Iranian leaders launched strongly-worded attacks on Israel in the aftermath of the assassination of Hezbollah commander Imad Mughniyeh. IRGC commander predicted the destruction of Israel in the “near future.” Iran has blamed Israel for the assassination. On the nuclear front, Iran denied new allegations regarding the existence of nuclear weapon activities inside the country. Iran announced that it will fire two new rockets into space in near future. The country test-fired its first space rocket in early February. Iran denied that it was building long-range ballistic missiles and insisted that its space program was “absolutely peaceful.” On domestic front, the Guardian Council, country’s highest elections authority, reinstated some of the candidates for the upcoming parliamentary elections, but reformist parties said vast number of their candidates remained disqualified to stand elections.
· IRGC Commander Maj. Gen. Mohammad Ali Jafari predicted Hezbollah will destroy Israel soon; “In the near future, we will witness the destruction of Israel, the aggressor, this cancerous microbe Israel, at the able hands of the soldiers of the community of Hezbollah,” Gen. Jafari said; his comments came in a condolence message to Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah after assassination in Damascus of top Hezbollah commander Imad Mughnieh.
· Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei blamed Israel for killing Mughnieh; Khamenei hailed Mughniyeh as a “great man”; Khamenie predicted that Mughniyeh’s death would increase resistance against Israel.
· Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki attended Mughniyeh’s funeral in the Shiite suburbs of Beirut; in a speech, Mottaki spoke of Iran's respect for Mughnieh.
· Israel announced it will launch a complain at UN Security Council over the statement by IRGC commander; Israel said Gen. Jafari’s comments were an expression of hope for the destruction of a fellow member state in the UN, as well as a statement which is “anti-Semitic and expressing the worst kind of racism.”
· Iran denied a report published by Saudi daily Al Jazira that Imad Mughniyeh used Iranian passport while traveling to various parts of the world; Iran's embassy in Riyadh described the report “as a propaganda which will be to the benefit of the enemies of both countries.”
Iran Nuclear Program
· IranianVP held talks with IAEA officials on past nuclear activities; Qolam Reza Aghazadeh Aghazadeh met IAEA Deputy Director General Oil Heinonen and answered questions about Iran’s nuclear past; US recently shared “new intelligence” on alleged Iranian nuclear weapons work with IAEA; Washington reportedly gave the IAEA permission to confront Iran with the evidence; Iran denied US allegation regarding the existence of a nuclear weapon program.
· Iran's Ambassador to International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Ali Asghar Soltaniyeh said that IAEA is to release its report on Iran on 22 February; IAEA board will meet on 3 March to examine the report.
Iran Space Program
· Iran plans to fire two new rockets into space; Iranian Space Agency (ISA) Director Ahmad Talebzadeh announced the plans following the successful test of Explorer-1 rocket on 4 February; Talebzadeh said Explorer-2 and Explorer-3 rockets will be sent into orbit “in the near future”; ISA announced that the Explorer-1 is sending data back to earth from an altitude of up to 250 kilometers; the Explorer-4 rocket is planned to carry Iran’s first homemade satellite named Omid (Hope) into orbit; Talebzadeh said that Iran’s space activities are “absolutely peaceful.”
· With the launch of its space rocket in early February, Iran joined the world's top 11 countries possessing space technology to build satellites and launch rockets into space; Iran's rocket test heightened tensions in Middle East; the Israelis suggested there was no reason now to believe the Iranians couldn’t create a long-range ballistic missile and launch a weapon system in their direction.
Major Regional Storylines
· UAE Vice president and the ruler of Dubai Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum arrived in Tehran; Sheikh Mohammed was welcomed by Iran's Vice President Parviz Davoudi at the airport; Sheikh Mohammed held talks with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad; Iran, UAE trade ties was the main topic of discussion between the two leaders.
· Russia’s oil giant Gazprom is to develop oil and gas fields in Iran; Gazprom announced that it will participate in the development of two sectors of the energy-rich Iran’s South Pars gas field in the Persian Gulf; Gazprom was also awarded extraction of oil in Iran; Iranian Oil Ministry did not disclose the locations awarded to Gazprom for oil exploration.
· A Shia militia leader was arrested in Baghdad charged with providing Iranian weapons to Iraqi fighters; US military spokesman, Capt. Vic Beck, said the arrested militia leader was in charge of all Shia militia fighters in western Baghdad; the militia leader was suspected of smuggling Iranian weapons to fighters in his area of responsibility.
Major Domestic Storylines
· Iran reinstates 251 candidates for 14 March parliamentary elections; Iran's Interior Ministry had banned more than 2,200 candidates to stand for elections; Iran's highest elections oversight body, the Guardian Council, had already reinstated nearly 600 of those candidates; the authorities can disqualify candidates who “are not deemed as showing sufficient loyalty to Iran's Islamic system”; reformists strongly criticized the mass disqualifications of their candidates; the reformists blamed the government for sheer number of disqualifications to keep them out of power; many of reformists’ top candidates remained disqualified.
· Iranian Oil Bourse (IOB) started trading, sans dollar contracts; Iranian Oil Minister Qolam Hossein Nozari said oil and petrochemical products will be traded at IOB in rials and a host of other currencies including Russian rubles, but no US dollars; the first day of trading saw sales of 100 tons polyethylene; trading in crude oil will come at a later stage with no specific date set yet.
· Iran imported gas from Azerbaijan; Iran begun importing one million cubic meters of natural gas per day from Azerbaijan; the imports was to help compensate for gas shortages caused by a cut in deliveries from Turkmenistan; the new gas imports from Azerbaijan started late January; Iran imported 23 million cubic meters per day from Turkmenistan until last December.
· Production at giant Azadegan oilfield in Iran began ahead of schedule; Azadegan, in Iran’s Khuzestan province, is the world's largest oilfield discovered in the past 30 years, with 33 billion barrels of proven reserves; National Iranian South Oilfields Managing Director Seifollah Jashnsaz said during the first phase of development plan, 150,000 bpd of crude oil would be produced.
· Oil price hikes boosted Iran’s hard currency reserves to $76 billion in 2007; Bank Markazi, Iran’s central bank, made the announcement in Tehran; price of oil futures reached $100 per barrel for the first time ever.