Insider news & Analysis in Iran

By INU Staff


Various media outlets reported that Iran was struck by a significant earthquake early on Monday, near the border with Iraq. The 6.2-magnitude tremor injured at least 250 people, although no deaths were immediately reported. It also caused extensive damage in at least eight villages, cut off electricity, telephone service, and water, and may have had more serious effects in rural areas that have not yet been investigated.

Nuclear Issue: IAEA Expectations

According to a report by Reuters on Monday, the International Atomic Energy Agency has expressed newfound optimism about the outlook for the monitoring organization’s interactions with Iran regarding that nation’s nuclear program.

A tentative agreement was reached between the two parties in November, around the same time of a separate agreement between Iran and the P5+1. But progress in both dealings has been notably slow. Iran has largely failed to take steps towards transparency with the IAEA about the past military dimensions of the Islamic Republic’s nuclear research and development. It is now fast approaching an August 25 deadline for five concrete steps that were agreed upon in May.

Late as it is in the process, IAEA chief Yukiya Amano said that the agency had received some further clarification during recent visits to Tehran and has seen movement on each of the five agreed-upon steps. Amano further said that he expects additional progress on each point during this last week.

One of the main concerns of the IAEA over the past several months has been related to lingering questions about Iran’s experiments on exploding bridge wire, a detonator that could be used to set off a nuclear device. Information about this has been slow in coming, and Iran has been secretive on other points as well, and has denied IAEA access to a military site at Parchin that is suspected of being linked to the Iranian nuclear program.

Thus, while the IAEA has expressed optimism about apparently increasing Iranian transparency, others have remained nervous about Iran’s evident hesitancy about that transparency, especially when viewing it in light of the fact that Iran has made and then reversed concessions at various points in the past.

Khamenei’s Anti-Western Remarks

But making the situation complicated, Rouhani’s negotiations ostensibly have Khamenei’s blessing as well. However, as World Politics Review points out, Khamenei has expressed support for the rapprochement strategy towards the West overall, but not with respect to the United States in particular.

In fact, last week, Khamenei explicitly rejected the notion of broader rapprochement with the West, according to The Tower. The supreme leader said that he would not ban negotiations in the nuclear sphere, but also that he expected nothing of them and that they would go no further than that. For many, these kinds of remarks are indicative of the fact that Iran will never genuinely reach out to the West even as the Rouhani administration presents a friendly public image.

While negotiators keep much of the world’s attention focused on the apparent Iranian-Western dialogue, Khamenei apparently never misses an opportunity to express disdain for the West through social media and domestic speeches. As the latest example, CNS News points out that Khamenei issued several tweets and Facebook posts to accuse the United States of human rights violations because of the recent killing of an African American teenager in Missouri by a white police officer. The remarks, of course, said nothing about Iran’s own record, consisting of systematic and high-level repression and execution of political prisoners from ethnic minority communities.

In late July, Iranian officials used this same strategy to attempt to distract attention from a US State Department report about a lack of religious freedom in various nations including Iran. While ignoring the factual information about Iran’s repression of the Baha’i religious minority, Sunni Muslims, Christians, and others, the Iranian Foreign Ministry simply issued statements baselessly accusing the United States of being one of the world’s worst oppressors of Muslims.

Silence and Action in Iraq

Khamenei’s anti-Western rhetoric may seem to contradict the claim that Rouhani has even limited support from the supreme leader in the nuclear negotiations, but the disparity of tone can also be seen as being simply a matter of which tone is more convenient for particular situations. Indeed, whereas high-ranking officials are quick to verbally attack the US or accuse it of “Iranophobia” when faced with demands for compromise or observations about Iran’s human rights record, points out that those same officials have been notably silent on the issue of American involvement in Iraq, where recent US bombings have served Iran’s immediate interests in the region.

This is not to say that there has been no criticism from Iranian officials in this arena. In fact, as American involvement was just beginning, some officials publicly accused the US of only being concerned about Iraqi Christians and Kurds. It is a sentiment that suggests that Iran is unlikely to be satisfied with mere assistance against the Islamic State if that assistance does not also advance broader, pro-Shiite goals for Iraq, where Iran wielded great influence under the government of Nouri al-Maliki.

In light of partial support from the outside, Iran is apparently poised to further expand its actions in Iraq, shifting from a clandestine war to a publicly acknowledged one. For several weeks, Iran has been fighting Sunni insurgents in Iraq by supporting Shiite militias, maintaining command of the Iraqi military, and putting Revolutionary Guards Corps fighters in the sky and on the ground. Now, according to Hot Air, the IRGC is likely preparing to move into southeastern Iraq with tanks and infantry.

At the same time that this represents limited cooperation with the United States against the Islamic State, it also represents competition for military influence against the US and the Kurdish Peshmerga. Iran no doubt faces a delicate balancing act in pursuing both of these goals, since it requires restrained external support in order to maintain a dominating influence in Iraq.

Military Constraints and Work-Arounds

By accepting the ouster of Prime Minister Maliki, Iran acknowledged that it could not combat the Islamic State on its own, not only because of the strength of the insurgency, but also because of Iran’s commitments to the conflicts in Syria and Palestine, as well as the simple fact that the Islamic Republic is still cash-strapped in the presence of continuing sanctions.

Aviation Pros gives a sense of the extent to which Iran’s economic constraints have diminished its ability to equip government and private entities. The site quotes Alireza Jahangirian, the head of Iran’s Civil Aviation Organization as saying that sanctions relief could allow the nation’s aviation industry to flourish again, but that in the meantime 100 of its 250 planes are grounded because of a lack of spare parts, and half of these cannot be repaired.

One can imagine how this impact of sanctions of Iran’s civil aviation translates into constraints on its military aircraft. However, Iran has also vigorously pursued ways of evading Western sanctions, especially with respect to military components. The Associated Press reported on Monday that German authorities have charged a German-Iranian man who is accused of illegally supplying Iran with over half a million dollars’ worth of equipment that could be used for missile development.

Meanwhile, The Tower reminds us that while Iran’s traditional military resources remain constrained, the regime is working on other modes of conflict, including cyber espionage and cyberterrorism. According to remarks by a senior Israeli defense official on Sunday, Iran launched a massive cyber-attack against civilian targets during Operation Protective Edge, as well as hacking the defense force Twitter feed. It is the latest confirmation of the recent increase in both the scope and the sophistication of Iranian hacking capabilities.

Rezaian: Silence Broken

Breitbart reported Monday that nearly a month after he, his wife, and an international news photographer were taken prisoner by the Iranian regime, there have finally been some public comments on the case of Washington Post correspondent Jason Rezaian. Prior to this point, nothing had been said about where these people were being kept, what their condition was, why they had been detained, or what the case against them was. Now that the silence has been broken, however, little has changed. All that has been confirmed is that the case against them will be in some manner related to national security or accusations of espionage.

Still no specific charges or accusations have been levied, and it has been suggested that regime officials have been taking this time to interrogate them in order to build a case in absence of pre-existing evidence of crimes or wrongdoing.

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