Friday, June 23, 2017

Eye on Iran: Iranians chant "Death to Israel", burn Islamic State's flag at rallies

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Hundreds of thousands of Iranians chanted "Death to Israel" in nationwide rallies on Friday at which they also burned flag of the Islamic State militant group which claimed responsibility for attacks in Tehran this month, state TV reported. Iranian state media said millions of people turned out for the rallies to mark Al-Quds Day that was declared by Iran's 1979 Islamic revolution founder Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini and which is held on the last Friday of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan. Opposition to Israel is a touchstone of belief for Shi'ite-led Iran, which backs Palestinian and Lebanese Islamic militant groups opposed to peace with the Jewish state, which Tehran refuses to recognise. Israel, the United States and its chief Sunni Arab ally Saudi Arabia accuse Iran of fomenting tension in the Middle East and of sponsoring terrorism. This is denied by Tehran.

Iran staged anti-Israel rallies across the country on Friday, with protesters condemning Israel's occupation of Palestinian territories and chanting "Death to Israel" as the powerful Revolutionary Guard displayed its ballistic missiles, including the type used this week in Syria. Marchers in Tehran headed from various points of the city toward the Friday prayer ceremony at Tehran University campus grounds. Protesters burned the Israeli flag and effigies of Israeli leaders. President Hassan Rouhani and other Iranian officials attended the demonstration. State media reported that similar rallies were underway in other cities and towns in Iran. The anti-Israel rallies are an annual event marking al-Quds Day, a historic Arabic name for Jerusalem. Iran sees it as an occasion to express support for the Palestinians and emphasize the importance of Jerusalem for Muslims.

Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has lashed out at Israel in a deluge of rhetoric against the Jewish state ahead of the Iranian-initiated 'Al Quds day,' which protests Israel's existence.  "There is no doubt that we will witness the demise of the Zionist entity [Israel]," read a post on his Twitter account Thursday. Speaking at a meeting of academic and scientists in Tehran on Wednesday, the hardline Iranian leader stated that defending the Palestinians was tantamount to "defending the truth." "Today, fighting against the Zionist regime [of Israel] is fighting the hegemonic, arrogant system," Khamenei said. Iran and anti-Israeli proponents around the world will mark Al Quds day on Friday. The event is held every year on the last Friday of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.


Two Iranian airlines made prospective deals with Airbus on Thursday to buy 73 jetliners, a signal that the global aerospace industry is betting such sales to Iran will prevail despite increased hostility by the Trump administration. The prospective deals, described by Airbus as memorandums of understanding, are worth as much as $2.5 billion and were announced by the company at the Paris Air Show, an important sales event for plane manufacturers. If completed, the deals would further solidify Iran as a significant customer in the industry, dominated by Boeing in the United States and Airbus in Europe. Desperate to rejuvenate an aging civilian fleet hurt by years of sanctions, Iranian air carriers have made arrangements over the past year to buy up to 140 planes from Boeing and 100 from Airbus.

The head of Iran's atomic energy organisation, one of the architects of the 2015 landmark nuclear deal, has warned the US to stop upsetting the regional balance of power by siding with Saudi Arabia. Writing in the Guardian, Ali Akbar Salehi said "lavish arms purchases" by regional actors - a reference to the Saudi purchase of $100bn of US arms during Donald Trump's recent visit to Riyadh - would be seen as provocative in Tehran and that it would be unrealistic to expect Iran to remain "indifferent".  Salehi, an MIT graduate scientist who has also served as foreign minister, was the second most senior Iranian negotiator, dealing with technical aspects, during nearly two years of talks between Tehran and six of the world's major powers that led to the final nuclear accord in Vienna in July 2015. Although Trump has promised to "dismantle the disastrous deal with Iran", he has not so far taken any concrete steps to scrap it. Last month, two days before Iran's presidential election, his administration announced that it was continuing to waive nuclear-related sanctions under the agreement despite Washington toughening up its overall Iran policy.


U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Paul Ryan said on Thursday he supported efforts to quickly act on legislation to impose new sanctions on Russia and Iran that passed the Senate nearly unanimously but has stalled in the House. Republican Representative Ed Royce, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, "has indicated he wants to get moving on this quickly, and we want to honor that," Ryan said at his weekly news conference. The Countering Iran's Destabilizing Activities Act, which also includes new sanctions against Russia, passed the Senate 98-2 last week, a vote that looked like it might complicate President Donald Trump's desire for warmer relations with Moscow. The measure must pass the House before it can be sent to Trump to sign into law or veto. The House parliamentarian found that the legislation violated a constitutional requirement that any bill affecting government revenues must originate in the House, something known as a "blue slip" violation.

An unexpected roadblock to new sanctions on Iran and Russia appeared to be clearing Thursday as the House and Senate worked to resolve a procedural issue on a bipartisan bill that would also make it more difficult for President Trump to ease sanctions on Russia. But it remains unclear when the House will take final action on the bill. The House objected to the Senate's Countering Iran's Destabilizing Activities Act that was passed earlier this week, arguing that it flouted the constitutional provision requiring revenue-raising bills to originate in the House. That prompted accusations from Democrats that the House Republican leaders were trying to stall the bill at Trump's request. The Trump administration has warned against impeding presidential prerogatives to relieve sanctions. "We would ask for the flexibility to turn the heat up when we need to, but also to ensure that we have the ability to maintain a constructive dialogue," Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told the House Foreign Affairs Committee last week.


Iran's massive funding of terrorist groups that endanger Israel was exposed in shocking detail by IDF Military Intelligence chief Maj.- Gen. Hertzi Halevi on Wednesday. Speaking at the IDC Herzliya Conference, Halevi revealed that Iran is funding Hezbollah to the tune of $75 million a year, while paying $50m. of Hamas's budget and approximately $70m. to Islamic Jihad. Connecting Hamas's alliance with Iran to recent criticism of Israel for the humanitarian situation in the Gaza strip, Halevi placed the blame for a lack of construction supplies and the electricity problem squarely on Hamas. Israel has let into the Strip "four times the volume of building materials" required to build one of the world's largest buildings, but "Hamas is using the materials for war, not rebuilding," he said.


Iran has established a drone airfield inside Syria not far from a U.S. military base, U.S. officials said Tuesday. The airfield may be the source of drones that have recently threatened U.S. troops. According to two U.S. defense officials, the Iranian airfield near Palmyra, Syria, has a ground control station for operating drones. The U.S. and the coalition have a base in At Tanf, Syria, close to where the Iraqi, Jordanian and Syrian borders intersect, 80 miles south of Palmyra. The Iranians have been basing Shahed-129 drones at the airfield, according to the officials. The Iranian-made drones can be armed or used for reconnaissance. Neither official could say for sure whether either of the two drones that the U.S. has shot down in southern Syria flew out of that base, but both said it was likely.


Four Arab states boycotting Qatar over alleged support for terrorism have sent Doha a list of 13 demands including closing Al Jazeera television and reducing ties to their regional adversary Iran, an official of one of the four countries said. The demands aimed at ending the worst Gulf Arab crisis in years appear designed to quash a two decade-old foreign policy in which Qatar has punched well above its weight, striding the stage as a peace broker, often in conflicts in Muslim lands. Doha's independent-minded approach, including a dovish line on Iran and support for Islamist groups, in particular the Muslim Brotherhood, has incensed some of its neighbors who see political Islamism as a threat to their dynastic rule. The list, compiled by Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Egypt and Bahrain, which cut economic, diplomatic and travel ties to Doha on June 5, also demands the closing of a Turkish military base in Qatar, the official told Reuters.

Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) President Massoud Barzani on June 7 announced an agreement among Iraqi Kurdish groups to hold a binding vote in September that could pave the way for an independent Kurdistan, free of control by the central government in Baghdad. An independent Kurdistan, which would border Iran along a province with a large Kurdish population, poses many challenges for the Islamic Republic. Iranian leaders have been vocal in their opposition to any referendum that would split Iraq. Iranian leaders and media have expressed strong opposition to the September referendum on the independence of Iraqi Kurdistan. During a June 20 meeting with Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has the final say on all state matters, expressed his opposition to the independence vote. "As a neighbor, the Islamic Republic is opposed to the holding of a referendum for the separation of a part of Iraq," Khamenei said. Those who are pushing it are "opposed to the independence and identity of Iraq," he added. "Iraq, with its roots and historical and cultural civilization, must remain integrated."


Iran urged regional rival Saudi Arabia on Thursday to free three Iranian fishermen, pay compensation for shooting dead a sailor and punish those behind an "irresponsible act", the semi-official Fars news agency reported. Iranian media reported last week that Saudi border guards had opened fire on Iranian fishing boats in the Gulf, killing a fisherman. The Saudi Information Ministry said it had detained three members of Iran's Revolutionary Guards in the incident. "The fishermen were not armed ... Saudi guards killed one of the sailors by opening fire on the boats," Fars quoted a statement published by Iran's Interior Ministry. "Those detained fishermen should be freed ... compensation should be paid for the one killed and those involved in the irresponsible act should be punished."


The killing, by border guards, of another kulbar-the Persian word for the border-crossing couriers who transport illegally imported goods into Iran-has prompted 250 Iranian civil rights activists to demand that Parliament implement measures to protect the downtrodden laborers. "Shared widely on social media, images of an innocent young man's body on the ground next to his load of cigarette boxes are heart-wrenching for every human being," said the activists in a joint statement issued on June 18, 2017, a copy of which was obtained by the Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI).  "While deeply concerned and extremely sickened by the violent treatment against the kulbars, we call on the people, civil rights activists, and members of Parliament to end their indefensible silence and demand that the authorities be held accountable for their un-Islamic and unlawful actions," added the statement. The activists were reacting to a graphic online report by the Kurdistan Human Rights Network (KHRN) about the death of Sirvan Azizi, a kulbar killed by a bullet shot from close range by a border guard near a village close to the city of Sardasht, West Azerbaijan Province, on June 14.


Working to negotiate agreements with the west has been a mixed experience for Iran. Often, following some hard-won engagement, some western nations, whether distracted by shortsighted political motivations or the lucrative inducements of other regional actors, walk away and allow the whole situation to return to the status quo ante. Quite a number of such reversals have befallen Iran when engaging with the US, in particular. The latest case of hard-won progress at risk - which I believe can still be saved from failure - is the historic nuclear deal known as the joint comprehensive plan of action (JCPOA). This was agreed in 2015 between Iran and the permanent members of the UN security council, plus Germany - the P5+1. The critical question at the present juncture is: how can we rescue this engagement and move out of the familiar vicious circle? I believe that concentrating on three guiding principles would allow all actors to stay the course. They are as follows.

On the evening of June 18, Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) fired what were said to be six Zolfaqar medium-range ballistic missiles (MRBMs) some 600 kilometers from its western provinces across Iraqi territory at what were described as Islamic State (IS) command-and-control and logistics targets, along with a suicide car factory in the Deir al-Zour province, in eastern Syria. An IRGC communique identified the attack as a "clear message" to the takfiri terrorists as well as their regional and overseas supporters -- an unmistakable reference to Saudi Arabia and the United States. Iran called it a "proportional response" to the IS terrorist attacks in the center of Tehran and at Ayatollah Khomeini's mausoleum eleven days earlier, citing a potential for future escalation should such attacks persist. Therefore, from the beginning, deterrence was high on the minds of Iranian leaders when they authorized the strike. This is not the first time since the end of the Iran-Iraq War that the Islamic Republic has used ballistic missiles to exact punishment. On at least six occasions between November 1994 and April 2001, Iran reportedly fired Scud missiles at bases in Iraq of the Iranian opposition group Mujahedin-e Khalq. This latest episode, however, is the first time Iran has tested one of its "more modern" indigenous missile designs in actual operational conditions -- and the result appears to have been mixed at best.  

Since the June 7 terrorist attacks in Tehran, the Iranian government has made dozens of arrests and highlighted the fact that ISIS claimed responsibility. The country's leaders have driven the narrative that Iran is yet another victim of this global terrorist network - even going so far as to launch missiles targeting ISIS operations in Syria. But it is increasingly apparent that, while outside terrorists may have played a role, the government's focus on their involvement hides a more complex truth, with significant implications for US policy. Through recent news reports we've learned that those rounded-up as part of the attacks are all members of the Kurdish and Baluch ethnic minorities. The conflict with Iran's Kurdish and Baluch minorities is not new: Tehran has been battling for close to a decade a much larger insurgency with both groups, without any evidence of direct links to ISIS. Most recently, on the eve of the Tehran attacks, a Kurdish nationalist group - with no global terrorist connections - killed two Iranian border guards near the city of Urmiya.

Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini was a ruthless man, he knew the minute he stepped from a plane at Tehran Airport, after being forced into years of exile during Shah Pahlavi's regime, he would do all in his power to keep his long sought-after revolution on track, even if it meant walking on the bodies of those who had sided with him throughout the insurrection. These were the men from other anti-Shah rebel groups, who after the dust had settled, were soon raising angry voices against Khomeini over the repressive path he was now taking. Right from the very outset of the revolution, as the street battles became bloodier, Shah Pahlavi's top officials and military officers were hunted down, and with Khomeini's faithful moving from street to street, they slaughtered from dusk till dawn, eradicating all those they could find who were connected to the former regime, or who might propose a future threat to his leadership. This slaughter would set a precedent for what was to come in Khomeini's newly-formed Islamic republic, the carnage would continue in many forms for decades, with hardly a whimper of condemnation from Western leaders.

Eye on Iran is a periodic news summary from United Against Nuclear Iran (UANI) a program of the American Coalition Against Nuclear Iran, Inc., a tax-exempt organization under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code. Eye on Iran is not intended as a comprehensive media clips summary but rather a selection of media elements with discreet analysis in a PDA friendly format. For more information please email

United Against Nuclear Iran (UANI) is a non-partisan, broad-based coalition that is united in a commitment to prevent Iran from fulfilling its ambition to become a regional super-power possessing nuclear weapons.  UANI is an issue-based coalition in which each coalition member will have its own interests as well as the collective goal of advancing an Iran free of nuclear weapons.

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