Critical Threats Today
A regular summary of al Qaeda operations in Yemen and Africa as well as major events in Iran.
These are the major events from February 22 in Iran and for al Qaeda operations in Yemen and Africa. Please see the Iran News Roundup, the Gulf of Aden Security Review, and the weekly Threat Update for more details.
A senior member of Iran's hardline Steadfastness Front, called Ebrahim Raisi the “fittest candidate” for the May 2017 presidential elections.
Amir Hossein Gaizizadeh, a senior member of the hardline Steadfastness Front, called Ebrahim Raisi the “fittest candidate” for the May 2017 presidential elections. Raisi is a member of the Assembly of Experts member and head of the Astan Quds Razavi Foundation. Guardian Council Spokesman Abbasali Khadkhodaei also mentioned invitations by “some political groups” urging Raisi to run in the 2017 presidential elections in a recent interview. Conservatives have been unable to unite behind a single candidate in the past several elections, leading to Hassan Rouhani’s success in the 2013 presidential elections. Conservatives have continued to struggle to unite ahead of the 2017 elections. Many signs indicate that Raisi may also be the regime’s top pick to succeed Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Khamenei himself held the presidency in the 1980s before becoming supreme leader in 1989. For more on the upcoming presidential election, please see "Iran Presidential Tracker: Updates and Analysis.”
Iran also announced the signature of a Memorandum of Understanding with Iraq to explore the possibility of building a pipeline from Kirkuk to Iran. Such a pipeline, if undertaken, would significantly reduce the control the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) has over the disputed oilfields of Kirkuk. It may be an indication that Iran seeks leverage over the KRG to contain its drive toward independence.
The Iranian oil minister announced a deal with Russia to sell 100,000 barrels per day of Iranian crude oil to one of the leading exporters of crude oil in the world. The deal could be worth approximately $1.8 billion per year at current oil prices. It is likely part of a system of financing of desired Iranian purchases of weapons and other key technologies from Russia.
Citations & Links
Al Houthi-Saleh forces have used scarce strategic weapons systems to defend against advances under the Saudi-led coalition’s Operation Golden Spear.
Al Houthi-Saleh forces have used scarce strategic weapons systems to defend against advances under the Saudi-led coalition’s Operation Golden Spear. The Saudi-led coalition is attempting to extend its control to Yemen’s western coast through this operation. The use of a ballistic missile to target senior military commanders directing the operation signals a shift in al Houthi-Saleh forces’ priorities. They had previously used this capability primarily against targets in southern Saudi Arabia. The al Houthi-Saleh forces have sometimes used these missiles to achieve strategic effects in Yemen, however, such as the September 2015 Tochka missile attack in Ma’rib that prompted an Emirati withdrawal from the northern theater. Al Houthi-Saleh forces will slow Operation Golden Spear’s advance through mining and ballistic missile strikes on military targets behind their front line.
Citations & Links
Somalia held the inauguration ceremony for President Mohamed Abdullahi Farmajo.
Somalia held the inauguration ceremony for President Mohamed Abdullahi Farmajo amid a climate of growing insecurity generated by intensified al Shabaab attacks and assassinations in Mogadishu in recent weeks. President Farmajo called on al Shabaab to surrender during his inauguration address. He emphasized insecurity and humanitarian crises as the greatest challenges facing the new administration. The chosen location for the event, a hangar at Aden Adde International Airport, suggests a heightened security risk for official government gatherings in Mogadishu.
Citations & Links
Russia continues to try to expand its influence in North Africa.
Russia continues to try to expand its influence in North Africa by appealing to political factions in eastern and western Libya. The Libyan National Oil Corporation, aligned with the UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA), signed a deal with Russia’s biggest oil company, Rosneft. The agreement will commit Rosneft to buy the NOC’s oil output. Russia has close political and military ties to Libyan National Army commander Khalifa Haftar, the primary rival of the GNA. Russia will try to keep its options open by making deals with delegations from both eastern and western Libya, in order to gain as much influence in Libya and the Mediterranean region as possible.