KAYHAN-LONDON
Kayhan is a Persian-language, London-based spinoff of the conservative daily of the same name headquartered in Tehran. It was founded in 1984 by Mostafa Mesbahzadeh, the owner of the Iranian paper. Unlike its Tehran sister paper, considered "the most conservative Iranian newspaper," the London-based version is mostly run by exiled journalists and is very critical of the Iranian regime.
Geopolitics
Ahmad Ra'fat

As Hopes For Iran Nuclear Deal Fade, Uranium Enrichment Accelerates

Institute for Science and International Security concludes that Iran is enriching uranium at a 60% level, with new centrifuges meaning that Tehran is a month away from obtaining arms-grade material to move toward its first weapon.


-Analysis-

The U.S.-based Institute for Science and International Security, which includes independent nuclear power experts, concludes from information issued by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) that Iran is enriching uranium at a 60% level — and thanks to new types of centrifuges, Tehran is barely a month away from obtaining weapons-grade material. The specialists caution that weapons-grade uranium is not the same as a nuclear bomb, for which delivery weapons and assemblage are needed. That would require another two years.

The Institute's experts believe Iran could produce material for a second bomb within a three-month time frame and that unless its activities are slowed, it may have enough enriched uranium for three bombs in the next five months.

Yet European states have shown unjustified optimism after a recent trip to Tehran by IAEA chief Rafael Grossi, and his meeting with Mohammad Eslami, the new head of Iran's Atomic Energy Organization. Grossi achieved very little in terms of reducing Iran's enrichment activities, merely ensuring the IAEA's renewed access to its cameras in installations there. Their recordings remain in Iranian hands.

Sabotage and cyberattacks haven't stopped progress

Instead, the visit helped Iran to halt at the last minute a threat by Britain, France and Germany to present the IAEA board of governors with a draft resolution to resend Iran's dossier to the UN Security Council for violating its non-proliferation obligations.

The IAEA had made further concessions. In past months, it kept quiet about reports of abusive conduct in Iran toward female IAEA inspectors, protesting only once the incidents were reported in The Wall Street Journal.

The Institute for Science and International Security also believes the acts of sabotage and cyberattacks of past months reportedly carried out by Israel and the United States, have failed to significantly interrupt Iran's program, merely slowing activities at certain locations. Tehran managed to rapidly repair the damage done, and resume its activities. The report concludes that Iran is as close today as it has ever been to accessing a bomb.

File photo of former Iranian President Rouhani and Head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran Ali Akbar Salehi visit an exhibition of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI) achievements.— Photo: Salampix/Abaca/ZUMA

Keep an eye on Ali Baqeri-Kani

It is not currently clear when Iran and the West will resume talks on Tehran's program. With the rise of hardline officials in Iran — from President Ibrahim Raisi to his foreign minister, Hossein Amir'abdollahian and the country's new nuclear chief, Mohammad Eslami — it seems unlikely the West will get the same terms as the 2015 pact that included the United States.

Western states are particularly concerned by Iran's new negotiator, Ali Baqeri-Kani, who replaces Abbas Araqchi. Baqeri's father heads some of the regime's powerful financial and cultural foundations and his brother, Mesbahulhuda, is a son-in-law to the Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. He has several times voiced his opposition to any type of compromise with the West.

From 2007 to 2013, he was in the negotiation team led by Sa'id Jalili, when talks with the West yielded nothing for Iran but more and tougher sanctions. Today, the prospects of reviving the 2015 pact have dimmed. Its moribund state may even have cheered Israel into recently softening its vociferous opposition to a pact with Tehran.

Observers suspect more concessions to Iran may be afoot, to prevent the pact's demise. Some believe the Islamic Republic may be changing its entire nuclear policy, and its refusal to return to Vienna has little to do with a new president but with a firm belief that it must return with its "hands full." Dangling its considerable advances toward a nuclear weapon, Iran could then stop its activities at the last minute, in return for major concessions, like the lifting of most sanctions and foregoing any talks about its ballistic program or regional interventions.

Geopolitics
Ahmad Ra'fat

"We Won't Be Silenced" - Afghan Women Vow To Resist Taliban

Angered at the return of the Islamist rule of the Taliban, many Afghan women are refusing to keep quiet, covered and at home as they did in the 1990s.

The Afghan struggle against the Taliban's sectarian rule has begun, and does not look as if it will be deterred by threats from the "Islamic Emirate." After forming its provisional government — which shares a trait with the cabinet of Iran's President Ebrahim Raisi for including ministers subject to sanctions and sought by international justice — the Taliban regime immediately banned all demonstrations. Protests, it declared, must seek permits 24 hours beforehand and even submit the slogans to be chanted to the interior and justice ministries for approval.

One woman who took part in recent anti-state protests in Kabul was Fahimeh Sadat, a rights activist who used to work with the Afghan government. Fahimeh Sadat tells Kayhan London by phone, "We won't be silenced with these threats, and will defend the rights we won in the past 20 years as far as we can."

We're not prepared to overlook our hard-earned rights.

She adds that women won't accept being confined at home like 25 years ago, having to do nothing but bear children, without any political or social rights: "We studied and worked, and we're not prepared to overlook our hard-earned rights because of the treachery of politicians and of international games, and because some bearded men from the Stone Age have regained power. We won't just switch off. That would be like combining death and hard labor."

Fereshteh Ra'fat, a journalist who managed to leave Kabul on one of the last flights out, says Afghanistan is "not the Afghanistan of 20 years ago," and the Taliban "are well aware of this change, which is why they are particularly afraid of women."

Ra'fat says they know that today, as was seen across Afghanistan in the past days, women are at the heart of protests against the government: "They're the ones who with their presence on the streets, brought the men onto the streets of Kabul, Herat and Mazar-e Sharif."

Many women in Afghanistan fear their hard-won rights will be taken away — Photo: Demiroren Visual Media/Abaca/ZUMA

Fahimeh Sadat will not believe any of the Taliban's promises to safeguard women's rights in an "Islamic framework." She says, "Didn't we live in an Islamic country so far? Which of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan's laws were against religious laws? Not that the Taliban recognize rights for men either. They arrest and strike with any pretext, as they did with journalists in recent days."

She cites their violations including the disappearance of ethnic Hazaras in Dasht-e Barchi (west of Kabul) and murders of civilians in the Panjshir valley. With such actions, she asks, "how are we going to believe that they will recognize women's rights, when the Taliban spokesman denies women constitute half of society."

Fahimeh Sadat says the city-countryside divide was a factor that aided the Taliban's return. The cultural and economic changes of the past 20 years "never reached the villages," she says, and rural life remained traditional. She said, "We mustn't pin our hopes on foreign governments. We must change Afghan society from inside," and bring it to "maturity." Her mother had "opted for silence and inaction to stay alive" in the last Taliban government, but for herself, "the incentive is to take part in protests. We're not seeing similar moves in villages, even if many people in the countryside are probably dismayed by the Taliban's return."

You can't blame America and the West for every sin.

She admits the sudden, disorderly departure of Western troops helped bring the Taliban to power, but Afghan society and politicians were not blameless. "If we had pressured our political leaders and didn't expect America and the West to decide for us like guardians, we might not be under the Taliban today. You can't blame America and the West for every sin. They created conditions 20 years ago so we could forge a new life for ourselves, and we are the ones who lost the opportunity."

She says protests in cities and fighting in the Panjshie Valley "are complementary." But reports from the valley in north-central Afghanistan are contradictory. The Taliban claim they have broken resistance led by Ahmad Mas'ud, after bombing and air and drone support given by Pakistan. Opposition fighters claim they have retreated to the mountains to prevent civilian deaths. In the last 150 years, no imperial power — from the British Empire to the Soviets to the Taliban themselves in 1996 — could fully penetrate and take over the Panjshir mountains, and this may again prove an unlikely feat today.

Fahimeh Sadat tells Kayhan London that as far she could make out from intermittent reports, the rebels in Panjshir were preparing for a guerrilla war, while "the Taliban could not have entered Panjshir and taken its towns without Pakistani military support." She says Afghans did not expect foreign states to help, as "they have their own interests," but hoped they would at least "refrain from direct interference and stop backing the Taliban."

Ahmad Mas'ud has said he would form an opposition government, for which former vice-president Yunus Qanuni is working to win support from notables and parties. Qanuni once collaborated with Mas'ud's legendary father, the late Ahmadshah Mas'ud. The opposition's aim, says Fahimeh Sadat, is to repeat the experience of the 1990s, when very few states recognized the Taliban as Afghanistan's government.

Geopolitics
Kayhan London

Reports: U.S. Arms Abandoned In Afghanistan Moved To Iran

Weaponry belonging to the Afghan army is moving into Iran, though it is not clear if it is smuggled, or moved in a deal between the Taliban and Iran's regime.

LONDON — With the Taliban taking over Afghanistan, much of the U.S.-supplied military hardware formerly used by the country's armed forces have fallen into their hands. This terrorist group that ruled the country from 1996 to 2001, and gave refuge to other terrorists, especially al-Qaeda, now has its hands on advanced military weaponry and know-how.

It has also become clear that neighboring Iran was keen and ready to get its own hands on this material, either to use directly or to copy the weapon design.

And this has happened amid reports that armaments including tanks and armored vehicles have been moved into Iran. Sources say Iranian dealers are particularly looking for arms and missiles the Americans abandoned in suspect circumstances, without destroying them.

Bagram air base, Afghanistan, on Sept. 1 — Photo: Samiloglu Selcuk/Abaca/ZUMA

It is not clear whether the Taliban or fugitive members of the armed forces are handing over the weaponry to the Islamic Republic of Iran, or if this is the work of middlemen exploiting the disorderly state of the country.

War booty is not the only thing moving into Iran though. Thousands of Afghan citizens have left their homes and towns, fleeing toward neighboring countries like Iran and Pakistan.

These include the elderly and pregnant women, who are risking their lives on a desperate flight, though it seems they prefer this to living under the Taliban. Meanwhile, Western states are preparing for a new wave of refugees from Afghanistan, knowing that regional instability will push them toward Europe and beyond, even if they first pass through Pakistan, Iran or Turkey. This is increasingly of concern to them as the refugee crisis may last a while, in spite of the contradictory positions of different Western countries, particularly those in the European Union.

Geopolitics
Mohammadreza Hosseini

Afghan Debacle Reminds Us That Finance Rules The World

The fall of the Afghan national government may be a calamity for the Afghans but not for the world's big-money interests, which prefer to deal with ruthless, incompetent regimes that will sell out their countries.

-OpEd-

LONDON — The world is still in shock from the sudden departure of U.S. troops from Afghanistan, the collapse of its vast, national army, and the Taliban overrunning the country within days before an almost coordinated silence among governments and media.

People everywhere are asking: What really happened? There is no convincing answer yet. Initially it was said that Washington's policies toward the Taliban had failed. Then, that the Taliban were themselves Afghans, unlike the Pakistani Taliban, and somehow "working with" the Americans. Then U.S. President Joe Biden tells us: we never intended to forge a democracy in Afghanistan, but a security cordon for ourselves.

But one thing for sure he hasn't clearly explained is how 20 years of presence had left such an ill-prepared Afghan army behind. Did the Americans and the Afghan army agree not to fight? What led Biden and others to conclude the United States no longer had interests in Afghanistan?

Such questions often remain unanswered even if politicians know the answers. Decisionmakers deal precisely with these questions when meeting at international summits like G7 or at Davos. That is where it would be agreed that the United States can vacate Afghanistan and who's to come in its place. Yes, global capital is the guiding force behind such plans, and its interests and methods are the only explanation for the Taliban's unchallenged power grab. The same can be said about the world's silence over the crimes perpetrated by Iran's regime and the killings of dozens, hundreds or even thousands of civilians. Yet where it serves globalized interests, the world is whipped into a frenzy over the death of an individual and an incident becomes media fodder for weeks.

Globalism is neither a necessity nor an inevitable consequence of capitalist development.

Media of course are a key tool for the global control of both mass and élite opinions. A study from June 2020 by the Oxford Internet Institute cited China's direct influence, through think tanks and cash, on the world's most influential media. Its aim has been to sway opinion in favor of its Belt and Road initiative, which would reorder global economic ties and spread Chinese influence across Asia. Through the media, China wants to impose the idea, particularly in Europe, that its rise to global preeminence is inevitable and liberal democracy is no longer the only option.

It used these tools to divert suspicions about the Wuhan laboratory being the source of the COVID-19 pandemic. Of course, propaganda and cultural infiltrations are no novelty in communism. And in spite of the Soviet Union's collapse, communism's influence on Western minds and cultural institutions endures. It has merged today with the globalizing tendency led by China and includes perversions like support for reactionary regimes that have thrown in their lot with the "Eastern" bloc.

Evacuating women from Kabul to Spain on Aug. 29 — Photo: Mc2 Katie Cox/U.S. Navy/Planet Pix/ZUMA

Globalism is neither a necessity nor an inevitable consequence of capitalist development. It is forged and fine-tuned at the élite summits in order to maximize coordination between regional capital blocks and ease capital flows. It has little time for personal or labor rights and will turn if need be to changing political structures, or bringing down nations and "little" economies.

What it wants is a global market, not global welfare. It has already, willy-nilly, forced states to cut benefits and healthcare, pummel wages, delay retirement and create "zero-hour" contracts, while boosting spending on arms. But it also requires incompetent governance — by Taliban, mullahs or militias — and discord abroad.

Since the Taliban won't be able to entirely fill NATO's place, there is room in Afghanistan for other, unruly forces. As we witnessed with last week's attacks, Afghan lives and civil society will be swept away, but that is of little concern to the global society. Its concern is profit, and more profit. For that it needs the resources repressive regimes will sell it cheap to earn the world's indulgence for their repressive acts.

Recent events are a turning point as the United States cedes its place to China.

Not content to ruin their own countries, the revolutionary zeal of these regimes inevitably leads them to stir trouble among neighbors. Which is fine, as fearful countries will purchase more arms. The aim in any case is to keep governments weak and ensure they will not obstruct profits from flowing to where they must.

The reasons why strong parties and institutions did not emerge in Afghanistan should be studied elsewhere, but recent events are a turning point as the United States cedes its place to China as the ranking superpower. An appeasement-minded outlook may have led many Western politicians to overlook the former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger's observation that since Mao, Chinese leaders have simply mastered the art of diplomatic bluffing, or bluster, to get to where they are today.

Globalism is turning into capitalism in its most ruthless form, undermining nations, states and culture to forge and control its single market.

Perhaps the only thing that might stop its plans is public awareness. It doesn't seem like much today, but with a few more shocks like Afghanistan, people might take the first step, and shake off the chains of the false promises coming out of the media.

Ideas
Ahmad Ra'fat

Iran Protests Are Real, But Is The West Willing To Listen?

Keen to revive the 2015 nuclear pact, Washington and its allies are turning a blind eye to what's really taking place in the Islamic Republic.

-OpEd-

Protests and strikes are continuing in Iran, as are the clerical regime's relentless efforts to crush them. The government sees such popular actions as a grave threat to its survival. It knows it can no longer claim to enjoy public support, and sees repression as the only way to survive — at least for a while longer.

The country's presidential elections, in June, were a wakeup call in that respect. People broadly refused to participate, as indicated even by the official numbers. The regime, if it's to be believed, claims that less than half of eligible voters participated, and that of the votes cast, 14% were blank or spoiled ballots. Unofficial reports paint an even starker picture, with estimates that participation didn't even reach the 20% mark. In Tehran, only one in five people are believed to have voted.

The reality is that we're a country where in response to water or power shortages, people immediately start chanting Death to the Islamic Republic. People are angry, in other words, and they have been for quite some time, as evidenced by more than a year of daily demonstrations or strike actions in different cities.

The fact is that no foreign plot or meddling is needed to goad Iranians into protesting against this regime. What they're reacting to, rather, are exasperating daily conditions.

Contract workers from more than 100 oil-sector and petrochemical firms remain on strike, joined recently by workers of the Haft Tappeh sugar factory. The most recent bout of protests began ostensibly over water shortages in Hamidieh in Khuzestan and have yet to end, with unrest spreading to other towns in the province, then other provinces.

The regime and its allies have sought, in vain, to downplay or discredit these actions at home and abroad. Contrary to the regime's charges, the Arab inhabitants of Khuzestan have not come out to demand secession from Iran, nor are the thousands of others protesting across the country for the past few weeks "rioters," as the government states. Regime apologists abroad have wrongly described protesters as armed and even trained abroad.

The fact is that no foreign plot or meddling is needed to goad Iranians into protesting against this regime. What they're reacting to, rather, are exasperating daily conditions. And if anything, it's the regime that has benefited most from outside influence. That the leadership has survived as long as it has is due in large part to direct and indirect backing from foreign countries, from both the East and West.


As Ayatollah Ali Khamenei receives his second dose, he reportedly asked the next government to urgently solve the water crisis in Khuzestan provinceIranian Supreme Leader's Office via ZUMA Press Wire


And a Amnesty International has stated, the regime is even resorting to armaments used in war to silence protests that could in time confound the Supreme leader's claims that the regime is stable. For years now, the Islamic Republic has projected itself abroad as stable, citing evidence including the people's extensive participation in controlled elections. The next time the regime sits down with Western diplomats, it'll no longer be able to make that claim.

The leadership has also boasted of its ability to overcome several rounds of protests, notably in 2018 and 2019, as another indication of strength. But when unrest recurs every two years or so, and can only be silenced with jailings, torture and executions, it is clear the instability is endemic. The regime wants to put out a smouldering fire with ashes, and insists on telling observers the fire is out.

The West's dream of renewing the 2015 nuclear pact may be one reason why Western states have been slow and tepid in reacting to the violent suppression of protests of Iran. European signatories to the pact (Great Britain, France and Germany), along with the United States under the Biden administration, are determined to recover the pact and believe that talks — and keeping quiet about the regime's crimes — can force the Islamic Republic to retreat in its nuclear program. But after six rounds of fruitless talks, these are fading hopes.

Can the West negotiate with a president implicated in prison massacres?

The declarations made by Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in his last meeting with the outgoing cabinet of President Hassan Rohani showed that Islamic Iran is not banking on an agreement with the West anytime soon. Washington cannot accept some of the conditions Iranian negotiators have set, one of them being that future U.S. president should be barred from leaving the pact. Another is expecting that the Revolutionary Guards will be taken off the international terrorists list, without Iran making fundamental changes to its regional policies.

As the regime becomes less stable, it also becomes more isolated abroad. That makes the current round of protests more important. Other isolating factors include the trial in Sweden of a regime hand, Hamid Nuri, for his suspected role in mass executions in Iran. In 1988, he was an assistant-prosecutor working with Raisi, then a senior prosecutor, at the Gohardasht prison outside Tehran.

Nuri's conviction down the line would have repercussions beyond his person. He was after all, carrying out orders — Raisi's orders. Can the West then sit and negotiate, or sign an agreement, with a president implicated in prison massacres? How would Western states justify that to public opinion in their own countries, never mind to the people of Iran?

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

In Iran, The Pandemic Has Prompted A Spike In Suicides

The pandemic has made things seem even bleaker for a population already struggling with serious economic woes and government repression.

The coronavirus pandemic has killed a staggering number of people worldwide. But it's also had a profound impact on people's mental health, including in Iran, where dire economic conditions and strict curbs in individual liberties caused significant psychological hardship even before the current health crisis.

Now, with the COVID-19 outbreak continuing to spread, officials says that there's an even greater incidence of mental disorders, suicides and physical fighting, Kayhan London reports, citing sources within Iran.

Iran_lockdown_bazar

The lockdown of Tehran's bazar in Iran, in early April 2021. — Photo: Sobhan Farajvan/Pacific Press/ZUMA

The news outlet notes that even before the pandemic, roughly a quarter of the population suffered some type of mental disorder, and that in the year prior to March 2020, an estimated 5,000 Iranians took their own lives.

With the arrival of the virus, people began feeling more desperate.

But with the arrival of the virus, people began feeling more desperate still, as evidenced by a 4% rise in suicides in the period between March and November 2020, according to a source at the state coroner's office.

Kayhan London also cites an official from the State Welfare Organization, Behzad Vahidnia, to suggest that there's been a 16% increase in stress and depression since the pandemic began in early 2020.

With regards to people getting into fights, there are no official figures available. But anecdotal evidence drawn from social platform postings suggests that physical violence has increased as well, especially in Iran's northern and north-western provinces.

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.