Khamenei Demands that IRGC Develop More Advanced, Modern Weapons

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE SAUDI NEWS AGENCY ASHARQ AL-AWSAT)

 

Khamenei Demands that IRGC Develop More Advanced, Modern Weapons

Sunday, 13 October, 2019 – 11:15
FILE PHOTO: Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei gives a speech to a group of scholars and seminary students of religious sciences in Tehran, Iran September 17, 2019. Official Khamenei website/Handout via REUTERS
Asharq Al-Awsat
Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei ordered Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards on Sunday to develop more advanced and modern weapons, the semi-official Tasnim news agency reported.

“The Guards should have advanced and modern weapons … Your weapons should be modern and updated. It should be developed at home. You need to develop and produce your weapons,” Khamenei said.

The Iranian leader’s statement come after months of tension between Washington and Tehran in the wake of sanctions against Iranian oil exports, after US President Donald Trump pulled out in May 2018, from the 2015 nuclear agreement with Iran.

On Thursday, Chief Commander of the IRGC General Hossein Salami also said his naval forces were fully prepared to defend Iran in case an armed conflict with “enemies” breaks out.

Speaking at conference on “speedboats” in the northern port of Anzali, he further questioned the enemies’ ability to confront Iran’s naval unit if armed maritime conflict erupts.

According to Reuters, in response to Washington’s “maximum pressure” policy, Iran has gradually reduced its commitments under the nuclear pact and plans further breaches if European parties fail to keep their promises to shield Iran’s economy from US penalties.

Israel: Hamas: Hezbollah and Iran will join war if Israel tries to ‘break resistance’

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE TIMES OF ISRAEL)

 

Hamas: Hezbollah and Iran will join war if Israel tries to ‘break resistance’

Official from Gaza-based Palestinian terrorist group tells Lebanese paper of understandings reached in Tehran meeting last month

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, right, meets Hamas deputy chief, Saleh al-Arouri, second right, and the Hamas delegation, in Tehran, Iran, July 22, 2019. (Office of the Iranian Supreme Leader via AP)

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, right, meets Hamas deputy chief, Saleh al-Arouri, second right, and the Hamas delegation, in Tehran, Iran, July 22, 2019. (Office of the Iranian Supreme Leader via AP)

An official with Palestinian terror group Hamas on Saturday told a Lebanese newspaper that in the next major conflagration, should the Gaza rulers feel that Israel is trying to “break” the group, its regional allies will join forces with Hamas.

This was one of the understandings reached between Hamas and Iran during a high-level meeting last month in Tehran, the pro-Hezbollah Lebanese paper al-Akhbar reported (in Arabic) on Saturday.

“If the Israeli enemy launches aggression against the Gaza Strip, and we estimate that it is a confined battle that will not develop into a war to break us, we will face it alone,” the official was quoted by the paper as saying.

“But if the enemy [Israel] tries to break the resistance, the rest of the axis will join the battle,” he went on, in reference to Iran and its proxy, Hezbollah.

The Islamic Republic is a longtime financial supporter of Hamas’s armed wing, the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, sworn to Israel’s destruction, and the al-Quds Brigades, Islamic Jihad’s military branch. Iran also funds Hezbollah, which is similarly sworn to Israel’s annihilation.

In the July meeting between nine senior Hamas officials — including Saleh al-Arouri, the deputy chief of the Hamas politburo, and Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei — Iran agreed to massively increase its monthly payments to the terror group in exchange for intelligence on Israeli missile capabilities, Israel’s Channel 12 reported earlier this month.

Tehran expressed willingness to raise its monthly financial backing to the terror group to an unprecedented $30 million per month, according to the report citing an unnamed Arab source.

That will represent a massive increase in Iranian support for the Gaza rulers. A report by the Ynet news site from August 2018, citing Palestinian sources, said Iran’s payments to Hamas at the time amounted to $70 million per year (less than $6 million per month).

In exchange for the funding, Tehran asked Hamas to provide intelligence about the location of Israel’s missile stockpiles, the report said. It was not immediately clear if the raise was strictly conditioned on the intelligence provided by the terror group.

The Hamas members said they would convey the request to the movement’s leaders in Gaza.

Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps commander Gen. Qassem Soleimani, center, attends a meeting with Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and Revolutionary Guard commanders in Tehran, Iran, September 18, 2016. (Office of the Iranian Supreme Leader via AP)

According to the report, Qassem Soleimani, the head of  the Iranian Revolutionary Guards al-Quds Force, also joined the meeting and members of Hamas’ military wing explained the difficulties they were facing and shortages in arms and equipment.

Hamas also reportedly asked Iran to act as a mediator for the terror group with Bashar Assad’s regime in Syria, after ties were cut off during the Syrian civil war.

The report also noted that ahead of the visit Saudi Arabia had unsuccessfully been trying to pressure Hamas to cut ties with Iran.

During his visit to Tehran, al-Arouri said that Hamas and Iran stand on “the same path” in fighting Israel, Iran’s semi-official Fars news agency reported at the time.

“We are on the same path as the Islamic Republic — the path of battling the Zionist entity and the arrogant ones,” he said, according to the report.

Arouri visited Iran with several other high-ranking Hamas officials, including Moussa Abu Marzouk, Maher Salah, Husam Badran, Osama Hamdan, Ezzat al-Rishq and Ismail Radwan.

Hamas chief Ismail Haniyeh told a group of Turkish journalists at the time that he hoped the delegation’s visit would achieve “important results.”

Arouri, who was elected as Hamas’s deputy chief in October 2017, has traveled to Iran at least five times over the past two years. He has frequently heaped praised on Iran.

“Iran is the only country that says that entity [Israel] is cancerous and should be uprooted from the region,” he told the pro-Hamas Al-Quds TV in February 2018. “It is the only country that is prepared to provide real and public support to the Palestinian resistance and others to confront the entity.”

report in August by the Haaretz daily said that Israeli intelligence officials believe Hamas and Iran have come to an agreement for the terror group to open a war front against Israel from the southern coastal Strip in the event of conflict breaking out with Iran’s allies on the Jewish state’s northern border.

The report quoted a senior security official as saying the intelligence establishment estimates Hamas and the Islamic Jihad group will try to force Israel to move forces and air defense systems to the south at the expense of troops fighting in the north.

The report said that Israeli intelligence sources believe Iran has increased its involvement in the Strip in order to turn Hamas into its operational arm against Israel.

READ MORE:

Senior Iranian cleric says UK should be ‘scared’ of Tehran’s response over ship

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE TIMES OF ISRAEL)

 

Senior Iranian cleric says UK should be ‘scared’ of Tehran’s response over ship

Member of powerful Assembly of Experts says Britain should fear retaliation in response to interception of oil tanker suspected of violating EU sanctions

The Grace 1 super tanker in the British territory of Gibraltar, July 4, 2019. (AP Photo/Marcos Moreno)

The Grace 1 super tanker in the British territory of Gibraltar, July 4, 2019. (AP Photo/Marcos Moreno)

A senior Iranian cleric was quoted Saturday as saying the UK should be “scared” about possible retaliation over the detention of an Iranian ship in Gibraltar on suspicion of carrying crude oil to Syria in violation of EU sanctions.

“I am openly saying that Britain should be scared of Iran’s retaliatory measures over the illegal seizure of the Iranian oil tanker,” said Mohammad Ali Mousavi Jazayeri, a member of the powerful clerical body the Assembly of Experts, according to the semi-official Fars news agency, quoted by the Reuters news agency.

“We have shown that we will never remain silent against bullying… As we gave a staunch response to the American drone, the appropriate response to this illegal capture [of the tanker] will be given by Iran as well,” he said, referring to the downing of a US drone last month which Washington insists was over international waters but Tehran says was inside its airspace.

The statement came after a former leader of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps on Friday threatened to seize a British tanker in retaliation.

FILE — Iranian President Mohammad Khatami, center left, Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s representative in Khuzestan province Ayatollah Mousavi Jazayeri, right, sit as Oil Minister Bijan Namdar Zangeneh, right, walks to sit at the Bandar Imam Petrochemical Company (BIPC) facility during an official opening ceremony in Mahshahr, Iran, June 11, 2005 (AP Photo/Hasan Sarbakhshian)

“If Britain does not release the Iranian oil tanker, it is the authorities duty to seize a British oil tanker,” tweeted Mohsen Rezaei, who is now secretary of Iran’s Expediency Council, a powerful state body.

“Islamic Iran in its 40-year history has never initiated hostilities in any battles but has also never hesitated in responding to bullies,” Rezaei wrote.

The IRGC is the elite military unit, which answers only to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, that took responsibility for the downing of a US drone last month.

Rezaei led the elite Guard during Iran’s 1980s “Tanker War” in the Persian Gulf targeting the oil trade of the US and its Arab allies.

FILE — In this picture released by an official website of the office of the Iranian supreme leader, former commander of the Revolutionary Guard Mohsen Rezaei, second left, salutes Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, right, while he arrives at a graduation ceremony of the Revolutionary Guard’s officers, in Tehran, Iran (Office of the Iranian Supreme Leader via AP, FILE)

Iran demanded earlier Friday that Britain immediately release the oil tanker, accusing it of acting at the bidding of the United States.

A senior foreign ministry official “described the UK move as unacceptable” in a meeting with British Ambassador Rob Macaire, who had been summoned to hear a formal protest, the ministry said in a statement.

He “called for the immediate release of the oil tanker, given that it has been seized at the request of the US, based on the information currently available,” the statement added.

The detention of the 330-meter (1,000-feet) Grace 1 vessel comes at a sensitive time in Iran-EU ties as the bloc mulls how to respond to Tehran announcing it breached the uranium enrichment limit it agreed to in a troubled 2015 nuclear deal.

A British Royal Navy ship (L) patrols near supertanker Grace 1, which is suspected of carrying Iranian crude oil to Syria in violation of EU sanctions, after it was detained off the coast of Gibraltar on July 4, 2019. (Jorge Guerrero/AFP)

The Grace 1 tanker was halted in the early hours of Thursday by police and customs agencies in Gibraltar, aided by a detachment of British Royal Marines.

The ship was detained 2.5 miles (four kilometers) south of Gibraltar in what it considers British waters, although Spain, which lays claim to the territory, says they are Spanish.

It was boarded when it slowed down in a designated area used by shipping agencies to ferry goods to vessels.

“We have reason to believe that the Grace 1 was carrying its shipment of crude oil to the Banyas refinery in Syria,” Gibraltar’s Chief Minister Fabian Picardo said in a statement.

“That refinery is the property of an entity that is subject to European Union sanctions against Syria.

“We have detained the vessel and its cargo,” Picardo said.

At US request

Spanish Foreign Minister Josep Borrell told reporters the vessel was detained at the request of the United States.

In a statement, Britain’s Foreign Office said “we welcome this firm action by the Gibraltarian authorities, acting to enforce the EU Syria Sanctions regime.”

European Union sanctions against war-torn Syria have been in force since late 2011.

The 28-member bloc has imposed sanctions on Syrian officials including government ministers over their role in the “violent repression” of civilians.

It has frozen the assets of around 70 entities and introduced an embargo on Syrian oil, investment restrictions and a freeze on Syrian central bank assets within the EU.

In this photo from April 9, 2018, released by an official website of the office of the Iranian Presidency, President Hassan Rouhani listens to explanations on new nuclear achievements at a ceremony to mark ‘National Nuclear Day,’ in Tehran, Iran. (Iranian Presidency Office via AP, File)

The tanker’s detention comes just days after Iran announced it would exceed the uranium enrichment limit set up as part of the 2015 deal to avoid it building up to the level required for a nuclear warhead.

Tehran took the action in response to Washington abandoning the nuclear deal last year and hitting Iran’s crucial oil exports and financial transactions with biting sanctions.

The unilateral move has sent tensions in the Gulf soaring as the administration of US President Donald Trump forges ahead with a policy of “maximum pressure” against Iran in coordination with its Middle East allies Israel and Saudi Arabia.

White House National Security Adviser John Bolton, a champion of the hawkish policy toward Tehran, applauded the interception of the supertanker.

“Excellent news: UK has detained the supertanker Grace I laden with Iranian oil bound for Syria in violation of EU sanctions,” Bolton tweeted.

US National Security Adviser John Bolton, right, listens as US President Donald Trump speaks during a cabinet meeting at the White House on April 9, 2018. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

According to specialized shipping trade publication Lloyd’s List, which analyses vessel-tracking data, the 1997-built ship is laden with Iranian oil.

It reported that the ship loaded oil off Iran in April and sailed around the Cape of Good Hope in South Africa.

Tehran to Continue Enriching Uranium, Rouhani Warns Against Internal Divisions

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE SAUDI NEWS AGENCY ASHARQ AL-AWSAT)

 

Tehran to Continue Enriching Uranium, Rouhani Warns Against Internal Divisions

Sunday, 5 May, 2019 – 08:00
A general view of the Bushehr nuclear power plant, some 1,200 km (746 miles) south of Tehran October 26, 2010. REUTERS/IRNA/Mohammad Babaie
London- Asharq Al-Awsat
As the US intensifies its pressure campaign aimed at curbing Tehran’s ballistic missile program and its regional influence, the Iranian clerical-led regime reaffirmed its plans to resume enriching uranium, heavy (deuterium0-based) water and exporting oil.

Speaker Ali Larijani said Tehran would continue to enrich uranium and produce heavy water, regardless of restrictions on shipping abroad.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, for his part, warned that the recent host of US economic sanctions, a part of Washington strategy to counter Iranian malicious behavior, risks stoking internal tensions. Reformists in Rouhani’s administration and Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei loyalists have been at odds on Iran’s response policy to pressure.

“Under the [nuclear accord] Iran can produce heavy water and this is not in violation of the agreement. Therefore, we will carry on with enrichment activity,” the semi official Iranian news agency, ISNA, quoted Parliamentary speaker Ali Larijani as saying on May 4.

“We will enrich Uranium whether you move to buy it or not,” Larijani said.

On May 3, the US President Donald Trump’s administration slapped new restrictions on Iran’s nuclear activities as it looks to force Tehran to stop producing low-enriched uranium and expanding its only nuclear power plant, intensifying a campaign aimed at halting Tehran’s ballistic missile program and curbing its regional power.

Despite increasing pressure on Iran, the United States on May 3 extended five sanction waivers that will allow Russian, China, and European countries to continue to work with Iran’s civilian nuclear program at Bushehr. But it said it may punish any activity that expands the site.

At the same time, the State Department said it was ending two waivers related to Iranian exports of enriched uranium in what it called “the toughest sanctions ever on the Iranian regime.” All of the waivers were due to expire on May 4.

The 45- to 90-day extensions were shorter than the 180 days granted previously but can be renewed.

It was the third punitive action taken against Iran in as many weeks. Last week, it said it would grant no more sanctions waivers for countries buying Iranian oil, accelerating its plan to push Iran’s oil exports to zero. The Trump administration also took the unprecedented step of designating Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guard Corps as a foreign terrorist organization.

“The Trump administration continues to hold the Iranian regime accountable for activities that threaten the region’s stability and harm the Iranian people. This includes denying Iran any pathway to a nuclear weapon,” State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus said.

The Trump administration pulled out of the nuclear accord a year ago and vowed “maximum pressure” aimed at curbing the regional role of Iran.”

Iranian Butcher Khamenei sets terms for Tehran to remain in nuclear deal

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE TIMES OF ISRAEL)

 

Khamenei sets terms for Tehran to remain in nuclear deal

Iranian leader says Europe must vow not to seek limits on missile program and regional actions, and must protect Islamic Republic’s economy from American sanctions

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei delivers a speech during Labor Day at a workers' meeting, April 30, 2018. (AFP Photo/Iranian Supreme Leader's Website /HO)

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei delivers a speech during Labor Day at a workers’ meeting, April 30, 2018. (AFP Photo/Iranian Supreme Leader’s Website /HO)

Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on Wednesday set conditions for Europe for Tehran to remain in the 2015 nuclear accord, following the US withdrawal from the deal earlier this month.

Khamenei, addressing government officials on the occasion of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, said European powers must vow not to seek new limitations on Iran’s ballistic missile program or its activities in the Middle East, as demanded by the Trump administration.

They must also “fully guarantee Iran’s oil sales,” he said, adding that if the US “damages” oil sales through renewed economic sanctions, “Europeans should make up for that and buy Iranian oil.”

European banks, he added, “must safeguard trade with the Islamic Republic” in the face of new sanctions.

He also said the EU “must submit a resolution against the US at the UN Security Council” to protest the American withdrawal from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).

He warned that should conditions not be met, “Iran reserves the right to restart its suspended nuclear activities.”

He added: “We do not want to start a fight with [Europe] but…we don’t trust them either.”

The Iranian leader said Tehran has learned it cannot “interact” with the United States as it is a country whose word cannot be trusted.

“The first experience is that the government of the Islamic Republic cannot interact with America… Why? Because America is not committed to its promises,” Press TV quoted him as saying.

Khamenei said the US has been aiming to topple the Islamic republic for 40 years. “From the first day of the Islamic Revolution the US has applied all kinds of enmity to hit the Islamic republic,” he said.

The speech comes just days after US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo issued a steep list of demands to be included in a nuclear treaty to replace the deal scuttled by Trump. Among them, Pompeo demanded that Iran make wholesale changes in its military and regional policies or face “the strongest sanctions in history.”

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks at the Heritage Foundation, on May 21, 2018, in Washington, DC. (Win McNamee/Getty Images/AFP)

Pompeo has called for the negotiation of a new deal that would go far beyond the single focus of the nuclear agreement and would have the status of a formal treaty. The 2015 deal concluded under the Obama administration dealt only with the nuclear program.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani compared Pompeo’s comments to those made by the administration of George W. Bush ahead of the 2003 Iraq invasion.

“The era of such statements has evolved and the Iranian people have heard these statements hundreds of times, and no longer pay attention,” Rouhani said.

Other senior Iranian officials rejected the demands, saying the US was afraid to face Iran in battle and vowing to push ahead with their country’s military programs.

On Monday a senior IRGC officer said Pompeo deserves a “strong punch to the mouth.”

Commenting on US threats to ramp up sanctions on Iran, Ismail Kowsari said, “The people of Iran should stand united in the face of this and they will deliver a strong punch to the mouth of the American Secretary of State and anyone who backs them.”

Pompeo argued that Iran had advanced its march across the Middle East precisely because of the nuclear deal, which saw the West lifting sanctions on Tehran in return for Iran limiting its nuclear program.

US President Donald Trump is seen during a meeting in the Cabinet Room at the White House on May 17, 2018. (AFP Photo/Nicholas Kamm)

US President Donald Trump’s newly installed top diplomat also hinted at the possibility of military action should Iranian leaders reconstitute their nuclear program.

“If they restart their nuclear program, they will have big problems, bigger problems than they’ve ever had before,” he said, also threatening to “crush” Iran’s terrorist proxies around the world.”

The New York Times reported Wednesday that weapons researchers have identified activity at a remote secret facility in the Iranian desert that points to the covert development of long-range missiles that could potentially be used to attack the United States.

Satellite images appear to show, among other things, activity around a tunnel leading underground and evidence of powerful rocket engine tests that scorched telltale marks in the desert sand near the city of Shahrud, the report said.

Western officials have maintained that the only reason Tehran could have for manufacturing long-range missiles would be to fit them with non-conventional, including atomic, warheads.

Tehran insists that it sees the missile program as crucial to its defensive posture, and says its existence is non-negotiable.

READ MORE:

Iran: Khamenei Refuses to Abandon Iran’s Regional Role

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE SAUDI NEWS AGENCY ASHARQ AL-AWSAT)

 

Khamenei Refuses to Abandon Iran’s Regional Role

Tuesday, 1 May, 2018 – 08:15
Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. (Reuters)
London – Asharq Al-Awsat
Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei closed the door to any international attempts to negotiate Tehran’s regional role and ballistic missile program, accusing the US administration of waging an economic war against his country run by the US Treasury Department.

Khamenei criticized the positions of US President Donald Trump without naming him, pointing out that years ago he addressed a letter to former US President Georges Bush, in which he said that the “hit-and-run era is over.”

“They know that if they get into a military conflict with Iran, they will be struck multiple times over,” he stated.

Commenting on the international move aimed at containing Iran’s regional threats, Khamenei said the Middle East wars were “the result of the American presence.”

“The United States, not Iran, should withdraw from West Asia,” he stressed.

According to Khamenei, Iran is engaging in an “economic and cultural” confrontation with the United States, claiming that the Treasury Department was leading the war against Iran, in a tacit reference to the possibility of imposing new international sanctions if Washington withdrew from the nuclear deal.

Meanwhile, Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi told state media that his country was “fully prepared” for any scenario in case Trump decided to withdraw from the nuclear deal.

“Iran [is] fully prepared for any US scenario on the 2015 nuclear deal,” he said.

Iran’s nuclear chief said that Tehran was technically ready to enrich uranium to a higher level than before, Reuters reported.

According to the agency, head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization, Ali Akbar Salehi, said Iran was able technically to enrich uranium to a higher level than it could before it signed the 2015 deal designed to curb its nuclear program.

Iran’s Facing a Mutiny From Within the Mosque

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF BLOOMBERG NEWS)

 

Iran’s Facing a Mutiny From Within the Mosque

A growing number of prominent Shiite clerics are questioning whether the supreme leader can claim divine authority.
12
Behind the scenes.

 Photographer: Majid Saeedi/Getty Images

It’s not surprising that the arrest of a prominent Iranian cleric — even one that led to protests in Iran and the Arab world — hasn’t made a ripple in the Western news media. After all, the Tehran regime makes arbitrary arrests all the time.

But this is different: The controversy over the detention of Ayatollah Hussein Shirazi this month is reigniting an important debate over whether Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, should be able to claim divine sanction for his unlimited powers to rule the state.

Although there has been an ongoing debate in Shiite Islam since Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini institutionalized the system of clerical rule, or velayat-e faqih, shortly after the 1979 Islamic Revolution, discontent is now growing. Specifically, there is an increasing belief across Shiite communities that the consolidation of all powers in one person is antithetical to the Shiite tradition and that the position of supreme leader should be reformed or dissolved altogether.

Things came to a head on March 6 near the holy of city of Qom, when Ayatollah Shirazi was detained, reportedly by the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps. The cleric and his very influential father, Grand Ayatollah Sadiq Shirazi, are fierce opponents of Khamenei’s rule. The younger Shirazi reportedly called the supreme leader “the pharaoh” during one of his recent lectures, providing the pretext for his arrest.

Protests quickly followed, and not just in Iran. After Shiite clerics in Kuwait and Iraq condemned the arrest, there was unrest in the Iraqi holy Shiite cities of Karbala, Najaf and Basra, as well as in Kuwait City. Demonstrators in London gathered outside the Iranian Embassy; four were arrested after they climbed onto the porch and took down the Iranian flag. None of these protests was large — estimates range from several dozen to several hundred participants — but they are notable nonetheless.

The Shirazi family, whose members have been clerics since the 19th century, represent an influential school of Shiite thought. Grand Ayatollah Shirazi has a vast presence online: he gives lectures in Persian and Arabic with English subtitles that are broadcaston 18 television channels and three radio stations across the Muslim world.

Some leading figures in the Shirazi school favor the separation of mosque and state, a Shiite tradition with a long-established history. Others are not against velayat-e faqih in principle, but oppose how Khomeini and Khamenei have corrupted the concept by concentrating all control over the state in a supreme leader who is virtually impossible to remove from power.

Many other clerics in Qom, the center for Iran’s religious seminaries, are also against supreme clerical rule on theological grounds, even if they are not adherents to the Shirazi school.

When I was a reporter for the Guardian newspaper in the 1990s, I interviewed many Iranian clerics who told me they did not believe a living person should have divine and absolute powers. The supreme leader, they said, cannot represent God on earth. The Tehran regime was so intent on keeping this dissent a secret that I was barred from traveling to Qom.

But now, four decades after the Islamic Revolution, the genie is out of the bottle. Widespread discontent within Iranian society has empowered the Shirazis and other religious leaders to make their views public. In Iraq, too, the Najaf religious leaders vehemently oppose supreme clerical rule and are finding avenues to reduce Iran’s religious and political influence over their country.

In the run-up to May’s Iraqi national elections, Shiite religious parties are forming coalitions with Sunnis and nationalists in the hopes that the next parliament will consist of fewer Iran loyalists, and that the next prime minister will be more liberated from Tehran’s demands.

If nothing else, this should debunk the notion that all Shiites are alike. Arab Shiites have historically held different political and religious views from those in Iran, but are often considered in the West to be loyalists of the Islamic Republic.

For all these reasons, the Shirazi protests have been significant. Iran’s special clerical court initially sentenced the younger cleric to 120 years in prison. The hardline prosecutor-general, Mohammad Jafar Montazeri, accused his Iranian supporters of being “a Qom-based group that has been active in Iran for years,” in an attempt to minimize the numbers of clerics and others who support the Shirazis views.

But this argument became harder to make as the protests spread. And now there are uncomfirmed reports that Iranian authorities released Shirazi on March 18, two weeks after his arrest. If true, the heavy-handed sentence and its subsequent retraction illustrate the Islamic Republic’s struggle to balance a growing sense of vulnerability with the fear of alienating the body of clerics upon whom its legitimacy ultimately rests.

The Shirazis are not the first prominent Shiite religious leaders to question the supreme leader’s divine authority. In 1999, I conducted an interview with Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri, who spent many years under house arrest before to his death in 2009.

He articulated the views that many clerics who are now part of the protest movement still hold:

“The supreme leader has no authority to act singlehandedly or in a despotic manner,” Montazeri decreed. “He can never be above the law and cannot interfere in all the affairs, particularly the affairs that fall outside his area of expertise, such as complex economic issues, or issues of foreign policy and international relations.”

Nonetheless, in his nearly 30 years as supreme leader,  Khamenei has done everything described above. Now that his rule is coming to a close, there is increasing support among high-ranking Shiite clerics that the job should die with him.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

To contact the author of this story:
Geneive Abdo at [email protected]

To contact the editor responsible for this story:
Tobin Harshaw at [email protected]

Before it’s here, it’s on the Bloomberg Terminal.

LEARN MORE

Iranian intellectuals call for referendum amid political unrest

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE GUARDIAN)

 

Iranian intellectuals call for referendum amid political unrest

Letter with 15 signatories says Iran’s leaders have failed to deliver on republican ideals

Pro-government rally in Iran
 Women hold posters of the Iranian revolutionary founder Ayatollah Khomeini and the supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei during a pro-government rally. Photograph: Mohammad Ali Marizad/AP

A group of prominent Iranian intellectuals have said they have lost hope that the Islamic Republic can reform, and have called for a referendum to establish whether the ruling establishment is still backed by a majority.

A day after Iran’s president, Hassan Rouhani, touted the idea of holding a referendum as a means to heal Iran’s deepening political divisions, 15 figures – including some based in Iran – said leaders had failed to deliver on republican ideals.

Signatories to the letter include the Nobel peace prize-winning lawyer Shirin Ebadi; Narges Mohammadi, a human rights activist currently imprisoned in Tehran; Nasrin Sotoudeh, a rights lawyer; and the film-makers Mohsen Makhmalbaf and Jafar Panahi.

Rouhani did not elaborate on what he was proposing to put to a vote, but he has sounded increasingly frustrated about the political stalemate.

The judiciary has limited his ability to improve social freedoms despite his triumph in last year’s presidential election, and critics say his recent budget, which allocated huge funds to state bodies under the control of hardliners, demonstrated his lack of power.

Meanwhile, the Iranian currency has taken another dive against the dollar in recent days, adding to fears about the state of the economy.

Speaking last week, Rouhani expressed concern about what he said was the unwillingness of his hardline opponents to listen to the voices of ordinary people, particularly after a wave of unrest that began in late December.

“The previous regime, which thought that its rule would be lifelong and its monarchy eternal, lost everything because it did not listen to the voices of criticism, advice, reformers, the clergy, elders and intellectuals,” he said, referring to the late shah’s rule. “The previous regime did not listen to the voice of people’s protests and only listened to one voice, and that was the people’s revolution. For a government that only wants to hear the sound of revolution, it will be too late.”

The activists’ letter states: “Four decades have passed since the establishment of the Islamic republic, a government whose obsession with Islamisation has left little room for republican ideals.”

It criticises the conservative-dominated judiciary, which acts independently of Rouhani’s government. “The judiciary is reduced to the executor of the political wishes of those who hold the reins of power. So many women, lawyers, journalists, teachers, students, workers and political and social activists have been harassed, arrested, convicted of serious crimes and sent to prison, solely for criticising officials, enlightening public opinion, inviting the rulers to respect separation of religion from government or demanding women’s relief from the mandatory veil.”

Last month Mehdi Karroubi, an Iranian opposition leader currently under house arrest, wrote a letter attacking the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who holds ultimate power in Iran. Direct criticism of Khamenei is rare.

Karroubi, a former speaker of parliament, wrote: “You have been Iran’s top leader for three decades but still speak like an opposition. During the last three decades you have eliminated the main revolutionary forces to implement your own policies, and now you should face the results of that.”

Iranian officials say high turnouts in elections show that the establishment is still popular. Critics dispute that, saying many voters participate in the hope of bringing about change.

Saeed Barzin, a London-based Iranian analyst, said Rouhani’s call for a referendum was a threat to push back the economic and political meddling of an unelected faction dominated by hardliners, in particular the Revolutionary Guards.

“The undercurrent issue is how the power will be distributed after Khamenei, and in a way the power struggle has already begun,” Barzin said. “Reformists feel under threat that the current situation might lead to people losing hope in reform or becoming radical or becoming apolitical. Hardliners, on the other side, might see an opportunity here to scapegoat Rouhani and even conduct a soft coup d’état, but it’s a gamble.”

Barzin said he was not impressed by the activists’ letter, though the range of signatories was interesting. Even those based in Iran, he said, did not represent mainstream reformists, who would view holding such a referendum as the establishment acquiescing to its own destruction.

Syria shoots down Israeli warplane as conflict escalates

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE BBC)

(The Devil is in Tehran, His name is Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the un-elected Dictator who calls himself the ‘Supreme Leader’)(trs) 

Syria shoots down Israeli warplane as conflict escalates

Crash site of an Israeli F-16 jet in northern Israel. Photo: 10 February 2018Image copyrightREUTERS
Image captionThe Israeli F-16 jet crashed near a village in northern Israel

An Israeli F-16 fighter jet has crashed after being hit by Syrian air defences during an offensive in Syria, the Israeli military says.

The two pilots parachuted to safety before the crash in northern Israel. It is believed to be the first time Israel has lost a jet in the Syrian conflict.

The plane was hit during air strikes in response to an Iranian drone launch into Israeli territory, Israel says.

The drone was shot down. Israel later launched further strikes in Syria.

The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) say they hit aerial defence batteries and Iranian military sites in the latest strikes.

Israeli air strikes in Syria are not unusual, the BBC’s Middle East correspondent Tom Bateman says, but the loss of an Israeli fighter jet marks a serious escalation.

In other developments in the Syrian conflict on Saturday:

  • A Turkish helicopter was shot down as the country continued its offensive against Kurdish fighters in northern Syria. Two soldiers on board were killed, the Turkish military says
  • UN Human Rights Commissioner Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein said the past week was one of the bloodiest in Syria since the conflict began in 2011 – with at least 277 civilian deaths reported

How did events unfold on Saturday morning?

The Israeli military says a “combat helicopter successfully intercepted an Iranian UAV [unmanned aerial vehicle] that was launched from Syria and infiltrated Israel”.

It tweeted footage which it says shows the drone flying into Israeli territory before being hit.

In a further response, the IDF “targeted Iranian targets in Syria”, according to the military. The mission deep inside Syrian territory was successfully completed, it said.

After coming under Syrian anti-aircraft fire, the F-16’s two crew members ejected and were later taken to hospital. One of them was “severely injured as a result of an emergency evacuation”, the IDF said.

It is the first time Israel has lost an aircraft in combat since 2006 when an Israeli helicopter was shot down over Lebanon by a Hezbollah rocket, the Jerusalem Post reports.

All five crew on board – including a female flight mechanic – were killed in that incident.

Anti-aircraft effects over the Syrian-Israeli border in the Golan Heights. Photo: 10 February 20218Image copyrightEPA
Image captionAnti-aircraft fire smoke over the Syrian-Israeli border in the Golan Heights

Alert sirens sounded in areas of northern Israel and the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights because of Syrian anti-aircraft fire.

Residents reported hearing a number of explosions and heavy aerial activity in the area near Israel’s borders with Jordan and Syria.

An Israeli F-16 takes off. File photoImage copyrightGETTY IMAGES
Image captionThe fighter jet was carrying out strikes on Iranian targets in Syria, the Israelis say (file picture)

Syrian state media quoted a military source as saying that the country’s air defences had opened fire in response to Israeli “aggression” against a military base on Saturday, hitting “more than one plane”.

What did Israel do next?

Israel launched its second wave of strikes in Syria. Eight of the Syrian targets belonged to the fourth Syrian division near Damascus, IDF spokesman Jonathan Conricus said.

All the Israeli aircraft from this sortie returned safely.

“Syrians are playing with fire when they allow Iranians to attack Israel,” the spokesman warned.

He added that Israel was willing to exact a heavy price in response but was “are not looking to escalate the situation”.

Meanwhile Iran and the Tehran-backed Hezbollah movement in Lebanon – which are allied with the Syrian government – dismissed reports that an Iranian drone had entered Israeli airspace as a “lie”.

Russia expressed “serious concern” over the Israeli air strikes and called for all sides to show restraint.

What is the Iranian presence in Syria?

Iran is Israel’s arch-enemy, and Iranian troops have been fighting rebel groups since 2011.

Tehran has sent military advisers, volunteer militias and, reportedly, hundreds of fighters from its Quds Force, the overseas arm of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC).

It is also believed to have supplied thousands of tonnes of weaponry and munitions to help President Bashar al-Assad’s forces and the pro-Iranian Hezbollah, which is fighting on Syria’s side.

Tehran has faced accusations that it is seeking to establish not just an arc of influence but a logistical land supply line from Iran through to Hezbollah in Lebanon.

Presentational grey line

A powerful new element

Analysis by BBC’s diplomatic correspondent Jonathan Marcus

For years Israel has been striking at weapons stores and other facilities in Syria with a single goal – to disrupt and, as far as possible, to prevent advanced Iranian missiles being delivered to Hezbollah in Lebanon.

Syria has often been the conduit for these shipments, but the changing balance of power there, with the Assad regime’s survival bolstered by Iranian help, has introduced a powerful new element – a direct Iranian role in the crisis.

A more confident Iran is alleged by Israel to be setting up bases in Syria(whether for its own or its proxy Shia Muslim militia forces is unclear).

But it is also alleged to be developing missile factories, both there and in Lebanon, to make the supply lines to Hezbollah less vulnerable.

Israel’s campaign to disrupt missile supplies is becoming ever more complex.

And Iran risks becoming a direct actor in this conflict, ever closer to Israel’s own borders.

map
Presentational grey line

Iran’s Supreme Murderer Ali Khamenei Blames Iran’s Enemy’s For Protests

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE NEW YORK TIMES)

 

LONDON — Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the Iranian supreme leader, blamed “enemies” of Iran on Tuesday for protests that have left more than 20 people dead, in his first comments since the unrest started last week.

“In recent events, enemies of Iran have allied & used the various means they possess, including money, weapons, politics & intelligence services, to trouble the Islamic Republic,” said a post in English on Ayatollah Khamenei’s Twitter account. “The enemy is always looking for an opportunity & any crevice to infiltrate & strike the Iranian nation.”

As of Tuesday morning, the death toll from the protests across the country and the ensuing crackdown by the government and security services was at least 21. About 450 people had been taken into custody in the capital, Tehran, alone, according to the semiofficial news agency ILNA, and arrests have also been reported elsewhere.

Ayatollah Khamenei, who has been a target of the protesters, did not specify which individuals or countries he was referring to, saying he would “speak to the dear people when the time is right.”

In his stream of posts on Twitter, he did, however, implicitly compare the current demonstrations to Iran’s eight-year war with Iraq in the 1980s, when the United States, its European allies and the Persian Gulf monarchies of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates backed the Baath Party government of Saddam Hussein against Tehran.

 

“During Saddam’s imposed war on #Iran, If the Ba’thi enemies had entered Iran, they would show no mercy towards anything or anyone,” Ayatollah Khamenei wrote in another tweet. “Iran’s situation would be worse off than today’s #Libya or #Syria.”

The United States, Saudi Arabia and the other Persian Gulf monarchies are all backing the rebels fighting the Iranian-backed government in Syria.

In Libya, NATO led a bombing campaign that helped remove Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi in 2011, and both the United Arab Emirates and Qatar have continued to back allied groups inside Libya in the continuing civil strife there.

“The Iranian nation will forever owe the dear martyrs, who left behind their homes and families, to stand against the wicked enemies backed by westerners, easterners, as well as reactionaries of the region,” Ayatollah Khamenei wrote, apparently in another reference to the Iran-Iraq war.

His remarks came a day after President Trump criticized Iran, saying the country’s leaders had repressed their people for years. Mr. Trump again addressed the situation there on Tuesday, in another Twitter post that appeared shortly after the supreme leader’s, in which he expressed solidarity with the Iranian people, even though he has sought to prevent them from entering the United States.

That drew an angry response from Iran, with Bahram Qasemi, a spokesman for the Foreign Ministry, describing Mr. Trump’s comments as insulting, useless and counterproductive, the state news media reported.

“It is better for him to try to address the internal issues, like the murder of scores killed on a daily basis in the United States during armed clashes and shootings, as well as millions of the homeless and hungry people in the country,” Mr. Qasemi said, according to the state-run news agency IRNA.

The protests are the largest in Iran since 2009, during the so-called Green Movement, which took place after the election of the hard-line leader Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and transitioned into a wider protest against the country’s leadership.

The latest demonstrations, which largely seemed to come out of nowhere and have surprised the authorities with their size and intensity, appear to be rooted in anger toward President Hassan Rouhani, who is regarded as a moderate, and his inability to bring change to an economy that has long suffered under the weight of sanctions.

As the protests have continued, however, they have taken on a political bent directed at the establishment, with demonstrators calling for the death of Mr. Rouhani and Ayatollah Khamenei.

Mr. Rouhani has tried to acknowledge the protesters’ complaints, asking them to avoid violence while saying they had a right to be heard, but others in the government have called for a firmer response.

Brig. Gen Esmaeil Kowsari, deputy chief of the main Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps base in Tehran, told the semiofficial news agency ISNA: “If this situation continues, the officials will definitely make some decisions, and at that point this business will be finished.”

Iran is battling with the Saudi-led Persian Gulf states for dominance across several unstable countries around the region.

In addition to providing military support for Damascus against Syrian rebels who receive backing from Gulf states, Tehran is providing aid to Houthis in Yemen who are fighting Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

21COMMENTS

Iran has provided support for protesters and militants opposing the Saudi-backed monarchy in Bahrain, and Iran-assisted factions dominate the politics of Lebanon and Iraq against opponents Saudi Arabia backs.

In most cases, the contest for power plays out through sectarian rivalries. Saudi Arabia and the Persian Gulf monarchs are backing fellow Sunni Muslims in each arena, and the Shiite government of Iran is backing Shiites in Lebanon, Iraq and Bahrain, as well as allied heterodox Muslim sects like the Alawites in Syria or the Houthis in Yemen.