Monday, March 31, 2014

Janati Warns of Moderates’ Takeover of Assembly of Experts and Majlis

Ahmad Janati, the powerful chairman of the Guardian Council, charged with supervising the elections, on Sunday warned that certain groups, presumably the moderates and reformists were after “capturing” the Assembly of Experts and the Majlis after succeeding in capturing the presidency.

“These days those who just captured the first bastion, are after capturing the Assembly of Experts, and later the Majlis, to implement their corrupt goals,” Janati said. (IRNA, 30 March)

By the first bastion, Janati was referring to the presidency which was “captured” by Hassan Rouhani who represented the moderate/reformist bloc in the 2013 presidential election.

“The election for the Assembly of Experts is very much tied to the foundation of the Islamic Republic… They (moderates/reformists) have dangerous plans. They now want to capture the Assembly of Experts because that's the only institution that can choose/change the (supreme) leader,” Jannati added. “They have lots of money and some are in the center of power today.”(IRNA, 30 March)

Here Janati was clearly referring to Ayatollah Hashemi Rafsanjani, the de facto leader of the moderate/reformist bloc.

Janati’s fears are clear: the moderates led by Rafsanjani and supported by the reformists will try to field numerous candidates in the next Assembly of Experts elections to win an outright majority, a first in the Islamic Republic. The Assembly has always been controlled by the right. By controlling the Assembly, the moderates will position themselves in par with Ayatollah Khamenei and his supporters, and politically will elevate the power of Rafsanjani as Khamenei’s co-equal. 

The Assembly last held its election in December 2006 for an eight-year term. The new elections are due in December 2014. The hard right is fearful that if a comprehensive nuclear agreement is reached by July, the moderates will parlay that success into a victory in the Assembly elections.

Janati was also fearful that if the moderate/reformist bloc wins the Assembly, they will position themselves to win the next Majlis elections as well. Those elections will be held in March 2016. By controlling the presidency, the Assembly of Experts and the Majlis, the moderate/reformist block would then be the actual governing body of the country for the first time in the history of the Islamic Republic.

File Photo: Ayatollah Mohammad Reza Mahdavi-Kani (C, top table) gives the opening speech during  Assembly of Experts' biannual meeting in Tehran, 6 March 2012. (Reuters)

Chamran multi-story parking garage in Isfahan, recently completed

Recently constructed at Isfahan's District 7: Chamran multi-story public parking garage. Note exterior folding architectural style and use of plate glass at customer access point.

Four levels of Chamran parking garage provides capacity for up to 400 vehicles

Interior detail of Chamran parking garage's concrete carousel

Exterior signage for Chamran multi-story parking garage in Isfahan

Photos: Hassan at Isfahan City Blog

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Iran Inflation Slows to Two-Year Low

The prices for the month of February rose at 23 percent over the same month a year ago, the Central Bank of Iran reported today.

The so-called point-to-point inflation rate was at a two-year low, in line with Rouhani administration’s plan to cut the inflation rate during the new Iranian calendar year to under 25 percent (as opposed to 45 percent during the last year of Ahmadinejad’s presidency).

“There’s some degree of optimism in Iran,” said Sam Wilkin, an analyst at Dubai-based Control Risks Group. “Still, people are hesitant, and they’re not fully confident the recent (nuclear) deal will lead to more comprehensive opening.” (The Daily Star, 31 March)

Merchant Ship Attacked in Strait of Hormuz

A merchant ship came under attack today in the Strait of Hormuz. Six unknown assailants armed with machine guns shot at the ship from a speedboat in close range; Reuters quoted NATO Shipping Center as saying. The ship reportedly repelled the attack with hoses and the vessel and crew are safe.

The attack happened on the Gulf of Oman side of the Strait of Hormuz. Earlier in the day, an oil tanker was approached by two speedboats with crews wearing military uniform, NATO said.

“Two green colored skiffs with three-four persons on board in military clothing and armed with machines guns got to 150 meters of a merchant vessel,” the NATO merchant shipping alert service said in a statement. “After a while the skiffs turned away to Iranian coast.” (Reuters, 30 March)

It was too early to say if the two incidents, 90 minutes apart in the same general area, were related. NATO did not offer any comments, but said it will investigate the incidents.

Image credit: Map of Strait of Hormuz (GraphicMaps/

IRGC Put in Charge of Border Areas with Pakistan

UPDATE: IRGC to Give ‘Crushing Response’ to Abductors
UPDATE: IRGC director of public relations, Brig. Gen. Ramezan Sharif, told reporters in Tehran on Sunday that IRGC is “planning to give a crushing response to the abductors of Iranian border guards after taking control of Saravan borders in Sistan and Baluchistan province.” (Fars News Agency, 30 March)

Gen. Sharif’s announcement confirms the expectations that the IRGC’s move to militarize the border security, away from law enforcement agency NAJA, would mean it was planning a military incursion into Pakistan to conduct search and rescue operations.
Below is the original article posted here on 29 March.

IRGC Ground Forces (IRGC-GF) was put in charge of security of a 300-km stretch of border with Pakistan. IRGC-GF’s southeastern headquarters in the city of Saravan, the so-called Quds HQ (not to be confused with IRGC-QF), took over the responsibility from Law Enforcement Forces (NAJA) and its border patrol unit, Fars News Agency reported today.

Last month, five border guards were abducted in that area by the Baluch militant group Jaish ul-Adl, and reportedly transferred to the Pakistani side of Baluchistan. Jaish ul-Adl has since executed one of the guards.

Yesterday, IRGC Commander Maj. Gen. Mohammad Ali Jafari visited Saravan. (IRNA, 29 March)

“The IRGC's Quds Headquarters has been commissioned to ensure the security of 300 kilometers (186 miles) of Iran's border areas in the Southeastern city of Saravan in Sistan and Baluchestan province in a bid to step up security in the region,” Jafari said. (Fars News Agency, 29 March)

Gen. Jafari’s visit to the region came amid growing expectations that IRGC Special Forces, the Saberin, supported by IRGC-GF units, will soon conduct search and rescue operations inside Pakistani territory to free the remaining abductees.

The Iranian government, however, has been pressuring Pakistan to take the lead in freeing the guards before any military intervention across the border. It is not known if the IRGC or the Pakistanis know the exact location where the guards are being held.

Photo credit: IRGC Commander Maj. Gen. Mohammad Ali Jafari (Press TV)

Half of U.S. spooks believe rockets on Klos-C headed to Sinai not Gaza

Above: 120 mm mortar bombs and M-302 rockets taken from Klos-C
(IDF on Facebook)

According to Reuters:
Some U.S. intelligence analysts and Middle East security officials believe that a rocket shipment seized by the Israeli navy in the Red Sea this month was destined for the Egyptian Sinai and not for the Gaza Strip, as Israel says.
A U.S. official and two non-Israeli regional sources said Israel appeared to be insisting on the Gaza destination in order to spare the military-backed interim Egyptian administration embarrassment as it struggles to impose order in the Sinai.
"Were the Israelis to say the rockets were going to Sinai, then they would also have had to say who in Sinai was going to receive the rockets," one source told Reuters, adding that such a statement would draw attention to the insurgents resisting Egypt's security sweeps in northern Sinai.
There now appears to be no clear consensus as to where these arms were ultimately destined.

It's been pointed out the rockets are too large and not intended for breakdown, making them impractical for smuggling into Gaza. The next guess is they were headed for Sinai. The 7x62 small arms ammo is now thought by some to be headed to other parts of Africa. And while most intelligence sources believe the mortar bombs were headed for Gaza, the off-loading of the entire shipment was actually to take place in Sudan, with ultimate destination(s) open to what appears now to be conjecture.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Observing Earth Hour in Tehran

Lights were turned off at iconic Azadi Square Monument in Tehran from 8:30 to 9:30 p.m. on Saturday in observance of Earth Hour, a worldwide movement for planet organized by the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF).

Photo: Davoud Ghahrdar (ISNA)

Tamadon Wins Cinema Du Reel Grand Prize for ‘Iranian’

Iranian filmmaker Mehran Tamadon won the Cinema Du Reel Grand Prize for his documentary Iranian at the George Pompidou Centre in Paris, Saturday 20 March 2014. (Radio Zaman/Payvand, 30 March)

Photo credit: A scene from “Iranian” by Mehran Tamadon (Radio Zaman/Payvand)

Friday, March 28, 2014

Obama-Abdullah Meeting

U.S. Would Not Accept a ‘Bad Deal’ with Iran
President Barack Obama held talks with Saudi King Abdullah today, amid tension between the two countries over Iran's nuclear program.

U.S. officials said after the two-hour meeting at Rawdat Khuraim, a royal desert retreat northeast of Riyadh, that the president had made it very clear that the two countries' strategic interests remained “very much aligned,” BBC reported tonight. The White House also hailed the “strong relationship” the U.S. enjoyed with the Kingdom.

A U.S. official also told BBC that President Obama told the king he would not accept a “bad deal” on Iran. That’s understood to mean that the Americans will not cut a final agreement with Iran without stringent guarantees that Iran will not, and could not, pursue a nuclear weapons program

Secretary of State John Kerry and National Security Advisor Susan Rice accompanied the president.

Photo credit: President Obama meeting with King Abdullah, 28 March 2013. (BBC)  

Ten Countries Voted with Russia on Crimea

The UN General Assembly on Thursday approved a resolution affirming Ukraine's territorial integrity and calling Russia’s annexation of Crimea illegal.

Ten countries voted alongside Russia opposing the resolution. Russia’s supporters from A to Z:

North Korea

Notable among countries that did not oppose the resolution were Iran and the Central Asian republics, including Kazakhstan.

The resolution passed by a vote of 100-11, with 58 abstaining.

Tehran: New Year Holidays and Not Many Cars

Tehran during Norouz (Iranian New Year) holidays 

It’s obvious that the main cause of Tehran’s unbearable air pollution is thousands and thousands of automobiles which have now left the city and the low-quality gasoline they use.

Photo credit: Abdolvahed Mirzazadeh/ISNA, 28 March 2014

Richard Frye: 1920-2014

Search for Unending Iranian-American Friendship
Richard Nelson Frye, the prominent scholar of Iranian studies, whose unending search for Iranian-American friendship was the stuff of legends, died on Thursday in Boston. He was 94.

Professor Frye, born in Alabama, and longtime professor of Iranian studies at Harvard, had expressed his desires to be buried on the bank of Zayandeh Rood in Isfahan, the city he loved so much. This is what he wrote on the subject:

“I, who have spent all my life on studying and teaching the glorious culture of ancient and Islamic Iran, request that my body be buried next to Zayande Rood in the beautiful city of Isfahan, the place I have admired and loved all my life, hoping that this would make for close ties between the two great nations of Iran and America.”

We’ll miss him so much during these delicate times in Iranian-American relations. May his memories live forever!

File photo: Professor Richard Frye: 1920-2014

'Syrian NDF modeled on Basij' - IRGC

Armed Forces General Staff HQ Deputy IRGC Maj. Gen. Gholam Ali Rashid gave a speech in Dezful this week to war veterans on the commemorative occasion of Operation Undeniable Victory (March 1982), delivering a candid talk on a range of important issues. The first part of this brief post will discuss his comments on Iran's involvement in the Syrian conflict. Farther down, other issues brought up by Rashid will be addressed, including nuclear negotiations and regional foreign affairs.

In his speech, Maj. Gen. Gholam Ali Rashid stated that Syria's National Defense Front (NDF) has been modeled after Iran's Basij militia, confirming American intelligence assessments as far back as 2013. Rashid even went so far as to state NDF inception as an IRGC-QF recommendation that was accepted by Syria's leadership.

The NDF is organized similar to the Basij as a light infantry force, comprised of part-time volunteer reservists. The more secular complexion of NDF might at first glance appear as something of a deviation from Iran's Basij. However, reflected in the inclusive spirit of Iran's Tribal Basij in enlisting diverse Iranian elements. the Syrian NDF is predominantly drawn from Alawites, Christians, Druzes and Armenians. Interestingly enough, like the Iranian Basij during the Iran-Iraq War in relation to their Artesh counterparts, the NDF is considered more motivated and loyal than the attrition-depleted and replacement-filled rank and file of SAA.

The Syrian conflict has provided the IRGC with a lengthy, sustained period of tactical battlefield observation and experience not seen since the days of the Iran-Iraq and First Lebanon wars. In publicity photos from the recent Basij "Towards Jerusalem" exercises, a higher level of training is to be interpreted, particularly for the Tehran formation. Moreover, Iranian military thinkers must be reckoning their biggest land war threat is not an American GF invasion on a scale of or larger than OIF. Rather, the land war threat is more similar to examples found in Syria, Libya and Iraq (occupied and post OIF), where Basij-like rapid reaction formations would for Iran potentially play a critical role (as they are now in Syria).

It has to be said the Syrian conflict has provided a current generation of Iranian military tacticians with adaptive lessons learned, particularly on offense, to be applied toward doctrine and training for their own IRGC and Basij forces. Evidence of such taking form in Syria at a command level is reflected in their application of armor/infantry tactics for the urban battlefield, SF night operations, heliborne operations, UAV missions, force rotation management, logistics and more.

Maj. Gen. Rashid persisted with the official Iran position that there are no IRGC combat formations fighting in Syria, but that there are IRGC-QF advisors assisting Syrian military forces.

Syrian National Defense Force SF during night heliborne operation

Iranian Basij rapid reaction force light infantry, during recent "Towards Jerusalem" exercise
(Fars News Agency)

Turning to the ongoing nuclear negotiations: like IRGC  Commander Jafari, Maj. Gen Rashid expressed what he termed optimism among respective Iranian officials. He went on to identify three scenarios for how the negotiations with P5+1 might pan out:

a) “The first is the [Rouhani] administration’s negotiations will resolve the nuclear matter. Officials are optimistic but consider it difficult.”

b) “If the enemy increases its demands these negotiations will fail, in which case they will put the blame on Iran using their media power.”

c) “Negotiations could make for a limited erosion of sanctions, where some would be lifted and a large part remain.”

Even so,  Rashid declared that even if the nuclear issue is somehow resolved, he expected the United States would pursue the "excuse" of human rights and alleged support for terrorism. He also identified a 65 percent voter or higher turnout in upcoming Iranian midterm elections as a sort of benchmark of success against American aims against Iran.

Rashid also commented on regional relations. He stated that if Iran provided 1 percent of the aid that various countries are providing against Syria, Bahrain would be able to achieve it's "independence."
The general expounded on a familiar IRGC theme identified as the "Salafist-Zionist axis," the generating of such he attributed to the rising influence of Iran in the region.

File photo: Armed Forces General Staff Headquarters Deputy IRGC Maj. Gen. Gholam Ali Rashid
(Press TV)

Iranian replica aircraft carrier a 'movie prop' - Aref News

Above: Nimitz class replica aircraft carrier being built by Iran at the ISOICO shipyard near Bandar Abbas 

According to Fars News Agency:
A replica of a US aircraft carrier spotted near the coast of Iran is a set being built for a movie which will display the US Navy warships' downing of an Iranian passenger plane in 1988, the Iranian media said.
[T]he Iranian media said on Sunday that it was "part of the decor and stage settings" of a movie being made by Iranian director Nader Talebzadeh on the 1988 shooting down of an Iran Air civilian plane by the USS Vincennes.
We'd identified possible purposes for this Nimitz class replica as providing Iran with a functioning target ship and non-operational technology study (similar in its limited rendering to that of the Qaher-313). However if a feature film prop reflects an additional shared purpose to the two previously identified, it may reflect a clever means of justifying such an extravagant and relatively expensive project.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Iran Seeks UN Help to Free Abducted Border Guards

No Sign of Abducted Guards in Pakistan - PAK Foreign Ministry
Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif today asked for help from the United Nations to secure the release of the abducted Iranian border guards.

In an urgent plea sent to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon on Wednesday. Zarif said, “Mere condemnation of acts of terrorism is not enough,” and asked for concrete actions by the UN and the international community to free the guards. [Facebook (Zarif)/AFP, 27 March]

The Baluch militant group Jaish-ul Adl abducted five frontier guards on 6 February and said this week that it has executed one of them. Ban on Tuesday condemned the killing as an “appalling act” and urged that the perpetrators be brought to justice. (AFP, 27 March)

Meanwhile, Pakistan said today that there are no signs of abducted Iranian guards in Pakistan.

“Our authorities have combed Pakistani territory in search of missing Iranian guards, however, there are no clues that they are in Pakistan,” said Pakistani Foreign Office Spokesperson Tasnim Aslam, adding that the body of one of the guards reportedly killed by his captors was not found on Pakistani territory. (AAP, 27 March)

Aslam also said Pakistan is “neither apologetic with Iran” and nor wants that Iran will have “aggressive attitude.”.

The guards are believed to have been transferred to the Pakistani side of Baluchistan Iran on several occasions, and as late as yesterday, has hinted of a military incursion into Pakistan to free them.

NAJA New Year assembly, Tehran

Tehran police assembly, 21 March 2014
Sergeant major of anti-riot police forces (at right) with contingent passing Azadi Tower

NAJA anti-narcotic branch first sergeant equipped with MP5 type SMG

Brigadier General Ahmad-Reza Radan, NAJA deputy commander inspecting anti-riot special operations forces

High-performance sportbikes issued to security elements of Tehran law enforcement

NAJA Traffic Police contingent from Tehran

Dismounted motorized police saluting NAJA deputy commander aboard Safir light utilityvehicle

Photos: Ashraf Tabatabaei at FARS News Agency

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Iran Demands Release of Frontier Guards from Pakistan

Iran’s Interior Minister Abdolreza Rahmani Fazli today demanded immediate release of abducted Iranian border guards from Pakistan.

“The Ministries of Foreign Affairs, Intelligence and Security and other Iranian bodies have attempted to (work with Pakistan) to release the abducted frontier guards. We hope that the information disseminated on the death of one of them is untrue, but if this information is confirmed, we will be forced to resort to other measures to protect our borders,” Rahmani Fazli said. (IRIB, 26 March)

The tone of Rahmani Fazeli’s demand suggests that Iran might be getting ready to intervene militarily to free the guards. If such decision is made politically, and if Iran has good intelligence on the whereabouts of the detained guards, it will be expected that the IRGC Special Forces, the Saberin, supported by elements from other military units, to enter the Pakistani Baluchistan on the search and rescue mission.

However such intervention will complicate Iran-Pakistan’s relations, especially with the Pakistani military and the ISI who are in charge of Baluchistan’s security.

File photo: Iranian Frontier Guard at Pakistani Border in Baluchistan (IRNA)

Sepehr residential towers at Isfahan, under construction

Another massive residential construction effort taking shape in Iran: Sepehr Towers at Isfahan's District 13. Photos taken March 2014.

Envisioned project encompasses a total of fifteen blocks, with a project land use of 65,000 square meters and a constructed area  270,000 square meters.

Sepehr Towers plans to provide a total of 1650 units to the housing market

Structure type is concrete (using AIII iron bar), with cladding consisting of a combination composite aluminium and glass windows, and double Knauf Aquaspanels.

Power facilities structure being constructed for a Sepehr residential block

One of the fifteen residential blocks: rendering of completed Block U

One of the fifteen residential blocks: rendering of completed Block S

Rendering of a completed subterranean parking facility 

Rendering of a completed water recreation facility for Sepehr Towers

Rendering of a completed educational facility for Sepehr Towers

Illustration depicting fifteen blocks of Sepehr Towers at Isfahan


Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Iran’s Chabahar Port to Link Afghanistan and India

Iran, Afghanistan and India will soon sign an agreement on the Iranian port of Chabahar on the Gulf on Oman to link Afghanistan with India, said Shakib Mostaghni, spokesman for Afghan ministry of foreign affairs. (IRNA, 25 March)

The landlocked Afghanistan would need a major seaport to export its newly found huge mineral deposits. The mines, including some of the largest unexplored copper, iron and gold deposits in the world, were identified and mapped by U.S. Defense Department’s Task Force for Business and Stability Operations (TFBSO) in 2009-2011. They also include significant lithium and rare earth metals.

To use Chahbahar, Afghanistan needs to send the ores to railhead to be constructed in Herat for transshipment through Iranian railway system to Chabahar. The railway linking Iran to Herat is under construction by the Iranians, but its completion has been constantly delayed due to right-of-passage for property owners and other issues.

Chabahar, a deep-sea port on the Gulf of Oman in Iranian Baluchistan, is a short distance away for Gwadar Port on Pakistani side of Baluchistan on the Arabian Sea. Shipping mineral ores from central and eastern Afghanistan straight through Pakistan to Gwadar is a viable alternative. However, tense relations between Pakistan and Afghanistan and security issues at their border regions make Chabahar an attractive route to bypass Pakistan altogether.

File photo: Port of Chabahar in Iranian Baluchistan on the Gulf of Oman (IRNA)     

Monday, March 24, 2014

Jaish ul-Adl: Execution of Iranian Border Guard – Confirmation by Iran

UPDATE: Iran has confirmed that the militant Baluch group Jaish ul-Adl has executed one of the five border guards. (Fars News Agency, 25 March)

Jaish ul-Adl identified the slain guard as Pasdar Corporal First Class Jamshid Danayeefar. Fars New Agency has identified Danayeefar by a red circle in the original photo released by Jaish ul-Adl (above.)


The militant Baluch group Jaish ul-Adl on Sunday announced the execution of one of the five Iranian border guards it has kept in detention since abducting them on 6 February in Jakigour region, on Iranian side of Baluchistan. 

Jaish ul-Adl announced the execution on its Twitter account. It identified the slain guard as Pasdar Corporal First Class Jamshid Danayeefar. The group said its action was in retaliation of the recent execution by Iran of one of its own members. The group also said it would deliver Danayeefar’s body to the authorities in return for 50 bodies of its members it claimed to have been executed in Iran.

Today, Iran’s official news agency IRNA conformed the report of the execution, citing an informed source in Pakistan. The Iranian Interior Ministry, however, denied the report. Its spokesman said, “We don’t confirm this report; were it true, we would have been informed.” (Fars News Agency, 24 March)

Iranian Interior Ministry did not say who would have informed them if the report were true. Jaish ul-Adl is believed to have transferred the guards to Pakistani Baluchistan. If true, then the powerful Pakistani intelligence service, the ISI, with its vast presence in the province, should know about the location where the guards are kept. IRNA and Interior Ministry did not disclose the sources of their conflicting reports, or whether the Iranian authorities are coordinating their actions with their Pakistani counterparts and the ISI.  

The Iranian authorities had said in recent days that they were negotiating with the militants for the border guards’ release, without disclosing the terms of such agreement. Now that Jaish ul-Adl has announced the execution of one of the guards, it is not clear if they would still pursue negotiations, as opposed to engaging in military operations, including sending in the IRGC’s Special Forces, that they had hinted last month, to free the rest of hostages.