Iran April 2023-February 2024

Written by  //  February 21, 2024  //  Iran, Middle East & Arab World, U.S.  //  No comments

Iran on Diana’s Wednesday
Reading Khamenei:
The World View of Iran’s Most Powerful Leader
(2009)
Institute for the Study of War (ISW)
Al Jazeera: Iran news
Iranwire
Iran’s Women on the Frontlines (31/10/22)
Israel’s Dangerous Shadow War With Iran (27/02/23)

Eurasia Group’s 2023 Top Risks Report
Risk 5: Iran in a Corner
By Ian Bremmer, Cliff Kupchan
….nationwide anti-government protests continue. At the same time, Tehran has escalated its nuclear program in dramatic ways, all but ending any chance of reviving the nuclear deal. And now Iran has wedded itself to Putin’s imperial ambitions in Ukraine. Facing convulsions at home while lashing out abroad, this year will feature new confrontations between the Islamic Republic and the West.
The demonstrations are explicitly anti-government, with protesters calling for the fall of the clerical regime.
The protests are leaderless, dispersed, and attract relatively small numbers—all factors that make them unlikely to overthrow the Iranian regime. But they’ve also been remarkably persistent, with security services so far unable to crush the protesters as they did in previous rounds of unrest. The demonstrations will accordingly erode what’s left of the regime’s legitimacy and lead Iran to lash out against countries that support the protesters.
Then there’s the nuclear program. The mood in Tehran has shifted decisively against compromise, given the protests and the government’s perception that the deal won’t deliver enough sure benefits.
… Iran’s material support for Russia’s war in Ukraine has added another dimension to its failed relations with the West. Tehran has sold Moscow hundreds of drones used to attack civilians in Ukrainian cities, and it is poised to build a drone production factory in Russia and ship short-range ballistic missiles. Combined with repression at home (supported by Russia), Iran’s involvement in a European war has swung public and elite opinion on the continent sharply against the Islamic Republic; it will also lead the United States to impose additional economic sanctions and otherwise disrupt Iran’s supply chains, with Europe likely to step up its own measures over human rights concerns and Tehran’s military cooperation with Moscow.
What will 2023 bring for Iran and its protest movement?
Iran is heading into 2023 amid continuing protests and fraught relations with the West as it tries to entrench its regional influence and manage an ailing economy.
(Al Jazeera) Iran is not on the verge of regime change, but the protests have fundamentally changed the relationship between the state and the population, according to Sina Azodi, a non-resident fellow at the Atlantic Council think-tank.
“I believe the protests will continue in one way or another because the Iranian government has failed to address the root cause of the protests,” he told Al Jazeera. “I don’t think that the situation is sustainable because if the government doesn’t address the population’s grievances every once in a while, it has to show the same level of brutality to quell the protests. It is unclear at this point whether the state has any interest in addressing the grievances of the people.”
The protests have also significantly deteriorated relations between Tehran and the West, as the United States, the European Union, the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia and New Zealand have imposed human rights sanctions in response to what they have called a “brutal suppression” of protesters.
Two major Western-led efforts to punish Tehran at the United Nations also garnered majority votes, leading to the establishment of a fact-finding mission on the response to the protests and Iran’s expulsion from the Commission on the Status of Women.

The Backstory: Iran’s Long History of Unrest
(Foreign Affairs) Against all odds, protests continue in Iran, almost five months after they first began in September. The protests’ resilience—and the brutal crackdown employed to stop them—have raised profound questions about the stability of the Iranian regime. Many observers wonder whether the Islamic Republic, which has been in power since the Iranian Revolution of 1979, can survive in the face of such widespread public outrage. “I would argue that never before in its 43-year history has the regime appeared more vulnerable,” Karim Sadjadpour remarked on a recent episode of “The Foreign Affairs Interview.” The leadership in Tehran has sought to quell dissent by cracking down on protestors—but “violence and repression will not snuff out the will of a nation so roused against its government,” Masih Alinejad writes. As Iranians continue to call for political change, it is time for the international community to “think seriously about a world after the Islamic Republic.” (The Beginning of the End of the Islamic RepublicIranians Have Had Enough of Theocracy 18 October 2022)
Who are the Houthis?
(Al Jazeerah) The Houthis, also known as Ansar Allah (supporters of God), are an armed group that control most parts of Yemen, including the capital, Sanaa, and some of the western and northern areas close to Saudi Arabia.
The Houthis emerged in the 1990s but rose to prominence in 2014, when the group rebelled against Yemen’s government, causing it to step down and sparking a crippling humanitarian crisis.
The group then spent years, with Iran’s backing, fighting a military coalition led by Saudi Arabia. The two warring sides have also repeatedly tried to hold peace talks.
However, analysts say the Shia group should not be seen as an Iranian proxy. It has its own base, its own interests – and its own ambitions.

Iran starts first election campaign since the 2022 mass protests over Mahsa Amini’s death in custody

US promises new sanctions on Iran for its support of Russia’s war in Ukraine, potential missile sale
(AP) — The White House is promising to unveil new sanctions on Iran in the coming days in retaliation for its arms sales that have bolstered Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and threatening a “swift” and “severe” response if Tehran moves forward with selling ballistic missiles to Moscow.

Iran accuses Israel of sabotage attack that saw explosions strike a natural gas pipeline
(AP) — An Israeli sabotage attack on an Iranian natural gas pipeline last week caused multiple explosions on the line, Iran’s oil minister alleged Wednesday, further raising tensions between the regional archenemies against the backdrop of Israel’s war on Hamas in the Gaza Strip.
The accusations by Iran’s Oil Minister Javad Owji come as Israel has been blamed for a series of attacks targeting Tehran’s nuclear program.

2 February
Iran Is Not a ‘Normal’ Country
The Islamic Republic shouted its hatred of the West from the rooftops for decades. Many Westerners opted not to hear.
By Kian Tajbakhsh
(The Atlantic) … Despite cleverly choreographed denials designed to avert direct military retaliation, Iran’s fingerprints were all over the October 7 operation. Hamas and Islamic Jihad in Gaza, and Hezbollah in Lebanon, are only the biggest in a network of 19 armed groups that Iran has established along Israel’s borders. The groups get financial support, training, and weapons from Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. Hamas receives an estimated $100 million annually, Hezbollah $700 million, and Islamic Jihad tens of millions.
Together with a range of other policies—military assistance to Russia for its war in Ukraine, ever-closer military and economic ties with China, and dogged pursuit of a nuclear-weapons program—Iran’s complicity with Hamas signals that the country has entirely broken with the West and abandoned any aspiration to seek even minimal rapprochement with the Western-led international order. This abandonment will have consequences that Washington must avert if stability, let alone peace and prosperity, are to be hoped for in the Middle East.
Biden Orders Retaliatory Strikes for Drone Attack
(Bloomberg Evening Briefing) The US launched airstrikes against Iran-backed militias in Syria and Iraq in retaliation for a drone attack that killed three US soldiers last week, marking a fresh escalation as conflict continues to spread across the Middle East. The US military said it struck 85 targets linked to Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps’ Quds Force and affiliated groups. President Joe Biden, who attended the transfer of the US soldiers’ remains on Friday in Dover, Delaware, approved the strikes. The assault, said to include 125 precision-guided munitions, had been seen as all but inevitable after the Jan. 28 drone attack on a US base on the Jordanian border with Syria and Iraq. The Pentagon said the three Army reservists were killed in their living quarters and more than 30 service members were wounded in the drone strike. US officials had since warned of a “multi-tiered” response and said the initial retaliation would only be the beginning. “Our response began today,” Biden said in a statement. “It will continue at times and places of our choosing.”

1 February
US hints large response to Iran-backed militias is imminent as Houthi rebels target another ship
(AP) — Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said Thursday it’s time to further disable Iran-backed militias that have struck at U.S. forces and ships in the Middle East and the U.S. is preparing to take significant action in response to the deaths of three U.S. service members in Jordan.
For days the U.S. has hinted strikes are imminent. While the threat of retaliation for Sunday’s deaths has driven some militant groups to say they were stopping hostilities, as late as Thursday Yemen’s Houthi rebels were still attacking vessels and fired a ballistic missile at a Liberian-flagged container ship in the Red Sea.

29-30 January
Iran on high alert as Biden mulls response to killing of US servicemen
Patrick Wintour, Diplomatic editor
Tehran warns Washington but regime unsure of degree of support for interventionist foreign policy
(The Guardian) Iran has told the US via intermediaries that if it strikes Iranian soil directly, Tehran will itself hit back at American assets in the Middle East, drawing the two sides into a direct conflict.
The warning comes as Iran waits on high alert to see how Joe Biden responds to the death of three US servicemen deemed by Washington to have been killed by a Tehran-backed militia based in Syria.
… Now, Iranian media is openly speculating on the nature of possible reprisals – largely basing their discussions on US media reports. Both sides have emphasised they are not seeking an open war, but Tehran considers that a US attack on its territory is a red line that will be met with an appropriate response.
Iran’s Proxies Are Out of Control
By tying Iran’s fate to an unruly Axis, Khamenei has endangered his country and put it at serious risk of war.
By Arash Azizi
Biden’s Iran dilemma
(GZEROmedia) This weekend, US servicemen were struck and killed by hostile fire for the first time since the war erupted in Gaza. The attack happened on a military base in Jordan, near its border with Syria and Iraq. President Joe Biden laid the blame squarely on Iran, leaving many to wonder how he will respond.
Iran denied any responsibility, pointing the finger at “resistance groups” that are not under Tehran’s direct command. However, the “Axis of Resistance” proxy groups complicating the Gaza war – from Lebanon to Yemen – are all trained and armed by Iran.
Biden has a big dilemma. Biden needs to make a significant enough blow to Tehran that it deters future attacks without escalating the situation by bringing the US into direct conflict with Iran. Washington has failed to strike this balance in the Red Sea, where its campaign against the Houthis has only intensified the proxy group’s attacks on global shipping.
Rather than striking Iran directly, the US is likely to order increased attacks on proxy groups in Syria and Iraq, while ramping up pressure on Israel to de-escalate the Gaza conflict.

25 January
China presses Iran to rein in Houthi attacks in Red Sea, sources say
By Parisa Hafezi and Andrew Hayley
Iran-backed Houthis attacking commercial ships in Red Sea
Trading powerhouse China has called for attacks to stop
Oil trade gives China leverage over Iran, analysts say
Iran cares about China but weighs other priorities – sources
(Reuters) – Chinese officials have asked their Iranian counterparts to help rein in attacks on ships in the Red Sea by the Iran-backed Houthis, or risk harming business relations with Beijing, four Iranian sources and a diplomat familiar with the matter said.
The discussions about the attacks and trade between China and Iran took place at several recent meetings in Beijing and Tehran, the Iranian sources said, declining to provide details about when they took place or who attended.

20 January
As Houthis vow to fight on, U.S. prepares for sustained campaign
(WaPo) … The White House convened senior officials on Wednesday to discuss options for the way ahead in the administration’s evolving response to the Iranian-backed movement, which has vowed to continue attacking ships off the Arabian peninsula despite near-daily operations to destroy Houthi radars, missiles and drones. On Saturday, U.S. Central Command announced its latest strike, on an anti-ship missile that was prepared for launch.
The deepening cycle of violence is a setback to President Biden’s goal of stemming spillover hostilities triggered by Israel’s war against Hamas in the Gaza Strip. Underscoring the threat, Iran on Saturday blamed Israel for a strike on the Syrian capital, Damascus, that killed five Iranian military advisers. The Israeli military declined to comment. In Iraq, an attack on Ain al-Asad air base, which hosts Iraqi and U.S. troops, left one Iraqi soldier seriously injured, according to a Defense Department official. An Iran-linked faction there said it was responsible.

18 January
Saving Gaza Means Pressing Iran as Well as Israel
Escalation risk is growing as Netanyahu and the world talk past each other.
(Bloomberg) … Everywhere in the background stands Iran, which arms Hamas, Hezbollah and the Houthis. “The issue is — and the world has to face it point blank, with no ifs and buts — there is an empire of evil emanating from Tehran, spending billions of dollars in arms and money and people’s well-being to derail the stability of the world and the region,’’ Israel’s President Isaac Herzog told the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, on Thursday.
Neither Iran, the current US administration nor Hezbollah — mindful of domestic opposition to war in an exhausted, economically spent Lebanon — wants a regional conflagration. But increasingly, Israelis see the root of their problem, and therefore the focus of any potential solution, as Iran.
But if you see the world as a game of Risk, you can build a pretty convincing case for action. Iran, after all, has accelerated the rate at which it produces near-weapons-grade uranium, according to the United Nations International Atomic Energy Agency, bringing it closer to a potential nuclear breakout. For now, the estimated 100,000 Hezbollah troops and 150,000 rockets and missiles parked on Israel’s northern border provide Tehran with an insurance policy against any direct Israeli attack to prevent Iran from taking that step. But if a breakout were to happen, Iran could afford to risk Hezbollah in a fight with Israel.
Meanwhile, the Islamic Republic is engaging the US and Israel via proxies — not just in Gaza and Lebanon, but also Iraq, Syria and Yemen — to keep their forces mired in asymmetric, reputation-sapping fights. So why not stop that by destroying Hezbollah, while the group and its Iranian backers are unprepared, instead of waiting until they’re ready? Why not, to use the unforgettable phrase of Saudi Arabia’s then King Abdullah, cut off the head of the snake by attacking Iran directly?
… As should be evident by now, neither the US nor Iran is in full control of either their allies or events. From day one, the Biden administration has been shouting itself hoarse for Israel to adopt a less scorched-earth approach to Gaza, to little effect. The Houthis have paid still less attention to US warnings, or — for now at least — its missile strikes. Meanwhile, the human and economic costs of invading Lebanon almost certainly would be larger than in Gaza. Ballistic missiles would rain on Tel Aviv, and the Israeli response, likely against Beirut, would be devastating.

17 January
How the War in Gaza Revived the Axis of Resistance
Iran and Its Allies Are Fighting With Missiles and Memes
By Narges Bajoghli and Vali Nasr
(Foreign Affairs) Although both Western and regional countries claim that they do not want the war in the Gaza Strip to become a regional conflagration, Iran, Hezbollah, the Houthis, and other members of the axis are playing a very different game. They are patiently and methodically consolidating an alliance of forces across a regional battlefield. It started with Iran and Hezbollah, but it is rapidly evolving into something larger than its parts. Its other members include the Houthis in Yemen, Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad, and Shia militias in Iraq and Syria. The formation of this axis presents a direct challenge to the regional order that the West has created and defended in the Middle East for decades. It also—as Iranian and Houthi attacks on shipping in the Red Sea demonstrate—presents a threat to global trade and energy supplies.

14 January
U.S. and Iran Battle Through Proxies, Warily Avoiding Each Other
Iran wants to flex its muscles without directly taking on the U.S. or Israel, but that cautious strategy is subject to miscalculation on all sides.
(NYT) For all the fears of an outbreak of fighting in the Middle East that could draw the United States, Israel and Iran into direct combat, a curious feature of the conflict so far is the care taken — in both Tehran and Washington — to avoid putting their forces into direct contact.
No one knows how long that will last, American and European diplomats and other officials say. But 100 days into the conflict, the assessment of most of the key players is that Iran has pushed its proxies to make trouble for the American military and to pressure Israel and the West in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and the shipping lanes of the Red Sea while going to some lengths to avoid provoking a larger eruption.

12 January
US and UK launch air strikes against Yemen’s Houthis
US and UK forces have launched air, ship and submarine strikes against Yemen’s Houthis in response to the group’s attacks on Red Sea shipping over Israel’s war in Gaza.
The Houthis Have Backed Iran Into a Corner
A militia Tehran helped build may be dragging the country to war.
By Arash Azizi
(The Atlantic) Following repeated attacks on their warships, the United States and the United Kingdom have finally hit back at the Houthis, a Yemeni militia that holds power in the capital city of Sanaa and is recognized as the official Yemeni government by its main sponsor, the Islamic Republic of Iran.
The attacks come after weeks of warning and a day after a United Nations Security Council resolution asked the Houthis to stop their attacks on commercial shipping in the Red Sea.
Could the war spread to an all-out conflagration involving Hamas’s main backer, Iran?
The leadership of the Islamic Republic has spent the past few months in a risky dance. On one hand, it affirms its full support for Hamas and reiterates its demand for the destruction of Israel. On the other, it works hard to avoid a direct confrontation with Israel or the United States, knowing full well that it might not survive such a clash. For years, the Iranian regime thought that it had perfected this dance. Its supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, burnished a reputation as a shrewd strategist for his policy of “strategic patience”—dodging direct conflict with the U.S. or Israel while steadily improving the capabilities of the Iraqi, Lebanese, Syrian, Palestinian, and Yemeni militias that together form the Tehran-led Axis of Resistance.
… An entire generation of axis fighters has been brought up in Iran’s unique brand of Islamism, with its emphasis on the Islamic Republic as the headquarters of a multinational army that will supposedly one day bring about the downfall of Israel. At the same time, the Iranian regime has never wanted its shadow war with Israel and the United States to turn into the real thing—hence its humiliating inactivity in the face of the blows it has received. The Iranian regime’s arming, equipping, financing, and training of the militias has ensured their support. But it also risks dragging the country and the region into an all-out war.
10 January
Iran-backed Houthis push Washington into a corner
(GZERO media) The US could be on the verge of directly targeting Iran-backed Houthis in Yemen for the first time since the Israel-Hamas war began after the militants aimed a massive barrage of projectiles – 18 drones, an anti-ship missile, and two cruise missiles – at shipping lanes in the Red Sea late Tuesday.
The Houthis have been going after commercial vessels in the Red Sea for weeks in response to Israel’s offensive in Gaza, disrupting global commerce in the process. Tuesday’s attack, which was ultimately thwarted by US and UK warships, stood apart in terms of its sheer size and sophistication.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who’s on a tour of the Middle East and trying to prevent a broader conflict in the region, declined to say what specific steps Washington would take in response – but signaled that it would not go unanswered.
“We’ve made clear, we’ve been clear with more than 20 other countries that if it continues, as it did yesterday, there will be consequences,” Blinken said Wednesday. This echoed a warning from the US and its allies last week that emphasized the Houthis would face serious consequences if it continued attacks in the area.
Britain warns of severe consequences after Houthi attack in Red Sea repelled
US and UK warships shoot down barrage of rockets, drones and cruise missiles fired at ships by Yemeni group
The US and the UK have warned “there will be consequences” after warships from both countries repelled a barrage of 21 Houthi rockets, drones and cruise missiles apparently fired at western warships in the Red Sea.
Antony Blinken, the US secretary of state, said further attacks by the Yemeni rebels on international shipping could prompt a western military response amid speculation that Washington could bomb military targets in an attempt to prevent future raids.
8 January
From Houthis to Hezbollah, a look at the Iran-allied groups rallying to arms around Middle East
Missiles, rockets and drones struck targets around the Middle East and a senior Hezbollah figure was killed by an Israeli airstrike as the United States, Israel and others clashed with Iran-allied militant groups — with attacks hitting in vital Red Sea shipping lanes, along Israeli-Lebanon borders emptied by fleeing residents and around the region’s crowded capitals and U.S. military installations.
Together, Israel and its U.S. allies were facing two realities they knew all too well going into the war in Gaza: The Gaza-based Hamas militant group is far from alone as it battles for its survival. And by launching an all-out campaign to eliminate Hamas as a fighting force, Israeli and American leaders also are confronting simultaneous attacks from a strengthening defensive alliance of other armed militant groups linked with Hamas and Iran.

7 January
From Lebanon to the Red Sea, a Broader Conflict With Iran Looms
With its proxies attacking from many vantage points and its nuclear program suddenly revived, Iran is posing a new challenge to the West — this time with Russia and China on its side.
(NYT) [Since] Hamas’s Oct. 7 invasion of Israel and Israel’s tough response….American and Israeli officials, and a dozen countries working in concert to keep commerce flowing in the Red Sea, are confronting a newly aggressive Iran. After launching scores of attacks, from Lebanon to the Red Sea to Iraq, the proxy groups have come into direct conflict with U.S. forces twice in the past week, and Washington is openly threatening airstrikes if the violence does not abate.
Meanwhile, though little discussed by the Biden administration, the Iranian nuclear program has suddenly been put on steroids. International inspectors announced in late December that Iran initiated a threefold increase in its enrichment of near-bomb-grade uranium. By most rough estimates, Iran now has the fuel for at least three atomic weapons — and American intelligence officials believe the additional enrichment needed to turn that fuel into bomb-grade material would take only a few weeks.
Houthi attacks are reaching boiling point – but a US-led military response would be a grave error
Targeting Yemen would risk upending its fragile ceasefire, and fanning the flames of a greater conflict in the Middle East
(The Guardian) In recent weeks, the threat of an expanding conflict has centred on an unlikely place: the poorest country in the region, Yemen, which has suffered years of civil war.
In late October, the Houthi militia in Yemen began firing missiles and drones towards Israel and then moved to seize commercial ships sailing in the Red Sea. The Houthis claimed they would prevent Israeli ships – or those registered to Israeli owners – from passing through the channel until Israel stopped its attack on Gaza. In recent weeks, the Houthis escalated their attacks on cargo ships using missiles, drones and small boats. The attacks, which crippled traffic through a vital trade route that links Asia to Europe and the US, prompted Joe Biden’s administration to create an international naval operation last month to protect commercial ships in the Red Sea.
… The US and its allies are also trying to pressure Iran, which supports the Houthis, to restrain the militia from further attacks on shipping vessels. For years, Iran has provided funding and weapons to the Houthis, and integrated the group into a network of regional militias calling itself the Axis of Resistance, which includes Hamas, the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah and several militias in Iraq and Syria. Since Israel began its assault on Gaza, this network has struck at Israeli and US targets throughout the region, hoping to intensify pressure on the Biden administration to push Israel to accept a ceasefire.
But even if Iran tries to restrain Houthi leaders, it’s unclear whether they would stop their attacks in the Red Sea.

3 January
Iran says at least 103 were killed in blasts at a ceremony honoring slain general
(AP) — Two bombs exploded and killed at least 103 people Wednesday at a commemoration for a prominent Iranian general slain by the U.S. in a 2020 drone strike, Iranian officials said, as the Middle East remains on edge over Israel’s war with Hamas in Gaza.
No one immediately claimed responsibility for what appeared to be the deadliest militant attack to target Iran since its 1979 Islamic Revolution. Iran’s leaders vowed to punish those responsible for the blasts, which wounded at least 211 people.

2023

9-10 November
Fight between US and Iran’s proxies reaches boiling point
John Haltiwanger
(GZERO media) The United States and Iran’s proxy militias are locked in an escalating feud that’s raising fears of a wider conflict in the Middle East amid an already devastating war in Gaza. The situation is precarious, with the potential to spiral out of control.
On Wednesday, the US conducted an airstrike on a weapons storage facility in Syria used by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps and affiliated groups. The strike was in response to a string of attacks against US personnel in the region by Iranian proxies and came the same day a US drone was downed by the Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen. It was the second time the US launched such a strike in a matter of weeks.
The backdrop: The longstanding tensions between the US and Iran have reached historic heights in recent years, and the Israel-Hamas war is pouring fuel on the fire. The US has offered full-throated support to Israel in its battle against Hamas, a militant group that’s had Iran in its corner for years. The US has reinforced its military presence in the Middle East since the Israel-Hamas fight began in early October — a sign that Washington feared the war could spill out across the region.
The signal: The US is using these recent strikes in Syria to send a clear message to Iran and its affiliates: Back off. Whether this will be a sufficient form of deterrence remains to be seen.
Iran-backed groups have launched just over 40 attacks against US troops in Iraq and Syria since mid-October, according to the Pentagon. Dozens of US troops have been injured in the process, some suffering traumatic brain injuries, though no fatalities have been reported. Should a US service member be killed in a future attack, the White House may feel pressured to respond far more aggressively.
(LinkedIn) Ian Bremmer: What Actually Mattered This Week
Remember that famous line from Bill Clinton’s campaign staffer James Carville back in 1992?: “It’s the economy, stupid!” As Israel’s war with Hamas escalates, it brings to mind—in a nasally Louisiana accent—the phrase “It’s Iran, stupid.”
Because, whether it’s the dizzying arsenal of Hezbollah rockets in southern Lebanon pointed at Israel, or the Houthi drones targeting Israel from Yemen, or the Iranian Revolutionary Guard facilities in Eastern Syria-, one thing is clear: all roads lead back to the Ayatollah. And yet, there’s a big difference between skirmishes with proxy forces and an all-out US/Israel war with Iran.
“Iran feels particularly emboldened at the moment,” says Iran expert Karim Sadjadpour, Senior Fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for Peace, who joins me on GZERO World. “Whether it’s going after Israel via proxies or going after the US via their proxies. And they may be difficult to deter because they may either correctly read the situation that the US is not interested in a conflict, or they may misread it. And that could lead us to more direct conflict with Iran.”
So how close is Iran to waging war on Israel, and its Western allies? Iran is, after all, a rogue nation well on its way to developing a nuclear weapon. And that’s an escalation that no one, including Iranian leadership, wants to see happen.

23 October
Iran’s ayatollahs play the Middle East’s most dangerous game
They want to escalate without triggering full-blown war
(The Economist daily briefing) THE WARNING SIGNS that Israel’s war with Hamas may become a wider Middle East conflagration are flashing ominously. America has sent a second carrier strike group led by the USS Eisenhower to the Persian Gulf. “There’s a likelihood of escalation,” said Antony Blinken, the American secretary of state, on October 22nd. The chances of further attacks by Iranian proxies on American forces are growing, he continued.
Fears are also growing in Lebanon that Israel could use America’s cover to launch a pre-emptive strike. Israel has evacuated its towns near the border with Lebanon and Binyamin Netanyahu, Israel’s prime minister, has cautioned that if Hizbullah, an Iran-backed militia in Lebanon, enters the fighting, the consequences for Lebanon will be devastating. One reason Israel has delayed its offensive in Gaza may be to bolster its preparations for escalation on its northern front. Iran’s foreign minister has said the region is like a “powder keg”.

18 October
Ian Bremmer: What we know (and don’t know) about Iran’s role in the Israel-Hamas war
(GZERO) Hamas’ unprecedented terrorist attack on Israeli soil on Oct. 7 left many with two burning questions: Was Tehran behind it? And if so, would the war between Israel and Hamas expand to include Iran?
Iran had a lot to gain but even more to lose – So far, the answer to the first question appears to be no.
… While it’s true that Hamas’ capabilities rely on Iranian support, the group operates with a broad degree of autonomy and has its own agenda independent of (albeit usually aligned with) Tehran’s. In fact, plausible deniability is a design feature of the proxy relationship between Hamas and Iran, allowing the latter to pressure Israel without becoming involved.
To be sure, Tehran stands to benefit from the ensuing chaos in three ways. First, the attack will keep Israel distracted and focused on domestic security concerns, temporarily limiting its ability to project power regionally. Second, the attack has for now scuttled negotiations for a Saudi-Israeli normalization deal that would have included an implicit commitment to containing Iran. And third, the attack undermines Israel’s image as a military power, while the humanitarian toll of Israel’s devastating response in Gaza will turn global public opinion against Tel Aviv.
But Tehran benefitting from the attacks is a far cry from Tehran orchestrating the attacks and risking a war with Israel — and, potentially, the US — at a time when the strategic environment was getting somewhat more constructive for them

14 October
Iran warns Israel through UN against ground offensive in Gaza
Iran sent a message to Israel on Saturday stressing that it does not want further escalation in the Hamas-Israel war, but that it will have to intervene if the Israeli operation in Gaza continues, two diplomatic sources with knowledge of the situation told Axios.
Why it matters: The fighting between Hamas and Israel will turn into a regional war if Iran gets involved either directly or indirectly, such as through a militant group in Syria or by backing any Hezbollah decision to fully join the fighting.
Iran’s message, sent to Israel through the UN, comes as the Biden administration has been trying to deter Iran and Lebanon-backed Hezbollah, supported by Iran, from joining the war. This week, the U.S. sent an aircraft carrier group and fighter jets to the region.
Behind the scenes: Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian met with UN envoy to the Middle East Tor Wennesland on Saturday in Beirut, the two diplomatic sources said.
… The Iranian foreign minister replied that Iran doesn’t want the conflict to turn into a regional war and wants to try to help with the release of civilians who are being held hostage by Hamas in Gaza.
But Amir-Abdollahian stressed that Iran has its red lines. He said that if the Israeli military operation continues — and especially if Israel follows through on its promise of a ground offensive in Gaza — Iran will have to respond, according to the sources.
Iran’s foreign minister warns Israel it could suffer ‘a huge earthquake’
Hossein Amirabdollahian told reporters in Beirut that Hezbollah has taken all the scenarios of a war into consideration and Israel should stop its attacks on Gaza as soon as possible.
Iran’s foreign minister on Saturday called on Israel to stop its attacks on Gaza, warning that the war might expand to other parts of the Middle East if Hezbollah joins the battle, and that would make Israel suffer “a huge earthquake.”
How does Iran fit into the war between Israel and Hamas?
Iran likely won’t launch direct attacks against Israel, but the possibility of a regional conflagration is real.
(Vox) Speculation around Iran’s involvement in Hamas’s gruesome attack on Israel has been rampant over the past week — along with questions about whether the Islamic Republic or any of its regional proxies will get involved in the war between Israel and Hamas.
Iran has denied involvement in planning the attack, but the country’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei praised the slaughter in a televised address Tuesday. “We kiss the hands of those who planned the attack on the Zionist regime,” Khamenei said.
Iran does support proxies in the region, including Hezbollah, the Shia militant group in southern Lebanon, which could opt to join the conflict … Iran does provide material support to Hamas as well as training and money, experts told Vox, as does Hezbollah.

12 October
Blinken says no ‘direct evidence’ that Iran was involved in the Hamas attack on Israel
Secretary of State Antony Blinken made his comments in an interview with “NBC Nightly News” anchor Lester Holt after meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
“Iran has had a long relationship with Hamas. Hamas wouldn’t be Hamas without the support over many, many years from Iran,”…”And so, we know that. We see that. When it comes to this specific attack, in this moment, we don’t have direct evidence that Iran was involved in the attack, either in planning it or carrying it out.”
He said, “There’s a much longer complicity between Iran and Hamas that the world knows, and it’s one of the reasons that since this administration has been in office, we’ve sanctioned Iran, individuals companies, more than 400 times, including for support to Hamas.”

US says Iran cannot access its $6 bln in Qatar any time soon
The question of Iranian access to the funds has been in the spotlight since Iran-backed Palestinian Hamas militants attacked Israel on Saturday, killing more than 1,300 people and taking scores of hostages back to the Palestinian Gaza Strip.

9 October
Iran is the only one likely to benefit from Hamas’ attack on Israel
If Tehran has succeeded in scuttling the Saudi deal with Israel and wrecking the kingdom’s hopes of acquiring nuclear energy, it may think the demise of Hamas a price worth paying.
Anchal Vohra, international affairs commentator, based in Beirut until recently.
The global response has been predominantly critical of the attack. …
The timing of the attack has also thrown off experts and led to speculation that Hamas and its backer Iran were rattled by the progress made on the normalization deal between Israel and Saudi Arabia.
Just a few days ago, Ayatollah Ali Hosseini Khamenei, Iran’s supreme leader, said Muslim countries normalizing relations with Israel “were betting on a losing horse,’’ adding that Israel “will be eradicated by the hands of the Palestinian people and the resistance forces throughout the region.”
And in a further indication of the motivation behind the attack, Hezbollah said it was “a message,’’ especially to those “seeking normalization with the enemy.” The statement also noted Hezbollah was in “direct contact with the leadership of the Palestinian resistance.”

7 October
Iranian Nobel Peace Prize winner Narges Mohammadi, in prison for speaking up against human rights violations, has been a voice for women for almost two decades
Pardis Mahdavi, President, University of La Verne
(The Conversation) “Woman, Life, Freedom,” the slogan adopted by Iranians to protest the unjust death of Mahsa Amini in 2022, is, according to the Norwegian Nobel Committee, the most suitable way to describe the work of the 2023 Nobel Peace Prize laureate, Narges Mohammadi.
Mohammadi is the second Iranian woman to receive the Nobel Peace Prize, exactly 20 years after Shirin Ebadi was awarded the prize for her work to promote democracy and initiate legal reform under Islamic law in 2003. Mohammadi is the fourth Nobel Peace Prize laureate to be chosen while still incarcerated, joining the ranks of Aung San Suu Kyi and Ales Bialiatski.
A woman described as Iran’s “Nelson Mandela” wins the Nobel peace prize
Opponents of the regime hope she could inspire a new wave of protests
(The Economist) No sooner was she out of prison than Narges Mohammadi would post videos on social media of the abuse she had suffered inside. She would be arrested and jailed once again. Even as they hauled her back to prison, she would post, laughing at her captors. She would spend her medical leave writing up the testimonies of other prisoners. And once back in jail she would compile reports of human-rights violations and smuggle them out.
She would organise sit-ins against guards who wielded cattle-prods. As blows rained down on her she led her fellow prisoners in chants of anti-fascist anthems and the cry which for a year has echoed across Iran: “woman, life, freedom”. The only way her interrogators could silence her was to lock her in solitary, “a sealed tin” as she calls it, at least once for months on end. Even then her example gave hope to the women in Ward 209, the block the Ministry of Intelligence uses for interrogations in the regime’s notorious prison, Evin, in the Iranian capital, Tehran.

20 September
Iranian women face 10 years in prison for not wearing hijab
New law approved in Iran, which will be enforced for three years, increases penalties for flouting Islamic dress code

18 September
US-Iran prisoner swap ‘important first step’ but tensions remain: Analysts
A major diplomatic breakthrough between Tehran and Washington remains unlikely before 2024 US election, experts say.
(Al Jazeera) The prisoner swap between the United States and Iran is a step towards de-escalating tensions between the two countries, experts say, but it does not point to an imminent thaw in frosty relations. …
Biden administration officials also have stressed that Iran will only be allowed to use the unfrozen funds for humanitarian purposes amid criticism from Republican legislators who accused Washington of paying a ransom for hostages — against stated government policy.
Just days ago, as the prisoner swap loomed, the US imposed sanctions on dozens of Iranian officials and entities over human rights abuses during a crackdown on antigovernment protests in Iran last year.
U.S., Iran exchange prisoners ahead of UN General Assembly
(Politico) The group of seven, who flew on a Qatari plane from Tehran to Doha early Monday morning, include five American citizens who were detained in Iranian prisons on disputed charges.
“Today, five innocent Americans who were imprisoned in Iran are finally coming home,” President Joe Biden said in a statement. Biden thanked the governments of Switzerland, Qatar, Oman and South Korea for their assistance in the negotiations.
As part of the deal, the U.S. has granted clemency to five Iranians who were charged or convicted with nonviolent crimes. Two of those five will also transit via Doha. The White House also confirmed that Iran will also receive access to some $6 billion of proceeds of oil sales to South Korea via a restricted account in Qatar. The sales occurred during a window when trade with Iran was not sanctioned, but the funds were left stuck in South Korea once sanctions were reimposed as a result of currency conversion issues, senior administration officials explained.
U.S. and Iran trade prisoners, signaling partial thaw in relations
The deal, which includes a provision to unlock $6 billion in frozen Iranian funds, marks a major breakthrough for the bitter adversaries
By John Hudson and Susannah George
(WaPo) Five American citizens held in Iran will fly to the United States after a brief stop in the Persian Gulf nation of Qatar. The U.S. government, in exchange, released five Iranians and unblocked the transfer of $6 billion in frozen Iranian oil funds held in South Korea.
The deal, negotiated over several months, marks a major breakthrough for the bitter foes who remain at odds over a range of issues, including the rapid expansion of Tehran’s nuclear program, its ongoing military support for Russia and Iran’s harsh crackdown on internal dissent.

16 September
Iran: One year after the death of Mahsa Amini
Security forces have been positioned in Tehran and other cities as Iran marks one year since the death of Mahsa Amini.
(Al Jazeera) Saturday marks one year since Mahsa Amini died, sparking protests across Iran and leading to a chain of events, the effects of which remain fresh in the minds of Iranians.
… Seven people have so far been executed after being convicted by Iranian courts in cases related to the protests.
Mahsa Amini’s father detained on anniversary of death, rights group says
Iranian security forces briefly hold Amjad Amini amid crackdown on commemorative protests
The issue of hijab and women’s rights has been at the centre of demonstrations inside and outside Iran, with Amini’s name and chants of “woman, life, freedom” becoming common refrains.
Inside Iran, many women have chosen to change the way they dress and forego their headscarves.
But the hijab remains mandatory as per Iranian law and religious teachings, and authorities have signalled this will not change, so they have engaged in a series of efforts to counter this shift. …
A number of professors at top universities have been expelled in cases that appear to be linked to the protests.
Internet access continues to be severely restricted in Iran, with more disruptions expected to take place as the country marks one year since the start of the protests.
All major global social media and messaging platforms, in addition to many websites, continue to be blocked with no real prospects of being restored.
The Iranian regime keeps cracking down. Iranian women keep pushing back.
By Masih Alinejad, Iranian journalist, author and women’s rights campaigner. A member of the Human Rights Foundation’s International Council, she hosts “Tablet,” a talk show on Voice of America’s Persian service.
(WaPo) Despite the escalating oppression, Iranian women — and the many fathers, brothers and male friends who support them — have refused to give up.

15 September
Addressing Iran’s evolving threats to US interests
Suzanne Maloney, vice president and director of Foreign Policy, Brookings Institution
Editor’s note:The following testimony was submitted to the House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on the Middle East, North Africa, and Central Asia on September 14, 2023, for the “Iran’s Escalating Threats: Assessing U.S. Policy Toward Iran’s Malign Activities” hearing. (YouTube)
(Brookings) Much has changed within Iran over the…four and a half decades [since the 1979 revolution], but the Islamic Republic remains a disruptive and dangerous force in the international arena. Recognizing the seriousness of this threat, the Biden administration revived diplomatic efforts to constrain Tehran’s nuclear advances and has signaled readiness to deter Iran’s regional threats. However, progress has been limited and, in many respects, the challenges posed by Iran to its own people, its neighbors, and U.S. interests around the world have only intensified as a result of Tehran’s unchecked nuclear program; its long track record of terrorism, hostage-taking, and violent subversion; its deepening involvement in Russia’s barbaric and illegal war in Ukraine; and its brutality toward its own citizens.
As I’ve argued earlier this year in Foreign Affairs magazine,1 it’s time for a new U.S. approach on Iran, one that ensures international constraints on and visibility into Iran’s nuclear activities, deters Tehran from advancing its most provocative nuclear and regional ambitions, and preserves space for the Iranian people who have fought for democracy for more than a century to bring about lasting change.

13 September
Iran’s ‘gender apartheid’ bill could jail women for 10 years for not wearing hijab
Shops that serve unveiled women could be shut under draft law UN human rights body says suppresses women into ‘total submission’
Women in Iran face up to 10 years in prison if they continue to defy the country’s mandatory hijab law, under harsher laws awaiting approval by authorities. Even businesses that serve women without a hijab face being shut down.
The stricter dress code, which amounts to “gender apartheid”, UN experts said, comes one year after the death in custody of Mahsa Amini….
The length of prison sentences contained in the draft law was comparable to those for serious offences such as murder and drug trafficking, said an Iranian human rights lawyer, Hossein Raeesi. “That’s ridiculous to even think about.”
The hijab and chastity bill details punishments including more than 60 lashes, heavy fines and prison terms. It also warns businesses of closure and other serious consequences if found to be providing services to women with “improper dress code”.
The draft law follows renewed patrolling by the “morality police” and widens “gender segregation” in universities, hospitals, parks and workplaces. It amounts to an apparent attempt at “suppressing women and girls into total submission”, said a group of UN Human Rights Council-appointed experts.

12 September
In Iran, snap checkpoints and university purges mark the first anniversary of Mahsa Amini protests
(AP) — Snap checkpoints. Internet disruptions. University purges.
Iran’s theocracy is trying hard to both ignore the upcoming anniversary of nationwide protests over the country’s mandatory headscarf law and tamp down on any possibility of more unrest.

19 May
Iran executes three men accused over anti-government protests
(The Guardian) Iran has executed three men under charges of being involved in the deaths of security forces personnel in November last year during massive, anti-goverment protests that rocked the country. Human rights groups and family members had campaigned to stop the executions, saying that the case lacked evidence. International human rights organization Amnesty International said the case against the men lacked due process and they were instead “fast-tracked through Iran’s judicial system.”
Immediately after their execution on Friday, state media re-ran video posts of what were presented as the defendants’ confessions, which Amnesty International said had been extracted by torture.
At least seven people have been hanged in relation to the protest movement that swept Iran in September, and dozens more have been sentenced to death or convicted of capital offences.
Iran executed at least 582 people last year, a 75% increase from 2021.

12 May
US bolstering defense posture in the Persian Gulf after Iran seized two merchant ships in recent weeks
The US will bolster its defensive posture with heightened patrols in the Persian Gulf after destabilizing actions by Iran this past month to interfere with and seize commercial vessels transiting the Strait of Hormuz and other strategic waterways, according to a US National Security Council spokesperson.

10 May UPDATED 12 May
After a failed coalition effort, where is the Iranian opposition headed?
By Arash Azizi
(Atlantic Council) On February 10, a press conference hosted by the Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace, and Security led to something many Iranians had waited to see for months: a show of unity between opposition figures.
This included Reza Pahlavi, the country’s former crown prince; Masih Alinejad, a women’s rights activist against compulsory hijab; Hamed Esmaeilion, writer and advocate for the families of those killed on a Ukrainian passenger airliner downed by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) in 2020; Shirin Ebadi, 2003 Nobel Peace laureate; Abdullah Mohtadi, once the founding leader of the Communist Party of Iran and now head of the left-wing Komala Party of Iranian Kurdistan; Nazanin Boniadi and Golshifteh Farahani, two popular actresses based in the United States and France, respectively; and Ali Karimi, one of Iran’s best-known soccer legends, now an anti-regime activist based in Germany.
Speaking at the event, the group pledged unity and said they would publish a charter of demands within a month. However, when this document, known as the Mahsa Charter, was finally published on March 13, it had already lost the support of Karimi—a firm supporter of Pahlavi—and Farahani, who made no explanation for their absence.
Cracks were visible from the outset, with much of the division revolving around Pahlavi’s persona. Some in the Iranian opposition have been long skeptical of his ambition. While Pahlavi has attempted to espouse broadly liberal democratic politics, many of his right-wing supporters are said to be chauvinistic, aggressive, and opposed to working with other
The group’s demise was confirmed on April 16 when Pahlavi declared a momentous trip to Israel, where he was hosted by Intelligence Minister Gila Gamliel. In Israel, Pahlavi met twice with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and once with President Isaac Herzog. He also took part in Israel’s Holocaust Memorial Day ceremonies at Yad Vashem, prayed at the Western Wall, visited the Baha’i gardens in Haifa, and also met with members of the Israeli-Iranian community.
The trip wasn’t necessarily controversial for many Iranians. Most major forces in the Iranian opposition—including center-left and far-left groups—advocate for the normalization of relations between Iran and Israel and oppose the regime’s anti-Israel and anti-Semitic policies. Alinejad openly supported the trip, and none of the ADFI figures opposed it. However, the fact that Pahlavi had gone on the trip solo showed (in addition to his previous tweets) that the sun was setting on a coalition that was only a few weeks old.

11 May
Woman, Life, Freedom: Eight months of ongoing protests in Iran
An in-depth conversation examining the ongoing anti-government protests in Iran following the murder of 22-year-old Mahsa Jina Amini, and the decades-long fight for gender equality and social justice in the country.
By Atlantic Council
The eight months since September 2022 in Iran have been marked by a wave of anti-government protests following the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Jina Amini, a Kurdish-Iranian woman who died at the hands of the so-called morality police for “violating” mandatory hijab. Iranian women have long faced discrimination and limited access to education, employment, and political representation. Mahsa’s death and the subsequent protests reignited the decades-long fight for gender equality, social justice in the country, and supercharged calls for an end to the Islamic Republic. Despite the clerical establishment’s efforts to suppress dissent, Iranian women continue to display remarkable bravery as they risk their lives in hope of securing freedom and creating lasting change.
How the women and girls of Iran have fueled their ‘unprecedented’ protests: Bravery, solidarity, and innovation (transcript)
This edition of the Atlantic Council’s Front Page event series, hosted by the council’s Middle East initiative, featured Iranian women’s rights advocate Azam Jangravi, Iranian women’s rights lawyer and writer Dr. Mehrangiz Kar, and Iranian American actress, writer, and activist Nazanin Nour, three recipients of the Atlantic Council’s 2023 Distinguished Humanitarian Leadership Award, representing the women and girls of Iran who are fighting for freedom and equality.

8 May
Saudi-Iranian detente is fragile but potential for the Middle East is huge
Patrick Wintour, Diplomatic editor
Should rapprochement solidify it could augur well for Yemen, Lebanon and Syria – and spell disaster for Israel
Tehran’s embassy in Riyadh has reopened for the first time since 2016, the Iranian foreign ministry quietly confirmed in April, in the latest of a series of gestures showing that the two Middle East powers are determined to dial down a rivalry that has disfigured the region for 40 years.
All kinds of signs, trivial and large, suggest the rapprochement is genuine: civilian flights between the two countries are to resume; an Iranian won an $800,000 Saudi Qur’an-reading competition; Iranian steel is making its way to Saudi markets; officials from the two countries were seen embracing after the Saudi navy rescued 60 Iranians trapped in Sudan; and Ibrahim Raisi is expected to announce a visit to Riyadh soon, the first by an Iranian president since 2007.
The reconciliation, nominally driven by the oddest of odd couples – Saudi Arabia’s 37-year-old crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, and Iran’s 83-year-old supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei – was formally announced in China on 10 March when the two sides set out a two-month plan to normalise diplomatic and economic relations after eight years of tension.

Iran’s leaders are asking for trouble
On the surface, social tensions have subsided since the height of nationwide protests over last autumn’s death in police custody of Mahsa Amini, who had been arrested for violating rules governing the hijab, or headscarf, which Iranian women are required to wear in public. A combination of mass arrests and executions, some of them public, have moved most protesters off the streets in recent weeks.
Iran’s conservative government now sees that it’s much easier to use tried-and-true methods to beat back demonstrators than to force all women and girls to wear the hijab in public. After all, many are simply ignoring the rules.
So, authorities have authored a new law and are using new tactics. Women who flout the state’s dress code can be kept out of school and denied services. Businesses that welcome them can be fined or shut down. Last month, cameras were installed in many city streets to boost enforcement. The next ugly confrontation ending in violence and public fury is all but inevitable.
Public frustration in Iran extends well beyond a repressive dress code. Adding fuel to the Mahsa Amini protests is an economy in terrible shape, thanks in part to Western sanctions and partly to Iran’s own policy incompetence. Inflation is probably still running well above 40%, though Iran’s government stopped publishing inflation stats two months ago. Iran’s currency is now at a record low against the dollar. The unemployment rate tops 10%. A return to the nuclear deal could slowly lift US and European sanctions, but Iran’s willingness to supply Russia’s military with drones used to attack Ukraine signals its government’s determination to reject Western terms.

30 April
Remarks Delivered by Iranian Crown Prince to ADL’s National Leadership Summit
The National Leadership Summit (NLS) is an exclusive opportunity for ADL’s emerging and established leaders to come together, learn, and engage around critical anti-hate issues with top experts and world leaders. Presenters will address ADL leadership on a range of topics, better positioning attendees to effectively carry our mission and ideals into advocacy and action.

19 April
Son of Iran’s last shah gets mixed reactions to visit to Israel
Reza Pahlavi has tried to fashion himself as the leader of Iran’s opposition and a key personality in its future.
(Al Jazeera) The 62-year-old arrived in Israel on Monday and was received and accompanied throughout his visit by Intelligence Minister Gila Gamliel. He had meetings with Netanyahu and President Isaac Herzog.
Pahlavi, who bills himself as an “advocate for a secular, democratic Iran”, said his visit was aimed at building a brighter future because he wants “the people of Israel to know that the Islamic Republic does not represent the Iranian people”.

14 April
Repressive enforcement of Iranian hijab laws symbolises gender-based persecution: UN experts
The repressive enforcement of Iranian hijab laws, as announced by the State authorities, would result in additional restrictive and punitive measures on women and girls who fail to comply with the country’s compulsory veiling laws, UN experts* said today.
The experts warned that such repressive and draconian measures are a manifestation of gender-based persecution and would lead to unacceptable levels of violations of the rights of women and girls in the Islamic Republic of Iran.

After the Iran Deal, A Plan B to Contain the Islamic Republic
By Suzanne Maloney
Foreign Affairs March/April 2023
The current Iranian government may never agree to forfeit its nuclear program or stop fueling conflicts across the world. But the Iranian demonstrators have made it clear they want a democratic government focused on the needs of its people rather than on adventurism abroad. Such a government would almost certainly be far less interested in acquiring nuclear weapons or promoting insurgencies, so Washington should do what it can to help the protesters achieve their aims.
To be sure, there are serious limits to Washington’s power. The United States has only the most tangential reach into the halls of power in Iran and holds little sway in the streets. The future of Iran will ultimately depend on Iranians themselves. But U.S. policymakers can work with allies and partners to ensure that the international community shines a spotlight on the heroic efforts of Iranian protesters, exposes Tehran’s repression, and finds ways to hold the Iranian government accountable by working closely with a fact-finding mission established by the UN in November to investigate the crackdown and by pressing partners around the world to downgrade diplomatic relations with Tehran.
The current Iranian government may never agree to forfeit its nuclear program or stop fueling conflicts across the world. But the Iranian demonstrators have made it clear they want a democratic government focused on the needs of its people rather than on adventurism abroad. Such a government would almost certainly be far less interested in acquiring nuclear weapons or promoting insurgencies, so Washington should do what it can to help the protesters achieve their aims.
The United States can also assist the Iranian people by expanding their access to information and communications. The Biden administration has already stepped up its engagement with technology companies to help Iranians communicate with one another and with the outside world. …

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