News Briefs

June 10, 2021
On June 10, the U.S. Department of the Treasury lifted sanctions on three former officials of the National Iranian Oil Company (NIOC) and several Iranian energy companies. The United States called the move routine and denied any connection to ongoing negotiations over Iran's nuclear program in Vienna, saying that the Treasury removed sanctions on the former officials because they no longer worked at blacklisted entities. Nonetheless, analysts view the action as a signal that the United States is capable of following through with the administrative process of removing sanctions. The Treasury first designated the former officials in 2013 for evading sanctions and designated the energy companies last year for their involvement in Iran's petrochemical industry, which the United States has targeted with sanctions.
-- The Wall Street Journal
June 4, 2021
Unnamed U.S. officials allege that Iranian-backed militias in Iraq have used dive-bombing drones to launch at least three attacks against Iraqi military bases used by the Central Intelligence Agency and U.S. Special Operations Forces in the last two months. The episodes included an April 14 strike on a covert CIA hangar at an airport in Erbil, a May 8 attack on the Ayn al-Asad air base in Anbar Province, and a May 11 strike on an airfield in Harir used by U.S. special forces. Analysis of the drones' debris indicated that they could carry 10-60 pounds of explosives and that they used technology similar to that provided by Iran to Houthi rebels in Yemen. The attacks went unclaimed and caused no injuries; according to Iraqi and U.S. officials, Iran engineered the operations to minimize casualties. The drones flew low enough to evade U.S. defenses designed to counter artillery, mortars, and rockets. U.S. analysts have speculated that the militias were targeting U.S. facilities housing surveillance aircraft and U.S. MQ-9 Reaper combat drones.
-- The New York Times
June 2, 2021
Iran's largest naval vessel sank near the Iranian port of Jask in the Gulf of Oman on June 2 after a fire broke out on board. The Kharg, a 207-meter vessel that was built in the United Kingdom in 1977, served to resupply other Iranian warships and participated in military exercises. It also had the capacity to launch helicopters, lift heavy cargo, and sail as far as the Mediterranean Sea. Iranian officials announced an investigation into the fire but did not give a cause. According to Iran's state-owned media, 400 sailors evacuated the Kharg, with 33 sustaining injuries. Also on June 2, an oil refinery near Tehran operated by Tondgooyan Petrochemical Co. caught fire; the cause of that fire also remains unclear. The episodes followed incidents in April 2021, when the MV Saviz, an Iranian ship reportedly used as a base by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) in the Red Sea, became the target of a suspected Israeli attack, and in 2019, when an Iranian naval support ship was struck by friendly fire in a training accident.
-- Associated Press
May 31, 2021
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) reported on May 31 that Iran had failed to explain traces of uranium discovered by the IAEA months earlier at three undeclared nuclear sites in the country. In a separate report, the IAEA said that Iran's stock of enriched uranium had reached 3,241 kilograms, an increase of 273 kilograms from the previous quarter. The IAEA estimated that Iran had produced 2.4 kilograms of uranium enriched to 60 percent fissile purity and 62.8 kilograms of uranium enriched to 20 percent purity. The second report also noted that Iran was using 20 cascades of centrifuges to enrich uranium at its Natanz nuclear facility as of May 24; according to an unnamed senior diplomat, Iran had been using between 35 and 37 cascades for that purpose before an explosion at Natanz in April that Iran blamed on Israel. The IAEA added that Iran had produced 2.4 kilograms of uranium metal, a material with uses in nuclear weapons. Iran had produced only 3.6 grams of uranium metal when the IAEA last reported it three months earlier.
-- Reuters
May 24, 2021
May 24: After discussions between Ali Akbar Salehi, the head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI), and Rafael Mariano Grossi, director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Iran agreed to a one-month extension of a deal allowing the IAEA to maintain surveillance cameras at Iranian nuclear facilities. However, the AEOI has continued to deny the IAEA access to the cameras' recordings until the United States lifts economic sanctions on the country. The AEOI and the IAEA struck the initial three-month deal in February, after Iran's parliament passed a law curtailing Iranian compliance with the IAEA's Additional Protocol, an agreement that enhances the IAEA's ability to inspect Iranian nuclear sites. Iran had threatened to delete the recordings from the cameras after the end of that three-month window. Grossi described the arrangement as "not ideal" and likened it to "an emergency device."
-- Associated Press
May 19, 2021
Bahrain's public prosecution office referred the Central Bank of Iran, Bank Melli Iran, Bank Saderat Iran, and other Iranian banks for criminal trial after accusing them of laundering $1.3 billion through Future Bank, a Manama-based financial institution that Bahrain shuttered in 2016. According to Bahraini authorities' investigation of Future Bank's activities between 2008 and 2012, the Central Bank of Iran instructed Future Bank on how to exploit an illicit alternative transfer system to hide the origin and movement of money, so as to circumvent sanctions on Iranian entities. Additional investigations into similar violations involving Future Bank and the Iranian banks are ongoing and are expected to identify more suspect entities, according to Bahraini authorities.
-- Asharq Al-Awsat
May 15, 2021
Unnamed Western intelligence officials assert that Iran helped the Palestinian militant group Hamas develop weapons used to strike Israel. The officials believe that Hamas commanders routinely traveled to Iran to receive training in the production and operation of weapons and to tour the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps' (IRGC's) own rocket-production facilities. According to the intelligence officials, Iran has also provided Hamas with technical advice for building weapon-production facilities in the Gaza Strip. One official said that Iranian support, which increased after Hamas' 2014 war with Israel, has led to "significant improvements in terms of range, precision, and the extent of destruction" of Hamas' weapons. Israeli defense officials have also concluded that Hamas' medium-range M-75 and J-80 rockets, while manufactured in Gaza, are based on Iranian designs.
-- The Daily Telegraph
May 12, 2021
Advocate General Gerard Hogan, an official at the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg, said in a nonbinding opinion that an EU company may not legally stop doing business with an Iranian company if the EU company acted solely out of concern of being affected by U.S. sanctions on Iran. The opinion was a response to a request for advice from judges who were hearing a case in German courts. A German company, Telekom Deutschland, terminated a contract with Bank Melli, an Iranian financial institution that has a branch office in Hamburg, in response to the reimposition of U.S. sanctions on Iran in 2018, leading Bank Melli to file a lawsuit. Hogan stated that Iranian companies should have the ability to invoke an EU blocking statute that prohibits EU companies from complying with U.S. sanctions. He added that the statute obliges EU companies to explain their decisions to end commercial relations with U.S.-sanctioned Iranian companies. The reach of U.S. secondary sanctions has been a point of contention between the European Union and the United States.
-- Reuters
May 11, 2021
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) reported on May 11 that "fluctuations" of enrichment levels at Iran's Natanz nuclear facility increased the fissile purity of uranium enriched there to up to 63 percent, citing environmental samples taken on April 22. Iran had begun enriching uranium to 60 percent purity in April. The IAEA report also noted that Iran was using a cascade of 27 IR-5 and 30 IR-6 centrifuges to enrich depleted uranium left over from that process to 5 percent purity. The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the 2015 international agreement placing restrictions on Iran's nuclear program, requires that Iran enrich uranium to no more than 3.67 percent purity.
-- Reuters
May 9, 2021
On May 9, the U.S. Navy announced that the cruiser USS Monterey had confiscated weapons from a stateless dhow in the Arabian Sea, which appeared to be transporting the cargo to Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen. The arms hidden below the vessel's deck included almost 3,000 Chinese-made assault rifles, hundreds of machine guns and sniper rifles, hundreds of optical sights and rocket-propelled grenades, and dozens of Russian-manufactured anti-tank guided missiles. A U.S. defense official said that interviews with the dhow's crew and an inspection of the weapons indicated that the ship had originated in Iran. An arms embargo imposed by the U.N. Security Council in 2015 prohibits the provision of weapons to the Houthis.
-- Associated Press