Iran Summary – December 2021
About the Iran Summary: The Jewish Institute for National Security of America’s (JINSA) Gemunder Center produces a monthly tracker providing timely information and graphics illustrating Iran’s aggressive and destabilizing activities.
December 2021 Summary: Efforts to revive the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) continued in the final month of 2021, despite Iran holding to its maximalist demands and support for regional aggression against the United States and its partners in the Middle East. Western officials have indicated the talks in Vienna have made little progress and suggested that negotiations could end soon but have not yet put forward the necessary “Plan B.”
Regional Aggression: Amidst frustrated nuclear talks, Iran continued its regional aggression campaign, including multiple bold attacks against the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia by Iran-backed Houthi militants and hosting an antagonistic military exercise with explicit anti-U.S. and anti-Israel signaling.
- On December 6, Saudi air defenses intercepted a Houthi ballistic missile over the capital of Riyadh, dropping shrapnel over several residential districts.
- The Houthis launched twenty-five drones on December 7 against Saudi military and oil infrastructure (including Aramco) in Riyadh, Jeddah, Taif, Jizan, Najran, and the Asir region.
- On December 8, the U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet seized a ship originating in Iran that was carrying illicit weapons, including 1,400 AK-47 rifles and 226,000 rounds of ammunition, which were likely intended for the Houthis in Yemen.
- After two drones threatened the Tanf garrison on December 15, a British fighter jet operating in the Western counter-ISIS coalition shot down one using an AMRAAM.
- Iran commenced its annual five-day drill on December 20, in which it launched a number of short- and long-range ballistic missiles that it claimed could destroy Israel. The drill ended with destruction of a target site designed to simulate an attack on Israel’s Dimona nuclear complex, constituting an escalation in Iran’s already genocidal rhetoric toward Israel.
- On December 24, two people were killed by an Iran-backed Houthi projectile attack on the southern Saudi town of Jazan.
Nuclear: Despite the resumption of JCPOA negotiations at the end of November after a more than five-month hiatus, Iran returned to the talks with hardline demands that, according to U.S. officials, indicate its unwillingness to negotiate productively – and which could ultimately derail negotiations altogether.
- On December 3, just four days after the commencement of the seventh round of nuclear talks in Vienna, the national delegations resolved to return to their respective capitals for consultations. Both U.S. and European delegations expressed concern and frustration over Iran’s backtracking on earlier proposals, namely demanding as a precondition that the U.S. lift all Trump-era sanctions and offer guarantees they would not be reimposed. Western delegations characterized this approach as Iran dragging its feet on nuclear compliance while demanding more on sanctions relief.
- On December 9, the seventh round of talks in Vienna resumed, with the Iranian delegation sticking to its maximalist position. British, French, and German diplomats warned that the JCPOA could “soon become an empty shell,” in light of Iran’s unceasing, and in key ways irreversible, nuclear advances.
- The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and Iran reached an agreement on December 15 to replace surveillance cameras at a centrifuge-parts workshop in Karaj that had been removed after an apparent covert attack on the facility in June.
- Nonetheless, Rafael Grossi, head of the IAEA, said that footage from a surveillance camera at the workshop in Karaj, north of Tehran, which has been missing since the attack, has still not been turned over by the Iranian regime.
- The IAEA has yet to confirm that the Karaj facility has resumed operation, but Grossi acknowledged that “it would be a logical conclusion” that advanced centrifuges recently installed at Fordow, a site buried inside a mountain, came from there.
- During a visit to Israel at the end of December that included discussions about the ongoing Vienna talks, U.S. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan told reporters that “we’re not circling a date on the calendar in public, but I can tell you that behind closed doors we are talking about time frames and they are not long.” Sullivan clarified that that talks could be ended in a matter of “weeks.”
- An eighth round of talks began in Vienna on December 27.
- Iran launched a rocket with a satellite carrier into space on December 31 but failed to put its three payloads into orbit because the rocket did not reach the necessary speed. The launch could aid Iran’s development of ballistic missiles.
Cyber: Iran continued to target civilian critical infrastructure across Southwest Asia this month amid growing concern that Iranian cyber actors will increasingly attack targets in the West.
- An Iran-linked hacking group known as Charming Kitten targeted a number of Israeli companies.
- Symantec’s threat-hunter team announced the detection of illicit cyber activity by a group whose “targeting and tactics were consistent with Iran-sponsored actors.” The months-long campaign by the group included attacks on telecoms, IT service providers, and a utility company across Israel, Jordan, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Pakistan, among others.
Domestic/Human Rights: Iranians have again taken to the streets, just after the two-year anniversary of the November 2019 mass protests, which were brutally suppressed by the Islamic Republic’s regime. Teachers throughout the country have gone on strike to protest their low wages and the imprisonment of their colleagues, just weeks after farmers in Isfahan voiced their anger over an ongoing water scarcity crisis. Once again, the regime is responding with violent suppression.
- On December 2, nationwide protests erupted across over sixty cities in Iran in response to the regime’s poor compensation of teachers in light of rising cost of living expenses in the country. In some cities, protesting teachers held up photos of protestors killed during the 2019 Bloody November protests. State Security Forces (SSF) in Tehran attacked protestors, tore down the pictures of 2019 victims, and violently arrested several teachers.
- Teachers resumed striking on December 11 after Rasoul Bodaghi, a teacher’s union leader, was beaten and arrested at a protest. Teachers are demanding the release of imprisoned colleagues in addition to economic relief.
- On December 13, hundreds of protestors in Tehran gathered in front of the Majles, Iran’s parliament, with police responding through violence and arresting several protestors.
- While there is no official casualty count, videos show the murder of multiple protestors as the regime deployed security forces wielding batons, shields and guns to attack its citizens. Iran Human Rights, an Oslo-based non-profit organization, reported that at least than 120 people were arrested in Isfahan, three of whom may have been killed.
- Unidentified assailants burned the office of hardline Iranian lawmaker Hassan Norouzi, whose recent comments on the 2019 protests caused an outcry.
- On December 18, Iran secretly executed and buried a Kurdish prisoner, Heidar Ghorbani, without prior notice to his family or lawyer.
Recent JINSA Publications on Iran: