Protesters press for change in Iran

15th December 2018

Iran protests

 Protests continue to engulf Iran

A wave of protests has gripped Iran throughout 2018 since demonstrations engulfed 85 cities across the country last January.  The protests are engaging the low paid, underemployed and disenfranchised, through to industrial workers in the steel and sugar industries and professional workers such as teachers.  There is no strand of Iranian society which has not been touched by the protests.  The regime is struggling to contain nationwide discontent. 

At the beginning of November teachers went on strike for two consecutive days across 27 major cities in Iran. The action was the second round of strikes since mid-October, aimed at putting pressure upon the government to carry out educational reforms and end mismanagement. The teachers’ action is also protesting against low wages and the violations of the educational rights of students and minorities.

Teachers are also demanding the release of imprisoned teacher trade unionists, an end to indiscriminate investigations and the ongoing arrests of union activists.

The protests by teachers have been supported by students who are increasingly recognising that the circumstances of their educators will impact upon their learning and future job opportunities.  Support has included student protesters at Tehran University, holding pictures of imprisoned teachers, interrupting a speech being delivered by Iranian President Hassan Rouhani.  The fact that students and teachers are feeling sufficiently emboldened to take action, which would have been unheard of just a few years ago in Iran, underlines the extent of the growing crisis inside the country.

Unrest has also been long running in the steel industry in Iran.  Workers at the Iran National Steel Industry Group (INSIG), in Ahwaz, have gone on strike numerous times in recent months to demand overdue wages. In June, many workers were rounded up by security forces and freed only when other workers launched protests.

As well as their immediate economic demands, steel workers are increasingly linking their situation to corruption at the highest levels of the Islamic Republic and articulating demands for political change.  This reflects many of the slogans echoed by teachers and students, adding to the growing sense of a crisis of political legitimacy in the country.

The same pattern is evident at the Haft Tapeh sugar cane facility, where workers went on ten continuous days of strike action in November, in protest at months of unpaid wages.  The political nature of the dispute was reflected in the chanting of slogans such as “hail to the workers, down with the dictator.”

The response of the Islamic Republic’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, to nationwide unrest among the millions of ordinary workers is that there is a “foreign plot” to overthrow the regime.

Since the US pulled out from the Iran nuclear deal in May and re-instituted two sets of sanctions targeting the Islamic Republic’s economy, the currency in Iran has been nosediving, affecting the value of wages and impacting upon the purchasing power of ordinary Iranians.

The deepening of sanctions by the United States, which came into play on 5th November, will only exacerbate this situation. The ability of Iran to trade on international markets is being restricted to the point where the US is effectively implementing a trade embargo.

There can be no doubt about the anti-people credentials of the Iranian regime.  For over 40 years the Islamic Republic has been to the forefront in its abuse, arrest and torture of the political opposition, trade unionists, women’s organisations and in suppressing student protests.  The regime in Iran is only matched in its vicious response to internal criticism by the United States’ key allies in the region, Israel and Saudi Arabia.

However, the sanctions imposed by the United States are not about acting in the interests of the Iranian people and freeing them from an oppressive regime.  The US sanctions are entirely about the power balance in the Middle East, with the US seeking to impose its will and maximise control of the region’s resources.

Ironically, the path being pursued by Trump was initiated under President Obama, as part of the United States’ New Middle East Plan, to reassert influence and bolster resource control in the region.  Obama’s version of the Plan resulted in the nuclear deal in 2015 and a more nuanced approach to containing the perceived threat of Iran to the regional power balance.

Not surprisingly, for Trump there are no such niceties.  To all intents and purposes, the gloves are off and the New Middle East Plan mark 2 is simply to bring Iran to its knees, whatever the cost to the prospects for peace in the region or to the plight of the people of Iran.

The worst case scenario, a military strike on Iran, is something many in the US administration have not taken off the table.  Western foreign policy, specifically that of the United States, is currently treading a very fine line from which one slip could plunge the region into war.

It is vital however, that whatever form change in Iran takes, it is based on the will of the Iranian people, not the will of external forces.  Solidarity with the people of Iran in their struggle for peace, human rights and democracy is more vital now than ever.

A democratic Iran would still face the threat of political sanctions and the ongoing danger of military intervention, by the US or one of its proxies in the region, but would nevertheless be a huge step forward for democracy in the Middle East.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sanctions step up threat of war

26th August 2018

Donald-Trump-Iran-1000286

 Donald Trump continues to ramp up tensions with Iran

The next step in the undeclared war on Iran has been taken by the United States, with the first wave of sanctions in place, following the unilateral withdrawal of the US from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).  Jane Green reports on the short term impact and possible long term consequences.

The JCPOA, widely known as the Iran nuclear deal, was agreed in 2015 by the United States, Russia and the European Union to halt the domestic uranium enrichment programme in Iran, in exchange for the relaxation of previously imposed sanctions.  The deal was being monitored by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and, up until the most recent inspection earlier in 2018, Iran was deemed to be following the terms of the agreement.

US President Donald Trump has never been a fan of the deal and promised to withdraw as part of his election campaign rhetoric.  For Trump, relaxing sanctions on Iran simply allows the regime in Tehran to draw down international resources which it can then use to support its adventurous foreign policy, through what the US deems to be its proxies in the Middle East.

There can be no doubt about the anti-people credentials of the Iranian regime.  For over 40 years the Islamic Republic has been to the forefront in its abuse, arrest and torture of the political opposition, trade unionists, women’s organisations and in suppressing student protests.  The regime in Iran is only matched in its vicious response to internal criticism by the United States’ key allies in the region, Israel and Saudi Arabia.

However, the sanctions imposed last week by the United States, which will be further intensified on 4th November, are not about acting in the interests of the Iranian people and freeing them from an oppressive regime.  The US sanctions are entirely about the power balance in the Middle East, with the US seeking to impose its will and maximise control of the region’s resources.

Ironically, the path being pursued by Trump was initiated under President Obama, as part of the United States’ New Middle East Plan, to reassert influence and bolster resource control in the region.  Obama’s version of the Plan resulted in the JCPOA, a more nuanced approach to containing the perceived threat of Iran to the regional power balance.

For Trump there are no such niceties.  To all intents and purposes, the gloves are off and the New Middle East Plan mark 2 is simply to bring Iran to its knees, whatever the cost to the prospects for peace in the region or to the plight of the people of Iran.

The latest round of US sanctions has resulted in those European companies which had begun to re-engage with Iran, in putting plans on hold.  German car and truck manufacturer, Daimler, has dropped plans to expand its business in Iran.  French companies, Peugeot and Renault, have suspended operations in Iran and have said they will comply with the US sanctions.

French energy giant, Total, has said it will quit the multibillion-dollar South Pars gas project if it cannot secure a waiver from the U.S. sanctions.

Total signed a contract in 2017 to develop Phase II of the South Pars field with an initial investment of $1 billion and has not yet said what it will do with its 30 percent stake should it pull out. It has until 4th November to wind down its Iran operations, barring any surprise exemption.

The widespread withdrawal and suspension of economic activity by European companies is remarkable because the US sanctions have no international force and no United Nations backing.  The US strategy is essentially that of the playground bully.  Companies are free to deal with Iran if they choose but they may find it difficult to do business in markets with the US.  For most companies the choice between sticking with Iranian business or losing access to the US market is no choice at all.  The United States knows this and the international community appears powerless to prevent it.

The latest round of sanctions will cripple even further an already crumbling Iranian economy.  The confrontational position taken by the US is encouraging the hardliners in Iran to feel emboldened.  Former president Ahmadinejad has recently called upon current President Rouhani to resign.  Those who have always opposed the JCPOA are now regarding the word of the US as valueless and are seeking to turn the current turmoil to their advantage.

Further information at www.codir.net

 

 

 

 

 

Pouring gasoline on the fire

7th May 2018

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Netanyahu alleges Iranian nuclear capability

Events in the Middle East are building towards a critical point over the coming days with a combination of key decisions and key anniversaries combining to make what could be a potentially explosive mix of circumstances.  Added to which is the volatility of the key protagonists, not least US President, Donald Trump and Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, who have done their best to ramp up tensions in recent weeks.

Further uncertainty, provided by the theocratic dictatorships of Saudi Arabia and Iran, locked in a struggle for supremacy in the Muslim world, means that the chances of emerging from the next fortnight without a significant flashpoint are precarious.

The first key date is 12th May, when Donald Trump has a deadline by which to decide whether the US will continue to adhere to the terms of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), which limits the capacity for Iran to develop nuclear technology.  The deal was signed in 2015 under the Obama administration and engaged the key EU nations along with the US, China and Russia.  In spite of the fact that the deal has barely made an impact upon the international sanctions imposed upon the Iranian regime, Trump regards the deal as “the worst deal in history” and has pledged to pull the US out of it.

The Israelis and Saudis, in a somewhat unholy alliance, back the US on the basis that anything which brings pressure to bear upon Iran, weakening the chances of Iranian economic recovery, is in their interest.   In a bizarre television performance last week Netanyahu took to the airwaves in Israel to allegedly reveal evidence of Iran’s development of nuclear weapons technology.

Quite where Netanyahu sourced his information is unclear, as the inspection regime headed by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), as part of the JCPOA, has verified 10 times, most recently in February of this year, that Iran is in compliance.

Netanyahu has stated that Israel is prepared to go to war with Iran in order to stop Iranian influence in the war of intervention in Syria, stating,

“We are determined to block Iran’s aggression against us even if this means a struggle. Better now than later.  Nations that were unprepared to take timely action to counter murderous aggression against them paid much heavier prices afterwards. We do not want escalation, but we are prepared for any scenario.”

Iran’s aggression against Israel appears to be the support provided to the government of President Assad in Syria.  This has resulted in the striking of Iranian targets inside Syria, by the Israelis, several times in recent weeks.

The provocation from Netanyahu and Trump is matched in kind by Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, who has pitched in to suggest that,

“If the United States leaves the nuclear agreement, you will soon see that they will regret it like never before in history.  Trump must know that our people are united, the Zionist regime (Israel) must know that our people are united.”

Iran has said that if the US reimposes sanctions it may resume enriching uranium.

Israel on the other hand has an undeclared nuclear arsenal of an estimated 200 nuclear warheads and is not a signatory to the international non-proliferation treaty.

The next date of significance, 14th May, is the 70th anniversary of the founding of the state of Israel.  It is closely followed by the day commemorated by Palestinians as the Nakba or ‘catastrophe’ on 15th May when thousands were driven from their land to make way for the Israeli state.

The wave of protests building up to these dates has already seen the Israeli Defence Force shoot dead 40 Palestinian protesters and injure countless others, as peaceful protests have been targeted by the Israeli state with live ammunition.

Jerusalem’s status has been a major obstacle in peace negotiations.  The international community, through the United Nations, hold that sovereignty over the city should be agreed between the two sides. Palestinians claim East Jerusalem as a capital of a future independent state, but Israel captured it in 1967. It later annexed the city and claims the entire area as its “eternal and undivided” capital.

During the course of this week of significant anniversaries the contribution of the US will be to move its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.  Writing in Israeli paper Haaretz, Ilan Goldenberg, who was part of the US team during the 2013-14 Israeli-Palestinian negotiations stated that the embassy move,

“…could explode – and we could find ourselves in the middle of a new war between Israel and Hamas in Gaza. Nobody knows, but it is irresponsible for the US to be dumping gasoline on this potential fire.”

European leaders, Emmanuel Macron of France, Angela Merkel of Germany, even UK Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson has attempted to persuade Donald Trump this week not to cut loose from the Iran deal and open the pandora’s box which would follow.  Will Trump listen to reason?  The track record so far is not good.  The clock is ticking….

 

 

Trump calls time on Iran deal

15th October 2017

TrumpIran DealPresident Donald Trump begins the undoing of the Iran deal

The decision of US President, Donald Trump, to de-certify the international deal with Iran has brought condemnation across the world.  The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has repeatedly found that the Islamic Republic of Iran has not contravened the terms of the 2015 nuclear deal agreed with Western powers.  There is no indication from the United States State Department that Iran has not been in compliance with the deal.

Formally, the 2015 deal is an international agreement, which cannot be undone by the actions of one signatory.  The UK, Russia, France, China and Germany, have all indicated that they remain committed to the deal.  Only the reactionary government of Israel and the dictatorship in Saudi Arabia have endorsed the action of the United States.  However, there is no doubt that Trump’s action sends a clear statement of intent.

Trump’s action passes the question of whether to re-impose sanctions back to the US Congress where, it is widely reported, there is unlikely to be an appetite to unpick the agreement and risk fall out with partners in Europe.  However, the US House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee in the past week has made clear its intention to ‘tighten up’ the workings of the 2015 agreement.  This would include a unilateral expansion of the remit of the deal, to cover new areas such as Iran’s ballistic missile programme and its support for allies and proxies elsewhere in the region.

The unravelling of the deal then is already on the radar of lawmakers in the US.  This could mean that the opposition of European powers could soon be undermined and the deal quickly fragmented, in spite of their defence of it in the first 24 hours after Trump’s remarks.

Inside Iran, President Hassan Rouhani does support the deal as a means to free the Iranian economy from the constraints of sanctions and give his government some economic breathing space.  While Rouhani is characterised as a moderate in the West he has done nothing to change the appalling human rights record of the Iranian regime.  However, Rouhani has no interest in direct conflict with the United States and will work to avoid it, in spite of his poor record on domestic issues.

The Rouhani government though is only one player in the Iranian political scene.  The Supreme Leader, Ayotollah Ali Khamenei, wields ultimate power in the theocratic system, with the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) as the means of enforcement.  There can be no doubt that more conservative elements within the Iranian regime would not be against adopting a more adversarial position with the United States, which could ultimately lead to an escalation of tensions in Iran and the wider region.

For Trump and his backers in the US, undermining the deal is just one element of the wider strategy to tackle Iranian support for Hamas and Hezbollah and to shore up US regional hegemony.  It is also about US pique at the fact that Iranian support for President Assad has helped roll back US and Saudi led intervention to stoke civil war and conflict in Syria.

In the Middle East regional power balance the US continues to back its long standing allies in Israel and Saudi Arabia.  While these two regimes are not comfortable bedfellows in other respects, they are united by their support from the United States and their mutual condemnation of the Islamic Republic of Iran.  Anything that the US can do to undermine the Iranian regime will be supported in Riyadh and Tel Aviv.  Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, was first out of the blocks to applaud Trump’s statement.

Hardline conservatives already control the White House in the United States.  Tightening the terms of the deal and stepping up economic sanctions can only increase the likelihood of hardline conservatives gaining more overt support in Iran.  For the people of Iran and the people of the Middle East these are not good outcomes.  For all its flaws and limitations the existing deal is at least a step in the direction of détente.  For the people of Iran any threat to peace is a threat to the ongoing struggle for democracy inside Iran.  Any threat to the struggle for democracy in Iran is a threat to the stability of the entire Middle East.