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IRAN: Expansion of Influence, Extension of Policies

By INU staff

INU- Although the appointment of Ashton Carter as US Secretary of Defense and the incoming Republican majority in the Senate are likely to lead to a more hardline US policy toward Iran, it must be noted that many critics of current policies feel that some damage has already been done by allowing Iran to stall for time without compelling it to make any genuine compromises during the twice-extended nuclear talks.

Indeed, various headlines suggest that the Islamic Republic has gained in several areas, including its economic standing, its regional influence, and its cyber capabilities. This is to say nothing of the continuation of repressive domestic policies and the increase in executions of prisoners.

On Thursday, The Tower presented some new details of this week’s report by cyber security firm Cylance concerning what it has termed Operation Cleaver – a series of Iranian cyber-attacks on some 50 targets including some in the aviation industry. The updated story notes that one of these attacks, directed at a gate at the airport in Jinnah International Airport in Karachi, Pakistan, may have been linked to a Taliban terrorist operation against that same target.

The Tower also clarified Cylance’s claims that these talks appeared to be government-backed. IP addresses of the hackers are associated with state-owned entities, and the sheer number of hackers involved suggests that it is a large and coordinated effort. The article also reiterates that Iran’s capabilities are still growing and that it is poised to become as serious a threat as Russia or China.

 

Meanwhile, Iran’s capacity to invest in these and other terror and espionage capabilities may grow as the Islamic Republic benefits from temporary sanctions relief and develops economic relationships that could allow it to undermine sanctions even if they return to full force.

This week marked the first annual Iran Auto Show, at which foreign companies like France’s Peugeot admitted to being committed to developing joint ventures with Iran, in spite of the fact that it is unclear whether sanctions on the country will be removed. On Thursday it became clear that while the auto show was focused on exposing European investors to the Iranian market, interest has spilled over to other parts of Asia. The India Times reports that Indian auto parts suppliers are pushing for the growth of the Iranian automobile industry so that they can grow their own sales within the country.

These kinds of investor interest may help to enrich Iran regardless of whether it changes its policies to be a more viable partner for the West. But other nations’ desires to expand their economic relationships with the Islamic Republic present greater potential dangers. Earlier this week it was reported that Tunisia had announced its desire to become Iran’s “gateway to North Africa.” On Thursday, the Tunisian government added that it would no longer require visas for Iranians to enter the country and stay there for up to three months. Tunisia Live notes that some Tunisian citizens and politicians have expressed surprise and concern at this move, with many of them calling attention to Iran’s apparently imperialist expansion in the Middle East region.

Also of definite concern is the fact that Iran is consistently identified by the US State Department as the leading state sponsor of terrorism. The exemption of Iranian travelers from visa requirements may make Tunisia a gateway to North Africa and the Mediterranean not only for Iranian business interests, but also for Iranian-backed terrorist activity.

That support for terrorism is often cited among the reasons for Western concern over Iran’s nuclear program. And some critics of the regime have also expressed concern that the lack of progress in nuclear negotiations has only allowed the regime to continue with illicit pursuit of nuclear weapons capability.

An editorial posted at Al Bawaba on Thursday considers Iran’s decades-long commitment to that capability and asks the question of why Iran needs nuclear weapons. Though the article comes to no definite conclusion as to whether it is a matter of national pride or part of an attempt to dominate the region, it takes the clear position that nuclear weapons are of such importance to the regime that it is unwilling to let go of that ambition even though doing so would be in the interest of the Iranian people.

The author observes that the expansion of nuclear facilities may boost the national morale among some Iranians, but that it will also further isolate the country and detract from investment in economic improvements that the Iranian people desperately need.

In absence of that improvement, there remains much domestic unrest in Iran. And since the nuclear issue essentially precludes Iran from addressing those grievances, it’s only clear option is the continuation of repressive policies that include an increase in executions and the traditional totalitarian strategy of scapegoating minorities.

On Thursday the Human Rights Activists News Network reported on two stories that serve as examples of the continuation of these policies. In the first place, 18 individuals were hanged on the basis of drug charges in a single day. Eleven of them were hanged in one prison, Qezel Hesar, although these hangings may have partly been in retaliation for hunger strikes that have been taking place at that prison. Reports from inside the prison indicate that those protests had been met with death threats from prison guards.

Meanwhile, in Rafsanjan province, the local Friday prayer leader took aim at the notoriously repressed Baha’i religious community, lamenting the fact that they are able to blend in among other Iranians and participate in the broader society. The cleric, Hojjat-al-Islam Abbas Ramadanipour, went on to declare all business relations with Baha’is to be religiously forbidden, and called for the expulsion of the entire community.

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