Iran Digest Week of March 23 - 30

Iran Digest

Week of March 23 - 30

AIC’s Iran digest project covers the latest developments and news stories published in Iranian and international media outlets. This weekly digest is compiled by Research Fellow Shiva Darian and Communications Associate Shahab Moghadam. Please note that the news and views expressed in the articles below do not necessarily reflect those of AIC.  

US-Iran Relations

Iran angered by US imposition of cyber sanctions

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Iran has railed against US sanctions imposed on 10 citizens and a tech firm accused of cyber attacks on at least 320 universities worldwide, along with US firms and government agencies.
Tehran called the sanctions a gimmick that was provocative, illegal and unjustified.
The Mabna Institute is accused of stealing 31 terabytes of "valuable intellectual property and data".
Nine of the 10 individuals have been indicted separately for related crimes.
Iranian foreign ministry spokesperson Bahram Qassemi said the new US sanctions were an act of provocation, and that the move would not prevent Iran's technological progress. (BBC News)

Nuclear Accord

John Kerry warns against leaving the Iran deal

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Former secretary of state John Kerry warned Tuesday that if the United States withdraws from the Iran nuclear deal, it will take decades to re-negotiate another set of limitations on Tehran’s nuclear program
Speaking to the World Affairs Council at Villanova University in suburban Philadelphia, Kerry recalled the atmosphere of deep distrust surrounding the talks, particularly between the two countries with a long history of enmity. Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei repeatedly told his envoys they could never trust the United States. Kerry said U.S. allies in the Middle East were urging the Obama administration to bomb Iran, not talk with it.
Despite the pressure, six world powers eventually agreed to lift sanctions and Iran agreed to open up its nuclear facilities to international monitors and abide by curbs on its enriched uranium. Kerry called it the “strictest, most transparent, most accountable arms control agreement on the planet today.” (Washington Post)  

Informant provided FBI evidence Russia aided Iran nuclear program during Obama years

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A former undercover informant says he provided evidence to the FBI during President Obama’s first term that Russia was assisting Iran’s nuclear program even as billions in new U.S. business flowed to Moscow’s uranium industry.
William Douglas Campbell told The Hill his evidence included that Russia was intercepting nonpublic copies of international inspection reports on Tehran’s nuclear program and sending equipment, advice and materials to a nuclear facility inside Iran.
Campbell said Russian nuclear executives were extremely concerned that Moscow’s ongoing assistance to Iran might boomerang on them just as they were winning billions of dollars in new nuclear fuel contracts inside the United States. (The Hill)  

European powers face resistance to Iran sanctions to save nuclear deal

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France, Britain and Germany are struggling to persuade their EU partners to back new sanctions on Iran to preserve its nuclear deal, diplomats said, with Italy doubting whether the measures can stop the United States pulling out in May.
At a closed-door meeting of EU ambassadors in Brussels on Wednesday, London, Paris and Berlin sought EU support for formal approval of the new sanctions in April, after proposing them in mid-March, according to a document seen by Reuters.
But Italy, with support from Spain and Austria, resisted plans to impose travel bans and asset freezes on around 15 Iranians, companies and groups, linked to Iran’s ballistic missile program and role in Syria’s war.
Rome said they would not be enough to persuade U.S. President Donald Trump not to withdraw from the nuclear deal and would endanger burgeoning business ties with Iran. Spain was also wary of the knock-on effects. (Reuters)


Water crisis spurs protests in Iran

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A number of protests have broken out in Iran since the beginning of the year over water, a growing political concern due to a drought which residents of parched areas and analysts say has been exacerbated by mismanagement.
The demonstrations have been relatively small, sporadic and limited to towns around the central city of Isfahan and Khuzestan province in the west. But they have highlighted an issue that played a role in earlier unrest and the authorities have cracked down, while recognizing the need for change.
In early March, the turnout was light in a town near Isfahan, with dozens of farmers chanting the tongue-in-cheek slogan “Death to farmers, long live oppressors!”, according to online videos. A week later the protests became more tense. (Reuters)

Inside Iran

Iran’s Supreme Leader Says Nation Tested But Will Emerge Stronger

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Iran’s supreme leader conceded his country had been tested but insisted it would emerge stronger, in a speech that sought to counter both domestic critics and a hostile U.S. administration.
Anti-government protests this year over a struggling economy and then restrictive dress laws for women have highlighted the different visions for Iran’s future held by more moderate politicians and conservative hardliners. At the same time, containing Iran’s influence has become a centerpiece of President Donald Trump’s foreign policy.
The 1979 revolution “has undergone a test and Iranians have been able to safeguard its values,” Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said in the northeastern city of Mashhad to mark the Persian new year. Iran’s enemies had sought to “overplay” its problems, he said. (Bloomberg News)

Regional Politics

Iran Supplying Weapons To Yemen's Houthi Rebels: France FM

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France on Thursday accused Iran of supplying weapons to Houthi rebels fighting a Saudi-led coalition in Yemen.
"There is a problem in Yemen, it is that the political process has not begun, that Saudi Arabia feels regularly attacked by the Houthis, who are themselves supplied with arms by Iran," French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian told RTL radio.
Iran has repeatedly denied arming the Houthis in Yemen, despite claims by the United States and Saudi Arabia that the evidence of an arms connection is irrefutable.
The Saudi-led coalition on Monday threatened retaliation against arch-foe Iran, accusing it of being behind a barrage of Yemeni rebel missile attacks on the kingdom. (Radio Farda)

Worries of War Between Israel, Iran Increase

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Israel and Iran, with two of the most powerful militaries in the Middle East, appear on a collision course that some experts fear could ignite a regional war that might ultimately drag in the United States and Russia.
The tensions are centered in Israel's northern neighbor Syria, where both Russia and Iran have been emboldened by their success in shoring up the government of President Bashar al-Assad. The war has occasionally spilled across Israel's borders, causing alarm in the Jewish state.
“If a Hezbollah missile or mortar shell hits a kindergarten or a school bus — a terror attack that causes major damage in terms of Israeli lives — this would be a tactical incident that entails a strategic price,” predicts Lior Weintraub, a former Israeli diplomat and now a lecturer at the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya.
“That would be translated into a significant Israeli retaliation and from there you might see a slippery slope.” (VOA News)

Report:  Israeli Stealth Fighters Fly Over Iran

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Two Israeli F-35 fighter jets entered Iranian airspace over the past month, Kuwaiti newspaper Al-Jarida reported on Thursday. The act is a signal of heightened regional tensions, especially in light of recent Israeli military attacks in Syria, including against Iranian bases in the country.
Sources quoted in Al-Jarida stated that two stealth fighters flew over Syrian and Iraqi airspace to reach Iran, and even targeted locations in the Iranian cities Bandar Abbas, Esfahan and Shiraz. 
The report states that the two fighter jets, among the most advanced in the world, circled at high altitude above Persian Gulf sites suspected of being associated with the Iranian nuclear program.
It also states that the two jets went undetected by radar, including by the Russian radar system located in Syria. The source refused to confirm if the operation was undertaken in coordination with the US army, which has recently conducted joint exercises with the IDF. (Jerusalem Post)


How Iran Might Respond to the US Abrogating the Nuclear Deal

By: Sina Azodi

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President Trump has threatened to unilaterally withdraw from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) in May if his demands for “fixing” the deal are not met by Britain, France and Germany (the E3). Iran has categorically rejected any amendments to the nuclear agreement and has argued that it has a range of options to respond if Trump carries out his threat.
Iran’s optimal strategy would be to respond in a way that would mitigate domestic uproar and to the extent possible, protect the country from repercussions. Iran’s national security establishment seems to have come to a strategic decision to stay in the deal if the other parties do and try to isolate and outmaneuver Washington. Therefore, it seems unlikely that Iran would abrogate the JCPOA in its entirety. Rather, it may decide to take limited measures to demonstrate a level of strength and to test the international community’s response.  (Atlantic Council)