A message from the FBI receives someone who tries to access the page of PressTV, the Iranian television network in English. “The United States Government has seized the domain presstv.com, in accordance with an order issued in this regard ”, the text informs. In total, the US Justice Department has seized 36 websites linked to Iranian groups for “distributing disinformation” and operating without a license. Several of them are active again from alternative email addresses.
Among those affected are, in addition to the aforementioned PressTV, the Iranian channel in Arabic Al Alam and Al Masirah, the television of the Huthi movement in Yemen. The pages were being left without access throughout Tuesday. At the end of the day, the Justice Department reported that it had seized 33 sites run by the Iranian Islamic Radio and Television Union (IRVTU) and three others operated by Kataeb Hezbollah (KH), a pro-Iranian militia from Iraq that EE The US has designated a terrorist organization.
According to the Justice note, all the seized pages are owned by US companies, but both IRVTU and KH had to have obtained the corresponding licenses to operate in the US, which they had not done. The Iranian government did not comment, but the media accused Washington of censorship. “Is this another example of press freedom where if DC doesn’t like what you say, it seizes your domain?” PressTV host Marzieh Hashemí tweeted.
This is not the first time that the US has shut down Iranian websites. Last October, the Treasury Department imposed sanctions against IRTVU for being owned or controlled ”by the Revolutionary Guard (also designated a terrorist organization) and for trying to influence the 2020 US presidential elections. Then, 92 sites suffered the same fate and they were accused of spreading political disinformation.
But this time, the move comes as both countries appear to be in the final stretch to reactivate the 2015 nuclear agreement (paralyzed since the Donald Trump Administration abandoned it three years later). Although it is surely the conclusion of a process that began some time ago, the fact that it took place just four days after the election of the ultra-conservative Ebrahim Raisí as the new president sends a message of firmness.
However, the game of chess that Iranians and Americans are playing is somewhat more complicated. At the same time, and in a less publicized way, the United States is withdrawing some of its antimissile batteries (Patriot and Thaad) from several Arab countries in the Persian Gulf and reducing the size of its combat squadrons deployed in the region, according to the newspaper. economic The Wall Street Journal last weekend.
The measure, which affects systems deployed in Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Kuwait and Jordan, responds both to a realignment of forces against China, and to the conviction that the risk of war with Iran has been reduced since the Biden Administration has opted to negotiate in the face of threats and the maximum pressure policy of its predecessor. This is a sensitive issue when Washington also aims to limit Iran’s ballistic missile program.
“There is a new missile defense strategy: make it less likely that Iran will fire any. We’ll see if it works, ”says an analyst who prefers not to give his name. The decision has caused concern among the US’s Arab allies, especially in Saudi Arabia, which this year has already been the target of a hundred missile and drone attacks by Yemen’s Huthi rebels. However, the Kingdom of the Desert has improved its defensive capabilities and some observers consider that, beyond its symbolic value, the withdrawal does not affect the protection of the affected countries, since anti-missiles are not fired at small rockets or drones. used by both the Huthi and pro-Iranian militias in Iraq.