Posts Tagged ‘Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’

Iran conservatives attack govt over nuclear deal

May 15, 2018

Ayatollah Ali Jannati said the government had already failed to guarantee the country’s interests.

Related imageAyatollah Ali Jannati

As Iran’s foreign minister embarked on a diplomatic tour on Sunday to save the nuclear deal, his government faced mounting pressure from hard-liners at home who say the West should never have been trusted.

Ayatollah Ali Jannati, the ultra-conservative head of the Assembly of Experts whose responsibilities include choosing the next supreme leader, said the government had already failed to guarantee the country’s interests.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, the key architect of the 2015 agreement, should “present his apologies to the Iranian people for the damage caused in the cadre of the nuclear deal,” Jannati said.

Rouhani reiterated on Sunday that Tehran would remain committed to its 2015 nuclear deal if its interests can be protected and said the US withdrawal from the accord was a “violation of morals.”

“The US withdrawal … is a violation of morals, the correct way to carry out politics and diplomacy and against international regulations,” Rouhani during a meeting with visiting Sri Lanka President Maithripala Sirisena.

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi meets his Iranian counterpart Javad Zarif at Diaoyutai state guesthouse in Beijing on Sunday. (Reuters)

Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif arrived in Beijing for the first stop of his tour of the remaining members of the nuclear deal.

He is due in Moscow and Brussels in the coming days.

Mirroring the line taken by supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Jannati said there was little chance the Europeans would provide the assurances needed for Iran to stay in the deal.

The Europeans “have never stopped taking actions against Iran,” he wrote.

The head of the Revolutionary Guards, Mohammad Ali Jafari, also criticized “certain officials” who “look to outsiders.”

“I hope recent events will lead us ending our trust in the West and the Europeans. The Europeans have repeated on several occasions that they will not be able to resist US sanctions,” said Jafari, according to the conservative Fars news agency.

Around 100 Iranian lawmakers have also signed on to a Parliament bill that would set a clear deadline for the government to “obtain necessary guarantees from the Europeans” without which Iran would resume high-level uranium enrichment, according to Parliament’s official website.

Although conservatives have tried to score political points against Rouhani in the wake of the US withdrawal, the president has essentially taken the same line.

Immediately after US President Donald Trump’s withdrawal from the deal last Tuesday, Rouhani said he had instructed Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization to prepare for “industrial enrichment without limit” unless Iran’s interests were guaranteed by the remaining parties.

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‘Clear future design’

Zarif said he was hopeful of forging a “clear future design” for the nuclear deal facing collapse after Washington’s withdrawal, at the start of a diplomatic tour aimed at rescuing the agreement.

“We hope that with this visit to China and other countries we will be able to construct a clear future design for the comprehensive agreement,” Zarif told reporters on Sunday after talks in Beijing with his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi.

In what is seen as a last-ditch effort to save the accord, Zarif has embarked on a tour of world powers.

Zarif will later fly to Moscow and Brussels to consult the remaining signatories to the 2015 agreement denounced by Trump. His withdrawal from the deal last week has infuriated Washington’s allies in Europe as well as China and Russia.

US President Donald Trump’s decision on Tuesday to pull out of the nuclear deal has upset European allies in Europe as well as China and Russia, cast uncertainty over global oil supplies and raised the risk of conflict in the Middle East.

China was one of the six powers — with the US, Russia, France, the UK and Germany — that signed the historic pact which saw sanctions lifted in return for the commitment by Tehran not to acquire nuclear weapons.

Iran has said it will stay committed to the deal if powers still backing the agreement can ensure it is protected from sanctions against key sectors of its economy such as oil.

As he arrived in Beijing, Zarif said, “we will discuss the decision that Iran should take,” according to the semi-official ISNA news agency.

He added: “As the president of the republic has said, we are ready for all option(s). If the nuclear deal is to continue, the interests of the people of Iran must be assured.”

Earlier, Zarif hailed Tehran’s relations with Beijing, ISNA reported.

“We have had good relations with China before and since the deal,” he said.

“China is by far the first economic partner of Iran. We are certain that today China is by our side.”

Tehran’s chief diplomat embarked on the tour as regional tensions spiked just days after unprecedented Israeli strikes in Syria which a monitor said killed at least 11 Iranian fighters, triggering fears of a broader conflict between the two arch-enemies.

Before leaving, Zarif published a government statement on his Twitter page, slamming Trump’s “extremist administration” for abandoning “an accord recognized as a victory of diplomacy by the international community.”

It reiterated that Iran was preparing to resume “industrial scale” uranium enrichment “without any restrictions” unless Europe provided solid guarantees it could maintain trade ties despite renewed US sanctions.

Trump hit back Saturday evening, tweeting that the accord had failed to contain Iran’s militarism.

“Iran’s Military Budget is up more than 40 percent since the Obama negotiated Nuclear Deal was reached… just another indicator that it was all a big lie,” he wrote.

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Zarif’s delicate diplomatic mission was complicated by reports of clashes between Iranian and Israeli forces in Syria on Thursday.

The Syrian Observatory of Human Rights said Saturday that 11 Iranians were among the pro-regime fighters killed in strikes by Israel, which has vowed to prevent Iran gaining a military foothold in neighboring Syria.

Tehran, which has sought to avoid an escalation in a regional conflict that could alienate its European partners, has not commented on whether its forces were hit.

Israel and its allies have blamed Iran’s Revolutionary Guards for initiating Thursday’s exchange by launching missiles into the occupied Golan Heights.

Iran denies the claims, saying the Israeli strikes were launched on “invented pretexts.”

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Meanwhile, European diplomats in Tehran fumed that Trump’s decision to withdraw from the nuclear deal could undermine years of patient work to restore commercial and diplomatic ties with the Islamic Republic.

“Since the signing of the JCPOA (nuclear deal), we have gone from an atmosphere like a gold rush, to one of utter depression,” said a Western trade diplomat on condition of anonymity.

“We are waiting now for how the decision makers in the European Union will react. If the EU leans toward accommodating the US, all the progress we have made since 2015 will be lost.”

Iranian hard-liners — who have long opposed Rouhani’s moves to improve ties with the West — are already mobilizing against the efforts to save the nuclear deal.

Mohammad Ali Jafari, head of the Revolutionary Guards, said the country could not rely on the West.

AFP and AP

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Iran Critical of U.S. “And Other Arrogant Powers” — Israel says “will strike Tehran and destroy every Iranian military site that threatens Israel in Syria”

April 26, 2018

Khamenei calls on Muslim nations to unite against U.S. ‘bullying,’ saying ‘Iran has successfully resisted attempts by America and other arrogant powers’

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, left, and Israeli Defense Defense Avigdor Lieberman stand for the National Anthem during an enhanced honor cordon to welcome Lieberman at the Pentagon Tuesday, March 7, 2017. (AP Photo/Cliff Owen)
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Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman stand for National Anthem during a welcome ceremony at the Pentagon Tuesday, March 7, 2017  Cliff Owen/AP

Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman threatened Iran during an interview with a Saudi website and asserted that if the Islamic regime attacks Tel Aviv, Israel “will strike Tehran and destroy every Iranian military site that threatens Israel in Syria, whatever the price.”

Speaking with Elaph, which runs interviews with Israeli officials for the Arab speaking world, Lieberman said the regime in Iran is nearing its last days.

“Israel doesn’t want war … but if Iran attacks Tel Aviv, we will hit Tehran,” Lieberman told the Arabic-language, Saudi-owned news website, which is based in London.

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei waves to his supporters during his visit to Mashhad, Iran, March 21, 2018.
Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei waves to his supporters during his visit to Mashhad, Iran, March 21, 2018. AP

Lieberman is currently in the U.S. for meetings with his counterpart, Defense Secretary James Mattis. He will also hold talks with National Security Adivser John Bolton.

Meanwhile, Iran’s supreme leader called on Muslim nations to unite against the U.S., state television reported on Thursday, saying Tehran would never yield to its arch foe’s “bullying.”

“The Iranian nation has successfully resisted bullying attempts by America and other arrogant powers and we will continue to resist… All Muslim nations should stand united against America and other enemies,” Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said.

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Khamenei’s remarks come ahead of the Iran nuclear deal deadline, May 12, when U.S. President Donald Trump will decide whether to restore U.S. economic sanctions on Tehran, which would be a severe blow to the 2015 pact between Iran and six major powers, including France.

Following his joint meeting of Congress, French President Emmanuel Macron said on Wednesday that he would expect Trump to pull the United States out of the Iran nuclear deal based on his past statements while stressing he does not know what Trump will decide on May 12.

“I don’t know what the American decision will be but the rational analysis of all President Trump’s statements does not lead me to believe that he will do everything to stay in the JCPOA (Iranian nuclear deal),” Macron told a news conference.

In his message to Congress, Macron said that the deal “may not address all concerns and very important concerns,” but added that “we should not abandon it without having something substantial and more substantial instead. That’s my position.”

A senior German official said on Thursday that proposals presented by Macron on the deal are based on the existing international agreement but would add some new elements.

Speaking before Chancellor Angela Merkel heads to Washington for talks with Trump, the official said: “The premise of Macron’s proposal is that the agreement remains in its existing form and additional elements come on top.”

 “In our view this agreement should be maintained,” the official added.

Trump’s Path on Iran Nuclear Deal May Pre-Determine Fate of Conflict Between Iran and Israel

April 22, 2018

With Trump expected to announce if he is nixing the deal by May 12, Tehran is contending with a sluggish economy, the worst drought in 50 years and growing public discontent – making Russia ties ever more important


An Iranian army tank rolling past a stage decorated with a portrait of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei during the annual army day parade in Tehran, April 18, 2018.

An Iranian army tank rolling past a stage decorated with a portrait of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei during the annual army day parade in Tehran, April 18, 2018.ATTA KENARE/AFP

Iranian President Hassan Rohani is holding a hot potato: the Iranian rial. Last week, in a desperate move, his government banned money changers from selling dollars and euros.

At Iran’s international airport, passengers traveling to “nearby” countries can buy just 500 euros ($615), while those going to “distant” countries can buy 1,000 euros. Iranians may not hold more than $10,000 or 10,000 euros, and the official exchange rate was set at 42,000 rials to the dollar – about 20,000 rials less than the black-market rate.

The currency has plummeted by more than 35 percent since Rohani was elected to a second term in May 2017. This isn’t exactly the good news he hoped for.

It’s no longer clear who his harshest critics are: the conservatives who seek his downfall; his reformist supporters, who are disappointed and frustrated with him after five years in office; the general public, which has seen his promises of a higher standard of living go unfulfilled; or the millions of unemployed living on welfare.

The demonstrations that began last December in cities throughout Iran still reverberate. Dozens of protesters arrested then are still awaiting trial, and others have already received heavy sentences.

That same month, workers at the Haft Tapeh sugar plant in Khuzestan Province – where some 5,500 people are employed – went on strike because they hadn’t been paid in months. Some even committed suicide because they couldn’t pay their debts.

This was not an isolated case. Strikes have occurred at dozens of factories, especially those that were privatized and sold to businessmen. The results of privatization haven’t been encouraging.

Iranians standing in front of a bank, hoping to buy U.S. dollars at the new official exchange rate announced by the government, in downtown Tehran, April 10, 2018.
Iranians standing in front of a bank, hoping to buy U.S. dollars at the new official exchange rate announced by the government, in downtown Tehran, April 10, 2018.Vahid Salemi/AP

At the end of last year, the World Bank predicted that Iran’s economy would grow by 4 percent in 2018 and 2019 – about half the government’s desired pace. Industrial growth hit 18 percent during the second half of 2017, but has been just 4 percent so far this year. Production has flatlined. And the economic reforms Rohani promised to include in this year’s budget disappeared almost completely due to protests over the planned increase in prices and cuts in subsidies.

In March, farmers began demonstrating in Isfahan Province over water shortages caused by the mismanaged water economy. Even the heavens seem to be battling Rohani: This year’s drought has been the worst in half a century. The drought has also reduced the water flowing over Iran’s dams, which is expected to slash electricity production by more than 40 percent.

The regime’s woes don’t end at Rohani’s office. Demonstrators have cursed the supreme religious leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and wished him dead. They have also wondered why Iran continues to finance wars in Syria and Yemen. These complaints have reached the offices of Mohammad Ali Jafari, commander of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, and Qassem Soleimani, commander of the Revolutionary Guards’ Quds force.

In media outlets that support the regime, one can read loyalists’ responses. They have been entertaining the idea of putting a military man in as president instead of a civilian. It’s not clear whether their intent is to run such a man in the next presidential election – which is scheduled for 2021 – or to try to oust Rohani during his current term.

Iran’s political tradition has thus far been to let presidents serve out the two terms they are permitted under the constitution. But if the civic protests spiral out of control, changes at the top would be one possible solution.

However, other countries in the region have tried this method of appeasing the public, and their experience shows that the effect of such change is brief.

Under Russia’s protection

Iran is also tensely awaiting May 12 – the date by which U.S. President Donald Trump must decide whether his country is quitting the 2015 nuclear agreement with Tehran. For Iran, this decision is critical. The waiting period has already had a tangible effect, resulting in a dearth of foreign investment; a freeze on projects already agreed upon with several different countries; and heavy pressure to reduce government expenditure.

Officially, Rohani has said Iran will continue to abide by the agreement even if the United States withdraws. He has held marathon talks with European leaders, as well as the leaders of Turkey, Russia and China – and most have reportedly said they plan to defend the agreement.

Iranian President Hassan Rohani listening to explanations on new nuclear achievements at a ceremony to mark "National Nuclear Day," in Tehran, April 9, 2018.
Iranian President Hassan Rohani listening to explanations on new nuclear achievements at a ceremony to mark “National Nuclear Day,” in Tehran, April 9, 2018./AP

Germany, France and Britain have tried without success to persuade the European Union to impose additional sanctions on Iran – even if only symbolic ones – in order to persuade Trump to stick to the agreement. But the talks held in Brussels last week ended in failure. And if the EU and the United States don’t manage to reach an agreement by May 12, America’s unilateral withdrawal from the agreement is liable to harm not just Iran but also its business partners.

Patrick Pouyanne, CEO of the French energy giant Total, said last month his company is committed to its agreement to develop the South Pars oil field, and that he will seek an exemption from new sanctions if a decision is made to impose any. Russia and China will also continue their investments, as will many European countries. But without the U.S. banking system (which is boycotting Iran), European companies will have trouble investing in the country.

An outbreak of hostilities between Iran and Israel – something New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman and Israeli officials themselves have warned of – will apparently have to wait until at least mid-May.

Paradoxically, the battle between Washington and European capitals has seemingly contributed greatly to Iran’s restraint in the face of airstrikes on Syria attributed to Israel. Iran believes it can’t afford to start a new Mideast war, because that would play into Trump’s and Israel’s hands by releasing the European brakes.

The combination of the nuclear agreement and the economic crisis has backed Iran into a corner in which it is not only barred from developing its nuclear program, but also can’t risk a conventional war.

At most, it could return to the agreements in force prior to the nuclear deal – like the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty without the Additional Protocol, which mandated less stringent oversight than the nuclear deal did – and scrap the nuclear deal’s detailed timetables. But if it takes those steps, it is liable to clog the pipeline of cooperation with Europe and put even Russia in a difficult position.

Its domestic constraints will also force Iran to make decisions in other arenas, especially Syria. The recent exchanges of aerial and verbal blows with Israel, and the possibility that Israel will increase its attacks on Iranian targets in Syria, require Iran to accelerate the diplomatic process Russia is spearheading.

The Israeli airstrikes will actually result in closer cooperation between Iran and Russia in an effort to reach a comprehensive agreement that will consolidate Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime, demarcate both countries’ spheres of influence in Syria, set up de-escalation zones, restore control of the entire country to Assad and constrain Israel’s freedom of action in Syria.

To neutralize the danger of Israeli strikes on its bases in Syria, Iran can employ the strategy it successfully used in Iraq: embedding the militias which operate under its control into the Syrian army. In this way, it eventually forced Iraq to add the Popular Mobilization Forces to the army, which now pays the militiamen’s salaries.

Joint Syrian-Iranian army units and bases would make it harder for Israel to claim it is trying to keep Iran from consolidating its position in Syria, and every strike on a joint base would be considered a hostile act against the Assad regime.

Another way Iran could consolidate its position in Syria without hindrance is by removing parts of the Syrian population and replacing them with hundreds of thousands of Afghani and Pakistani refugees, some of whom are already fighting in Syria on Iran’s payroll and under its auspices. Both businessmen and militiamen are already buying land and houses in Syria, and are expected to be granted Syrian citizenship – which would give them the right to vote in parliamentary and presidential elections.

Any missile factories and heavy weapons plants Iran set up in Syria would also become part of Syria’s legitimate arsenal, making it difficult to distinguish between Syrian and Iranian arms.

As in Iraq, Lebanon and Yemen, regular Iranian forces wouldn’t need to be present on the ground in order to ensure the consolidation of Tehran’s influence. Under this strategy, Iran wouldn’t even need to set up a separate, pro-Iranian organization like Hezbollah in Syria. Instead, this role would be filled by the Syrian army, which would receive protection from the Kremlin against foreign attacks.

These steps, if they actually happen, could help the Iranian regime cope not only with the Israeli threat, but also with the domestic pressures it is likely to face if the United States decides to quit the nuclear deal.

Sure, the public protests against Iran’s continued participation in the wars in Syria and Yemen have been forcibly suppressed, but they haven’t completely disappeared. The regime is prepared for them to break out again.

Tehran’s need to reconcile the consolidation of its influence in Syria with assuaging public anger over the financial bloodletting the war in Syria has caused to its economy is ultimately what will determine how it acts toward Israel.

Iran’s supreme leader says Western attack on Syria a crime

April 14, 2018


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File photo: Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei gestures as he delivers a speech in Mashad, Iran, March 21, 2018

BEIRUT (Reuters) – Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said an attack on Syria by the United States, France and Britain on Saturday was a crime and would not achieve any gains.

“U.S, allies will not gain any achievements from crimes in Syria. Attacking Syria is a crime. U.S. president, UK prime minister and the president of France are criminals,” Khamenei said in a speech cited by Iranian TV.

(Reporting by Parisa Hafezi; Writing by Tom Perry; Editing by Samia Nakhoul)


Iran official threatens to destroy Israel if it continues ‘childish game’

Amid escalating war of words after alleged Israeli air strike in Syria, Ali Khamenei’s liaison to Quds Force says: ‘Given the excuse, Tel Aviv and Haifa will be razed’

Ali Shirazi, liaison for Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei to the elite Quds Force (screen capture)

Ali Shirazi, liaison for Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei to the elite Quds Force (screen capture)

Iran will destroy Israel if it doesn’t stop its “childish game,” a senior military leader in the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps threatened Thursday.

“Iran is not Syria. If Israel wants to survive a few more days, it has to stop this childish game,” Ali Shirazi, liaison for Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei to the elite Quds Force, said.

“Iran has the capability to destroy Israel and given the excuse, Tel Aviv and Haifa will be razed to the ground,” he said, according to Iran’s Fars news agency.

Shirazi’s threat came in the wake of a predawn Monday missile barrage on the T-4 Air Base near Palmyra in central Syria. Iranian media reported that seven members of the country’s military were killed in the strike, out of at least 14 reported fatalities.

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‘s Leader’s representative to Quds Force Ali Shirazi: Iran is not . If wants to survive a few more days, it has to stop this child game. Iran has the ability to destroy Israel & given the excuse, Tel Aviv & Haifa will be razed to the ground.

One was named as a colonel in the air force of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.

Israel has refused to comment on the attack, for which it has been blamed by Iran, Russia and Syria. Two US officials were also quoted as saying that Israel had carried out the strike, adding that Washington was informed in advance.

Shirazi’s threat also comes against a backdrop of heightened tensions between Syria, backed by Iran and Russia on the one side and the US — and possibly its European allies — on the other.

Photo released by Iranian media reportedly show the T-4 air base in central Syria after a missile barrage Monday. (Iranian media)

Washington has threatened to punish Syria militarily for a chemical attack in Eastern Ghouta over the weekend in which some 40 people died.

On Tuesday a different adviser to Khamenei threatened Israel.

“The crimes will not remain unanswered,” Ali Akbar Velayati said during a visit to Syria, according to the official Islamic Republic News Agency.

The target of the reported airstrike was the Tiyas air base — also known as the T-4 air base — outside Palmyra in central Syria. Israeli TV reports said Iran was building an air base there, and that a major weapons system of some kind had been destroyed.

Israel has previously carried out at least one explicitly acknowledged attack on the base, which it said was home to an Iranian drone program.

On Wednesday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in a stern speech at a state ceremony on the eve of Holocaust Remembrance Day, warned Iran not to test Israel’s resolve, asserting that the Jewish state would respond to Tehran’s “aggression” with “steadfastness.”

“We are preventing Iranian activity in Syria. These are not just words,” Netanyahu asserted.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks at the official state ceremony held at the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial Museum in Jerusalem marking Holocaust Remembrance Day on April 11, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Without going into specifics, Netanyahu said that “the events in recent days teach us that standing up to evil and aggression is the mission imposed on every generation.”

“In the Holocaust we were helpless, defenseless and voiceless,” he said. “In truth, our voice was not heard at all. Today we have a strong country, a strong army, and our voice is heard among the nations.”

Also on Wednesday, responding the the escalating threats between Israel and Iran, Russian President Vladimir Putin asked Netanyahu to avoid any steps that could increase instability in Syria.

Netanyahu, for his part, said Israel would continue to counter Iran’s efforts to build up its military presence in the war-torn country.

Alexander Fulbright contributed to this report.

Iran military official: West used lizards for nuclear spying — “Everyone knows locusts make the best drones…”

February 13, 2018


© AFP | The former chief-of-staff of Iran’s armed forces has alleged Western spies used reptile desert species like chameleons to spy on the country’s nuclear programme
TEHRAN (AFP) – The former chief-of-staff of Iran’s armed forces said Tuesday that Western spies had used lizards which could “attract atomic waves” to spy on the country’s nuclear programme.Hassan Firuzabadi, senior military advisor to supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, was responding to questions from local media on the recent arrest of environmentalists.

He said he did not know the details of the cases, but that the West had often used tourists, scientists and environmentalists to spy on Iran.

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 Hassan Firouzabadi

“Several years ago, some individuals came to Iran to collect aid for Palestine… We were suspicious of the route they chose,” he told the reformist ILNA news agency.

“In their possessions were a variety of reptile desert species like lizards, chameleons… We found out that their skin attracts atomic waves and that they were nuclear spies who wanted to find out where inside the Islamic republic of Iran we have uranium mines and where we are engaged in atomic activities,” he said.

His comments came after news that a leading Iranian-Canadian environmentalist, Kavous Seyed Emami, had died in prison after he was arrested along with other members of his wildlife NGO last month.

The deputy head of the Environmental Protection Organisation, Kaveh Madani, was also reportedly detained temporarily over the weekend.

Firuzabadi said Western spy agencies have “failed every time”.

He said another espionage case involved a couple from Germany.

“They got them on a fishing boat from Dubai and Kuwait and sent them to the Persian Gulf to identify our defence systems,” he said.

“But when we arrested them, they said they had come for fishing and were tourists.”

Israeli Minister says: We Won’t Use Surgical Precision, Neighborhoods With Rockets Will Be Bombed — “Khamenei is willing to fight Israel until the last drop of Syrian, Lebanese and Gazan blood.”

February 7, 2018
 FEBRUARY 7, 2018 11:11

Education minister says Israel needs to face Iranian aggression head on: “Khamenei is willing to fight Israel until the last drop of Syrian, Lebanese and Gazan blood.”

Naftali Bennett

Naftali Bennett. (photo credit: AVSHALOM SASSONI/MAARIV)

Amid reports that the Israeli air force struck an Iranian base in Syria overnight Tuesday, security cabinet member Naftali Bennett said he’s advancing a strategy in which Israel will confront Iran directly rather than just going after its proxies.

“Iran is behind the anti-Israel activity in Syria and Lebanon,” Bennett said in an interview to Israeli Radio 103 on Wednesday. “It is an octopus that sends out tentacles and expects us to act against its proxies, while it sits safely in its place. I am promoting a policy that calls for focusing our efforts against Iran itself.”

“[Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali] Khamenei is willing to fight Israel until the last drop of Syrian, Lebanese and Gazan blood, but does not send his own troops. For 30 years we have been sending our soldiers to fight Iran, while they sit in safety. It is illogical,” Bennett said.

When asked by the show’s veteran host Nissim Mishal whether an attack on Iran was imminent, Bennett responded enigmatically.

“The force behind everything is Iran and we must pinpoint the laser on it. I am putting forward a strategic line and saying that we will not be handling things with surgical precision, we view neighborhoods that have rockets as legitimate targets.”

Bennett also called out past Israeli governments for allowing Hezbollah to arm itself with hundreds of thousands of rockets that could be used against Israel in future conflicts.

“In Lebanon there are more than 100,000 imprecise rockets. If they were accurate, they would constitute a significant threat to Israel, something we will not allow to happen at any cost. Between the years 2006-2012 Israel allowed Hezbollah to arm itself with 130,000 rockets. It was a strategic failure. Now they are seeking to make all those rockets precise and we will not allow that to happen,” Bennett said.

That said, Bennett suggested that he didn’t see a direct conflict around the corner. “In order to prevent a war in the north, we must move our enemy away from the border. That is the correct policy.”

Tuesday night’s alleged attack in Syrian territory was the second in a month. On January 9, Damascus accused Israel of launching missiles targeting military outposts in the area of Qutayfah, in the Damascus countryside.

According to the report, Israeli jets flying inside Lebanese airspace fired several missiles towards the al-Qutayfah area at around 2:40 in the morning, causing damage near the military site. A statement released by Syria’s General Command said several missiles were intercepted by the regime’s air defenses, which also hit one of the Israeli planes.

Israel was also reported to have fired two surface-to-surface missiles from the Golan Heights at around 3:04 a.m., and another four missiles from around the area of Tiberias. The Syrian army statement claimed all missiles were intercepted but some damage was caused as a result of the interception.

Israeli officials have repeatedly voiced concerns over the growing Iranian presence on its borders and the smuggling of sophisticated weaponry to Hezbollah in Lebanon via Syria, stressing that both are red lines for the Jewish State.

Israel’s Security Cabinet went to the Mt. Avital outlook on the Golan Heights Tuesday and received a briefing from Chief-of-Staff Lt.-Gen. Gadi Eizenkot, OC Northern Command Maj.-Gen. Yoel Strick and other senior officers.

Following the briefings, Netanyahu said that while Israel wants peace, it is “prepared for any scenario, and I suggest that no one test us.”

Anna Ahronheim contributed to this report.


Rouhani warns Iran must heed lessons of 1979 revolution — Major reforms needed “before it is too late”

January 31, 2018


© Iranian Presidency/AFP | Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani marks the anniversary of the 1979 revolution at a shrine in Tehran on January 31, 2018


President Hassan Rouhani said Wednesday that Iran must listen to protesters behind a recent wave of unrest, hinting that it risked another revolution if their demands are ignored.

In a speech marking the 39th anniversary of the uprising, Rouhani also warned foreign powers that Iran’s people would “forever safeguard the Islamic republic”.

“As long as people love the culture of Islam and love their Iran and safeguard their national unity, no superpower can change the path of this nation,” he said, taking a jab at the United States.

But he said that popular support was at risk if his fellow elites did not listen to protests that have swept the country in recent weeks, and heed the lessons of the 1979 revolution that toppled shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi.

“All officials of the country should have a listening ear for people’s demands and wishes,” Rouhani said at the shrine of revolutionary leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini in southern Tehran.

“The previous regime thought monarchical rule would last forever, but it lost everything for this very reason — that it did not hear the criticism of the people,” he added, flanked by Khomeini’s grandson, Hassan Khomeini, a prominent reformist.

Days of angry protests hit dozens of towns and cities over the new year, leaving at least 25 people dead and hundreds in detention.

Recent days have also seen unprecedented protests by a handful of women, posing in public without their headscarves to show their rejection of mandatory Islamic clothing rules.

Rouhani has allied himself with reformists and called for greater civil liberties, including the release of political prisoners, but has achieved little against an entrenched conservative elite that sees protests as subversive attacks orchestrated by foreign enemies.

“No one can stop the great people of Iran from expressing their views, criticism and even protest,” he said.

The shah’s regime “did not hear the voice of reformers, advisors, scholars, elites, and the educated,” said Rouhani.

“It only heard the voice of revolution… and by then, it was too late.”

His comments echoed the sharp criticism a day earlier from jailed reformist Mehdi Karroubi, who has been under house arrest for the past seven years for leading protests in 2009.

Karroubi lashed out at supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in an open letter, saying major reforms were needed “before it is too late”.

Trump’s new sanctions ‘a blow and a warning to Iranian regime’

January 14, 2018

A man looks at Iranian-made missiles at Defense Museum in Tehran on Sept. 23, 2015. (Reuters)
JEDDAH: Tough new sanctions imposed by US President Donald Trump on 14 Iranian individuals and organizations are a political blow and a warning to the regime in Tehran, a leading analyst told Arab News on Saturday.
Among those targeted are the powerful politician Ayatollah Sadeq Larijani, the head of Iran’s judiciary and a close ally of Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Groups facing sanctions include the cyber unit of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC).
The US move is a significant move and “a critical victory for human rights defenders and the Iranian people,” said Majid Rafizadeh, a Harvard-educated Iranian-American political scientist.
The sanctions on the IRGC cyber unit were also a step toward peace and stability by combating the Iranian regime’s attempts to hack other governments’ systems and organizations, he said.
Announcing the new action on Friday, Trump said he would continue the suspension of US sanctions on Iran under the 2015 nuclear deal — but only for 120 days. In the intervening time, he has demanded a separate agreement to restrict Iran’s ballistic missile program, which is not explicitly covered by the nuclear deal, and to make the 10-year curb on Iran’s nuclear program permanent. If he sees no progress on such an agreement, the president will withdraw from the nuclear deal.
Trump was sending a message that the Iranian regime “will be monitored not only for its nuclear defiance, development, research and proliferation, but also for its human rights violations,” Rafizadeh said.
Trump, who has sharply criticized the deal reached under Barack Obama’s presidency, had chafed at once again having to waive sanctions on a country he sees as a threat in the Middle East.
“Despite my strong inclination, I have not yet withdrawn the United States from the Iran nuclear deal,” he said on Friday. The options were to fix “the deal’s disastrous flaws, or the United States will withdraw. This is a last chance.”
Contrary to the view of his critics, Rafizadeh said, Trump had used diplomacy to address the loopholes in the nuclear deal. “This will give the administration a more robust platform to persuade the EU nations to fix the nuclear agreement or to abandon it.
“If other parties do not take necessary and adequate action to address the shortcomings of the nuclear agreement, Trump has buttressed his position and laid out the groundwork to reimpose sanctions, as well as withdrawing from the deal.”
Trump is also giving the US Congress additional time to work on legislation to fix loopholes in the deal, such as requiring Iran to allow its military sites be inspected for nuclear development, research, weaponization and proliferation, Rafizadeh said.
“Iran is not adhering to the spirit of the nuclear deal due to its heightened interventionist and expansionist policies in the Arab world and to its human rights violations domestically.”
Rafizadeh said the deal had empowered the IRGC and its militias in the region through sanctions relief. This, he said, had further radicalized, militarized and destabilized the region. “Iran continues to ratchet up its antagonistic policy toward Arab nations, the US, and the West.”
Iran’s Foreign Ministry said sanctions on Larijani were “hostile action” that “crossed all red lines of conduct in the international community and a violation of international law, and will surely be answered by a serious reaction of the Islamic Republic.”
Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said the nuclear deal was “not renegotiable” and Trump’s move “amounts to desperate attempts to undermine a solid multilateral agreement.”
James Jeffrey, distinguished fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy and former US ambassador to Iraq, told Arab News: “Ignore the rhetoric. Zarif is simply reflecting the truth about Iran’s refusal to change the nuclear deal, and all other parties including Europeans agree. But what Trump and his advisers, in background talks with me, seem to be looking for is an agreement with France, Germany and the UK to deal with the problems Trump cites — long-range missiles, inspection flaws and Iranian enrichment breakout after 10 years, without necessarily new negotiations.
“These are real problems that, for example, French President Emmanuel Macron has cited, and do not necessarily require modifying the agreement which, as Zarif says, understandably Iran rejects.
“Missiles and sanctions related to them are not part of the agreement, but a separate Security Council resolution that Iran did not formally agree to.
“Inspection problems involve a mix of the International Atomic Energy Agency not using powers the agreement gives it, and inspection procedures and deals outside of the agreement.
“Unchecked enrichment after 10 years is a serious problem, but could be dealt with through European/US carrots and sticks and cooperation by a future Iranian government, without changing the agreement.”
Speaking by phone to Arab News, Aaron David Miller, vice president for New Initiatives at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars and a former senior US peace negotiator, said that the Trump administration will face “great odds” convincing European signatories of the JCPOA to agree to change the “internal architecture’ of the agreement.
Miller also maintained that despite the strong rhetoric from the Trump administration, he does not see its policy on Iran as fundamentally different from that of his predecessor, Barack Obama.
Nevertheless, when asked whether he had expected the JCPOA to compel Iran to moderate its behavior in the region or whether he expected it to be emboldened, Miller said the JCPOA was not meant to be “transformational. It was transactional.”


Trump issues ultimatum to ‘fix’ Iran nuclear deal — “Either fix the deal’s disastrous flaws, or the United States will withdraw.”

January 13, 2018

By Steve Holland

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump gave the Iran nuclear deal a final reprieve on Friday but warned European allies and Congress they had to work with him to fix ”the disastrous flaws” in the pact or face a U.S. exit.

Trump said he would waive sanctions against Iran that were lifted as part of the international deal for the last time unless his conditions were met.

The ultimatum puts pressure on Europeans – key backers and parties to the 2015 international agreement to curb Iran’s nuclear program – to satisfy Trump, who wants the pact strengthened with a separate agreement within 120 days.

“Despite my strong inclination, I have not yet withdrawn the United States from the Iran nuclear deal,” Trump said in a statement. “Instead, I have outlined two possible paths forward: either fix the deal’s disastrous flaws, or the United States will withdraw.”

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif responded on Twitter that the deal was not renegotiable and that Trump’s stance “amounts to desperate attempts to undermine a solid multilateral agreement.”

Trump, who has sharply criticized the deal reached during Democrat Barack Obama’s presidency, had privately chafed at having to once again waive sanctions on a country he sees as a rising threat in the Middle East.

“This is a last chance,” Trump said, pushing for a separate agreement. “In the absence of such an agreement, the United States will not again waive sanctions in order to stay in the Iran nuclear deal. And if at any time I judge that such an agreement is not within reach, I will withdraw from the deal immediately.”

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Donald Trump with senior national security team including H.R. McMaster

The EU said in a statement it had taken note of Trump’s decision and would assess its implications.

Underscoring the difficulty now facing Europeans, a European diplomat, speaking under condition of anonymity, said: “It’s going to be complicated to save the deal after this.”

While Trump approved the sanctions waiver, the Treasury Department announced new, targeted sanctions against 14 entities and people, including the head of Iran’s judiciary, Sadeq Amoli Larijani, a close ally of Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

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Trump now will work with European partners on a follow-on agreement that enshrines certain triggers that the Iranian regime cannot exceed related to ballistic missiles, said senior administration officials who briefed reporters on the decision.

One senior administration official said Trump would be open to remaining in a modified deal if it were made permanent.

“I hereby call on key European countries to join with the United States in fixing significant flaws in the deal, countering Iranian aggression, and supporting the Iranian people,” Trump said in the statement.

Republican Senator Bob Corker said “significant progress” had been made on bipartisan congressional legislation to “address the flaws in the agreement without violating U.S. commitments.”


Trump laid out several conditions to keep the United States in the deal. Iran must allow “immediate inspections at all sites requested by international inspectors,” he said, and “sunset” provisions imposing limits on Iran’s nuclear program must not expire. Trump said U.S. law must tie long-range missile and nuclear weapons programs together, making any missile testing by Iran subject to “severe sanctions.”

The president wants Congress to modify a law that reviews U.S. participation in the nuclear deal to include “trigger points” that, if violated, would lead to the United States reimposing its sanctions, the official said.

This would not entail negotiations with Iran, the official said, but rather would be the result of talks between the United States and its European allies. Work already has begun on this front, the official said.

Analyst Richard Nephew said whether Trump’s conditions could be met depended on whether he wants a face-saving way to live with the nuclear deal with the political cover of tough-sounding U.S. legislation, or whether he really wants the deal rewritten.

Nephew, a former White House and State Department Iran sanctions expert, said legislation could be drafted that might appear to assuage Trump’s concerns, but that getting Iran to agree to allow unfettered international inspections or to no time limits on the nuclear deal’s restrictions was impossible.

U.S. President Donald Trump addresses a joint news conference with Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg in the East Room of the White House in Washington, U.S., January 10, 2018. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

Trump has argued behind the scenes that the nuclear deal makes the United States look weak, a senior U.S. official said.

A decision to withhold a waiver would have effectively ended the deal between Iran, the United States, China, France, Russia, Britain, Germany and the European Union. The other parties to the agreement would have been unlikely to join the United States in reimposing sanctions.

Hailed by Obama as key to stopping Iran from building a nuclear bomb, the deal lifted economic sanctions in exchange for Tehran limiting its nuclear program but Trump has argued that Obama negotiated a bad deal.


Britain, France and Germany called on Trump on Thursday to uphold the pact.

Iran says its nuclear program is only for peaceful purposes and that it will stick to the accord as long as the other signatories respect it, but will “shred” the deal if Washington pulls out.

Two EU diplomats said EU foreign ministers will discuss what to do now at their next regular meeting, scheduled for Jan. 22 in Brussels.

The U.S. Congress requires the president to decide periodically whether to certify Iran’s compliance with the deal and issue a waiver to allow U.S sanctions to remain suspended.

Trump in October chose not to certify compliance and warned he might ultimately terminate the accord. He accused Iran of “not living up to the spirit” of the agreement even though the International Atomic Energy Agency says Tehran is complying.

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Hard-liners on Iran in the U.S. Congress have called for the reimposition of the suspended sanctions and an end to the nuclear deal, while some liberal Democrats want to pass legislation that would make it harder for Trump to pull Washington out without congressional consent.

Trump and his top advisers have been negotiating with U.S. lawmakers on Capitol Hill to try to change sanctions legislation so that Trump does not face a deadline on whether to recertify Iranian compliance with the nuclear deal every 90 days.

Additional reporting by Jeff Mason, Doina Chiacu, David Alexander and Arshad Mohammed in Washington, Robin Emmott in Brussels, John Irish in Paris and Parisa Hafezi in Ankara; Writing by Steve Holland and Jeff Mason; Editing by Yara Bayoumy, Bill Trott and Leslie Adler

Shirin Ebadi on Iran protests: ‘Government cannot silence the hungry forever’

January 5, 2018

Anti-government protests in Iran have grabbed global headlines over the past several days. In a DW interview, Nobel laureate Shirin Ebadi urges Iranians to pressure Tehran to hold a referendum on their political future.

Iran, Teheran, Protest (Getty Images)

The unrest in Iran in recent days has turned the world’s attention to the state of affairs in the Islamic theocracy. At least 21 people have died and hundreds have been arrested since December 28, as protests over economic woes turned into anger against the regime, with attacks on government buildings and police stations.

Iran’s political establishment has closed ranks against the unrest, with even reformists condemning the violence. The government, and above all Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has insisted that the protests are being orchestrated from outside the country.

The government has reported that it has put an end to the “sedition,” and Thursday saw massive pro-government marches and a very heavy police presence across the country.

Meanwhile, online messaging and photo sharing platforms Telegram and Instagram have been blocked on mobile phones, having been interrupted soon after protests began. At the request of the United States, the UN Security Council is holding an emergency meeting on Friday to discuss the wave of protests in Iran.

In an interview with DW, Iranian Nobel Peace Prize laureate Shirin Ebadi spoke about the demonstrations and the political reform process in Iran.

DW: Anti-government protests in Iran seem to have waned, due to the massive presence of security forces everywhere. Do you believe these demonstrations have the potential to turn into a major movement?

Shirin Ebadi: The presence of the Iranian people on the nation’s streets is supported by the rights guaranteed to them by the constitution of Iran. According to the constitution, marches and gatherings do not require permission. But the Iranian government has always ignored the rights of the people. At the moment, because of the suppression and violence of the government, the presence of people on the streets has diminished.

But I must say that in the small towns, people are still out on the streets demonstrating. Even those that have returned to their homes will go back on to the streets again and that time is not far away.

They will shout openly that they are idle, hungry and lacking economic prospects. The government cannot silence the hungry forever and have to listen to the people.

The vast majority of society has not joined hands with the anti-government protesters. The middle class has stayed away and remains skeptical. Why?

Iranische Anwältin und Menschenrechtsaktivistin Shirin Ebadi (picture alliance/Photoshot/ Luciano Movio/Sintesi)Ebadi: ‘My recommendation to the people is to avoid violence, but to use their legal rights and to raise pressure on the government’

The middle class has supported the protests in their own way. But the political leadership was in the hands of neither the middle class nor the economic elites.

The elites supported the protests by publishing a statement. Human rights defenders, lawyers and writers issued statements in support of the protesters. Some artists expressed their support, too. But do not forget that the popular uprising was intense this time round, as people protesting on the streets had nothing to lose. In contrast, people who have something to lose are always more cautious. The middle class has not starved like the people coming on to the streets. But they also backed the protests.

In Iran, it appears that most people are dissatisfied about the present state of affairs, but many say they don’t see an alternative to the current political set up. As a human rights activist, what in your view should be the first steps that government has to pursue to reform the political system?

There are clear demands. The Iranian people want a referendum held freely under the auspices of the United Nations to express their demands and say what kind of government they want.

Read more: Opinion: Is the end near for Iran’s theocracy?

It is natural that the government did not care for the demand of referendum until now. But people must peacefully address their demands by engaging in a civil struggle and pressuring the government to hold a vote and implement the will of the people.

My recommendation to the people is to avoid violence, but to use their legal rights and to raise pressure on the government. For example, if they have money in the bank, they should withdraw the money from the bank. Such a move would damage the economics of the state banks – and they would get to the brink of bankruptcy.

Or do not pay for water, gas, taxes and municipality services to pressure the government economically. This form of non-violent protest is not dangerous, because no one is killed or arrested, but the government is under pressure and forced to give in to the will of the people.

Shirin Ebadi is an Iranian lawyer, a former judge and human rights activist. For her contributions to democracy and human rights, she was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2003.

The interview was conducted by Shabnam von Hein.