Kayhan Life
Kayhan Life is an independent media outlet focusing on Iran, offering in-depth news coverage of Iran’s politics, economy, society, and culture, and spotlight prominent Iranians around the world. Kayhan Life is the English-language partner of Persian-language site, Kayhan London.
Geopolitics
Hamed Mohammadi

Why Iran Is Actively Backing The Taliban For The First Time

Iran's clerical Shiite regime has seemingly overturned its long-held hostility to the Taliban, and may be readying itself to welcome the 'enemies of America' as Kabul's new masters.

-Analysis-

There can be no doubt the situation in Afghanistan is critical. As U.S. and allied troops depart, the Taliban are exploiting the Kabul government's weakness to capture districts and towns, especially in the north.

In some areas, conditions seem normal by day but as darkness falls, armed motorcades attack villages, patrols or army posts, firing on any Afghan citizen trying to resisit.

A UN report from May listed 50 of Afghanistan's 400 regions as being in Taliban hands. And that progression appears relentless, with eight districts falling in June in less than two days in the provinces of Takhar, Samangan and Balkh, and some fighting reaching the outskirts of cities like Mazar-i Sharif.

There have been reports of Afghan troops simply handing over their trucks to the Taliban, by some accounts as many as 700 trucks or lorries in recent weeks, in addition to armored vehicles and artillery equipment. All these will aid the Taliban in their war effort.

The head of the Islamic Party of Afghanistan, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, says "there are secrets behind the fall of cities without any fighting, and circles inside the Afghan governments have a hand in their fall."

The Revolutionary Guards want the country turned into another quagmire for the United States.

U.S. security sources say the Taliban may take Kabul within six to 12 months after Western forces have fully withdrawn. Still, International Crisis Group analyst Andrew Watkins recently told the Wall Street Journal the Taliban were not invincible, and Kabul's fall is by no means a certainty. Other specialists have pointed out that the Taliban have been capturing rural terrain of little strategic worth, attributing their successes also to the uneven distribution of Afghan troops, mostly trained to defend the big cities and highways.

And then, there are accusations from Afghan politicians that certain foreign powers, Iran, Turkey and Pakistan, were helping the insurgents.

Abdulsattar Husseini, a legislator, has accused the Iranian Revolutionary guards and Pakistan's ISI intelligence agency of helping the Taliban, saying arms have been smuggled in from Iran.

Ali Khamenei meeting with Iranian President-elect Ebrahim Raisi in Tehran — Iranian Supreme Leader'S Office/ ZUMA Wire

In the past 20 to 30 years, Afghanistan has, like Iraq, Syria and Lebanon, entered the Iranian regime's "resistance" map of regions where it sought to extend its ideological sway at the West's expense. The Revolutionary Guards have been biding their time ahead of a Western withdrawal.

Aware of the West's strategic and security interests in Afghanistan, and its rivalries with China and Russia, the Guards want the country turned into another quagmire for the United States, like Iraq. In fact, backing the Taliban and al-Qaeda could help the Iranian regime send its own militias into a lawless country, compensating for its weakened position in Syria and Iraq. These are used to extort concessions from Western powers, regardless of the cost to the long-suffering Afghans.

The Islamic Republic is not only inclined to see the Taliban take Kabul, but already busy whitewashing the terrorists at home, with one conservative daily in Tehran writing: "the Taliban today are not the Taliban who used to cut heads off."

"But after the United States toppled the Taliban in 2001, the Iranian Supreme Leader not only sheltered them but is now veering toward closer ties with them"

According to U.S. State Department documents, many Taliban and al-Qaeda leaders have been living in Iran in recent years. Cities like Mashhad, Qom and Tehran are in turn training bases for the Shia Fatemium militiamen fighting in Syria under the Quds Army, the Revolutionary guards' strike force in the Middle East. Dozens have returned to Iran as war winds down in Syria, ready to fight in Afghanistan instead, if not inside Iran. The Revolutionary guards would have no qualms about using them to crush domestic protests in Iran.

Some years ago, Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, denounced the Taliban as sworn enemies of Shia Muslims, describing them as "hard-hearted," criminal and "creatures' of the United States. But after the United States toppled them in 2001, he not only sheltered them but is now veering Iranian foreign policy toward closer ties with them. And it is the task of various figures in Tehran to start rehabilitating the terrorists. The legislator Ahmad Naderi has called the Taliban "one of the region's essential movements," with whom "we have shared enemies." Ali Shamkhani, a former defense minister, now a senior security official, has praised their leaders for their resolve in fighting the Americans.

Iran's ambassador in Kabul, Bahador Aminian, calls the "resistance" in Afghanistan part of an "Islamic awakening" influenced by the ideas of Iran's late revolutionary leader, Ruhollah Khomeini. The fact is the regime and the Revolutionary guards have extended their tentacles, and their money, into both the Afghan government and the Taliban.

Geopolitics
Ahmad Ra'fat

Raisi's Iran: Tougher Talk With West, Warmer Ties With Russia

​The arch-conservative Ibrahim Raisi's election to the Iranian presidency is pushing its regime closer to Russia and farther from the West — and leaving a big question mark on relations with China.

-OpEd-

LONDON — Reactions have varied in the two weeks since the election of Seyyed Ibrahim Raisi as president of the Islamic Republic of Iran. For starters, no Western government (save Austria) has congratulated Raisi, and the various statements by spokes people have mixed some surface criticism with observations on Raisi's presence in the "death committees' that signed prisoner death warrants after the 1979 revolution, as well as his record in the judiciary over the past four decades.

The German government spokesman stated that his country knew of Raisi's role in executions, refusing at a press conference to answer more questions on the matter. The government Commissioner for Human Rights Policy, Bärbel Kofler, has voiced concern that Raisi had given "no explanation" on his ties to rights violations in Iran. The French foreign ministry expressed hope Raisi's government would respect the 2015 nuclear pact with Western powers and reiterated the French government's "persistent" concerns over the state of human rights in Iran.

A senior Italian Foreign Ministry official told Kayhan London that Raisi's election would undoubtedly create problems in EU relations with Iran's regime, and it was difficult to foresee senior officials shaking hands with someone with Raisi's murky record. Public opinion would not accept it, the Italian diplomat added, foreseeing a possible repeat of Europe's difficult relations with another hardline president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Western powers are not primarily worried now with Raisi's presence in the "death committees." Rather they are concerned with the fate of talks in Vienna on reviving the 2015 nuclear pact, and will keep an eye on the appointment of Iran's new negotiating team, whose members, all approved by the Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, will indicate "which way the wind is blowing," said the official.

U.S. National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan has likewise observed that it was not the head of the Iranian government, but Iran's supreme leader, who took the final decisions there.

In the sixth round of talks, Iran's negotiators sought assurances that whatever administration follows the current presidency of Joe Biden would not abandon any new pact, as the Trump administration did in 2018. This alone could impede a new agreement. The Biden administration cannot in legal terms provide this guarantee, and the U.S. Congress is unlikely to allow it.

Still, a U.S. diplomat in Rome told Kayhan London that the Iranian request seemed reasonable, as such decisions were a presidential prerogative and the next president could, as Donald Trump did, decide to ditch the pact. Iran, he said, must in any case accept the risks of a pact if it wants to see sanctions lifted and its economy reopen.

Confrontations with the United States are its oxygen.

The Islamic Republic's acceptance of conditions set by the Biden administration should not be seen as a change of policy toward the United States, nor is the regime likely to change its military and regional policies, as the West expects. The Islamic Republic's confrontation with the United States and its regional interventions are its oxygen. It does not want to normalize ties with the West, but also prefers that tensions are kept under control. Khamenei has repeated that reconciliation with the United States was akin to setting aside the "revolution's ideals." These ideals, which Raisi stressed while campaigning, include running a missile program and regional interventionism.

Two days after Iran's sham elections, Raisi said he wanted better relations with other countries in the region, though he stressed that détente with the Saudi kingdom depended on it ending its "military intervention" in Yemen. Tehran itself has been backing the Yemeni Houthis, who use drones and missiles from Iran to target Saudi installations. Saudi Arabia is particularly concerned with Iran's nuclear program. Its foreign minister has said that regardless of who was president, the kingdom would react to Iranian actions on the ground.

Israel, meanwhile, believes Raisi's election means an acceleration of the nuclear program, while the Lebanese analyst Saad Kaywan has no doubts Raisi's arrival means more Iranian support for the Hezbollah, and an exacerbation of Lebanon's political and economic paralysis.

In contrast, those who could not wait to congratulate Raisi were Syria's President Bashar al-Asad and Russian President Vladimir Putin, followed by the heads of Hamas, Islamic Jihad and Hezbollah. Many inside and outside Iran believe the Raisi government will move more fully into Russia's orbit than its predecessors. The head of the Russian foreign ministry's Asia department has voiced confidence collaboration with Tehran would expand.

China is also pleased with Raisi's election. President Xi Jinping congratulated him 48 hours after election results were formally announced. But a journalist from the official Xinhua agency expressed China's concerns over the future of the 25-year bilateral pact and the conservative Ali Larijani's earlier elimination from the presidential race. Supreme Leader Khamenei had appointed him to oversee the pact's implementation. The journalist observed this might indicate Russia's rising influence, at China's expense.

Ideas
Roshanak Astaraki, Hamed Mohammadi and Azadeh Karimi

Iran’s Fixed Elections And The State Of The Islamic ''Republic''

By denying the right to moderate candidates for the upcoming presidential elections, the regime shows it has little interest in even a semblance of democracy.

-Editorial-

The failure of reformist candidates to win vetting approval for Iran's 13th presidential elections slated for June 18 is dividing reformists, and pushing them further away from participating in Iran's politics.

Let's look at the positions some adopted after the list of approved presidential candidates was published. As on prior occasions in the country officially called the Islamic Republic of Iran, the shut-out moderate candidates insist they will never boycott the ballot box.

Hojjatoleslam Hasan Khomeini, a grandson of the late revolutionary leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, makes a nice living from the public monies paid to maintain his grandfather's mausoleum (roughly 14 million euros a year). Khomeini challenged the approved candidates to "drop out of the race," out of decency! Yet he didn't even run — no doubt on the advice (instruction) of current Iran Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei.

Khomeini's grandson seems to have no idea about the regime's already dismal public standing when he warns as he did that such disqualifications will "harm the Republic" in Iran and "weaken the bases of the Islamic system's legitimacy and acceptability!"

Mohsen Hashemi-Rafsanjani, another disqualified aspirant and son of the late president Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani, cited his father's words that "under no circumstances should one boycott polls."

Criticism of disqualifications are sharper than before.

Mohammad Khatami, who once headed a would-be reformist government and has played a key role in past years mobilizing voters, also warned the disqualifications would threaten "the Republic." Saying nothing about Khamenei's role, he chose instead to criticize the Guardian Council, the body that determines who is fit for public office.

A prominent association of reformist and leftist clerics, the Assembly of Qom Seminary Teachers declared that with the "extensive" disqualifications, "everybody knows' now the June elections will be a "lifeless formality."

While reformist criticisms of disqualifications are a little sharper in tone than before, these same people still fail to protest about the many problems ailing ordinary Iranians. They are concerned less with society's security and prosperity than with their own exclusion from the corridors of power. If one or two had been approved to run, they would once again have urged people to vote in another "formality" that had something in it for them.

Many reputed reformists, both inside Iran and abroad, continue to see their interests as entwined with those of the regime. Thus, instead of urging a boycott, they weepingly regret being robbed of a chance to "actively" take part.

At a campaign center for conservative candidate Ebrahim Raisi near Tehran, on June 4 — Photo: Sobhan Farajvan/Pacific Press/ZUMA

Most of them believe they have a duty to respect the regime's red lines. And like Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, they know that they're all in the same boat, that none will benefit from it sinking. That is why the supreme leader and his Guardian Council are not bothered by reformist objections and disqualified them without remorse.

Many analysts believe the disqualifications mean the regime no longer needs reformists to pull in votes, at least for now. And in any case, for many reformists the end of politics is not their expulsion from the revolutionary banquet. There will always be a job somewhere, to allow their "active" participation.

Iran's leaders may be more concerned with those who have consistently boycotted voting for decades and, in contrast with reformists, have widespread public support. Khamenei asked people, after his list was published, "not to listen to those urging us not to go to the polls." He too knows that restricting elections can play into the hands of people he's termed "seditionists."

So why and on which grounds did he permit the disqualifications? Did he imagine, as with the end of the Ahmadinejad presidencies, that any old president will do — seeing as they're nobodies anyway — to refuel the system? Indeed, some reformists now timidly suggesting the need for "change" may come in handy for that, perhaps some years down the line.

But today, it seems Khamenei and the Guardian Council decided that since Iranians were not going to vote en masse anyway, they might as well have a "quiet" election. As the deputy-speaker of parliament, the conservative Abdolreza Mesri says, "a massive turnout doesn't matter per se, and can even yield a bad election." It could, he says, "divert our attention to how many voted, not the election's goal."

There's little place for the phony spectacle of a preordained election.

The voters are of course worried about the economy. The Rouhani government had promised to fix the economy within 100 days of its election. Instead things just got worse, and millions of Iranians have slipped below the poverty or absolute poverty lines. The state itself has put inflation at 168% since 2018, when the United States reimposed sanctions on Iran. Many more Iranians are living in shanty-towns now than before the Rouhani presidencies and the middle class is fading.

Add to that: a pandemic, worsening pollution, drought, social disintegration and pervasive political corruption, which leave little place for the phony spectacle of a preordained election. There seems to be no remedy for Iran's myriad ills — but then, the regime fancies as it always has that even without Iran, an Islamic Republic can survive and thrive.

Geopolitics
Hamed Mohammadi

Is Iran Behind The Outbreak Of Israeli-Palestinian Violence?

Israel had struck Iranian interests in recent months without significant reprisals. Meanwhile, Iran is growing impatient that nuclear talks in Vienna are stalling, and may have turned to the Palestinian groups it arms to provoke the violence.

-Analysis-

LONDON — Heavy rocket fire on Israel from Gaza began four days after Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei declared in a speech on Quds Day that "fighting the Zionist regime is a general duty." He was addressing the youth of the Muslim world, and told them to "build suitable weapons and strengthen the line of holy war and martyrdom."

Khamenei reacted to the rocket attacks at another gathering in Tehran, saying "force is the only language the Zionists understand," and the best way for Palestinians to "force the criminals to surrender and stop their savagery."

Israel has dealt Iran's clerical regime several blows in recent years, both inside the country and against its allies and positions in Syria, each time with Iran unable to retaliate. Furthermore, while the suspect deaths of two Revolutionary Guards generals (Mohammad Hossein-Zadeh Hejazi and Mohammad Ali Haqbin) cannot be directly attributed to Israel, reactions by senior Iranian officials suggest they suspect Israel's hand. Some regional reports on Hejazi's death have suggested he was poisoned.

Revolutionary Guards commander Hossein Salami said at his funeral that "I heard Israel is rejoicing, but it will disappear." The latest violence in Gaza seems, at the very least, to be a consolation to Iranian officials, after months of helpless resentment against Israel. But Iran may have had a more direct hand.

The Iranian ayatollahs are telling Israel its attacks and sabotage in Vienna will not go unanswered.

Talks have stalled to revive a nuclear pact between Iran and the West, as Israel and Saudi Arabia pressure the administration of President Joe Biden to prevent its waltzing into a any-old deal with Tehran, and dashed Tehran's hopes of dealing with an "Obama-style" administration. Iranian officials have repeatedly accused Israel in past weeks of blocking the talks. With the country heaving under economic pressures, the regime has few bargaining chips with the West, besides threatening to rev up uranium enrichment or fueling regional violence.

It seems that speaking through the rocket fire of Hamas and Islamic Jihad, the Iranian ayatollahs are telling Israel its attacks and sabotage in Vienna will not go unanswered. Khamenei thus likely gave the green light for strikes on Israel. He had to take this dangerous step to show Iran's sway over the groups it arms, and how closely they listen to Tehran.

Ayatollah Ali Khameini condemns Israel in a May 11 speech — Photo : Iranian Supreme Leader's Office

Salami, the Revolutionary Guards chief, told an interviewer that Israel was "in decline" and "this time the Zionist regime may even collapse internally." He was one of several personalities in Iran and Lebanon who have claimed this violence is not unrelated to the U.S. strike that killed the Guards general Qasem Soleimani in early 2020. One Iranian legislator, Mohsen Dehnavi, had already threatened a "shower of missiles' on Israel, after a recent strike near its Dimona installation.

The other factor inside Iran is the presidential election slated for late June, with the attacks also bearing a message to the candidates in Tehran, that "real" revolutionaries don't negotiate — they strike.

The attacks may have sought to ruin the Abraham Accords, between Israel and Sunni countries in the Gulf. as Israel's predictably crushing response puts Arab countries on the defensive as regional media and opinion will be sure to blame Israel for civilian deaths rather than Hamas, which regularly uses human shields.

Iran is well practiced at using proxies to strike at the West. And Israel must respond, knowing that failure to do so will only embolden its foes. Right now, the Islamic Republic of Iran is in a hurry to have sanctions lifted, which can only happen if negotiations get moving in Vienna. Will their gamble pay off? It depends largely on how Israel reacts in the coming days. But the West should not ignore the triangular link between Iran's weakened position, talks in Vienna and the rockets flying between Gaza and Israel.

Geopolitics
Hamed Mohammadi

Weakened Iran v. Appeasing West - The Puzzle Of New Nuclear Talks

Sanctions have shrunk Islamic Iran's regional and nuclear ambitions, but it retains a trump card in current talks with the Powers: the determination of the Western camp to appease its regime in return for a bit of peace

-Analysis-

There are conflicting reports on the state of talks in Vienna between Tehran and Western powers on reviving the pact to keep Iran's nuclear program in check. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) fears that if talks carry on through May, at the end of its agreement with Iran on inspections, it will be unable to verify ongoing activities at Iranian installations.

The current negotiations follow the decision by the Donald Trump Administration in 2018 to pull out of the breakthrough agreement in 2015. Timing is crucial, and France's ambassador to Iran recently told the Tehran-based newspaper Kar-va-Kargar that Western powers wanted the pact fully revived before Iran's presidential elections, scheduled for late June.

It's undeniable that an international current is mobilizing in line with the Islamic Republic's interests, and is determined to work with Foreign Minister Javad Zarif's team to revive the pact with approval from Iran's Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei. This despite the fact that states are aware of the nuclear threat posed by the clerical regime and its Revolutionary Guards. They know the regime has been sending arms and money to regional terrorists and militias. Prominent Western media and Persian-language outlets based abroad promote and echo the lobby's collaborationist positions.

German intelligence officials observed in 2020 that Iran was in contact with German firms in its bid to access nuclear-related know-how and equipment. Iran's security agencies were also spying on and restricting exiled opponents in Germany and elsewhere, they stated. Swedish security agencies backed that report with similar findings on Iran.

For decades now, Western powers have known of the regime's pernicious activities abroad and rights violations inside Iran, but persist in their efforts to find an agreement with it. The FDD, a rights and democracy think-tank, believes Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel is giving priority to trade over the security warnings given about Tehran's rulers.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani speaks during a meeting on talks in Vienna and nuclear deal in Tehran, Iran on April 20, 2021 — Photo : Iranian Presidency

The presence in Vienna of the Iranian deputy-foreign minister Abbas Araqchi for indirect talks with the United States, confirms Khamenei's approval. Khamenei had already said officials should not "wait so much as an hour" to have sanctions on Iran lifted, though stressing that talks with the West must be "honorable." He believes a piecemeal removal of sanctions will not help the regime, and wants them lifted altogether if Iran is to resume its commitments in the nuclear pact. Western powers have yet to agree to his conditions and rather want a pact to include Iran's ballistic and regional activities.

The Islamic Republic is mired in an economic crisis and sees the removal of oil and banking sanctions as vital. Against a background of mounting discontent, the regime wants sanctions removed almost immediately. But there are some with close relations to the Iranian military who like to accuse the diplomats of succumbing to the West and harming national interests. While the diplomats negotiate with Khamenei's backing, they lambast the government and deride talks — also with Khamenei's backing! It is a phony war that has lasted through several Iranian governments, or a theater whose cast refuses to abandon the stage — season after season — until one of the actors dies or is struck down!

Iran's regime may feel its only option is to intensify its blustering.

Opponents of a pact in Iran appear to be several powerful groups, including those who do not want President Hassan Rouhani and his reformist allies to be the protagonists of talks with the West, like former Revolutionary Guards to Commander Mohsen Rezai who do not oppose talks with the U.S., but emphasize the Leader's condition on sanctions. Others insist at least one member of Parliament must attend the talks. One legislator reputedly close to the Guards, Mojtaba Zolnuri, head of the parliamentary National Security Commission, says "I claim and I can back my claim, that Rouhani and his followers want sanctions to stay, and are working to prevent their removal."

Hossein Dehqan, a military affairs adviser to Khamenei, insists the United States must recognize the Islamic regime, provide "guarantees' for its survival and stop meddling with its regional policies. This sector supports its ideas with a single big idea: using military force to push foreign policy goals. Iran's regime may feel its only option is to intensify its blustering and threaten the United States and its regional allies with rockets and proxy militias. This may win immediate concessions, but such tactics will bring it bigger problems down the line.

But ultimately, Tehran's negotiators will have to yield in Vienna. If the Biden administration and European powers stand firm on ending Iran's ballistic strikes and backing for militias, its officials must either give in or face a military response. They may of course feign acceptance to buy themselves time; for this regime has shown that pact or no pact, it will not abandon its plans. Are we returning to the cat-and-mouse games of the 1990s and 2000s? Or will the West stop playing? Can it ignore the clear warnings from Israel that it will act alone in the face of threats?

Geopolitics
Hossein Aqay

Any Means, All Fronts: Netanyahu's Shadow War On Iran

The Israeli Prime Minister has taken his cue from a bold predecessor, Menachem Begin, to curb Islamic Iran's regional presence and nuclear threat by any means necessary.

-Analysis-

LONDON — Israel's suspected strike against the Natanz nuclear plant in Iran has taken its shadow war with the Islamic Republic to a new high. It is a battle that began in the 1980s with Iran creating the Hezbollah militia in Lebanon and which continues today, fueled by the Islamic Republic's ideological, ballistic and atomic expansionism.

If Israel's Mossad agency did indeed play a role in this incident, then it marks a timely move by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to rob Iran of its last bargaining chip against the Biden administration and its allies, with which Iran has resumed talks to revive the 2015 nuclear pact. It is also part of Netanyahu's wider policy to tighten the screws on Islamic Iran, with this last turn coinciding with incipient talks in Vienna.

Israeli and U.S. intelligence agents believe the plant's enrichment capabilities, a principal concern of Israel and Western powers, are now badly damaged, in spite of Iran's claim that it will ramp up uranium enrichment to the 60% (weapons-grade) level.

Will the Natanz attack spell the end of the Islamic Republic's nuclear ambitions?

Whether the incident will significantly delay enrichment, or fail to, the question remains: Will Israel continue such actions to curb Iran's nuclear program? Will the Natanz attack spell the end of the Islamic Republic's nuclear ambitions, seeing as its knowhow is now native, and independent? How will Israel deal with Iran from now on?

To answer these, we must consider aspects of what I would term the "Netanyahu doctrine" toward the Islamic Republic. It has similarities and some fundamental differences with the Begin doctrine, as pursued by another prime minister, Menahem Begin (1977-1983), to curb Iraq's nuclear program under Saddam Hussein.

Netanyahu reiterated at an April 12 press conference in Israel with the visiting U.S. defense secretary that Israel would not let the Islamic Republic obtain nuclear weapons, once more qualifying the regime as the chief threat to the Middle East.

Four decades earlier, just after Israeli jets had destroyed Iraq's Osirak reactor in 1981, Begin also insisted that his country would never allow its enemies to make weapons of mass destruction.

The strike on Osirak was no last-minute act. It followed four years of tracking Iraq's nuclear program and other preliminary moves, including killings of Iraqi nuclear scientists. Natanz too is anything but a first shot. Israel's 2007 strike on the al-Kibar nuclear site in Syria was an early and incidental warning to Iran.

In the light of other developments like the recent killing of a key Iranian scientist and Israeli concerns about Iran's talks with the West, one may ask if Netanyahu has revived the Begin doctrine.

Arguably he has undertaken, in tandem with the United States, a restrictive strategy toward the Islamic Republic at various levels including its nuclear program. This has seven broad elements, namely:

  • The killing of prominent figures related to the nuclear program
  • Sabotage of installations
  • Theft of suspect shipments and attacks on Iranian ships
  • Selling Iran damaged or vulnerable equipment
  • Cyber warfare
  • Strikes on Iran's proxy militias in Syria
  • Forging the Abraham Accords with Arab states

On the first front, research suggests that the assassinations were the work of Mossad's infamous Kidon unit. Reports attribute the agency's direct or indirect involvement in the killings of five Iranian nuclear scientists or senior program figures: Mas'ud Alimohammadi (January 2010), Majid Shahryari (November 2010), Mostafa Ahmadi-Roshan (January 2012), Dariush Rezaynejad (July 2011), and Mohsen Fakhrizadeh-Mahabadi (November 2020).

With regards to sabotage, actions include the explosions in October 2010 in the Shahab missile production plant in the Zagros mountains, which killed 18 people. The following year, Iran saw four explosions on military-nuclear installations, including the Bidgoneh explosion (in November 2011), which killed Hassan Tehrani, a Revolutionary Guards general dubbed the country's "ballistic father."

On the third front — nabbing suspect items and shipments — incidents include the hijacking of the Arctic Sea ship in 2009, which some papers suggested was taking Russian weaponry to Iran, and the theft of Iranian nuclear documents in 2015. Since late 2019, furthermore, Israel has targeted at least 12 Iranian ships with mines. Most were taking oil to Syria, but the latest target was a ship in the Red Sea suspected of spying for the Revolutionary Guards.

On the fourth front, Western and Israeli intelligence agencies have on occasions used intermediate firms to sell damaged or vulnerable equipment to the Islamic Republic. These pieces have "infected" Iranian nuclear installations and made them more vulnerable to hacking. The Tinners, a family of Swiss engineers, reportedly sold Iran faulty equipment a decade ago that may have damaged 50 centrifuges in Natanz.

Israeli military intelligence (AMAN) is involved in the fifth strategy approach to curb Iran's nuclear program, through cyberattacks that have intensified of late. In one early operation in 2007, Israel introduced the Stuxnet virus into Natanz, three years before the plant suffered a viral attack that destroyed about 1,000 centrifuges.

In addition, Israel has not hesitated to strike at militias in Syria and taken bold steps, with the aid of the Trump administration, to normalize ties with several Arab states. And so, lastly, the Abraham Accords are unlikely to be reversed under the Biden administration.

Several Arab states are equally fearful of a nuclear-armed Iran.

Israel, in other words, has been able to strike at the Islamic Republic on all seven fronts, with actions whose scope and results have clearly surpassed the limits of any unspoken war in the shadows.

Three months into the Biden administration and with Iran showing an interest in reviving its pact with the Powers, the Netanyahu government fears the Iranian side will use enrichment to cajole the West into lifting sanctions. Several Arab states are equally fearful of a nuclear-armed Iran, and unless the United States can provide them with security assurances, we can expect more sabotage, cyberattacks or even military action against Iran.

Fakhrizadeh's killing and the Natanz breakdown clearly express Israel's concerns at the prospect of any nuclear détente with Iran, and are warnings both to Tehran and the Biden team.

Netanyahu wants them to know that if Israel's security is ignored and a new pact effectively paves the way for Iran's progression toward nuclear weapons, then war between Israel and the Islamic Republic will come out of the shadows.

Geopolitics

The Natanz Nuclear Site Attack Sparks Political Fallout In Iran

Besides partially destroying a key nuclear installation, the suspected sabotage at the Natanz uranium enrichment facility is also exacerbating tensions within Iran's leadership ranks. Was that part of the purpose of the attack?

-Analysis-

This week's explosion at Iran's Natanz nuclear facility is having repercussions in the capital, Tehran, starting with Alireza Zakani, a former Revolutionary Guards commander, who has sharply criticized domestic intelligence agencies, saying "a good part" of the country's uranium enrichment facilities "have been destroyed."

Iranian authorities suspect sabotage, and have called the explosion and subsequent blackout at the site a case of "nuclear terrorism," presumed to have been carried out by Israeli agents.

Zakani, who currently serves as head of the Iranian Parliament's research center, told a television interview on Monday that Iran had become a "paradise for spies' and that "spies are flourishing." He suggested that the explosion was a maneuver or "part of the Vienna negotiations' meant to bring Iran and Western powers back to the 2015 nuclear pact. The agreement sought until recently to control Iran's nuclear program.

While damage from the explosion is clearly considerable, it is not impossible for officials of the Islamic Republic to have exaggerated and lied about the real harm done to the centrifuges, as a distraction from the country's nuclear activities. Indeed, they may be giving false information hoping to obtain concessions from the West as an injured party — now that talking tough has not proven as useful ahead of talks.

Some Western and Israeli intelligence sources estimate that the explosions may halt Iran's nuclear operations for nine months or more.

Israeli and Western officials, including those of the Trump and Biden administrations in the United States, have reiterated that they will not tolerate Iran accessing nuclear weapons (which the regime denies it wants). And in recent years, talks on Iran's program have been ongoing, sometimes in secret, and either in direct or indirect form through third parties. These conversations have yielded concessions on both sides, and even produced agreements.

But at times where diplomacy proved fruitless or when Iran is considered to have crossed the world's security lines, Israel and the Western powers, either separately or in tacit cooperation, have acted against Iran's nuclear threat.

The West's "undiplomatic" interventions include collaborations in 2007 between Dutch, U.S. and Israeli spy services to launch a cyber-attack on the Natanz plant. An Iranian engineer may have helped in that case. There have been other acts of sabotage, along with the physical elimination of nuclear scientists or military figures.

Radical currents within the country are urging the government not to resume nuclear talks.

These blows have done more than physical harm. In each case, they have an impact as well on the regime's standing, often making a mockery of its political calculations and fanning discord among its nomenklatura, as the latest Natanz explosion is doing. And time again again, such attacks also underscore three basic foreign policy problems that the Islamic Republic of Iran faces.

One is whether or not to pursue nuclear talks. The second is pressures on the Revolutionary Guards for failing to safeguard nuclear installations. The third is concern about the presence of infiltrators at the highest levels of Iran's intelligence or security apparatus.

Social platform users have latched onto recent pictures of a bedridden spokesman for Iran's nuclear agency, Behruz Kamalvandi — who said he had fallen into a ventilation shaft — saying his pained face symbolized the state of the entire regime. In the meantime, radical currents within the country are urging the government not to resume nuclear talks.

Inside the Natanz enrichment facility — Photo: Salampix/Abaca via ZUMA Press

The government and its reformist allies, for their part, say the explosion was just that: an attempt by Israel to derail talks and prevent the lifting of sanctions. They insist that walking out on talks would be to play into Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's hands. The official IRNA agency called the explosion a "Zionist trap."

The legislator Ali Khazarian advised the government not to stake the regime's "dignity" on talks, while presidential adviser Hesameddin Ashna asked if it was right to "cut off the Vienna talks in response to the power cut at Natanz."

Hossein Shariatmadari, the editor of the conservative Tehran newspaper Kayhan (not associated with Kayhan London) has no doubts that "the Zionists' were behind the explosion. He wrote on April 13 that Israel "cannot possibly pursue its criminal plans without help from the American and European sides and the treachery of infiltrators." Resuming talks, he wrote, was to signal to the West that they could keep striking "without qualms or concerns!"

Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif stressed in Parliament on Monday that Iran would not suspend uranium enrichment. But whose orders do Zarif, his diplomats, parliament and the government obey? Can they sit and negotiate without permission from Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei?

The targeting of Iranian scientists and soldiers, elimination of Iran-backed militias, sabotage, and the sanctions imposed on Iran are just some of the West's weapons against Tehran. The regime has a choice of paths: It can submit and step back, or bolster its ballistic, regional and atomic threats or turn to hostage-taking, jeopardizing its existence.

The Javan newspaper in Tehran, a mouthpiece of the Revolutionary Guards, had its own take on the Natanz explosion, arguing in an editorial Wednesday that the "real harm" of the incident was to spark "disputes' inside the political class and hasten its downfall.

Geopolitics
Roshanak Astaraki

Tehran And That Other Superpower: China Aims At Iran’s Economy

While most of the attention around Iran is related to its nuclear program, an open ended deal may give China the legal foundations it needs to take a controlling stake in Iran's economy, and in time, undermine its independence.

-Analysis-

LONDON — After several years of "secret talks', and to the dismay of many everyday Iranian citizens, officials of the Islamic Republic of Iran and China have signed a comprehensive 25-year agreement said to cover three broad axes of strategic-political, economic and cultural affairs.

The origins of the ambiguous document go back to 2015 when China's Xi Jinping visited the Islamic Republic and met, perhaps unusually then, with the Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. The two heads of state then signed a joint communiqué declaring a commitment to actively upgrade ties through "comprehensive and strategic cooperation."

Five years later, in the summer of 2020, the government of the Iranian President, Hassan Rohani, approved a draft of the cooperation document and Rohani tasked his foreign minister, Mohammadjavad Zarif, with its public presentation.

The two countries have been moving closer for years as part of Khamenei's "Look East" policy format and with recurrent visits by top officials from both countries. That includes a recent trip to China by the head of the Iranian Armed forces joint headquarters, Mohammadhossein Baqeri, to discuss "enhanced defensive diplomacy."

Iran was placing major sectors like energy, security and military affairs under Chinese oversight.

Last July, the website Oil Price reported on some of the deal's details and scope. That report, in turn, prompted what may have been an Iranian foreign ministry "leak" in the form of an 18-page "correction," perhaps meant to counter the Oil Price article's impact on social media.

The Oil Price report suggested that Iran was placing major sectors including energy, security and military affairs under Chinese oversight, and effectively giving China control of its economic, political and military development for 25 years. Not surprisingly, U.S. President Joe Biden has publicly expressed concern.

Many Iranians are also alarmed, especially now that the deal has officially been signed. People have voiced their anger on Twitter using hashtags like "Iran on Sale", "Iran is Not for Sale" or "Shameful Agreement". There have been scattered protests in some Iranian cities like Tehran, Karaj, Isfahan and Kermanshah.

The refusal, on both sides, to reveal the terms of their agreement have only intensified concerns, as has the fact that, to avoid having to submit the text to parliamentary approval and effectively sidestep the laws of the Islamic Republic, Iranian officials aren't calling it an agreement — despite the scope of its concessions. Instead, they refer to it in lesser terms like a collaborative document, road map, or a document of understanding.

Article 153 of the regime's Constitution forbids "any agreement leading to foreign control of natural and economic resources, culture, army and other national institutions."

While Supreme Leader Khamenei has called the deal "correct and wise," critics see echoes of an earlier international agreement: The secret accord that was signed in 1919 between a weakened Persian government and Great Britain and that effectively placed Iran under British imperial tutelage.

Desperate for allies

While the Islamic Republic has for years sought out the friendship of Russia and China — the former communist bloc — as part of its systematic hostility to the West, the failure of more recent moves to improve ties with Europe have pushed it deeper into China's embrace.

Effectively, Khamenei's Look East framework has incremented Iran's subservience to Russia and China and effectively led it to a deal that looks like an outright surrender. And China, for its part, is delighted to walk the red carpet laid out before it. Iran not only has natural resources to meet the Asian giant's energy needs but also potential in other areas like mining or services, which Iran's post-revolutionary governments could not find much use for but could be put to good use in China.

China can use Iran's cheap labor and resources to cut the price of its exports to the West. Or it can invest in the petrochemicals sector, as the deal envisages, to fuel its factories. In political terms, the deal forwards its bid to establish a balance of power in the world, especially with its main economic rival, the United States.

The Islamic Republic expects benefits for itself.

It will also allow China to get ahead of two other rivals, Russia and India. China has been working on curbing India's expanding economy through massive investments in surrounding states including Sri Lanka, Myanmar and Bangladesh. This deal will thwart India's plans to turn the Chabahar port on the Persian Gulf into a link to Western Asian markets and a port to compete with Karachi, inside its hostile neighbor Pakistan. Chinese presence on the Persian Gulf will also solve the problem of distance from the Middle East, which had hitherto been a Russian advantage.

The Islamic Republic naturally expects benefits for itself. The deal is expected to mitigate the impact of Western sanctions and weaken the U.S.-imposed security cordon in the region. It may give Iran more leeway in negotiations with the West.

Iranian authorities also hope to modernize their aged naval and air equipment with Chinese help and reap some of the economic benefits of China's New Silk Road initiative.

While the pact may enhance the security of Iran's regime or even "immunize" it against the West, it can prove equally threatening to Iran and its people. A key danger is that officials of the Rohani government working with Ali Larijani, a senior conservative close to Khamenei, have forged a broad-ended and vague text that can thus remain outside the framework of international treaties, and absolve the government of any obligation to publish it or seek parliamentary ratification.

Not that ratification is a problem in Islamic Iran. When parliament is told to ratify, it will: it voted in the 2015 nuclear pact within minutes!

In the next stage, the government will be able to implement the deal through specific agreements with China on sectors or projects. And China will be able to expand its presence and do business in Iran this way, for 25 years.

For many Iranian officials, communist China is not just a partner, but a "model." Chinese firms will now flow into Iran and proceed to crush domestic production, before tightening their grip on the country's economic, political and military forces.

Twenty five years gives them more than enough time. And who can be sure they will not move troops onto parts of Iran's southern shores or its islands in the Persian Gulf?

Geopolitics

Birth Rate Boost? Iranians Get Housing To Have More Children

An Iranian health official has echoed the Supreme Leader's repeated calls to rejuvenate the country's population, and ditch 'Western style' family planning.

TEHRAN — An adviser to the Iranian Health Ministry recently said every Iranian woman should have four children, to counter "damaging" birth control policies he says have been imposed on Iran. Mohammad Esma'il Akbari, head of the country's Medical Education Association, recently told the local Mizan news agency "destructive population policies' had been imposed "from outside," and were intended to "damage the population structure of the Islamic Republic of Iran."

The state, Akbari said, must rectify its overall population policy and pursue "specific goals," like "a woman having three to four children." The aim, he explained, was not just to boost demographic growth but also to "restructure" the population by making it younger.

Since the 1979 revolution, Islamic Iran has intermittently followed family planning programs, often with the help of counseling from the UN. However, religious conservatives have regularly denounced them, considering a growing population to be a sign of strength, dismissing family planning as culturally invasive.

The state would provide families with incentives like a home after a third child, cash, land or other benefits.

Akbari, a lecturer in medicine at Tehran's Shahid Beheshti University, said the debate on the desirability of population growth has now been settled in Iran, notably with the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei's support. But the state must engineer this growth with clear policies, he said. Family planners, he urged, "must set four children as their goal" to "restructure" the population.

"All Europeans and Americans' are aiming for that number, he asserted without citing sources or evidence. He rejects the idea that a bigger population would lead to lower living standards.

A family in Eram Zoological Garden in Tehran — Photo: Rouzbeh Fouladi/ZUMA

In Iran today, many families are disinclined to have any children, never mind three or four, given the country's current socio-economic conditions. In mid-March, Health Ministry spokesman Alireza Ra'isi said families were now having less than two children, "which means a falling birth rate. Children will have no close relatives in the near future." He said there was nothing "classy" about having one child, who might suffer loneliness or even depression.

Iran's Statistics Center found in March that in 25 of Iran's 31 provinces, people were having less than two children, with an average national rate of 1.7. Figures indicate that the population (of a little over 80 million) grew more slowly in the 1990s, with the rate of decline becoming sharper in recent years.

A population of 80 million means dignity for a country.

Parliament recently passed a Youthful Population and Family Support law, designed to reshape the population over the coming 7 years. If approved by the Guardian Council, a body of jurists that certifies laws, the state would provide families with incentives like a home after a third child, cash, land or other benefits. This would happen regardless of the present economic predicament where families with a single child struggle to make ends meet.

The increasing number of couples having no children at all is becoming a reality that clashes with Khamenei's calls to boost the population of Muslims. The Supreme Leader said in a speech in March 2019 that having children was God's will. A year earlier, he said a "population of 80 million ... means dignity for that country."

In this potentially blossoming population, the Islamic Republic's rulers see a future army to help export their Islamic revolution, or at least bodies to act as cannon fodder. But it seems most of those born after 1979 disagree with the regime, which does mean they are at a greater risk of early death in custody.

Akbari said debates around abortion and underage marriages were also "confusing" this pivotal population issue.

Society

Child Marriage In Iran: Is 13 Too Young? Some Are Even Younger

The Islamic Republic allows girls as young as 13 to marry legally. On top of that, a lack of enforcement means that elementary school age children may be forced into marriage as well.

Images shared on social media platforms have turned new attention to the issue of underage marriage in Iran, where critics say the government too often turns a blind eye to the practice.

The photos in question are of a six-year-old boy and a seven-year-old girl in a medical clinic in the district of Kazerun in southern Iran. The assumption is that they're being tested ahead of their possible marriage, presumably as planned by their families.

The head of the Kazerun health care authority, Bandar Baramaki, confirmed that the tests were because the families were concerned about prior cases of thalassemia (a blood disorder) in both families. Nevertheless, he downplays the child marriage angle.

"We don't know whether later on they will marry or not, and even if they wanted to they could not, because two people with thalassemia cannot marry," he says.

Likewise, the local judiciary responded by saying that the children were Afghans and that the families in question, "with regard for their customs," were indeed planning to have the children marry, but only after they reach "legal" age, namely 13 for girls and 15 for boys.

The Kazerun Public and Revolutionary Court warned it would act against anyone "publishing fake news and subjects."

But critics say that in this case, public officials are the ones who are twisting the information as a way to cover up the reality of underage marriages, which are on the rise with poorer families being offered money for their children.

The laws of the Islamic Republic of Iran require marriage parties to register with a notary and provide valid identity papers (with photos) proving their age. It appears, however, that the law is not being respected or enforced.

Social platform users have used #No2IR (short for "no to the Islamic Republic") to denounce the regime's position on underage marriage — both legal (by allowing girls as young as 13 to marry) and de facto (by turning a blind eye to cases involving even younger children) — as simply horrendous.

She says underage marriage figures "are not that high."

According to figures from the Iran Statistics Center, in the three-month period from March 20, 2020, more than 7,000 girls aged 10 to 14 years were married, with one girl aged less than 10 also registered as married. The same body found that the mothers of 346 children born in that period were not yet 15 years old, with mothers aged 15 to 19 giving birth to some 16,000 babies. Additionally, it counted 131 divorces involving a wife aged less than 14 years, and 2,650 divorcées aged 15 to 19 years.

The country's vice-president for women and family affairs, Ma'sumeh Ebtekar, says underage marriage figures "are not that high" and that Iran has a "strong" reactive system to block such situations.

For years now, a bill to raise the legal marriage age to 18 has been circulating between the presidency, parliament and the Guardian Council. The latter body ensures legislation does not contravene the constitution or religious laws.

In late Feb. 2021, the district of Namin in the province of Ardabil registered 120 underage marriages in one notary alone. The Namin chief prosecutor, Azim Akbari, says those were "just some of the cases of underage marriage that were identified" — presumably in the province — though he adds that as time passed, it was difficult to find out when exactly couples had married.