Iran Watch Newsletter: January 2024

January 31, 2024

Publication Type: 

  • Newsletters

This month’s newsletter features a roundtable report on applying the lessons from North Korea to address Iran's nuclear program. The report summarizes the conclusions of an expert panel discussion convened by the Wisconsin Project and offers ideas for diplomacy, threats, sanctions, and other tools that may be used to stop or limit a nuclear weapons program.

The newsletter also includes profiles of two Hong Kong-based entities added to the U.S. Commerce Department's Entity List for attempting to procure U.S.-origin items for Iran, as well as news about recent Iranian satellite launches, a lethal drone attack on a U.S. base in Jordan, and a Dutch newspaper's investigation into the identity of a key agent involved in the 2010 Stuxnet cyberattack against Iran’s uranium enrichment program. Additions to the Iran Watch library include official statements about Iranian drone and missile strikes in Iraq, Pakistan, and Syria; international responses to Houthi attacks on shipping in the Red Sea; and the disruption of an Iranian intelligence network plotting to carry out assassinations abroad.

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Iran Watch Roundtable Report Cover
(Credit: Wisconsin Project)

Roundtable | The Next North Korea? Lessons for Addressing Iran's Nuclear Program

The advanced state of Iran's nuclear program has raised concerns that the country could become "the next North Korea." In October 2023, the Wisconsin Project convened an expert panel for a private roundtable discussion to explore what lessons the North Korean case holds that may assist the United States in its use of diplomacy, sanctions, and other tools to prevent Iran from building nuclear weapons or to contain it if it does.

On the diplomatic front, the panel found that Iran may be generally more amenable than North Korea was to an agreement that leaves it without nuclear weapons, given Tehran's longstanding hedging strategy. In addition, the objectives of nuclear diplomacy—whether to strike a transformational or transactional agreement—should be aligned with the available leverage. The panel also emphasized the importance of a credible military threat to deter a country from crossing the nuclear threshold and the value in reaching agreements that place limits on a country's ability to improve the quality or quantity of those weapons once it crosses that threshold.




Hong Kong-based companies are frequently used by Iran to procure U.S.-origin items with military applications, according to the U.S. Commerce Department. Two such entities were recently added to Commerce’s Entity List for attempting to supply Iran's unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) program.

Sunrising Logistics (HK) Ltd.

A Hong Kong-based company; aliases include Sunrising Electronics China Limited and Sunrising International.

Speed Business Trading (HK) Ltd.

A Hong Kong-based company; attempted to procure U.S.-origin items in support of Iran's weapons of mass destruction and UAV programs.




The Mahda satellite
The Mahda satellite, one of three launched atop a Simorgh rocket on January 28. (Credit: Islamic Republic News Agency)

Iran Launches Three Satellites Amid Rising Tensions with Western Powers | Al Jazeera

January 28, 2024: Iran simultaneously launched three satellites, the Mahda, the Kayhan-2, and the Hatef-1, into orbit. It was the first successful launch of the Simorgh rocket after multiple previous failures. Earlier in the month, Iran launched the Soraya satellite atop a rocket built by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC).

Three U.S. Troops Killed in Jordan Drone Strike Linked to Iran | Reuters

January 29, 2024: The Islamic Resistance of Iraq, a coalition of Iran-backed militias, carried out a drone attack on a base in Jordan that killed three U.S. service members and wounded at least 34. Iran denied involvement in the attack.

Dutch National Sabotaged Nuclear Facility in Iran | Anadolu Agency

January 9, 2024: The Dutch newspaper Volkskrant reported that it had identified the individual responsible for planting the Stuxnet computer virus at the Natanz nuclear complex. According to the report, Erik Van Sabben, a Dutch national, was recruited by Dutch intelligence services in 2005 and installed equipment containing the malware at Natanz in 2007. He was working as an engineer in Dubai at the time of the sabotage. The Dutch government was reportedly unaware of Van Sabben's actions at the time.




Iran fired ballistic missiles at targets in Iraq, Syria, and Pakistan, the last of which prompted a reciprocal strike from Islamabad on Iranian territory.


The Houthis continued their attacks against commercial ships and naval vessels in the Red Sea, even after U.S. and allied forces carried out strikes aimed at degrading their capabilities.

  • At the beginning of the month, 44 countries issued a joint statement calling for an end to Houthi attacks against commercial vessels off the coast of Yemen – January 3.
  • The U.N. Security Council passed resolution 2722 similarly demanding an end to the Houthi attacks – January 10.
  • The next day, the United States, United Kingdom, and other partner countries began a series of military strikes in Yemen "intended to disrupt and degrade the Houthis' capabilities" – January 11.
  • U.S. Central Command also announced the seizure of a dhow attempting to transport advanced Iranian weapon components to Yemen – January 16.


The United Kingdom and United States announced the disruption of multiple assassination plots on their soil directed by Iranian intelligence officials.

  • The U.S. Justice Department indicted narcotics trafficker Naji Sharifi Zindashti and two Canadian co-conspirators who were plotting the murder of Iranian dissidents living in Maryland – January 29.
  • The Treasury Department sanctioned a broader network led by Zindashti, who it said "operates at the behest of Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence and Security" – January 29.
  • The United Kingdom sanctioned members of the IRGC Unit 840, which was linked to plots to assassinate two Iran International television presenters on U.K. soil – January 29.