Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Mahan Air: Against all Odds

BY Amir Taheri, Contributing Blogger

As Iran has been a land of surprises over the centuries, its airline industry is no exception. There have been many ups and downs over the years, but to say that the last 30 years have been tough on this industry is an understatement. Both due to internal and external reasons obstacles have been laid in the path of this important industry. Any Western airline CEO has to consider his job easy compared to his or her counterparts in Iran. One airline in Iran has stuck it out over the years and become quite successful in its own innovative business model, that airline is Mahan Air.

The early years

Started as the first private airline in 1991, Mahan's goal was simple, to provide air transport from their hometown of Kerman to the all-important capital city of Tehran. At the time, Iran had come out of the long war with Iraq that ended in 1988. Those long 8 years were especially not easy as they included plane highjacking, the usual dodging of missiles, and of course the infamous shooting down of the Airbus Iran Air in the late 80's by the USS Vincent killing all 290 people. So due to the overall lack of planes many cities were being overlooked by the major airlines at the time, Iran Air (the national airliner) and Iran Aseman Airlines.

Mahan Air quickly moved past its original goal and targeted being the number one airline in Iran. Then came the obstacles. For one, Iranian airlines can't buy American Boeing planes, which were the majority of the fleets bought when the Shah of Iran was the US's greatest ally in the Middle East. The second airliner the European Airbus, was also out of the picture as the US had passed new laws that forbid foreign airplane manufactures from selling planes to Iran that have a percentage of US parts. With the 2 major world manufactures not selling planes to Mahan, they started by leasing Russian Tupolev 154s. These were the workhorse planes of the Soviet Union and similar to the Boeing 757 but had become out dated and not a popular choice for most airlines. Secondly, the Iranian government regulated airline ticket prices and tickets were kept ridiculously low by world standards, whereas in the 1990s a flight from Tehran to Shiraz which, is a 1 hour and 20 minute flight, was selling for 27 dollars. While domestic flights were kept artificially low, International fights were freer to choose higher pricing. This was naturally the more profitable choice for Mahan. A third obstacle was not stepping on Iran Air's toes, which was the largest carrier and providing many state employees a job. Iran Air was barely breaking even by losing money on domestic routes and profiting on international routes to Europe and Asia to break even at the end of the day. So when new player Mahan came in, it was not going to be that easy to eat away at Iran Air's core profit. The national airline was already flying to most European cities where a large Iranian diasporas were using it to visit their families in Iran.

So with domestic routes unprofitable yet undermanned and the international routes bringing Iranians home to visit covered by Iran Air, Mahan set its own direction forward. It targeted what is called the Sixth Freedom Traffic (transiting people from one country to another using Iran as a stop-over) and finding new international routes that Iran Air was not flying to or routes that could accommodate a second Iranian airline to fly to. One problem here was Iran's law of requiring even foreign women to observe Iran's Islamic dress code while on Iranian soil.

Plowing through obstacles

To address the headscarf rule, Mahan turned on overdrive Iran's famous Persian hospitality. As passengers departed the plane for their 2-hour layover, Mahan presented each woman with a silk white scarf to liberally place on their heads. Additionally everyone was given a small gift (chocolates or famous Persian pistachio). Exiting each passenger was guided to the business lounge where they could wait with small snacks or drinks, and given an airport voucher to buy themselves a gift from duty free shops with their 2 hour wait. As of yet, no one has complained of the scarf rule. Secondly to buy new planes, Mahan took advantage of an exception to the rule. Third countries could sell their used US or European planes to Iran as long as it was at least 7 years old. Going on a shopping spree, Mahan bought a range of new planes including mostly wide body planes of Jumbo 747 Boeings, Airbus long range 310s and the popular Airbus 300-600s. Mahan ended up choosing two major airports for its transit of passengers through Iran, Birmingham in the UK and Dusseldorf in Germany. Today it flys Indian expats home to India from the UK and also offers Europeans a transit to Bangkok through Tehran. These routes are now its busiest as are taking Iranian holiday seekers to many locations in Asia including Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur and Europe. It also built its own extensive maintenance hanger where it does major overhauls on its planes. Recently, it has started remodeling its interior cabins using personalized seating provided by a German airline seating company. Future plans include improved in-flight Entertainment and wireless headphones. Also, it was the first Iranian airline to offer business seating on its domestic flights. The industry has been able to convince the government that ticket prices needed to be raised and the government agreed. That same 1 hour 20 minute flight now costs a little over 100 dollars. Mahan has played its part by increasing its domestic coverage to daily and multi-daily fights between Iran's major cities.

Mahan is no Emirates but with all its problems it has managed to become Iran's second largest airline and on its way to surpass Iran Air in passenger traffic. It now has 36 planes (mostly large wide body planes) and more on order. It will be expanding further to more International cities and is also looking into the growing Chinese market. The obstacles haven't gone away, for example the US government working with the UK has even tried seizing some of its jumbo planes that were purchased by third parties and legally sent to Iran. Also, with the latest sanctions by the US, it had to struggle to quickly find new suppliers in Europe for its jet fuel that BP and Shell interpreted to include Iranian airlines stopping over in Europe on their way to Iran. The US kept quiet and didn't mention to BP or Shell that their sanctions target was Iran's domestic auto industry. As sanctions restrict spare parts, Mahan has gone with the unconventional method of buying whole planes and scraping them for parts when unable to buy parts through third parties. Keep an eye out for this airline that would probably give anything to have the problems of airliners anywhere else in the world!

Photo: Mahan Air Promotional Material

Written by Amir Taheri, Contributing Blogger

Tehran Stock Exchange Surge: Bubble or Necessary Growth?

By Amir Taheri
Contributing Blogger

Iran has been in the headlines as of late for many things, nuclear negotiations, further sanctions by the UN, US and Europe, military developments, and human rights, but one headline that might be a stark contrast is Tehran Stock Exchange or TSE's rocket performance lately. It has been breaking its all time highs daily for the last couple of weeks and the World Federation of Exchanges has ranked the TSE as the second best performing in the first half of this year. With this in mind there has been speculation in the last couple of weeks on whether the TSE surge of nearly 60% (in the first half of this year) is forming a bubble or is simply healthy growth.

The TSE has come a long way from its start in 1967 when only 6 companies were listed to today’s 420 and a market capitalization of over $80 billion dollars. The market is a combination of state firms, semi-state firms, and private firms trading daily Saturday to Wednesday.

Critics will say...

Critics of the current boom will say that state firms are simply buying up shares to increase prices but this logic does not answer why around 2004 when the market started sliding and stayed depressed for a few years those same state firms did not do the same thing and buy up shares to artificially raise prices. In reality it is much more complex. In 2004 an amendment to the constitution was made after years of attempts by parliament and arbitrary bodies to agree to changes. It was finally agreed by the Supreme leader of Iran that 80% of all government owned companies must be sold to the private sector. As most students of economics will know, the transition from state control to private ownership is easier said than done. The Soviet Union and East Germany are prime examples of how difficult this process can be. Finding individuals or organizations willing to fork over billions of dollars for massive state companies is no easy task in a country where private investors only owned 20% of the economy at the time. So understandably privatization was hitting roadblocks. The market started a slide as more companies started listing on the TSE. This slide was magnified as commodity prices started to nose dive as the world economy took a turn for the worst. Many of the largest listed firms where iron steel, other mineral, and cement firms that were seeing international prices reduced and therefore exports being effected.

So what changed?

A new head (Ali Saleh Abadi) of the stock exhange was named with a mission to turn things around, and that he did. Transparency was improved by forcing stringent new rules on companies that are listed and requiring financial data available for investors, an electronic system was set up for tracing market abuse, and insider trading with fines or imprisonment for law breakers, new systems were also set up recently to handle large numbers of transactions. The first ever futures contracts were established on July 23th starting with 2 private banks. This was targeted towards foreign investors wanting to take advantage of the rapid surge. Further supporting foreign investors have been new rules scraping prior requirements of keeping investments in Iran for 2 years and can now be removed at any time.

Reasons for growth

The reasons for growth are multifold. As property prices in Iran have stayed stagnant over the last 2-3 years, this highest return on investment in the last couple of years has forced investors to look for new places for their cash and with inflation at 9.1% as of July 22nd, the returns have to be good. The TSE has rebounded since last year as commodity prices regained their march upwards as the economies of China and India are racing ahead and needing raw materials like steel and cement. Additionally, Iran is facing 4 rounds of UN sanctions and US and European unilateral sanctions targeting for one the financial sector, this has caused many Iranian investors to pull back their money home where it is safe from being frozen. Also, as the markets of Dubai started crashing both in their real-estate and their many extreme projects including man made islands and in door skiing malls, Iranian investors were burned. Iranian investments have been estimated fueling roughly 30% projects in Dubai. Having the chaos of the election turmoil of 2009 quieted down, investors are feeling safer to venture out with their money. One last major reason is, Iran is quite different than the Iran of 2004 that set out trying to private 80% of its economy. Today, private banks are much larger and stronger with increased capital to invest. Mutual funds were introduced a couple of years ago drawing in funds from small and medium investors. Pension funds in Iran are also somewhat different from other countries. As the state had large amounts of debt owed to these pension funds, instead of transferring cash, there has been a stock for debt exchange made, and with dividend returns paying relatively high returns (13% quoted by the Financial Times) these pension funds will be well funded for the next couple of years.

What does the future hold?

The government has said they want to sell another $50 billion in government assets in the future to meet their goals. With local investors gaining and looking for further returns, regional investors sitting on billions of dollars of oil capital that have no better place with such returns as what the TSE offers, and a stock market capitalization of $80 billion for an economy of $335 billion GDP and a more internationally acceptable GDP PPP of $876 billion the potential for growth is enormous. The overall market is trading at a weighted average price to earnings (PE) ratio of 6.2 times, close to its historical average of 6 times. Some companies are trading at double-digit PE ratios, according to Ramin Rabii, managing director of Turquoise Partners, the Tehran-based fund manager (Financial Times). With these realities don't expect to stop seeing the TSE continue to set new records.

Written by Amir Taheri, Contributing Blogger

Monday, August 30, 2010

Former Tehran Prosecutor to Face Trial on Murder Charges

The Iranian Judiciary today suspended Tehran's notorious former prosecutor Saeed Mortazavi and two judges over the deaths of three protesters last year in Kahrizak jail during the height of the Green Movement. The victims, Mohammad Kamrani, Amir Javadifar and Mohsen Ruholamini, were killed in prison under torture. One of the victims, Mohsen Ruholamini, was the son of a leading figure in the Islamic Republic. They were protesting against President Ahmadinejad’s disputed victory in his reelection.

After the reports of serious wrongdoing at Kahrizak spread in Tehran, the prison was closed down on the order of the supreme leader and Mortazavi was removed from his post as Tehran’s prosecutor. But Ahmadinejad immediately appointed him as the head of Iran’s anti-narcotic force. The suspension of Mortazavi today by the judiciary from the latter post would pave the way for his trial on charges of murder.

Mortazavi was also believed to be involved in the death of the Iranian-Canadian photographer Zahra Kazemi who died in custody in 2003. During his six years as Tehran prosecutor, Mortazavi was also responsible for shutting down dozens of reformist publications and jailing journalists.

Tehran Stocks Hit Record High

The Tehran Stock Exchange today hit a record high, up nearly 4 percent in two days. The benchmark index rose to more than 17900 on Monday, pushing the exchange's total value to more than $80 billion, up from $70 billion in mid-July (AP, 30 August).

The recent sharp rise in stock index is thought to be driven by state-run firms trading in each other’s stocks and purchasing the IPO shares of newly “privatized” state-owned companies.

Mehdi Samii, Central Banker and Elder Statesman, Dies in Los Angeles

By Nader Uskowi

Mehdi Samii, a member of the intellectual and political elites during the Shah’s era, died in Los Angeles in early August at the age of 92. Samii was a prominent banker and central planner and was the long-time director of Iran’s Central Bank and the country’s influential Plan Organization. Samii was the grandson of Adib-ol Saltaneh, a leading statesman during the Qajar and Reza Shah era, and the son of Nabil-ol Molk, a leading figure of the prominent Samii family in Rasht.

Samii’s directorship of the Central Bank coincided with the tenure of other prominent figures running the country’s economy in 1960s and 70s. Among them were Alinaghi Alikhani, the minister of economy; Safi Asfia, the director of Plan Organization; and Abolqasem Kheradjoo, the director of the Bank of Industries and Mines. Together they led Iran’s economy during one of its golden periods.

Sadly, the city of Rasht lost three of its prominent sons this month: Mehdi Samii; Ali Behzadi, a senior journalist and former editor of Sepid-O-Siah, who died at the age of 85 in Tehran; and Bahman Mohasses, a popular painter and sculpturist, who died at the age of 79 in Rome.

I was related to Mehdi Samii. He was a cousin of my mother, Soraya “Mimi” Samii. I extend my belated condolences, due to traveling and lack of easy access to the Internet, to Mehdi Samii’s family and to all students of Iran’s economy and politics. Also my condolences to the people of Rasht for loosing three prominent sons in a single month.

Iranian long-range artillery ammo (130 mm HERA)

click photo to enlarge
From PressTV:

Iranian Defense Minister Brigadier General Ahmad Vahidi has inaugurated the production line of Iran's longest-range artillery ammunitions.

Speaking at the inaugural ceremony of the mass production of Base bleed projectiles in the capital Tehran, General Vahidi said the new 130 mm base bleed rocket assisted (HERA) artillery shells will provide the longest range of such for the Islamic Republic's army, Iran's Defense Ministry said on its website.

“These munitions use solid propellants that behave like ballistic missiles,” the Iranian defense minister noted.

He also lauded Iranian experts at the arms production division of the country's defense industries for their efforts to modify the base bleed system in order to further enhance the range of the ammunitions from 27 to 42 kilometers.

The defense minister also said such achievements demonstrate that sanctions against Iran have been ineffective.

Base bleed is a system used on some artillery shells to increase their range, typically by about 30%.

Reshaping some artillery shells can significantly reduce the drag on the shells' nose when soaring at supersonic speeds.

Engineers have come up with certain aerodynamic re-patterning of suitable artillery shells to give them proper ballistics through boosting thrust and diminishing airflow pressure.

Photos: Vahid Reza Alayi at JameJamOnline.ir

Ali Behzadi, Senior Iranian Journalist, Dies in Tehran

Ali Behzadi: 1925-2010

By Nader Uskowi

Ali Behzadi, the former editor of Sepid-O-Siah, and one of Iran’s most prominent journalists, died yesterday in Tehran at the age of 85. He started the magazine in 1953 that soon became the country’s leading journal. The magazine’s social commentaries finally caused it to be closed by the Shah’s government in 1974.

I first met Mr. Behzadi in 1978 at the height of the revolution in Iran. I was trying to start my own daily, Neday-e Azadi, and he wanted to revive his Sepid-O-Siah ("Black & White"). We met regularly to compare notes and find a suitable printing house to publish our journals. I beat him on that after Ayandegan, then Tehran’s most prominent daily, allowed me to print Neday-e Azadi at their presses after their early morning run. It took Behzadi couple of more months to publish Sepid-O-Siah. He would later joke with me, in his sweet Rashti accent, that my “leftist” credentials this time actually came to my rescue.

Sepid-O-Siah, and Neday-e Azadi, were closed down, this time by the Islamic Revolutionary authorities, barely a year after their publication.

Behzadi later started a new journal, Danestaniha, with his daughter as publisher, which also became immensely popular during the Iran-Iraq war for its extensive coverage of military hardware and war development.

Uskowi on Iran extends its sincere condolences to Behzadi’s family and to all Iranian journalists on the loss of one our senior colleagues and mentors.

Photo: bbc.co.uk

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Improved Fateh ballistic missile test launch

Iran has successfully test-fired a new version of the domestically-built Fateh (Conqueror) missile, Iranian Defense Minister Brigadier General Ahmad Vahidi says.

Addressing a group of reporters on Wednesday, General Vahidi announced that the new generation of Fateh-110 is a 250-kilometer surface-to-surface ballistic missile, with 1) increased range, 2) increased precision, 3) less preparation time required and 4) a faster launch.

The Fateh missile is nine meters (29 feet) long and weighs 3,500 kilograms (7,700 pounds).

click to enlarge


Photos: Vahid Reza Alayi at JameJamOnline.ir
Video: aminiranform

Iran to exploit uranium

"After Bushehr power plant, exploration and exploitation of uranium is on the agenda. This issue is going on well."

- Head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI) Ali Akbar Salehi

Iran last week over-watched by inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency has started to fuel its Bushehr nuclear power plant.

The completion of the plant was supposed to be 1999 but political and economic pressure from the United States severely delayed construction efforts, also between 2003 and 2007 Iran froze its nuclear program following the invasion of Iraq.

The senior nuclear official has expressed hope the electricity generated in the plant would be connected to the country's main electricity network within the next three months.


An interesting (not entirely unrelated note) the Shah of Iran had plans to invest in nuclear power nearly 40 years ago as evident in this article:

(Click for large)

Vahidi 'Iran ready to equip Lebanese Army'

Iranian Defense Minister Brigadier General Ahmad Vahidi says Iran is fully prepared to provide the Lebanese Army with weaponry.

Following an incident about a month ago when Israeli and Lebanese Army units exchanged gunfire after Israel attempted to move a tree at the Lebanese side of the border resulted in 3 Lebanese soldiers and an Israeli military officer dead has frozen 100 million dollars in military aid destined for Lebanon.

As a result of this Lebanese President Michel Sleiman has asked Iran to sell advanced military equipment to the Lebanese Army, Hezbollah has supported this decision saying that Lebanon should get military equipment from friendly countries.

The Lebanese Air Force last year ordered some MiG-29 Fulcrum fighters from Russia but have since replaced the order with 6 Mil Mi-24 Hind gunships.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Zolfaghar and Seraj-1 High-Speed Combat Boats

The production lines for the Seraj-1 high-speed patrol boats and a new generation of the Zolfaghar fast attack craft were launched on Monday by Iranian Defense Minister Brigadier General Ahmad Vahidi.

The new generation of the Zolfaghar vessel is capable of launching Nasr-1 missiles, and sailing at a speed of 70 knots (82 mph). It is claimed to be able to operate in an average wave height of 1.21 meters while its missiles will effectively work at a height of 1.25 meters.

At the production launch, Commander of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps Navy (IRGCN) Rear Admiral Ali Fadavi said that speed boats, especially the newly mass-produced missile-launching vessels, have granted high mobility and power to the IRGC Navy and made it a unique force in the world.

"As regards high-speed missile-launching vessels, no country in the world enjoys such a power (that Iran has)," Fadavi said, addressing a ceremony held to mark inauguration of the production lines of two types of new speed vessels.

"We emphasize that we have gained a unique power in this field of naval defense," Fadavi went on saying.

Admiral Fadavi further compared the high speed of the Iranian vessels and the IRGC Navy's high mobility with the US Navy, and said, "US warships currently have a maximum speed of 31 knots while the Iranian vessels can traverse twice as fast on average."

The commander further stressed his forces' capability to repel possible attacks on the country, and stated, "Given the unimaginable growth in Iran's defensive power, we can defend our country's borders and interests in the best possible way."

Meantime, Fadavi stressed that the country's growing trend of defensive power would continue at a higher pace in future.


click photos to enlarge
Seraj-1 HSPB armed with 107 mm MRLS
and bow mounted DShK 12.7 mm HMG

Seraj-1, starboard side

Seraj-1, port side

Seraj-1 at speed

Zolfaghar FAC armed with bow mounted DShK 12.7 mm HMG
and a pair of Nasr-1 missile launchers

Defense Minister Vahidi peers out from the control station

Interior view of the Zolfaghar control station

Zolfaghar propeller detail

Zolfaghar FAC in production stage

Zolfaghar at speed (1)

Zolfaghar at speed (2)

Metal working facilities

Fiberglass construction facilities

Fiberglass construction details


Photo credits:
Hamed Haghdoust at Fars News Agency
Abdolfazi Salmanzadeh at Mehr News Agency
Vahid Reza Alayi at JamejamOnline.ir
Hamid Forootan at Iranian Students News Agency
VahidReza Alaei at Borna News Agency

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Karrar UCAV- part 2

The Karrar (UCAV) appears to take advantage of existing target drone technology.

Detail of solid rocket booster and jet engine exhaust. Armament appears to be a Mk. 82 type bomb.

Rear view suggests a (closed) chute canopy, for drone retrieval.

Rocket assisted takeoff

Rocket assisted takeoff (2)

Karrar UCAV production facilities (1)

Karrar UCAV production facilities (2)


Photos: Islamic Republic News Agency

Iran unveils the Karrar UCAV

Iran has unveiled its first domestically-manufactured long-range Unmanned Combat Air Vehicle (UCAV), in a ceremony marking Defense Industry Day in the country.

The unveiling of the home-made drone, named Karrar (Striker) took place in the presence of Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and a number of defense officials.

The 4-meter long plane is claimed capable of delivering a military payload on bombing missions against ground targets. Jet powered (Tolue-4 or Tolue-5?), it is claimed to have a 1000 km range and a maximum speed of approximately 1000 kph.


Photo stills: PressTV
Video: aminiranforum

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Friday, August 20, 2010

Iran test fires new Qiam-1 ballistic missile

Iran's new surface-to-surface missile, Qiam-1 (Rising), has been successfully test fired, the country's Defense Minister Ahmad Vahidi says.

"Being a new class of Iranian missile, Qiam-1 has been equipped with new technical specifications and exceptional tactical powers," the general said during this week's Friday prayers in Tehran.

"Qiam-1 is part of the new generation of the Islamic Republic's surface-to-surface missiles with liquid fuel and completely designed and built domestically," General Vahidi noted.

He explained that the missile is equipped with a smart navigation system, which decreases the possibility of it being targeted by other projectiles.

Vahidi added that the liquid-fuel missile's launch time is low due to its smart targeting system. "It enjoys enhanced agility due to the scrapping of its fins."

"The missile can hit targets with high precision," the general noted.

Source: Press TV

click photos to enlarge


Photos: Mehr News Agency

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Breaking Fast at the Feet of the Boss!

Ahmadinejad and other "senior" leaders of the Islamic Republic
breaking fast in Ramadan at the feet of the supreme leader
Tehran. 19 August 2010
Photo: Leader.ir

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

CIA to Start New Anti-WMD Unit; Reveals Discovery of Iran’s Fordo Enrichment Site

The CIA Director Leon Panetta said today in Washington that his agency has created a new counter-proliferation center bringing operators and analysts together to combat the spread of WMD.

Meanwhile, a CIA spokesman, George Little, was quoted by AP today as saying that the agency was responsible for the discovery last year of then-undeclared uranium enrichment facility near the Iranian city of Qum, presumably the Fordo enrichment unit. This is the first time that the US has acknowledged that the Fordo unit was discovered by the CIA.

The AP report also quotes Paul Brannan, a senior analyst at the Institute for Science and International Security, as saying that the CIA was successful in slowing down Iran's nuclear centrifuge operations at Natanz allegedly by sneaking "faulty parts into Iran's nuclear supply chain." [AP, 18 August].

Khamenei: No Talks with US

Ayatollah Khamanei. Tehran. 18 August 2010
Photo: Press TV

Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said today Iran will not negotiate with the US as long as there are sanctions and threats against Tehran.

“The respected president (Ahmadinejad) and senior officials have said that we are ready for negotiation. That’s right but not with an America that seeks negotiations overshadowed by threats, sanctions and bullying,” Ayatollah Khamenei said in a speech to an audience of senior Iranian officials including Ahmadinejad and broadcast on state TV [IRIB & Press TV, 18 August].

They should drop the face of a superpower, they should drop threats, they should drop sanctions and they should not set a goal for negotiation. Then we are ready," he added.

In late July, President Ahmadinejad said nuclear talks with the six powers, including the US, would start in early September, but Khamenei's comments raise questions about those discussions.

Khamenei also warned the US against launching an attack against Iran and said if Washington chooses to resort to military means against Iran, the confrontation will not be restricted to the region alone.

"It's unlikely that they (US) will make such a stupidity (to attack Iran) but all must know that if this threat is carried out, the field of the Iranian nation's confrontation will not be only our region," Khamenei said. "The area of confrontation will be much wider."

Meanwhile, today Iran filed a formal complaint at the UN against the US for recent comments made by the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen. The complaint said the admiral had “threatened” Iran with military action under the “false pretense” that Iran is developing nuclear weapons.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Iran’s Unemployment Rate Jumps to 15 Percent

Iran’s unemployment rate has reached 15 percent in the quarter ending 21 June, a jump of 4 percentage points over the same period last year. The government-owned Statistics Center of Iran that released the unexpectedly high rate of unemployment growth said in a statement today in Tehran that recent draught in some parts of Iran was a contributing factor. The government’s unemployment figures are not verified by independent sources.

Fighter Jet Crash in Bushehr

An Iranian F-4 Phantom fighter jet crashed today in Bushehr. The crews of two sustained injuries and were hospitalized. They are reported to be in fair condition. The crash occurred at 10:10 AM local time near Bushehr’s Industrial Complex. Iran’s first nuclear power plant will be fueled up later this week in Bushehr.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Iran to Start New Uranium Enrichment Sites

Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI) has announced it plans to build 10 new uranium enrichment facilities inside protected mountain sites.

"Studies for the location of 10 other uranium enrichment facilities has ended," said Ali Akbar Salehi, the director of AEOI.

"Construction of a new uranium enrichment site will begin by the end of the (Iranian) year (March 2011) or early next year," Salehi added. "The new enrichment facilities will be built inside mountains." [IRIB, 15 August].

Currently, Iran's Natanz enrichment facility is enriching uranium (to a level of 20 percent) and another facility near Qom, Fordo, is under construction.

Iran’s first nuclear power reactor in Bushehr will become operational next week. No locally enriched uranium will be used to operate the Bushehr reactor. Russia is providing the fuel.

Tehran: Veterans Stop Mashaie’s Speech; Ahmadinejad Defending His Chief of Staff

Today, in a rare public display of hardliners’ dismay at Ahmadinejad’s chief of staff, Eskandar Rahim Mashaie, the participants at a large gathering of the veterans of the Islamic revolution and the Iraq war forced Mashaie to stop his speech and leave the podium. The disturbance occurred while Mashaie was introducing Ahmadinejad to the audience. Ahmadinejad then went to the podium and strongly supported Mashaie and compared him to the heroes of the Iranian revolution, Ayatollah Beheshti and the slain former president Rajaie. The audience listened in silence and later expressed their disbelief at Ahmadinejad’s spirited defense of Mashaie. Mr. Mashaie is accused by the hardliners of spreading the idea that the country’s “Iranian identity” is paramount and more important than its “Islamic identity.”

Mashaie’s comments have brought about a torrent of harsh criticism from the right. Iran’s armed forces chief of staff, Maj. Gen. Hassan Firouzabadi, has accused Mashaie of working against Iran’s national security and the principles and doctrines of the Islamic Republic.

Jomhouri Eslami, a newspaper closely linked to the clerical establishment, as well as Tabnak, a popular online news site controlled by former IRGC commander Mohsen Rezaie, have carried the news of the disturbance in today’s gathering in Tehran.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Mashaie Controversy Ctd

Mashaie, left, with Ahmadinejad

Maj. Gen. Hassan Firouzabadi

By Nader Uskowi

Esfandiar Rahim Mashaie, President Ahmadinejad’s chief of staff, said in Tehran he will sue Maj. Gen. Hassan Firouzabadi, the chief of staff of Iran’s armed forces, over his recent comments questioning Mashaie's loyalty to the Islamic Republic. Gen. Firouzabadi, using unusually sharp language, has accused Mashaie of working against the national security of Iran and against the principles and doctrines of the Islamic Republic. Mashaie is accused of spreading the idea that the country’s “Iranian identity” is paramount and more important than its “Islamic identity.”

The harsh attack by the country’s most senior uniformed officer against the president’s chief of staff raises thorny questions. Mashaie is not only Ahmadinejad’s chief of staff but also his closest advisor and confidant. Accusing him publicly of crimes against national security by no less a figure than the head of the armed forces is an attack on the president.

Firouzabadi himself is a powerful Basiji and a confidant of the supreme leader. Mashaie, by emphasizing the Iranian identity of the country, wants to appeal to the emerging new middle class and use it as a power base in the volatile (and increasingly uncivil) politics of the Islamic Republic, but he might not have much of a fighting chance against the head of the armed forces.

Mashaie/Ahmadinejad photo: ISNA file photo

Firouzabadi photo: Press TV file photo