A weekly newsletter on all things Iran.
The Iranist
Week of January 13th

“Former President [Akbar Hashemi] Rafsanjani was a prominent figure throughout the history of the Islamic Republic of Iran. And the United States sends our condolences to his family and loved ones. He was a consequential figure inside Iran. But for what potential impact this could have on Iranian policy I wouldn’t speculate.”

                    – White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest, on the passing of Rafsanjani

 Domestic Affairs

Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani passed away at the age of 82 this week. Aside from being an ally to Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, who founded the Islamic Republic of Iran, Rafsanjani was also what The Economist called the “veteran kingmaker.” During his 40-year political career, Rafsanjani wore many turbans, including speaker of parliament, commander-in-chief during the eight-year Iran-Iraq War, and president from 1989 to 1997. However, the turban he desired the most was supreme leader of Iran, the very title that current Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei holds thanks in part to Rafsanjani. The closest Rafsanjani got to the position was three times being elected to the Assembly of Experts, the Shiite version of the College of Cardinals that determines the next supreme leader. An estimated four million people attended Rafsanjani’s funeral in Tehran, the largest gathering since Khomeini died in 1989. Here are the best articles written on Rafsanjani’s career, the protests at his funeral, and the future of Iranian politics:

Rafsanjani, Iran’s wiliest revolutionary, dies (New Yorker).

Sons of the Iranian Revolution: Rafsanjani, Khamenei, and the friendship-cum-rivalry that shaped a country (The Atlantic).

Death of Iran’s Rafsanjani removes influential voice against hardliners (New York Times).

As protests flare, Iran bids farewell to Rafsanjani (New York Times).

Will Rafsanjani’s death allow President Hassan Rouhani to forge his own path? (Al-Monitor)

Five GCC countries sent their condolences to Tehran over the death of Rafsanjani: Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, and the UAE (AP). Saudi Arabia didn’t express condolences. Instead, state television aired an interview with a member of the Mojahedin-e Khalq (MEK) that linked Rafsanjani with the 1988 massacre in Iranian prisons.

A lot has been said about Rafsanjani himself, but what about the women of his clan? Read more about the Rafsanjani women (IranWire).

 Foreign Policy

A U.S. Navy warship fired warning shots at Iranian boats in the Strait of Hormuz (Reuters). The four Iranian fast boats were within 900 yards (800 meters) and didn’t slow down despite establishing radio contact. The U.S.S. Mahan then fired three warning shots. This is the first incident to take place this year. Last year, President-elect Donald Trump vowed any Iranian ships harassing the U.S. Navy would be “shot out of the water.”

Yesterday marked the one-year anniversary of the detention of 10 sailors aboard two U.S. naval patrol boats after they entered Iranian territorial waters. To commemorate the event, the Iranian government put up a new billboard in Tehran’s Valiasr Square (Above). It reads, “Superior Power” and quotes the Quran:
Indeed Allah will help those who help Him.

Iran plans to send a delegation to Saudi Arabia to discuss the Hajj pilgrimage (AP). Tehran barred Iranians from attending the 2016 Hajj after a stampede killed over 2,400 the year before.


During a meeting of Iran nuclear deal signatories in Vienna known as the Joint Commission, Tehran decided not to upset the JCPOA over the Iran Sanctions Act (ISA) extension by Congress (Reuters). Iran threatened last month to retaliate against the ISA extension, claiming it violated the nuclear deal. While in Austria, diplomats confirmed Russia would be exporting natural uranium to Iran in swap for enriched uranium, per the nuclear deal and with U.S.-backing (AP). Iran already received a similar amount of natural uranium in 2015 as part of the nuclear negotiations. This is the first swap since the deal was implemented. Kazakhstan is pending a second request for export. (Here's the press release)

Senator Bob Corker (R-TN) believes tearing up the nuclear deal would cause a crisis (The Guardian). The chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee told reporters, “To tear it up on the front end, in my opinion, is not going to happen. Instead, we will begin to radically enforce it.”

During his confirmation hearing for secretary of defense, General James Mattis broke away from Trump's comments on the Iran Deal (Politico). He told Congress, “I think it is an imperfect arms control agreement—it's not a friendship treaty. But when America gives her word, we have to live up to it and work with our allies.”

While being vetted for director of CIA, Congressman Mike Pompeo (R-KS) called the Iranians “professionals at cheating.” (CNN)

Secretary of State nominee Rex Tillerson called for a "full review" of the Iran nuclear deal, not ripping it up (Los Angeles Times).

Here's what Tillerson said and didn’t say about nuclear policy (Arms Control Association).

Meanwhile, the first Airbus passenger jetliner was delivered to Iran (Reuters). The new A321 that landed in Tehran is the first of 100 planes purchased after the lifting of sanctions. Hardliners called the delivery of the first Airbus jetliner 'electoral' since the presidential elections are in May (Al-Monitor).


In this cartoon by Mana Neyestani, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei is seemingly content Rafsanjani passed away. He flips the bird at his photo. Khamenei opens the window and sees protests flipping the bird back at him. (Read more about the protests under Domestic Affairs)


Activist Saeed Shirzad on hunger strike against poor prison conditions hospitalized.

+ Reformist journalist Reyhaneh Tabatabaie completes one-year prison sentence.
+ Wife of imprisoned activist Arash Sadeghi resists order to return to prison.
+ Protester Ali Shariati starves in jail while criminals go free.
+ Iranian-Swedish disaster medicine expert imprisoned for nine months is on hunger strike.

+ Twelve alleged drug offenders are at risk of imminent execution.
+ Civil rights activist imprisoned for social media postings released on bail.
+ Telegram registration requirement widens Iranian government snooping powers.
+ The hunger strike, the protest tactic of Gandhi, is vexing Iran’s penal overseers.


+ Ebrahim Raisi: the Iranian cleric emerging as a frontrunner for supreme leader.
+ Tehran wants to increase military spending from 2 percent to 5 percent.

Iranians generally approve of Donald Trump and some aren’t shy to criticize government.

+ Zogby poll suggests Iranians are dissatisfied.

+ Iranian officials to look into suggestions of a link between cancer and satellite jamming.
+ Bad joke lands prominent Iranian comedian Mehran Moderi in deep trouble.
+ Fears for Middle Eastern ‘Big One’ after quake strikes fragile fault line in Iran.
+ Iran’s porn censorship broke browsers as far away as Hong Kong.


+ Trump has option of engaging Tehran and bringing stability to Middle East.
+ Donald Trump and Iran: Yet another hostage crisis.
+ Iran planned terror attacks against Israel advocates in Germany.
+ Tehran welcomes Turkey-Iraq rapprochement.
+ Lebanese President Michel Aoun defends Iran ties after Saudi visit.
+ Activists urge United Nations to cite Russia and Iran war crimes in Syria.
+ Iran warns of efforts made to torpedo Syria truce.
+ Arms seized off coast of Yemen appear to have been made in Iran.


+ Iran nuclear deal is in the crosshairs and may not survive a Trump administration.

+ ExxonMobil and Iran indirectly did business under secretary of State nominee Tillerson.

+ 35 prominent Iranian-Americans sign letter urging Trump to keep Iran Deal.
+ Poll: Nearly 2/3 of U.S. public opposes withdrawing from Iran nuclear deal.
+ How Rouhani’s nuclear deal became his biggest liability.

+ Iran looks to open foreign funding sources for local firms.
+ Tehran approves $11.8 billion of FDI post-sanctions.
+ Iran car sales keep PSA on growth track.
+ Is President Rouhani repeating Ahmadinejad’s tricks in currency market?
+ Deciphering Iran’s sudden currency fluctuations.
+ Iran to build synthetic rubber plant near Turkish border.
+ Tehran in talks to restart selling crude to Philippines.


+ Why the former Empress of Iran collected Western contemporary art.

+ The mysterious masked women of southern Iran.
+ Hafiz, the mystical Persian poet who can help you lead a better life.

+ Boston Festival of Films From Iran pays tribute to Abbas Kiarostami.


Iran successfully tested cancer vaccine on animals.


+ Carlos Queiroz resigns again from his role as Iran coach.
+ Iranians pay respects to late world wrestling champion Takhti.
+ Remembering Gholamreza Takhti, the much-loved sportsman who wrestled the Shah.


National Archives releases selected records concerning the Iran Hostage Crisis.

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