Protests flared across Iran for a second day on Saturday, with angry crowds calling for the ouster of the regime in unrest incited by a steep increase in officially set gasoline prices but that quickly broadened to include other grievances. At least six people were dead after security forces clashed with protesters, according to Persian language news outlets. Iran was also experiencing a "near-total national internet shutdown," according to NetBlocks, which monitors cybersecurity.
The United States on Sunday condemned the use of "lethal force" and "severe communications restrictions" against demonstrators in Iran, the White House said. "The United States supports the Iranian people in their peaceful protests against the regime that is supposed to lead them," the White House said in a statement. "We condemn the lethal force and severe communications restrictions used against demonstrators."
The latest anti-regime protests in Iran look like a major political event, and judging by its vigorous and violent response the regime agrees. Now is a moment for the political left and right in the U.S. and Europe to unite in support of the Iranian people. The protests erupted in several cities across the country in response to government increases of 50% in fuel prices. The increase raises the price of a liter of gasoline to only about 35 cents, or 50 cents a gallon. But the reaction to the increase reveals the desperation and anger of Iranians as the economy falters under the pressure of U.S. sanctions.
UANI IN THE NEWS
...Iran's abrupt decision to raise gasoline prices as its economy worsens under U.S. sanctions and domestic corruption has angered many Iranians, prompting protests in at least five cities and online complaints. "Many Iranians are upset and understandably so," said Jason Brodsky, policy director for U.S. advocacy group United Against Nuclear Iran, in a VOA Persian interview. "We've seen that the people can't win under the alleged pragmatic regime of Rouhani, just as they couldn't win under his [conservative] predecessor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who instituted a similar fuel-rationing system in 2007 that only was discontinued in 2015."
NUCLEAR DEAL & NUCLEAR PROGRAM
The "maximum pressure" policy against the Islamic Republic of Iran is one-year old. So too, ironically, is the Trump administration's policy of providing sanctions waivers for select Iranian nuclear projects permitted by the 2015 nuclear deal. The most troublesome of these waivers - as we have previously written - is for an underground nuclear bunker called Fordow. Recently, Iran undertook enrichment-related activities at the Fordow facility that are prohibited until 2030. In response, Washington should revoke Fordow's sanctions waiver and use the opportunity to clarify its Iran policy.
When the administration of U.S. President Donald Trump ratcheted up its "maximum pressure" campaign last May, with the professed aim of driving Iran's oil exports to zero, it didn't take long for Tehran to respond with escalation of its own. In the months since, Iran has reportedly attacked pipelines, tankers, and one of the world's largest oil processing facilities in Saudi Arabia-prompting a spike not just in oil prices but also in worries about a new war in the Middle East.
SANCTIONS, BUSINESS RISKS, & OTHER ECONOMIC NEWS
At midnight Thursday, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani announced that fuel prices were rising by 50 percent. By Saturday protesters were in the streets in dozens of cities around the country. An Iranian news agency, INSA, said at least one person was killed during gunfire in Sirjan, more than 500 miles southeast of Tehran. Neither the anger nor the government's move was fully unexpected. Iran's economy has taken a hit since President Trump unilaterally withdrew from the nuclear deal in 2018 and renewed U.S. sanctions.
Iran's Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on Sunday backed the gasoline price rises that have caused nationwide protests, which he blamed on the Islamic Republic's opponents and foreign foes. "Some people are no doubt worried by this decision ... but sabotage and arson is done by hooligans not our people," the Iranian Supreme Leader said in a live speech on state TV. Riot police and security forces clashed with demonstrators in Tehran and dozens of other cities on Saturday, Iranian news agencies and social media said, a day after the government increased the price of gasoline.
Grand Ayatollah Safi Golpayegani has called on the Iranian Parliament (Majles) on Saturday, November 16 to revoke the decision to increase the price of gasoline as massive protest demonstrations are raging in the streets of major Iranian cities. Golpaygani who is over 100-years old is one of the most senior and authoritative clerics in Iran. This comes while the Majles was apparently not involved in the decision making and the price rise was approved unconstitutionally based on the decision of the heads of the three branches of the government, who form a special committee to deal with Iran's current economic crisis.
Iranian Deputy Defense Minister Qassem Taqizadeh said Saturday that Tehran was working to expand the range of its cruise missiles and that it will soon be adding a home-grown laser air defense system to its arsenal. Taqizadeh said that Iran's Defense Ministry was working on a new cruise missile prototype that will have "longer operational range and higher precision with the use of advanced digital and mapping technologies," according to the semi-official Fars News Agency. He said the prototype would pass the testing stage in the near future.
PROTESTS & HUMAN RIGHTS
Iran's supreme leader on Sunday endorsed a government decision to cut fuel subsidies and warned demonstrators against clashing with security forces, raising fears of a crackdown as the economy falters under U.S. sanctions. In a televised address, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said he supports the measure to push up gasoline prices and ration supplies, a move designed to raise funds for cash handouts to the poor. The abrupt decision, announced Friday, sparked demonstrations in about two dozen locations across the country as residents already grappling with soaring inflation called on the government to reverse the hike.
Iranian security forces detained hundreds protesting a sudden surge in fuel prices, signaling there would be little tolerance for unrest sweeping the sanctions-battered country. Thousands took to the streets in several cities after authorities unexpectedly raised gasoline prices by as much as three times on Thursday. Motorists blocked highways in Tehran amid dense snowfall. Some set fire to bank branches and stores, according to the semi-official Fars news agency.
Iran's Interior Minister Abdolreza Rahmani Fazil has said security forces will act against those protesting a nationwide increase in gas prices if the "vandalism" continues, according to state-run Press TV. Demonstrations erupted in several cities across the country Friday following Thursday's announcement by Iran's National Oil Company (NIOPDC) of at least a 50% increase in gas prices. "Several" people have died in the protests, Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei, said in a speech Sunday.
Riot police and security forces clashed with demonstrators in Tehran and dozens of cities across Iran on Saturday, Iranian news agencies and social media said, as protests against a rise in gasoline prices turned political. The reports said demonstrators chanted anti-government slogans around the country, a day after the government increased the price of regular gasoline to 15,000 rials ($0.13) a liter from 10,000 rials and rationed it. State television said police clashed with what it called rioters in some cities and fired teargas to disperse them.
President Hassan Rouhani warned on Sunday that "anarchy and rioting" would not be tolerated after fuel price hikes led to deadly mass protests throughout Iran. An estimated 87,000 people took part in the demonstrations, the semi-official Fars news agency reported, and at least two people were killed. Dozens of banks and stores were set on fire or damaged in the violence and about 1,000 arrests were made. "People have the right to protest, but that is different from riots," Rouhani was quoted as saying. "We cannot let insecurity in the country through riots."
As gasoline price-increase protests spread to a dozen cities in Iran, exiled prince Reza Pahlavi tweeted Friday that the Islamic Republic has brought only poverty and suffering to the Iranian people. The prince's reference was to promises made during the 1979 Iranian revolution when its founder Ayatollah Rouhollah Khomeini promised free electricity, water and public transportation to the people, claiming that the monarchy was corrupt, denying the people the benefits from Iran's vast oil wealth.
U.S.-IRAN RELATIONS & NEGOTIATIONS
U.S. Air Force Chief of Staff David Goldfein said on Saturday he was hopeful a bitter dispute between Gulf Arab states could soon end and urged them to unify military capabilities as tensions with Iran simmer. Washington sees an ongoing political rift that Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and non-Gulf state Egypt have with Qatar as a threat to efforts to contain Iran and has pushed for a united front. However, in a sign the dispute may be easing, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Bahrain said this week they would compete in regional soccer tournament in Qatar despite a boycott they have imposed on Doha.
Iran's foreign ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi slammed US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo for backing protesters in Iran on Sunday, describing a tweet from Washington's top diplomat as "hypocritical." Pompeo said that the US supported the demonstrations that erupted in several cities across the country Friday after Iran's National Oil Company (NIOPDC) announced increases of 50% to 300% in gas prices. "Iran's noble nation knows well that such hypocritical statements are completely void of sincere sympathy," Mousavi responded on Sunday, according to state-run news agency IRNA.
Amid large anti-government protests in Iran, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo retweeted Saturday a previous message sent to the Iranian people in July 2018, reminding them, "The United States is with you". Mr. Pompeo had sent a message last year saying, "The United States hears you. The United States supports you. The United States is with you". In his November 16 tweet, Pompeo said, "As I said to the people of Iran almost a year and a half ago: The United States is with you."
IRANIAN INTERNAL DEVELOPMENTS
Iran imposed an almost complete nationwide internet blackout on Sunday one of its most draconian attempts to cut off Iranians from each other and the rest of the world as widespread anti-government unrest roiled the streets of Tehran and other cities for a third day. The death toll for the three days of protests rose to at least 12; hundreds were injured; and more than 1,000 people have been arrested, according to semiofficial news agencies like Fars News.
Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, sought to assuage Iranians' concerns on Sunday after an increase in fuel prices ignited deadly unrest as the government comes under pressure at home and in pockets of the region. Violent protests broke out over the weekend in several cities after the Iranian government said Friday it would cut gasoline subsidies. Those subsidies are a sensitive issue for Iranians, who are feeling squeezed by U.S. sanctions imposed on Iran's economy.
Iranian news agencies on Sunday reported the resignation of a member of parliament, Mohammad Qaseem Osmani, representative of Bukan, following a decision to raise fuel prices, which has led to widespread and bloody protests in the country. Mr. Osmani in a speech before the official session of parliament Sunday protested the decision of the Speaker of Parliament Ali Larijani to vote with the president and the head of Judiciary to raise prices, without parliament having a say in it.
RUSSIA, SYRIA, ISRAEL, HEZBOLLAH, LEBANON & IRAN
There will be more danger ahead for the Lebanese uprising. Iran's proxies will continue to orchestrate a dispersal of the protests by force or attrition and fulfill their promises to their leadership. On the surface, Tehran says the revolution is not against Hezbollah but corruption. In reality, however, it is well aware that the uprising has Hezbollah in its crosshairs as well as the government. The militant group cannot escape accusations of corruption and demands for accountability. Hezbollah itself has declared its allegiance to Iran's supreme leader and admitted that its funds and hardware are supplied by Tehran.
He has fought Israel since the 1990s and killed many fighters in Syria's civil war, but the increasing difficulty of working-class life in Lebanon and a popular revolt against the country's leaders has forced Abu Hussein to reevaluate his decades-long service to Hezbollah. The group whose name translates as "the Party of God" has been branded a terrorist organization by the United States since the 1980s. Backed by Iran, it is more powerful than Lebanon's military and holds a political veto on state policies.
Young men chanting the "people want to bring down the regime" gathered outside the office of Lebanese legislator Mohammed Raad, the powerful head of Hezbollah's parliamentary bloc. One shirtless man grabbed a metal rod and swung it at the sign bearing Raad's name, knocking it out of place as others cheered.
GULF STATES, YEMEN, & IRAN
Qatar had advance knowledge on an Iranian attack on four commercial vessels in the Gulf of Oman in May and may have failed to warn its U.S., French and British allies, a western intelligence report alleges. The report, obtained exclusively by Fox News, claims that Qatar had prior knowledge of the May 12 attack of two Saudi tankers, a Norwegian tanker and a UAE bunkering ship near the port of Fujairah in the vital waterway, which connects the Strait of Hormuz to the Indian Ocean, near the United Arab Emirates.
IRAQ & IRAN
In mid-October, with unrest swirling in Baghdad, a familiar visitor slipped quietly into the Iraqi capital. The city had been under siege for weeks, as protesters marched in the streets, demanding an end to corruption and calling for the ouster of the prime minister, Adil Abdul Mahdi. In particular, they denounced the outsize influence of their neighbor Iran in Iraqi politics, burning Iranian flags and attacking an Iranian consulate. The visitor was there to restore order, but his presence highlighted the protesters' biggest grievance: he was Maj. Gen. Qassim Suleimani, head of Iran's powerful Quds Force, and he had come to persuade an ally in the Iraqi Parliament to help the prime minister hold onto his job.
Iraq closed its southern Shalamcheh border crossing with Iran to travellers from both countries on Saturday, an Iraqi security source and an Iranian diplomat said. The security source said Tehran had demanded the closure because of ongoing public protests in both Iran and Iraq. The border would remain shut until further notice but would not affect goods or trade, the security source and the diplomat said.