News Briefs

February 16, 2021
Iran and Russia began a three-day military exercise in the northern part of the Indian Ocean. Participants in the "Maritime Security Belt" drill include the Iranian Navy, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) Navy, and the Russian Navy; the Indian Navy will also participate. The exercise will span 17,000 square kilometers of the Indian Ocean. Iranian Rear Admiral Gholamreza Tahani described the goals of the drill as combating piracy and terrorism and supporting international trade. China, Iran, and Russia conducted another naval exercise in the Gulf of Oman and the Indian Ocean in December 2019, and Russia hosted drills with China and Iran in September 2020.
-- Voice of America
February 15, 2021
According to the U.S. Defense Department and unnamed Israeli officials, Iran organized a 16-person cell to surveil the embassies of Israel, the United Arab Emirates, and the United States in the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa as part of a wider operation to identify potential targets in Africa. The Israeli officials accused the Iranian Ministry of Intelligence and Security of involvement. Ethiopian authorities detained 15 members of the cell, which had explosives and weapons in its possession. Sweden arrested the alleged leader of the cell, Ahmed Ismail, who had been staying in the country. Iran denied any role in the alleged scheme. An unnamed American official described the detentions in Ethiopia as connected to a purported Iranian plot to assassinate the U.S. ambassador to South Africa, revealed by the news media last year. Ethiopian and Sudanese officials claimed that another cell had been plotting to bomb the Emirati embassy in the Sudanese capital of Khartoum.
-- The New York Times
February 10, 2021
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) reported that Iran began producing uranium metal at a nuclear facility in Isfahan on February 6. Iran produced 3.6 grams of natural uranium metal in a "laboratory experiment," according to the IAEA. About half a kilogram of highly enriched uranium metal can be used in the core of a nuclear weapon. Earlier, Iran said it would make uranium metal to prepare fuel for a nuclear research reactor in Tehran. The 2015 nuclear accord prohibits Iran from producing uranium metal for 15 years.
-- The Wall Street Journal
February 9, 2021
Iranian Intelligence Minister Mahmoud Alavi threatened that Iran would consider pursuing a nuclear weapon if U.S. sanctions continued to "push Iran in that direction." This statement is counter to Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei's 2003 fatwa forbidding the pursuit of nuclear weapons. At the same time, an Israeli Defense Forces intelligence assessment estimates that Iran would need at least two years to develop a nuclear weapon, due in part to a lack of components and scientific and technical expertise. However, unnamed Israeli intelligence officials also said that Iran had accumulated enough uranium for almost three nuclear weapons if the material were enriched to weapons grade. Such enrichment is theoretically possible in about five months, according to the Israel officials.
-- The New York Times
February 8, 2021
A report by a United Nations expert panel determined that Iran and North Korea cooperated on long range missile projects in 2020. Citing information from a member state, the U.N. report noted that the cooperation included "the transfer of critical parts," with the most recent shipment taking place in 2020. According to the report, Shahid Haj Ali Movahed Research Center received "support and assistance" on a space launch vehicle from North Korean missile experts. Iran denied the allegations in the report.
-- Bloomberg
February 6, 2021
Iran opened a factory for the production of shoulder-fired missiles and a plant for the production of hybrid solid fuel for missiles. According to Iranian Defense Minister Brigadier General Amir Hatami, the second plant will produce solid fuel for anti-tank, surface-to-air, and surface-to-surface missiles.
-- Kayhan
February 5, 2021
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) determined that samples taken from two locations in Iran last fall contain traces of radioactive material, suggesting evidence of undeclared nuclear activities in Iran. Iran had denied IAEA inspectors access to the two sites for seven months last year. In a report last June, the IAEA listed other areas of concern for nuclear weapons work, including a suspicion that Iran had drilled a uranium metal disk, the presence of nuclear material at a site where Iran also tested high explosives, and an undeclared location where Iran might have converted and processed uranium illicitly.
-- The Wall Street Journal
February 4, 2021
A Belgian court convicted the Iranian diplomat Assadollah Assadi of attempting to bomb a rally in France organized by the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), an Iranian dissident group linked to the Mujahedeen Khalq, or M.E.K. The court convicted Assadi on charges of attempted terrorist murder and participation in the activities of a terrorist group and sentenced him to 20 years in prison. The court also convicted three Belgian-Iranian dual nationals associated with Assadi: Amir Saadouni, Mehrdad Arefani, and Nassimeh Naami, whom Belgian authorities have linked to the Iranian Intelligence and Security Ministry. According to Belgian officials, Assadi brought the explosive triacetone triperoxide, or TATP, and a detonator, from Iran to his diplomatic post in Vienna and drove the items to Luxembourg where he provided them to his co-conspirators. German authorities arrested Assadi as he was returning to Vienna. Belgian officials have described Assadi as an operative for the Iranian Intelligence and Security Ministry and linked him to Department 312, a subdivision of the ministry listed by the European Union as a terrorist organization.
-- The New York Times
February 2, 2021
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) reported that Iran finished installing one of three new cascades of advanced IR-2m centrifuges at the underground portion of the Natanz nuclear complex and that the installation of the other two cascades is in progress. The IAEA also confirmed that Iran began enriching uranium in the newly installed cascade of 174 IR-2m centrifuges. A first cascade of IR-2m centrifuges began uranium enrichment at the underground facility last year. The 2015 nuclear accord restricts Iran to using only IR-1 centrifuges at this facility. Iran also said that it began installing advanced IR-6 centrifuges at the Fordow nuclear facility.
-- Reuters
February 1, 2021
The Iranian Defense Ministry's Space Department announced that Iran had tested a new rocket, the Zuljanah. The solid-fuel motor of the rocket's first stage is the largest such motor used by Iran and has applications in long-range ballistic missile development. The motor is approximately 5 feet in diameter and has a thrust of 75 kilotons. Iran says that it will use the Zuljanah to send civilian satellites into orbit.
-- The Wall Street Journal