News Briefs

August 27, 2019
Under pressure from the United States, Iraq is taking steps to reduce its reliance on Iranian energy imports. 30 to 40 percent of Iraq’s power is currently derived from Iranian electricity and natural gas, and gas imports account for approximately 75 percent of that number. The United States has been critical of Iraq for its dependence on Iran, but has given it a series of sanctions waivers to continue buying Iranian energy, the latest of which are up for renewal in October. They are conditioned on Iraq taking steps to reduce its dependence on Iranian energy. In July, Iraq awarded a contract to the U.S. firm Honeywell to increase gas production at the Basra oil fields to 600 million cubic feet. In April, it gave German-based Siemens three contracts totaling $700 million to add power capacity and update existing facilities and distribution networks. Iran agreed to a new electricity deal earlier this year and proposed building an additional power plant in Iraq.
-- The Wall Street Journal
August 24, 2019
An Israeli airstrike in Syria hit targets where Iran was allegedly preparing an attack against Israel involving explosive-laden "killer drones." The strike occurred in the Syrian town of Aqraba between downtown Damascus and its airport. The Israeli military claimed that Iran has deployed a new "kamikaze-style" drone which blows up after hitting its target. Israeli military spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Jonathan Conricus said that Israel only intended to destroy offensive infrastructure, but that Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) Quds Force personnel were present along with Iranian-allied Shiite militias. Conricus termed the strike "significant" and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also called it a "major operational effort." 
-- The New York Times
August 22, 2019
Israel appears to have carried out a series strikes on weapon storage facilities in Iraq used by Iranian-backed militias. Such facilities are used by Iran as a conduit to transfer weapons to Syria and to Lebanon-based Hezbollah, according to Israeli officials. If confirmed, the strikes would be the first by Israel in Iraq in almost forty years. There have been at least four such attacks in recent months. Two U.S. officials said that Israel conducted several airstrikes in recent days against munitions storehouses. A senior Middle Eastern intelligence official said that Israel bombed a base north of Baghdad on July 19, which was used by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) to transfer guided missiles.
-- The New York Times
August 22, 2019
New reports suggest that the Iran-relevant sections of a U.S. State Department arms control compliance report were "softened" from an earlier draft. U.S. officials said that the report originally detailed overseas signals surveillance that revealed Iranian attempts to procure items associated with the development of nuclear weapons and nuclear submarines. The unclassified version released this month only mentions "concerns" about potential Iranian violations of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) and the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) and cites the nuclear archive Israel seized in Tehran last year. The compliance report is traditionally produced annually by the State Department's Bureau of Arms Control, Verification and Compliance (AVC). However, as a result of the controversy over Iran content, this year's report was reassigned to State's Bureau of International Security and Nonproliferation (ISN). The report is formally titled "Adherence to and Compliance with Arms Control, Nonproliferation, and Disarmament Agreements and Commitments."
-- ABC 33/40 (Sinclair Broadcast Group)
August 22, 2019
Iran unveiled what it described as a new domestically built long-range surface-to-air missile defense system. Iranian state media called the mobile Bavar-373 system, which was unveiled at a ceremony on Iran’s National Defense Industry Day, a competitor to the Russian-made S-300. Defense Minister Amir Hatami claimed that the Bavar-373 can "detect targets or planes at more than 300 km, lock it at about 250 km, and destroy it at 200 km."
-- Reuters
August 21, 2019
New court documents released in Vancouver reveal that Huawei Technologies Co. had business in Iran which it discussed with several prominent Western banks. U.S. authorities have tied Huawei to the Hong Kong-based firm Skycom Tech, which had business in Iran and according to the United States was under Huawei’s control for longer than Huawei disclosed to its banks. The Canadian filings reveal that Huawei operated the Mauritius-registered company Canicula Holdings Ltd., which bought Skycom from Huawei in 2007, as “an unofficial subsidiary in Syria” and lent Canicula $15.3 million to buy Skycom beginning in 2009. The documents describe a Huawei business operation in Sudan codenamed “A5” and business in Syria codenamed “A7.” The United States indicted Huawei and its financial chief Meng Wanzhou in January on charges of bank fraud and sanctions violations. The U.S. indictment references four unnamed financial institutions, possibly including HSBC and Standard Chartered PLC, who were misled by Huawei on the extent of its business in Iran. The new court documents reveal that Huawei also discussed its Iranian business with Citigroup and BNP Paribas, telling Citigroup in 2017 that it was in compliance with U.S. sanctions. Meng was arrested in Canada in December and is currently fighting extradition to the United States. Huawei and Meng have denied all charges and declined to comment on the Canadian findings.
-- The Wall Street Journal
August 18, 2019
Iran announced that it will soon introduce a new centrifuge for uranium enrichment that is 20 times more powerful than older generation technology. Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI) chief Ali Akbar Salehi reported that Iran has been producing IR-6 and IR-7 centrifuges and will soon introduce the more powerful IR-8. Iran began testing the IR-8 centrifuge with uranium hexafluoride (UF6) in 2016, according to the AEOI. Salehi said that Iran has assembled 20 IR-8s so far. It is unclear how many Iran plans to deploy. Iranian MP Ebrahim Rezaee affirmed that the operation of IR-6 and IR-8 centrifuges will be part of a third step in reducing Iran's commitments under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). According to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Iran has installed up to 33 IR-6 centrifuges but has only injected UF6 into ten thus far.
-- Radio Farda
August 16, 2019
An Iranian tanker detained in Gibraltar was freed after local authorities received written assurances from Iran that the ship would not unload its cargo in Syria. The ship, originally named Grace 1 and flying under a Panama flag, was detained on July 4 on charges that it was shipping oil to Syria in violation of EU sanctions. Deputy head of Iran’s Ports and Maritime Organization Jalil Eslami said that the ship will now fly under an Iranian flag and be renamed Adrian Darya, adding that it was of Russian origin and carrying two million barrels of Iranian oil. The United States, which accused the tanker of assisting Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), said that the 28-member crew—reportedly Indian, Pakistani, and Ukrainian nationals—could be subject to a visa ban. 
-- Radio Free Europe
August 15, 2019
An Australian corporation involved in the transport of an estimated $10-$15 million worth of urea fertilizer from Iran to China may have breached U.S. sanctions. The cargo ship CS Future departed Iran’s Bandar Abbas port on July 1 carrying “urea in bulk,” according to vessel inspection reports. Online vessel trackers showed the ship travelling through the Middle East, including a stop in Oman, before arriving at Lianyungang, China on July 25. The cargo was then reloaded onto a second cargo ship, the Bulk Aquila, which is operated by the Hong Kong-based Quantum Fertilizer, a subsidiary of Australia-based Incitec Pivot. Leaked video from the Lianyungang port confirmed the transfer. Quantum Fertilizer claimed that it was “misled about the origin of the product” and that its Chinese supplier gave assurances that the cargo was of Chinese origin. Internal documents, however, suggest that Quantum knew the cargo arrived via the CS Future. Quantum announced that Bulk Aquila is offloading the cargo at China’s Yantai port with independent inspectors present.
-- The Guardian
August 11, 2019
Negar Ghodskani, a 40-year-old Iranian national, pled guilty in Minnesota to charges of unlawful procurement and export of U.S. goods to Iran. Working with Greenwave, a Malaysia-based front company, Ghodskani facilitated four shipments to Iranian companies in 2011, including 150 synthesizers and four analog-to-digital devices. Ghodskani’s co-conspirator Alireza Jalali, also Iranian, re-packaged the products in Malaysia and sent them via commercial air freight to Iran. Recipients in Iran included Rastafann, which supplied radar systems to the U.N.-sanctioned Naval Defense Missile Industry Group and communications systems to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), and Fana Moj, which develops missile components and has also provided support to the IRGC. Ghodskani was indicted in Minnesota in 2015 and arrested in Australia in 2017. After a prolonged extradition fight, she agreed to plead guilty to one count of conspiracy to defraud the United States. Alireza Jalali was arrested in New York in 2017.
-- Radio Farda