Monday, February 28, 2011

Iran Finance Ministry Pressure Oil Giants to Pay Taxes

The state-owned National Iranian Oil Company (NIOC) today denied reports by Iranian news agencies that the country’s state-owned bank has suspended the company’s accounts after the Ministry of Finance put levies on NIOC accounts for nonpayment of its taxes. NIOC chairman, Ahmad Ghalehbani, told IRNA today that NIOC was not guilty of tax evasion and the authorities were probably after National Iranian Refining and Distribution Company (NIRDC). The finance officials have in the past singled out NIRDC for nonpayment of its taxes.

Delay at Bushehr Caused by Damage to Cooling Pump

Russia’s state nuclear energy corporation, Rosatom, the builder of Iran’s Bushehr nuclear power reactor, said today the damage to one of the reactor’s four main cooling pumps was the reason behind the removal of the fuel core last week that would be followed by the inspection of the reactor and its fuel assemblies to make sure they harbored no metal particles or chips, the New York Times reported [28 February].

Detection of metal shards requires thorough cleaning of the reactor, which could delay the startup up to two months. But University of Wisconsin’s nuclear scientist Michael Corradini told the Times that metallic debris whirling through the reactor’s cooling water posed no danger, although it would cause wear and tear, shortening the reactor’s lifetime.

Iran GDP at $450 Billion – Ahmadinejad

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said today that Iran’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) has reached 500 trillion toumans (450 billion dollars) [IRNA, 28 February].

Opposition Leaders Detained – ICHRI Report

Iranian Opposition Leaders Karrubi (left) and Mussavi

Iranian opposition leaders Mir Hossein Musavi and Mehdi Karrubi and their wives are in grave danger after security forces transferred them out of their homes, where they were under house arrest, and taken them to an unknown location, International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran (ICHRI) said on Sunday.

Earlier in the day, when the leaders were still under house arrest, Iran's former president Mohammad Khatami had urged the authorities to release them.

"Why should people like Mr. Mousavi and Mr. Karroubi, and their wives, who have had a glorious past in the revolution and the Islamic republic, and who are loyal to the revolution and the Islamic republic, be placed under house arrest?" Khatami said [Khatami.ir, 27 February]. "I hope that with the start of the Iranian New Year (21 March) we will see the end of the house arrest, the end of restrictions, the release of the prisoners and the creation of a safe and free climate in which the people's vote will be decisive," he added.

As the news of the detention of the opposition leaders and their wives spread, the White House issued a statement condemning the arrests. In the statement, issued by National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor, the White House called for Iranian leaders to allow active dialogue among its citizens, freedom of speech and freedom of assembly without fear.

The detentions are a serious escalation of the Iranian government’s efforts to silence the opposition amid the rising tide of the democratic movements throughout the Middle East.

Photo: BBC File Photo

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Languages of Iran

Languages of Iran
Click to Enlarge

Source: Largely, S, Burk and V. Apenchenko, Atlas Narodov Mitra (Moscow, 1964).

Map: M.R. Izadi, 2006

Iran Ships at Latakia


The Iranian frigate Alvand and its supply ship Kharg docked at Latakia, Syria

Top photo: Iran Navy frigate Alvand (FFG-71) docked at Latakia port in Syria.
Bottom photo: Alvand's supply ship Kharg (AORH-43)

Photos by IRNA

Iran to Remove Fuel from Bushehr Reactor – A Setback; Stuxnet Suspected

Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization (AEOI) today confirmed reports that it would be removing fuel from the Bushehr nuclear reactor, signaling a serious problem developing in the plant, delaying its startup. Iran's ambassador to IAEA, Ali Asghar Soltanieh, told the Iranian news agency ISNA that Russian engineers who build the plant had advised that the fuel be unloaded for test.

"Based on Russia's request to run tests and technical measures, the fuel will be unloaded from the core of the reactor and will be returned to it after completion of the tests," Soltanieh said [ISNA, 26 February].

Last month, citing the adverse affects of Stuxnet computer worm on Bushehr’s safety, the Russians raised serious concerns over starting up the power plant in April as scheduled. The removal of the fuel indicates that Stuxnet may have caused serious harm to the 1,000-megawatt reactor.

IAEA, which mentioned the fuel problem in its report on Friday, would now supervise the fuel unloading procedure, Soltanieh said.

Iran Denies Work on Nuclear Weapons

The Iranian government today rejected concerns expressed by IAEA in its new report that Iran was possibly building a military dimension to its nuclear program. The head of Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI) Ali Asghar Soltanieh insisted on the peaceful nature of his country’s program.

"The important point is that the full detailed report regarding all our nuclear activities show full supervision by the IAEA and no deviation to prohibited ends," Soltanieh said [IRNA, 27 February].

IAEA had said in its report that was published on Friday that Iran was still refusing to discuss a number of outstanding issues related to possible military dimensions to its nuclear work. It also said that it had received new information on possible nuclear weaponization program. Iran has always insisted that it does not plan to build the bomb.

"Additional information has come to the (Agency's) attention since August 2008, including new information recently received" that prompted "further concerns [over military dimensions of the program," the IAEA report said. "Iran is not engaging with the agency in substance on issues concerning the allegation that Iran is developing a nuclear payload for its missile program” [AFP, 26 February].

India Searching for a Bank to Settle Payments to Iran

India announced on Friday that it is working out an arrangement with Deutche Bundesbank, Germany’s Central Bank, to settle its payments to Iran for crude oil purchases. India is now importing the Iranian crude on a three-months credit program from Iran, an arrangement that ends end-March with payments due on 1 April. Beyond that date, India has to find a clearinghouse to expedite settlement of its payments to Iran.

Last December, the Reserve Bank of India (RBI), the country’s central bank, stopped using the Asia Clearing Union for settlement of the payment. India said at the time that the Asian clearinghouse would not meet Washington’s criteria for adhering to US and international sanctions against Iran. RBI instead proposed using a European bank with payments made in euro. A meeting between the two sides on 31 December in Delhi produced no results, but Iran agreed to the three-month credit arrangement until an acceptable solution would be found.

Arrangements to use the Hamburg-based European-Iranian Trade Bank (EITB) fell apart last month when India distanced itself from the bank as the US Treasury barred EITB from doing business in the US and froze its assets in US financial systems. The State Bank of India, the Indian party to the transaction, said it would not risk any possible US sanctions by dealing with EITB.

“Both countries should work out a mechanism through which we could make arrangements for timely payment due to Iran as expeditiously as possible,” said Indian Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee on Thursday [Dow Jones, 25 February].

The Deutche Bundesbank has not yet commented on India’s attempt to use it a clearinghouse to settle payments with Iran.

IAEA Latest Report on Iran

In its latest report on Iran’s nuclear program released on Friday, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said Iran increased its stockpile of enriched uranium in recent months, was moving more advanced centrifuges into its enrichment facility in Natanz, and highlighted undisclosed activities to develop a nuclear payroll for a missile.

The IAEA reports that at the beginning of February, Iran’s inventory of 3.5% enriched uranium (LEU) had increased to 3,606 kilogram, nearly 8,000 pounds. But the production rate of the LEU had remained unchanged.

The IAEA also said that it had received new information about possible military dimensions to the Iranian nuclear program. The report said Iran continued its refusal to cooperate with the Agency on "past or current undisclosed nuclear-related activities related to the development of a nuclear payload for a missile."

The White House said the report demonstrates Iran is moving closer to a nuclear weapons capability.

"The IAEA's latest report on Iran again demonstrates that Iran is not just refusing to comply with its international nuclear obligations, but Iran continues its effort to expand its nuclear program and move closer to a nuclear weapons capability,” White House spokesman Tommy Vietor said [AP, 26 February].

Iran’s state-owned Press TV said the report demonstrates the peaceful intentions of the country’s nuclear program.

“In an IAEA report issued on Friday, the agency reaffirmed that Iran's nuclear program has never been diverted to nuclear weapons production,” Press TV reported [26 February].

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Iran Exports Rising

Iran’s oil ministry announced today that the volume of oil products exported to Iraq has reached a record 500,000 liters per day.

Meanwhile, Iran’s ministry of industries and mines reports that the volume of industrial and non-oil mineral exports have reached 18 billion dollars during the first 10 months of the current Iranian year ending 20 March 2011. This is an increase of more than 22 percent over the same period last year.

Iran has the world’s largest zinc and second largest copper deposits. Other mineral reserves include iron, chrome, coal, gold, lead and tin.

Total volume of non-oil exports in the current Iranian calendar year is expected to reach 30 billion dollars.

Assembly of Experts to Meet in March

Iran’s Assembly of Expert, a deliberative body of 86 senior Shia clerics that is charged with electing the Supreme Leader of Iran and theoretically removing and supervising his activities, will hold its semi-annual session on 8 and 9 March.

The Assembly’s current chairman, Ayatollah Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, one of the most influential founders of the Islamic Republic and its former president, has come under fierce attack by the senior right wing politicians and the supporters of President Ahmadinejad for his tacit support of, or lack of opposition to, the leaders of the country’s reform movement. The state TV last week went as far as broadcasting a demonstration by pro-government supporters in which they were chanting “Death to Rafsanjani.”

There are speculations that the extreme right will be nominating one of the two senior clerics, Ayatollah Mohammad Reza Mahdavi Kani or Ayatollah Mohammad Taghi Mesbah Yazdi, to replace Rafsanjani during the March session. However it is thought that the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei favors keeping Rafsanjani at his posts, the chairmanship of the Assembly as well as the Expediency Council, as a counterweight to the growing influence of Ahmadinejad and his backers.

Iran Warships at Syrian Port of Latakia

The Iranian Navy frigate Alvand (FFG-71) and its supply ship Kharg (AORH-431) docked at the Syrian port of Latakia on Wednesday night. The warships crossed the Suez Canal and entered the Mediterranean Sea on Tuesday for the first time since the 1979 Islamic revolution.

Oil Prices Rising

The price of dated Brent Spot passed $112 per barrel today. Iran Heavy crude price is linked to Brent, selling more than $100 per barrel at current Brent prices. The political uprisings and uncertainties in the Middle East have been pushing up the price of oil in recent days.

The Iranian government will benefit from the price rise. Its ambitious subsidy reform program is highly dependent on cash payouts of nearly $2.4 billion a month to more than 80 percent of the citizens. The high oil prices would enable the government to finance the payouts for months to come. The monthly cash payments and the economic activities resulting from the high oil prices would also act as moderating forces in defusing political tensions that have spread across the region.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

TSE Index Fell

Tehran Stock Exchange (TSE) index this week registered a loss of 2 percent in its value for the first time in many months. The rapid rise of TSE exchange (75% in the past year) had created a debate among market watchers and economists on whether the rise was based on market fundamentals or was a bubble. This week’s decline is attributed to political unrest and uncertainties in the Middle East and the rising prices in the energy sector and minerals like copper.

Senegal Cuts Diplomatic Ties with Iran

The Senegalese government today severed diplomatic ties with Iran, accusing Tehran of supplying weapons to anti-government rebels. The Senegalese foreign minister announced the decision on state TV.

Senegal has been saying for months that the weapons supplied to the rebels in the southern Casamance region have been used in attacks against its army and has caused many casualties. The conflict between the Senegalese government and the rebels is one of the longest in Africa. The insurgency started in 1982.

"The rebels of the ‘Democratic Forces of Casamance’ used sophisticated weapons which caused the deaths of the Senegalese soldiers," the foreign minister said [Xinhua, 23 February].

Last December, then-foreign minister of Iran, Manuchehr Mottaki, visited Senegal to ease the tensions between the two countries. During the infamous trip, while Mottaki was meeting with the Senegalese president, his hosts informed him that the Iranian news agencies had announced that he was fired from his post by President Ahmadinejad. Later that day Senegal recalled its ambassador from Tehran.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Iran Navy Ships in the Mediterranean Sea

IRINS Alvand Crossing the Suez Near Ismailia, Egypt

After a long expectation and amid speculations, the Iran Navy frigate Alvand (FFG-71) and its supply ship Kharg (AORH-431) today entered the Mediterranean Sea. This is the first time since the 1979 revolution that Iranian warships have crossed the Suez into the Mediterranean.

IRINS Kharg

Video:


Photos: The Financial Times Limited

Winds of Freedom in Middle East: Bahrain

Thousands of protesters filled Pearl Square in Manama, Bahrain, and the overflow crowd stretched for miles from the square along the central highway into the city center.

Photo: Manama’s central highway filled by protesters. By Andrea Bruce / New York Times. 22 February 2011

Monday, February 21, 2011

US Must Be Removed from Islamic World - Khamenei

Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenie said in a gathering of senior Shia clerics in Tehran today that resolving problems facing the Muslims requires the removal of the US from the Islamic World.

"The main problem in the Muslim world is the presence of the United States. It is the biggest problem. We need to address that," Khamenei said. "It is necessary to remove the United States from the Islamic world," he added.

Referring to the uprisings in the Arab world, Khamenei said the movements are not secular but Islamic in nature.

"The enemies try to say that the popular movements in Egypt, Tunisia and other nations are not Islamic, but certainly these popular movements are Islamic and must be consolidated," he said.

Winds of Freedom in Middle East: Libya

The people’s uprising in Libya today entered a critical phase as the security forces in the Libyan capital of Tripoli retreated to defend a few strategic locations, including the presidential palace and the state TV building, while many government buildings are set ablaze. Meanwhile, senior government officials and diplomats are defecting to the opposition.

The opposition controls Benghazi, the second largest city. The revolt started in Benghazi only six days ago and is now spreading to the entire country.

The revolt in Libya is the latest mass movement in the Middle East that has already toppled two autocrats in Egypt and Tunisia who thought they could rule for life. What these movements have in common is their anti-autocratic nature, regardless of the economic conditions of the countries and foreign alliances of the regimes involved.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Iran Ships Journey to Syria Delayed

Notwithstanding reports from Iran’s state-owned broadcasting system, the AFP is now reporting that the passage of the two Iranian warships through the Suez into the Mediterranean has been delayed by two days and it is now scheduled for Wednesday. The IRIB and its Arabic affiliate the Alalam had earlier reported that the ships had actually crossed into the Mediterranean.

"The shipping agent handling the two Iranian warships has told the canal administration to push back their passage by two days," a Suez official told AFP on Sunday [AFP, 20 February].

The ships, the frigate Alvand and its replenishment ship Kharg, are expected to anchor in the Syrian port of Latakia after passing the Suez.

Tehran Exchange Rising

Iran's Economy Minister Shamseddin Hosseini said in Tehran today that the city’s stock exchange index grow by 75 percent during the current Iranian calendar year that would end on 21 March.

The total market value of the Tehran Stock Exchange (TSE) passed $100 billion mark this month. Telecommunications, steel, and auto manufacturing are among the TSE's main market movers. TSE was founded in 1967.

Hosseini also said that the government subsidy cuts on energy products has reduced the consumption of gasoline and diesel by 20 percent.

Photo: IRNA file photo of Tehran Stock Exchange

Faezeh Hashemi Arrested -- Released

IRNA photo shows Faezeh Hashemi being transferred to a detention center, charged with leading protesters on a Tehran street. She was later released.

UPDATE: Faezeh Hashemi has been released. Fars News Agency broke the news of her arrest and now is reporting that the authorities have released Hashemi.

-------

Iran’s semi-official Fars News Agency reports that Faezeh Hashemi, the daughter of the senior Iranian leader Ayatollah Hashemi Rafsanjani, was arrested today in Tehran while leading a group of protesters at Vali Asr and Fatemi intersection.

Faezeh represented Tehran in Majlis between 1996 and 2000 and founded the women’s magazine Zan. Her father, Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, is one of the founders of the Islamic Republic and has served two terms as Iran’s president and for nine years he was the speaker of Majlis. He is currently the head of the powerful Assembly of Experts and the chairman of Expediency Council.

Unrest in Tehran

The opposition has come out for the second time in a week to stage anti-government protests in Tehran and other major cities in Iran. Today's actions were called in memory of two fallen protesters during last week’s demonstrations.

Eyewitnesses from Tehran report that pockets of hundreds of protesters have stages simultaneous demonstrations in Vali Asr Square, Keshavarz Blvd, Amir Abad, Enghelab, Vanak and Haft-e Tir Squares, many chanting “Death to the Dictator.”

There are reports of hundreds of security forces in civilian cloths driving through the streets of Tehran in motorcycles, wielding batons and clubs, and some armed, chasing away and beating the protesters. There are reports of tear gas being used by regular police forces as well, but because of heavy rain in Tehran their effect is minimal. Shotguns have been heard, but there are no confirmed reports of casualties, although some eyewitnesses are reporting that a protester has been killed in Haft-e Tir Square.

Iran Navy Ships Enter Mediterranean

IRIS Alvand

The Iranian frigate Alvand and its replenishment ship Kharg crossed the Suez and reached the Mediterranean today. Iran’s state-owned broadcasting network (IRIB) said the two vessels are heading toward a Syrian port. The Suez crossing is the first for Iranian Navy ships since the 1979 revolution.

The ships, which are not carrying any unconventional cargo, are expected to anchor in the Syrian port of Latakia.

The new Egyptian government approved the passage through the Suez honoring its treaty that obliges it to allow free passage through the waterway. Israel has called the crossing “provocative.”

The Alvand is equipped with anti-ship missiles and torpedoes. The Kharg carries 250 sailors and three helicopters.

Photo: IRIS Alvand File Photo. Majid Jamshidi / Fars News Agency

Nader and Simin Wins Golden Bear

Asghar Farhadi Accepting the Coveted Golden Bear
for His Film, Nader and Simin: A Separation
Berlin. 19 February 2011

Nader and Simin: A Separation, an Iranian film directed by Asghar Farhadi, won the prestigious Golden Bear award, the top prize at Berlinale’s film festival. The film also won the Silver Bears for the best actor and best actress categories.

The film premiered in Tehran two weeks ago at the Fajr International Film Festival. It is a portrayal of the life of a middle class couple, Nader and Simin, and their marriage in crisis. The critics have called it a subtle and gripping examination of Iran’s social divide.

Farhadi’s 2009 film, About Elly, had also received international acclaims and many awards, including the Silver Bear at Berlin film festival. This is the first time that an Iranian movie wins the coveted Golden Bear.

Farhadi paid tribute to fellow Iranian filmmaker Jafar Panahi, who was unable to accept Berlin’s invitation to sit on the main jury after being sentenced to six years in jail and banned from making movies or travelling abroad for 20 years.

The film’s prizewinners:

Golden Bear - Best Film: "Jodaeiye Nader az Simin" (Nader And Simin, A Separation), directed by Iran's Asghar Farhadi



Silver Bear - Best Actress: Actress ensemble in "Jodaeiye Nader az Simin" (Nader And Simin, A Separation)



Silver Bear - Best Actor: Actor ensemble in "Jodaeiye Nader az Simin" (Nader And Simin, A Separation)



Photo: Press TV

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Iran Ships Not Yet Allowed to Pass Suez

In the ongoing saga of an Iranian frigate trying to pass the Suez into the Mediterranean Sea, Egypt’s Suez Canal Authority announced today that it has not yet issued permission to the frigate IRINS Alvand and its replenishment ship Kharg to enter the Mediterranean.

"The two ships have not yet reached the southern entrance of the Canal and are not even in the waiting area," a Canal official told Reuters. "The approval may reach us at any moment and the Suez Canal will agree to their passage immediately after the approval has been received."

International news agencies including CNN had reported yesterday that the ships were passing through the canal on their to the Mediterranean.

US Not Afraid of Iran’s Bomb -- Ahmadinejad

In his first reaction to the new National Intelligence Estimate by the US intelligence community on Iran’s nuclear program, the Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad today told a gathering of Iranian expatriates gathered in Kish Island that the US’s enmity is not with an Iranian nuclear bomb, but with the country’s rising Iranian identity.

“A country that possesses more than five thousands of the fourth and fifth generation [nuclear] bombs is not afraid of one single [nuclear] bomb of the first generation that according to their claims could be built here in the next few years,” Ahmadinejad said. “They are not afraid of [the bomb]. They are scared of the reemergence of the Iranian spirit and the Iranian identity” [IRNA, 19 February].

On Thursday, the Wall Street Journal reported that a newly completed NIE had said that Iran’s research program on nuclear weapons had resumed and that the country could re-launch its weapons program if the country’s senior leadership so decided.

Friday, February 18, 2011

The Telegraph gets fooled by forged 'IRGC letter'

By Mark Pyruz

Con Coughlin of The Telegraph reports:

"Senior officers in Iran's Revolutionary Guards have written a letter to their commanding officer demanding assurances that they will not be required to open fire on anti-government demonstrators.

Western diplomats, who have also seen the letter and confirm its authenticity, say it has now been passed to Mr Ahmadinejad and Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the country's Supreme Ruler, although no official response has been forthcoming."

A lot of folks are under the mistaken impression the Revolutionary Guards are the force involved in crowd control operations following the post-2009 election unrest in Iran. They're not.

NAJA, Iran's national law enforcement and its branches, is the primary agency involved in these efforts, and not the IRGC. The IRGC has not been engaged in such operations. Furthermore, NAJA is currently under orders to employ less lethal force in its antiriot operations.

So obviously the letter is a not-so-clever forgery.

(Anyone in possession of a copy of this letter is encouraged to send it to Uskowi on Iran. We could use a laugh)

Pro-Government Demonstrations in Tehran

Thousands of pro-government today demonstrators staged a rally at Friday Prayer in Tehran calling for execution of opposition leaders Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karrubi. The Friday Imam, the ultra-conservative Ahmad Janati, who also heads the powerful Guardian Council, said in his sermons that the opposition leaders are practically “dead and executed.”

"Their [Mousavi and Karrubi’s] communications with people should be completely cut. They should not be able to receive and send messages. Their phone lines and Internet should be cut. They should be prisoners in their homes," Jannati added.

Photo: IRNA. Tehran, 18 February 2011

Iran Ships Passing Suez

CNN is reporting from Cairo that the Iranian frigate IRINS Alvand and its replenishment ship IRINS Kharg are transiting the Suez Canal to enter the Mediterranean Sea. Israel has called the planned move “provocative.” The vessels are on a yearlong training mission.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Treasury Imposes Sanctions on Refah Bank

The US Treasury on Thursday imposed sanctions on Iran’s Bank Refah for facilitating the purchase of missiles and parts for fighter jets and submarines by the Iranian Defense Ministry.

Treasury said Bank Refah also facilitated payments from the Iran Aircraft Manufacturing Industrial Company to businesses and individuals linked to Iran's weapons-related procurement. The US Congress passed an expanded Iran sanctions act, called CISADA, last year authorizing the Treasury to take action against financial institutions involved in transactions with Iran's defense industry.

Treasury has now imposed sanctions on 20 banks owned by the government of Iran. The actions have effectively cut off international financing to these banks that together form the backbone of the banking industry in Iran.

Iran Authorities Accuse Opposition Leaders of “Treason”

Iran’s judiciary chief today accused opposition leaders Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karrubi of treason and vowed to block their ability to communicate with their supporters, effectively putting them under house arrest. On Monday, the opposition staged anti-government demonstrations in Tehran and other major cities, a move that angered the authorities. The conservative members of the Majlis have already called for the execution of Mousavi, Karrubi and former president Mohammad Khatami.

"The treason committed by the movement of sedition leaders is not hidden from anyone," Iran's chief of judiciary Ayatollah Sadeq Larijani said today. "This group which has rebelled against the religious government should know that while maintaining Islamic compassion we will not tolerate the establishment being compromised" [IRNA, 17 February].

"They (the people) should be certain that we will block the mechanism through which the sedition leaders issue their statements," Larijani added.

Plans for two IRIN ships transiting Suez cancelled- Updated

Update: PressTV is reporting the transiting of the two IRIN ships is back on.

It was announced today the plans have been cancelled for the frigate IRIS Alvand and its replenishment ship IRIS Kharg to transit the Suez Canal and enter the Mediterranean Sea.

Israel had been calling the planned move "a provocation" and from a naval perspective it made little sense sending a lone frigate into potentially harm's way given Israel's past record of attacking vessels in international waters, such as the attack on the USS Liberty in 1967 and the attack on the MV Mavi Marmara in 2010.

New NIE on Iran

The Wall Street Journal reports today that a new National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) by the US intelligence community concludes that Iran’s leadership is split over whether to develop nuclear weapons and locked in a heated internal debate on how to proceed with the country’s nuclear program in the face of international sanctions.

The new NIE, updating an older version prepared in 2007, says Iran likely has resumed work on nuclear weapons research in addition to its uranium enrichment program. The NIE, however, does not conclude that Iran has resumed a full-blown program to build the bomb [The Wall Street Journal, 17 February].

"The bottom line is that the intelligence community has concluded that there's an intense debate inside the Iranian regime on the question of whether or not to move toward a nuclear bomb," a US official told The Journal. "There's a strong sense that a number of Iranian regime officials know that the sanctions are having a serious effect."

An NIE is considered the consensus view of all US intelligence agencies. The director of National Intelligence reported the new assessment to Congress.

"We continue to assess Iran is keeping the option open to develop nuclear weapons in part by developing various nuclear capabilities that better position it to produce such weapons should it choose to do so," National Intelligence Director James Clapper told the Senate Intelligence Committee. "We do not know, however, if Iran will eventually decide to build nuclear weapons" [AP, 17 February].

"We see a disturbing confluence of events — an Iran that is increasingly rigid, autocratic, dependent on coercion to maintain control and defiant toward the West, and an Iran that continues to advance its uranium enrichment capabilities along with what appears to be the scientific, technical and industrial capacity to produce nuclear weapons if its leaders choose to do so," Clapper added.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Iran Navy warships headed toward Mediterranean Sea

According to Reuters:

Two Iranian war ships planned to sail through the Suez canal en route to Syria on Wednesday, Israel's foreign minister said, describing the move as a "provocation" by Tehran.

Iran's semi-official Fars news agency had reported on January 26 that Iranian navy cadets had been dispatched on a year-long training mission going via the Gulf of Aden into the Red Sea and on through the Suez Canal to the Mediterranean Sea.

The Iran Navy flotilla contains IRIS Alvand (Alvand class frigate, hull no. 71) and IRIS Kharg (Kharg class replenishment ship, hull no. 431). File photos provided below. The two ships were last reported in Saudi Arabia on way to the Gulf of Aden, and now appear set to transit the Suez Canal into the Mediterranean Sea.

Should this transit take place it will represent a symbolic assertion of Iranian power projection alongside what it considers "occupied Palestine."

(click photos to enlarge)
IRIS Alvand

IRIS Kharg

File photos: Majid Jamshidi and Hossein Zohrevand at FARS News Agency

Protesters, Government Supporters Clash in Tehran

Clashes between protesters and government supporters continued today in Tehran. The scene today was the funeral ceremony of a person killed during Monday’s protests. The government claims that a member of a rebel group shot him in the head. The opposition contends that security or pro-government forces shot the man, most likely a bystander, as no one among the demonstrators was armed. There are no reports of casualties as of yet in today’s events.

Tupolevs Out, Replaced by MD and Airbus

The Civil Aviation Organization of Iran (CAOI) has ordered Iranian airlines to replace Tupolev-154 aircraft with other aircraft effective next week. There are more than a dozen Tupolev passenger aircraft in service in Iran. CAIO’s instruction comes after a number of crashes involving the aircraft. CAIO is also leasing 13 Boeing MD 82/83s and six Airbus A320 passenger planes to replace the Tupolevs. These planes are also very old, but have had superior safety record.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

CBI Insists on Official Exchange Rate

The Central Bank of Iran (CBI) today warned Tehran’s foreign exchange markets not to sell US dollar higher than the official rate of 1040 toumans per dollar. This week, the rate at forex markets has climbed to 1095 toumans, more than 5 percent higher than the official rate. Forex traders insist that they are still offering $2,000 to each customer at the official rate, but if any customer wants to purchase beyond the $2,000 limit set by the CBI, they need to pay at the less restricted higher rates.

Majlis Members Call for Executions of the Opposition Leaders

By Nader Uskowi

The members of the conservative majority in the Iranian Majlis today staged a demonstration inside the parliament shouting “Death to Mousavi, Karrubi & Khatami!” And “Mousavi and Karrubi Should Be Executed!” The parliamentarians, angry at street protests on Monday, were calling for the killings of a former prime minister, a former Majlis speaker and a former president of the Islamic Republic! Compare their shameful act with that of their colleagues in Bahrain responding to similar street demonstrations in their country: the parliamentarians in Manama were condemning their government for killing its opponents, in Tehran they were calling on their government to kill its opponents. This is where this country has come to.

Some current members of Majlis who did not participate in the circus-like hysteria of the majority are also becoming the subject of the witch-hunt. The conservative semi-official Fars News Agency today has published the names of those members who chose not to join their conservative colleagues in asking for the execution of the opposition leaders, saying their silence is treason. This is what fascism looks like.

Law Enforcement on 25 Bahman - Video and Image Analysis

By Mark Pyruz

The demonstration called for on 25 Bahman by two of the defeated presidential candidates in the 2009 election, Mousavi and Karoubi, was denied a permit and ruled unlawful by Iranian authorities. Law enforcement was called upon to enforce this ruling. Below are interpretations of the image and video evidence from the ensuing demonstrations and counter-demonstrations of 25 Bahman, made available through open sourced gathering.

Images: Law Enforcement Deployment
(click to enlarge)
Law enforcement detachment consisting of NAJA cadre policemen and attached conscript soldiers.

NAJA cadre officers positioned to prevent unlawful assembly.

Background: motorized NAJA “guard-e vijeh” (Special Guards). Foreground: Motorized detachment of Basijis.

Videos:


NAJA “guard-e vijeh” (Special Guards) in blocking actions preventing unlawful assembly.


NAJA “guard-e vijeh” (Special Guards) engaged in crowd dispersal.


Motorized elements of Basij on a patrol.


Tear gas employed in crowd dispersal.


There are a few videos where demonstrators numbered over 100. The overwhelming majority of demonstrators appeared to be student types of northern Tehrani stock. In fact, the demonstrations of 25 Bahman can be more aptly described as a student rebellion of sorts.


Lawlessness on the streets of Tehran. There were many cases of arson as depicted in numerous videos. Most of the videos depict demonstrators numbering in the low dozens with no detectable presence of law enforcement, evidence perhaps of a restrained attitude as well as statically inclined positioning.


Students protesting at Sharif University; evidence for characterizing the demonstrations of 25 Bahman as a student rebellion.


More video evidence depicting student type demonstrators congealed in numbers of low to mid dozens.


Civil disorder and cases of arson lasted into the night. The rebellion doesn't appear to have been resumed the following day.


Protesters resort to beating people in the crowd identified as pro-establishment.

ID card provided by Iranian authorities of a Basiji bystander reportedly murdered by anti-government demonstrators.


A pro-establishment journalist beaten by anti-government protesters.


A demonstrator sustains a leg injury. There are two cases of similar injuries documented by the video evidence.


Emergency services performing during the civil unrest.


Pro-establishment elements counter-rallying against the demonstrators in Tehran.


Students rallying in favor of the political establishment at Sharif University. In various locations their numbers competed with those demonstrating against the establishment.

Summary:

Judging by the video evidence and some eyewitness accounts, NAJA and the Basij were relatively restrained in their conduct. After the Ashura rioting, Iranian public opinion favored law enforcement efforts by a 3:1 margin. It's plausible this latest case of civil disorder will reinforce this public opinion.

It's difficult to ascertain using the video evidence at hand but a liberal count fof anti-establishment demonstrators in Tehran numbered somewhere in the 1000s (compared to the high tens of thousands that participated in the anniversary rally a few days before). In cities such as Isfahan and Shiraz, the evidence provides counts that are possibly in the low 100s. Furthermore, the demonstrations could arguably be best characterized as something of a student rebellion, a "venting" of the disenfranchised if you will. These student types are increasingly becoming radicalized judging by the video depictions of arson, destruction of public property, disruption of traffic and beating of persons among the crowd. This element has become politically marginalized by the political vetting process as well as the electoral majority, so this vocal minority appears to be driven towards spats of civil unrest. It's a situation the Iranian leadership, law enforcement and investigative security services will have to contend with. And it's a situation Iran's external adversaries will seek to exploit.

Pirates Attack Iran-India Ship

Somali pirates hijacked a ship owned by an Iranian and Indian joint venture. The pirates captured thirteen Iranian sailors and nine Indians onboard. The ship was transporting freight to China.

One Killed, Dozens Injured in Tehran Protests - UPDATE

The commander of NAJA, Iran’s national police, has confirmed the reports that a person was killed in Tehran during clashes between security forces and protesters on Monday. NAJA Commander Brig. Gen. Ahmad Reza Radan also said dozens of people, including nine members of the security forces, were wounded in Monday's protests. Gen. Radan says one of the injured is in critical condition.

On Monday, thousands of protesters clashed with police in Tehran during an opposition rally in support of the Egyptian uprising. The protests turned against the Iranian government almost from the start.

UPDATE: Iran’s opposition group Mujahedeen Khalq (MEK) on Tuesday denied a claim made by Iran’s police chief Gen. Radan that its members fired on an opposition rally in Tehran, calling it a lie. Gen. Radan had said earlier that MEK opened fire at police and protesters, killing one person and injuring dozens.

Anti-Government Demonstrations in Tehran: 25 Bahman (14 February)







Monday, February 14, 2011

Unrest in Tehran

Iran’s state-owned Press TV is reporting small groups of anti-government protesters have “disrupted order in the Iranian capital Tehran.” The Press TV report did not provide any details of the protests, but has provided a photo of a burning vehicle on a street with few protesters present.

Meanwhile, AP is reporting from Tehran that clashes between the police and protesters are underway and the police are using tear gas to disperse the crowd.

There are no reliable reports as of yet on the number of protesters.

Turkish President in Tehran

The Turkish President Abdullah Gul arrived in Tehran on Sunday on a 4-day state visit. The picture above shows the Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi (R) greeting Gul upon his arrival at Mehrabad airport in Tehran.

Photo: Atta Kenare / AFP

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Government Refuses Permission for Opposition Rally

The Iranian authorities today refused permission for a rally in support of Egyptian people’s uprising and victory over Mubarak. The rally was being organized by the opposition leaders Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karrubi, and was to be held on Monday in Tehran.

"These people are fully aware of the illegality of their demand and they know they will not receive a permit for staging a rally," said Mehdi Alikhani-Sadr, deputy director of the Interior Ministry's political bureau [Fars News Agency, 13 February].

Saturday, February 12, 2011

No US or Israel in New Middle East – Ahmadinejad

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has said that a new Middle East will be created in the near future without the United States and Israel. He did not explain how could Israel, a country in the Middle East, not be part of the Middle East.

"I assure you that despite all evil and complicated plans, and thanks to the resistance of nations, there will be a new Middle East but without the US and the Zionist regime [Israel]," Ahmadinejad said at a rally marking the 32nd anniversary of the Islamic Revolution [Press TV, 12 February].

Ahmadinejad added the West is “deceitfully” putting forward the idea of two-state solution to pave the way for Israel to dominate the region.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Mubarak Resigns!

Tahrir Square. Cairo. 11 February 2011. People’s Uprising Topples Mubarak

"There is something in the soul that cries out for freedom. Those were the cries that came from Tahrir Square, and the entire world has taken note,” said President Barack Obama.

Obama’s eloquent remarks on the Egyptian uprising and Mubarak’s resignation were broadcast on Egyptian State TV.

"There are very few moments in our lives where we have the privilege to witness history. The people of Egypt have spoken. Their voices have been heard. Egypt will never be the same. This is not the end of Egypt's transition. It is the beginning," Obama said.

Referencing Martin Luther King, Obama added, “It was the moral force of nonviolence, not terrorism, not mindless killing but non-violence, a moral force that bent the arc of history toward justice once more."

Photo: AP/Washingtonpost.com

Iran Celebrates Anniversary of Revolution

Hundreds of thousands of Iranians gathered at Tehran’s Azadi Square today to celebrate the 32nd anniversary of the Islamic revoution which toppled the Shah. People chanted slogans in support of the Egyptian and Tunisian uprisings and against the US and Israel.

Meanwhile, the authorities placed Ayatollah Mehdi Karrubi, an opposition leader, under house arrest. Karoubi as well as Mirhossien Mousavi have sought to hold a rally on Monday in support of Arab uprisings. The all-powerful IRGC have warned the opposition against holding the rally, fearing it would become the first mass anti-government protest since the defeat of the Green Movement more than a year ago.

Photo: Mahmood Hosseini / Fars news Agency

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Egypt: Day 15 - Largest Demonstration Yet

Cairo. 8 February 2011. Egyptian anti-government demonstrators crowd Cairo's Tahrir Square in largest demonstration yet, demanding the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak.

Photo: Pedro Ugarte / AFP / Getty Images – via LATimes.com

Monday, February 7, 2011

'Persian Gulf' anti-ship ballistic missile

New anti-ship ballistic missile (ASBM) named "Persian Gulf" appears to be based on the Fatah-110 series SRBM and possibly equipped with electro-optic seeker.

"Persian Gulf" ASBM scores a hit on a stationary barge in a recent test exercise. Defense Minister Vahidi claims these ASBMs are now being produced and delivered to the IRGC.

Photos: FARS News Agency

'Ten Day Dawn' unveilings in Iranian aerospace

(click photos to enlarge)
Kavoshgar-4 "Explorer" rocket

Kavoshgar-4 payload section cutaway display

Safir-1B IRILV second stage tank bottom with engines and nozzle extensions, and first stage engine purportedly using new domestically produced "very high energy" fuel.

Safir-1B IRILV first stage engine

Masud 2 and Rasad satellites

Masud 2 satellite

Satellite prototypes. Unveilings included the Zafar (Victory), Rasad 1 (Observation 1), Fajr (Dawn), Autsat and Masud 2.




Photos: Vahid Reza Alaei at FARS News Agency and JameJam Online

Iranian warships at Saudi Arabia on way to Gulf of Aden

IRIS Alvand

From Fars News Agency:

The 12th flotilla of warships dispatched by Iran to the Gulf of Aden on an anti-piracy mission arrived in the Saudi port city of Jeddah today, Iranian Navy Commander Rear Admiral Habibollah Sayyari announced on Sunday.

Addressing the Navy personnel on the occasion of the anniversary of the victory of the Islamic Revolution, Sayyari said the flotilla, which has been sent to the Gulf of Aden to protect Iranian cargo ships against Somali raiders, docked in the Saudi port in order to renew Iran's message of peace and friendship to the regional states. 

"In pursuit of a powerful (military) presence in the high seas and to consolidate our friendly ties and declare our message of peace and friendship to the regional countries, the flotilla of warships of the Islamic Republic of Iran's Navy has entered Saudi Arabia's port city of Jeddah," he said. 



According to Sayyari, the Iranian flotilla includes Khark cruiser [IRIS Kharg. Kharg class replenishment ship, hull no. 431] and Alvand destroyer [IRIS Alvand, Alvand class frigate, hull no. 71].

IRIS Kharg

File photos: Majid Jamshidi and Hossein Zohrevand at FARS News Agency

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Egypt: Opposition Joins Talks with the Government

Opposition Holding Talks with the Government
Cairo. 6 February 2011

Protesters at Tahrir Square. 6 February

The Egyptian opposition, including the Muslim Brotherhood and supporters of Mohamed ElBaradei, met with Egyptian Vice President Omar Suleiman and other government officials today to discuss top issues for the opposition, including freedom of the press and the release of those detained since antigovernment protests started two weeks ago. The two sides also started their dialogue on amending the country’s constitution to allow the emergence of a freely elected government in Egypt.

Meanwhile, tens of thousands of protesters continued their occupation of Cairo’s Tahrir Square. But the army has urged them to scale back their occupation, with their tanks remaining in position on the square.

Photos -- Top: Suliman Oteifi / AP via NYTimes. Bottom: Scott Nelson / The New York Times