Next Move Tehran? Iran Buries General, Plots 'Strategic Revenge'

With a battered economy and recent anti-government street protests, can Iran fulfill its promise to avenge the U.S. killing of Qasem Soleimani? Can it afford not to?

Soleimani poster in Tehran on Jan. 6
Soleimani poster in Tehran on Jan. 6
English edition - WORLDCRUNCH

Iran and the U.S. have spent the past 48 hours trading threats after an American drone strike Friday that killed General Qasem Soleimani, head of its Revolutionary Guards Quds force. Even as Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Khamenei led prayers at Soleimani's funeral on Monday, the question of how and where Tehran will respond looms over the region and the world.

After Iran's announcement Sunday that they would pull out of the remaining restrictions of the 2015 nuclear accord, the leaders of France, Germany and the UK urged a "deescalation" of tensions in the region. French daily Le Monde described the move as a sign that Tehran will "play two tables," targeting U.S. interests militarily and dividing the broader international community by pursuing its nuclear program.

The question of how and where Tehran will respond looms over the region and the world.

Iranian media has carried non-stop images of mass mournings in Baghdad and Tehran, leaving the impression of unanimous national and regional outrage. Still, it is difficult to gauge both public sentiment, and how exactly Iran's rulers will respond to the assassination of the most iconic and influential military leader of his generation.

The official talk in Tehran has cast left little doubt that it will target the United States and/or American interests around the world. The head of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, Hossein Salami, was reported as telling state television that Soleimani's killing would entail "a strategic revenge" that would "end U.S. presence in the Middle East." His deputy, Mohammad Naqdi, has likewise said that revenge would be "definitive" and the "Americans are not capable of withstanding an extensive" war. They should "pack" their bases and leave, if "they want to save their lives," the semi-official Fars agency cited him as saying.

Crowds mourning Soleimani in Tehran on Jan. 6 — Photo: Salampix/Abaca/ZUMA

His comments may suggest multiple actions over time rather than a single major strike, in keeping with the country's strategy of waging "asymmetrical" warfare. Fars agency cited one prominent hardliner in Tehran, the editor of the Kayhan newspaper Hossein Shariatmadari, as saying that "America is not sitting in a glass room. It is vulnerable on all sides," which again may suggest hit-and-run tactics or a bomb attack somewhere. Iran has a range of allies and agents like Lebanon's Hezbollah or Iraq's Shia militias, apparently ready to do its bidding.

BBC Persian picked up on a division of opinions among ordinary Iranians concerning the killing. A European-based Iranian listener to the broadcaster who gave her name as Paniz called to say Soleimani did not "deserve this," saying he had worked hard for Iran and fought ISIS and the Taliban (at the height of its caliphate ISIS did not hide its hostility to Iran). A listener named Mas'ud said Iranians were "confused" if they were mourning the Supreme Leader's "right-hand man" just weeks after protesting against the country's "dictatorship." Another listener, Hamidreza, called Soleimani a decisive "shaper" of Iran's regime, saying he could not be deemed as uninvolved in its repressive practices.

No room for diplomacy.

The broadcaster observed on similar divisions on social media, with one user accusing Iranians of suffering from "Stockholm Syndrome" for mourning the general.

Taking a more detached view, Iranian commentators abroad took the incident as a strategic challenge to the regime and its leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Ali Sadrzadeh wrote on Radio Farda, part of Radio Free Europe, that Khamenei was mistaken if he thought President Trump would shy away from war because of upcoming U.S. elections. Any action by Iran, he wrote, would prompt a "heavy" response. He observed that Khamenei was keen to stay in power and must know that war with the United States could "burn down the house."

Another commentator, Ali Afshari, an exiled former student activist, wrote on the same website that the Islamic Republic usually responded to such hostilities "asymmetrically and without haste," and had weaknesses to consider now, including opposition to its influence in Iraq and Lebanon, and a half-battered economy that have prompted popular protests in recent months.

Whatever happens, it's clear that the stakes for Iran and its leaders couldn't be higher. Kayhan newspaper was already hinting at the need to tighten controls on commentary, accusing social networking sites of engaging in Soleimani's "proxy assassination" through hostile propaganda, and urged leaders to push ahead with plans to restrict the internet inside Iran. As for outside the country, the same its editorial made it clear to moderates that with "this act of war," there was "no more room for any diplomacy with the United States."

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In Argentina, A Visit To World's Highest Solar Energy Park

With loans and solar panels from China, the massive solar park has been opened a year and is already powering the surrounding areas. Now the Chinese supplier is pushing for an expansion.

960,000 solar panels have been installed at the Cauchari park

Silvia Naishtat

CAUCHARI — Driving across the border with Chile into the northwest Argentine department of Susques, you may spot what looks like a black mass in the distance. Arriving at a 4,000-meter altitude in the municipality of Cauchari, what comes into view instead is an assembly of 960,000 solar panels. It is the world's highest photovoltaic (PV) park, which is also the second biggest solar energy facility in Latin America, after Mexico's Aguascalientes plant.

Spread over 800 hectares in an arid landscape, the Cauchari park has been operating for a year, and has so far turned sunshine into 315 megawatts of electricity, enough to power the local provincial capital of Jujuy through the national grid.

It has also generated some $50 million for the province, which Governor Gerardo Morales has allocated to building 239 schools.

Abundant sunshine, low temperatures

The physicist Martín Albornoz says Cauchari, which means "link to the sun," is exposed to the best solar radiation anywhere. The area has 260 days of sunshine, with no smog and relatively low temperatures, which helps keep the panels in optimal conditions.

Its construction began with a loan of more than $331 million from China's Eximbank, which allowed the purchase of panels made in Shanghai. They arrived in Buenos Aires in 2,500 containers and were later trucked a considerable distance to the site in Cauchari . This was a titanic project that required 1,200 builders and 10-ton cranes, but will save some 780,000 tons of CO2 emissions a year.

It is now run by 60 technicians. Its panels, with a 25-year guarantee, follow the sun's path and are cleaned twice a year. The plant is expected to have a service life of 40 years. Its choice of location was based on power lines traced in the 1990s to export power to Chile, now fed by the park.

Chinese engineers working in an office at the Cauchari park


Chinese want to expand

The plant belongs to the public-sector firm Jemse (Jujuy Energía y Minería), created in 2011 by the province's then governor Eduardo Fellner. Jemse's president, Felipe Albornoz, says that once Chinese credits are repaid in 20 years, Cauchari will earn the province $600 million.

The Argentine Energy ministry must now decide on the park's proposed expansion. The Chinese would pay in $200 million, which will help install 400,000 additional panels and generate enough power for the entire province of Jujuy.

The park's CEO, Guillermo Hoerth, observes that state policies are key to turning Jujuy into a green province. "We must change the production model. The world is rapidly cutting fossil fuel emissions. This is a great opportunity," Hoerth says.

The province's energy chief, Mario Pizarro, says in turn that Susques and three other provincial districts are already self-sufficient with clean energy, and three other districts would soon follow.

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