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

“Many dead, including women and children, in mindless CHEMICAL attack in Syria. Area of atrocity is in lockdown and encircled by Syrian Army, making it completely inaccessible to outside world. President Putin, Russia and Iran are responsible for backing Animal Assad. Big price to pay. Open area immediately for medical help and verification. Another humanitarian disaster for no reason whatsoever. SICK!”

- U.S. President Donald Trump, in a tweet on Syria chemical attack

 Domestic Affairs
Iranians checking exchange rates at a shop in Tehran (EPA)

The Iranian rial devalued some 20 percent against the U.S. dollar during the past two weeks (BBC). The Iranian government scrambled to contain the currency crisis, prompting panic-buying of hard-to-find dollars amid political and economic uncertainty. The Iranian currency has been steadily losing its value against the dollar since the 1979 Islamic revolution, when one dollar bought 70 rials. This week, one dollar was exchanged for up to 60,000 rials in Tehran due to uncertainty about the economy and the U.S. axing the Iran Deal. Iranians rushed to get hold of stabler foreign tender. In a move to stop further devaluation, the Rouhani administration announced it would unify the official and free market dollar exchange rates on an official rate of 42,000 rials (Bourse & Bazaar).

Steep slide in currency threatens Iran’s economy (New York Times).

What’s behind Iran’s massive capital flight? (Al-Monitor)

Meanwhile, there have been large protests in Khuzestan province after state media insulted Iran’s Arab minority in a recent program (RadioFarda). According to local reports, anger flared after a TV show aired on state media showed a child fixing dolls dressed in different traditional garments onto a map of Iran without a doll representing Arab dress. Nearly half the four million population of Khuzestan are Arab. According to the Human Rights Activists News Agency (HRANA), protesters initially demanded that state TV apologize for disregarding Arabs as an ethnic minority. The demand fell on deaf ears, and soon protesters took to the streets calling for minority rights, including the right for their children to be taught in the Arabic language. The momentum then grew into wider protests against unemployment and poor water management. At least 200 people were arrested during the protests (CHRI).
An Iranian cleric said state media owes an apology to the country’s Arab minority for insulting them (AP).

Esfahan province has seen two consecutive days of street protests against water shortages (VOA).

 Foreign Policy

Israel appeared to have escalated its shadow war in Syria against Iran, with an airstrike against a military base that coordinates Iranian-backed militias (New York Times). Seven Iranian military personnel were killed in the strike on the Tiyas, or T4 airbase near Homs. Iranian state media initially said that three were members of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, but the report was later withdrawn without explanation. Syria, Iran, and Russia have accused Israel of mounting the attack, though Israel has neither confirmed nor denied involvement. Israel has carried out several strikes in Syria in the past, some aimed at stopping what it says is a military buildup by Iran and its regional ally, Hezbollah, along the Syrian-Israeli border. The attack followed a vow by U.S. President Donald Trump to respond to an apparent chemical weapons attack on Saturday by the Syrian government near Damascus. It did not appear to have been in response to that event, raising the possibility that Israel had merely seized the opportunity to take out what it saw as a threat to its own security.

Tehran said that it will stand by Bashar Al-Assad in the event of a U.S.-led strike (The Guardian). Ali Akbar Velayati, a top foreign policy aide to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, met with the Syrian president in Damascus on Thursday. He visited eastern Ghouta earlier in the week and rejected claims that the Syrian government was behind a suspected chemical attack. Velayati met Al-Assad in a show of defiance in the face of possible western retaliation for the attack. He said, “Like before, Iran will stand by Syria under any circumstances.” Adding that, “For seven years, an all-out war has been waged against the Syrian nation and its government led directly by the U.S. Syria is not weaker than seven years ago, nor is America any stronger.”

A senior Iranian foreign policy official warned Israel that its strike on an air base in Syria would “not remain without a response.” (New York Times)

Israel’s prime minister cautioned Iran not to challenge his country’s resolve as Tehran builds up its military presence in neighboring Syria (NBC News). On the eve of Israel’s Holocaust Remembrance Day, Benjamin Netanyahu said, “Our policy can be summed up in three words: aggression against aggression. I have a message to the Iranian rulers—do not test the determination of the State of Israel.”

Israel prepares for possible Iranian retaliation after strike on Syrian air force base (Haaretz).

Senior Israeli defense officials expressed concerns over the implications of last week’s Syria summit in Ankara (Israel Hayom).

Iranian media extensively covered and analyzed the airstrike on the T4 air base in Syria (Al-Monitor). While conservative outlets believe a U.S. military attack on Syria is likely, reformist outlets and figures are urging Iranian officials to avoid escalation.

Have Iran, Russia, and Turkey reached agreement on future Syrian state? (Al-Monitor)

The Iranian comedy series selling the war in Syria (IranWire).

CBS Evening News mistakenly displayed an image of Iran during a segment on military action in Syria (Mediaite).

Also, hackers attacked data centers in Iran (Reuters). According to the Ministry of Communication and Information Technology, “The attack apparently affected 200,000 router switches across the world in a widespread attack, including 3,500 switches” inside Iran. Hackers left the image of a U.S. flag on screens along with a warning: “Don’t mess with our elections.” It’s unclear who carried out the attack. Iran hasn’t meddled in U.S. elections.

Iran’s telecommunications minister criticized the Iranian government’s cyber-attack monitoring center for failing to detect the attack (RadioFarda). Mohammad Javad Azari Jahromi said in a tweet that MAHER, which is the Persian acronym for the Computer-related Events Operation and Coordination Center, “has monitored and controlled the attack and the data centers’ settings have been brought back to normal.” He added that MAHER should have issued a “special warning.” Jahromi promised that his ministry would investigate and deal with the failure.

IRGC to protect Iran’s missiles from cyberwarfare (IranWire).

 Iran Deal

President Rouhani said the United States would regret withdrawing from the nuclear deal, cautioning that Tehran’s response would be stronger than Trump expects (Reuters). Rouhani told a Tehran conference that marked National Nuclear Technology Day: “Iran will not violate the nuclear deal, but if the United States withdraws from the deal, they will surely regret it. Our response will be stronger than what they imagine and they would see that within a week.”

The U.S. Treasury Secretary said that a decision to not renew sanctions relief on May 12 would not necessarily mean Washington had withdrawn from the nuclear deal (Reuters). Speaking at a congressional hearing, Steven Mnuchin said the Trump administration was in talks with allies and would “not do anything abruptly.” He added that “if the president decides not to sign that [waiver], it doesn’t mean we’re necessarily pulling out of the deal. What it means is that the primary and secondary sanctions will go back in place.”

Hardliners renew the prospect of exiting the Non-Proliferation Treaty in case the United States withdraws from the nuclear deal (Al-Monitor).

 Human Rights
Nobel Laureate Shirin Ebadi (Getty Images)

Iranian Nobel Laureate believes regime change “should take place inside Iran and by the people of Iran.” (Bloomberg) In an interview with Bloomberg columnist Eli Lake, the Nobel Peace Prize-winning human rights lawyer Shirin Ebadi said that she was not calling for a military invasion of Iran or any kind of U.S. interference. Ebadi said that the West should implement sanctions that weaken the regime, but do not hurt the people themselves and that the U.S. should establish a channel to the legitimate and independent Iranian opposition—though it is unclear who she is referring to. Ebadi added that she believes “reform is useless in Iran. The Iranian people are very dissatisfied with their current government. They have reached the point and realized this system is not reformable.” In February, a group of prominent Iranian intellectuals, including Ebadi, called for a referendum to establish whether the ruling Iranian establishment is still backed by a majority. Some on social media criticized Ebadi’s comments to Bloomberg View as playing into the hands of warmongers and the Trump administration, given that Lake is a known Iran hawk.

Noam Chomsky and other thought leaders push back on Shirin Ebadi (Iranian).

Hundreds put to death in Iran last year
EU extends Iran sanctions by one year over human rights violations.
Let grieving wife of dead environmentalist leave Iran, son pleads.
Jailed rights defender Golrokh Iraee hospitalized in Tehran.
Political prisoner urges “contentious people” to be the voice of his imprisoned wife.
Teachers’ rights advocate writes letter from prison on revolutionary Iran’s failed promises.
Swedish resident who tried to march through Iran with monarchist flag facing charges.
Iran says imprisonment of British national not linked to U.K. debt.
Inaccessible Louvre exhibit highlights ongoing challenges for disabled in Iran.

Hackers launched attacks on day Supreme Leader issued fatwa on privacy violations.
Rouhani facing backlash over plan to give 100 journalists uncensored internet access.
Tehran city council accepts mayor’s resignation.
What if your favorite app got banned? That’s becoming a reality for millions in Iran.
Women basketball players stranded as incompetent sports officials threaten ban.
+ Tehran censors Rome’s ancient she-wolf.
Iran’s brown bears are closer to the edge than people have realized.

The real danger in Qatar-Gulf feud is Doha getting close to Iran, U.S. officials say.
France and Saudi Arabia agree on need to curb Iranian ‘expansionism’.
Top Iranian cleric warns Hezbollah can raze Haifa and Tel Aviv to the ground.

Nixing the Iran deal would be a boon to China.
Saudi minister doubts that U.S. and Europe can agree on Iran deal.
Turkey slams U.S. Iran sanctions case as ‘legal scandal’.
U.S. judge delays Turkish banker's sentencing in sanctions case.

Oil giants awaiting U.S. decision on JCPOA.
Russia’s Rosneft interested in oil, gas in Iran’s Zagros province.
Iranian banking reforms gain steam after long delay.
What’s really driving currency depreciation in Iran?
Iran raises minimum wage in concession to workers.
Aluminum gets Iran-style crisis as Rusal shut out of market.

The curious case of YouTube shooter Nasim Aghdam.

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