Golnaz Esfandiari – Informed Comment https://www.juancole.com Thoughts on the Middle East, History and Religion Mon, 20 Mar 2023 02:47:27 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=5.7.8 Under Pressure At Home And Abroad, Tehran Gets ‘Breathing Space’ From Iran-Saudi Deal https://www.juancole.com/2023/03/pressure-abroad-breathing.html Mon, 20 Mar 2023 04:04:50 +0000 https://www.juancole.com/?p=210777 ( RFE/RL) – I’m RFE/RL correspondent Golnaz Esfandiari. Here’s what I’ve been following during the past week and what I’m watching for in the days ahead.

Iran and Saudi Arabia have agreed to reestablish diplomatic relations, seven years after the regional foes cut formal ties.

In a statement issued on March 10, Tehran and Riyadh pledged to reopen their embassies within two months and reactivate a security cooperation pact. The sides also confirmed their “respect for the sovereignty of states and noninterference in their internal affairs.”

The deal was brokered by China, a major buyer of Iranian and Saudi oil. Beijing is also one of the few allies of Iran’s clerical regime, which has come under mounting pressure from the West.

Saudi Arabia severed ties with Iran in 2016, when protesters attacked the Saudi Embassy in Tehran after Riyadh executed a revered Saudi Shi’ite cleric.

Since then, tensions between Shi’a-majority Iran and Saudi Arabia, a predominately Sunni Muslim kingdom, have soared. The two rivals have fought proxy wars across the Middle East, including in Yemen and Syria. Pro-Iranian armed groups have been blamed for drone and missile attacks on Saudi soil.

Why It Matters: If the agreement holds, it could help deescalate tensions in the Middle East, where the two longtime foes have competed for influence for decades.

For Iran, repairing relations with a regional foe would alleviate the growing pressure it has faced at home and abroad recently. The clerical regime has been rocked by months of anti-regime protests, the biggest challenge the authorities have faced in decades. Tehran has also been under mounting Western pressure over its supply of combat drones to Russia for use in the war in Ukraine.

“The Islamic republic is under significant pressure, both domestically and regionally,” Thomas Juneau, an associate professor at the University of Ottawa, told RFE/RL. “By stabilizing its relations with its Saudi rival, even if only partially, it provides it with some breathing space.”

What’s Next: It’s unclear if the Iran-Saudi deal will lead to a lasting rapprochement between the countries.

Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan struck a cautious note, saying on March 13 that “agreeing to restore diplomatic ties does not mean we have reached a solution to all disputes between us.”

Juneau of the University of Ottawa expressed doubts that there would be a “significant improvement” in Iran-Saudi ties, although he added that tensions might be “better managed.” “The pattern in Saudi-Iranian relations in recent decades has been fairly consistent: Tension ebbs and flows, but never goes below a high floor,” he said.


This Revolution Is Still Alive’: A Growing Number Of Iranian Women Defy The Hijab Law After Months Of Protests https://www.juancole.com/2023/03/revolution-growing-protests.html Fri, 17 Mar 2023 04:04:29 +0000 https://www.juancole.com/?p=210709  

( RFE/RL ) – Assal appeared in public for months without a hijab, or Islamic head scarf, in solidarity with the antiestablishment protests that rocked Iran.

Even as the demonstrations that erupted in September have waned in recent weeks following a deadly state crackdown, the Tehran resident has continued to flout the country’s hijab law, in a direct challenge to Iran’s clerical regime.

A woman walks without a hijab in Azadi Square in Tehran in January.
A woman walks without a hijab in Azadi Square in Tehran in January.

“I want to demonstrate to [the authorities] that this revolution is still alive, and our people will [fight] them with any means they can,” the 32-year-old obstetrician, who requested that her full name not be used for fear of retribution, told RFE/RL’s Radio Farda.

“When I walk past [security officers in the street] without a hijab, it’s not easy. My whole body shakes. But I will never back down. I will keep protesting,” she added.

Tanya, another Tehran resident, said women are removing their head scarves to take a stand against the clerical establishment that has deprived them of their most basic rights, including the right to choose how they appear in public.

“Women see it as their absolute right, a right they have been denied for years,” said the psychologist, who also requested that her full name not be used. “I’m protesting the status quo.”

Assal and Tanya are among a growing number of Iranian women who are appearing in public with their hair uncovered, including in the streets of major cities as well in restaurants, cafes, and shopping malls. They have been emboldened by the anti-regime protests in which women played a major role.

The demonstrations erupted following the September 16 death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini soon after she was arrested by Iran’s morality police for allegedly violating the hijab law.

The protests began as a rebuke against the brutal enforcement of the hijab law but soon snowballed into one of the most sustained anti-regime demonstrations against Iran’s theocracy, with protesters calling for an end to clerical rule and demanding their social and political freedoms.

During the demonstrations, women and girls removed and burned their head scarves. With the protests subsiding after a state crackdown that left over 500 dead, women are venting their anger through acts of civil disobedience.

Tehran-based women’s rights activist Leyla Mirghafari said the antiestablishment protests have intensified women’s opposition to the hijab, a key pillar of the Islamic republic.

Many Iranians have had enough of the “unjust, repressive, and anti-women law,” Mirghafari, who was arrested in 2018 for removing her head scarf in public, told RFE/RL.

‘The Youth Are Fearless’

The hijab became compulsory two years after the 1979 Islamic Revolution. The law requires women and girls over the age of 9 to wear a head scarf in public.

Many women have flouted the rule over the years and pushed the boundaries of what officials say is acceptable, including exposing more of their hair and wearing smaller and more colorful head scarves.

In 2018, dozens of women protested the hijab law by standing on utility boxes in major cities and waving their head scarves, in unprecedented acts of defiance.

Under President Hassan Rohani, a relative moderate who was in office from 2013 to 2021, the enforcement of the hijab law was relaxed. But under ultraconservative Ebrahim Raisi, Iran’s morality police have become increasingly active and violent in enforcing what the authorities have called the “complete hijab.”

A woman walks with her hair uncovered through Tehran in December.
A woman walks with her hair uncovered through Tehran in December.

That has fueled growing opposition to the hijab, which has long been a symbol of the state’s repression of women.

Mahsa, a mother of two, said that even in the holy city of Mashhad an increasing number of women are appearing in public without a hijab.

“I go shopping without my head scarf. I keep it around my neck. But the youth are fearless. Some don’t even have a head scarf,” Mahsa, who requested that her full name not be used for fear of retribution, told RFE/RL.

Authorities announced in December that the morality police, which enforced the hijab rule, had been abolished. But they warned that the judiciary would continue to regulate women’s public appearances and behavior.

Twenty-two-year-old Mahsa Amini died on September 16 soon after she was arrested by Iran’s morality police for allegedly violating the hijab law.
Twenty-two-year-old Mahsa Amini died on September 16 soon after she was arrested by Iran’s morality police for allegedly violating the hijab law.

In recent weeks, officials have warned women to respect the hijab law and threatened to punish violators. The authorities have also shut down businesses, restaurants, cafes, and in some cases pharmacies, due to the owners’ or managers’ alleged failure to observe Islamic laws and hijab rules.

Judiciary chief Gholamhossein Mohseni Ejei warned on March 6 that women who violate the hijab rule will be punished, saying that removing the head scarf shows “enmity towards the establishment and its values.”

Assal is aware that she could be arrested or fined for flouting the law. But she remains defiant.

“Even if they arrest me, they can’t do [much]. My protest is more important,” she said.

In recent weeks, even women newly released from prison have appeared in public without their head scarves.

They include filmmaker Mojgan Ilanlou, who was sentenced to 10 years in prison and 74 lashes after appearing in public without a hijab in October.

After being released in February as part of an amnesty ordered by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Ilanlou stood outside Tehran’s notorious Evin prison without a head scarf and flashed the victory sign.


Some commentators inside Iran have suggested that the authorities are fighting a losing battle.

“The number of women who appear in the streets without a head scarf is impressive,” conservative commentator Mohammad Mohajeri wrote in an opinion piece published in November.

“It is possible that what we’re seeing will become the norm,” he said, comparing the hijab rule to laws banning satellites dishes and receivers that Iranians widely ignore.

Canada-based rights activist Azam Jangravi said the hijab is the symbol of “the problems women face in Iran.”

“The [mandatory] hijab is the naked face of all the injustice and oppression women have faced,” Jangravi, who was among women arrested in 2018 for protesting the hijab, told RFE/RL.


Copyright (c)2022 RFE/RL, Inc. Used with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave NW, Ste 400, Washington DC 20036.

Mysterious Wave Of Sickness Hits Iranian Schoolgirls, Amid Speculation Over Gov’t Poisoning https://www.juancole.com/2023/03/mysterious-schoolgirls-speculation.html Thu, 02 Mar 2023 05:02:53 +0000 https://www.juancole.com/?p=210417 A spate of illnesses in schools in the Iranian city of Qom has prompted public anger, with some accusing the government of negligence.
A spate of illnesses in schools in the Iranian city of Qom has prompted public anger, with some accusing the government of negligence.
( RFE/RL) – Hundreds of schoolgirls have fallen sick and scores have been hospitalized in Iran’s holy city of Qom in recent months, with some parents and officials suspecting they were poisoned.

But the authorities, which have launched an investigation into the mysterious wave of illnesses, have not found any evidence of poison. No deaths have been reported.

The incidents have prompted public anger, with some Iranians accusing the government of negligence. Some parents have refused to let their children attend school.

In the latest incident, 15 schoolgirls were transferred to a hospital in Qom on February 22, the Qom News outlet reported, saying the students were in stable condition and under observation.

The first incident is believed to have occurred in November, when 18 schoolgirls in Qom were taken to a hospital after complaining of symptoms that included nausea, headaches, coughing, breathing difficulties, heart palpitations, and numbness and pain in their hands or legs.

Since then, hundreds of students in Qom, mostly girls, have fallen ill with similar symptoms in a number of public schools, which are segregated by gender. Dozens have received treatment, while others have been hospitalized.

Authorities said they have not yet been able to determine the cause of the mysterious wave of sickness, despite conducting toxicology tests.

Medical experts have not found any bacterial or viral infections in blood samples taken from sick students. The authorities have not yet dismissed the possibility that poisonous gas could have caused the illnesses, with some students reporting a strange smell in their classrooms.

A female student of a school in the city of Qom is seen in a hospital after feeling sick.
A female student of a school in the city of Qom is seen in a hospital after feeling sick.

Iran’s chief prosecutor, Mohammad Javad Montazeri, suggested on February 21 that the incidents could be deliberate. In a letter to the state prosecutor in Qom, Montazeri said the “worrying wave of some kind of poisoning” in schools in the city indicate “the possibility of intentional criminal actions.”

Earlier, Mojtaba Zolnour, a lawmaker from Qom, said the illnesses were “abnormal” and security officials were investigating. Another parliamentarian from Qom, Ahmad Amirabadi Farahani, suggested that fear and hysteria could have played a role.

Some have speculated that religious extremists, in a bid to create fear and prevent girls from attending school, could be behind the incidents.

Last week, Nafiseh Moradi, a researcher of Islamic studies at Al Zahra University, an all-female public university in Tehran, said in a commentary that it was suspicious that girls, not boys, were mainly affected by the illnesses. The article on Qom News was later removed.

Many Iranians have accused the authorities of not doing enough to find the cause of the illnesses and prevent new cases. Some angry parents have refused to send their children to school.

“Of the 250 students in our school, only 50 attended classes,” a teacher in Qom, who did not want to be named for fear of retribution, told RFE/RL’s Radio Farda last week.

Some students who have fallen ill have complained of an “unknown” or “unpleasant” smell.
Some students who have fallen ill have complained of an “unknown” or “unpleasant” smell.

A correspondent at the reformist Shargh daily who traveled to Qom reported this week that some schools in the city were “unofficially” closed.

Last week, angry parents protested outside the governor’s office and called for a transparent investigation. They also demanded that classes be held online, amid reports that the authorities were pressuring students to attend school.

An unnamed teacher at a girls’ school in Qom told Shargh that they have been ordered to teach “even if only one student” was present in class. She also said students have been told not to share notes with classmates in an apparent bid to push more pupils to attend school in person.

Some students who have fallen ill have complained of an “unknown” or “unpleasant” smell.

“My son recalled that for a moment there was the smell of rotten fish in the classroom,” an unnamed woman whose son became sick was quoted as saying by the Tejarat News outlet. “Then the school gave students face masks and told them to leave the classroom.”

“Some of the children felt more ill than the others. Several of them were transferred to medical centers. My son was among them,” the woman said, adding that her son had suffered from stomach pain.

A student who fell ill in early February told Shargh that she spent three days in a hospital.

“I still feel some weakness in my legs after 20 days, and I have problems while moving my legs,” the unnamed student said, adding that two of her friends were still in the hospital.

Similar waves of mysterious illnesses affecting schoolgirls have been reported in recent years in neighboring Afghanistan and in Central Asia. In many cases, the authorities were unable to find evidence of poison. Most of the incidents were blamed on mass panic and hysteria.


Copyright (c)2022 RFE/RL, Inc. Used with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave NW, Ste 400, Washington DC 20036.

‘Radical Change Will Come’: Iranians Propose New Political System After Months Of Anti-Regime Protests https://www.juancole.com/2023/02/iranians-political-protests.html Sun, 19 Feb 2023 05:04:31 +0000 https://www.juancole.com/?p=210181 ( RFE/ RL) – For months, antiestablishment protesters have called for the overthrow of Iran’s clerical regime and demanded greater social and political freedoms.

Now, opposition figures and civil society groups inside Iran have shared proposals that would transform or even replace the current theocratic system with a democracy.

The proposals for a post-Islamic-republic system come amid growing calls for political change in Iran, which has been ruled by the clerical establishment since the Islamic Revolution in 1979.

The nationwide protests, which erupted in September but have waned in recent weeks, are the biggest challenge to the authorities in decades. The establishment has responded by waging a brutal crackdown in which hundreds have been killed and thousands arrested.

On February 14, around 20 labor unions, student organizations, and civil society groups inside Iran published a joint charter in which they laid out their vision for a “new, modern, and humane society.”

The charter demands gender equality, the right to free speech, the release of all political prisoners, the abolition of the death penalty, and the protection of ethnic and religious minorities.

The document was released after opposition figure Mir Hossein Musavi called for the “fundamental transformation” of Iran’s political system.

In a statement issued on February 4, the 80-year-old called for a “free” referendum and the drafting of a new constitution that would pave the way for a democratic system in Iran.

The proposal by Musavi, a former prime minister who has been under house arrest since 2011, has received support from prominent figures inside and outside the country.

Iran’s top Sunni cleric, Molavi Abdolhamid, has also called for a referendum on the protesters’ demands. A key dissenting voice inside the Islamic republic, the outspoken cleric has used his sermons to denounce the state’s human rights abuses.

A group of Islamic scholars in Iran’s western Kurdistan region, which was the epicenter of the protests, recently called for a referendum that would be overseen by international observers and the trial of those involved in state repression.

Meanwhile, a group of exiled Iranian opposition figures met at Georgetown University in Washington on February 10, including the former crown prince of Iran, Reza Pahlavi, and rights activist Masih Alinejad.

The group said it was working on establishing a charter for a transition to a new, secular democratic system that would be followed by free elections. It is unclear if the group of eight exiled opposition figures and their proposals would receive support inside Iran.

Washington-based political analyst Ali Afshari said a “revolutionary process” inspired by “Woman, life, freedom” — the main slogan of the anti-regime protests — has taken shape in Iran.

Afshari, a former student leader who was jailed in Iran for his activism, said calls for a referendum and the publication of a charter by local civil society groups had created a “promising outlook” for the protest movement.

Peyman Jafari, a historian and assistant professor at the College of William & Mary, a public research university in Virginia, said the charter drafted by grassroots organizations in Iran was a “potent reminder that radical change will come from inside and from below.”

“It provides a set of demands that are concrete and can unite millions of Iranians around achievable goals,” he said.


Copyright (c)2022 RFE/RL, Inc. Used with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave NW, Ste 400, Washington DC 20036.

‘They Deserved To Die’: Iranian Doctors Who Treated Wounded Protesters ‘Arrested, Tortured’ https://www.juancole.com/2023/02/deserved-protesters-arrested.html Mon, 13 Feb 2023 05:08:17 +0000 https://www.juancole.com/?p=210041  


The authorities have killed hundreds of protesters and arrested thousands of people since the demonstrations erupted in September.
The authorities have killed hundreds of protesters and arrested thousands of people since the demonstrations erupted in September.
( RFE/RL ) – In late November, three Iranian doctors traveled to the country’s western Kurdistan region, the epicenter of ongoing antiestablishment protests, to help treat wounded demonstrators.

But within days of their arrival, the medical professionals were arrested on security charges. Before they were released on bail last month, the three men were tortured in custody, informed sources told RFE/RL.

The men were charged with “disrupting national security” and “committing crimes against the country’s internal and external security” due to their attempts to treat “rioters,” a term the authorities have used to refer to antiestablishment protesters.

Yaser Rahmanirad, a general practitioner from the western city of Khorramabad; Behnam Ohadi, a psychiatrist from Tehran; and Homayoun Eftekharnia, an anesthesiologist from the capital, could face lengthy prison terms if found guilty.


They are among the dozens of medical workers who have been arrested for taking part in the protests or treating demonstrators wounded in the state crackdown.

The authorities have killed hundreds of protesters and arrested thousands of people since the demonstrations erupted in September. The protests are the biggest threat to Iran’s clerical establishment in years.

Kurdistan has been the scene of some of the deadliest crackdowns by the authorities, who have deployed heavily armed troops to the region and used live ammunition against protesters. Many demonstrators injured in the clampdown have refused to be taken to a hospital for fear of arrest.

Solitary Confinement

On November 30, Rahmanirad, Ohadi, and Eftekharnia headed to the city of Saghez, the hometown of Mahsa Amini, the 22-year-old woman whose death after her arrest by Iran’s morality police triggered the nationwide protests.

After treating several people and distributing medicine to those in need in Saghez, located in Kurdistan Province, the three doctors travelled to neighboring West Azerbaijan, another province with a significant Kurdish population.

Just hours after arriving in the city of Mahabad on December 3, the doctors were arrested by security forces, who seized their medicine and equipment. They were then taken to prison, where they were subjected to torture, informed sources said.

The three men were held in solitary confinement for more than a month and subjected to sleep deprivation, the sources said. The interrogators also falsely told them that their family members had been killed, in an attempt to break them, the sources added.

After hours of interrogations, the men were exposed to bright lights and loud sounds, including the Islamic call to prayer, to prevent them from sleeping, the sources said.

One of the interrogators told them that “those opposing the Islamic establishment deserve to die because if they receive treatment they will again engage in riots,” one of the sources told RFE/RL.

Another interrogator said that by attempting to treat injured protesters themselves, the doctors had undermined trust in state health facilities and spread “propaganda against the establishment,” the source said.

Interrogators also accused Rahmanirad, a former student activist who had been arrested in the past, of having ties to exiled Kurdish opposition groups that the authorities have blamed for the unrest in Kurdistan, the sources said.

‘Constantly Watched’

Rahmanirad, Ohadi, and Eftekharnia are among the dozens of doctors, nurses, and other medical workers arrested during Iran’s crackdown on the antiestablishment protests.

Homa Fathi, a Canada-based activist and member of the International Iranian Physicians and Healthcare Providers Association, told RFE/RL that she had documented the arrests of at least 53 medical workers as well as 54 medical students during the crackdown.

Fathi said the majority had been released on bail, but added that the real number of those arrested is likely to be much higher. “They don’t have a good situation,” she said. “Some have been [prevented] from working. They’re being constantly watched.”

Last month, the France-based Kurdistan Human Rights Network reported that Mohsen Sohrabi, a doctor at a hospital in the western city of Sanandaj, had gone missing a day after being summoned by security officials. Sources said Sohrabi had been repeatedly threatened by security officials.

Mohsen Sohrabi
Mohsen Sohrabi

In December, Aida Rostami, a doctor who allegedly treated injured protesters in Tehran’s Ekbatan neighborhood, died under mysterious circumstances. The authorities said she had fallen off a pedestrian bridge following an argument with a man who was later arrested. Other sources said she was targeted by security forces.

Also in December, Iran sentenced to death Hamid Qarahasanlou, a radiologist who had been involved in charity work, over the killing of a member of the security forces during protests in the city of Karaj. Later in January, Qarahasanlou’s death sentence was overturned due to flaws in the investigation and amid protests by the international medical community.

In November, reports emerged that Shoresh Heydari, a pharmacist in the city of Bukan in West Azerbaijan Province, had been arrested. The Kurdistan Human Rights Network said Heydari had offered medical tips to protesters on his Instagram page. Another source said the pharmacist had also treated protesters.

In October, security forces in Tehran used tear gas to prevent a protest by health workers, who were calling for an end to the state crackdown and the misuse of ambulances for holding and transferring detained protesters.


Copyright (c)2022 RFE/RL, Inc. Used with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave NW, Ste 400, Washington DC 20036.

Suspected Israeli Drone Strike In Iran Part Of New ‘Containment Strategy’ https://www.juancole.com/2023/02/suspected-containment-strategy.html Tue, 07 Feb 2023 05:04:33 +0000 https://www.juancole.com/?p=209923 ( RFE/ RL ) – A suspected Israeli drone strike hit an Iranian military facility in Isfahan on January 28, in an attack that is part of a new effort to contain Tehran, analysts said.

Analysts say the suspected Israeli drone strike in Isfahan is part of a new effort to contain the Islamic republic.

Protracted efforts to revive the 2015 nuclear accord between Iran and world powers have floundered. In the absence of a deal, Tehran has amassed enough highly enriched uranium to build several nuclear weapons, according to the United Nations’ atomic agency.

Iran has also deepened its military ties with Russia, allegedly supplying Russian troops with combat drones for use in the war in Ukraine. U.S. intelligence assessments have said Iran could also send powerful cruise and ballistic missiles to Moscow.

There has been a series of incidents inside Iran during the past year, including sabotage and cyberattacks, assassinations, and the mysterious killings of members of the powerful Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), as well as scientists and engineers. Tehran has blamed some of the incidents on Israel, its regional foe.

“Until last year, Israel’s containment strategy had two main aspects: preventing Iranian arms and equipment transfers to Syria and Lebanon by targeting land and air convoys, and trying to disrupt Iran’s nuclear program by targeting Iranian nuclear scientists and facilities,” said Hamidreza Azizi, a visiting fellow at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs.

Tehran is a key backer of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and the Lebanese militant group Hizballah.

Azizi said he believes Israel has attacked military, not nuclear, sites inside Iran over the past few months, which he said pointed to “the emergence of a third element” in Israel’s policy on Iran.


“Those attacks are apparently aimed at sabotaging the production of advanced missiles and drones by the Islamic republic,” Azizi told RFE/RL.

‘Counter Iran’s Destabilizing Activities’

U.S. media quoted unnamed American intelligence officials as saying that Israel was behind the attack on a military site in the city of Isfahan, which is home to a missile research and production center. The Pentagon said that the United States was not involved in the strike.

The extent of the damage at the military site is unclear. Iran’s Defense Ministry said the explosion at the “workshop” caused only minor damage and no casualties. Videos shared on social media appeared to show an explosion at the scene.

The attack followed a trip to Israel by Central Intelligence Agency chief William Burns and an earlier visit by U.S. national-security adviser Jake Sullivan.

During a trip to Israel on January 30, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken told reporters that he held talks with Israel’s new right-wing government about “deepening cooperation to confront and counter Iran’s destabilizing activities in the region and beyond.”

Tehran did not immediately blame any country for the strike. Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian said the “cowardly drone attack” was aimed at creating “insecurity” inside the Islamic republic.

Iran summoned Ukraine’s charge d’affaires in Tehran after a senior aide to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, Mykhaylo Podolyak, tweeted about an “explosive night in Iran,” adding that Ukraine “did warn you.”


Nournews, affiliated with Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, earlier said Podolyak’s tweet implied Kyiv’s involvement in the attack and warned of “heavy consequences.”

The strike came amid Iran’s worsening ties with Western nations over its brutal crackdown on ongoing antiestablishment protests and its deepening military cooperation with Russia.

Iran has admitted to sending drones to Russia but said they were sent before Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. Moscow has denied that it has used Iranian drones in Ukraine, even as they have been shot down in that country.

‘Possible Activation Of Plan B’

Alexander Grinberg, an Iran expert at the Jerusalem Institute for Security Strategy, said Israel’s suspected recent small-scale attacks against Tehran have “limited impact on Iran’s military capabilities as the country is prepared and has a level of technical and strategic resilience.”

But “the timing of the strikes is significant, as the hopes for the [nuclear deal] are dying and tensions are rising between Europe and Iran,” Grinberg, a former Israeli military intelligence officer, told RFE/RL. “The U.S. and Israel are also conducting their largest military drill at the moment, indicating possible activation of Plan B.”

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy poses next to a downed Iranian-made Shahed-136 kamikaze drone in Kyiv on October 27.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy poses next to a downed Iranian-made Shahed-136 kamikaze drone in Kyiv on October 27.

Grinberg said it was up to Iran to “either respond and escalate tensions or negotiate with the U.S. and Europe.”

Azizi of the German Institute for International and Security Affairs said Iran does not have the capability to retaliate to the same extent.

“Israel probably knows this, and that’s why it continues such provocations,” he said.

But Azizi added that due to the immense pressure the Islamic republic is facing domestically from anti-regime protests, as well as from the outside, “it may calculate that not responding is more damaging to its survival than doing something.”

“We’re not there yet, but the risk is there, and it’s getting more real,” Azizi warned.

In the past, Iran has retaliated by targeting Israeli-owned ships with drones and conducting cyberattacks against Israeli infrastructure. Last year, Iran claimed responsibly for a missile strike in the northern Iraqi city of Irbil, which Tehran claimed targeted an Israeli “strategic center.”


Copyright (c)2022 RFE/RL, Inc. Used with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave NW, Ste 400, Washington DC 20036.

Will Iran’s Protest Movement Survive? https://www.juancole.com/2023/01/protest-movement-survive.html Tue, 10 Jan 2023 05:06:08 +0000 https://www.juancole.com/?p=209329 ( RFE/RL) – Antiestablishment protests have raged across Iran for months, despite a brutal state crackdown in which hundreds of demonstrators have been killed and thousands more detained.

Triggered by the death of a young woman died after she was arrested by Iran’s morality police in mid-September, the ongoing nationwide protests have become the longest-running public rebuke of the clerical regime since the Islamic Revolution in 1979.

While the number of protests has dropped in recent weeks, anger over decades of state repression and economic mismanagement is unlikely to dissipate, analysts say, predicting that the protest movement is likely to endure as the gulf widens between the ruling clerics and Iran’s young population.

Ali Fathollah-Nejad, an Iran expert with the American University of Beirut, says the country appears to be engulfed in “a revolutionary process” that started with protests in 2017-18 over economic grievances that quickly turned political.

Young Iranians protest against the government in the western city of Sanandaj on November 16.Via social media.

“Any such process inherently involves phases of both relative calm and unrest,” Fathollah-Nejad, who authored a study on the 2017-2018 protests for the Brookings Doha Center, told RFE/RL. “Crucially, the present revolutionary episode suggests an unbridgeable gulf between the state and society.”

‘We Are Not Afraid Anymore’

During the current protests, Iranians have demanded an end to the Islamic republic and targeted their anger at the most visible symbols of the clerical regime, including the mandatory head scarf for women and Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

As the authorities have increasingly used lethal force to crush the protests, Iranians have continued to express their dissent at scattered street gatherings and memorials for the victims of the crackdown. Others have sprayed slogans and hung protest signs in the streets while some have chanted anti-regime slogans from their rooftops and windows at night.

Iranian security forces have killed at least 476 protesters, including over 60 children, since the rallies erupted, according to rights groups. Over 15,000 people have been detained. Two young men have been publicly executed for their involvement in the protests.


“Nothing will be the same, we have found our voice,” a female protester in Tehran, who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of retribution, told RFE/RL. “Even if this revolution does not achieve its goal in the near future, we are not afraid anymore, we know how to fight and resist.”

A journalist in the Iranian capital says the protests pose a significant threat to the establishment, although he argues that the regime is not in imminent danger of collapsing. There have been no visible cracks within the ruling elite and armed forces, while the protests have yet to bring the economy to a complete halt.

“The more the [political hard-liners] have tightened the Islamic republic in the past 25 years, the more society has resorted to protests.”

“They’ll do all they can to stay in power, so for now I expect more tensions and growing discontent particularly due to the situation with the Internet and [the national currency],” he said, referring to increased online censorship and the plummeting value of the rial against the U.S. dollar.

Karim Sadjadpour, a senior fellow at the Washington-based Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said history had showed that “for popular uprisings to be viable they must attract a critical mass, and in order to attract a critical mass they must be perceived as viable.”

“It’s clear that many Iranians, given their ongoing dissent, believe this popular uprising could succeed in unseating the Islamic republic,” he added. “It’s also important that Islamic republic officials come to believe that they’re on a losing team. We haven’t reached either of these tipping points yet.”

Prominent Tehran-based sociologist Hamid Reza Jalaipour says the gap between the establishment and the rest of the population is “significant.” But he suggests that the majority of Iranians are still unwilling to participate in protests designed to overthrow the regime.

“Currently, 15 percent of society are supporters of the establishment and 15 percent are serious protesters,” Jalaipour said in comments published by Iranian media in October. “Seventy percent of the population is silent.”

He said the establishment’s failure to listen to people’s demands over the years has contributed to the current wave of protests.

“The establishment did not learn lessons from [past protests],” he said. “The more the [political hard-liners] have tightened the Islamic republic in the past 25 years, the more society has resorted to protests.”


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‘A Nightmare’: Iran Intensifies Deadly Crackdown In Kurdistan Region As Protests Rage https://www.juancole.com/2022/11/nightmare-intensifies-crackdown.html Sat, 26 Nov 2022 05:06:44 +0000 https://www.juancole.com/?p=208384 ( RFE/RL ) – Iranian authorities have intensified their deadly crackdown in the country’s western Kurdistan region, which has been the epicenter of the anti-establishment protests that have raged for months.

Human rights groups say government forces have killed more than a dozen people in predominately Kurdish cities in the past 24 hours. The bloodshed comes amid reports of heavily armed troops being deployed in the region.

Activists say the violence is an attempt by the authorities to create fear among protesters and quell the nationwide protests that have rocked the country for the past two months.

The rallies erupted following the September 16 death of Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old Iranian Kurd who died shortly after she was arrested by Iran’s morality police for allegedly violating the country’s hijab law.

What began as protests against the brutal enforcement of the mandatory head scarf has snowballed into one of the biggest threats to Iran’s clerical establishment, which has ruled since the Islamic Revolution in 1979.

“The Islamic republic is using such intense violence in Kurdistan to silence the protests all over Iran,” Zhila Mostajar from Hengaw, a rights group registered in Norway that reports on Iran’s Kurdish region, told RFE/RL.

“The authorities think that by suppressing the protests in Kurdistan they will send a warning to people in other parts of the country,” added Mostajar, who is based in neighboring Iraq’s semiautonomous Kurdish region.

Web Screenshot; Protesters rally in Mahabad in Iran’s West Azerbaijan Province on November 19.

‘Intense Confrontations’

Hengaw said that at least 13 people have been killed in mainly Kurdish cities since November 20, including seven in Javanrud, four in Piranshahr, and one each in Dehgolan and Bukan.

At least 378 people, including 47 children, have been killed by government forces across the country, according to the Oslo-based Iran Human Rights (IHR). At least 83 people have been killed in Kurdistan, Kermanshah, and West Azerbaijan, three provinces with significant Kurdish populations, IHR said.

There were “intense confrontations” between protesters and security forces in Javanrud, a city in Kermanshah Province, according to Hengaw. Videos uploaded on social media on November 21 purportedly showed several wounded protesters lying on the streets amid the sound of heavy gunfire.

People also rallied in the streets of Kermanshah, the provincial capital, chanting “death to [Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali] Khamenei,” according to a video posted by IHR.

IHR also shared footage that it said showed security forces using live gunfire against protesters in Piranshahr, a city in West Azerbaijan Province. Among those killed in the city on November 20 was a 16-year-old boy.

Fatemeh Karimi, the president of the France-based Kurdistan Human Rights Network, told RFE/RL that the Kurdistan region has turned into “a nightmare” for the authorities.

“People are paying a heavy price — the death toll is high, and many have been injured — yet they keep protesting,” she said.

‘Militarized’ City

The violence comes amid mounting fears about the situation in Mahabad, a city in West Azerbaijan Province where videos on social media appeared to show military forces and vehicles being deployed. Activists have claimed that the authorities were imposing martial law in the city.

Mostajar from Hengaw said security forces had “militarized” Mahabad for the past few days and directly shot at protesters.

Jalal Mahmudzadeh, a lawmaker from West Azerbaijan Province, said 11 people have been killed in the city since October 27, according to Iran’s Etemad daily.

He said five people were killed at the funeral of Esmail Moludi, who was shot dead on October 26 during a ceremony marking 40 days — the official end of the mourning period — since Amini’s death. The authorities said they are investigating his death.

“Some of these protesters have livelihood and economic problems and others feel discriminated against. But instead of listening to the protestors, the authorities use harsh methods,” he said.

The Islamic republic has long been accused of suppressing and discriminating against the country’s ethnic minorities, including Kurds, which make up about 10 percent of Iran’s 84-million population. Most Kurds in Iran, a predominately Shi’a country, are Sunni Muslims.

Prominent Sunni cleric Molavi Abdolhamid called on government forces on November 20 to refrain from shooting at protesters. He warned that repression will only deepen the dissatisfaction among people in the region.

Iranian authorities have accused “terrorist and separatist groups” and Iranian Kurdish opposition groups based in Iraq of stoking the unrest in the region. In response, Iranian forces have fired drones and missiles at the headquarters of Iranian groups based in northern Iraq.


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Iran’s Athletes, Including Soccer Players at World Cup, are Boycotting National Anthem to Support Protests https://www.juancole.com/2022/11/athletes-including-boycotting.html Wed, 23 Nov 2022 05:06:31 +0000 https://www.juancole.com/?p=208332 I’m RFE/RL correspondent Golnaz Esfandiari. Here’s what I’ve been following during the past week and what I’m watching for in the days ahead.

( RFE/ RL ) – A growing number of Iranian athletes are refusing to sing the national anthem or to celebrate their victories in solidarity with the months-long anti-establishment protests that have rocked the country. Female athletes have also removed or refused to wear the mandatory head scarf in national and international competitions.

Videos uploaded on social media appear to show members of Iran’s national basketball, soccer, and water polo teams recently refusing to sing the national anthem during matches abroad. An Iranian archer, meanwhile, appeared to remove her head scarf following a tournament in Tehran. She later apologized and said it was unintended, although some suggested she was pressured to do so. Last month, Iranian climber Elnaz Rekabi competed without a head scarf in South Korea, although she also later apologized.

Iranian soccer legend Ali Daei said he refused an invitation from FIFA, soccer’s world governing body, to attend the World Cup in Qatar because he wanted to “stay alongside my compatriots and share my condolences to families who have recently lost their loved ones.” Another outspoken former player, Ali Karimi, also declined an invitation from FIFA, saying, “Iranians are going through a very difficult time.”

A cleric in the northwestern city of Urmia said during Friday Prayers that athletes who refused to sing the national anthem should be “punished,” state media reported. Meanwhile, Iran’s deputy sports minister, Maryam Kazemipur, conceded that some female athletes have acted against “Islamic norms,” although she said they had since apologized.

Why It Matters: The acts of solidarity show that support among Iranian athletes is growing for the anti-government protests, which have triggered a deadly government crackdown. The demonstrations, the biggest challenge to the clerical regime for years, have attracted support from all corners of society, including students, artists, lawyers, and activists.

The support of well-known athletes and sports figures has further publicized the protests and the brutal government response that has killed at least 330 people. Some 14,000 people have also been arrested in the crackdown, including athletes.

What’s Next: More athletes are likely to publicly show their support for the protesters in the coming weeks, including during the soccer World Cup that kicks off on November 20 in Qatar. The Iranian national team includes several players who have criticized the authorities over the death of Mahsa Amini, who died on September 16 shortly after she was arrested for allegedly violating the country’s hijab law. Her death was the catalyst for the protests.

Activists have called on soccer fans attending the World Cup to chant Amini’s name during Iran’s games. FIFA does not allow political slogans and gestures at soccer matches. Carlos Queiroz, the coach of Iran’s national soccer team, said his players are free to voice their support for the protests as long as they adhere to FIFA’s rules.


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