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Iran

Tag Archives | Iran

Ahmadinejad is Gone, and so is Ahmadinejadism!

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Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Iran's former president, speaking at the Natanz nuclear facility

Hassan Rouhani has been Iran’s president since June of last year and it is useful to examine the legacy of his predecessor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Iran's former president, speaking at the Natanz nuclear facility

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Iran’s former president, speaking at the Natanz nuclear facility

For those who have come to believe that Iran is the country dominated by anti-Semites or Holocaust-deniers, I think the most categorical response is what Mohammad Javad Zarif, Iran’s foreign minister, told the daughter of Nancy Pelosi, the minority leader in the U.S. House of Representatives, Christine Pelosi, in a Twitter exchange on September 5, 2013: “Iran never denied it [the Holocaust]. The man who did is now gone. happy new year.”

When Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was elected as Iran’s president in June of 2005, neither I nor any journalist or political expert in Iran had a clear idea of what his foreign policy would be. Domestic and economic policies are not the subject of our discussions here. As time went by, it became clear that Ahmadinejad’s foreign policy was based on no single principle, but adventurism, ultra-idealism and frantic decisions that would render him a publicity stunt rather than a chief executive.

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Syria’s Civil War, Assad and the Palestinians

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Following heavy fighting in the Yarmouk refugee camp in Damascus, Palestinian refugees line up to receive food aid from UN workers. Photo: ONU Brasil

The three-year old Syrian crisis presents dire dilemmas for Palestinians in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT) and in refugee camps across the Middle East.

Following heavy fighting in the Yarmouk refugee camp in Damascus, Palestinian refugees line up to receive food aid from UN workers. Photo: ONU Brasil

Given Syria’s traditional role as a sponsor of Palestinian resistance movements and a home to hundreds of thousands of refugees, Palestinian leaders are understandably torn between loyalties to President Bashar al-Assad and his enemies. Palestinians have fought in Syria on behalf of both the regime and the rebels. The conflict has deepened ideological and political wedges between Palestinians and complicated their patchwork of international alliances. Moreover, as various proxy battles are waged within Palestinian refugee camps in Syria, the Palestinian refugees there are now enduring an underreported humanitarian crisis.

Syria’s Role in the Palestinian Resistance

Historical bonds between Palestinian resistance movements, refugees, and the Syrian government have complicated Palestinian attitudes toward the grinding civil war in Syria. In 1948, 90,000 Palestinians fled to Syria as refugees. Since then, several hundred thousand more have arrived and settled in large refugee camps, such as Yarmouk in Damascus.

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U.S. Outraged Over Iran’s ‘Hostage-Taker’ Envoy to the United Nations

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Hassan Rouhani

The Obama administration says Iran’s nomination of a former hostage-taker as its ambassador to the United Nations is “extremely troubling.” US senators have also balked at Iran’s pick of Hamid Aboutalebi, who was part of a Muslim student group, which seized the US embassy in Tehran in 1979. The 52 Americans were held for 444 days during the crisis.

Senator Ted Cruz says he will introduce legislation to block Iran’s application for a US visa for Mr. Aboutalebi. Department of State spokeswoman Marie Harf said at Wednesday’s daily briefing: “I will say that we think this nomination would be extremely troubling. We’re taking a close look at the case now, and we’ve raised our serious concerns about this possible nomination with the government of Iran.” Mr. Aboutalebi has reportedly said he had minimal involvement in the hostage-taking group, named the Muslim Students Following the Imam’s Line. Officials for Iran’s Mission to the United Nations have so far declined to comment.

Mr. Cruz, a Texas Republican, said on the Senate floor on Tuesday: “It is unconscionable that in the name of international diplomatic protocol, the United States would be forced to host a foreign national who showed a brutal disregard of the status of diplomats when they were stationed in his country.” He added, “This person is an acknowledged terrorist.”

His legislation would require US President Barack Obama to deny a visa to any UN applicant determined to have engaged in terrorist activity. Fellow Republican Senator John McCain called Mr. Aboutalebi’s appointment “a really kind of an in-your-face action by the Iranian government,” the Associated Press news agency reports.

Arab League Summit in Kuwait: Seeking Solidarity?

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Arab League meeting in Cairo. Source: Bahrain Foreign Ministry

Kuwait is now hosting its first Arab League Summit. The slogan for this year’s Summit is “Solidarity For A Better Future.”

Arab League meeting in Cairo. Source: Bahrain Foreign Ministry

Question is: will the Kuwait Summit ensure solidarity for the region? It is a well known fact that the Arab World has seen its own share of regional alliances formed on the basis of ideological, sectarian and regional dynamics. With the recent cases of the Arab Spring, such dynamism has become all the more complicated and thus, regional solidarity is surely a challenging task to accomplish. Back in the 1950s-60s, the Arab World was divided into two factions: pro-Soviet Arab nationalists led by Egypt, and pro-West conservatives led by Saudi Arabia. The division between the two factions was so paramount that Malcolm Kerr termed it as The Arab Cold War.

Alignments changed in the year 1978 after the signing of the Camp David Accord, when Egypt decided to quit the Arab-Israeli conflict. Both Syria and Iraq tried their best to isolate Egypt after Camp David, but the situation refused to remain static. Following the Islamic Revolution of 1979 in Iran, Iraq’s attention shifted towards Iran, and the Arab World witnessed another set of factionism. This time, countries such as Syria, Libya and Algeria sided with Iran, whereas the Gulf States, Egypt and Jordan aided Iraq.

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Nowruz, a Harbinger of Cultural Diplomacy

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Nowruz celebration. Photo: Kourosh Ziabari

The Persian New Year, which coincided with the commencement of the Vernal Equinox, has arrived and people across Iran and in parts of Central and West Asia and the Middle East are celebrating this ancient festival, which marks the beginning of the new solar year.

Nowruz celebration. Photo: Kourosh Ziabari

Nowruz, meaning the “New Day,” refers to a set of festivities and rites that mark the arrival of spring and the Persian New Year. It is not simply an ordinary event of celebration and rejoicing or a national custom. Rather it is an historical and interregional tradition which dates back to some 3,000 years ago and connects people of different ethnic, lingual and national backgrounds and promotes regional peace and friendship.

Today, Nowruz has been recognized by the international community as a worldwide cultural event with significant social and political implications. Even though many nations observe and enshrine this festival, its origins and roots belong to Iranians, so leaders from different Western countries seize the opportunity of Nowruz every year to reach out to the Iranian people and send political messages to them. For instance, the U.S. presidents in the recent years have regularly recorded video messages addressed to the Iranian people on the occasion of the Persian New Year. This message includes their plans and ambitions for strengthening and repairing the long-marred relations between Iran and the United States.

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Sunni Baloch Group Executes Iranian Guard, Four Still Held Hostage

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Iranian border guards captured by the Jihadist group, Jaish al-Adl. Pictured in the middle is Jamshid Danaeifar. Source: YouTube

On March 23, Jaish al-Adl executed the first of five Iranian guards taken hostage.

Iranian border guards captured by the Jihadist group, Jaish al-Adl. Pictured in the middle is Jamshid Danaeifar. Source: YouTube

Iran’s Foreign Minister confirmed on Sunday that one of the kidnapped guards had been executed after being transferred to Pakistan. The hostages who were serving in the Jakigour region had been kidnapped on Februarys 6th 2014 and later transferred to Pakistan. Iran and Pakistan share a 700 km border between the Sistan-Baluchistan province of Iran and the Baluchistan region of Pakistan.

On Sunday, Jaish al-Adl took to their Twitter page to release the name of the executed Iranian hostage, Jamshid Danaeifar. Jaish al-Adl operates in the Sistan-Baluchistan province of Iran, and frequently utilizes the Iranian-Pakistani border to carry out attacks. Cross border operations have been practiced during the time of Abdolmalek Rigi’s Sunni Balochi group, Jundallah. After Iran executed Rigi in 2010, Jundallah dissolved and merged with Jaish al-Adl.

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Iran’s Case against Stuxnet

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Iranian President Hassan Rouhani

Speculation has it that Iran wants to pursue legal action against the US-Israeli led Stuxnet cyberattack.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani

If the rumors prove to be true, Iran’s case against the United States could give the international community a great opportunity to use the case as needed momentum towards setting official international regulations on cyberwarfare. Arguably, the Stuxnet cyberattack is an illegal act of force that violated the Charter of the United Nations, the IAEA safeguards regime, and Iranian sovereignty as well.

After the U.S.-Israeli cyberattack, Tehran took a relatively passive posture and never officially complained to international legal channels. Shortly before President Rouhani took office in Tehran, an anonymous Iranian diplomat made public that Iran’s Foreign Ministry had enough evidence to take legal steps against the United States for the Stuxnet cyberattack. If Iran takes legal action against Washington it can demand that it receive compensations for damages caused and having its sovereignty violated by an illegal act of war. A lot is at stake as Iran’s determination against the cyberattack could set boundaries for future illegal cyber behavior.

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How Iran can save Europe from Russian Energy Dominance

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Dmitry Medvedev at an opening of a natural gas pipeline. Source: Kremlin Press Office

After Russia’s President Putin sent his military into Ukraine in a clear violation of the country’s sovereignty, the White House released a statement that Russia now faces “greater political and economic isolation.” But how exactly would the United States enforce this?

Dmitry Medvedev at an opening of a natural gas pipeline. Source: Kremlin Press Office

The main method discussed in the news has been sanctioning Russia’s all-important energy sector. The problem is, many of America’s allies in Europe are heavily reliant on Russian gas and would be unwilling to accept any sanctions. Take Germany as an example. A whopping 40% of German gas comes from Russia. Without Europe, any potential bite in energy sanctions is significantly hampered.

This is what brings Iran into the picture. With 18% of the world’s proven gas reserves, Iran has the most proven natural gas reserves in the world. Iran already leads the world in the number of natural gas vehicles on the road, at about 3 million. This remarkable ranking is due to Iran’s realization that the country is overly-reliant on its oil sector after years of sanctions. At the same time, Tehran’s pollution problem is served well by having more natural gas vehicles on the road instead of gasoline powered ones.

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Iranian Balochi Extremist Groups are Silent and Lack Unity

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A Baloch fighter in Balochistan

Boundary lines between Sunni Baloch extremist groups in the Sistan-Balochistan region of Iran have been difficult to identify.

A Baloch fighter in Balochistan

As more operations within Iran and Pakistan are carried out, the need to identify the relationships between Sunni Baloch groups becomes more important. The current silence on behalf of Balochi groups in public forums is an effective means of drawing boundary lines. Perceived disingenuousness or competing ideologies could be reasons for the reserved behavior. Extremist groups who made headlines in the past months include Harkat ul-Ansar (HAI) and Jaish al-Adl. The latter merged with Abdolmalek Rigi’s Sunni Balochi group, Jundallah, in 2010, after their leader’s execution by the Iranian government. The group now operates under the name Jaish al-Adl.

Harkat ul-Ansar announced a merger with Hizb al-Furqan in December 2013 on its webpage. Little information is available about Hizb al-Furqan prior to this merger. Even Sunni jihadist followers of the Harkat ul-Ansar have posted comments questioning Hizb al-Furqan’s identity. The two groups merged under the name Jammat Hizb al Furqan and created a website. However, most activity is through Harkat ul-Ansar’s and affiliated sites. According to an announcement made by Harkat ul-Ansar in December 2012, HAI also has ties with Sipah-e-Sahaba Iran (SSI), a Sunni group with links to a Pakistani group, Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan.

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Iran and Pakistan – It’s complicated

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Photo of Iranian guards at a border crossing in southeastern Iran’s Milak region which borders both Afghanistan and Pakistan. Source: Press TV

The recent kidnapping of 5 Iranian soldiers serving along Iran’s border with Pakistan, and their subsequent alleged captivity in Pakistani territory has shed light on the complex relationship between the two states.

Photo of Iranian guards at a border crossing in southeastern Iran’s Milak region which borders both Afghanistan and Pakistan. Source: Press TV

With western media analysis firmly focused on continued negotiations over Iran’s nuclear programme and Pakistan’s internal troubles, there is little written about the relations between the two neighbours who share a 900km border running through the heart of the Baluchi cultural region. This is a relationship that contains myriad complexities and the potential for conflict and cooperation, ranging from tackling Baluchi separatism and drug trafficking to pipeline politics, Afghanistan and the ever present spectre of US and Saudi interests in the Middle East and beyond.

Despite the complexities, relations have been good up until now, showing the pragmatism of both states and the importance both place on the relationship. However, the recent comments of Iranian Interior Minister Abdolreza Rahmani Fazli, who has threatened unilateral action inside Pakistani territory as a means of maintaining Iran’s security and that of its soldiers serving along the border, demonstrate the potential for a rupture and the necessity for pragmatism to prevail.

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The Wild West of Cyberwarfare

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Cyberwar transcends state boundaries. Source: Tech Week Europe

“The collective result of these kinds of (cyber) attacks could be a cyber Pearl Harbor; an attack that would cause physical destruction and the loss of life. In fact, it would paralyze and shock the nation.” – Leon Panetta

Cyberwar transcends state boundaries. Source: Tech Week Europe

During a recent speech to university students, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei urged the country’s students to prepare for cyberwar, the semi-official Mehr News Agency reported last Wednesday. Calling the students “cyberwar agents” he reminded them of their special role in this particular kind of war and that Tehran is prepared for a cyber battle against the United States and Israel. Ayatollah Khamenei’s remarks are believed to be a response to Israel’s Major General Aviv Kochavi, who went on record as saying, “cyber, in my modest opinion, will soon be revealed to be the biggest revolution in warfare, more than gunpowder and the utilization of air power in the last century.” These remarks are a powerful reminder of the uncertainty of future international cyberwarfare and how unregulated it is.

Over the past decade, the United States and Iran have changed the definition of traditional warfare giving the international community a glimpse into what future wars will look like. In the past decade, both countries have extensively built up their cyber arsenals launching sophisticated assaults on each other’s computer networks, banks and sensitive infrastructure. It could be argued that the United States has been more successful but Iran is catching up. It is clear that when these cyberattacks do grow in escalation they may potentially have a serious humanitarian impact. Yet, international law has not been absent in addressing the cyberwar domain. For many, cyberwar and cybersecurity is seen as still the ‘stuff’ you see in summer blockbusters and not for what it really is: serious, perplexing and scary.

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The (Very) Early Beginnings of an Iranian-Israeli Detente?

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Pictured: Benjamin Netanyahu and Hassan Rouhani

“If the Palestinians are happy with the solution [Israel-Palestinian negotiations] then nobody outside Palestine [including Iran] could prevent that from taking place.” – Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif

Pictured: Benjamin Netanyahu and Hassan Rouhani

Just the other week news broke that Iranian President Rouhani had decided to give the Dr. Sapir Hospital and Charity Center, Tehran’s Jewish Hospital, $400,000 on behalf of the government. This followed Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif’s remarks on Monday that “if the Palestinians are happy with the solution [an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal] then nobody outside Palestine could prevent that from taking place,” which despite some domestic backtracking was seen as a signal of Iran’s willingness to one day recognize Israel under the right conditions.

This remarkable shift in tone coming from Iran has been noted in Israel as well. According to a recent report from Al-Monitor, the recent changes in Tehran have been “inspiring great hope” in Israel’s defense establishment. So much so, it appears, that Israel defense minister Moshe Ya’alon was willing to sit in the front row of a German TV interview with Zarif – a rare sight indeed. All this follows Israeli President Shimon Peres’s recent tweet that “as far as Israel is concerned we are ready to make peace with the Iranian people, historically they have never been our enemies.”

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Analysis of Turkey and Iran’s Growing Alliance

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Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan with Iran's President Hassan Rouhani. Source:  Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs

“The terrorist groups that are operating under the cover of Islam are in no way related to Islam. We will widen our cooperation shoulder-to-shoulder with Iran in combating terrorist groups.” – Recep Tayyip Erdoğan

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan with Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani. Source: Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs

Turkish Prime Minister Erdoğan’s visit to Iran last month symbolized a pivot toward Tehran and a shift in Ankara’s Middle East foreign policy. Declaring a desire to stand “shoulder to shoulder” with Iran in combating terrorism, and driven by Turkey’s evolving policy toward Syria, Erdoğan’s trip highlighted Ankara and Tehran’s tendency to pursue mutual interests when their paths cross. This is significant in terms of its implications for the Syrian conflict and for the region’s landscape, as both countries have the ability to influence the course of future events throughout the Middle East.

History of Turkish-Iranian Ties

Turkish-Persian history was characterized by centuries of rivalry, which remains the case today as both powers seek to shape the Middle East consistent with their respective visions. The Turkish Republic oriented itself toward the West (and away from the Middle East) throughout the 20th century; Iran was therefore not a central focus of Turkey’s Cold War foreign policy. However, the Iranian revolution of 1979 did create tension, as Turkey’s ruling secular elite viewed Iran’s post-revolutionary regime as a menace. This perception was in part fueled by Ankara’s belief that Tehran sponsored terrorist groups in Turkey with the intention of exporting the Islamic revolution to neighboring countries. In turn, Iran’s post-1979 political order viewed Turkey as a threat to Iran’s post-revolutionary objectives, given its membership in NATO and secular ideology.

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The Biggest News for Iran in 2014? It Won’t Necessarily be a Nuclear Deal

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Ayatollah Ali Khamenei

Back in October, few news outlets picked up on Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s rumored collapse and 3 week hiatus from the public spotlight.

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei

During that time, not only did he not send his well-wishes to Iranians travelling to Mecca for the Hajj, he also skipped his address celebrating Eid-eh Ghadeer, which is an extremely important holiday for Shias and the entire religious establishment of the Islamic Republic. However, this is not the first time Khamenei’s health issues have been publicly noted.

Back in 2010, WikiLeaks released a U.S. diplomatic cable claiming that Khamenei had Leukemia. Due to the secretive nature of the Supreme Leader, such claims are difficult to verify. What made October’s situation different was the fact that Iranian journalist Hossein Rostami told the Times of London that “it is not good news,” regarding the Ayatollah and told Khamenei’s supporters to “pray deeply for him” – a rare moment of exposure that reached Iran’s national media.

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Twitter Diplomacy at Davos

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Pictured: Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.  Photos: Jolanda Flubacher and RÈmy Steinegger

“We extend our hand for peace, including to the Iranian people, but today was a great occasion that was missed.” – Israeli President Shimon Peres

Pictured: Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Photos: Jolanda Flubacher and RÈmy Steinegger

It’s not on par with Nixon going to China, but in Davos, Switzerland, the site of the World Economic Forum, an annual gathering of politicos and economic and social leaders, Iran and Israel have taken the first “baby steps” in creating a thaw in their relations.  While the moment in “Twitter diplomacy” is unlikely going to translate into direct trade or even a handshake between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, but considering how relations have been between Iran and Israel for the past several decades, it would be safe to characterize an exchange, even via Twitter, as historic.  Up until the election of Hassan Rouhani, the only exchanges between Israel and Iran were to hurl insults at one another and accuse each other of undermining the security of the other.

With Iran agreeing to the Geneva agreement and suspending uranium enrichment above 5 percent, halting the installation of centrifuges and stopping construction on a heavy-water reactor, the momentum is building for normalized or even a working relationship with the West. While Iran has argued for the past decade that its nuclear program is for civilian purposes, the West has accused the Islamic Republic of operating a nuclear program for the development of nuclear-weapons capabilities. “Ingrained skepticism about the good faith of the Islamic regime remains one of the main sources that could endanger the process,” Francois Nicoullaud, France’s former ambassador to Iran, told Bloomberg. “The quality of Iran’s implementation of the Geneva agreement will reduce such obstacles.” The dilemma for the West is whether to throw away any opportunities at semi-normalized relations or build upon any opportunities that present themselves.

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