News Digest: Week of January 25

January 25

Maritime: Tehran claimed that the seizure of an Iranian-flagged tanker by Indonesia on January 24 was due to a routine "technical issue." The Indonesian coast guard had seized an Iranian-flagged tanker suspected of illegal oil transfers in its territorial waters. The tankers were escorted to Batam Island for further investigation, and its 61 Iranian and Chinese crew members were detained. 

Human Rights: Iranians were reportedly blocked from accessing Signal, an encrypted messaging app. Users in Tehran and other major cities could only access the app using a VPN (virtual private network), the Associated Press reported. The company confirmed that Iranian censors were blocking "all Signal traffic."


January 26

Diplomacy: France said that Iran must return to compliance with the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) if it expected the United States to rejoin the accord. “If they are serious about negotiations and if they want to obtain a re-engagement of all the stakeholders in the JCPOA, they firstly need to refrain from further provocations and secondly respect what they no longer respect, that’s to say their obligations,” a presidential official told Reuters. Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif responded via tweet:


Health: Iran approved imports of Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine. “In the near future, we hope to be able to purchase it, as well as start joint production,” Zarif said at a press conference in Moscow. The Russian vaccine was the first foreign vaccine approved for import after Khamenei banned vaccines imported from the United States and Britain on January 8. Iran would begin vaccinating high risk individuals within two weeks, government spokesperson Ali Rabiei said.

Military: Israel was refreshing plans for a potential military strike on Iran, Lieutenant-General Aviv Kochavi said at Tel Aviv University. He warned that Iran could be "only weeks" away from having enough nuclear material for a bomb. “In light of this fundamental analysis, I have instructed the Israel Defense Forces to prepare a number of operational plans, in addition to those already in place,” Kochavi said. “It will be up to the political leadership, of course, to decide on implementation, but these plans need to be on the table.” 


January 27

Diplomacy: Taliban representatives visited Tehran for talks on the future of Afghanistan. Ali Shamkhani, secretary of Iran's Supreme National Security Council, met with senior Taliban officials, including Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, the deputy head of the group’s political office. "In today's meeting with the Taliban political delegation: I found the leaders of this group determined to fight the United States," Shamkhani, wrote on Twitter.

Military: The Pentagon ordered two B-52H Stratofortress bombers based near Bossier City, Louisiana on a round-trip mission to the Persian Gulf. The planes flew over Saudi Arabia, where they were joined by Royal Saudi Air Force F-15s, the Associated Press reported. The flights were the first heavy bomber flights to the region since President Joe Biden was sworn into office, but the six flight since late November. "The timing was determined based on the value of deterrence after inauguration,” a U.S. military official told DefenseOne.