Tehran used arrests, deadly force and a prolonged internet blackout to contain nationwide protests that pose the most serious test in years for Iran's leaders. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani on Wednesday said demonstrations over higher fuel prices had been suppressed, but the government's sweeping internet shutdown made it difficult to assess the state of protests that Amnesty International said left more than 100 people dead in five days.
The head of the U.N. nuclear watchdog agency says Iran has not provided additional details about the discovery of uranium particles of man-made origin at a location that had not been declared. Cornel Feruta, the acting director of the International Atomic Energy Agency, told its board of governors Thursday that a meeting in Tehran was planned for next week to discuss the issue. Feruta reported to IAEA member states two weeks ago that his inspectors had confirmed traces of uranium "at a location in Iran not declared to the agency," which appeared to confirm allegations made by the U.S. and Israel about a secret nuclear warehouse.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has claimed victory over the ongoing unrest in the country, state media reported Wednesday, six days after nationwide protests erupted following an abrupt spike in gas prices. Speaking at a government meeting in Tehran, Rouhani said the country had been "victorious out of yet another test" and that "despite the country's economic problems and existing grievances," Iran had demonstrated it "would never allow the balance to tilt in favor of the enemy," according to state broadcaster Press TV.
SANCTIONS, BUSINESS RISKS, & OTHER ECONOMIC NEWS
The deadly drama playing out in Iran since last Friday, leaving more than 100 protesters dead, shows three things. Tehran is increasingly in desperate economic straits, in part because of intense U.S. sanctions; Iranian popular discontent with the regime's economic mismanagement seems to have reached a breaking point; and the regime is more frightened of popular unrest than at any time in recent years.
Iran's "extensive" missile development program has allowed the country to build the "largest missile force in the Middle East," according to a new report by the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA). "The size and sophistication of its missile force continues to grow despite decades of counterproliferation efforts aimed at curbing its advancement," said the study, released by the Pentagon on November 19.
TERRORISM & EXTREMISM
No matter what you think about Donald Trump, you've got to admit he has made life miserable for the odious regime in Iran. That's not a bad thing. Nor can the mullahs reasonably expect their miseries to end anytime soon - at least, not if they've been paying attention to the administration's policy toward North Korea. For decades, the Iranian regime has exported extremism, mayhem and chaos throughout the Middle East.
PROTESTS & HUMAN RIGHTS
Iran said on Wednesday that any figures on casualties during the country's bloody protests over petrol price hikes were "speculative, not reliable" unless confirmed by Tehran, the country's U.N. mission spokesman Alireza Miryousefi tweeted. "The baseless allegations and fabricated figures by biased Western entities do not shake government's determination in making prudent economic decisions while respecting human rights of its people including to freely exercise their right to protest in a peaceful environment," he tweeted.
The French government said on Wednesday it was deeply concerned by reports of many deaths during protests in Iran and called on Tehran to respect its international human rights duties. France "expresses its deep concern over reports of the deaths of many demonstrators in recent days," Foreign ministry spokeswoman Agnes von der Muhll told reporters in a daily online briefing. "France calls on Iran to respect its international human rights obligations."
With internet connections cut off across the country by authorities in Iran after days of bloody protests, Iranians are scrambling to understand what is happening beyond what little has come out in official channels. On Tuesday, Amnesty International reported at least 106 people have been killed since the protests against a fuel subsidy cut began over the weekend. The report cites videos and eyewitness accounts that have trickled out of the country, an effort complicated by the internet restrictions.
Iranian dual nationals are among those arrested since last week during unrest over a petrol price hike, the semi-official Fars news agency reported on Wednesday. Citing security sources, Fars reported that detained German, Turkish and Afghan dual nationals had been trained and funded by foreign services to carry out operations for destroying infrastructure and stirring up civil disobedience.
Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards said several alleged ringleaders of the recent unrest in the country have been arrested by intelligence services. The unidentified individuals had links to foreign security services, the Guard's official news service Sepah News reported Thursday, citing spokesman General Ramezan Sharif. The arrests were made in the provinces of Alborz, Tehran, Fars and oil-rich Khuzestan, which borders Iraq. On Tuesday, the London-based human rights group Amnesty International said at least 106 people had been killed in protests since Friday that erupted across Iran after the government increased gasoline prices.
The most serious protests Iran has seen at least since 2017 were triggered by a government decision to raise gasoline prices, but the unrest took a broader anti-establishment turn. Anger has deepened in Iran since the last demonstrations. U.S. President Donald Trump's all-out offensive on Iran's economy has plunged the country into a deep slump, and the cleric-led regime has offered no effective reply. Why hike gas prices? Iran, a major oil producer, has some of the most heavily subsidized gasoline in the world.
"Let all friends and foes know that we pushed back the enemy in the recent security war," Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei declared in a speech Nov. 19. Khamenei was referring to a wave of deadly demonstrations that has gripped the Islamic Republic since last Friday after an overnight announcement of higher gasoline prices and a contentious rationing scheme. The protests, according to Khamenei, were not the "people's job" but a "security" conspiracy now thwarted.
Iran rejected human rights watchdog Amnesty International's death toll at more than 100 in recent protests as "fabricated", calling the group a "biased" organisation. Tehran's UN spokesman Alireza Miryousefi described Amnesty's figure of 106 dead in the demonstrations as part of a "disinformation campaign waged against Iran from outside the country".
Iran says its security forces have arrested several dual nationals in Karaj near Tehran during anti-government demonstrations that were triggered by a gas price hike on Friday November 15. The announcement plays into the hands of Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and President Hassan Rouhani who have said U.S., Israel and "some regional reactionary states," meaning Saudi Arabia have been behind the nationwide protests that have rocked Iran for six days now.
A website linked to the Islamic Republic Government official daily, Iran, said on Wednesday that the damage to the public properties in the first three days of widespread protests amounted to 23.3 trillion rials (approximately $700 million). Enraged people have been protesting since November 15 in more than 100 cities in Iran against a large hike in the price of gasoline and voice their disapproval of the Islamic Republic. The price hike triggered a series of protests across Iran that, in many cases, led to violent clashes between heavily armed security forces, plainclothesmen, and demonstrators.
The European Union on Thursday urged Iran to show "maximum restraint" in handling protests that have rocked the country in recent days, urging an end to violence. Demonstrations erupted in sanctions-hit Iran on Friday, hours after the price of petrol was raised by as much as 200 percent and unrest spread to at least 40 urban centers, with officials confirming five deaths. A spokeswoman for the EU expressed condolences to the families of the dead and called for dialogue to resolve the tensions.
U.S.-IRAN RELATIONS & NEGOTIATIONS
U.S. Vice President Mike Pence in a tweet has expressed support for the Iranian people amid anti-Islamic Republic protests across Iran. Pence says, as Iranians protest the "Ayatollahs in Tehran continue to use violence and imprisonment to oppress their people. The United States' message is clear: the American people stand with the Iranian people". Previously, Mike Pompeo, the State Department and the White House had issued similar messages in support of the Iranian protesters.
A U.S. aircraft carrier strike group sailed through the strategic Strait of Hormuz on Tuesday amid heightened tensions in the Persian Gulf region. It was the first time a U.S. carrier group passed through the vital waterway since Iran's June downing of a U.S. drone in the area. A statement by the U.S. Navy said the carrier strike group Abraham Lincoln sailed through the strait without incident.
When people in Iran began protesting a rise in gas prices last Friday, Mina, an Iranian American based in Washington, DC, wasn't sure what to feel. She had spoken with family members in the country that day; their accounts of the demonstrations were "not particularly alarming," she says. By Saturday evening, when the Iranian government instituted a near-total internet blackout, Mina began to panic. "I couldn't get hold of anyone over Instagram or Telegram, which is how I usually reach out to friends and family in Iran," she says. "It was as if a switch was turned off. I stayed up all night, and I began to feel desperate to know what was going on."
Documents obtained years ago by the family of retired FBI agent Robert Levinson, who has been missing in Iran for more than a decade, may provide the most convincing evidence yet that he was arrested and held by Iranian intelligence agents after a new statement from the country recently came to light.
MILITARY/INTELLIGENCE MATTERS & PROXY WARS
A new public report, Iran's Military Power, produced by the Pentagon's Defense Intelligence Agency, details how the 40-year-old Islamic regime boosts its relatively weak conventional forces with "a hybrid approach to warfare" that relies on missiles, naval forces, and proxies to threaten its neighbors. "Iran's military strategy is primarily based on deterrence and the ability to retaliate against an attacker," said Christian Saunders, a senior Iran analyst with the DIA at a briefing for reporters at the Pentagon yesterday.
IRANIAN INTERNAL DEVELOPMENTS
Iran's shutdown of domestic Internet access as part of a crackdown on anti-government protests has stretched beyond four days, an unprecedented outage that has caused growing harm to the economy. London-based Internet monitoring group NetBlocks posted a tweet early Thursday in Iran, saying the "near-total" Internet shutdown had surpassed 100 hours since it began late Saturday. "Digital rights are human rights: access must be restored to all Iranians," the group added.
On Nov. 15, the government in Tehran raised prices for gasoline - setting off a wave of protests that has yet to subside. The unrest has become so intense that the authorities decided to cut off the entire country from the Internet. That's made it much more difficult for Iranians to communicate with the outside world - and vice versa. Group conversations on WhatsApp, Telegram and other messaging apps are frozen in time. Foreign emails sent to friends inside the country go undelivered. Iranian Instagram - a vital domain for the self-expression of ordinary Iranians - has no new images.
Stockholm's international airport. His papers were in order; he was traveling on a visa issued by Italy, good for the entire Schengen Area of the European Union. So he must have been startled when Swedish officials took him into a room and began to interrogate him about his past. Nouri is still in detention today, awaiting a decision by Swedish prosecutors on whether he should face trial for allegedly participating in crimes against humanity.
Anti-government protesters are still in the streets across Iran, though a nationwide internet shutdown and state control of the media mean that the exact scale of the demonstrations is difficult to know. Amnesty International said Tuesday that "credible reports" indicated security forces had killed at least 106 protesters since last week-though the real figure could be higher. The unrest presents a significant challenge to Iran's leadership, which is perhaps why the crackdown has been swift-faster than the response to similar protests that began two years ago.
RUSSIA, SYRIA, ISRAEL, HEZBOLLAH, LEBANON & IRAN
The French government urged Iran on Wednesday to refrain from destabilizing actions in Syria and said it remained committed to Israel's security. Israel said its aircraft struck dozens of Iranian and Syrian military targets in Syria on Wednesday in retaliation for rockets fired towards Israel a day earlier. "France reaffirms its unwavering commitment to Israel's security," Foreign ministry spokeswoman Agnes von der Muhll told reporters in a daily online briefing.
The Israeli Air Force's strikes against targets in Syria mark the latest stage in a developing struggle between Israel and Iran, one that inevitably risks a much broader conflict. Iran is eager to bolster its military footprint in Syria. Israel is just as eager to stop it.But Iran shows no sign of faltering. It is developing its military capabilities and showing a greater self-confidence. The two players are struggling to establish new "rules" of deterrence, but the risk is that as the level of their military exchanges increases, so the risk of an all-out conflict grows too.
Iran is continuing construction on an army base along the Iraq-Syria border, according to satellite images taken Sunday and obtained by Fox News. The base in eastern Syria had been partially destroyed during airstrikes in early September, said the report. But it stressed that the new images, examined by analysts at ImageSat International (ISI), showed eight zones of construction or reconstruction.
Journalists are being harassed by Hezbollah supporters for their positive coverage of Lebanon's protests, according to television station Al Jadeed. On Tuesday, dozens of the Iran-backed party's followers arrived outside the channel's building on motorbikes to protest against Al Jadeed calling out Hezbollah and allied party Amal for failing to reprimand supporters who harass journalists.
Boycotting Israel is a failure, and has only helped that country while damaging Arab nations that have long shunned the Jewish state, according to a small new group of liberal-minded Arab thinkers from across the Middle East who are pushing to engage with Israel on the theory that it would aid their societies and further the Palestinian cause.
On one of Beirut's main commercial streets, store owners are cutting salaries by half or considering shutting down. Shops advertise sales, but still can't draw in customers. The only place doing a thriving business: the store that sells safes, as Lebanese increasingly stash their cash at home. It's a sign Lebanese fear their country's financial crisis, which has been worsening for months, could tip over into disaster.
GULF STATES, YEMEN, & IRAN
Saudi Arabia's King Salman struck a defiant note against the kingdom's enemies, saying on Wednesday that missile and drone strikes it blames on Iran had not halted development and reiterating that Riyadh will not hesitate to defend itself. In an annual address to the appointed Shura Council, he called again on the international community to stop Tehran's nuclear and ballistic missile programs and halt regional intervention, saying it was time to stop the "chaos and destruction" generated by Iran, according to prepared remarks.
Arab League Secretary General Ahmed Aboul Gheit condemned on Wednesday Iran for its official recognition of the Houthi militias and for transferring the Yemeni embassy in Tehran over to them. This step is flagrant violation of diplomatic norms and blatant violation of the United Nations Charter, Vienna Convention and relevant Security Council resolutions, he said. An official source at the Arab League said the move reflects Iranian "insistence in pursuing its hostile policy aimed at destabilizing Yemen, which will in turn threaten the security of its neighbors."
OTHER FOREIGN AFFAIRS
Iran's foreign ministry summoned the Swiss ambassador in Tehran on Wednesday over U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo's support for protesters demonstrating about fuel price hikes, the official IRNA news agency reported. Iran told the Swiss envoy, who represents U.S. interests in the Islamic Republic because Iran and the United States do not have formal diplomatic ties, that the official U.S. statements were an interference in Iran's internal affairs.