Iran 2019

Written by  //  May 17, 2019  //  Geopolitics, Iran  //  No comments

Iran 2017-2018

John Bolton, the Saudis and the hawkish forces pushing the White House toward a war with Iran
Bolton, the president’s national security adviser, once endorsed a plan to ‘bomb Iran’
(CBC) This week, the U.S. dispatched an aircraft carrier and several B-52 bombers to the Persian Gulf. The U.S. is reportedly drawing up plans to deploy 120,000 troops to the Middle East in the event that Iran attacks American forces in Iraq. The New York Times reports that intelligence officials have declassified a photo of a purported Iranian missile on a boat in the Persian Gulf.
In another ominous development, the U.S. State Department this week ordered all non-emergency staff out of Baghdad, a move interpreted by analysts as a precaution ahead of possible fighting in the region.
Before his appointment as Trump’s chief adviser on national security, Bolton authored a 2015 op-ed in The New York Times articulating his solution for preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear bomb: “Bomb Iran.”
Bolton holds sway, too. Under his counsel, Trump reneged on his promise to withdraw troops from Syria. Although Trump objected to regime change in Venezuela, he heeded Bolton’s advice to push for an uprising to oust dictator Nicolas Maduro. When that uprising failed, a peculiar thing happened: The president told reporters he needed to rein in his national security adviser.
While Trump has long criticized Iran and campaigned for president on a promise to leave the Iran nuclear deal, his opposition to the Islamic republic has veered toward more militaristic measures since Bolton’s appointment last year, said retired army lieutenant-colonel Danny Davis, a fellow with the Defense Priorities think-tank in Washington.
Trump’s policy of “maximum pressure” has escalated to the point where Iran is now in a chokehold. The U.S. aims to stop Iran’s exports of oil to other nations, threatening penalties for Iran’s customers. Applying such pressure without offering a release valve could cause the Iranians to lash out in a way that could spark a war, Davis said.

15 May
The Hidden Sources of Iranian Strength
Iran’s ties with its proxies are far deeper than the Trump administration understands.

14 May
The Knowns and Unknowns of What’s Happening With Iran
Conflicting signals from both sides could be read as a march to war or business as usual
(The Atlantic) Still unknown is what precise intelligence precipitated last week’s announcement from National Security Adviser John Bolton that the U.S. is sending a carrier strike group to the region in the face of “troubling and escalatory indications and warnings.” Still unknown is who exactly was behind the tanker explosions, for which Iran has denied responsibility but which U.S. officials suspect to be their work. Still unknown is what exactly prompted the embassy evacuation order, and how much Iran-backed militias in Iraq are posing more of a threat to American forces following Washington’s “maximum pressure campaign” against Iran.

Iran and the West: Can Europe restrain the US?
The EU seems to be the only major power willing to stand up to the US on Iran. But does it have the strength to do so?
by Marwan Bishara
(Al Jazeera) Both the US and the EU would like to see the Ayatollahs’ Iran contained and constrained, preferably under new leadership … but as in the past, they disagree on how to go about it. To put it simply, it is a dispute over … whether to bring Iran to its senses or bring it to its knees.
The Europeans want to compel the Islamic Republic to change its behaviour using trade and investments in accordance with the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), while the US wants to coerce it into a much more debilitating deal through tough sanctions and the threat of force.
As the crisis deepens, the disagreements between the US and Europe are also worsening in tone and substance.
Brussels hopes President Donald Trump is pursuing a new deal not a new war, but his senior administration officials may be itching to teach Iran a lesson by forcing it to make an impossible choice between total surrender and total defeat. The Trump administration’s reliance on the coercive power of its military and economic dominance and its use of the same prisms and pretexts as the Bush administration in 2003 could push the crisis down a slippery slope towards confrontation – one that promises to be far more costly than the Iraq war. (see also: Iran suggests oil attacks orchestrated to spark conflict — FM Javad Zarif says his country anticipated ‘activities to escalate tension’ by ‘hardliners’ in the US and Middle East)

13 May
White House Reviews Military Plans Against Iran, in Echoes of Iraq War
At a meeting of President Trump’s top national security aides, Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan presented an updated military plan that envisions sending as many as 120,000 troops to the Middle East should Iran attack American forces or accelerate work on nuclear weapons, administration officials said.
The revisions were ordered by hard-liners led by John R. Bolton, Mr. Trump’s national security adviser. They do not call for a land invasion of Iran, which would require vastly more troops, officials said.
The development reflects the influence of Mr. Bolton, one of the administration’s most virulent Iran hawks, whose push for confrontation with Tehran was ignored more than a decade ago by President George W. Bush.
Pompeo crashes Brussels meeting of E.U. diplomats but changes few minds on Iran
(WaPo) Secretary of State Mike Pompeo crashed a meeting of European foreign ministers in Brussels on Monday to push for a united transatlantic front against Tehran and its nuclear program. But he failed to bend attitudes among leaders who fear that the United States and Iran are inching toward war.
Pompeo’s last-minute decision to visit the European Union capital, announced as he boarded a plane from the United States, set up a confrontation between the top U.S. diplomat and his European counterparts, who have been scrambling to save the 2015 Iran nuclear deal in the wake of the U.S. withdrawal last year. At least one, British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt, said he feared that unintentional escalation from the United States and Iran could spark a conflict — an unusually bold statement that appeared to assign equal culpability to Washington and Tehran.
Pompeo was rebuffed on even some basic requests in Brussels. While his plane crossed the Atlantic, European diplomats haggled over how much to accommodate him. Although Mogherini managed to find time, initially she said she had a busy day and that the pair would talk “if we manage to arrange a meeting.”

10 May
Can Anyone Save the Iran Nuclear Deal?
Maybe Europe — if we’re lucky.
By Ariane Tabatabai, political scientist who focuses on the Iran nuclear agreement
(NYT) On Wednesday, Mr. Rouhani announced that Iran would stop adhering to some of the deal’s provisions. Iran’s goal, though, is not to find a quick exit — or any exit at all — from the deal, but to signal to the European countries that also signed it that they can no longer sit by as the United States imposes sanctions and more generally piles pressure on Tehran.
The nuclear deal is, like most international agreements, far from perfect, but the rest of the parties to it — and most countries in the world — see it as critical to regional stability and international security, which is why they have tried to keep it alive in the face of the Trump administration’s efforts to destroy it.
Mr. Rouhani is sending Europe a clear signal: If Iran doesn’t get any benefits from its participation in the agreement, neither will Europe. That’s why he announced Iran will hold on to its excess enriched uranium and heavy water — both of which could potentially be used in building nuclear weapons — rather than sell them to other countries, as is required by the agreement. He is also giving the Europeans 60 days to take steps to help Iran’s economy, which has been crippled by the American sanctions. If he doesn’t get those things, he says, his country will take additional steps that violate the deal and eventually pull out altogether.

7 May
Iran announces partial withdrawal from nuclear deal
A year after Trump pulled the US out of the 2015 agreement, Iran takes ‘reciprocal measures’
(The Guardian) President Hassan Rouhani said Tehran will stop exporting enriched uranium stocks as stipulated by the 2015 agreement and warned it would resume higher uranium enrichment in 60 days if the remaining signatories did not make good on promises to shield its oil and banking sectors from sanctions.
Wednesday’s measures, announced by Rouhani in an address to the nation, were formally conveyed to ambassadors to countries remaining inside the deal – France, Britain, Germany, China and Russia. Foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif separately set out the technical and legal details in a letter to the EU foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini.
Rouhani said Iran wanted to negotiate new terms with remaining partners in the deal, but warned that the situation was dire. “We felt that the nuclear deal needs a surgery and the painkiller pills of the last year have been ineffective … This surgery is for saving the deal, not destroying it.”
The move is bound to be seized upon by Washington as proof that the nuclear deal – which the US violated in May 2018 – has collapsed and is no longer worth pursuing.
US secretary of state Mike Pompeo is bound to seize on Tehran’s move as a lever with which to prise Europe away from its support for the deal, which was seen as a high-water mark of European diplomacy.
European diplomats are left to manage an often contradictory Washington foreign policy, but broadly fear that the US national security adviser John Bolton is pursuing a strategy of regime change in Iran that will only backfire, ushering in a more hardline stance.

6 May
The Many Ways Iran Could Target the United States
The White House is citing unspecified threats from Iran. The specifics are murky, but the potential for escalation is real.
(The Atlantic) In the year since President Donald Trump left the Iran nuclear deal, his administration has steadily ratcheted up economic pressure against the Iranian regime, deploying an unprecedented number of sanctions to throttle its oil exports and punish its support for regional proxies. With Sunday’s announcement, though, Bolton invoked unspecified Iranian threats to the U.S. and its regional allies, while hinting at a more serious step: the threat of violence.
Administration officials have not so far disclosed what exactly prompted the worries about Iran targeting the U.S. or its allies, with Acting Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan, for instance, only citing “indications of a credible threat by Iranian regime forces.” Still, the dynamics of the region, and especially how deeply entrenched both Iranian and U.S. forces are there, have left the Iranian

29 April
The High-Stakes Confrontation Between Trump and Khamenei
Neither leader appears to want escalating conflict—yet that’s precisely where things seem to be headed.
By Karim Sadjadpour, Senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace
(The Atlantic) Put yourself in the shoes of Iran’s 80-year-old supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. His regime is beset by nearly 50 percent inflation, a collapsed currency, persistent labor strikes, and an irrepressible women’s-rights movement. Epic floods recently killed more than 75 people and caused nearly $3 billion in damage. A locust plague is threatening 300,000 hectares—$9 billion worth—of farming land. “Things have never been this bad” is a refrain commonly heard from Iran these days.
Against this backdrop, a U.S. president whom Khamenei has described as “mentally retarded”—Donald Trump—is pursuing a relentless economic-pressure campaign seemingly intended to force either Iran’s capitulation or its collapse. First, in May 2018, Trump unilaterally pulled out of the Iran nuclear deal. In April 2019, the State Department officially designated Iran’s most powerful political and economic institution—the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC)—a terrorist organization, further rendering that group an international pariah. And now Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has announced that no countries will be granted further exemptions to import Iranian oil, an attempt to choke the lifeblood of Iran’s economy.
Trump has repeatedly expressed an aversion to greater U.S. involvement (including conflict) in the Middle East, and his affinity for autocrats makes clear that he has no interest in democracy promotion or regime change in Iran. He has made numerous unreciprocated efforts to meet Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and has told aides and foreign leaders that his “maximum pressure” campaign is designed to be a prelude to diplomacy, not conflict.
Bolton, by contrast, has a long history of advocating both military strikes and regime change against Iran. Pompeo has sought to reconcile these contradictory impulses by focusing on the means—that is, by raising the pressure—rather than the endgame. “The worst fear of Bolton and Pompeo,” a senior State Department official told me, “is that the Ayatollah [Khamenei] writes Trump a letter, suggesting a get-together. They know the president would jump at such an opportunity.”

11 March
Iranian lawyer who defended women’s right to remove hijab gets 38 years, 148 lashes
(Women in the After two trials described by Amnesty International as “grossly unfair,” Iranian human rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh has been sentenced to a total of 38 years in prison and 148 lashes.
Sotoudeh, who has dedicated her life to defending Iranian women prosecuted for removing their hijabs in public, has been in the crosshairs of Iran’s theocratic government for years. In 2010, she was convicted of conspiring to harm state security and served half of a six-year sentence. Then, in June of last year, she was rearrested on an array of dubious charges. Tried in secret, details of her ordeal have often come via her husband, Reza Khandan, who wrote of her new, much harsher sentence on his Facebook page on Monday.

8 March
America’s torch song for Tehran
By Kenneth M Pollack
(Brookings) Of the seven American presidents to serve since the Iranian revolution, at least four and arguably five wanted an end to the hostilities with Iran and made real efforts to bring that about. In most cases, they paid a considerable political price to do so. And while there certainly have been many Iranians, many Iranian officials, and at least three Iranian presidents who seemed to want the same, the Iranian regime as a whole and its two supreme leaders—Iran’s equivalent to the American president—have never shown the least interest. Instead, they have systematically shut down every effort toward meaningful peace between the two countries.

27 February
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani rejected the resignation of Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, standing by a moderate ally long targeted by hardliners in factional struggles over a 2015 nuclear deal with the West. This is after U.S.-educated veteran diplomat who helped craft the pact that curbed Iran’s nuclear programme in return for sanctions relief – announced his resignation on Instagram.

15 February
The Trump Administration Can’t Get a United Front Against Iran
But the Warsaw conference did bring together Gulf Arabs and Israel against their common enemy.
Mike Pence traveled to Warsaw to deliver a scathing message to European allies for not standing with America against Iran. “The time has come for our European partners to stand with us and the Iranian people,” he declared.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo heralded the breadth of the Middle East conference, citing representatives present from “60-plus” countries around the world. The absences were telling: Foreign ministers from Germany and France declined to show, sending lower-level officials instead. The EU’s foreign-affairs chief had a scheduling conflict. Representatives for key players in the Middle East—including the Palestinian Authority, Iran, Russia, and Turkey—also weren’t there. The last three were at a conference of their own, where they lauded the U.S. withdrawal from Syria and said Syrian troops should replace the Americans.
… But if the Iran issue divides traditional allies, it unites traditional adversaries. What were perhaps the summit’s most significant moments of unity came from improbable places, namely between the Israelis and the Arabs. Netanyahu noted as much in an unfortunately phrased tweet on Wednesday, where he cited Israel and Arab countries’ “common interest of war with Iran”—before reissuing the tweet with a softer “combating Iran.”

10-12 February
After 40 years, is Iran’s revolution unravelling?
(Brookings) For Iran’s leadership, the annual commemoration offered a reminder of the regime’s endurance and an opportunity for reassurance after an annus horribilis. Last year opened with an intense spasm of protests across the country, then was punctuated by the American withdrawal from the 2015 nuclear deal and re-imposition of economic sanctions, and ended with the
demise of yet another mandarin of the revolutionary leadership who was once seen as a contender for the regime’s senior post.
While the epic volley of demonstrations that rocked the country last winter has mostly faded from the headlines, the convergence of pressures from within and without is pushing Iran’s post-revolutionary system steadily toward the brink. The tempo may have slowed and the furies seemed to ebb, but the upheaval laid bare public frustrations with the stalemate over Iran’s future that lies just beneath the fractious partisanship of its political establishment.
Like any dogma, the gospel of the Islamic Republic’s durability is vulnerable to the inconvenient forces of reality. The presumption of Iranian stability is always true, until it is not, since it is challenged by recurrent convulsions that are never anticipated by the cognoscenti. Iran’s contested internal landscape, with a fractious elite and routine opportunities for limited political voice, may be the Islamic Republic’s hidden strength, but the deep challenges to the existing order have never been fully suppressed or satisfied. And just as in the 1970s, Americans tend to overestimate the continuing resilience of the regime.
For this reason, the prospect of meaningful change in Iran forever lies somewhere between unthinkable and inevitable. At the moment, signs suggest that the pendulum may be swinging toward change.

The Iranian Revolution at 40: From Theocracy to ‘Normality’
By Thomas Erdbrink
(NYT) In February of 1979, Tehran was in chaos. A cancer-stricken Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, the Western-backed autocrat, had gone into exile in mid-January, leaving behind a rickety regency council. On Feb. 1, Grand Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the godfather of the revolution, returned from exile in Paris. And in the Iranian version of “Ten Days That Shook the World,” street demonstrations raged until the government collapsed on Feb. 11.
Forty years ago, Iranians swelled with pride, hope and the expectation of a better future. Dreams of freedom and independence from the United States fired up the revolutionaries. But great, rapid change can leave deep and lasting wounds. There were lashings, hangings, amputations and mass imprisonment. Thousands of people died and hundreds of thousands left the country, some fleeing for their lives, never to return.
… over the years, as the early revolutionary fervor gave way for most people to a yearning for a more normal existence, the rules became negotiable. While the political system is basically the same as those early years, the society changed slowly, at times almost imperceptibly. Those changes have been enormous, and Iran today is closer than most outsiders generally appreciate to being that “normal” country Iranians want.
… Politics in Iran are a different story. There was the Green Revolution of 2009, when people rose up to protest a fraudulent election. But that was violently suppressed, and the group of people making the decisions has remained largely unchanged over the years, even narrowing some. Yet after allowing so many social taboos to slip, Iran’s leaders face a growing dilemma of whether to start translating the social changes into new laws and customs or try to hang on to the 40-year-old ideals of the revolution.
Anguish, hope and resistance: 40 years since the Iranian Revolution
(CBC) In a special one-hour broadcast, The Sunday Edition explores the lesser-known history of how a CIA coup, crowded poetry readings, a repressive secret service, a lavish birthday party, a badly-timed editorial, and a horrific government crackdown all gave birth to the revolution.
Historian Ervand Abrahamian explains why Iranians from different walks of life rose up against the shah, and how Khomeini used vague populist slogans to convince Iranians that an Islamic Republic would deliver independence from Western domination and an end to class inequality.

3 January
Shaparak Shajarizadeh and the fight for women’s rights in Iran
In an interview with Céline Cooper, the Iranian activist speaks about her protest against the compulsory hijab and why she finally left her home for Canada.

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