IranSource | Understanding and Analyzing a Multifaceted Iran

“Leave Syria, think about us” and “death to the dictator” were some of the popular chants during the nationwide protests that shook Iran last December and January. It took the Iranian government slowing the internet, temporarily blocking Instagram as well as the popular messaging app Telegram, and massively cracking down on the demonstrations. But far from being a cure-all, these moves by the regime were nothing but a snake oil remedy.

The symptoms of social unrest once again emerged this week, with similar chants resounding from shopkeepers in Tehran’s grand bazaar.

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Iran’s currency, the rial, has experienced a historic low record crashing through 90,000 rials against one US dollar on the unofficial market and continuing its slide amid economic uncertainty caused by corruption, mismanagement and fear of returning US sanctions.

The drop in the value of the currency is having serious polictical repercussions. The development has encouraged Iranian merchants and shop owners to demonstrate against the government and go on strike in Tehran’s central market dedicated to sale and distribution of cellphone and electronic products. 

Psychologically, the effect is significant because it has generated fear and uncertainty. Reminiscent of the last years of the shah’s rule, there are rumors that merchants in the bazaars in Tehran and provincial cities are hoarding, pushing up the price of basic foodstuffs.

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On June 15, the Israeli state prosecution indicted a former minister, Dr. Gonen Segev, for spying for Iran. Israeli authorities arrested him about a month earlier. His arrest and indictment were kept secret until a gag order was partially lifted on June 18.  If found guilty, Dr. Segev would be the most senior Israeli political figure ever to spy for an enemy country.

Dr. Segev – a former combat soldier, officer and medical doctor – was elected in 1992 as a member of the right wing Tzomet party. In 1994 he left the party. The following year he was appointed minister of energy in the second Rabin government. He also was made a member of the security cabinet, a group of select ministers that discuss and decide on the most important security matters.  Although Dr. Segev served as a minister for less than a year, his vote allowed Prime Minister Rabin to secure a majority in the Knesset (the Israeli Parliament) on a crucial vote for the implementation of the controversial peace deal with the Palestine Liberation Organization. By 1996, Dr. Segev was ejected from politics.  

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The one thing, besides Nowruz, that unites Iranians across the globe is Team Melli, the national soccer team. If social media is any indication, Team Melli is an obsession for Iranians everywhere.

Iran qualified for this summer’s World Cup on June 17, 2017, the first time the country has punched its ticket for two consecutive tournaments. There was a sense, by the end of the qualifying campaign, that Iran had become strong enough to make it into the round of 16, also for the first time. Although these hopes ultimately were not realized, Team Melli performed much better than expected when paired in the first round against traditional powerhouses Spain and Portugal as well as a strong side from Morocco.

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The US decision to withdraw unilaterally from the Iran nuclear deal and pursue a “maximum pressure” campaign against Tehran is pushing Europe to find creative new ways to preserve economic relations with Iran and thus salvage the agreement.

One idea, floated by the French Economy Minister Bruno Le Maire, is the establishment of a European version of the US Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC). This EU-OFAC, Le Maire has said, would be “capable of following the activities of foreign companies and checking if they are respecting European decisions.”

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A priority for those in Iran seeking re-integration into the international economy has been banking reforms that conform to globally accepted standards.

But hardline factions oppose the reforms as surrender to US-led financial institutions and their views have been reinforced by the US decision to unilaterally leave the Iran nuclear deal.

On June 10, the parliament postponed for at least two months approval of key legislation establishing safeguards against financing terrorism and money laundering required for Iran to join the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), a Paris-based international financial watchdog institution. This decision could have a negative impact at the next FATF plenary June 24-29 where members will decide whether to keep Iran on a “gray list” of transgressors or put it back on a “black list” with North Korea.

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Until recently, few observers inside or outside Iran gave much weight to the notion of a comeback for discredited former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

The disqualification of Ahmadinejad and his former top aide, Esfandiyar Rahim Mashaei, for the presidency in 2017, followed by the arrests of Mashaei and former vice president Hamid Baghaei on charges of corruption and misuse of public funds, seemed to signal the complete defeat of Ahmadinejad’s  “deviant current” (Jaryan-e enhefari), the label that conservative factions had given to his group.

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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Russian President Vladimir Putin at Netanyahu's residence in Jerusalem on June 25, 2012.
On June 1, Russian Ambassador to the United Nations Vasily Nebenzya told the press that he “believes” that his country and Israel reached an agreement regarding “certain disengagement in the southwest of Syria.” Other sources reported that the agreement will include the withdrawal of Iranian and Iranian-backed forces from the Syrian-Israeli border in return for implicit Israeli acceptance of the Syrian forces’ redeployment there. More speculative reports even suggested that Russia promised to look the other way during future Israeli attacks in Syria, as long as Jerusalem commits not to target Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces.

The Russian ambassador’s statement was the only formal recognition that such an agreement was reached. All other Russian and Israeli officials refused to confirm that such a deal was secured. Indeed, on June 2, a “senior Israeli diplomatic source” denied that an agreement was reached, and so did the Syrian foreign minister, Walid Mualem. The reports came amid intensive Israeli-Russian diplomatic interactions. 

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US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo used his first speech in his new position on May 21, 2018, to send a message to the Iranian leadership and people.

Pompeo laid out twelve demands including ending Iran’s ballistic missiles development, halting support for Lebanese Hezbollah and Palestinian groups including Hamas, allowing nuclear inspectors "unqualified access to all sites throughout the country,” shutting down Iran’s uranium enrichment program, ending involvement in Syria and Iraq and disarming Shi’ite militias.

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As the Syrian government increasingly consolidates control over its territory after seven years of civil strife, cracks are widening between its key external supporters, Iran and Russia.

The issue of Syria’s future has generated a heated debate among political elites in Tehran and in Farsi media over Iran’s continued military presence and how it can leverage its expenditure of blood and treasure to preserve its strategic and economic interests.

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