IranSource | Understanding and Analyzing a Multifaceted Iran

The level of instability present in the Gulf today is unsustainable, dangerous, and undoubtedly the creation of an increasingly desperate Iranian regime. Tehran has long favored asymmetric attacks that are difficult to factually tie to them or assaults conducted through proxies. 

Until the most recent shoot down of an unmanned US aircraft on June 20, Iran had achieved a certain level of success in creating some doubt as to who was behind the recent attacks on six oil tankers in the Gulf and an oil pipeline and civilian airport in Saudi Arabia. The attacks, conducted either by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) or proxy Houthi rebels in Yemen, continue to destabilize the region and pressurize oil prices.

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Up an untarmacked road, high above the Mediterranean Sea, the Shifa' Speciality Hospital (SSH) sits behind half-built apartment blocks in the suburban town of Aaramoun just south of Beirut.  

The new hospital opened officially on May 1 and is managed by Hezbollah’s Islamic Health Unit, a social service provider falling under the group’s Executive Council—one of five branches into which Hezbollah’s political, social and military activities are divided. There are few signs of the Iran-backed Lebanese group at the opening event: no yellow flags and no portraits of Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah. Its upbeat anthem is absent. But journalists receive their press invitations via Hezbollah’s media relations office, and the white and red roses that adorn the building are typical of the party’s events. It’s Hezbollah—it’s just more subtle. 

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Iran shot down a US military drone near the Persian Gulf, increasing fears of an armed conflict between Tehran and Washington. Against this backdrop, the path to talks between the two governments appears blocked. 

President Donald Trump’s “maximum pressure” campaign ostensibly aims to force Iran to come to the negotiating table and strike a new deal, including bigger and more long-lasting restrictions on its nuclear and missile programs and an end to support for proxy groups. Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has so far vehemently opposed new direct talks with the Americans.

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The Trump administration has exempted the Chabahar port from US sanctions as a gesture toward India, which sees the outpost as a means of facilitating trade with Afghanistan. However, its true potential requires more integration between Iran and among Central Asian states.

Muddassir Quamar, associate fellow at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, a New Delhi think tank, told this author that trade with any country—not just Afghanistan—through Chabahar port is not under sanctions.

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During 2013, Iran seized on a rare opportunity to talk directly with the United States for a new round of nuclear negotiations. European countries speaking at the time to Iran to cap its nuclear program asked the US, which had been part of the nuclear talks since 2006, to join in fresh discussions with Iran. The P5+1 talks that followed between Iran and the US—along with Britain, China, France, Germany, and Russia—came with a promise that the countries would not tighten the multilateral sanctions regime against Tehran if an agreement was reached. The arrangement led to the 2015 Iran nuclear deal also known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).

Iran was enticing the US to talk once again this past month, by withdrawing some of its obligations under the nuclear deal in May. The two countries had a falling out after US President Donald Trump pulled out of the JCPOA, and re-imposed punitive sanctions on Tehran. To trigger Washington into some action to end this impasse, on May 22, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani reached out to the US by suggesting that engaging in a new round of talks was possible—if they returned to the table.

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Despite the recent rise in tensions between the United States and Iran, Qatar is moving closer to its controversial neighbor as a blockade of Qatar by prominent Arab countries appears to have become a permanent feature of the regional geopolitical landscape.

It has now been two years since Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Bahrain, and Egypt, collectively known as the Anti-Terror Quartet (ATQ), cut all diplomatic ties with the State of Qatar, and imposed an air, land, and sea blockade on the gas-rich emirate. The four states accused Doha of supporting terrorism, maintaining excessively close relations with Iran, and interfering in neighboring states’ domestic affairs. 

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Despite repeated assertions by regime officials in Tehran and key members of the Trump administration regarding a mutual desire to avoid war, tensions in the region continue to rise.

With each side seemingly determined to push the other up to, but not beyond poorly defined red lines, an increasingly volatile situation is developing. Given the poor state of diplomatic relations between the US and Iran and an inability of the two nations to communicate at the military to military level beyond the most basic tactical contacts, the opportunity for even a minor miscalculation to develop into a much more serious strategic incident remains disturbingly high.

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In Iran, as in other societies, citizens wish to see those in high political office as exemplars of positive values and ideals such as virtue, decency and morality. 

If an official of the Islamic Republic is caught in a scandal, he or she is likely to be removed or forced to resign. Still, Iranians have become used to financial corruption. But the case of former Tehran mayor and education minister Mohammad Ali Najafi—who has confessed to shooting to death his second wife—has profoundly shocked the nation, touched off a debate about polygamy and domestic violence and become enmeshed in Iran’s bitter factional politics.

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To those on the ground, the vote result was obviously rigged. The margin of victory by incumbent hardliner Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was grossly out of line with previous and subsequent Iranian election results with high turnouts. The vote-counting process was completely opaque.

A system for verifying the vote and to prevent cheating on June 12, 2009, developed by lead opposition candidate Mir-Hossein Mousavi’s campaign, was sabotaged by the unexpected shutting down of the text-messaging system throughout the country.

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Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will finally make a trip to Iran on June 12. Since becoming prime minister at the end of 2012, every time Abe attempted to visit Tehran, the idea was eventually withdrawn mainly due to US disapproval, according to rumors. 

However, Prime Minister Abe has met Iranian President Hassan Rouhani seven times already, not only in New York on the sideline of the UN General Assembly every year since 2013, but also at the sixtieth annual Asia-Africa Conference in Indonesia during 2015. The Tehran visit will be the eighth meeting between Abe and Rouhani. It will be the first visit by a Japanese prime minister since 1978. (However, it will be Abe’s second visit to Iran since he accompanied his father, then Foreign Minister Shintaro Abe, in 1983.)

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