TIME Middle East

Iran Challenges U.S. and Saudi Arabia by Sending Aid Ship to Rebels in Yemen

A Saudi border guard watches as he stands in a boat off the coast of the Red Sea on Saudi Arabia's maritime border with Yemen, near Jizan April 8, 2015.
Faisal Nasser—Reuters A Saudi border guard watches as he stands in a boat off the coast of the Red Sea on Saudi Arabia's maritime border with Yemen, near Jizan April 8, 2015.

A Saudi-led coalition is trying to defeat an insurrection against the Yemeni government that they believe is partly funded by Iran

An Iranian aid ship has entered the Gulf of Aden in a direct challenge to Saudi Arabia and the United State’s blockade of Yemeni ports, Iranian media has reported.

The Iran Shahed is carrying 2,500 tons of aid and is bound for the port of Hodeidah, which is controlled by the Shiite Houthi rebels. The ship was chartered by the Red Crescent Society of Iran and its passengers include a medical team, journalists and anti-war activists. Saudi Arabia has vowed that it will not allow Iranian ships to dock in any of Yemen’s ports to prevent the supply of arms to the Houthis.

In April, a convoy of Iranian ships that Iran claimed contained aid turned back from Yemen after their route was blocked by the American aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt. A few days later an Iranian aid plane was forced to turn back when Saudi jets bombed the airport in the Yemeni capital of Sana’a’s airport to prevent it from landing.

Saudi Arabia is worried about the increasing influence of Iran in the Middle East. Iran wields great influence in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq with the help of proxies such as Hizballah.

This time Iran has asked its navy, which has a small convoy on an anti-piracy mission in the Gulf of Aden, to provide special protection for the ship. The Iranian military has warned it will retaliate if the Iran Shahed is prevented from reaching Yemen. “Both the new rulers of Saudi Arabia and the United States should pay attention, if they keep on hindering the Islamic Republic of Iran from sending aid, an inferno will arise that they will most certainly not be able to extinguish,” Masoud Jazayeri, a General in the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, told Iranian TV last week. “I am distinctly stating that the patience of Iran has limits, if the Iranian aid ship is prevented from reaching Yemen then they [Saudi Arabians/United States] should expect actions from us.”

The ship is due to meet the Iranian convoy and then head into the Red Sea before arriving in Hoedeidah on May 21. However the ship’s passengers do not seem worried about future conflict. “During the day we all have something to do, in my case send in reports when I can with the unreliable internet we’ve got, but in the evenings we all gather up and play games and have fun. The crew says they can hear our laughter throughout the ship,” said Mehdi Bakhtiari, a journalist with Iran’s Fars News Agency.

Bakhtiari, who was speaking via satellite phone from the deck of the ship, said their vessel was approached by a ship on Sunday morning, which requested information by radio. “It kept a 6-mile distance and asked our port of origin and destination and followed us for some time. But when our ship’s captain asked it to identify itself it just said it is part of the coalition and didn’t say whether it was the anti-piracy coalition or the Saudi-led coalition.”

Bakhtiari said he had seen no arms on board the ship “We asked to be shown the cargo as soon as we got onboard. We went over all of the containers, we even took pictures and film, and it’s just rice, grain, bottled water and antibiotics, there are no weapons on board this ship.”


U.S. Cannot Be Trusted, Iran’s Supreme Leader Says

Iranian supreme leader, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in Tehran, Iran, April 9, 2015.
AP Iranian supreme leader, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in Tehran, Iran, April 9, 2015.

But Ayatullah Khamenei said he would support a nuclear deal that upholds Iranian interests

Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatullah Khamenei warned Iranian diplomats on Thursday not to trust the United States as they try to finalize the nuclear agreement that was reached in Lausanne, Switzerland last week.

In his first speech since the agreement, Khamenei said: “I have told the officials to not trust the opposing side, to not be fooled by their smiles, to not trust their promises because when they have achieved their objectives they will laugh at you…. After every round of talks they make public comments that they then tell us in private was meant to save face in their own country and to counter their opponents, but this is their own problem and has nothing to do with us.”

Khamenei said that he would support an agreement that “upholds the interests and honor of the [Iranian] nation,” but would prefer no deal to one that endangers those interests. Stressing his belief that the U.S. cannot be trusted, he said he had serious concerns. “Everything is in the details. It is possible that the deceitful opposing side might try to restrain our nation in the details,” he said.

Iran and the U.S., Russia, China, U.K, France and Germany agreed on a framework deal last Thursday although Khamenei singled out the U.S. in his comments. The deal is supposed to limit Iran’s ability to make a nuclear bomb but allow it to develop nuclear energy. In return, Iran will be allowed to access bank accounts, oil markets and financial assets that have been closed to it by international sanctions.

The deal says that sanctions will be lifted once international monitors have verified that Iran is abiding by its commitments under the deal.

Khamenei’s comments came the same day as President Hassan Rouhani demanded that all sanctions on Iran be lifted immediately when the deal is concluded. “We will not sign any agreement, unless all economic sanctions are totally lifted on the first day of the implementation of the deal,” he said.

The Ayatullah insisted that international inspectors would not be allowed to enter military areas nor would Iran be subject to any regime that was not applicable to other countries. He also warned that the three-month timetable could be extended. “They might say that we only have three months to reach a deal, well if three months becomes four months the sky won’t come falling down,” he said.

Though many Iranian officials, from the President to the head of the Revolution Guard have issued messages in support of the Lausanne agreement, Khamenei insisted no binding agreement has been reached, “What’s been done until now neither guarantees an agreement, nor that talks will even reach a conclusion,” he said.

While some observers had hailed the Lausanne talks as an opening between Iran and the U.S., Khamenei said: “All should know that we have nothing to negotiate with America on regional and international issues. However the nuclear negotiations will be an experience. If the other side refrains from its usual improper actions this will become an experience that we can negotiate on other issues, but if we see that once again they act improperly, our distrust of America will be only strengthened.”

Khamenei also singled out Saudi Arabia for criticism for its attacks in Yemen. “We have always had numerous differences with Saudi Arabia but until recently they always acted with dignity in foreign policy. Now a few inexperienced youth have taken over the affairs of the state and are replacing dignity with barbarity,” he said.

This week Iran sent warships to support Houthi rebels in Yemen who Saudi Arabia has been bombing. “But I warn them that this behavior will not be tolerated in the region and they must cease their crimes in Yemen. The Saudis have created a dangerous precedent in the region, they will be harmed and incur losses in this issue in which they will under no circumstances triumph. The Saudis’ face will be rubbed in the ground in Yemen,” Khamenei said.


Iranians Rejoice in Nuclear Agreement, But Critics Worry Over Details

Iranians celebrate Iran's nuclear agreement with world powers on a street in northern Tehran, Iran, on Thursday, Apr. 2, 2015.
Ebrahim Noroozi—AP Iranians celebrate Iran's nuclear agreement with world powers on a street in northern Tehran, Iran, on Apr. 2, 2015.

“The most important thing is that both sides are reaching a conclusion that they can have discussions on their clash of interests"

Even as Iran’s Foreign Minister Javad Zarif and his negotiating team were boarding a plane to depart Lausanne, Switzerland, on Thursday, after announcing a major development in talks over the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program, some Iranians had already taken to the streets to celebrate.

Zarif had just unveiled an agreement with the U.S., European Union, Russia and China that aimed to open a path toward a final nuclear deal after grueling nine-day negotiations and 18 months of talks.

A small group of Tehran citizens had gathered in front of the Foreign Ministry to show their appreciation of Zarif, and on Vali-Asr Street, one of the capital’s main thoroughfares, spontaneous celebrations were held long into the night. There are calls for further nationwide celebration on the streets on Friday evening.

Many others, led by actors and artists, took to social media to show their approval of the talks in Lausanne. “Dear Mr. Zarif; Thank you. I congratulate the Iranian people,” said Peiman Moadi, who starred in the only Iranian film to win an Oscar, on his Facebook page. “I have just got the best new year gift,” said actress Niuosha Zeighami, calling Zarif one of the greats of Iranian history.

The Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, who had already congratulated the Iranian team via Twitter, hailed the deal Friday afternoon as a “third path” between fighting and conceding to Western powers, and thanked his people for being patient with the negotiators. While there has been no official reaction from Ayatollah Khamenei, the supreme leader of the Islamic Republic who has final say on the nuclear case, Friday Prayer leaders around the country who are his representatives have praised the negotiating team and called the Lausanne talks a success for the country.

But opponents of the nuclear talks in Iran are already warning that a comprehensive agreement is far from certain, saying there could be sticking points in the details.

“In Iran everyone was happy when they read what the Iranian foreign ministry published as the main points of agreement in Lausanne, but when the U.S. State Department issued its parameters for a [Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action] it became clear there are fundamental differences between the two sides,” said Yasser Jebraily, a senior editor at the semi-official Fars news agency close to conservative factions. “Foreign Minister Zarif has already rejected the U.S. parameters, but if the Americans insist on their view then there will not be a comprehensive deal because the differences are too fundamental to be bridged.”

Zarif has already reacted to the fact sheet published by the U.S. State Department, tweeting that “The solutions are good for all, as they stand. There is no need to spin using “fact sheets” so early on.” Iranian journalists flying back with him to Tehran reported that he accused the Americans of lying and that he has already sent a strong worded email to the U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry protesting the fact sheet.

Regardless of the dispute over what exactly was agreed upon in Lausanne, some analysts say the fact that Iran and the U.S. are choosing to talk to resolve their differences is even more significant than the outcome of the nuclear talks. “The most important thing is that both sides are reaching a conclusion that they can have discussions on their clash of interests,” said Amir Mohebbian, a political analyst close to the leadership in Iran. “Previously any small issue quickly escalated into a crisis, but now both sides have concluded that even the most critical issues can be satisfactorily concluded with dialogue. In a sense this can be compared with Nixon going to China in 1972.”


Iranians Await Outcome of Nuclear Talks With Nervous Anticipation

News of the talks in Lausanne, Switzerland are dominating the Iranian New Year holiday

As the talks in Lausanne between the international community and Iran over its nuclear program enter their final day, millions of Iranians await with bated breath the outcome to the long running dispute between their country and much of the rest of the world. After 12 years of negotiations, four U.N. Security Council resolutions and unprecedented international sanctions, Iranians feel that a peaceful resolution is at last within grasp, opening up the country to economic progress, and their lives to the promise of normal interaction with the world.

Iran is celebrating the Norouz holiday that marks the beginning of the Persian New Year, a time of the year when Iranians traditionally visit family and friends, but this year all of these visits have been dominated by the nuclear talks in Lausanne. “I’ve travelled to Kermanshah to visit family for Norouz, but in every house we’ve been until today everyone is watching either BBC or other satellite news channels all day long to see what’s happening at the talks, they even stay up far into the night to make sure they hear about an agreement if it happens in the midnight like the Geneva deal,” says Kianoosh Pedroud, a 30-year old civil engineer who has a construction company in Tehran. “They all hope, just as I do, that if there’s a deal and sanctions are lifted there will be much more investment in the country and the economy will bounce back. I know my company needs to get more contracts this year to survive,” Pedroud says, adding that only if he can make his business successful he can at last start a family.

Even though newspapers are not being published due to holidays, Iranian media, from the state run TV to news agencies and websites are reporting on the talks almost non-stop, and Iranians on social media from twitter and Facebook to Viber and other smartphone apps are in a constant discussion on the negotiations, posting the latest developments to each other as soon as they occur. “It’s almost impossible to escape the nuclear talks, everyone we visit or meet seems to be speaking about it all the time,” says Saeed Keshvardoost, a steel merchant in Tehran’s bazaar who has high hopes that if the sanctions are lifted his sales will increase significantly.

Anticipation of a deal has been building since the new Iranian president Hassan Rouhani took office in 2013 but if the two sides fail to reach an agreement it could cause widespread disillusionment in Iran, “Everyone is waiting for something to happen, and God knows we need it, these last years have been a disaster, everything has gone from bad to worse, if a deal happens at least things will start to get better again though it might take some years,” says Keshvardoost, “but if it doesn’t I think people will lose hope, they will be left bewildered about what will happen next.”

TIME isis

Why Iran Believes ISIS is a U.S. Creation

Army air force officers salute Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei during a ceremony in Tehran, Feb. 8, 2015.
Supreme Leader Official website/EPA Army air force officers salute Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei during a ceremony in Tehran, Feb. 8, 2015.

"We believe that the West has been influential in the creation of ISIS"

Iran has taken a lead role in defending the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad and strengthening the Baghdad government in the war against the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS). But that doesn’t mean Iran views the United States as an ally in that war, even if they share a common enemy in ISIS.

Abdullah Ganji, the managing-director of Javan newspaper, which is believed to closely reflect the views of the government and the powerful Iranian Revolutionary Guards, says that U.S. support for ISIS is in fact a way of ensuring Israel’s security and disrupting the Muslim world in the cause of advancing Western interests.

“We believe that the West has been influential in the creation of ISIS for a number of reasons. First to engage Muslims against each other, to waste their energy and in this way Israel’s security would be guaranteed or at least enhanced,” says Ganji. “Secondly, an ugly, violent and homicidal face of Islam is presented to the world. And third, to create an inconvenience for Iran.”

READ MORE: Inside ISIS, a TIME Special Report

Iran’s relations with the U.S. have been strained since the 1979 Islamic Revolution ousted the U.S.-backed Shah of Iran and negotiations are currently underway between Iran and Western nations, including the U.S., to ensure the Islamic Republic does not produce nuclear weapons.

Ganji went on to say that much of ISIS its propaganda, structure and weapons were all the work of the West. “A group that claims to be an Islamic one and has no sensitivity towards occupied Muslim lands in Palestine but is bent on killing Muslims as its first priority, it’s not a movement with roots in Islamic history. Not only many of its weapons but its methods of operation, its propaganda methods and many of its internal structures are Western, that’s why we are distrustful of the roots of ISIS,” he says.

“As the Supreme Leader [Ayatollah Khamenei] also said, [the coalition forces] have on a number of times even made weapon drops for ISIS. How is it that they have laser-guided precision munitions and bombs but drop weapons for the wrong people? And not only once but at least a number of times,” he says, referring to incidents when weapons dropped from U.S. aircraft landed in ISIS-controlled areas rather than the intended Kurdish-controlled areas.

“Iran cannot cooperate with the United States against ISIS because it doesn’t trust America, it doesn’t believe in their honesty in combatting ISIS. Iran can’t trust the U.S. to begin something and to continue to the end. It acts patronizingly and will change its path whenever it feels it is justified. We are also worried that the U.S. is using ISIS as a pretext to return its troops into Iraq,” Ganji says. “I believe that the U.S. prefers a weak ISIS that cannot be a major threat but will still cause inconvenience for Iran, Iraq and Syria and generally what they themselves called the Shiite crescent.”


Why the Twitter Account Believed to Belong to Iran’s Supreme Leader Keeps Mentioning Ferguson

Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei speaks during a ceremony in Tehran, Nov. 25, 2014.
EPA Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei speaks during a ceremony in Tehran, Nov. 25, 2014.

Account that bears the name of Ayatullah Khamenei accuses U.S. of hypocrisy

The Twitter account generally accepted to represent the views of the Supreme Leader of Iran, Ayatullah Ali Khamenei, tweets on a variety of subjects. Sometimes it attacks Israel, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria and, often, the United States. At other times it details domestic meetings and events and on one occasion it exhorted boys and girls to play sports. But in the last two weeks a new subject has dominated the timeline of @khamenei_ir: #ferguson.

Iranians, Iran-watchers and journalists believe the Twitter account is managed by Khamenei’s office but it is not clear how directly involved the Supreme Leader is with its output. The account uses photos and video that only officials in the highest echelons of the Iranian government would have access to and in September it was used to post photos of Khamenei recovering from an operation in hospital. The Iranian government has never disputed the authenticity of the account.

Whoever is running it is watching events in Ferguson, Mo., with considerable interest. Exactly one week after a grand jury decided to not indict Darren Wilson, the police officer who shot Michael Brown in Ferguson on Aug.9, the Twitter account published a string of tweets accusing the U.S. government of “racial discrimination” and “subjugation of a great nation,” a nation with which “we have no problem.”

The account showed photos and videos showing alleged police brutality towards African-Americans with excerpts of a speech by Khamenei on Ferguson. “Racial discrimination is still a dilemma in a country that claims to support freedom and human rights. People are still deprived of living safely in the American society only for having dark skins, ” said Khamenei in the speech.

This is not the first time that Iran’s Supreme Leader has commented on social strife in the U.S. Observers in Iran believe that this is part of the ongoing propaganda battle between Iran and the U.S. that began at the time of the 1979 Islamic Revolution, which overthrew the U.S.-backed regime of Shah Reza Pahlavi. “The U.S. government has been accusing Iran of human rights violations throughout the last 35 years, so when there is an incident like Ferguson, Iranian officials take it as an opportunity to retaliate in kind,” says Hamidreza Jalaeipour, a sociologist who teaches at Tehran University. “Just as the U.S. claims that the Islamic Republic does not truly represent Iranians, Iran claims that the U.S. government is not legitimate.”

Other instances of social discord in the U.S., such as the Occupy Wall Street protests in 2011, also received prime coverage on state-controlled TV and were chronicled by countless articles in the Iranian press.

In spite of the historical animosity between the two governments, however, many American travellers to Iran say they have been surprised by the friendliness and hospitality Iranians show them. Many Iranians aspire to move to the U.S. for opportunities such as studying and work and the U.S. is home to the largest Iranian diaspora community, estimated to number more than one million people.

Observers of Iranian politics say that rhetoric from hardliners about specific domestic American news stories is not necessarily an accurate representation of the views of the majority. “Large swaths of Iranian society want to modernize the country and to interact with the world, but the hardliners fear that modernization will cause deviation from the revolution’s principles,” says Jalaeipour. “They believe that modernization is equal to becoming Americanized. That’s why they use any problem in American society to claim that modernization has bad results. All this interest on Ferguson is only in the official media. They want to show to Iranians that even though we are talking to them, the U.S. is still the Great Satan.”


Iranians Ponder Economic Future as Nuclear Talks Near Deadline

U.S. Secretary of State Kerry is surrounded by security as he leaves after a meeting in Vienna
Leonhard Foeger—Reuters U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry leaves the Palais Coburg in Vienna Nov. 23, 2014.

An accord with world powers over the future of Iran’s nuclear program could ease the way for foreign investment and free up the country’s assets frozen abroad, something that many hope could help lift its economy out of the doldrums. But others warn against overstating the potential economic impact of any deal

With the deadline for the nuclear talks between Iran and world powers set to expire on Monday, opinion in the country remains divided on what economic benefits might flow for the oil-rich nation if the two sides eventually reach an accord.

Iranian officials have been promoting the upsides of a potential deal, with foreign minister Javad Zarif saying an agreement would be a national victory, although it remains unclear whether an accord will be reached in time for the Nov. 24 deadline or if the talks, which are being held in Vienna, might be extended.

For foreign businesses, an agreement between Iran on one side and the U.S., Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China on the other could open up a lucrative new market, as Western sanctions are lifted. The removal of sanctions would also free up Iranian assets frozen abroad.

“A deal… would be great, it would create a hope for the future among Iranians, it would lower their stress levels. It would also be a sort of détente with the US, which is an important step for building possible future relations,” says Amir Mohebbian, a Tehran-based political analyst considered close to influential conservative circles. “But more importantly it will allow new foreign capital to be invested inside Iran.”

This could help the country grow again, says Rocky Ansari, a leading financial and business advisor for foreign firms looking to invest and trade with Iran. Though rich in oil, Iran’s economy has suffered in recent years, with the country falling into recession, while unemployment and inflation both remain high.

“The impact of lifting sanctions will make a significant contribution to helping the economy come out of recession more rapidly, the freeing of Iran’s assets will help the government expedite the recovery of the economy,” says Ansari. “It will boost confidence in the government and the future and allow it to plan more substantially for the coming years. We would see a reflection of that in the Tehran Stock Exchange. People will be able to commit themselves to long term projects and investment.”

He concedes, however, that such changes will take time. “It will obviously take some time to implement policies. But even ahead of that the business community, the economy will be very pleased to hear that the sanctions will be gradually lifted, trade will be made easier and that financial transactions with the international banking system would take place more easily and at much lower cost, so this will be all very good news,” says Ansari.

Not everyone in the country is as optimistic. Hossein Ghasemzadeh, a merchant at Tehran’s Grand Bazaar, the Iranian capital’s sprawling centuries-old trading center, says the recent economic slump has been toughest he’s ever experienced. “I’ve been working for 42 years in this Bazaar, but never have I experienced such hard and stressful times as the last six years. Even the revolution and the war period were better than now. Customers are few, and the profit margin is too low for comfort with the unstable economy today,” he explains.

But Ghasemzadeh, who sells home and kitchen appliances, doesn’t blame the sanctions imposed by foreign powers. “The main cause of the unstable economy, the reason we have so much problems is not the sanctions but the incompetence of the officials,” says.

Another merchant, Mohammad Arjmand, who sells clothes, agrees. “Of course no sanction is better than sanctions but it’s not going to change much because most of the country’s economic problems have nothing to do with sanctions,” he says. “The economy, the country, everything has been getting worse every year, the main problem is bad management and incompetence by the government. That’s why the lifting of sanctions won’t change anything for us.”

The merchants’ skepticism is shared by Saeed Laylaz, an economist and professor at the Shahid Beheshti University in Tehran. He says that while removing sanctions will have long term benefits for the Iranian economy, it won’t by itself fix everything. “The main cause of Iran’s economic woes, and I’ve always said this, is corruption, mismanagement and bad policies by the government, especially during the tenure of the former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad,” he says. “The effect of sanctions on Iranian economy has been exaggerated and the belief that the lifting of sanctions will jump start the economy and miraculously solve all of Iran’s economic troubles is also disproportionate.”

Ultimately, what impact a deal in Vienna—if there is one—might have on the Iranian economy will likely depend on how the government responds to any easing of the sanctions regime. New policies will have to be formulated, as the economy, isolated for so long from the international markets, opens up. And it’s in this area, says Mohebbian, that the government needs to tread with care.

“What will really happen when all of the blocked assets and foreign investment capital starts to arrive inside Iran?” asks Mohebbian. “The government has no economic scenarios for the day after the deal.”

“I’m warning the government that they shouldn’t think they will have an easy job in the economy after a deal,” he says. “Iran had by trial and error learnt how to deal with the sanctions, but if a sudden influx of capital is not properly managed and controlled, if instead of infrastructure, creating jobs and medical care it is spent on consumerism, than it will magnify the wealth gap significantly. If that happens, and I fear that the government has no plans in place to prevent it, than instead of improving social welfare, the nuclear deal could ultimately cause social unrest.”


Young Iranians Stay Home in Fear of Acid Attacks

Police promise to capture men who recently burnt eight women

Nazar Street is one of the most liberal streets in Isfahan, a historic city 340 kilometers south of Tehran. Young men and women mix more freely than elsewhere and women wear their hijabs more loosely, revealing more hair than the law allows.

But this week, the street was quiet and its restaurants empty as people avoided public places in the wake of a series of acid attacks on young women. Eight women have been badly injured after having acid thrown in their faces by unidentified men in recent weeks causing fear and anger in the city.

Thousands protested Wednesday in Isfahan to demand security for women, according to the semiofficial Fars News Agency. Demonstrators, including many mothers, worried for the safety of their daughters. “Security and freedom are our indisputable rights!” they shouted. “Down with Iran’s Daesh,” refererring to the Arabic acronym for the militant group Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria.

Soheila Joerkesh, 26, was driving back from an afternoon out swimming with her friends on Oct. 13 when she pulled over to speak with her mother on the phone. Just as she had started to speak, a motorcycle stopped beside her car and a passenger got off with a glass canister in his hand. “Suddenly Soheila started screaming, I could hear her scream for more than 5 minutes before the call got cut,” her mother told local media. “By the time we found her at a hospital she was blind. Her cellphone had been melted by the acid that the motorcyclist had thrown onto her face.”

All of the victims have been young women who were attacked on busy main streets by male motorcyclists or passengers throwing acid on their faces. The women have suffered third-degree burns on their faces, necks, chests and hands, and will require cosmetic surgery.

Many women in Isfahan now fear going out. “One of my colleagues has her husband drive her to and back from work. Another says she nearly dies from fear whenever a motorcycle passes her car. I myself take the bus now as it seems safer,” Fatemeh, a female resident of Isfahan said on Wednesday, asking for her surname not to be published. “We are all worried, we only leave home when it is absolutely necessary.”

Women in Iran have been required by law, since the Islamic Revolution in 1979, to dress modestly and not wear cosmetics. The enforcement of morals is one of the duties of the Basij militia. Many women, however, have resisted and flaunt the rules by leaving parts of their hair exposed. Members of hardline religious groups have staged demonstrations protesting what they call the decadent clothing of women. This has led to rumors that some members of these groups are behind these attacks.

“People are saying it’s a group called Ansar trying to force women to have proper hijab. I don’t know if that’s true, but many are now using masks to cover their faces to escape possible attacks, which is ironic, as the attacker didn’t even feel the need to cover his face,” Fatemeh said, pointing to reports that the culprits had not gone to any trouble to hide their identities.

Most of Iranian society has reacted angrily to the attacks.

“Throwing acid is an ugly, heinous and disgusting act, maybe murder is more acceptable, this crime is despicable,” General Esmaeel Ahmadi-Moghadam, head of the Iranian police, told the Fars News Agency on Wednesday. And the deputy head of the Judiciary, Gholam-Hossein Mohseni Ejei, told state television two days earlier that those responsible would receive “such a punishment for the culprits when they are arrested that no one would ever dare commit such crimes again.”

Others said the attacks were carried out by people linked to Western intelligence agencies in a bid to damage Iran. “Today we are seeing the foreign media network trying to link this crime to promotion of virtue and prevention of vice,” said General Mohammad Reza Naghdi, head of the Basij paramilitary force, according to news website Mashreghnews.ir.

With none of the assailants arrested yet, many Iranians are posting comments on websites and social media that criticize the police force. Some compared the swift arrests of the makers of the Pharrell Williams’ Happy video in Tehran, “within hours” in May, to the fact that weeks have passed since the first acid attack.

Soheila’s mother struck a similar chord. “We asked them can we look at footage from surveillance cameras in Soheila’s route, but they refused,” she said. “Why are they not showing us the footage?”


Iran’s Moderate President Loses a Minister—and Some Momentum for Reform

Iran's Science, Research and Technology Minister Reza Faraji Dana speaks during his impeachment in an open session of the parliament in Tehran, Aug. 20, 2014.
Vahid Salemi—AP Iran's Science, Research and Technology Minister Reza Faraji Dana speaks during his impeachment in an open session of the parliament in Tehran, Aug. 20, 2014.

Iranian Science Minister Reza Faraji-Dana, a close ally of President Hassan Rouhani, is impeached by hardliners who oppose reforms

In what amounts to a major blow against the moderate president Hassan Rouhani by hardliners in Iran, the Science and Research Minister Reza Faraji-Dana was impeached on Aug. 20 by the Iranian parliament. The impeachment, which followed months of intense lobbying to prevent it by conservatives and reformists alike, has dealt a major setback to the implementation of Rouhani’s campaign promises of a more tolerant policy in Iran’s universities.

Faraji-Dana, who had been accused by impeachers of appointing professors they deemed anti-revolutionary as ministry officials and university heads, was close to Rouhani. “Faraji-Dana was one of the president’s main ministers,” says Saeed Laylaz, a political analyst in Tehran “He had been tasked with one of the most important assignments in internal politics, but the president’s success in economics and the nuclear talks caused his political opponents to react by impeaching one of his most competent ministers.”

Iran’s universities have traditionally been a center for political activism, one many in Iranian society look at for guidance during elections and other major political events. The previous government of the conservative Mahmoud Ahamdinejad tried to depoliticize universities, especially after the 2009 post-election protests in Iran, by sacking professors and expelling students who were involved in the protests. Faraji-Dana allowed some of these expelled students and professors, labeled as seditionists by conservatives here, back into the universities—something he was heavily criticized for by conservative parliament members.

Rouhani, reacted swiftly to the impeachment by appointing Faraji-Dana as his advisor in science and education affairs. While he urged academicians to respect the parliament’s decision, Rouhani also expressed regret over losing a minister whom he called as a “hardworking and esteemed colleague,” according to the semiofficial Mehr News Agency.

But the impeachment is being considered by some as motivated by more than just university politics. Many of the MPs who initiated the impeachment were from hardline political groups who had supported Rouhani’s election rival, the former nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili, and who also oppose Rouhani’s more open foreign policy. “The success of the impeachment, which had been opposed by the main conservative faction of parliament headed by the speaker Ali Larijani, has now given the initiators the political clout to go ahead with other impeachments,” a source close to influential conservative MPs said, citing the Industry and petroleum ministers as main future targets. “Some parliamentarians also believe that the low level of interaction and communication by government officials with MPs is why some lawmakers chose to vote for the removal of the minister.”

Leylaz, who considers Rouhani’s presidency as an unprecedented historical chance for the Islamic Republic of Iran to mend deep internal rifts, expressed concern over the consequences of this impeachment. “This will create frustration among academics and students, and it will radicalize internal politics and the society.”

Others, however, believe that the debates in parliament on Aug. 20 showed a strong democratic process. “The vigorous debates between rival factions that were aired on national radio show that Iran has an open and free political process. This was democracy in action,” said Mohammad Marandi, an analyst and associate professor at Tehran University. “There won’t be a great change in the ministry policies even though the minister has been changed. What’s important is that such debates can and do happen in Iran’s politics. In the end this was just an impeachment, and I don’t think that it will cause a radicalization of the political process, nor do I think there will be a string of impeachments following it.”

Rouhani, who has three months to nominate a successor to parliament, has already appointed a caretaker for the ministry, and has explicitly told him to continue Faraji-Dana’s policies. But the president’s choice for caretaker—Mohammad Ali Najafi—will likely prove controversial, as he had been previously rejected by MPs for another cabinet post due to being considered politically too close to the same `seditionists’ that caused Faraji-Dana’s downfall. While Rouhani’s economic reforms are slowly starting to stabilize the economy, and his foreign policy still has the firm backing of Iran’s supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the events in Parliament on Aug. 20 show that the when it comes to trying to open up politics and the society, the hardliners intend to fight back every inch of the way.


One Result of the Gaza Conflict: Iran and Hamas Are Back Together

Iran's Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei speaking to Iranian ambassadors abroad during a ceremony in Tehran, Aug. 13, 2014.
EPA Iran's Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei speaking to Iranian ambassadors abroad during a ceremony in Tehran, Aug. 13, 2014.

Iran and Hamas were once tightly allied, but the Syrian war drove them apart. Now, after the Gaza conflict, the two sides are making up

Correction appended, 8/19/14

Long considered to be the biggest sponsor of Islamic militants battling Israel and designated as terrorist groups by the United States, Iran’s relationship with the Palestinian group Hamas was once touted as among its strongest. Not only had Iran brought Hamas on board the so-called Axis of Resistance, alongside its other regional allies Syria and the Lebanese Hezbollah, but the Islamic Republic had always publicly boasted of its wide ranging support for the group, from providing financial backing to shipping weapons.

However, when the Arab Spring spread into Syria in 2011, the majority Shiite Iran’s long-standing alliance with Hamas deteriorated significantly when the militant group opted to break step with Tehran and support the mainly Sunni rebels against Syria’s Bashar Assad. The falling-out came to a head when the political leaders of Hamas moved their base from Syria to Qatar, a regional rival of Iran.

In retaliation Iran, Syria and Hezbollah reportedly ended their support for Hamas in all fields, effectively ousting it from their Axis of Resistance and cutting off one of Hamas’ most vital lifelines. “The Iranians are not happy with our position on Syria, and when they are not happy, they don’t deal with you in the same old way,” the deputy political leader of Hamas Moussa Abu Marzouk in February 2012, according to the Associated Press.

When the latest battle between Hamas and Israel, called the Zionist Regime in Tehran, flared up in early July, Iran initially remained relatively quiet, though it denounced Israel for the loss of life among civilians. But the number of Palestinian casualties grew, including many children and women, attracting significant international attention and sympathy. (As of Aug. 10 nearly 2,000 Palestinians had been killed according to the UN, along with 66 Israelis.) For Iran, the Gaza conflict was seen as an opportunity to improve its standing in the Islamic world, which had suffered—especially among Sunnis—thanks to its steadfast support of Assad.

Seeking to take advantage of this opportunity and to regain its position as the foremost supporter of the Palestinian militant groups battling Israel—and to reconcile with Sunni Muslims throughout the Middle East—a significant number of Iranian officials have now gone on the record to voice their support for Hamas, the main militant group in Gaza, over its latest battle with Israel. “We are prepared to support the Palestinian resistance in different ways,” said the commander of the revolutionary guards, Major General Mohammad Ali Jafaria, during a speech on Aug. 4, according to the semi-official Fars News Agency. “Just as until now any show of strength in Palestine which caused the defeat of Zionists has its roots in the support of the Islamic Revolution [of Iran].”

The first sign of this shift came on July 29, when Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, praised the resistance against Israel in a speech, calling on the Islamic world to equip Palestinians according to his official website Khamenei.ir. Two days later Khamenei was echoed by one of Iran’s top military officers, Major General of the Guards Qasem Soleimani, who commands the elite Quds Force of the Islamic Revolution Guardians Corps. Soleimani published a rare public letter to the “Political leaders of Hamas, Islamic Jihad and all the resistance,” lauding their continued efforts against Israel. The letter promised that Iran “will continue to perform our religious duty to support and help the resistance till the moment of victory when the resistance will turn the earth, the air and the sea into hell for Zionists,” according to the official IRNA news agency.

That was followed by numerous officials, MPs and military figures, all issuing statements in support of Hamas, and echoing Khamenei’s call for unity among Muslims. “In our defence of Muslims we see no difference between Sunni and Shiite,” said General Jafari, the commander of the guards, in an Aug. 4 speech. Some even promised a supply of weapons to Hamas, which has been officially designated as a terrorist organization by the U.S. “You will get the weapons and ammunition you need no matter how hard it might be to do so,” said Mohsen Rezaei, the former wartime commander of the revolutionary guards in a public letter to the commander of the military wing of Hamas Mohammed Deif, according to the semi-official Fars news agency.

With Iran already deeply involving in shoring up the Iraqi and Syrian governments against militant Sunni groups, it is doubtful that these promises of support and weapons for Hamas could be fulfilled anytime soon, and while the Islamic Republic is also striving to break the impasse in its nuclear negotiations with the U.S. and other powers, arming militant groups against Israel, America’s main ally in the region, could be potentially disruptive for those talks. But in his letter to Deif, Rezaei tried to address that doubt, writing that “Israel is mistaken in its belief that the instabilities in Syria, Iraq and Egypt, and the pressure on Iran from the United States’ economic blockade has given them an opportunity.”

In the meantime Iran has continued its charm offensive on Sunni Muslims. The head of the influential State Expediency Council, Ayatollah Ali Akbar Rafsanjani, met with Iran’s top Sunni clerics and activists recently, and called for unity among all Muslims. Promising them that Iran intended to support and defend all Abrahamic religions and sects—Rafsanjani condemned any act that could cause divisions among Muslims. Backing up that position, the Iranian Intelligence Ministry announced on Aug. 3 that it had shut down the offices and arrested the staff of four extremist Shiite satellite channels that regularly incite intolerance and hatred against other Islamic sects, especially Sunnis.

Hamas—which has been politically isolated since its last remaining backer, former Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi, was removed from power—has welcomed reconciliation with its old ally and benefactor. Hamas’ official representative to Iran, Khalid al-Qoddoumi, reportedly said on Aug. 9 that Iranians “have always been the first in line to help and support our people.” Reports from the semiofficial ISNA news agency also indicate that a long postponed visit to Iran by the head of Hamas, Khaled Mashal, is set to happen soon. For Israel, the ongoing conflict in Gaza has had one more unexpected and unwelcome outcome: Iran and Hamas are together again.

Correction: Because of an editing error, the date of the Iranian Intelligence Ministry’s announcement that it had shut down the offices and arrested the staff of four extremist Shiite satellite channels was misstated. It was Aug. 3.

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