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December 2022

Middle East & North Africa

Iran

Govt faced global condemnation for crackdown on protesters and drone supply to Russia as nuclear talks remained deadlocked, while tensions persisted in maritime domain.

International censure continued over govt’s harsh crackdown and drone provision to Russia. Amid ongoing protests across country, international NGO Amnesty International 16 Dec reported that at least 26 people were at risk of execution in Iran for alleged role in nationwide unrest; NGO Human Rights Activists News Agency 29 Dec estimated at least 500 protesters killed and 19,000 arrested, with real numbers likely higher. U.S. 9 Dec announced sanctions and/or travel bans against more than dozen Iranian officials over human rights abuses and 21 Dec blacklisted prosecutor general among additional six designees, while European Union 12 Dec approved sanctions against 21 Iranian persons and entities over human rights concerns, and further eight over govt’s provision of drones to Russia. U.S.-initiated resolution at UN Economic and Social Council 14 Dec passed to remove Iran from UN Commission on the Status of Women. U.S. and E3 (France, Germany and UK) 19 Dec voiced concern over both Iran’s nuclear escalation and provision of UAVs to Russia, with U.S. warning that Russia may consider “importing complete ballistic missiles from Iran”.

Prospects of nuclear talks progress remained dim as govt expanded enrichment. International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) chief early Dec said Iran had informed agency it was “tripling [its] capacity to enrich at 60 per cent, which is very close to military level… This is not banal”. IAEA 18-19 Dec visited capital Tehran in latest effort to make progress on longstanding investigation into past activities at undeclared nuclear sites, with little indication of success. Throughout Dec, U.S. repeatedly dismissed Iran’s suggestions of possible progress in nuclear negotiations.

Maritime tensions persisted. U.S. military 3 Dec announced that its naval forces had two days earlier uncovered 50-ton arms shipment, including ammunition and rocketry components, aboard ship in Gulf of Oman, blaming Iran. U.S. Central Command 6 Dec reported that Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ Navy patrol boat had previous day harassed two U.S. Navy ships in Strait of Hormuz, marking first reported instance of unsafe/unprofessional encounter since June.

November 2022

Middle East & North Africa

Iran

Nationwide protests continued as Revolutionary Guards attacked Iranian Kurdish groups in Iraq, while govt stepped up nuclear activity in response to international censure for its nuclear intransigence.

Nationwide protests continued into their third month. Protesters held commemoration ceremonies for those killed by security forces and events marking mid-Nov anniversary of 2019 protests, as security forces maintained heavy-handed crackdowns, with reports late month indicating greater coercive force in Kurdish-majority regions. Human rights groups mid-month estimated that fatalities to date may exceed 400, including 50 children; senior Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) commander 20 Nov indicated around 60 fatalities among security personnel. Authorities continued to blame unrest on foreign agitation: notably, IRGC 14, 20-21 and 22 Nov resumed cross-border missile and drone attacks into northern Iraq on Iranian Kurdish outfits, while bolstering military presence in border regions (see Iraq).

Tehran expanded nuclear activity in response to atomic watchdog’s censure vote. At International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)’s quarterly Board of Governors meeting, Director General Rafael Grossi 16 Nov shared “serious concern” over lack of progress in resolving safeguards concerns related to past activities at undeclared nuclear sites; board 17 Nov passed censure resolution deeming Iranian cooperation “essential and urgent”, as Russia and China voted against. In response, govt 22 Nov began enriching uranium to 60% as its fortified Fordow facility and promised to install more advanced centrifuges there and at Natanz site. Earlier, IAEA’s 10 Nov survey showed growing stockpile of 60% enriched uranium reached 62.3kg.

U.S. and its Western allies imposed sanctions. In sign of concerted diplomatic pressure, U.S. 16 Nov blacklisted half dozen employees of Iran’s state media and 23 Nov designated three officials over crackdown; European Union and UK 14 Nov sanctioned individuals and entities for govt crackdown and drone provision to Russia. U.S. 15 Nov sanctioned three Iranian entities implicated in drone transfer to Russia. UN Human Rights Council 24 Nov voted to establish investigation into human rights violations; foreign ministry 28 Nov rejected cooperation. U.S. 16 Nov said Iran “likely” behind attack on Liberian-flagged Israeli-owned tanker off Oman’s coast previous day. Saudi Arabia warned of Iranian attacks (see Saudi Arabia).

October 2022

Middle East & North Africa

Iran

Nationwide protests surpassed forty-day milestone despite ongoing repression, Western powers voiced concern over Iran’s military as-sistance to Russia, and Islamic State claimed deadly attack.

Anti-govt protests continued amid crackdown, as West imposed sanctions. Widespread unrest following death on 16 Sept of Mahsa Amini persisted as deeply-rooted discontent against govt, particularly among youth and university students, fueled nationwide protests that 26 Oct reached fortieth day. NGO Amnesty International 6 Oct reported security forces killed at least 66 people, including children, during violent crackdown after Friday prayers on 30 Sept in Zahedan, Sistan and Baluchistan provinces home to Baluchi ethnic minority, labelling it “deadliest day on record since protests started”; total death toll during month likely surpassed 200, alongside 14,000 arrests. Western govts widely condemned govt’s crackdown. Notably, U.S. 6 and 26 Oct, Canada 3, 11, 19 and 31 Oct, UK 10 Oct, and EU 17 Oct blacklisted various officials; U.S. White House 26 Oct raised concern over Moscow “advising Tehran on best practices” of demonstration suppression.

Nuclear talks faded into background. Nuclear talks, already at impasse before protests erupted, appeared during month as afterthought for parties. UN’s nucle-ar watchdog IAEA 10 Oct informed member states that Iran had completed installing, but not yet activated, seven cascades of advanced centrifuges at Natanz Fuel Enrichment Plant, with work underway on two of three additional cascades. IAEA chief 28 Oct described Iran’s nuclear activities as “an even more relevant problem every day”.

Concerns grew over Tehran-Moscow military cooperation. Ukraine and Western powers grew increasingly concerned over transfers of Iranian drones to Russia: Kyiv 17 Oct estimated that Russia had used “more than a hundred Iranian kamikaze drones” in Ukraine war within past week, which Iranian officials continued to deny; U.S., UK and France asserted such transfers would violate UN Security Council resolution 2231, which in 2015 endorsed nuclear agreement.

In other important developments. Govt 26 Oct reported terrorist attack against shrine in Shiraz city, killing at least fifteen and injuring dozens, which Islamic State (ISIS) claimed responsibility for. Security officials 25 Oct reported “120 heavy cyber-attacks” targeting infrastructure over course of 20 days.

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