Insider news & Analysis in Iran

By INU staff

Weapons and Counterintelligence Claims

Iranian officials on Tuesday claimed to have unveiled a new type of surface-to-air missile, as well as two new radar systems, according to the AFP. The Talash-3 missile supposedly gives Iran the ability to hit targets at a higher altitude than previously possible, although aviation defense commander General Farzad Esmaili did not specify the actual range. His comments did however invoke Iran’s unconfirmed claims about downing an Israeli drone last week, implying that Iran would now be capable of doing more of the same.

Esmaili also claimed that the Arash-2 and Kayhan radar systems would be able to detect additional incursions into Iranian airspace by drones and manned aircraft. Claims about last week’s incursion are dubious, however, with some outside observers suggesting that Iran may have intentionally or unintentionally downed one of its own drones and then used the images to give the impression of an imminent Israeli threat against the Iranian public.

Iran’s nuclear department may also be attempting to paint a similar picture of the Islamic Republic as being prepared to meet imminent threats. Fox News reports that Asghar Zarean, the head of security for the Iranian nuclear program, claimed in an interview that Iran had disrupted plots by foreign spies and thwarted sabotage of its nuclear facilities.

“We aim to raise awareness of the enemy, who is more hostile to us every day,” Zarean said. Such remarks reflect ongoing commentary by hardline politicians and the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps. But also, they particularly reflect the harsh, across-the-board response that Iranian officials gave to the news that the US Treasury Department would be enforcing sanctions against 25 individuals and businesses accused of helping Iran to complete unlawful activities.

Foreign Relations

At the same time that Iran works to portray itself as a victim of international aggression, it is continuing to engage in nuclear negotiations with its supposed aggressors, while also trying to secure beneficial relationships with comparatively trusting nations and politicians.

The Iranian government-supported Tasnim News Agency reports that Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi met privately with the French nuclear negotiator on Tuesday, and that this was to be one in a series of bilateral and multilateral discussions that would take place before the P5+1 talks formally resume later in September.

It may prove important for Iran to maintain amicable relations with some Western nations at the same time that it ramps up rhetoric against “enemies” in the United States, Israel, and elsewhere. There is a chance of some of Iran’s regional influence slipping away, as evidence by recent news from Sudan, where authorities have ordered that Iran close three cultural centers operating there, and withdraw their managers from the country.

This move, as reported by The Peninsula, is a blow to usually close relations between Iran and Sudan, which have been characterized by illegal arms shipments and mutual support of terrorist groups like Hamas. However, the overwhelmingly Sunni nation of Sudan has apparently grown concerned about expanding Shiite influence coming from Iran, signifying that the latter’s willingness to support Sunni terrorist groups is not necessarily enough to compensate for the effects of its contribution to sectarian conflict and its agenda of leading a global Shiite community.

On the other hand, Public Radio of Armenia reports that there is bilateral interest in joint projects between Iran and Armenia, at least insofar as they have the potential for contributing to greater volumes of trade between Armenia and Russia. The planned Iran-Armenia railway may facilitate that goal, and may benefit Iran’s economy in the meanwhile. What’s more, projects such as this one point to the potential for a multilateral alliance of Asian nations that could help to subvert the effectiveness of Western sanctions. But the feasibility of those projects remains uncertain while Iran remains cash-strapped.

This fact serves as potential incentive for keeping Western sanctions in place on Iran. And of course, the effect of those sanctions is not limited to Iran’s interactions with small nations like Armenia. An editorial in Lawfare points out that Iran’s access to capital will have a significant impact on the level of its influence on Afghanistan, which it is seeking to increase after the US begins to withdraw troops this year.

The editorial highlights the fact that that influence has already been quite strong, exhibited in part by Iranian financial support, which naturally required the deferral of limited Iranian funds that might otherwise have gone towards domestic relief projects. The 900 million dollars that Iran pledged to Afghanistan between 2002 and 2013 goes to show how important regional influence is to the Islamic Republic.

This same fact is also highlighted in the editorial by observations about Tehran’s “contradictory objectives” in Afghanistan, which led to its support for Taliban groups in spite of obvious Sunni-Shiite ideological differences.

These ideological differences have not been a significant source of trouble in Iran’s efforts to exert influence on Iraq. Even now, it is able to exploit anxiety over the rise of ISIS to gain international support for an Iranian presence in Iraq. And that situation is bearing financial fruit for Iran. Tasnim now reports that the two countries are in talks about setting up a jointing banking institution to ease financial transactions, almost certainly including illegal arms sales that will be difficult to detect when put through such self-contained channels.

Internet and Tech

If the Iranian government shows any willingness to accept modern trends, the country may have means of converting foreign capital into new economic development. Tech Crunch reports, for instance, that a new website, Techly.co, has been established to try to encourage the continued development of tech startups in Iran.

One of the site’s founders claims that Iran already has about 100 flourishing startups, with more emerging constantly. Of course, these face an uphill battle in a country where the government restricts access to the internet and expresses severe distrust of global media. But that same government also had a desperate need for money, and these contradictory impulses make the future of tech in Iran quite uncertain.

There are some suggestions that even the apparently strict ideological pronouncements against the internet, like that of Ayatollah Nasser Makarem Shirazi, have commercial and political dimensions, as well as ideological ones. There are entrenched business interests, like the Telecommunications Company of Iran, which are largely owned by the Revolutionary Guards or connected to Ayatollah Khamenei’s financial holdings, and which stand to lose profitability if new internet service is allowed in.

However, the country as a whole may stand to gain money from the same outcome, which may explain why the government was actually allowed to grant 3G and 4G licenses to Iran’s two major mobile service providers this week, as reported by the New York Times.

The future of these contracts is not certain yet, and a hardline ideological stance may still override them, especially in light of recent moves to ideologically purify the government, which now include the appointment of avowed conservative Mehdi Chamran to the head of the Tehran city council, according to Naharnet.

At the same time, even if Iranians do now retain faster mobile internet service, this will bring new risks at the same time that it gives them somewhat increased access to information. Aggressive monitoring by the various Iranian security agencies means that activities that the regime disapproves of could result in prison sentences or worse.

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