Iran’s months-long protest movement, explained
“the Islamic Republic, headed by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, executed 23-year-old Mohsen Shekari for the crime of “waging war against God,” or moharebeh in Farsi.
Shekari was the first prisoner to be executed due to the recent unrest, in what Mahmood Amiry-Moghaddam, head of the Norway-based organization Iran Human Rights, characterized as a “show trial without any due process.”
With Shekari’s execution — likely the first of dozens — the Iranian regime is reverting to a tried and tested playbook of executing political opponents and dissidents. But it’s not clear that the mass imprisonment, extrajudicial killings, and further possible state-sanctioned executions will deter the protesters who have for more than two months now defied crackdowns and curfews to call for an end to Khamenei’s regime.
It’s also not clear what success looks like for the protesters should they somehow manage to topple the regime that’s had an iron grip on the nation since the 1979 revolution — or how they would manage to do so in the first place.
The inciting spark for the now 11-week-long protests was the death of Mahsa Amini on September 16 while in the custody of Iran’s morality police. Amini, a 21-year old Kurdish woman, was arrested while in Tehran for allegedly wearing her hijab improperly; since her death, she has become a potent symbol of many Iranians’ contempt for the country’s oppressive theocracy.
The protests have gained momentum since they began in Amini’s hometown of Saqez, in Iranian Kurdistan, appearing in dozens of cities throughout the Islamic Republic despite the government’s efforts — including internet and mobile network disruptions, mass arrests, and civilian killings — to quash them.
There are some ways this protest echoes past movements, but there are also key differences — not just the longevity, but the degree of societal cohesion and solidarity, too. Women have led and become the public face of this movement — a particularly notable fact in 2022, given the ways that women have been repressed under the current regime.
All of that, however, doesn’t mean that this movement will bring down the Islamic Republic; decades of repression, a poor economic outlook, extremely limited opposition in the political establishment, plus the fact that the military and security service as well as the economic elite continue to throw their lot in with the regime make it difficult to imagine an alternative vision for the future of Iran.”
License to kill: How Europe lets Iran and Russia get away with murder
“Europe — the staging ground for most Iranian operations in recent years — has been afraid to make Tehran pay. Since 2015, Iran has carried out about a dozen operations in Europe, killing at least three people and abducting several others, security officials say.”
““If the Islamic Republic doesn’t receive any punishment, is there any reason for them to stop taking hostages or kidnapping or killing?” she said, and then answered: “No.””
“Over the course of a few months last year, Iran undertook a flurry of attacks from Latin America to Africa. In Colombia, police arrested two men in Bogotá on suspicion they were plotting to assassinate a group of Americans and a former Israeli intelligence officer for $100,000; a similar scene played out in Africa, as authorities in Tanzania, Ghana and Senegal arrested five men on suspicion they were planning attacks on Israeli targets, including tourists on safari; in February of this year, Turkish police disrupted an intricate Iranian plot to kill a 75-year-old Turkish-Israeli who owns a local aerospace company; and in November, authorities in Georgia said they foiled a plan hatched by Iran’s Quds Force to murder a 62-year-old Israeli-Georgian businessman in Tbilisi.
Whether such operations succeed or not, the countries behind them can be sure of one thing: They won’t be made to pay for trying. Over the years, the Russian and Iranian regimes have eliminated countless dissidents, traitors and assorted other enemies (real and perceived) on the streets of Paris, Berlin and even Washington, often in broad daylight. Others have been quietly abducted and sent home, where they faced sham trials and were then hanged for treason.
While there’s no shortage of criticism in the West in the wake of these crimes, there are rarely real consequences. That’s especially true in Europe, where leaders have looked the other way in the face of a variety of abuses in the hopes of reviving a deal to rein in Tehran’s nuclear weapons program and renewing business ties.
Unlike the U.S. and Israel, which have taken a hard line on Iran ever since the mullahs came to power in 1979, Europe has been more open to the regime. Many EU officials make no secret of their ennui with America’s hard-line stance vis-à-vis Iran.
“Iran wants to wipe out Israel, nothing new about that,” the EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell told POLITICO in 2019 when he was still Spanish foreign minister. “You have to live with it.””
“the dictatorship’s rationale for such killings has been to protect itself.
“The highest priority of the Iranian regime is internal stability,” a Western intelligence source said. “The regime views its opponents inside and outside Iran as a significant threat to this stability.”
Much of that paranoia is rooted in the Islamic Republic’s own history. Before returning to Iran in 1979, Khomeini spent nearly 15 years in exile, including in Paris, an experience that etched the power of exile into the Islamic Republic’s mythology. In other words, if Khomeini managed to lead a revolution from abroad, the regime’s enemies could too.”
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Despite its brutal tactics, Iran’s regime fails to contain mass protests
“The Iranian regime is struggling to crush a massive wave of nimble and durable protests, unlike any the Islamic Republic has faced in the past. The leaderless movement has grown in strength despite increasingly harsh crackdowns, relying on unprecedented solidarity between ethnic minorities, different religious groups, and men allied with protesting women.
The movement started in September after the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini, an ethnic Kurd from Saqez in northwest Iran, who was arrested in Tehran by the morality police for allegedly wearing her hijab incorrectly and who later died in police custody. Protests in Saqez quickly spread to Tehran and other cities throughout the country. Now in their third month, the protests show no signs of stopping, despite the shocking violence security forces have deployed against the demonstrators, including savage beatings, mass arrests, and indiscriminate killings of protesters, including children.”
“more than 300 have been killed during the protests. That number includes roughly 50 children under 18, the New York Times’ Farnaz Fassihi reported last week. But casualties and arrests are difficult to track; social media and internet access have been severely curtailed, and foreign reporters can’t access the country. Thus far, five protesters are set to be executed for participating in the uprising.”
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How Iranian Kamikaze drones could help turn the tide of war in Russia’s favour
“Russian forces have apparently obtained scores of the cheap, plentiful and potentially deadly Iranian-made drones. Like the Nazis in the Second World War, the Russians may hope these new weapons could turn the tide of the war in Russia’s favour.
Made by the Iran Aircraft Manufacturing Industries Company, the Shahed-136 entered service last year. With a range of up to 1,500 miles and carrying a warhead of 35 kilograms, the drones are designed to loiter overhead before striking targets. Ukrainian forces say they come in both Kamikaze and munition-launching variants.
Constructed from commercially available components – including mobile phone parts and model aircraft engines – the drones are easy and cheap to build with a supply chain that is difficult to disrupt with Western sanctions.
Their deployment comes amid signs that Russia is running out of other precision weapons. Last week, Sir Jeremy Fleming, the head of GCHQ, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “We believe that Russia is running short of munitions.”
The waves of drone strikes are a rudimentary new form of terror, compared with the precision Kalibr cruise missiles which have been used to strike targets deep inside Ukraine.
The drones are estimated to cost less than £18,000 per unit. That’s a fraction of the cost of conventional Russian missiles, which range from about £270,000 for a Tochka-U up to £11.6 million for a x-101 cruise missile.
The relatively low speed of the Shahed-136 – just over 100 miles per hour – make them a tempting if difficult target for Ukrainian small arms fire. Soldiers in the Kharkiv region recently told The Telegraph that the drones are slow and visible enough to engage with small arms fire and that they had downed at least one using ordinary machine guns.
But their lack of defences is not a design flaw. The disposable drone is designed to be launched in swarms to overwhelm air defences. The drone is fired from launcher racks in stacks of five aircraft that take off with a booster rocket before switching to a petrol engine.
This, plus the size of their payload, means the drones pose a serious threat, Ukrainian commanders say.”
“Tehran has carefully couched its denials about the Shahed-136, repeatedly rejecting accusations it has supplied Russia with weapons “to be used in the war in Ukraine”. But security officials told the Washington Post that Iranian technical advisors have visited Russian-controlled areas of Ukraine to provide training on operating the drones.”
Justice Department charges alleged Iranian operative in plot to assassinate Bolton
“Shahram Poursafi, also known as Mehdi Rezayi, allegedly conspired between October of 2021 and April of this year to kill Bolton according to a criminal complaint released by the Department of Justice. Former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was also targeted by the Iranians, a person close to Pompeo confirmed to POLITICO.”
“Poursafi, a member of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), has been charged with the use of interstate commerce facilities in the commission of murder for hire and providing and attempting to provide material support to a transnational murder plot. If convicted, Poursafi faces up to 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000.
Beginning in October, Poursafi allegedly attempted to arrange the murder “likely in retaliation” for the killing of top general Qassem Soleimani by the U.S. in Jan. 2020, officials said.
Working on behalf of the IRGC, Poursafi attempted to pay people in the United States $300,000 in cryptocurrency to murder Bolton in Washington, D.C., or Maryland. Poursafi also offered $1 million for an “additional job.””
Israelis press U.S. not to rejoin Iran nuclear deal
“The 2015 nuclear deal, struck during Barack Obama’s presidency, lifted an array of U.S. sanctions on Iran in exchange for major restraints on its nuclear program. In 2018, then-President Donald Trump abandoned the deal, saying it was too weak and too narrow and he reimposed the sanctions while adding new ones. After about a year, Iran began violating the terms of the deal, including by enriching uranium to high levels and shutting out inspectors.
President Joe Biden has sought to rejoin the deal — he and his aides argued that it remains the best vehicle to contain an Iranian nuclear threat. Over nearly a year and a half, a period that included some long pauses, Biden’s emissaries have engaged in indirect talks with Iranian officials about reviving the agreement.
The two sides, whose discussions have been mediated primarily by European officials, have tangled on a variety of thorny topics. Those include: whether the U.S. will rescind Trump’s designation of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps; the fate of a probe by the International Atomic Energy Agency into traces of nuclear materials at various Iranian sites; and Iranian demands for certain guarantees that the lifting of sanctions will lead to economic benefits — and that the U.S. won’t pull out of the deal under a different president.
Biden has said he will not rescind the IRGC’s terrorism designation, and the IAEA has indicated it will not give up on the probe.
Iran recently responded to a European draft proposal on reviving the deal with comments mostly focused on sanctions and economic guarantees. U.S. officials have been looking at the Iranian demands and preparing their own response, which may be sent to European negotiators later this week.
The U.S. has been consulting allies, among them Israel, before sending its response, though it wasn’t immediately clear if it would wait until after Gantz’s meeting with Sullivan.
“At every step of the process, we have been in touch with our Israeli partners to update them on where we are, to compare notes on the state of Iran’s nuclear program,” State Department spokesperson Ned Price said Monday.
The Israeli officials are making their push at a sensitive time: the country, currently being overseen by a caretaker government, will soon hold its fifth election in less than four years.
The main internal debate among U.S. negotiators has been about the economic guarantees sought by Iran, said Ali Vaez, a top Iran analyst with the International Crisis Group. Those guarantees deal in part with Iran’s concerns that even if the 2015 deal is revived, foreign companies will consider it too risky to invest in the country. Even when the deal was in full force, many foreign firms were hesitant to do business in Iran.
For Israel’s political leaders, an Iran whose economy is stronger is an Iran that is a bigger threat to their country’s existence. Iran’s rulers consider Israel an illegitimate state, and some have predicted its eventual doom.
Israeli political leaders’ argument against the nuclear deal often boils down to concerns that, if the U.S. lifts sanctions on Iran, the regime will use the incoming cash to engage even more in an array of unsavory activities, including funding and arming terrorist groups that target Israel.”
“some Israelis in the security establishment — often retired officers with more freedom to speak out — have broken with their political leaders on this issue. They argue that, as imperfect as the nuclear deal may be, it’s better than having no restraints on or surveillance of Iran’s program.”
“At present, Iran’s breakout time — the amount of time needed to produce enough fissile material for a nuclear weapon — is believed to be a few weeks. Under a restored deal, it would likely be around six months. Under the original 2015 agreement, it was estimated at around a year.”
Russia may do Biden a favor by killing the Iran deal
“The original deal was reached during Barack Obama’s presidency, after years of talks among Iran, the United States and other leading countries, including Russia and China. It lifted an array of nuclear sanctions on Iran in exchange for severe curbs on its atomic program. The deal had limits, however, including provisions that would expire over time, technically starting within the next three years. (Supporters of restoring the deal argue that the most important provisions won’t expire for several more years and some elements last in perpetuity.)”
“the original Iran nuclear deal involves the Russians taking special roles in helping Iran implement the agreement, such as shipping out Iran’s excess enriched uranium. If Russia refuses to play that role, the deal is once again undermined.”