Iran Digest Week of January 4-January 11

Iran Digest

Week of January 4-January 11

AIC’s Iran digest project covers the latest developments and news stories published in Iranian and international media outlets. This weekly digest is compiled by Research Associate Michel Gomes and Communications Associate Shahab Moghadam. Please note that the news and views expressed in the articles below do not necessarily reflect those of AIC.

US-Iran Relations

Iranian Leader Vows To Launch Satellites, Defying U.S. Warnings


Iran soon will put two satellites into orbit using domestically made rockets, President Hassan Rohani has said, despite U.S. concerns that the launches could help further develop the country's ballistic missiles.

"Soon, in the coming weeks, we will send two satellites into space using our domestically-made rockets," Rohani said on January 10 during a commemoration for the late President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, Iranian state television reported. (RFE/RL)

Michael R White: Iran confirms arrest of ex-US sailor


Iran has confirmed it is holding a US citizen, the first American detained in the Islamic Republic during the Trump presidency.

Former US Navy member Michael R White, 46, was arrested "some time ago" and is being held at an Iranian prison, the foreign ministry said.

Spokesman Bahram Ghasemi said US officials had immediately been made aware of the arrest. (BBC)

EXCLUSIVE: Pompeo announces international summit on Iran


The United States will host an international summit next month to promote stability and freedom in the Middle East, focusing on Iran’s regional influence, said Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, in an exclusive Fox News interview, while traveling in the Middle East.

"We'll bring together dozens of countries from all around the world,” said Pompeo, announcing the February 13-14 event in Poland. "Countries will all come together to focus on Middle East stability and peace and freedom and security here in this region, and that includes an important element of making sure that Iran is not a destabilizing influence."

Pompeo added that the summit will bring together countries from Asia, Africa, the Western Hemisphere, Europe and the Middle East. (Fox News)

Nuclear Accord

EU slaps new sanctions against Iran for assassination plots


The European Union imposed its first sanctions against Iran since the nuclear accord was implemented three years ago, as European diplomats warned their Iranian counterparts that the bloc wouldn’t tolerate further alleged Iranian attacks and assassinations in Europe.

Tuesday’s sanctions, which add two Iranian individuals and a unit of the Iranian intelligence services to the bloc’s terror list, follow alleged plots against Iranian opposition figures in Denmark and France. The targets’ assets will be frozen and other restrictions put in place. (MarketWatch)

Inside Iran

As U.S. sanctions bite, unemployment in Iran rises dramatically


Unemployment rates rose dramatically in Iran as US sanctions continue to take effect, according to a report on Radio Farda.

Omid Ali Parsai, chairman of the Iranian Statistical Center (ISC), announced that the official unemployment rate among Iranian youth has reached 27 percent, and has surpassed 40 percent for university graduates.

The official figures report the rate of unemployment among Iranian youth has surpassed the general unemployment rate more than two-fold. (Jerusalem Post)

Iranians Cast Blame As U.S. Sanctions Hurt Iran's Economy



Iran's economy is struggling. U.S. sanctions on Iranian oil, banking and other sectors have tightened. NPR's Peter Kenyon reports that Iranians blame the Trump administration but also their government and even themselves.

PETER KENYON, BYLINE: Thirty-year-old Elnaz moved to Tehran to work for an online recruitment agency, matching job seekers with companies looking for help. She agreed to an interview via Skype if her family name isn't used so she can speak freely. The first thing she noticed was a sharp drop in demand from the employer's side. Suddenly, it seemed hardly anyone was hiring. (NPR)

U.S. lawsuit by Post journalist seeks $1 billion in damages from Iran to deter taking of hostages


Washington Post journalist Jason Rezaian asked a federal judge Tuesday to impose $1 billion in damages against the government of Iran to deter future taking of American hostages, saying his ordeal began when one of three Iranian security agents pointed a gun at his head in the parking garage of his Tehran apartment building at about 8 p.m. on July 22, 2014.

“Are you Jason Rezaian?” the gunman asked.

When he answered yes, the security officials forced their way on to the elevator carrying Rezaian and his wife, Yeganeh Salehi, who were heading to her mother’s birthday party, Rezaian testified Tuesday in federal court in Washington, D.C. (Washington Post)

Try As it Might, Iran Can’t Ban Social Media


Iran’s National Cyberspace Council is planning to block Instagram, the last social-media platform freely accessible in the country. This is unlikely to trouble Iranian Instagrammers, who will continue to use the platform through virtual private networks, or VPNs, that route traffic through internet connections abroad. This easy workaround allows Iranians to evade government filters and access banned platforms like Twitter, Facebook and YouTube, and use messaging apps like WhatsApp and Telegram.

It will be instructive to see what President Hassan Rouhani does when the ban, which is backed by Iran’s conservative judiciary, takes effect: he has over 2.2 million Instagram followers. Many senior officials, including cabinet ministers and parliamentarians, openly flout the bans on Twitter and Telegram. Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has over 500,000 followers on his English-language Twitter and 2.3 million on his Persian-language Instagram. The communications firm Burson Cohn & Wolfe ranks Khamenei and Rouhani as among the “most effective” world leaders on Instagram, just behind Donald Trump. (Bloomberg)

Regional Politics

Israeli ex-minister Gonen Segev admits spying for Iran


Former Israeli cabinet minister Gonen Segev is to be jailed for 11 years after he admitted spying for Iran, Israel's justice ministry says.

Segev, who served as energy minister in the 1990s, was allegedly recruited while working as a doctor in Nigeria.

He was accused of leaking details about Israeli officials and security sites.

Segev was detained in Equatorial Guinea in May and extradited to Israel. He pleaded guilty to serious espionage as part of a deal with prosecutors. (RadioNZ)


Withdrawing From Syria Leaves a Vacuum That Iran Will Fill

By: Colin P. Clarke and Ariane M. Tabatabai


One of President Trump’s final foreign policy decisions of 2018 was also among his most controversial: the withdrawal of the remaining 2,000 U.S. troops from Syria. The order was an astonishing reversal of U.S. policy, and it raised concerns among Washington national security professionals that the Kurds—who have served as U.S. allies in the fight against the Islamic State, or ISIS—will suffer losses while the Assad regime, Russia, and Turkey gain. This weekend, the president’s national security advisor, John Bolton, seemingly reversed course again, announcing that U.S. forces would remain in Syria until ISIS was defeated and the Turks provided guarantees that they wouldn’t strike the Kurds.

The actor who perhaps benefits above all others from the administration’s back and forth on Syria is Iran. An American withdrawal would provide the Iranians with the operational space to expand their growing network of Shiite foreign fighters, who can be mobilized and moved throughout the Middle East. The recent announcements send Tehran the message that Washington will no longer be an obstacle in the way of these designs. Indeed, according to Bolton, the administration’s preconditions for withdrawal have to do with the Kurds and ISIS: the national security advisor made no mention of the presence or expansion of Shiite militias trained and equipped by Iran. (Foreign Affairs)