summoned the Turkish ambassador in Tehran on Monday over comments made by Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu and President Tayyip Erdogan accusing the Islamic Republic of destabilizing the region... On Sunday, Cavusoglu told delegates at a security conference in Munich, "Iran wants to turn Syria and Iraq into Shi'ite," according to Turkey's state-run Anadolu news agency. Cavusoglu also said Turkey was against any sectarianism in the Middle East and had called on Iran to stop threatening the region's stability and security. "We will be patient with their positions," Iranian foreign ministry spokesman Bahram Ghasemi said on Monday in reference to the comments made in Munich, according to the Mehr News agency. "But there is a certain cap for our patience." The Turkish foreign ministry responded by saying Iran should "revise its regional policies and take constructive steps, rather than criticizing countries that voice criticism of Iran"

Iran on Monday criticised what it said was coordination between Israel and regional rival Saudi Arabia, describing attempts to create an "international atmosphere" against Tehran. Foreign ministry spokesman Bahram Ghasemi said the two countries "imagine they can compensate for their numerous defeats and failures in the region by creating an international atmosphere against our country." The alignment is "not accidental", he was quoted as saying by the official IRNA news agency. Israel and Saudi Arabia accuse Iran of fuelling regional conflicts by supporting armed Shiite movements in Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Bahrain.


Japan's Mitsubishi Corp bought a naphtha cargo from Iran last month, the Asian country's first such purchase from Iran since October 2016, sources familiar with the matter said. The naphtha cargo, loaded in late January, has arrived in Japan and is from the new Persian Gulf Star Refinery (PGSR), one source added... A Mitsubishi spokesman confirmed it had bought naphtha from Iran recently, but declined to comment on details or which refinery the cargo was from due to company policy.

Russia hopes to get around European Union sanctions by reaching a deal with Iran for the supply of gas turbine equipment for two power plants in Crimea, the head of Russian state defence conglomerate Rostec said on Monday. EU sanctions bar European individuals and companies from providing energy technology to Crimea, which was annexed by Moscow from Ukraine in 2014.

South Africa's MTN has increased its investment in an Iranian e-commerce business, it said on Monday, without disclosing the size of the transaction. MTN, Africa's largest mobile phone company, told Reuters last year that it planned to expand in Iran, where it has a leading position but from which it has not been able to repatriate profits until recently due to U.S. sanctions. MTN said its Iranian unit Irancell led a funding round for the Iran Internet Group (IIG) to accelerate the e-commerce group's growth.

Iraq and Iran signed a memorandum of understanding on Monday to study the construction of a pipeline to export crude oil from the northern Iraqi fields of Kirkuk via Iran, the Iraqi oil ministry said in a statement. The agreement, signed in Baghdad by the oil ministers of the two countries, also calls for a commission to solve a conflict about joint oilfields and the possible transportation of Iraqi crude to Iran's Abadan refinery, it said. The pipeline would help Iraq diversify the export routes of crude produced in Kirkuk and reduce its reliance on transit through the Kurdish Region Government's territory.

Iran expects its oil production to reach 4 million barrels per day by mid-April, and plans to drill 500 new wells over the next five years to raise output to 4.7 million bpd, a senior oil official was quoted as saying on Saturday.


Iranian chess officials have barred two teen siblings from domestic chess tournaments and the national team for crossing some of the religious establishment's so-called red lines at an international chess event. The Iranian National Chess Team dismissed 18-year-old Dorsa Derakhshani for appearing at the Tradewise Gibraltar Chess Festival 2017, which ran from January 23 to February 2, without the Islamic head scarf that became compulsory in Iran after the 1979 Islamic Revolution. Her 15-year-old brother, Borna Derakhshani, was banned for playing against an Israeli opponent at the same event.


Days of protests over dust storms, power failures and government mismanagement in one of Iran's most oil-rich cities subsided on Sunday after security forces declared all demonstrations illegal. Residents of Ahvaz, a city with a majority Arab population near the border with Iraq, had been protesting for five days in increasingly large gatherings, shown in cellphone video clips shared on social media. The region around Ahvaz is a center of oil production in Iran, and since economic sanctions were lifted, Iran's government has been hoping for foreign investment in the area to update refineries and power stations and fix deepening ecological problems. The cellphone clips show protesters calling for the resignation of the local governor. And as the number of demonstrators grew, the demands started to include a call for top officials from the capital, Tehran, to come to Ahvaz to see the problems for themselves... In the weeks before the demonstrations, Ahvaz was hit by large dust storms. Rain turned the dust into mud, which caused power stations to stop working... In addition to the short-term effects of the dust storm, the city is wrestling with long-term environmental challenges. Ahvaz, home to around one million people, is surrounded by petrochemical factories that emit pollutants on a large scale. A 15-year drought, in combination with poorly planned dam building, has caused local marshes to dry up, increasing the level of dust particles in the air to record highs. The World Health Organization said in 2015 that Ahvaz was the most polluted city in the world. Locals said they felt ignored and had had enough. "We feel as if we live in a special zone, where the government only makes money from," said Mobin Ataee, a local student. "It seems they would prefer people to leave so they can turn this whole area into an oil-business-only region."

Iran's transport minister survived a no-confidence vote in parliament on Sunday, state media reported, defeating a motion which could have derailed Iran's landmark deals with planemakers Boeing and Airbus. In a session broadcast live on state radio, 176 lawmakers voted against and 74 for the no-confidence motion which accused Roads and Urban Development Minister Abbas Akhoundi of mismanagement after a railroad collision and over alleged lack of transparency in the plane purchases. Akhoundi helped steer Iran's move to sign contracts with Airbus and U.S. rival Boeing last year to purchase about 180 passenger planes, the first direct deal by Tehran to buy Western-built aircraft in nearly 40 years.

Iran has found shale oil reserves of 2 billion barrels of light crude in its western Lorestan province, a senior official at the state-run National Iranian Oil Company (NIOC) was quoted as saying on Saturday... [He] said exploration was also being carried out for shale gas reserves in the area, and the studies were expected to be completed by October, 2017. Iran's proven oil reserves of about 160 billion barrels, almost 10 percent of the world's total, rank it fourth among petroleum-rich countries.


When Iranian minister of foreign affairs Mohammad Javad Zarif speaks to the Munich Security Conference this weekend, his words are likely to be misleading at best and deceitful at worst. But it is nonetheless appropriate that Iran be represented at this premier world security conference because Iran continues to be the greatest threat there is to world security. Mr. Zarif may proclaim, as he has before, that Iran will "never initiate war" even though it is obvious that is exactly what Iran has done, for years, either directly or indirectly through radical Islamist terrorist proxies in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, and Saudi Arabia. Mr. Zarif may again accuse the United States of breaking the Nuclear Agreement between Iran and the P5+1, but, of course, it is Iran that has broken at least two explicit obligations of the Agreement and tested ballistic missiles in defiance of UNSC Resolution 2231 which endorses the Nuclear Agreement. America has a new president and his views about Iran are quite different from his predecessor. After Iran recently tested those ballistic missiles, president Trump's national security adviser publically put the Iranians "on notice" that the US would respond to such belligerent behaviour. And then the Trump administration's Treasury department imposed new economic sanctions on Iran. Thus far the US has been alone in standing up to Iran, but if the US remains alone, Iran will only grow stronger, bolder, and more threatening to the rest of the world. Therefore the support of the European allies is needed.

... [T]he Trump administration is facing its first foreign policy tests less than a month after the inauguration. Unsurprisingly, the two actors who are actively testing President Trump's  resolve come straight from George W. Bush's "axis of evil": Iran and North Korea, two of America's most implacable adversaries. What is more intriguing is whether the two are coordinating their ballistic missile tests - and how much support they are receiving from their "sugar daddies" in Moscow and Beijing... Future sanctions may involve not just the two terror-supporting states, but companies in Russia and China that are working to boost the missile efforts in both countries. Beyond that, the administration may consider broader deployment of missile defenses in the Middle East, South Korea, and Japan, and potentially, U.S. tactical nuclear weapons in vicinity of the two aggressors... Sources in the Arab Gulf suggest that Tehran may be involved in testing its nuclear weapons and developing its ICBMs in North Korea. .. The Trump administration and U.S. allies also need to broaden their focus from Iran's nuclear program to take in Teheran's aggressive and disruptive behavior in the Middle East. Today, four Arab capitals: Baghdad, Damascus, Beirut and Sana'a, are effectively being controlled by Teheran. Moreover, Iran is a strategic ally of Russia in the Middle East, and it allows Russian bombers to use its air space for air strikes in Syria. The Europeans need to limit their rush to trade with Iran by conditioning investment in the Iranian economy on cessation of the missile program and expanding JCPOA to permanently stop uranium enrichment. The IRGC, which runs the missile testing and production, as well as the nuclear program, need all their numerous businesses sanctioned - inside and outside Iran. This should include IRGC leaders,  their family members, and their businesses. Any companies that do business with Iran's military proxies, such as Lebanese and Iraqi Hezbollah, and the Houthi rebels, which threaten navigation off the coasts of Yemen and at the strategic Bab-el-Mandeb straits, should also be sanctioned.

Maybe President Trump's bluster masks a growing recognition within the administration that the deal is a good one for America's security and that of our allies... But any apparent retreat by the administration may be temporary and tactical - not a strategic rethink. While Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson are said to counsel sticking with the deal, senior White House advisers continue to talk it down around Washington. These advisers do recognize that a frontal assault - through unilateral American withdrawal - would divide us from our European, Russian and Chinese negotiating partners, isolating the United States rather than Iran. Instead, they envisage the deal's demise by other means... One approach is to demand a "better deal." President Trump's broadsides help lay the predicate for a renegotiation. This might be focused on greater access to military sites or on the agreement's "sunset provisions," through which some constraints on Iran's nuclear program will be phased out over time. Or it could center on Iran's testing of ballistic missiles capable of carrying a nuclear warhead, which is not covered by the agreement and remains subject to sanction under a United Nations Security Council resolution - and for which Mr. Flynn put Iran "on notice"... Given the effort that went into reaching the agreement and its complexity, it is highly unlikely the other signatories would support a renegotiation. Unless, that is, the administration offered "more for more" - for example, greater economic benefits to Iran in return for additional constraints on its nuclear program. It is equally implausible that the Trump administration would be willing to "give" Iran anything. The main purpose of demanding a renegotiation would be to generate a slow-motion breakdown while muddying the waters so that Washington could avoid blame.

Eye on Iran is a periodic news summary from United Against Nuclear Iran (UANI) a program of the American Coalition Against Nuclear Iran, Inc., a tax-exempt organization under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code. Eye on Iran is not intended as a comprehensive media clips summary but rather a selection of media elements with discreet analysis in a PDA friendly format. For more information please email press@uani.com.

United Against Nuclear Iran (UANI) is a non-partisan, broad-based coalition that is united in a commitment to prevent Iran from fulfilling its ambition to become a regional super-power possessing nuclear weapons.  UANI is an issue-based coalition in which each coalition member will have its own interests as well as the collective goal of advancing an Iran free of nuclear weapons.

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