Iran’s defence minister Brigadier General Amir Hatami has threatened to “raze” Haifa and Tel Aviv if Israel threatens the Islamic Republic, the Mehr News Agency reported amidst a new phase of mounting tensions between Iran and Israel.

“As the supreme leader said, our main enemy is [the US and] not the Zionist regime,” Hatami was quoted as saying by the agency.

“They are not even the size of the Islamic Republic of Iran, and they know – if they don’t, they’d better know – that if they do crap, we will raze Haifa and Tel Aviv to the ground.”

Hatami also suggested that since the 1979 revolution in Iran, Israel’s territorial expansion had been halted.

“[Since Iran’s revolution] not only could they not occupy new territories, they had to build a wall around themselves because all nations in the region hate them,” Hatami added.

Hatami’s comments come two days after Benny Gantz, Israel’s defence minister, had warned that Israel had a list of Iran targets to strike if Western powers did not stop Iran’s nuclear programme.

The tensions between the two archenemies have escalated rapidly since Joe Biden’s victory in the US 2020 presidential elections. The Democrats, under Biden’s leadership, are seeking a new agreement with Iran, while Israel opposes any Tehran-Washington talks.

On 27 November, when Biden’s victory in the elections became evident, Israel’s Mossad intelligence service assassinated top Iranian nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh.

Israel has also carried out several air strikes on military bases in Iraq and Syria where Iran-backed militia groups were stationed.

Meanwhile, Iranian conservative dailies reported that forces supported by Iran carried out the 25 February attack on an Israeli ship in the Sea of Oman.

Iraq, Oman and South Korea release Iran’s $3bn frozen assets

After months of negotiations, the US permitted three countries with frozen Iranian assets to unblock $3bn of Iranian funds to buy essential goods and medicine, local media reported.

As a result of the sanctions that the US imposed on Iran in 2018, China, India, South Korea, Iraq, Japan and Oman froze over $40bn of Iran’s export income.

On Sunday, Fars news agency reported that three transactions were made as a first move to free Iran’s blocked money in Iraq, South Korea and Oman. According to Fars, Iran imported a corn shipment from Iraq due to the release of Iran’s assets.

Seyed Hamid Hosseini, president of the Iraq-Iran joint chamber of commerce, told the news agency that the release of Iran’s assets took place after several visits that Iran’s chief justice, the country’s central bank chief and energy minister had made to Iraq.

“Iraqi officials were determined to release Iran’s money,” Hosseini was quoted as saying by the news agency.

“But they needed a green light from the US, and after several attempts, they finally received US approval and part of [Iran’s] frozen assets were released through various banks.”

Iraq owes about $5bn to Iran over imports of gas and electricity. South Korea and Oman also owe Iran for oil imports.

Yet, it is not clear if the three countries transferred the money to Iranian banks or if the country can only use the money to buy essential and humanitarian goods from these countries, in a programme similar to the oil-for-food programme which the US imposed on Iraq in the 1990s.

Poor people rent out ID cards to foreign currency dealers

Impoverished Iranians, desperate to put bread on the table during the country’s worsening economic crisis, have been renting out their ID cards to foreign currency dealers in return for as little as $10.

The Aftab daily reported that foreign currency dealers pay between $10 to $15 for the use of ID cards and buy a 2,000-euro quota of foreign currency from governmental exchange centres.

According to the daily, most people who queued outside governmental exchange centres did not even know the day’s exchange rate and did not have enough money to buy 2000 euros. The foreign currency dealers paid these people to buy the euros and hand the money over to them.

“We don’t need to do anything,” said a young man who was buying the US dollars.

“They [the dealers] transfer the money we need to buy dollars to our bank account. With our ID cards, we go to the exchange centre and buy the dollars. Then we give the dollars and the receipt to the main guy [the dealer], and they pay us the money that we had agreed on,” he continued.

In Iran, foreign currencies have three different exchange rates. Governmental exchange centres sell foreign currencies with the price at about 10,000 rials below the open market price, and every Iranian has an annual 2,000-euro quota to buy from governmental centres.

One US dollar in the free market that ordinary people have access to is sold for about 243,000 rials.

The Iranian rial’s rapid devaluation, which sped up with the new sanctions imposed on all sectors of Iran’s economy since 2018, has made foreign currency trade a profitable business in the country. Many Iranian buy foreign currencies and gold coins as a way of saving.

Apart from the open market price, there are two other exchange rates in Iran. The official exchange rate, announced by the government, is 42,000 rials to one dollar, only accessible by governmental departments and well-connected merchants to import essential goods.

Non-essential goods importer can buy foreign currency with the Nimai exchange rate, which is about 220,000 rials to the dollar.

Source » middleeasteye