News Briefs

November 19, 2020
The Israeli military claims Unit 840 of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Quds Force (IRGC-QF) is responsible for planting explosives on the border between Israel and Syria. In response, Israel this week struck targets around Damascus connected to the IRGC and to divisions of the Syrian military that cooperate with Iranian forces. Israeli officials also blame Unit 840 for an earlier attempt by four armed men to plant explosives in an unmanned outpost on the Syrian border.
-- The Times of Israel
November 18, 2020
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) reports that Iran has begun feeding uranium gas into a cascade of 174 advanced IR-2m centrifuges installed in an underground plant at the Natanz site. The action violates an international agreement on Iran's nuclear program reached in 2015, which limits Iran to using only IR-1 centrifuges in the underground plant.
-- Reuters
November 7, 2020
During a visit to Venezuela, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif asserted that military cooperation with Venezuela would continue despite U.S. economic sanctions.
-- Middle East Monitor
November 5, 2020
Iran's Parliament approved a bill requiring the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI) to produce at least 120 kilograms of 20 percent enriched uranium annually at the Fordow nuclear facility. Production must begin within two months and the material must be stored in Iran. The bill also requires the AEOI to increase monthly production of enriched uranium to 500 kg; install and begin enrichment in at least 1,000 IR-2m centrifuges at the underground facility at Natanz; move enrichment research and development operations on the IR-6 centrifuges to Fordow; use 1000 IR-6 machines for enrichment at Fordow by March 2021; and return the Arak heavy water reactor to its "pre-JCPOA condition" within four months. Within two months, the AEOI must suspend access to nuclear sites beyond what is required by the International Atomic Energy Agency's (IAEA) Additional Protocol and stop voluntary implementation of the Protocol if Europe fails to restore banking relations with Iran that allow for the sale of oil.
-- Nuclear Engineering International
November 5, 2020
In a YouTube video, Iran showcased an underground military base stocked with Emad missiles. The base features a rail system that appears to enable Iran to move multiple missiles through tunnels to positions beneath silo doors, which would allow the missiles to be fired rapidly from a protected position.
-- Popular Mechanics
October 28, 2020
Iran has begun construction on the grounds of Natanz enrichment facility, according to satellite imagery. The work has taken place since August and includes a new or regraded road to the south of Natanz near a former firing range, the presence of construction equipment, and possible excavation. At the same time, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) confirmed that Iran is building a new underground facility to assemble advanced centrifuges at Natanz. A similar facility was destroyed in an explosion last summer, in a reported act of sabotage.
-- Associated Press
October 26, 2020
Using counterterrorism authorities, the United States sanctioned the Iranian Petroleum Ministry, the National Iranian Oil Company (NIOC), and a NIOC subsidiary that manages Iran's oil tankers. The sanctions also targeted a number of front companies, subsidiaries, and individuals associated with these entities, as well as Iranian Oil Minister Bijan N. Zanganeh, and four people involved in transporting Iranian gasoline to Venezuela. U.S. officials accuse these entities of providing financial support to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). While many of the companies and individuals had previously been sanctioned under different authorities, the new sanctions explicitly link Iran's petroleum sector to terrorism and the IRGC. Analysts speculate that such sanctions carry more political and symbolic weight and would be more difficult to unwind in the future.
-- The New York Times
October 23, 2020
U.S. officials allege that Iranian oil tankers have been transferring their crude oil to other ships in the waters near the Iraqi port of al-Faw. Iranian oil is then mixed with non-Iranian oil to obscure its origins, allowing the oil to be sold on the international market as Iraqi. In March 2020, 230,000 barrels of Iranian oil from the National Iranian Oil Company (NIOC) were transferred to a vessel anchored in Iraq's territorial waters, blended with Iraqi oil, and then transferred to other ships. U.S. officials noted that these cargos often pass through countries allied with the United States, including Iraq and the United Arab Emirates. Iran is seeking ways to increase its energy exports, with some success. Exports in the first six months of 2020 (827,000 barrels per day) were up 28 percent over the previous six months; however they remain far below levels of May 2018 (2.7 million barrels per day).
-- The Wall Street Journal
October 20, 2020
Brigadier General Ghader Rahimzadeh announced Iran's plans to launch the Modafean Aseman Velayat military exercise, which will focus on the country's air defense capabilities. The Iranian Air Force, Air Defense Force, and Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) Aerospace Force will participate in the exercise. Under operational guidance from Iran's Air Defense Force, the exercise will test the country's defenses against low, medium, and high altitude and long range air threats, using missile systems, radar, reconnaissance information systems, communication systems, and surveillance networks. According to Rahimzadeh, the Iranian Air Force will test "all kinds of interceptor, bomber, and unmanned fighter jets" during the exercise.
-- Mehr News Agency
October 19, 2020
Israeli cybersecurity firms ClearSky and Profero claim to have stopped an Iranian cyberattack in September termed "Operation Quicksand." The firms described the targets as "prominent Israeli organizations." According to a report by the firms, an Iranian group dubbed "MuddyWater" that has contracted for the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) sent malware to Israeli organizations in an effort to cause damage rather than steal data. The report noted that the hackers in the September attack employed techniques similar to those used during other cyberattacks in the Middle East, including a 2012 attack on Saudi Arabia attributed to Iran. According to a database maintained by a German research institute, MuddyWater, also known as Static Kitten, has been known to focus on espionage and state-level attacks.
-- Haaretz