News Digest: Week of August 17

August 17

Health: Iran’s Ministry of Health reported 345,450 cases and 19,804 deaths from COVID-19. Health Ministry spokesman Sima Sadat Lari said that 2,887,938 Iranians had been tested for the virus.

Health/Economy: Iranian Minister of Tourism Ali Asghar Mounesan said that the country’s tourism industry had lost $2.85 billion due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Military: U.S. intelligence reports revealed that Iran offered bounties to Taliban fighters to target U.S. forces and coalition troops in Afghanistan, according to CNN. The payments were linked to at least six attacks last year by the Haqqani network, including one on Bagram Air Base that killed two civilians.


Military: Iran seized a UAE ship in the Persian Gulf after the Emirati coastguard allegedly killed two Iranian fishermen and seized their boat earlier in the day. Iranian officials said that the Emirati boat had illegally entered Iranian waters. Iran summoned the UAE charge d’affaires in Tehran to discuss the incident. “As a result of Iran’s efforts, the UAE authorities ... in a note on Wednesday, expressed their deep regret over the incident and announced their readiness to compensate for all the damage caused,” Iran’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement.

Health: President Rouhani praised the country’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. “Undoubtedly, the Islamic Republic of Iran and our nation shone in its comprehensive fight against coronavirus,” he said in a meeting with senior officials from the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting. “Despite facing unprecedented and oppressive US sanctions and increasing pressure from the coronavirus pandemic, the government has been able to manage the situation well, and other heads of state and governments have repeatedly expressed surprise about how the government has been able to manage the country under severe sanctions and economic consequences of coronavirus.”


August 18

Health: Iran reported 347,835 cases, including 19,972 deaths from coronavirus. Dr. Alireza Zali, the head of the Tehran Coronavirus Combat Taskforce, called for a two-week extension of lockdown restrictions in Tehran. “Despite an 11 percent decline in suspected Covid-19 patients visiting hospitals, Tehran Province is still on red alert,” Zali said in a press conference.

Health: Iran said that it would wait for the approval of the World Health Organization before buying Russia’s coronavirus vaccine. “In order for the vaccine to be used, genuine and independent organizations such as the World Health Organization must comment on it and approve it, which has not happened yet,” Dr. Zali said at a press conference in Tehran.

Military: Iran rejected reports that it paid Taliban fighters to attack U.S. forces and allies in Afghanistan. Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh characterized the accusations as U.S. propaganda and said that they were “entirely false.” 


August 19

Health: Iran recorded 350,279 infections, including 20,125 deaths from COVID-19. Health Ministry spokesman Lari said that 302,528 Iranians had recovered from the virus.

Health/Society:  Iranian students began a four-day national university entrance exam. Nearly 1.4 million students were expected to take the exam in testing centers across the country, despite warnings from health officials over the past month. Participants were provided with hygiene packs and were required to sit at least 1.8 meters (6 feet) apart. The National Organization for Educational Testing dispatched 7,300 health experts to monitor the exams and ensure health protocols were followed. Dr. Zali said all testing centers would be regularly disinfected.

Sanctions: The U.S. Treasury sanctioned two companies based in the United Arab Emirates for providing parts and logistics services to Iranian airline Mahan Air. “The Iranian regime uses Mahan Air as a tool to spread its destabilizing agenda around the world, including to the corrupt regimes in Syria and Venezuela, as well as terrorist groups throughout the Middle East,” said Secretary Steven T. Mnuchin. Mahan Air was sanctioned by the United States in 2011 for providing services to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). The commercial airline has ferried operatives, weapons, equipment and funds across the Middle East for the IRGC.


August 20

Health: Iran reported 354,764 cases and 20,376 deaths from coronavirus. Health Ministry spokeswoman Lari announced that 305,866 Iranians had recovered from the virus.

Military: Iran’s military displayed two new missiles during a ceremony on National Defense Industry Day. Tehran unveiled the “Martyr Hajj Qassem” surface-to-surface ballistic missile, which has a range of 870 miles. The “Martyr Abu Mahdi” naval cruise missile, which has a range of 620 miles, was also unveiled by the military.

Diplomacy: Secretary of State Mike Pompeo submitted a letter to the U.N. Security Council notifying the body that Washington intended to renew sanctions, including an arms embargo, on Iran. In the letter, the United States accused Iran of failing to adhere to its commitments of the 2015 nuclear deal. Germany, France and Britain described the U.S. attempt to trigger snapback sanctions snapback as “incompatible” with efforts to preserve the deal.   


August 21

Health: Iran’s Ministry of Health recorded 354,764 cases, including 20,376 infections. Health Ministry spokeswoman Lari said that Tehran, Qom, Mazandaran, East Azarbaijan, Isfahan, Ardabil, Yazd, Markazi, Khorasan Razavi, North Khorasan, Semnan, Gilan, Golestan, and Kerman provinces were considered “red zones” due to high rates of infection.