US retaliates against Iran-backed militias, p*rn star visits Tehran—and more
The Iranist for the week of February 8, 2024
NOTE: I was traveling on Wednesday.
THE هفت/SEVEN THINGS TO KNOW THIS WEEK:
۱/1 US retaliates against Iran-backed militias in Iraq and Syria
Last week, a one-way attack drone killed three US servicemembers at an American military outpost in northeastern Jordan near the borders of Iraq and Syria. For days, the Joe Biden administration stated that retaliatory attacks were imminent. Analysts said the public announcement of impending retaliatory strikes gave time for the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and its militias to disperse or prepare (NBC News). Reuters reported that top IRGC advisors were pulled from Syria upon the news.
What the retaliation looked like: After much fanfare, on February 2, the US carried out a wave of retaliatory strikes against more than eighty-five targets in seven locations inside Iraq and Syria (Wall Street Journal). The targets included command and control headquarters, intelligence sites, and storage sites for ammunition, drones, missiles, and rockets belonging to Iran-backed militias and the IRGC Quds Force.
Various aircraft were used, including B-1B Bombers. As the New York Times reports:
“While Pentagon officials said the B-1B’s were the best bomber available for the complexity of these strikes, they were also the same warplanes that would be used in any attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities, should Tehran decide to make a final sprint for a nuclear weapon. Nothing reminds Tehran of the reach of American power more than a strike next door, one official said.”
President Joe Biden issued a statement announcing the strikes:
“Our response began today. It will continue at times and places of our choosing. The United States does not seek conflict in the Middle East or anywhere else in the world. But let all those who might seek to do us harm know this: If you harm an American, we will respond.” (White House)
The response: Iraq and Syria condemned the attacks, calling it a violation of their sovereignty (CNN). Syria reported casualties but didn’t give numbers (AP). The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported at least twenty-three militants were killed (Al-Monitor). The Iraqi government said the strikes killed sixteen, including civilians, and wounded twenty-five. An IRGC-affiliated Telegram channel said ten militiamen had been killed (Wall Street Journal).
Last week, Kataib Hezbollah, one of the militias part of the Islamic Resistance of Iraq (IRI)—a coalition that includes Iran-backed Shia militias—and responsible for the deaths of the three US servicemembers, said it had planned to suspend “military and security operations against” the United States. However, another group, al-Nujaba, stated on February 2 that it would continue attacks until US forces leave the region and the Gaza war ends (Wall Street Journal). Politico highlighted that “Intelligence officials have calculated that Tehran does not have full control over its proxy groups in the Middle East, including those responsible for attacking and killing US troops in recent weeks.”
From October 18, 2023, until February 6, Iran-backed groups launched 166 attacks on US forces in Iraq and Syria (AP). Despite there being an IRGC presence, Iranian personnel have not been killed thus far (Wall Street Journal).
On February 2, Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi said in a televised speech:
“We have said many times that we will not start any war; but if an oppressive country or force wants to bully us, the Islamic Republic of Iran will respond strongly.” (CNN)
Sanctions imposed: On the same day, the US Treasury Department imposed sanctions on Iran’s ballistic missile and drone programs as well as six officials affiliated with the IRGC’s Cyber Electric Command “for malicious cyber-activities against critical infrastructure in the United States and elsewhere.” (Reuters)
On February 4, responding to a question on whether “strikes inside Iran are off the table” made by the host of NBC’s “Meet The Press,” national security advisor Jake Sullivan responded:
“I’m not going to get into what’s on the table and off the table when it comes to the American response.” (NBC News)
Two assassinations and a response: On February 4, Asaib Ahl al-Haq leader Naji al-Kaabi was assassinated in Baghdad by gunmen (Iran International). On February 5, a drone struck a base in Syria’s eastern Deir ez-Zor province used by US troops, killing six Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and injuring eighteen (CBS News). The IRI claimed responsibility for the attack on al-Omar base used by some of 900 US forces in Syria as part of the fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS). The attack was the first since the US retaliatory strikes. The IRI said on its Telegram channel that it was in response to the killing of Palestinians in the Gaza war (Al-Monitor).
Then, on February 7, a US drone killed Kataib Hezbollah commander Wisam Mohammed Saber al-Saedi in Baghdad (CNN). According to US Central Command, he was “responsible for directly planning and participating in attacks on US forces in the region.” (CENTCOM ) The drone strike hit a car in an eastern residential neighborhood where the group has one of its offices.
۲/2 Iran warns US against targeting suspected spy ship in the Red Sea
On February 4, Iran warned the United States not to target two cargo ships in the Red Sea (AP). The ships, the Behshad and Saviz, are said to be a “floating armory” to “counteract piracy in the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden,” according to an English language video posted on a Telegram channel associated with the Iranian army (Artesh). At the end of the video, US naval carriers turn red as if being targeted, and an American flag is lowered.
The narrator then warns:
“Those engaging in terrorist activities against Behshad or similar vessels jeopardize international maritime routes, security, and assume global responsibility for potential future risks.”
Both vessels are registered as commercial cargo ships with a sanctioned company said to be a front for the state-run Islamic Republic of Iran Shipping Lines. However, multiple sources told NBC News that “The Iranian ship provides electronic intelligence to the Houthis, enabling them to spot and target vessels in the Red Sea region.” The ships are said to have “loitered for years in the Red Sea off Yemen, suspected of serving as spy positions for” the IRGC (AP). Analysis by NBC News and analysts show that the “Behshad was several miles away as Houthi rebels carried out a number of attacks on commercial vessels.” (NBC News)
Meanwhile, a new report published by the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) on February 6 highlights that Houthi attacks on international shopping are being carried out with weapons designed by Iran (VOA).
The DIA said in a statement:
“Analysis confirms that Houthi forces have employed various Iranian-origin missiles and unmanned aerial vehicles against military and civilian targets throughout the region.”
Since the beginning of the Gaza war, the Iran-backed Houthi rebels-based Yemen have almost daily conducted attacks on US and international shipping in the Red Sea, in what they claim is solidarity with the Palestinians (and to rally Yemenis around their cause). This is despite the United States and the United Kingdom conducting retaliatory strikes on the group, including most recently on February 3, which targeted thirty-six Houthi-controlled areas in Yemen (AP). The attacks on maritime trade have forced shops to reroute to the Cape of Good Hope.
۳/3 UN deputy high commission for human rights visited Iran despite calls to postpone
Last week, twenty-five international human rights organizations and prominent activists, including Nobel Laureate Shirin Ebadi, called on United Nations Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights Nada Al-Nashif to postpone her trip to Iran, scheduled for February 2-5. There was concern the visit would be used for propaganda purposes by the clerical establishment, given the recent spate of executions, and that it would undermine investigative, monitoring, and reporting mechanisms. Rights organizations wanted Al-Nashif to postpone her trip until after the UN’s Independent Fact-Finding Mission report comes out.
Despite warnings of how damaging the trip would be for Iranian human rights, Al-Nashif made her trip (VOA). Her visit reportedly included “meeting with relevant state interlocutors, including judicial officials, and UN partners.”
On February 3, the relatives of the victims of the Ukraine International Airlines passenger plane (PS752) shot down by the IRGC in 2020—who have been demanding justice ever since—gathered outside of the UN’s Tehran office, calling on Al-Nashif to meet with them. It’s worth noting that neither Iranian officials nor the UN Human Rights Office issued statements regarding the visit—likely because of the public calls to postpone the trip (Iran International).
۵/5 American p*rn star visits Iran—and clerics look the other way
American adult film actress Whitney Wright, 32, visited Iran last week (AP). Some believe Wright—who has an Instagram following of 1.3 million followers (@whitneywrightxo)—was a guest of the Islamic Republic to promote their propaganda because of her pro-Palestinian stance on social media, which included “material supporting armed militancy against Israel.” Partaking in p*rnography production is punishable by death in Iran, while online access to p*rnography is prohibited and punished with imprisonment.
Photos of the Oklahoma City native’s visit to Tehran quickly went viral, particularly her picture in mandatory hijab at the site of the former US Embassy in Tehran, where 52 diplomats were held hostage for 444 days, sparking the Iran hostage crisis (1979-1981). The countries haven’t had ties for nearly forty-five years, and the embassy has since been converted into an anti-American museum. Wright also visited Golestan Palace in Tehran (Al Jazeera).
Having since returned from her trip, the adult film actress wrote:
“Posting photos of my Iran trip now means I’m pushing Iran propaganda? Just sharing what I saw on the inside and outside.” (AFP)
The Iranian mission to the United Nations didn’t respond to requests for comment. The Iranian foreign ministery spokesman Nasser Kanani said he had no information about the American tourist. A source told the IRGC-affiliated Tasnim News Agency:
“Whitney Wright was not invited to Iran by any organization, traveled to Iran personally and after obtaining a visa, and the visa issuance system was not aware of the nature of her immoral and obscene work.” (Al Jazeera)
Iranian actress Setareh Pesiani criticized the clerical establishment on Instagram for allowing Wright to visit:
“You punish people of this country in various methods for removal of hijab but you allow a p*rn actress to come here for tourism!?”
It’s unclear what prompted the adult film star’s visit. However, in 2016, British p*rn star Candy Charms' Iran visit also drew attention. She told me at the time, “It's very common for models to visit Iran for surgery especially facial as they do it the best.”
Perhaps Wright was in Tehran to get work done. Iran is known for its plastic surgery—nose jobs particularly—and some Iranian doctors are willing to do things for money that Western doctors would say no to, given the legal ramifications if something goes wrong.
While many Iranians criticized Wright’s trip, some attempted to highlight the double standards and elicit humor through Photoshopped images. At least one photo circulated of Wright visiting assassinated Quds Force Commander Qasem Soleimani’s grave in Kerman.
Holland-based artist Mostafa Heravi Photoshopped the adult film star in pictures with current hardliner President Ebrahim Raisi to highlight the hypocrisy of the Islamic Republic.
Wright’s posts on her IG account have since been deleted, but you can find them here.
۷/7 Part II of “Iran Experts Initiative”
Semifor and Iran International dropped another joint report on the “Iran Experts Initiative.” Semifor’s founding editor-at-large, Steve Clemons, wrote a response to his publication’s exposé, explaining why he doesn’t “interpret the facts of the case quite the same way.” (Semifor)
OTHER اخبار/NEWS THAT MADE HEADLINES:
۰ Plea from death-row prisoners in Qezel Hesar prison (CHRI).
۰ Prominent human rights couple jailed (IranWire).
۰ Reporter held incommunicado since last week’s arrest (IranWire).
۰ Baha'i women languishes in jail after fifth arrest (IranWire).
۰ Judicial ordeal continues for Iranian who suffered eye injury during protest (IranWire).
۰ Traffic controller gets 10 years for "disabling CCTVs" during protests (IranWire).
۰ Suspects in controversial “Ekbatan Case” freed on bail (IranWire).
۰ Baluch man without ID faces deportation to Afghanistan (IranWire).
۰ Family, friends of Swedish diplomat facing death penalty speak out (Vice).
۰ E-Commerce giant targeted over “Fatemeh Zahra” mug (IranWire).
Foreign policy + security
۰ Iran-Israel intel war rages as Tehran says it identified Israeli spies worldwide (Al-Monitor).
۰ Iran plans joint naval exercise with Russia, China as Red Sea tensions soar (Al-Monitor).
۰ Sudan foreign minister visits Tehran amid reports Iran provided drones (Al-Monitor).
۰ Pakistan closes borders with Iran, Afghanistan to secure voting (IranWire).
Iran deal + sanctions
۰ Tehran denies reports of Iraq revoking Iranian bank's license (Iran International).
تا هفته بعد/UNTIL NEXT WEEK…
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