IranSource | Understanding and Analyzing a Multifaceted Iran

The Iranian economy and population are every day feeling the painful effects of US-driven financial pressure aimed at blocking any kind of economic interaction between foreign and Iranian banks and businesses.

The sanctions’ political aim is to make it harder for the Iranian government to govern and reach its political, military and economic ambitions. But in reality, the sanctions do more harm to the already struggling private sector, which employs a large part of the Iranian workforce, and consequently to average Iranians.

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With pressure mounting on Iran from US sanctions, Iran is placing heavy emphasis on its neighbors for trade and political support.

Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan’s recent visit to Iran has raised the question of whether Pakistan can be the friend Tehran needs to survive the Trump administration’s growing hostility.

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Ever since the Trump administration came to office, it has been applying pressure on Iran without provoking a new proliferation crisis. But the days of Donald Trump having his baklava, so to speak, and eating it too may be drawing to a close.

In a series of public and private appearances last week in New York—on the sidelines of a UN preparatory meeting for a 2020 review of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT)—Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif made clear that Iran’s patience with the Trump administration and the international community may be coming to an end. 

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With 253 executions in 2018—including six people executed for offenses they allegedly committed as children—Iran is still among the world’s leading executioners, according to Amnesty International’s recent annual report on global trends in executions. Yet executions in Iran dropped by half last year, from 507 in 2017.  

The significant reduction is mostly attributable to the reform of Iran’s draconian drug law that went into force in late 2017. The long-awaited amendment had originally sought to outlaw executions for all nonviolent drug offenses. After legislative battles, the final version did not go so far, but it substantially raised the amount of drugs the suspect was found to possess for a mandatory death penalty. Since January 2018, the Iranian judiciary has largely halted executions for drug offenses as they review the cases of 15,000 convicts on death row. 

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On April 22, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced the Trump Administration will not grant any exceptions from sanctions for entities involved in the purchase of petroleum products from Iran. The Trump administration’s apparent decision to compel buyers to zero out their purchases of Iranian oil is likely to have dramatic consequences on the effectiveness of sanctions on Iran and the markets, with the potential to negatively impact both.  

As another step in President Donald Trump’s May 2018 withdrawal from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), Pompeo’s announcement means that the administration is going further than the sanctions at the height of the pre-JCPOA sanctions regime. The Trump administration will now threaten sanctions against any entity facilitating a significant transaction for the purchase of Iranian petroleum products, and not renew exceptions that expire on May 2 for countries that have previously reduced their purchases of Iranian crude. 

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Designating Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) as a foreign terrorist organization (FTO) stirred panic in Lebanon. Hezbollah’s allies in the Lebanese government—such as the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) and Amal—worried they too would soon bear the brunt of American sanctions. But US officials reassured a hastily dispatched delegation of the group’s allies last week that despite the more aggressive stance on Iran, they would suffer no consequences for empowering its primary proxy. In doing so, the United States lost an opportunity to weaken Hezbollah through deterring its allies. 

Because Hezbollah has enmeshed itself in almost every level of Lebanese government and society, countering its growing strength without harming the integrity of the Lebanese state remains a challenge. Differing but insufficient solutions to this dilemma exist. Israel, for example, prefers collectively punishing Hezbollah and the Lebanese state without distinction, while France opts for virtual inertia against the group to preserve Lebanon’s fragile stability. In the end, either option would only strengthen Hezbollah.

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As the Trump administration steps up pressure on Iran, much attention has focused on unprecedented moves such as the April 15 designation of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) as a foreign terrorist organization.

However, a more concrete and perhaps effective challenge to the IRGC may come from an unlikely source: Iran’s usually neutral if not friendly neighbor, Oman. 

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Following the Trump administration’s decision to label Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) as a foreign terrorist entity, renewed pressure is likely from members of the Conservative party and other Iran hawks in Canada for the government of Justin Trudeau to follow suit.

Already, Canada, like the US, has designated the Quds Force of the IRGC, an elite branch responsible for extraterritorial operations, as a terrorist organization. However, there has been a persistent effort by Canadian conservatives to label the entirety of the IRGC as a foreign terrorist group.

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The recent White House designation of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) as a foreign terrorist group is the latest extension of the Trump administration’s “maximum pressure” policy toward Iran. Yet this policy, aimed at containing Iran’s regional role and limiting its advanced missile program, has backfired, strengthening the status of the IRGC in Iranian domestic politics and further legitimizing its regional and missile activities in the view of many Iranians.

The result is the opposite of the Trump administration’s announced goal in withdrawing in May 2018 from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), to reach a “better” nuclear deal. Re-imposed draconian sanctions were meant to challenge the value of the country’s regional policy in domestic politics, weaken Iran’s deterrence strength and push Tehran to accept political and security trends favored by President Donald Trump and his regional allies—Israel, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. 

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The recent record flooding in Iran has killed dozens, inundated nearly 2,000 villages and cities across Iran, and caused hundreds of millions of dollars of damage to the country’s infrastructure. 

The Trump administration’s response through the State Department, predictably, has been to offer unspecified support to the Iranian people while at the same time sharply criticizing Tehran for environmental mismanagement that exacerbates the severity of the flooding. Setting aside the accuracy of any such criticism, the ham-handed US response to this natural disaster has again exposed the Trump administration’s inability to execute a nuanced policy. It is clear that the “maximum pressure” campaign and policy mindset are harming the ordinary Iranians that President Donald Trump and his surrogates proclaim to want to help. 

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