News Digest: Week of February 3

February 3

Military: Iran announced that it would launch a satellite into orbit within a week. “We are not afraid of failure and we will not lose hope. With your prayers and trust in God, the Zafar satellite by the end of this week ... will be heading toward an orbit of 530 km from Earth,” said Iranian Minister of Information and Communications Technology Mohammad Javad Azari-Jahromi. The United States has accused Tehran of using satellite activity as a cover to test ballistic missiles. Iran attempted to launch satellites twice in 2019 but failed.

Military: Ukraine leaked an audio recording of an Iranian pilot talking to air traffic control operators, which revealed that Tehran knew immediately that it had shot down Ukrainian International Airways flight 752 on January 8. Iran did not admit fault until January 11. “He says that ‘it seems to me that a missile is flying’, he says it in both Persian and English, everything is fixed there,” said Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy.

 

Nuclear: Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said that Tehran would bar U.N. inspectors from nuclear facilities if the country were faced with “a new situation.”  The warning came during a visit with the Josep Borrell, the new E.U. foreign affairs chief.

Rouhani added that Iran was willing to negotiate with European powers. “The Islamic Republic of Iran is still ready for interaction and cooperation with the European Union for resolving issues and, whenever the opposite side completely upholds their commitments, Iran will return to its commitments,” he said.

 

February 4

Espionage: Judiciary spokesman Gholamhossein Esmaili said that an Iranian man convicted of spying for the CIA would be executed soon. “Amir Rahimpour who was a CIA spy and got big pay and tried to present part of Iran’s nuclear information to the American service had been tried and sentenced to death and recently the supreme court upheld his sentence and he will see the consequences of his action soon,” Esmaili said. He also announced that two individuals working for a charity group had been sentenced to 15 years in prison on espionage charges.

Nuclear: The European Union said that it would avoid sending a dispute over the 2015 nuclear deal to the U.N. Security Council. “We are in agreement not to go directly to a strict time limit which would oblige (us) to go to the Security Council,” said E.U. foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell during a two-day trip to Tehran. After Britain, France and Germany triggered the deal’s dispute mechanism, the parties technically had a 15-day period to resolve issues with Iran. 

Diplomacy: Iran’s Ambassador to Iraq Iraj Masjedi said that Tehran hoped to quickly resolve issues Saudi Arabian and the United Arab Emirates. Qassem Soleimani, the Qods Force commander who was killed in a U.S. drone strike on January 3, was in Baghdad to deliver a message on “fighting terrorism and achieving peace and security in the region,” according to Masjedi.

Aviation: Iran said that it would continue to cooperate with other countries in the investigation of a Ukrainian airliner that was accidentally downed by the military on January 3. But Tehran had said it would no longer share evidence with Ukraine after President Volodymyr Zelenskiy leaked an air traffic control recording. “The expectation from all parties is to avoid politicizing this accident and obstructing the technical and specialized investigation,” said Iran’s Civil Aviation Organization

 

February 5

Cyber: Hackers linked to Iran had posed as journalists to hack the email accounts of Israeli academics and researchers and Iranian living abroad. International cybersecurity firms Certfa, ClearSky, and Secureworks blamed a hacking group nicknamed “Charming Kitten,” which they identified using the tactics, targets, and digital infrastructure involved. The hackers had reportedly requested that their targets enter password credentials to access the content of the emails, a practice known as “phishing.”

Diplomacy: Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei condemned the U.S. Middle East Peace Plan and said that Iran would support Palestinian groups in their resistance. “This plan will die before the death of Trump,” Khamenei said. “We believe that Palestinian armed organizations will stand and continue resistance and the Islamic Republic sees supporting Palestinian groups as its duty.”

Diplomacy: President Hassan Rouhani accused the United States of committing terrorist acts by imposing sanctions that hinder delivery of humanitarian aid to Iran. “I do not think that any country has ever imposed sanctions on [access to] medicine for a country. The Americans lie when they say they have not imposed sanctions on medicine. When they sanction the banking routes to Iran and create problems for the sales of our exports, sanctioning … our purchasing power, this means they perpetrate terrorist acts. America commits terrorism against Iran,” Rouhani said. Humanitarian goods are exempt from sanctions, but Iran has claimed that financial institutions have been unwilling to facilitate transactions due to sanctions.

Politics: Supreme Leader Khamenei called for a large turnout in the February parliamentary elections. “Any person who has an affinity for Iran and its security must take part in the election,” he said.

Nuclear: The U.N. nuclear watchdog said that Iran had not committed new violations of the 2015 nuclear deal since early January. “After the fifth step, there hasn’t been any follow-up,” said International Atomic Energy Agency chief Raphael Grossi. “Of course, they continue to enrich (uranium).” On January 5, Tehran announced that it would not abide by restrictions on uranium enrichment capacity, percentage of enrichment, stockpile size of enriched material, and research and development.

 

February 6

Military: Iraqi military and intelligence officials disputed U.S. claims that Kataib Hezbollah, an Iran-backed militia, attacked Iraq’s K-1 military base on December 27, killing an American contractor. “All the indications are that it was Daesh,” said General Ahmed Adnan, the Iraqi chief of intelligence for the federal police at K-1. Adnan said that Kataib Hezbollah did not have a presence in the area that the missiles were launched from. “We as Iraqi forces cannot even come to this area unless we have a large force because it is not secure. How could it be that someone who doesn’t know the area could come here and find that firing position and launch an attack?” he added.

 

February 7

Human Rights/Justice: Roland Marchal and Fariba Adelkhah, two French academics detained in Iran since June 2019, filed separate petitions asking the judiciary to allow them to get married. The two had been partners for 38 years. A marriage license would allow Marchal and Adelkhah to see each other while in Tehran’s Evin Prison. The pair’s lawyer said that a decision was expected the following week.

Human Rights/Justice: The Ghanoon Telegram messaging app channel published a letter that Siamak Namazi, a businessman with dual U.S. and Iranian citizenship, had written from Evin Prison. Namazi has been held on espionage charges since 2015. In the letter, Namazi asked Judiciary Chief Ebrahim Raisi why he had not been granted furlough while other prisoners were allowed to go on temporary leave. “For the past four years, while enduring punishment for a crime I did not commit, I have been trying to restore my rights with the help of almighty God within the laws of our beloved country,” Namazi wrote. “Four years and four months have passed without a break… Meanwhile I have witnessed the brother of a senior state official being given furlough just hours after being put into prison.”

Military: The Revolutionary Guard displayed wreckage from a U.S. surveillance drone that it had shot down over the Persian Gulf in June 2019. “This aircraft is unique in that it can fly in very high altitude and go anywhere without affecting routine flight routes. For example, it can directly fly from the United States to the Persian Gulf,” said Aerospace Division Brigadier General Amirali Hajizadeh. He added that Tehran had successfully deciphered all frequencies and codes of the drone after recovering the wreckage.

Cyber: A massive cyber attack shut down 25 percent of the internet across Iran, according to NetBlocks, a global internet observatory. Sadjad Bonabi, a spokesman for Iran's Telecommunication Infrastructure Company, said that the service had been “normalized” early on February 8.

 

 

February 9

Aviation: Iran said that it had failed to put a Zafar 1 communications satellite into orbit ahead of celebrations for the 41st anniversary of the Islamic revolution on February 11. “Stage-1 and stage-2 motors of the carrier functioned properly and the satellite was successfully detached from its carrier, but at the end of its path it did not reach the required speed for being put in the orbit,” said Defense Ministry space program spokesman Ahmad Hosseini. The latest setback came after three failed launches in 2019.

Military: The Revolutionary Guard revealed a new ballistic missile, named Raad-500, which was half the weight of a previous model and could purportedly travel 120 miles further. Iran also unveiled a new missile engine and a satellite carrier with “movable nozzle technology.” "We should be strong to prevent any war against the county. Being weak will encourage our enemies to attack Iran," Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei told members of the air force on February 8.

 

Updated