JWG via DTN 15 January 2023 JT and Rae have been reading the tar baby saga and are trying hard…
Iran November 2019 – December 2020
EU foreign ministers pave way for revival of Iran nuclear deal
Step would allow Tehran to come back into compliance with deal, so long as US sanctions were lifted
(The Guardian) EU foreign ministers have agreed not to set fresh preconditions on a revival of the Iran nuclear deal, believing Tehran and Washington should be able to come back into full compliance with the agreement without at this stage needing to accept to extend or strengthen it.
Ruhollah Zam: Iran executes journalist accused of fanning unrest
(BBC) Ruhollah Zam was hanged on Saturday after the supreme court upheld a death sentence against him, state television reported.
Zam, who had been living in exile in France, was reportedly detained after travelling to Iraq last year.
He ran Amad News, a popular anti-government website Iran accused of inciting the 2017-18 protests.
Iranians Fighting Hatred Around the World: Payam Akhavan
(Iran Wire) Iran is not just a place. Iran exists wherever Iranians talk and care about Iran. Naturally the Iranian diaspora around the world is an energetic amalgam of cultures, religions and political dispositions. But they are all Iranian, definitely and eternally, however many years they have been away from their homeland.
Three Iranian human rights figures, the lawyer Payam Akhavan, a Baha’i who lives in Montreal and London; Siavosh Derakhti, a Muslim social activist who lives in Malmö, Sweden; and Sharon Nazarian, the Anti-Defamation League’s Vice President of International Affairs, who is Jewish and lives in Los Angeles, embody this spirit.
The More Complicated Crisis Biden Will Inherit With Iran
By Jonah Shepp
(New York) After moving into the White House late next month, one of President-elect Joe Biden’s top foreign-policy priorities will be reestablishing the relationships and agreements with other countries that Donald Trump has torn to pieces over the past four years. Chief among these is the 2015 nuclear agreement with Iran, from which Trump withdrew in 2018. This, to say the least, will not be an easy task.
The notion, widely promulgated in American media, that Israel assassinated Fakhrizadeh for the express purpose of hamstringing Biden probably gives too much credit to the U.S. as a driving force in Israel’s Iran strategy. An operation this sensitive would take months to plan, and Israel had plenty of reasons to want Fakhrizadeh dead regardless of who is in the White House, so the decision to take out the scientist was likely made well before the U.S. election. Yet while the presidential transition was probably not the rationale for the assassination, it may have played a role in its timing. Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu is reportedly working to land as many blows as possible against the Iranian regime and its nuclear program while Trump is still president. …
And even if the operation wasn’t expressly designed to limit Biden’s options, the fact that it does is more than just gravy for Netanyahu.
Prominent Iranian nuclear scientist killed in attack outside Tehran
(WaPo) A prominent Iranian nuclear scientist who was seen as a driving force behind Tehran’s disbanded effort to build a nuclear weapon nearly two decades ago was killed Friday outside Tehran in an apparent targeted ambush, Iranian officials said.
Iran’s foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, described the attack on the scientist, Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, as the work of “state terror” and implicated Israel as having a possible role.
U.S. imposes fresh Iran-related sanctions, targets Khamenei-linked foundation
The United States on Wednesday imposed sweeping new sanctions targeting Iran, blacklisting a foundation controlled by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and taking aim at what Washington called Iran’s human rights abuses a year after a deadly crackdown on anti-government demonstrators … The charitable foundation – an economic, cultural, and social welfare institution – has amassed vast amounts of wealth to the detriment of the rest of the Iranian economy and controls hundreds of companies and properties confiscated since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.
Iran urges US’s Biden to lift sanctions, rejoin nuclear deal
Iran Foreign Minister Zarif did not insist on any compensation from the US – unlike other Iranian leaders who demanded ‘damages’ for sanctions.
(Al Jazeera) Biden has pledged to rejoin the historic 2015 accord – agreed to by six world powers known as the P5 + 1 – if Iran also returns to compliance. But diplomats and analysts have said it was unlikely to happen overnight as the distrustful adversaries would both want additional commitments from each other.
IAEA and U.S. pressure Iran over uranium particles at ‘atomic warehouse’
The U.N. nuclear watchdog and the United States pressured Iran on Wednesday to finally explain the origin of uranium particles found almost two years ago at an old but undeclared site that Israel has called a “secret atomic warehouse”.
Saudi minister says nuclear armament against Iran ‘an option’
Saudi Arabia reserves the right to arm itself with nuclear weapons if Iran cannot be stopped from making one, says the minister.
Trump Sought Options for Attacking Iran to Stop Its Growing Nuclear Program
The president was dissuaded from moving ahead with a strike by advisers who warned that it could escalate into a broader conflict in his last weeks in office.
(NYT) President Trump asked senior advisers in an Oval Office meeting on Thursday whether he had options to take action against Iran’s main nuclear site in the coming weeks. The meeting occurred a day after international inspectors reported a significant increase in the country’s stockpile of nuclear material, four current and former U.S. officials said on Monday.
A range of senior advisers dissuaded the president from moving ahead with a military strike. The advisers — including Vice President Mike Pence; Secretary of State Mike Pompeo; Christopher C. Miller, the acting defense secretary; and Gen. Mark A. Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff — warned that a strike against Iran’s facilities could easily escalate into a broader conflict in the last weeks of Mr. Trump’s presidency.
The episode underscored how Mr. Trump still faces an array of global threats in his final weeks in office. A strike on Iran may not play well to his base, which is largely opposed to a deeper American conflict in the Middle East, but it could poison relations with Tehran so that it would be much harder for President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. to revive the 2015 Iran nuclear accord, as he has promised to do.
Iran’s delicate balancing act in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict
Iran shares borders with Armenia and Azerbaijan, and is home to communities with origins in both countries.
(Al Jazeera) With Armenia and Azerbaijan locked in a fresh conflict over the contested region of Nagorno-Karabakh, neighbouring Iran finds itself in a delicate balancing act, with political, historical and ethnic considerations.
Iran’s official stance, after having tried to resolve the long-running conflict in previous decades through diplomatic means, remains one of mediation, calling for an immediate ceasefire and dialogue.
Iran also recognises several United Nations resolutions that stipulate Nagorno-Karabakh, which is controlled by ethnic Armenians backed by Armenia, is part of Azerbaijan and that occupied Azeri lands must be returned.
The Revolutionary Guards Are Poised to Take Over Iran
But Does the Paramilitary Force Have What It Takes to Govern?
(Foreign Affairs) The Islamic Republic of Iran is a bifurcated state, with elected institutions running the daily affairs of state in the shadow of the more powerful office of the supreme leader, to which security organizations, including the IRGC, ultimately answer. For more than two decades, reformists inside the Iranian political establishment struggled to consolidate the power of elected institutions against that of the parallel state. Now, they are coming to terms with the failure of that project—and preparing for leaders of the parallel state to conquer the elective bodies and consolidate power for themselves.
… Iranians are frustrated with partisan tensions and compounding crises. U.S. sanctions have drained the country’s economic lifeblood: purchasing power parity has decreased to two-thirds of what it was a decade ago, even as the public’s obsession with wealth has grown exponentially. Wounded pride and resentment that Iranians cannot enjoy the international prestige they deserve is giving rise to a novel form of nationalism.
… At the moment, the IRGC’s greatest political strength may be the weakness of its opponents. … Rouhani’s government—a coalition of moderate conservatives, mediocre reformist bureaucrats, and laissez-faire technocrats with wavering political allegiances—…now lacks the credibility to mobilize its social base against the IRGC at the ballot box or in the streets.
Whether the IRGC really wishes to run the government, however, is a more complicated question. The political and economic resources the government holds are surely tempting. But experience has shown that whoever takes over the executive branch, regardless of political affiliation, is likely to become a thorn in the IRGC’s side —even former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who came in with the organization’s full backing- soon enough went rogue. The history of the Islamic Republic has repeatedly demonstrated that those who assume executive and administrative roles become invested in promoting normalization, even at the expense of revolutionary enthusiasm. The latter, however, is the IRGC’s stock in trade.
The United Nations and Iran. The UN Security Council recently voted down a resolution, offered by the United States, to indefinitely extend a conventional arms embargo on Iran set to expire in October.
The Lawfare Podcast: Scott Anderson and Richard Gowan on the Disagreement in the Security Council on the Snapback of UN Sanctions on Iran
Late last week, the UN Security Council voted down a resolution, offered by the United States, to indefinitely extend a conventional arms embargo on Iran set to expire in October. The lifting of the arms embargo was one of the sweeteners that was part of the Obama administration’s Iran nuclear agreement. Now, the Trump administration has announced it will begin the process of triggering the snapback of UN sanctions on Iran using procedures outlined in UNSCR 2231—a move that could be the death knell for the Iran nuclear agreement. Margaret Taylor sat down with Lawfare senior editor Scott Anderson and Richard Gowan, the UN director for the Crisis Group, an independent research and advocacy organization that recently released a report on the U.S. attempt to reimpose sanctions, to talk through the legal and political issues, as well as what will unfold on this matter in the weeks and months to come.
Iran’s Revolutionary Guard launches underground ballistic missiles during military exercise
(AP) Iran’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard launched underground ballistic missiles Wednesday as part of an exercise involving a mock-up American aircraft carrier in the Strait of Hormuz, highlighting its network of subterranean missile sites.
Although state television documentaries have focused on operations at underground bases, all have avoided showing geographic details revealing their locations. Wednesday’s launch from what appears to be central Iran’s desert plateau may have changed that amid heightened tensions between Tehran and the U.S. over its tattered nuclear deal with world powers and as economic pressures grow.
The Pitfalls of the China-Iran Agreement
The reported agreement, already receiving a backlash in Iran, is not likely to achieve what Tehran hopes it will.
(The Diplomat) Over the past week, news of a long-term strategic pact between China and Iran has caused an uproar among the Iranian public and politicians alike, with both supporters and opponents voicing strong opinions on social media. Iran’s former president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, rang alarm bells when he warned of a public backlash totally rejecting the deal should the government fail to consult lawmakers before signing the agreement. In response, government officials were quick to denounce his proclamation as fake news, claiming that there is nothing secretive about the deal. On the contrary, Iran’s government has held the agreement up as a major diplomatic achievement for the country at a time of increasing international isolation.
How Iran-China deal could alter the Middle East’s balance of power
By Shireen T Hunter
By giving China a permanent foothold in Iran, the agreement would enhance Beijing’s regional position and undermine US strategic supremacy in the Gulf
(Middle East Eye) Tehran has not revealed the full details of the agreement, but a previous report by the Petroleum Economist suggests that Iran is set to grant huge concessions to China, including significant discounts on oil and gas, and the ability to delay payments for up to two years and to pay in soft currencies.
China would also be granted first refusal on opportunities to become involved with any petrochemicals projects in Iran. If implemented, this agreement would make Iran highly dependent on China economically, while Beijing would acquire a large and secure source of energy, as well as a foothold in the Gulf.
… The deal also provides for up to 5,000 Chinese security personnel on the ground to protect Chinese projects, an element that seriously undermines Iran’s political independence. This agreement promises to greatly enhance China’s position not only in the Middle East, but also in Central Asia and the Caucasus.
If the Iran-China agreement is implemented, it would revive Iran’s economy and stabilise its politics. Such an economic and political recovery would improve Iran’s regional position and perhaps incentivise adversaries to reduce tensions with Tehran, instead of blindly following US policies. Arab states could rush to make their own special deals with China.
Moreover, by giving China a permanent foothold in Iran, the deal would enhance Beijing’s regional position and undermine US strategic supremacy in the Gulf. This could also enhance China’s position internationally.
But the US could prevent such a shift by returning to the nuclear deal, lifting sanctions, and allowing European and American companies to deal with Tehran. An immediate effect would be the revival of moderate forces in Iran, and in the longer term, it would lead to better political relations.
By pursuing an entirely hostile policy towards Iran, the US has limited its strategic choices in Southwest Asia and thus been manipulated by some of its local partners, such as Saudi Arabia and the UAE. China’s more pronounced interest in Iran should alert the US to review its past approach towards Tehran.
In deep trouble, Iran grabs a Chinese lifeline
(WaPo Opinion) Iran is in a bad spot.
The Islamic republic’s sanctions-battered currency is trading at an all-time low against the dollar. An outbreak of the novel coronavirus is killing more people each day than it did at its original peak earlier this year. And a series of explosions, suspected to be part of Israeli operations to damage Iran’s nuclear infrastructure, has exposed severe vulnerabilities in the regime’s ability to protect its most sensitive sites.
The government of Ukraine, meanwhile, is preparing to sue Iran for damages over the downing of one of its civilian aircrafts in January, in which all 176 people on board were killed by an Iranian missile.
Iranian officials may very well be feeling the pressure, but if they are, they have a strange way of showing it. Rather than addressing the wide array of problems, they are busily fighting among themselves. Usually they close ranks against external threats, but that’s not what is happening now.
One possible reason for the Iranian leaders’ continued air of confidence may well be the massive deal they’re negotiating with China. If successful, it would see hundreds of billions of dollars invested in Iranian infrastructure as part of Beijing’s Belt and Road Initiative.
If Iran and China come to terms, it will yet again highlight the failure of the Trump administration’s maximum-pressure campaign against Iran. The stated logic behind the U.S. strategy of unrelenting sanctions is that they will cut Tehran off from access to world markets, forcing it to the negotiating table.
Iran has issued an arrest warrant for Trump over the killing of Qassem Soleimani and asked Interpol to help detain him
(Business Insider) Iran has issued an arrest warrant for Donald Trump and 35 other US political and military figures.
Tehran accuses Trump of a “terrorist act” for the killing, by drone strike, of Iranian General Qassem Soleimani.
They call on Interpol to issue an international ‘red notice’ for the president’s arrest.
Interpol is likely to refuse their request.
Iran’s strategy for fighting covid-19 could backfire
By Amir A. Afkhami
(WaPo) For two months, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the ultimate authority in Iran, has left Iran’s armed forces in charge of leading the country’s efforts against the covid-19 pandemic. The militarization of Iran’s public health efforts demonstrates how Khamenei and his allies have shrewdly used the outbreak to sideline the government of President Hassan Rouhani and increase their grip over the country’s population.
Despite official statements to the contrary, Iran remains one of the worst-affected countries in the world, and the peak of the outbreak is still weeks if not months away, based on projections and statements by some Iranian officials. … The current practices threaten to prolong the suffering of the Iranian people. If that happens, it risks worsening the prestige of the religious strata in the country — which is just what happened in the late 19th century.
The Twilight of the Iranian Revolution
For decades, Ayatollah Khamenei has professed enmity with America. Now his regime is threatened from within the country.
By Dexter Filkins
(New Yorker Magazine) Public confidence in the theocratic system—installed after the Iranian Revolution, in 1979—has collapsed. Soon after Khamenei took power, he promised Iranians that the revolution would “lead the country on the path of material growth and progress.” Instead, Iran’s ruling clerics have left the country economically hobbled and largely cut off from the rest of the world. The sanctions imposed by the United States in 2018, after President Trump abrogated the nuclear agreement between the two countries, have aggravated those failures and intensified the corruption of the governing élite. “I would say eighty-five per cent of the population hates the current system,” my host said. “But the system is incapable of reforming itself.”
Speculation about Khamenei’s longevity is rampant in the senior levels of government and the military. “The struggle to succeed him has already begun,” my host said. But Khamenei has spent decades placing loyalists throughout the country’s major institutions, building a system that serves and protects him.
The Next Iranian Revolution
Why Washington Should Seek Regime Change in Tehran
(Foreign Affairs May/June) Backing regime change emphatically does not mean advocating a military invasion of Iran, but it does mean pushing for the United States to use every instrument at its disposal to undermine Iran’s clerical state, including covert assistance to dissidents. The United States cannot overthrow the Islamic Republic, but it can contribute to conditions that would make such a demise possible. The regime is weaker than many Western analysts believe; a campaign of external pressure and internal resistance could conceivably topple it. Recent years have witnessed explosions of broad-based public opposition to the regime. Iranians are hungry for better leadership. The question for Washington should be not whether to embrace regime change but how to help the Iranian people achieve it.
The Rouhani administration’s miscalculated efforts to get sanctions lifted
Ali Fathollah-Nejad and Amin Naeni
(Brookings) Tehran has tried to use the present coronavirus crisis to improve its international position. Efforts by the Rouhani administration have focused on breaking the “maximum pressure” campaign, while hardliners continue to reject talks with Washington, hoping that the post-coronavirus era will see a new world order to the benefit of those challenging U.S. power.
Alongside efforts to get sanctions eased, speculation abounds that Rouhani and Zarif may be seeking to revive the nuclear deal. Abbas Abdi, a reformist political activist and journalist, says: “Rouhani wants to use the coronavirus for resolving the issue surrounding the JCPOA, lifting sanctions, and ultimately for talks with the United States. And because of this, he does not insist on quarantine.”
While the Rouhani administration’s “corona-diplomacy” has not translated into an easing of the White House’s “maximum pressure” campaign, hardliners in Tehran have reiterated their opposition to talks with Washington, contenting themselves with what they see as a post-coronavirus era on the horizon where their own geopolitical preferences — i.e. a world order with a declining United States — are being fulfilled.
Iran reports its largest spike in coronavirus deaths; President defends government’s response to outbreak
(AP via Globe & Mail) Iran reported its single biggest jump in deaths from the new coronavirus on Wednesday as another 147 people died, raising the country’s overall death toll to 1,135.
The nearly 15 per cent spike in deaths – amid a total of 17,361 confirmed cases in Iran – marks the biggest 24-hour rise in fatalities since officials first acknowledged cases of the virus in Iran in mid-February.
[E]ven as the number of cases continues to grow each day, food markets were still packed with shoppers on Wednesday and highways were crowded with traffic as families travelled between cities ahead of the Persian New Year, Nowruz, on Friday.
The government has come under heavy criticism for what has been seen as a slow and inadequate response. For weeks, government officials implored clerics to shut down crowded holy shrines to stymie the spread of the virus. The government finally closed the shrines this week.
Coronavirus burial pits so vast they’re visible from space
Iranian authorities began digging a pair of trenches for victims just days after the government disclosed the initial outbreak. Together, their lengths are that of a football field.
At the Behesht-e Masoumeh complex in Qom, about 80 miles south of Tehran, the excavation of a new section of the graveyard began as early as Feb. 21, satellite images show, and then rapidly expanded as the virus spread. By the end of the month, two large trenches — their lengths totaling 100 yards — were visible at the site from space.
According to expert analysis, video testimony and official statements, the graves were dug to accommodate the rising number of virus victims in Qom.
25 – 27 February
Coronavirus Could Break Iranian Society
The government has refused to impose quarantines and is encouraging people to visit the city of Qom, the center of the outbreak.
(The Atlantic) Two days ago, a local health official declared on Iranian television that the coronavirus was burning through the community. The situation, he said, is grim. Iran claims that, countrywide, 26 people have died from the coronavirus illness (known as COVID-19), out of 245 total infections. All acknowledge that Qom is the center of infection, but many doubt that the numbers are accurate. Another official, a member of Iran’s Parliament from Qom, said last weekend that his city had already lost 50 people to COVID-19. That figure, assuming it’s accurate, suggests that if COVID-19 is as deadly in Iran as it is elsewhere and kills 2.3 percent of its victims, another 2,000 people have the disease in Qom alone.
It is difficult to overstate what a disaster these numbers express—not just for Iran, but for everyone. Qom is a seat of Shiite learning, the spiritual omphalos of Iran, and as a result, it draws the pious from all over the Shiite world.
Today, Masoumeh Ebtekar, Iran’s vice president and a notoriously cruel member of the group of Iranians who held U.S. diplomats hostage in 1979, announced that she, too, has the disease. According to reports, she met with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and his cabinet just yesterday, potentially exposing the entire senior leadership of Iran to the disease.
Harirchi stated that the government refuses to impose quarantines, because they are premodern and ineffective. Mohammad Saeedi, the head of the shrine in Qom and a local representative of the country’s supreme leader, not only opposes a quarantine but begged people to visit the shrine, calling it a “place of healing.”
Iran’s deputy health minister: I have coronavirus
Feverish Iraj Harirchi says disease ‘doesn’t distinguish between statesman and ordinary citizen’
Iran’s deputy health minister said he has contracted the coronavirus and placed himself in isolation, a day after appearing feverish at a press conference in which he downplayed its spread in the shrine city of Qom and said mass quarantines were unnecessary.
Iraj Harirchi posted a video on social media on Tuesday acknowledging he had caught the virus, which appears to be taking rapid hold in parts of Iran. The news has underscored widespread fears that the outbreak may have passed a tipping point, before authorities had been able to gauge its full extent.
Images of one of the country’s most senior public health officials appearing sweaty and pale and acknowledging he had contracted the disease left many Iranians deeply troubled and are likely to further paralyse a county reeling from its rapid onset. In the short video, Hirachi acknowledged that “many may get infected” echoing concerns that have taken root in the rest of the Middle East, which is home to millions of people living in densely packed refugee camps.
Iran’s hardliners take early lead in Tehran in parliamentary vote
(AP via CBC) Iranian state TV on Saturday announced the first partial results from the country’s parliamentary elections, indicating a strong showing by hardliners in the capital Tehran, although authorities have not released full results or the all-important turnout figure.
Voters had limited options on Friday’s ballot, as more than 7,000 potential candidates had been disqualified, most of them reformists and moderates. Among those disqualified were 90 sitting members of Iran’s 290-seat parliament who had wanted to run for re-election.
Khamenei loyalists may tighten grip at Iran elections
(Reuters) – Hardliners are set to tighten control of Iran this week in a parliamentary election stacked in their favor, as the leadership closes ranks in a deepening confrontation with Washington.
Big gains by security hawks would confirm the political demise of the country’s pragmatist politicians, weakened by Washington’s decision to quit a 2015 nuclear deal and reimpose sanctions in a move that stifled rapprochement with the West.
More hardliner seats in the Feb. 21 vote may also hand them another prize — more leeway to campaign for the 2021 contest for president, a job with wide day-to-day control of government.
Such wide command of the power apparatus would open an era in which the elite Revolutionary Guards, already omnipresent in the life of the nation, hold ever greater sway in political, social and economic affairs.
Iran Grooms Child Soldiers Across the Country
(Iranwire) Iran has stepped up its operations to recruit young people to protect the Islamic Republic, many of them children, using some of the country’s most powerful resources, including sophisticated propaganda campaigns.
Significant work to bring in young fighters is done by the Students’ Basij Force, and Iran’s leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has praised young students willing to put themselves on the frontline, and the teachers who have encouraged them. He and other senior officials have publicly said that students should be regarded as a vital part of Iran’s able fighting force.
But statistics reveal that more than half of the student population are of elementary-school-age and are actually less than 12 years old.
Payam Akhavan comments: The Islamic Republic of Iran’s recruitment of child soldiers is an affront to basic human decency. Brainwashing children to kill in the name of religion is a shocking abuse of power. The next generation deserves a better future, liberated from hatred and violence.
Iran’s leaders have a problem they can’t fix
By Suzanne Maloney
(Brookings) …the real threat to the regime, which has spent decades trying to cement its rule, is the discontent of the Iranian public. Both the plane crash on January 8 and the cover-up that followed struck at the heart of the grievances that shape Iranians’ anger toward and alienation from their government. And if the demise of Flight 752 revealed the government’s malign disregard for its own citizens, its relentless suppression of the subsequent protests has only underscored its imperviousness to any meaningful accountability.
… the early explanations for the downing of Ukrainian Airlines Flight 752 quickly crumbled under the weight of obvious falsehoods. … this tragedy never would have occurred had Tehran taken the obvious precaution of halting civilian air traffic as it began missile strikes against U.S. forces in Iraq. Iranian leaders declined to take this step. Citing unnamed sources, the London-based Persian-language news channel Iran International, which is frequently critical of the Iranian government, reported that officials believed the presence of civilian aircraft in the skies would deter any possible U.S. counterattacks.
… In the successive waves of unrest that have shaken Iran over the past few years, protesters have agitated for a government that prioritizes the basic needs of the citizens ahead of the rulers’ ideological imperatives. Some have concluded that Iran’s pursuit of regional power—including its support of proxies such as Hamas and Hezbollah—has come at the expense of the country’s development. “Not Gaza, not Lebanon,” declares one increasingly common slogan. “I sacrifice myself for Iran.”
That critique echoes and extends a debate within the political establishment itself. The various factions within the ruling system have traded accusations over who is to blame for a series of natural and man-made calamities, including the January 2017 fire that destroyed a historic building in Tehran and killed more than a dozen firefighters, devastation from a 2017 earthquake, and more recently massive flooding in provinces across Iran. The country is experiencing what journalist Christian Oliver recently described as “a crisis of competence”—a growing sense among the population that a government whose legitimacy had become increasingly associated with quality of life rather than revolutionary fervor is no longer capable of delivering the goods for its people. On the streets, the factional blame game has proven irrelevant; the protests are denouncing the system as a whole.
EsmaiI Qaani: New ‘shadow commander’ of Iran’s Quds Force
Esmail Qaani is likely to pursue his predecessor’s policies with ‘greater vigour and ruthlessness’, say experts.
(Al Jazeera) Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s choice of Esmail Qaani, who served as Soleimani’s deputy for more than a decade, was aimed at ensuring a smooth and swift transition in the strategic foreign unit’s leadership at a time of heightened tensions between Washington and Tehran, according to analysts.
At the slain commander’s funeral days later, Qaani pledged to continue on his predecessor’s path “with the same force”, saying his assassination “will be reciprocated in several steps by removing the US from the region”.
Saeid Golkar, a professor of political science at the University of Tennessee in the US, said for Khamenei, it was important that the new head of the Quds Force was “loyal” and “committed” to himself and the IRGC. “Familiarly with the Quds Force and the ability to manage the forces and Iran’s proxies were important [traits],” he added
Bodies of Ukrainians Killed in Iran Plane Crash Are Returned Home
President Volodymyr Zelensky attended a ceremony for the 11 Ukrainians killed on the airliner shot down by Iran.
(NYT) Iran, which was accused of stalling the investigation, appeared to backtrack on sending the plane’s so-called black boxes to Kyiv, the Ukrainian capital.
A day after Hassan Rezaeifar, the Iranian official leading the investigation, was quoted by the semiofficial Tasnim News Agency as saying that the devices would be transferred to Ukraine, he said on Sunday that he had no plans to turn over the flight data and cockpit voice recorders from the Boeing 737-800 plane.
Mr. Rezaeifar, a director at Iran’s Civil Aviation Organization, previously said his organization lacked the capability to decipher the black boxes and would send them abroad for analysis. But on Sunday he said that it would try to analyze them in Iran and that “no decision has been taken so far to send them to another country,” such as France or Ukraine.
Payam Akhavan Interview with CBC on Ebrahim Raisi leading the investigation into the shooting down of PS752. (video)
(See: Ottawa and Tehran hold rare meeting as Iran’s Supreme Leader issues defiant sermon
(Globe & Mail) Iran’s investigation into the disaster is being headed by the country’s chief justice, Ebrahim Raisi, a conservative cleric who is sometimes mentioned as a potential successor to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
Mr. Raisi is known as a hardliner who is accused of playing a leadership role in a 1988 massacre of 5,000 prisoners, an episode that Canada’s Parliament has recognized as a crime against humanity. He was part of a four-man commission, later dubbed the “death commission,” that oversaw the extrajudicial executions.
“Putting him in charge of the PS 752 investigation makes a mockery of justice. It confirms that the Iranian authorities cannot and will not conduct an impartial investigation,” said Payam Akhavan, a former United Nations prosecutor who is now a professor of international law at McGill University. “Instead of leading an investigation he should be prosecuted for atrocities.”
Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said in a prayers sermon that Iran’s missile strikes on U.S. targets in Iraq showed it had divine support in delivering a “slap on the face” to a world power. Making the main weekly sermon in Tehran for the first time since 2012, with Iran and its clerical rulers under pressure at home and abroad, Khamenei also said that U.S. sanctions imposed in a row over its nuclear program would not make Iran yield.
Iran plane downing: Five reasons why the US-Iran crisis is not over
By Jonathan Marcus BBC Diplomatic correspondent
1) De-escalation is only temporary
2) US policy is not changing
3) Iran’s strategic goals remain the same
4) There are contradictions in Iraq’s position
5) The nuclear deal is in real trouble
Iran’s Grim Economy Limits Its Willingness to Confront the U.S.
Fearful of public anger over a plunging economy, Iran’s leaders appear to be turning inward, pulling back from escalation.
(NYT) Iran is caught in a wretched economic crisis. Jobs are scarce. Prices for food and other necessities are skyrocketing. The economy is rapidly shrinking. Iranians are increasingly disgusted.
Crippling sanctions imposed by the Trump administration have severed Iran’s access to international markets, decimating the economy, which is now contracting at an alarming 9.5 percent annual rate, the International Monetary Fund estimated. Oil exports were effectively zero in December, according to Oxford Economics, as the sanctions have prevented sales, even though smugglers have transported unknown volumes.
Iran’s plane shoot-down protest: Crisis of competency, legitimacy
(Al Jazeera) A collective sense of unity and solidarity that the assassination of Soleimani by an adversarial foreign power temporarily created across Iran soon gave way to aggravated public resentment and fury at the incompetence and mendacity of a ruling system that falsely insisted on “technical flaws”, persistently prevaricated over the truth behind the Ukrainian plane crash, and kept it hidden from the people for three days.
9 – 12 January
Iran Cracks Down as Protests Over Downing of Airliner Grow
Remarkably, some criticism is coming from some within the government’s hard-line power base.
(NYT) A top Iranian military commander made a rare public appeal for forgiveness on Sunday as security forces fired on protesters and outrage over the mistaken downing of a jetliner reignited opposition on the streets and stirred dissent within the government’s conservative base.
Anti-government protests that had quieted when General Suleimani was killed in a drone strike in Iraq rekindled across the country.
On Sunday, the unrest spread outside Tehran, the capital, to at least a dozen cities. Security forces fired tear gas, rubber bullets and eventually live ammunition to disperse demonstrators in Tehran. By late Sunday night, several people had been wounded, witnesses said.
Unlike previous waves of opposition, some of the outrage this time has come from conservatives who ordinarily support the government, as well as from the usual critics.
The protests in several cities were centered at universities and dominated by students, perhaps because many of those killed in the plane crash were recent graduates heading for further study in Canada.
“They killed our geniuses and replaced them with clerics,” young men and women chanted in the city of Shiraz.
Thousands of students in Tehran called for ouster of Ali Khamenei
In a massive protest in downtown Tehran with chants of “death to dictator,” thousands of students from Tehran universities declared their abhorrence at the slaughter of innocent passengers of a Ukrainian airliner and called for resignation of Ali Khamenei, the mullahs’ supreme leader.
Iran admits shooting down Ukrainian airliner ‘unintentionally’
‘Human error’ blamed as admission comes after initial denials were contradicted by western allies’ intelligence
Iran has admitted that its military made an “unforgivable mistake” in unintentionally shooting down a Ukrainian jetliner, killing all 176 people onboard, after days of rejecting western intelligence reports that pointed to Tehran being responsible.
A military statement came on Saturday morning via state TV, with “human error” blamed for the downing of Ukraine International Airlines flight 752 on Wednesday. It was followed by an apology from Iran’s president.
President Hassan Rouhani, wrote on Saturday: “The Islamic Republic of Iran deeply regrets this disastrous mistake. “My thoughts and prayers go to all the mourning families. I offer my sincerest condolences.”
The fast, deadly missile system thought to have shot down Ukrainian Flight 752 is one of the best Iran has
(Reuters) – Canada said on Thursday that a surface-to-air missile brought down a Ukrainian airliner in Tehran, while the Ukrainian government said it was investigating reports of debris from a Russian-made Tor-M1 missile.
The Tor, also called the SA-15 Gauntlet by NATO, is a short-range “point defense” system that integrates the missile launcher and radar into a single tracked vehicle.
Iran says it’s ‘impossible’ that missile brought down Ukrainian airliner despite Canadian, U.S. assertions
Trudeau says Canada has intelligence indicating Flight PS752 was downed by Iranian surface-to-air missile
7 – 8 January
Jeffrey Sachs: America’s Dangerous Iran Obsession
The US, seemingly with no awareness of its recent history with Iran, and led by an emotionally unbalanced president who believes he may commit murder and get away with it, is still acting out a 40-year-old psychological trauma. As usual, it’s others who are most at risk.
(Project Syndicate) US President Donald Trump’s order to assassinate Iran’s General Qassem Suleimani while on an official mission to Iraq was widely hailed in Trump’s jingoistic Republican Party. Government-sanctioned murders of foreign officials, clerics, and journalists are commonplace nowadays. Yet there is something special about America’s bloodlust against Iran. It is a 40-year-old obsession that has now brought the United States and Iran to the brink of war.
What most of the American public and much of the American political elite fail to comprehend is that the US has committed far more crimes against Iran than vice versa. The US has willfully and recklessly created an enemy for no reason other than its own misguided actions.Consider the key milestones since the early 1950s.First, the US and the United Kingdom overthrew Iran’s government in 1953, after the democratically elected prime minister, Mohammad Mossadegh, moved to regain control of Iran’s oil, which had been captured by the British empire. The US then replaced the democracy it had overthrown with the authoritarian regime of Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi, who was propped up by the SAVAK, his brutal intelligence agency and secret police, during the quarter-century from 1953 to 1978. The Iranian students seized the US embassy in Tehran after the deposed Shah was admitted to the US for medical treatment.The following year, the US armed and encouraged Saddam Hussein’s Iraq to invade Iran, triggering a nearly decade-long war that killed around 500,000 Iranians. As of 2014, some 75,000 Iranians were still being treated for injuries from the chemical attacks Saddam used.
… There is no reason why Iran and the US could not be at peace. By building on the 2015 nuclear agreement and their many common interests, a new relationship is yet possible. But with Iran’s retaliation already underway, it is especially urgent now that the European Union not follow the reckless Trump administration into a spiral of escalation that could result in war.
Trump says Iranian strike caused no American or Iraqi deaths; new sanctions on Iran will be imposed
(WaPo) No U.S. casualties were immediately reported, but Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps claimed that dozens of U.S. troops were killed in revenge for [the] U.S. airstrike last week.
Jeremy Kinsman and Larry Haas on the Iran crisis – as always, I am impressed with their level-headed views and, in this case, how accurate their assessments were, given that they were interviewed as the news of the rocket attack was just being announced.
Jeremy added in a note Wednesday morning:
“It is now clear the Iran missile response to the assassination of Al-Soleimani was a message about what they could do, but was calibrated not to kill Americans. Will it stop there? Trump speech this AM doubled down on anti-Iran rhetoric but held back on specific threats of further violence. “
Rockets fired at Iraq base housing US troops: Reports
(Two bases are attacked in Iraq.) There were no immediate reports of casualties, and the Pentagon said Tuesday evening that it was still assessing the damage.
Iranian officials said the attacks were the start of a promised retaliation for the killing of a top Revolutionary Guards commander. “The fierce revenge by the Revolutionary Guards has begun,” Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps said in a statement on a Telegram channel.
A Revolutionary Guards statement on state television said: “If America responds to these attacks there will be bigger attacks on the way. This is not a threat, it’s a warning.”
The base at Asad is an Iraqi base that has long been a hub for American military operations in western Iraq. Danish troops have also been stationed there in recent years. … Some troops departed after the defeat of the Islamic State’s so-called caliphate in 2019, but the base maintains a robust presence of coalition troops.
The American base in Erbil has been a Special Operations hub, home to hundreds of troops, logistics personnel, and intelligence specialists. Transport aircraft, gunships, and reconnaissance planes have used the airport as an anchor point for operations in both northern Iraq and deep into Syria.
Dozens killed in stampede at Qassem Soleimani’s funeral
Huge crowds of mourners packed streets of Kerman, hometown of Iranian military commander killed in US air strike.
By killing Qassem Suleimani, Trump has achieved the impossible: uniting Iran
(The Guardian) Suleimani oversaw Iran’s regional policy, and as a result is regarded as having spent his lifetime defending his country. When Isis approached the Iranian border after taking over swaths of territory in neighbouring Iraq in 2014, the Quds force were at the forefront, representing the only country willing to commit boots on the ground in the fight to destroy the group. While many in the region viewed Suleimani as a deeply controversial figure, to put it mildly, a significant number of Iranians, Kurds and Iraqis saw him as having been pivotal in stopping Islamic State.
At home, this popularity cut across political lines. Becoming a battle hero is one way to win broad legitimacy, and so it has proved in death as in life. The killing of one of their country’s most senior officials is perceived by Iranians as a violation of sovereignty, and the rally-around-the-flag effect has been notable.
Ebrahim Raisi: The cleric who could end Iranian hopes for change
The conservative hardliner is the most likely successor of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
By Saeid Golkar, lecturer at the Department of Political Science at the University of Tennessee, Chattanooga.
(Al Jazeera) There are rumours in Iran’s corridors of power that Ebrahim Raisi, a former presidential candidate and custodian of the Islamic Republic’s holiest shrine Imam Reza, would replace Ayatollah Sadeq Amoli Larijani as head of the country’s judiciary in the summer of 2019. In recent comments to the media, Raisi himself did not rule this out.
The conservative cleric’s appointment as chief justice would all but guarantee that he will be the next supreme leader of the country. If this happens, Iran’s revolution would live on under the leadership of yet another hardliner, which would kill any remaining hopes among the Iranian people for political change.
Since 2012, Raisi has also been serving as the prosecutor of the Special Clerical Court (SCC) or Dadgahe Vizheh-ye Ruhaniyat. The SCC was formed in the early years of the revolution to prosecute and punish clerics for misdemeanours. However, over the years the country’s leadership transformed the court into a tool that helps them control and silence any dissident clergy.
In addition to his many senior judicial positions, in 2016 Ayatollah Khamenei appointed Raisi as the chairman of Astan Quds Razavi, the wealthy and influential charitable foundation which manages the Imam Reza shrine. Through this appointment, Raisi developed a very close relationship with the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), which is a known ideological and economic partner of the foundation.
2 – 6 January
Here’s what could be lost if Trump bombs Iran’s cultural treasures
If carried out, Donald Trump’s threat to target “cultural sites” in Iran would put him into an axis of architectural evil alongside the Taliban and Isis, both of which have wreaked similar forms of destruction this century. The Taliban dynamited Afghanistan’s sixth-century Buddhas of Bamiyan in 2001; Isis has destroyed mosques, shrines and other structures across Iraq and Syria since 2014, some in the ancient city of Palmyra. Not, you might have thought, company the US president would prefer to be associated with.
Does Trump know what would be lost? Probably not – but he’s hardly the only one. The fact that the country is rarely visited by western tourists is not due to a lack of attractions. With a civilisation dating back 5,000 years, and over 20 Unesco world heritage sites, Iran’s cultural heritage is rich and unique, especially its religious architecture, which displays a mastery of geometry, abstract design and pre-industrial engineering practically unparalleled in civilisation. This is is not just Iran’s cultural heritage, it is humanity’s.
Trump backtracks on threats to target Iranian cultural sites: ‘I like to obey the law’
Targeting cultural sites with military action is considered a war crime under international law, including a U.N. Security Council resolution supported by the Trump administration in 2017 and the 1954 Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property.
Pentagon Rules Out Striking Iranian Cultural Sites, Contradicting Trump
(NYT) The defense secretary acknowledged that “the laws of armed conflict” prohibited attacking antiquities and said the military had no plans to do so, even though the president declared them targets. … when Mr. Trump casually said on Twitter that they included sites “very high level & important to Iran & the Iranian culture,” the resulting uproar only got his back up.
The disturbing history behind Trump’s threat to target Iranian cultural sites
(WaPo) In 2016, North African militant Ahmad al-Faqi al-Mahdi was convicted by the International Criminal Court of “intentionally directing attacks against historic monuments and/or buildings dedicated to religion” in the ICC’s first such trial, focusing on the destruction or damaging of cultural property. Mahdi was sentenced to nine years in prison for his role in attacking nine mausoleums and one mosque in Timbuktu, Mali, in 2012.
The ICC’s message to the world at the time appeared to be: Attacks on cultural heritage will no longer go unpunished.
But with a U.S. president now threatening to attack cultural sites in Iran, the narrative that the United States helped to advance now appears in doubt.
Iran ends commitment to nuclear deal.
Iran’s government said it was ending all its commitments to the 2015 nuclear deal and would no longer limit its enrichment of uranium.
Iraq’s Parliament votes to oust U.S. coalition troops.
Iraqi lawmakers voted 170-0 on Sunday in favor of expelling American troops from their country, just days after a United States drone strike killed the leader of Iran’s elite Quds Force on Iraqi soil.
Although the vote is not final until the draft bill is signed by Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi of Iraq, and Parliament was more divided over the issue than the vote tally might make it appear, Mr. Madhi had indicated earlier on Sunday that he would do so.
POLITICO Playbook: What’s on Pompeo’s mind – and much more
“THE BRITS, THE FRENCH, THE GERMANS all need to understand that what we did — what the Americans did — saved lives in Europe as well. Qassem Soleimani … and his IRGC led assassination campaigns in Europe. This was a good thing for the entire world and we are urging everyone in the world to get behind what the United States is trying to do: To get the Islamic Republic of Iran to simply behave like a normal nation.”
Murtaza Hussain: Portrait of a General
Secret Iranian Spy Cables Show How Qassim Suleimani Wielded His Enormous Power in Iraq
In the four decades since the 1979 Iranian Revolution, few Iranian leaders have achieved the global profile attained by Maj. Gen. Qassim Suleimani, the military commander killed in an American airstrike on Thursday. After the 2003 invasion of Iraq, Suleimani emerged as the United States’s most capable adversary in that country. His American counterpart at a key point during the occupation, Gen. David Petraeus, described Suleimani as “a truly evil figure” in a letter to Robert Gates, then the U.S. defense secretary. Over the years, Suleimani gained a reputation as a fearsome military leader who controlled a network of ideologically driven militia proxies across the Middle East.
A more nuanced portrait of Suleimani emerges from a leaked archive of secret Iranian spy cables obtained by The Intercept. The documents were generated by officers from the Iranian Ministry of Intelligence and Security, or MOIS, stationed in Iraq between 2013 and 2015, when the Iranian war against the Islamic State was at its height, and Suleimani was running the show.
Thomas Friedman: Trump Kills Iran’s Most Overrated Warrior
Suleimani pushed his country to build an empire, but drove it into the ground instead.
Think of the miscalculations this guy made. In 2015, the United States and the major European powers agreed to lift virtually all their sanctions on Iran, many dating back to 1979, in return for Iran halting its nuclear weapons program for a mere 15 years, but still maintaining the right to have a peaceful nuclear program. It was a great deal for Iran. Its economy grew by over 12 percent the next year. And what did Suleimani do with that windfall?
He and Iran’s supreme leader launched an aggressive regional imperial project that made Iran and its proxies the de facto controlling power in Beirut, Damascus, Baghdad and Sana. This freaked out U.S. allies in the Sunni Arab world and Israel — and they pressed the Trump administration to respond. Trump himself was eager to tear up any treaty forged by President Obama, so he exited the nuclear deal and imposed oil sanctions on Iran that have now shrunk the Iranian economy by almost 10 percent and sent unemployment over 16 percent.
… Many of his obituaries say that he led the fight against the Islamic State in Iraq, in tacit alliance with America. Well, that’s true. But what they omit is that Suleimani’s, and Iran’s, overreaching in Iraq helped to produce the Islamic State in the first place.
Will Iran’s Response to the Soleimani Strike Lead to War?
What Tehran Is Likely to Do Next
(Foreign Affairs) The Islamic Republic’s behavior over the past few months and over its long history suggests that it may not rush to retaliate. Rather, it will carefully and patiently choose an approach that it deems effective, and it will likely try to avoid an all-out war with the United States. Nonetheless, the events of the past few days demonstrate that the risk of miscalculation is incredibly high.
If the Trump administration is smart, it will do all that it can to harden U.S. facilities and protect Americans while absorbing some of the inevitable blows to come. It should also reach out to Iran through U.S. partners that have good relations with the country, such as Oman, to try to de-escalate while also setting clear redlines in private to avoid an Iranian miscalculation. Finally, Trump should be satisfied to declare victory and boast that he got the upper hand on Iran by killing Soleimani—not take further military actions. But this type of restraint appears to run counter to Trump’s very nature. And even if he shows uncharacteristic self-restraint in the coming weeks, the desire for revenge in Iran, and the political momentum that desire is already beginning to generate, may inevitably draw the United States and Iran into a major conflict.
What Comes Next After the Killing of Qasem Soleimani
(New York) In less than a week, the standoff between the U.S. and Iran has zoomed from what seemed to be a somewhat calibrated exchange of rockets, cyberattacks, and rhetoric to the killing of a man reckoned to be Iran’s second-most-powerful military official, causing military and counterterrorism experts to worry about nasty scenarios from all-out regional war to terrorist retaliation against Americans abroad or at home.
Escalating tensions between the U.S. and Iran reached a flashpoint in recent days when Kataib Hezbollah, an Iranian-backed militia in Iraq and Syria, fired rockets at a base in Kirkuk Province, killing an American contractor and wounding several American service members. The U.S. responded with air strikes that killed about two dozen militia members. Thousands of pro-militia protesters marched on the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, trapping diplomats inside, vandalizing the compound, and burning the reception area before dispersing on Wednesday afternoon. President Trump said Iran would “be held fully responsible” for the attack on the embassy, and on Friday he followed through. A U.S. drone strike at Baghdad International Airport killed several officials from Iraqi militias backed by Tehran, along with a rather special Iranian visitor they were escorting: Qasem Soleimani.
(Axios) One of the Iranian regime’s most powerful figures has been killed in a U.S. airstrike near Baghdad’s international airport, the Pentagon has confirmed.
Why it matters: Qasem Soleimani, the leader of the elite Quds force of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), was as revered by Iran’s proxies and supporters across the region as he was reviled by Iran’s foes, who considered him the mastermind of state-sponsored terrorism.
“At the direction of the President, the U.S. military has taken decisive action to protect U.S. personnel abroad by killing Qasem Soleimani.” — Pentagon statement
Tehran can be expected to respond forcefully to his assassination, and the already tense U.S.-Iran standoff will instantly become far more dangerous — including for U.S. forces in the region.
“General Soleimani was actively developing plans to attack American diplomats and service members in Iraq and throughout the region. General Soleimani and his Quds Force were responsible for the deaths of hundreds of American and coalition service members and the wounding of thousands more. … General Soleimani also approved the attacks on the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad that took place this week.” — Pentagon statement
Djavad Salehi-Isfahani: Can Iran Outlast Trump?
(Project Syndicate) Rather than attempting to beat Iran into submission with escalating economic sanctions, the international community should be attempting to guide it toward greater openness. Such an approach would improve the prospects of successful negotiations with the West, both before and after the 2020 US presidential election.
A Move For Justice Around the World
As the violent crackdown on recent protests in Iran has demonstrated, the leaders of the Islamic Republic continue to target, vilify and persecute the citizens of their country. Iranian policy against dissent has always been to stifle and censor any opinion and expression that Iran’s political and religious elite believes goes against the values and ideology of the Islamic Republic. It’s a policy that has been enforced repeatedly by Iranian authorities, from the Supreme Leader down to local officials, using the full force of the country’s military, police units, ministry agents and Revolutionary Guards-linked militias.
IranWire talked to McGill professor Payam Akhavan, senior counsel in both the ICJ and the ICC cases against Myanmar. IranWire asked him about the case against Myanmar, Iran’s persecution of minority religious groups and political prisoners, and the links between the two countries’ shocking crimes.
PA: The persecution of the Baha’is in Iran, especially the executions in the 1980s, has affected me deeply, and motivated my desire to pursue a career in human rights. The Baha’is were victims of Islamic extremism, and the Rohingya Muslims are victims of Buddhist extremism. The identity of the victims doesn’t matter because human rights are universal. … With each precedent of justice, the world becomes a better place, and the prospect of putting Iranian leaders responsible for crimes against humanity becomes more likely.
Iran protests: Videos reveal crackdown regime tried to hide from world
(BBC) Now the internet has been partially restored, videos have been appearing on social media that paint a picture of a government crackdown more brutal and bloodier than many had feared. The identities and stories of the protesters who lost their lives have also emerged.
The Iranian authorities have not released any official figures about casualties, but Amnesty International has received what it considers credible reports that at least 143 protesters were killed after the protests erupted on 15 November.
Special Report: ‘Time to take out our swords’: Inside Iran’s plot to attack Saudi Arabia
(Reuters) Four months before a swarm of drones and missiles crippled the world’s biggest oil processing facility in Saudi Arabia, Iranian security officials gathered in Tehran. The main topic that day: how to punish the U.S. for pulling out of the nuclear treaty and re-imposing economic sanctions on Iran – moves that have hit the Islamic Republic hard.
… what ultimately emerged was a plan that stopped short of direct confrontation that could trigger a devastating U.S. response. Iran opted instead to target oil installations of America’s ally, Saudi Arabia, a proposal discussed by top Iranian military officials in that May meeting and at least four that followed.
This account, described to Reuters by three officials familiar with the meetings and a fourth close to Iran’s decision making, is the first to describe the role of Iran’s leaders in plotting the Sept. 14 attack on Saudi Aramco, Saudi Arabia’s state-controlled oil company.
The kingdom is Iran’s principal regional rival and a petroleum giant whose production is crucial to the world economy. It is an important U.S. security partner. But its war on Yemen, which has killed thousands of civilians, and the brutal murder of Washington-based journalist Jamal Khashoggi by Saudi agents last year, have strained its relations with U.S. lawmakers. There was no groundswell of support in Congress for military intervention to aid the Saudis after the attack.
The 17-minute strike on two Aramco installations by 18 drones and three low-flying missiles revealed the vulnerability of the Saudi oil company, despite billions spent by the kingdom on security. Fires erupted at the company’s Khurais oil installation and at the Abqaiq oil processing facility, the world’s largest.
The Iran Cables: Secret Documents Show How Tehran Wields Power in Iraq
Hundreds of leaked intelligence reports shed light on a shadow war for regional influence — and the battles within the Islamic Republic’s own spy divisions
By Tim Arango, James Risen, Farnaz Fassihi, Ronen Bergman and Murtaza Hussain
Now leaked Iranian documents offer a detailed portrait of just how aggressively Tehran has worked to embed itself into Iraqi affairs, and of the unique role of General Suleimani. The documents are contained in an archive of secret Iranian intelligence cables obtained by The Intercept and shared with The New York Times for this article, which is being published simultaneously by both news organizations.
The unprecedented leak exposes Tehran’s vast influence in Iraq, detailing years of painstaking work by Iranian spies to co-opt the country’s leaders, pay Iraqi agents working for the Americans to switch sides and infiltrate every aspect of Iraq’s political, economic and religious life.
Iran begins payments to 60 million as petrol price protests continue
Government claims it is switching subsidies from petrol consumption to households
In some cases petrol prices are being raised by as much as 300%. Unrest continued throughout Iran on Monday and internet access remained blocked for a second day.
Videos smuggled out of the country showed municipal buildings and banks being torched and large traffic jams as drivers blocked roads. The clashes seemed fiercest in the cities of Shiraz and Ahvaz rather than in Tehran As many as 1,000 people have been arrested.
In announcing the price rise on Thursday, the government said it was not seeking to raise state revenues but instead undertaking a complex switch in government subsidies.
Iran’s Guards warn of ‘decisive’ action if unrest continues
(Reuters) – Iran’s powerful Revolutionary Guards warned anti-government protesters on Monday of “decisive” action if unrest over gasoline price hikes does not cease, state media said, hinting at a harsh security crackdown.
Iran’s leader calls demonstrators ‘thugs’ as protests spread to 100 cities
(AP via Global) Iran’s supreme leader on Sunday cautiously backed the government’s decision to raise gasoline prices by 50 per cent after days of widespread protests, calling those who attacked public property during demonstrations “thugs” and signalling that a potential crackdown loomed.
The government shut down internet access across the nation of 80 million people to staunch demonstrations that took place in a reported 100 cities and towns. That made gauging if unrest continued increasingly difficult. Images published by state and semiofficial media showed the scale of the damage in images of burned gas stations, pillaged banks and roadways littered with debris.
The semiofficial Fars news agency, close to the Guard, put the total number of protesters at over 87,000, saying demonstrators ransacked some 100 banks and stores in the country. Authorities arrested some 1,000 people, Fars reported, citing unnamed security officials for the information.
Iran distances itself further from nuclear deal, alarming Russia, France
(Reuters) – Iran has stepped up activity at its underground Fordow nuclear plant, state TV said on Wednesday, a move France said showed for the first time that Tehran explicitly planned to quit a deal with world powers that curbed its disputed nuclear work.
In another development that could also aggravate tensions between Iran and the West, diplomats said Iran briefly held an inspector for the U.N. nuclear watchdog and seized her travel documents, with some describing this as harassment.
Iran’s decision to inject uranium gas into centrifuges at Fordow, a move that further distances Iran from the accord, was described by Moscow as extremely alarming. Iran once hid Fordow from the IAEA until its exposure by Western spies in 2009.