Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Iran Had Issued Permission for German Chancellor’s Plane to Fly Over Its Airspace – Foreign Ministry

Iran's Foreign Ministry has denied reports that German Chancellor Angela Merkel's plane was not allowed flying over the Iranian airspace. The German government had earlier reported that Iran had prevented the chancellor’s plane to cross the Iranian airspace for nearly two hours en route to India.

“The permission required for the passage of the airplane carrying Mrs. Merkel through the airspace of the Islamic Republic of Iran had been issued in time,” Iranian Foreign Ministry Spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast said in Tehran [IRNA, 31 May].

“The problem regarding the delay of the flight in question for crossing the Islamic Republic of Iran's airspace was caused by a technical glitch that was immediately solved and the plane was able to continue its course,” Mehmanparast added.

Iran Defense Minister Visits Bolivia, Causing Controversy

Iran’s Defense Minister Brig. Gen. Ahmad Vahidi today visited Bolivia to inaugurate a military academy that was built with Iran's help. The Bolivian government soon received a notice from Argentina that the general was wanted by that country for being the alleged mastermind of the 1994 bombing of a Jewish center in Buenos Aires and was subject to an Interpol red notice issued in 2007. The Bolivian Foreign Minister David Choquehuanca told reporters that he informed his Argentine counterpart that at the request of the Bolivian government the Iranian defense minister cut his trip short and has since left Bolivia.

"I want to express in the name of the Government of Bolivia my deepest apologies (to Argentina)," said Choquehuanca in a letter sent to the Argentine foreign minister and published by news agencies [AP, 31 May]. "As a result of this regrettable situation, the government of Bolivia has taken the corresponding provisions to see to it that Ahmad Vahidi immediately leaves Bolivian territory," the letter said.

Iran Navy: 12th engagement with pirates since Iranian new year

According to Fars News Agency:

An attempt by the Somali pirates to hijack a container ship in the Gulf of Aden was nipped in the bud after an Iranian fleet of warships present in the region rushed to the scene and attacked the buccaneers' vessels.

"In its 12th confrontation with pirates this year (Iranian year started on March 21), the Iranian Navy's flotilla dispatched to the international waters rescued the container ship of the V-Ships Multinational Enterprise through timely action," a statement by the Navy said on Tuesday, adding that the container ship was named "First Ocean".

The First Ocean came under attack by three pirate boats as it was sailing in the Eastern parts of the Indian Ocean, the statement said, adding that the buccaneers continued their attack despite the Iranian fleet of warships' warnings.

Yet, the pirates fled the scene after facing the heavy fire of the Iranian Navy's commandoes, it continued.

The Iranian fleet of warships then escorted First Ocean to a safe place and guided it to its line of voyage.

File photo: First Ocean container ship, IMO 9349576

Photo: Agustin Alapont Castilla (Tino)

German Chancellor Plane Not Permitted to Fly Over Iran for Two Hours - Update

German Chancellor Angela Merkel's flight to India was delayed for two hours when Iran's government refused the plane permission to fly over the country. The Iranian move forced Merkel's plane to circle over Turkey for about two hours on Tuesday morning before the plane was eventually allowed to fly over Iran. Germany summoned the Iranian ambassador in Berlin to protest "the breach of international protocol." The reason for the temporary refusal to pass through the airspace is unknown [AP, 31 May].

Photo: The new German government Airbus A340 Konrad Adenauer, Germany's equivalent to Air Force One. Merkel was on her first trip aboard the plane. AP Photo

UPDATE: Kayhan, the influential conservative daily published in Tehran, has offered reasons for the government’s decision to force Chancellor Merkel's plane to fly over Turkish airspace for nearly two hours before given permission to pass through Iran:

“In a show of strength, the Islamic Republic of Iran refused permission to supporters of terrorism to pass over the Iranian territory… Ms. Merkel was kept wandering over an area near the border where she had tried to keep it insecure with the help of the terrorist group PJAK.”

“German support of terrorist groups does not end with PJAK. The (Germans) throughout the years have supported the terrorist Monfegh group (Mojahedeen Khalgh Organization)… Members of the German Bundestag have even invited the group’s leader (Maryam Rajavi) to address the parliament. During her speech, Maryam Rajavi called for sanctions against Iran’s oil and gasoline.” [Kayhan, 31 May].

Monday, May 30, 2011

Iran Needs $150 Billion in New Investment to Maintain Oil Production

The Deputy Oil Minister Mohsen Khojasteh-Mehr today told reporters in Tehran that the country requires at least 150 billion dollars in new investment in the next five years to maintain its current levels of production. Without such investment, the minister warned, Iran’s oil production may fall to 2.7 million barrels per day (bpd) within the five-year period.

“The national oil company plans to invest 150 billion dollars during the fifth development plan,” said Khojasteh-Mehr. (The fifth development plan ends in 2015.)

“If the investments are not realized, the country's oil output will drop to 2.7 million bpd," Khojasteh-Mehr added [IRNA, 30 May].

Iran’s current production is 3.7 million bpd, with more than 2 millions bpd exported. If the production levels falls to 2.7 bpd, the exports will have to be cut in half. However, an investment of $150 billion could actually increase the total production by nearly 1 million bpd. The deputy oil minister did not reveal possible sources for any new investment. The international sanctions against new foreign investments in the oil industry in recent years have severely limited the national oil company’s programs.

Photo: IRNA

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Abadan Explosion an Accident – Majlis Report

An Iranian parliamentary inquiry into the explosion at Abadan Refinery during the visit of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has found not foul play or act of sabotage. The report by Majlis blames a gas linkage as the cause of the explosion and the ensuing fire that killed at least two people and injured dozens more. The incident occurred in a newly constructed part of the refinery that was to produce high-grade gasoline. Sanctions are in effect on the sale odf gasoline to the country.

Khamenei Calls on Government and Majlis to Work Together

Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei today called for an end to the crisis within the country’s ruling circle and asked the parliament and the government to work together.

"While there are weakness and problems, the composition of the executive branch is good and appropriate, and the government is working. The government and parliament must help each other," Khamenei said. "When a law is passed, the government must implement it with full power and without any excuse," Khamenei added [IRIB, 29 May].

The traditional conservatives have been urging Ahmadinejad to return to the “right path.” They are particularly against Ahmadinejad’s chief of staff and political confidant Esfandia Rahim Masahie, labeling him “deviationist,” and calling on Ahmadinejad to dump him.

“The deviationists seek to use money and power to influence the upcoming election,” Maj. Gen. Mohammad Ali Jafari, the commander of all-powerful IRGC said on Saturday.

Ahmadinejad has publicly announced his allegiance to Khamenei but at the same time has staunchly backed Mashaie and other close associates under fire.

“It is not in the national interests of the country for the government to be weakened, but it is necessary for the government to gradually distance itself from the deviationists,” said Mohammad Reza Bahonar, an influential Majlis deputy and its former deputy speaker. “The supreme leader wants the government to continue its work to the end of its term with serenity and on a natural course," Bahonar added.

It appears that the traditional conservatives would agree to work with Ahmadinejad until the end of his term in 2013. However, it is clear that Ahmadinejad should sacrifice Mashaie to hold on his post as president.

Iran Navy repels another pirate attack in Gulf of Aden

According to Fars News Agency

The Iranian Navy warships thwarted a pirate attack on an Iranian oil tanker in Yemen's Southern waters, near the volatile Gulf of Aden.

A statement issued by the public relations office of the Iranian Navy on Sunday said that the Navy commandos rushed to the scene after the Iranian oil tanker, Damavand, came under attack by a speedboat.

The Navy commandos repelled the attack through timely action and the 7 armed pirates onboard the speedboat escaped the scene, the statement added.

The statement also stressed that the tanker is now safe and heading towards its destination.

The incident was the Iranian Navy's 11th clash with the Somali pirates since the beginning of the current Iranian year (March 21), the statement added.

The Iranian Navy dispatched its 14th flotilla of warships to the Gulf of Aden earlier this month to protect the country's cargo ships and oil tankers against Somali pirates.

The 14th fleet of warships is comprised of IRI Bandar Abbas Warship and IRI Shahid Naqdi Destroyer.

The Iranian Navy has been conducting anti-piracy patrols in the Gulf of Aden since November 2008, when Somali raiders hijacked the Iranian-chartered cargo ship, MV Delight, off the coast of Yemen.
File Photos (click to enlarge):
Iran Damavand crude oil tanker, IMO 9218478

IRINS Shahid Naqhdi (ex-US PF 104), Bayandor class corvette (FS 82)

Foreground: IRINS Bandar Abbas, Bandar Abbas class fleet supply ship (AORLH 421)

Photo of Damavand: Wil Weijsters (2010)

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Growing Criticism and Threats Against Ahmadinejad

Hojatoleslam Ali Saeedi, Supreme Leader’s representative at IRGC, said today in Tehran that Ahmadinejad's government is infiltrated by “corrupt elements” and urged the Iranian president to return to the “right path.” He threatened Ahmadinejad that he would be dealt with if he continues crossing “red lines.”

“Unfortunately the government is inflicted by a great calamity, which is the presence of corrupt elements,” Saeedi said [Mehr News Agency, 28 May].

“I hope Ahmadinejad will turn back to the main path, having seen this much reaction from the people and from close confidantes… If a body like the executive or parliament wants to cross red lines or violate principles, it is the leadership that will warn them and, if ultimately the warnings are not effective, will confront them,” Saeedi added.

Saeedi’s harsh words and threatening language against Ahmadinejad and his supporters, the so-called “deviationists,” were a clear sign that Khamenei and the ruling clerics were paving the way to dump him as president unless he breaks away from Mashaie and company.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Friday Imam Attacks “Deviationists” for Belief in Iran Minus Islam - Update

Tehran’s Friday Prayer Imam today accused the “deviationist” movement led by Esfandiar Rahim Mashaie, Ahmadinejad’s chief of staff and political confidant, of attempting to elevate nationalism and eliminate the role of religion in the Islamic Republic.

“There is no doubt that all of us love the Islamic nation. But worshipping Iran minus Islam is a traitorous act in the Islamic Republic,” Hojatoleslam Ahmad Khatami, the influential conservative cleric and today’s Friday Imam said [IRIBNews.ir, 27 May].

In the same sermon, however, the Friday Imam accused the “deviationist” movement of attempting to take advantage of the belief among Shias in Mahdi, the Hidden Imam, and efforts to prepare for his eventual reappearance (“Mahdaviat”) as a tool to advance their political agenda.

“During the Fetne (Green movement) of 2009, some people (Mousavi and Karrubi) hid behind Imam Khomeini’s stature to attack the Islamic Republic. In today’s Fetne, the (deviationists) are using Mahdaviat,” Ahmad Khatami added.

The Friday Imam did not explain the apparent contradiction in his indictment of the “deviationists” that a group determined to eliminate Islam in the Islamic Republic could also be using a belief in the imminent reappearance of the Hidden Imam to their political advantage.

UPDATE: Tehran's Friday Imams for each Friday are handpicked by the office of the supreme leader, and Hojatoleslam Ahmad Khatami (no relation to former president Mohammad Khatami) is regarded to be particularly close to the leader. This update is in response to email inquiries on the importance of Friday Imams.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Ahmadinejad Attacks US and Israel; Calls for Elimination of Jewish State

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, speaking in the holy city of Qom, launched an attack Israel, calling for the elimination of the Jewish state.

“The US seeks to save the Zionist regime (Israel) with deceit. Everybody should know that the survival of the Zionist regime and its existence even in one span of the Palestinian soil is like preserving a cancerous tumor in the body of regional nations, and is a permanent threat against them,” said Ahmadinejad. “The Iranian people and world nations are awakened and demand justice, freedom and the complete elimination of Israel,” [Press TV translation from Persian/IRNA, 26 May].

Ahmadinejad also warned against US influence in the Middle East.

“The enemy [the US] has worn the mask of deceit and is chanting the slogan of peaceful coexistence, but in fact intends to impose American ideas on nations,” Ahmadinejad said. “Today, the plots of enemies have become more complicated than the past. They smile and threaten at the same time. They use their political, military and economic capabilities against nations while claiming to be flagbearers of defending human rights.”

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Swiss Joins Ban on Iran Air Refueling

The Federal Office of Civil Aviation (FOCA) of Switzerland has announced that Geneva airport would no longer refuel planes belonging to Iran Air, Iran’s state-owned Press TV reported today.

“The refueling is done by private companies and these companies have been forced to do this (stop refueling) under pressure from Swiss government,” Ramin Mehmanparast, Iran’s foreign ministry spokesman, said. “We reserve the right to retaliate,” Mehmanparast added [IRNA, 25 May].

Geneva joins a growing number of European airports that are refusing to refuel Iranian planes.

Iran Dismisses IAEA Report on Possible Nuclear Weapon Program

Iran has dismissed the latest IAEA report that the country may be working on a nuclear weapons program, calling it a "fabrication."

The director of Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, Fereidoun Abbasi, said the report on Iran's alleged nuclear weapons' activities was based on wrongful information provided by a “few arrogant countries,” a phrase used by the Iranian officials to refer to the US and its allies. The West suspects Iran is seeking to develop nuclear weapons.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

US Imposes Sanctions on Seven Companies Involved in Sale of Gasoline to Iran

The US government today imposed sanctions on Petroleos de Venezuela, Venezuela's state-owned oil corporation, and six other foreign companies for facilitating the supply of gasoline to Iran. The move came a day after President Obama signed an executive order giving the departments of Treasury and State more leeway in targeting companies involved in Iran’s energy sector [AP, 24 May].

The seven companies hit by sanctions today were Petroleos de Venezuela, Tanker Pacific of Singapore, Ofer Brothers Group of Israel, Associated Shipbroking of Monaco, Petrochemical Commercial Company International of Jersey and Iran, the Royal Oyster Group of the UAE and Speedy Ship of the UAE and Iran. These are the first sanctions related to export of refined petroleum to Iran since the congress passed the CISADA act last year.

The sanctions for the most part prevents the companies from doing business in the US, although in case of Petroleos de Venezuela, it will be barred from US government contracts and financing, but will not be banned from selling oil to the US or affect its subsidy Citgo.

Venezuela's government condemned the sanctions, saying in a statement that it is evaluating to what extent the sanctions affect the operations of the country’s national oil industry.

The Israeli company is accused of failing to exercise due diligence in participating in the 2010 sale of an oil tanker to the Iranian national shipping company.

Explosion at Abadan Refinery As Ahmadinejad Visits

An explosion at Abadan oil refinery during a visit today by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad killed two people and injured 12. The president was not injured and appeared on state television shortly after the blast, but made no mention of it.

Thick smoke was seen rising from the largest refinery in the country, but firefighters had the blaze reportedly under control. Iranian officials were quick to say that the attack was an accident.

“This incident was not an act of sabotage,” Hamid Reza Katouzian, the head of Iran's parliamentary energy committee told reporters. “Experts had forewarned that (the new addition to) Abadan refinery was not ready to be inaugurated,” he added. "The incident in Abadan refinery was due to technical problems" [Fars News Agency, 24 May].

The new addition to the oldest refinery in Iran, where the explosion occurred, was built to produce high-quality gasoline.

[The storied Abadan refinery is the site of the historic standoff in 1951 between the British and Mohammad Mossadeq, the leader of oil nationalization movement in Iran, who became prime minister and nationalized the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company (today’s BP) and sent troops to occupy the refinery and take it back from the British.]

Monday, May 23, 2011

Ahmadinejad Not to Attend OPEC Meeting

An Iranian Oil Ministry official said today in Tehran that President Ahmadinejad would not attend the upcoming meeting of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC). Ahmadinejad, who has appointed himself the acting minister of oil, would have chaired the 8 June OPEC meeting. This year, Iran holds the rotating presidency of the organization.

“In a face-to-face meeting with the president, Ahmadinejad announced that he would not attend the next OPEC meeting,” Oil Ministry official Shojaoddin Bazargani told reporters [IRNA, 23 May].

Tough Sanctions Bill Introduced at US Senate

US Senator Mark Kirk (R-IL) today sponsored a bill at US Senate, entitled “Syria, North Korea and Iran Consolidated Sanctions Act of 2011”, to boost enforcement of existing sanctions and bring fresh pressure on Iran’s oil sector and its military. The act, if approved and signed into law, would require the administration to impose sanctions against the Central Bank of Iran (CBI), toughen the existing sanctions against IRGC and its affiliated companies, and report any violations of sanctions laws by publicly-traded companies to the Security and Exchange Commission (SEC).

Sen. Kirk unveiled his bill during a speech at the AIPAC policy conference underway in Washington. Co-sponsors of the bill are Susan Collins (R), Robert Mendez (D), Bob Casey (D) and Joe Lieberman (I).

Impact of Sanctions on Iran

By Nader Uskowi

During a breakout session yesterday at the AIPAC policy conference underway in Washington, the impacts of economic sanctions on Iran were discussed: Are the current sanctions effective, and are there more that can be done by the US? Following are the highlights:

- CISADA, US’s Comprehensive Iran Sanctions, Accountability, and Divestment Act of 2010, is regarded as the first real biting sanctions regime after successive US administrations failed to impose any meaningful sanctions on Iran.

- Out of the grand total of 30 banks operating in Iran, 21 have been put under CISADA’s sanctions. Foreign banks that deal with these Iranian banks would lose their access to US financial markets. It is estimated that 75% of major financial institutions that were operating inside Iran have consequently cut off their banking relations with Iran, forcing the country to use the few available channels at much higher costs. It was discussed that the administration needed to sanction one foreign bank still dealing with Iran to create much more effective results.

- The Central Bank of Iran (CBI) has not yet been added to the sanctions list. The addition of CBI would face opposition in Europe. But such move would have the most severe impact on the Iranian banking system.

- CISADA also prohibits foreign companies from engaging in trade of products that are on sanctions list, like gasoline, and would lose the privilege of working in the US market. If major global corporations follow this provision, Iran would be forced to deal with fewer companies left, again raising the cost of doing business for the country. Until now only a Belarusian oil company has been subjected to CISADA sanctions, a company that does not operate in the US in the first place. There were calls on the US administration to enforce the provision against companies that would have seriously impact on Iran, particularly the Chinese oil and gas companies.

- There were also discussions of indirectly add crude oil, Iran’s economic lifeblood, to the list of products on sanctions list. A direct move to include crude, it was argued, would put oil process at unacceptable levels, but tightening sanctions against companies and organizations active in crude oil supply chain, like IRGC, will affect the oil exports.

Concluding discussions: CISADA has had significant effects on the banking sector, but the work is incomplete. Sanctioning of a single foreign bank and the addition of CBI to the sanctions list would create prohibitively high costs for the country’s financial transactions. The impact on foreign companies still engaging in trade with Iran has been much less effective. Sanctioning a major company, like a major Chinese oil and gas company, would create much higher costs for Iran’s imports. On products on sanctions lists, without addition of crude oil, the country’s economic lifeblood, to the list, all existing sanctions would be only partially effective. Due to market sensitivity of higher oil prices, the move needs to be indirect, targeting companies in the crude oil supply chain. The sanctions make Iran’s transactions expensive and that’s their impact.

Obama on Middle East Peace

By Nader Uskowi

President Obama, speaking yesterday at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) Policy Conference being held in Washington, reaffirmed his Arab-Israeli peace plan made during his speech at the State Department on Thursday. He called on Israel to recognize a Palestinian state based on pre-1967 borders that are adjusted for land swaps mutually agreed with the Palestinians. The president’s challenge to Israel to make hard choices to bring peace to the region had been openly criticized by the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The prime minister is scheduled to address the AIPAC conference this evening and is expected to reaffirm his unwillingness to accept the pre-1967 borders as a starting point in future negotiations for creation of a Palestinian state.

During his AIPAC address, President Obama called the bonds between US and Israel unbreakable and ironclad despite disagreements on pre-1967 borders. He said the existence of Israel as a strong and secure homeland for the Jewish people was in America’s national interests. Yet, he called the status quo unsustainable and emphasized the urgency for the creation of the state of Palestine as well. The status quo, Obama added, would soon lead to a Palestinian majority and a democratic Jewish state could not be sustained.

Obama also addressed the controversy over the participation of Hamas in the new Palestinian government, saying no country could negotiate peace with groups and organizations that are dedicated to its destruction. Implicit in those remarks, was the requirement for Hamas to recognize the existence of Israel as the homeland for Jewish people. Obama also cautioned against a UN declaration of Palestinian statehood, saying the creation of Palestinian state should be the outcome of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Qiyam-1 SSM production and test-firing

According to Fars News Agency:

The Iranian Defense Ministry started supplying large numbers of 'Qiyam [Resurrection] 1' high-precision ballistic missiles to the Aerospace Force of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps [IRGC/ASF] on Sunday.

The new missiles were supplied to the IRGC in a ceremony attended by Iranian Defense Minister Brigadier General Ahmad Vahidi and Commander of the IRGC Aerospace Force Brigadier General Amir Ali Hajizadeh. 

Addressing the ceremony, Vahidi said that mass-production of Qiyam 1 missiles indicates Tehran's self-sufficiency in producing different types of missiles. 

Referring to the detailed features and specifications of the newly mass-produced ballistic missile, Vahidi said that Qiyam 1 is the country's first finless missile. 

The minister added that the very special design of the missile makes its detection by radars and air defense systems difficult. 

He said that omission of the fins from the design has increased the velocity of the missile and shortened the launch time.

Vahidi explained that the newly produced ballistic missiles are the product of hard work and extensive research by Iranian experts, adding that they will be delivered to the Iranian Armed Forces in an official ceremony in the near future.
click photos to enlarge
Qiyam-1 surface-to-surface missile (SSM) atop production stands

Qiyam-1 deployed on a Transporter Erector Launcher (TEL)

Test-firing in the field of a Qiyam-1 SSM

Photos: Vahid Reza Alaei at Fars News Agency

Saqeb Anti-Armor System munitions production

According to Fars News Agency:

Iran on Saturday started mass-production of anti-armor ammunition in an official ceremony attended by the country's Defense Minister Brigadier General Ahmad Vahidi.

Addressing the inaugural ceremony of the mass production of 125mm and 105mm shells for Saqeb Anti-Armor System here in Tehran today, Vahidi stated that production of the new ammunition is aimed at bolstering the Armed Forces' capability in ground battles and creating a wide range of anti-armor ammunitions. 

The minister said that the country's Armed Forces have already been equipped with the new ammo, and mentioned that "the new shells can destroy all types of advanced, multiple-layer, new generation reactionary armors".

He added that the new ammo traverses five times faster than the speed of the sound, and enjoys high penetration power and can penetrate into armors with a thickness of 50 cm.
click photos to enlarge
BM-22 type 125 mm armor-piercing-fin-stabilized-discarding-sabot (APFSDS) projectile

BM-42 type 125 mm APFSDS projectile

Photos: Vahid Reza Alaei at Fars News Agency
Citation of research: Galen Wright at The Arkenstone

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Ford and the Shah

Jimmy Carter is often the one scrutinized (rightfully in a lot of cases) in hindsight over the rapid downfall of the Shah during his time in office, this however has clearly overshadowed his predecessors (short as his tenure was) inability to take a meaningful stand against Iraqi Baathists during Saddam Hussein's rise to power.

President Ford with the Shah of Iran as
Kissinger watches on.

The Iraqi Kurds have come along way in Iraq since the 1960's with the current President Talabani himself a Kurd who instead of opting for an independent autonomous Kurdish state in the north of Iraq worked tirelessly in creating a united democratic and secular state out of a country on the brink of collapse.

The Kurds had fought a war with Iraq throughout most of the 1960's and in 1970 both sides ceased fighting after they had come to a stalemate and attempted to initiate a peace agreement, which lasted a mere four years before Iraq again in 1974 began a new offensive.

This was around the time Gerald Ford became president of the United States following Richard Nixon's resignation over the Watergate scandal, around this time the United States evidently had a longstanding warm relationship with the Pahlavi dynasty in Iran whom it supported in his arming and financing of the Iraqi Kurds who were being driven close to the Iranian border by the Iraqi Army.

However this campaign of arming and financing the Kurds in their struggle for autonomy was short lived as in 1975 the Shah of Iran signed a separate peace agreement with Saddam in Algiers which became the 1975 Algiers Agreement that was to settle border disputes (in particular the Iraqi claim over the oil rich Khuzestan region in the south of Iran).

The Shah agreed to stop supporting the Kurdish rebellion and the United States terminated its flow of arms and finance, Kurdish leaders fled as fighters surrendered en masse, 5,000 Kurdish rebels died in vain as their rebellion was rapidly crushed.

Saddam would later violate the Algiers agreement when he launched a large scale invasion of the Khuzestan region in 1980 a year after the Iranian Revolution had overthrown the Shah and brought on the longest and one of the most brutal wars of the 20th century which would not end until 1988 and also saw the Iraqi Kurds subjected to a genocidal campaign known as the Al-Anfal campaign which saw thousands of Kurds indiscriminately gassed in the infamous Halabja gas attack.

President Ford was only in office for two years but his dealings with Iran (among other things) had terrible long lasting effects on the region.

Iran Uncovers Spy Network – Intelligence Ministry

Iran's Intelligence Ministry announced today that it has arrested at least 30 people allegedly linked to a spy network in the country. In a statement read on state-run TV, the intelligence agency claimed that its agents uncovered the CIA-run network seeking to recruit Iranian spies through US diplomatic missions in UAE, Turkey and Malaysia. The recruits were said to have been asked to spy on Iran’s research institutes, universities, nuclear programs, and other sites. The Intelligence Ministry did not identify the detainees nor did it provide the time and place of their arrests.

The announcement of the uncovering of the spy network coincides with claims by the extremist elements in anti-Ahmadinejad camp that people close to the president might be working for foreign powers, and an ultra-conservative publication called for the arrest of Esfandiar Rahim Mashaie, Ahmadinejad’s chief of staff and his political confidant.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Presidential inauguration of Kamal-e Saleh dam

click photos to enlarge
President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad arrives aboard an immaculate Iran Air Force Agusta AB-212 VIP helicopter, to attend the formal inauguration of the Kamal-e Saleh dam in Markazi province, central Iran.

With a capacity of 110 million cubic meters of water, this dam's purpose is to provide water for the provincial cities of Shazand and Arak as well as the major regional industries. Its location is in Shazand, 74 kilometers southwest of the capital city of Arak in Markazi province.

Photos: Mahdi Marizad at Fars News Agency

Ahmadinejad's Move to Serve as Oil Minister Vetoed

The Guardian Council ruled today that President Ahmadinejad cannot serve as the country’s caretaker oil minister [Fars News Agency, 20 May]. The decision by the Council comes as another attempt by the ruling clerical establishment to limit Ahmadinejad’s powers and influence. Earlier this week, Ahmadinejad had announced that he was taking on the job of oil minister on a caretaker capacity after firing his oil minister. Ahmadinejad was to preside over an OPEC meeting scheduled to take place in June in Vienna. Iran holds the rotating presidency of OPEC.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

The Islamic Republic: What Kind of Government?

By Nader Uskowi

A leading conservative member of Majlis (the Iranian Parliament) from Isfahan, Hamid Reza Fouladgar, has defined the government in the Islamic Republic:

“The legitimacy of all institutions of the regime comes from the Supreme Leader. This means the laws passed by Majlis need to be approved by the Guardian Council and the president, regardless of how many votes he has received in the election, does not have any legitimacy until the Supreme Leader says so, and the Judiciary is appointed by the Supreme Leader. The country under the leadership of the Supreme Leader can be managed in best possible way” [Tabnak, 19 May].

Mr. Fouladgar, the governmental system you are describing is called fascist. Our hope is that the rest of government leaders do not agree with your assessment.

Iran Blames West for Drought

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad today accused the West of causing drought in Iran and other countries in the region.

"Western countries have designed plans to cause drought in certain areas of the world, including Iran," Ahmadinejad said.

"According to reports on climate, whose accuracy has been verified, European countries are using special equipment to force clouds to dump their water on their continent,” he added. “They (are) preventing rain clouds from reaching regional countries, including Iran," Ahmadinejad charged [IRNA, 19 May].

"Droughts in some regions spanning from Turkey and Iran to east of Asia are predicted for the next 30 years," Ahmadinejad said, quoting an unnamed Western politician. "The regions include countries whose culture and civilization frighten the West," Ahmadinejad added.

Iran has experienced several droughts in recent years. But this is the first time that Ahmadinejad has accused the West for causing them.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Iran FM in Kuwait

Iran's FM Ali Akbar Salehi (l.) with Kuwaiti Emir Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Jaber al-Sabah. 18 May 2011.

Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi arrived in Kuwait City today on a daylong visit to discuss the situation in Bahrain with the Kuwaiti officials. Kuwait is the latest stop for Salehi during a tour of the countries in the region. He has already visited Oman, Qatar, UAE and Iraq. Iran supports the predominantly Shia uprising in Bahrain and opposes GCC military intervention in the country.

Photo: IRNA

Iran-Born Al Jazeera Correspondent Freed

Dorothy Parvaz, the Iranian-born journalist, was released today by the Iranian authorities. Parvaz was detained on 29 April by Syria, where she was covering the popular uprising in the country for Al Jazeera. Shortly after her detention, the Syrian authorities deported her to Iran. Yesterday, Iran had said that Parvaz was in Syria with expired Iranian passport, although she had valid US and Canadian travel documents.

Parvaz flew to Doha after being released in Tehran. Doha is the home base for Al Jazeera. The network is the most popular and respected news outlet in the Arab world and its world-class coverage of the Arab Spring has angered many Arab regimes, with its correspondents detained and or deported and its offices closed in different countries. Parvaz is free today.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Iran Coast Guard turns back second attempted flotilla to Bahrain

According to the LA Times:

Iranian supporters of Shiite dissidents in Bahrain saw their second flotilla in less than a month turned back from the Persian Gulf kingdom Monday.

The 120 people aboard the two-ship "flotilla of solidarity" included a mix of workers, athletes, lawmakers, physicians and nurses, according to the semi-official Iranian Mehr News Agency. They had left the Iranian port of Bushehr, traveled a dozen nautical miles and were approaching international waters when they were forced to return to port by the Iranian coast guard, according to Mehr News.

There was speculation that the ships, including one named Ayat al-Ghermezi after the late Bahraini dissident poet allegedly raped and murdered by security forces, were barred from entering Bahraini waters after being intercepted by Gulf warships.
click photos to enlarge
The Ayat al-Ghermezi of the "flotilla of solidarity"

File frame capture: Iran Coast Guard PBI type coastal patrol craft (PBM)

Photo: Mehr News Agency
Video frame: Agaahi at YouTube

Iran Navy '14th Fleet' engages pirates in northern Indian Ocean

According to Fars News Agency:

A flotilla of Iranian warships repelled a pirate attack on an Iranian cargo ship after an hour-long crossfire in the Northern Indian Ocean.

According to a statement issued by the Navy's Public Relations Office on Tuesday, the Navy's 14th fleet of warships initiated timely action after it received an alert from Iranian cargo ship, 'Attar', and managed to thwart the pirates' attack after 55 minutes of clashes.

The Iranian Navy dispatched its 14th flotilla of warships to the Gulf of Aden earlier this month to protect the country's cargo ships and oil tankers against Somali pirates.

The 14th fleet of warships is comprised of IRI Bandar Abbas Warship and IRI Shahid Naqdi Destroyer.
File photos: click to enlarge
IRINS Shahid Naghdi (ex-US PF 104) Bayandor class corvette (FS 82)

IRINS Shahid Naghdi (stern view)

Foreground: IRINS Bandar Abbas, Bandar Abbas class fleet supply ship (AORLH 421)

Attar IMO 9074092 General Cargo / Bulkcarrier merchant ship

Peter Karberg at MarineTraffic.com
Mahmoud Sadeghi at Jamejam Online.ir

CBI Releases Limited Data for Economic Growth

After refusing to publish the country’s rate of economic growth for the past three years, Central Bank of Iran (CBI) announced today that the rate of growth for the Iranian calendar year 1388 (ending March 2010) was at 3.5%. CBI’s Vice Governor Hossein Ghazavi talking to reporters in Tehran did not release the rate of growth for the most recent year 1389 (ending last March); and as for the year 1387 (ending March 2009), he said the rate was “very small.”

CBI’s limited and incomplete release of data on the growth rate raised more questions and did not help restore the confidence in the statistics published by the Central Bank. CBI’s statistics and forecasts were once the most reliable for the country.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Ahmadinejad Takes Over Ministry of Oil

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on Sunday took over the Ministry of Oil as its caretaker minister. He could represent Iran at the upcoming OPEC meeting in Vienna. Iran is the current rotating chair of OPEC, and in his capacity as the Iranian oil minister, Ahmadinejad can chair the Vienna meeting scheduled for 8 June, unless he appoints a representative instead.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Ahmadinejad Names Caretaker Ministers, Effectively Merges Departments Without Majlis Approval

Iran’s president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad today appointed the ministers of Commerce and Labor as caretaker minsters of the departments of Industries and Mines and Social Welfares respectively. The action in effect merged the four cabinet-level departments into two without the approval of Majlis. He is also expected to name the minster of Energy as caretaker of the department of Oil as well, completing the merger plans.

On Friday, Ahmadinejad met with the Speaker of Majlis Ali Larijani in a meeting chaired by the supreme leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, and agreed to seek parliament’s approval for the merger of the departments and vote of confidence for the new ministers. However, hours after the meeting, Ahmadinejad dismissed ministers of Oil, Industries and Mines, and Social Welfare. In his letter to the dismissed ministers, Ahmadinejad said they had been removed from their duties because their departments were eliminated as result of the mergers. The Majlis leadership, including its deputy speaker, strongly objected to the move, saying the parliament had not received nor approved the merger requests. Today's action of effectively merging four of the six departments in question deepens the constitutional and political crisis in the country.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Ministers of Oil, Commerce, and Social Welfare Dismissed - UPDATE

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad today dismissed ministers of Oil, Commerce, and Social Welfare as the first step to merge their respective departments with ministries of Energy, Industries and Mines, and Labor [president.ir, 14 May].

Ahmadinejad will apparently nominate the current ministers of Energy, Industries and Mines, and Labor to head the enlarged departments, otherwise they would have been dismissed as well. Yesterday, Ahmadinejad had agreed with the Speaker of Majlis, Ali Larijani, to send a bill to the parliament for approval of the mergers and to nominate new ministers to head the enlarged departments. Today’s move to dismiss the three ministers prior to parliamentary approval of the mergers was unexpected.

[UPDATE: In the first reaction to Ahmadinejad’s dismissal of the three ministers, Ahmad Tavakoli, the influential member of Majlis, bitterly criticized Ahmadinejad for his hurried move and said the dismissals send a message of political “instability” in the Islamic Republic. Tavakoli suggested that the problems between these three ministers and “that famous, deviationist and problematic character” (read Mashaie) were the cause of their dismissal.]

Blogger's Note: These dismissals are a clear challenge to Majlis's (and Larijani's) authority. Based on the agreement struck on Friday between Ahmadinejad and Larijani, in the presence of Khamenei, Ahmadinejad was to send a bill to the parliament asking its approval for the mergers. Only then would it have made sense to dump the three ministers and nominate the remaining three to head the enlarged departments. By firing these three ministers now, he is sending a message that the approval of the merger bill is inconsequential, and he's practically going ahead with the process with or without the approval of Majlis.

Ahmadinejad Backs Down on Department Mergers and New Ministers - UPDATE

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in a meeting with Majlis Speaker Ali Larijani has agreed to the process proposed by Larijani on the merger of six cabinet-level departments into three and on choosing their new ministers.

[UPDATE: IRNA reported that the supreme leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, was present and presided over the meeting between the heads of the executive and legislative branches. The meeting took place on Friday.]

Kayhan reported today that Ahmadinejad will now send a bill to Majlis for its approval on merging the departments and would later ask Majlis for vote of confidence on ministerial nominees to head the new enlarged departments [Kayhan, 24 May].

The process involves the merger of ministries of Oil and Energy, Commerce and Mines and Industries, and Labor and Social Welfare. Ahmadinejad had issued executive orders to merge these departments and had chosen ministers in charge of the newly enlarged departments. He had claimed his authority on a bill passed by Majlis a couple of months ago requiring the government to reduce the number of its cabinet departments by four.

Larijani vehemently objected to Ahmadinejad’s move, insisting that the president needed the parliamentary approval for the mergers and a vote of confidence for each new minister. Ahmadinejad refused Larijani’s request, accusing him as acting as a law unto himself. The Guardian Council, led by Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati, on Wednesday sided with Larjani. And Ahmadinejad has now fully accepted the process set by Larijani.

To students of Iranian politics, the outcome of this latest round of power struggle between the president, as head of the executive branch, and other senior leaders of the Islamic Republic, looks to be a second major loss for Ahmadinajad in as many weeks. Last week, Ahmadinejad was ordered by the supreme leader to reinstate the minister of intelligence he had fired earlier and now he is forced to accept Larijani’s views on how to proceed with the mergers of the ministries and the selection of new ministers.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Jannati Threatens the “Deviationists”

Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati, the chairmen of the Guardian Council in charge of vetting the candidates for the parliamentary and presidential elections in Iran, said during his sermons delivered at Friday Prayer in Tehran that the “deviationist group,” an insulting expression used by the conservatives in defining Ahmadinejad supporters, has started to spend large sums of money to buy votes for next year’s parliamentary elections.

“The Deviationist Group’s action (spending money to buy votes) is not hidden from anyone. In due time and if necessary, people will take care of this group” [Fars News Agency, 13 May].

The accusation, coming from the chairman of the body in charge of selecting “qualified” candidates for Majlis, coupled with the thinly-veiled threat that the conservatives will “take care of” the group in due time, could be the first major move by the conservatives to disqualify candidates who support Ahmadinejad and his chief of staff Esfandiar Rahim Mashaie.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

The Deviationists

The managing director of Iran’s semiofficial Fars News Agency Hamid Reza Moqadam-Far today offered a detailed description of the ideological and political beliefs of the “deviationist” group, used to describe an inner circle of politicians and thinkers around president Ahmadinejad, led by his chief of staff Esfandiar Rahim Mashaie. Below are the highlights of Moqadam-Far's speech (to read the complete speech in Farsi, click here).

  • The Deviationist views are based on ancientism (the belief that Persia’s ancient times were better than the present); Iranism and the Iranian school (as opposed to Islamism and the Islamic school); Norouz (Persian new year) celebrations; and nationalism.
  • The Deviationist understanding of the concept of velayat (Islamic governance) is void of Velayat-e Faghih (wherein senior Islamic scholars exercise temporal authority) and the obligations to follow the Vali Faghih (supreme leader).
  • The Deviationist group uses Mahdaviat (the belief in and efforts to prepare for the Mahdi, the Shia’s Hidden Imam) for its own advantage and offer a weak and simplistic understanding of the belief in the Hidden Imam and the concept of waiting and preparing for his arrival.
  • The Deviationists ignore the importance of Marjas (senior ayatollahs) and offer a belief in Islam without the clergy. The group’s deviations on this issue are manifested in their political, social and cultural behavior.
  • The Deviationist group believes in “humanist Islam,” centered on the individual, as opposed to a religion centered on God and the Islamic faith.
  • The Deviationist group believes in social justice centered on equality. They also offer a positive interpretation of modernity as opposed to traditionalism.

Moqadam-Far said the group’s deviationist line is unprecedented in the history of the Islamic Republic. He emphasized their lack of belief in velayat faghih and the supreme leader during the preparation period for the imminent arrival of the Mahdi and their ideological belief in gaining the ultimate political power in the country.

Blogger Note: The expressions “deviationist” was first used in Stalinist era and later by Mao in defining the “left” and “right” deviationists.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

TSE Index UP

Tehran Stock Exchange index today rose by 1.5%, finishing at 25,752. TSE had seen its index declining by 3.5% in the past few days. The participation of the intelligence minister in the cabinet meeting chaired by President Ahmadinejad and the end to the recent decline in oil prices are thought to have calmed the recent anxieties in the market.

File Photo: The TSE. Donya-e Eqtesad

Bushehr reactor operational

Iran's Bushehr reactor has become operational after a series of delays according to the Russian company that built it amidst (primarily Israeli) concerns that the plant may be used to help Iran build nuclear weapons.

On a related note and in hindsight this print ad is mildly amusing:

From around the mid 1970's it shows Reza Shah Mohammad Pahlavi as a poster child for a pro nuclear power campaign.

It was around the same time that construction begun on the Bushehr reactor. However construction was halted and it was left unfinished following the Islamic Revolution in 1979 and subsequently restarted in the mid 1990's after Tehran and Moscow made a one billion dollar deal to finally complete it.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Ahmadinejad in Istanbul

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad addressing the Fourth United Nations Conference on the Least Developed Countries which kicked off in Istanbul on Monday 9 May 2011. IRNA Photo.

President Ahmadinejad is greeted by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon at the UN Conference. 8,000 delegates converged on Istanbul to attend the event. 9 May 2011. IRNA Photo.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad meeting his Turkish counterpart Abdullah Gul on the sidelines of the UN Conference. 9 May 2011. Today's Zaman Photo.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Iran FM Visits Abu Dhabi Amid Tensions Over Bahrain

Iran's Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi paid a previously unannounced visit to Abu Dhabi today and held talks with UAE Premier and Ruler of Dubai Sheikh Mohammed and UAE Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah amid growing tensions between Iran and the Arab states of the Persian Gulf over Bahrain. Salehi reiterated during the talks his call for GCC troops to be pulled out of Bahrain.

“The entrance of foreign troops into Bahrain and intervention in the internal affairs of this nation has made the situation more complicated and continuation of this policy will only lead to intensifying the crisis,” Salehi said [AFP, 8 May].

Sheikh Mohammed praised during the meeting the “wisdom of the Bahraini leadership” in dealing with protests.

Ahmadinejad Chairs Cabinet – Moslehi Present

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad today chaired a meeting of his cabinet that was attended by Hojatoleslam Haydar Moslehi, the minister of intelligence. Moslehi’s attendance brings to an end Ahmadinejad’s refusal to seat him at the cabinet meetings and signals a major victory for Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the country’s supreme leader, who last week had ordered Ahmadinejad to reinstate Moslehi after he was fired by the president. Also present at the meeting and sitting next to the president was Esfandiar Rahim Moshaie, Ahmadinejad’s controversial chief of staff.

Photo: Saman Aghvami / ISNA

Ahmadinejad To Visit Turkey

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad will pay a one-day visit to Turkey on Monday. Ahmadinejad will participate in the UN Conference on the Least Developed Countries taking place in Istanbul.

Ahmadinejad’s departure from Tehran comes amid conflict between the supreme leader and the president on a host of domestic political issues including Ahmadinejad’s refusal to reinstate his intelligence minister as ordered by Khamenei. There are also increasing pressures on Ahmadinejad to cut ties with his political confident and advisor Esfandiar Rahim Mashaie who still serves as Ahmadinejad’s chief of staff despite direct interventions by Khamenei to have him removed from the post. Mashaie is seen by Khamenei and the clerical establishment as the main force behind the firing of the intelligence minister and Ahmadinejad’s increasingly antagonistic relations with them.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

The Immortals

The Immortals

In the aftermath of the killing of Bin Laden by Navy Seal Team 6, TIME has taken a look at the world’s most elite military teams in history. Persian Empire’s Immortals are ranked number 2 among them all. The Immortals were a Special Forces unit, always at its full compliment of 10,000 soldiers, within a vast Persian army, adept with both bow and blade. Another Persian unit, the Assassins or the Hashishins, the Ismaili elite force, was also selected among the top ten units.

Below is TIME’s selection of the top ten most highly trained units in world’s history.

  1. The Navy Seals
  2. The Immortals
  3. The Brigade of Gurkhas
  4. The Knights Hospitaller
  5. The Special Air Service
  6. The Green Berets
  7. The Varangian Guard
  8. The Hashishin
  9. The Israeli Special Forces
  10. The Jaguar Warriors

Photo: Getty Images / TIME