Archive for January 14, 2020

Iranians keep up protests against downing of airliner after arrests announced

January 14, 2020

Source: Iranians keep up protests against downing of airliner after arrests announced | The Times of Israel

Angry demonstrators at universities in Tehran slam regime for initial denials; security forces separate protesters from pro-government counter-demonstrators

Iranian students gather for a demonstration over the downing of a Ukrainian airliner at Tehran University on January 14, 2020. (ATTA KENARE / AFP)

Iranian students gather for a demonstration over the downing of a Ukrainian airliner at Tehran University on January 14, 2020. (ATTA KENARE / AFP)

Protests in Iran over the accidental downing of a Ukrainian passenger plane entered their fourth day on Tuesday.

Iranian social media accounts shared footage said to be of demonstrators, especially in universities in the capital Tehran, protesting the country’s theocratic regime and demanding accountability after officials initially concealed the cause of the crash, which killed all 176 people on board, including several children and an infant.

Iran at first dismissed allegations that a missile had brought down the plane, but in the face of mounting evidence officials acknowledged on Saturday — three days after — that its Revolutionary Guard had shot down the plane by mistake as the force braced for a possible military confrontation with the United States.

AFP correspondents said around 200 mainly masked students gathered at Tehran University on Tuesday, where they were locked in a tense standoff with youths from the Basij militia loyal to the regime.

Mohammad Mozafari@mohmd_mozafari

Fourth day of popular protests in Iran. Students chant: We will save Iran. The Iranian people say: We do not want the Islamic Republic.

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The British ambassador had said he went to a candlelight vigil to pay his respects for the victims of the Ukrainian plane shoot down and left as soon as the chanting began and it turned into a protest.

AVA TODAY@ava_today

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Kept apart by security forces, the groups eventually parted ways.

Alireza Nader@AlirezaNader

“No reforms, no referendum, strike & revolution the way to go.”
Anti regime protests. Tehran University, .

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The shoot down of the plane and the lack of transparency around it has reignited anger in Iran at the country’s leadership. Online videos appeared to show security forces firing live ammunition and tear gas to disperse protests in the streets.

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@kann_news

איראן: המחאה נגד השלטון נמשכת זה היום הרביעי ברציפות. לפי דיווחים של גופי תקשורת אופוזיציוניים, סטודנטים קוראים נגד המשטר בכמה אוניברסיטאות בבירה טהראן. באחד הסרטונים ניתן לשמוע מפגינים קוראים: “אל תפחדו, כולנו כאן יחד” ובסרטון אחר צועקים הסטודנטים “בוגדים”@yoavz

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Also Tuesday, Iran’s judiciary said that 30 people had been detained in the protests, and that some were released, without elaborating further. An Iranian film director who had called for protests in Tehran’s Azadi, or Freedom, Square is among those released.

The protests have been much smaller than the nationwide demonstrations against fuel price hikes that turned deadly in November.

But one commentator said the latest rallies showed there was a “real rift between the people and the authorities.”

“I hope that [police restraint] will continue and that no lives are lost, because this could be a catalyst for more protests,” Mehdi Rahmanian, director of reformist daily Shargh, told AFP.

In another sign of growing dissent, a group of artists canceled their participation in the Fajr festival, held each year on the anniversary of the 1979 Islamic Revolution, according to Hamshahri newspaper, which is owned by Tehran City Hall.

Iranian officials said Tuesday arrests had also been made in the investigation into the downing of the Ukrainian airliner.

Iran’s Judiciary spokesman Gholamhossein Esmaili said “some individuals” were arrested after “extensive investigations.” His statement on the judiciary’s website did not say how many people had been detained or name those arrested.

The plane, en route from Tehran to the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv, was carrying 167 passengers and nine crew members from several countries, including 82 Iranians and 57 Canadians, many of whom were Iranians with dual citizenship. There were several children among the passengers, including an infant.

Supporters of the Basij, a militia loyal to the Islamic Republic regime, attend a memorial for the victims of the Ukraine plane crash at the University of Tehran on January 14, 2020. (ATTA KENARE / AFP)

Iran’s president on Tuesday called for a special court with “a ranking judge and dozens of experts” to be set up to probe the incident.

“The responsibility falls on more than just one person,” President Hassan Rouhani said in a televised speech, adding that those found culpable “should be punished.”

“There are others, too, and I want that this issue is expressed honestly,” he said, without elaborating.

Rouhani called the incident “a painful and unforgivable” mistake and promised that his administration would pursue the case “by all means.”

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani delivers a speech at the Kuala Lumpur Summit in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, December 19, 2019. (AP Photo/Lai Seng Sin)

“This is not an ordinary case. The entire the world will be watching this court,” he said.

Tensions have been escalating since US President Donald Trump pulled the US out of Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal with world powers, then reimposed sanctions that had been lifted under the accord.

The deal has quickly unraveled since then, with Iran steadily breaking away from limits on its nuclear program and Europe unable to find ways to keep Tehran committed.

The US sanctions have devastated Iran’s economy.

Smoke rises during a protest after authorities raised gasoline prices, in the central city of Isfahan, Iran, November 16, 2019. (AP Photo)

On Tuesday, Britain, France and Germany triggered the so-called dispute mechanism action that paves way for possible further sanctions in response to Iran’s moves.

Tensions sharply escalated further after January 3, when a US airstrike killed Iran’s most powerful military commander, Revolutionary Guard general Qassem Soleimani, in Baghdad.

In response, Iran launched ballistic missiles on military bases housing US troops in Iraq to avenge Soleimani’s killing. The Ukrainian plane was shot down in Tehran as Iranian forces were on alert for possible US retaliation.

While Rouhani pointed to mistakes and negligence, he also repeated the government’s line that the plane tragedy was ultimately rooted in US aggression.

Iranians walk past a poster honoring the victims of a Ukrainian passenger jet accidentally shot down in the capital last week, in front of the Amirkabir University in the capital Tehran, on January 13, 2020. (ATTA KENARE/AFP)

“It was the US that made for an agitated environment. It was the US that created an unusual situation. It was the US that threatened and took our beloved [Soleimani],” he said.

Rouhani called the government’s admission that Iranian forces shot down the plane a “first good step.”

He added that Iranian experts who retrieved the Ukrainian plane’s flight recorder, the “black box,” have sent it to France for analysis.

Gen. Amir Ali Hajizadeh, the head of the Guard’s aerospace division, said over the weekend his unit accepts full responsibility for the shoot down. He said when he learned about the downing of the plane, “I wished I was dead.”

In this January 9, 2020 photo released by an official website of the office of the Iranian supreme leader, Gen. Amir Ali Hajizadeh, the head of the Revolutionary Guard’s aerospace division, attends a mourning ceremony for general Qassem Soleimani a day after his forces shot down a Ukrainian airliner, in Tehran, Iran. (Office of the Iranian Supreme Leader via AP)

The incident raised questions about why Iran did not shut down its international airport or airspace the day it was on alert for US military retaliation.

Iran’s Foreign Ministry summoned the British ambassador on Sunday to protest what it said was his presence at an illegal protest. Britain, in turn, summoned Iran’s ambassador on Monday “to convey our strong objections” over the weekend arrest.

Iran’s top prosecutor, Mohammad Javad Montazeri, was quoted in local media Tuesday saying the British ambassador must be expelled from the country as soon as possible.

 

EU states trigger dispute process with Iran for breaches of nuclear deal

January 14, 2020

Source: EU states trigger dispute process with Iran for breaches of nuclear deal | The Times of Israel

‘Dispute mechanism’ over Tehran’s walking back of commitments to 2015 pact allows 2 weeks for resolution of problems ahead of possible sanctions, although period can be extended

Technicians work at the Arak heavy water reactor's secondary circuit, as officials and media visit the nuclear site, near Arak, 150 miles (250 kilometers) southwest of the capital Tehran, Iran, December 23, 2019. (Atomic Energy Organization of Iran via AP)

Technicians work at the Arak heavy water reactor’s secondary circuit, as officials and media visit the nuclear site, near Arak, 150 miles (250 kilometers) southwest of the capital Tehran, Iran, December 23, 2019. (Atomic Energy Organization of Iran via AP)

BRUSSELS — Britain, France and Germany have launched action under the Iran nuclear agreement paving the way for possible sanctions in response to Tehran’s attempts to roll back parts of the deal, European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said Tuesday.

The three countries, which signed the international agreement in 2015 along with the United States, Russia and China, informed Borrell, who supervises the pact, in a letter that they are triggering its “dispute mechanism,” ratcheting up pressure on the Islamic Republic.

The leaders of the three nations said in a statement that they’ve been “left with no choice, given Iran’s actions, but to register today our concerns that Iran is not meeting its commitments.”

The powers said they are referring “this matter to the Joint Commission under the Dispute Resolution Mechanism, as set out” in the nuclear deal.

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas arrives for the weekly cabinet meeting in Berlin, Germany, July 31, 2019. (AP Photo/Michael Sohn)

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said in a statement that the three European countries “could no longer leave the growing Iranian violations of the nuclear agreement unanswered.”

“Our goal is clear: we want to preserve the accord and come to a diplomatic solution within the agreement,” he added. “We will tackle this together with all partners in the agreement. We call on Iran to participate constructively in the negotiation process that is now beginning.”

Borrell insisted that the move does not mean that sanctions will automatically be reimposed.

The mechanism allows two weeks for ministers to resolve any problems, although that period can be extended if all sides agree. If needed, an advisory board would have an extra 20 days to adjudicate.

A technician at the Uranium Conversion Facility just outside the city of Isfahan, Iran, 255 miles (410 kilometers) south of the capital Tehran, February 3, 2007. (AP/Vahid Salemi/File)

The nuclear agreement is aimed at convincing Iran to stop developing atomic weapons in exchange for economic incentives. It’s been on life support since US President Donald Trump unilaterally pulled the United States out in 2018, triggering sanctions that have hurt Iran’s moribund economy. Since then, Tehran has gradually rolled back its commitment to the deal.

After its top general was killed in a US drone attack earlier this month, Iran announced that it would no longer respect limits set on how many centrifuges it can use to enrich uranium. Tehran said the new move was a “remedial step” in line with the deal and that it could be reversed.

 

Iran warns of ‘strong response’ if Europe reimposes nuclear sanctions

January 14, 2020

Source: Iran warns of ‘strong response’ if Europe reimposes nuclear sanctions | The Times of Israel

Tehran’s Foreign Ministry says country ‘fully ready to answer any good will and constructive effort’ to preserve nuclear deal after European states trigger dispute mechanism

Abbas Mousavi, spokesman for Iran's Foreign Ministry, gives a press conference in the capital Tehran on May 28, 2019. (Atta Kenare/AFP)

Abbas Mousavi, spokesman for Iran’s Foreign Ministry, gives a press conference in the capital Tehran on May 28, 2019. (Atta Kenare/AFP)

Iran’s Foreign Ministry warned Tuesday of a “serious and strong response” after Britain, France and Germany triggered the 2015 nuclear deal’s dispute mechanism due to Tehran’s ongoing transgressions of its terms.

The European countries ratcheted up pressure on the Islamic Republic to cease its violations of the landmark deal, stressing in a letter to the European Union’s foreign policy chief that they want to resolve differences through talks while starting the clock on a process that could result in a so-called snapback of United Nations sanctions.

However, while Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi vowed tough retaliation could follow, he added that Tehran was “fully ready to answer any good will and constructive effort” that preserves the nuclear deal.

He was quoted by the official IRNA news agency.

The three European countries, which signed the international agreement along with the United States, Russia and China, said they rejected Tehran’s argument that Iran was justified in violating the deal because the United States broke the agreement by pulling out unilaterally in 2018.

Technicians work at the Arak heavy water reactor’s secondary circuit, as officials and media visit the nuclear site, near Arak, 150 miles (250 kilometers) southwest of the capital Tehran, Iran, December 23, 2019. (Atomic Energy Organization of Iran via AP)

“We have therefore been left with no choice, given Iran’s actions, but to register today our concerns that Iran is not meeting its commitments,” the countries said in a joint statement.

EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell, who coordinates the agreement on behalf of the world powers, said the pressure on Iran from Europe does not mean international sanctions will automatically be slapped on the Islamic Republic.

The aim of the move by France, Germany and Britain is “to find solutions and return [Iran] to full compliance within the framework of this agreement,” he said.

The Europeans stressed that they want to “resolve the impasse through constructive diplomatic dialogue” and made no threat of sanctions in their statement.

They also specifically distanced themselves from sanctions imposed by the US, which Washington has said is part of a “maximum pressure” campaign against Tehran.

“Our three countries are not joining a campaign to implement maximum pressure against Iran,” they said. “Our hope is to bring Iran back into full compliance with its commitments.”

European Union High Representative for Foreign Affairs Federica Mogherini (L); Iranian Minister of Foreign Affairs Mohammad Javad Zarif (C) and political deputy at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Iran Abbas Araghchi take part in a Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) ministerial meeting on the Iran nuclear deal on July 6, 2018 in Vienna, Austria. (AFP/APA/Hans Punz)

The 2015 nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA, seeks to prevent Iran from producing a nuclear weapon — something Iran insists it does not want to do — by putting curbs on its atomic program in exchange for economic incentives.

Under its dispute resolution mechanism, countries have 30 days to resolve their problem, though that can be extended. If it cannot be solved, the matter could be brought before the UN Security Council and could then result in the snapback of sanctions that had been lifted under the deal.

US President Donald Trump unilaterally pulled the US out in May 2018, saying the pact was insufficient and should be re-negotiated because it didn’t address Iran’s ballistic missile program or its involvement in regional conflicts. Since then he has reinstated American sanctions, which have been having a devastating effect on Iran’s economy.

In response, Iran has rolled back its commitments in stages to try and pressure the other countries involved to provide economic incentives to offset the American sanctions, but efforts from them so far have been insufficient.

Senior Revolutionary Guard commander Gen. Qassem Soleimani, center, attends a meeting with Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei (not seen) and Revolutionary Guard commanders in Tehran, Iran, September 18, 2016 photo. (Office of the Iranian Supreme Leader via AP)

After its top general, Qassem Soleimani, was killed in a US drone attack earlier this month, Iran announced what it said was its fifth and final step in violating the deal, saying it no longer will abide by any limitation to its enrichment activities. At the same time it again said all of its violations were reversible if it gets the economic relief it wants.

With the growing skepticism that the deal will be able to saved, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Tuesday suggesting that maybe the agreement could be somehow re-worked to address some of the concerns raised by Trump when he pulled the US out.

“Let’s work together to replace the JCPOA with the Trump deal,” he told the BBC.

Borrell refused to comment on the suggestion, but again emphasized that the remaining signatories to the deal, which took years to negotiate, feel it is the best solution to limiting Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

“We have to preserve the nuclear deal and work to go back to full and effective implementation,” Borrell told reporters in Strasbourg, France. He described the pact as a “significant achievement” and underlined that “there is no alternative to this agreement.”

Britain’s Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab told Parliament that “the government in Iran has a choice.”

“The regime can take the steps to de-escalate tensions and adhere to the basic rules of international law. Or sink deeper and deeper into political and economic isolation,” he said. “We urge Iran to work with us to save the deal.”

 

Tension reported between Rouhani, Guard Corps as prominent Iranians bash regime 

January 14, 2020

Source: Tension reported between Rouhani, Guard Corps as prominent Iranians bash regime | The Times of Israel

Powerful military unit angry it was publicly blamed for downing of Ukrainian plane; government claims it was deceived over what had happened, UK’s Telegraph reports

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani arrives for a meeting at the presidency office in Tehran, Iran, December 23, 2019. (Ebrahim Noroozi/AP)

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani arrives for a meeting at the presidency office in Tehran, Iran, December 23, 2019. (Ebrahim Noroozi/AP)

There is increasing ill feeling between the Iranian government and the powerful Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps over last week’s downing of a Ukrainian passenger jet, with a government spokesman on Monday accusing the military of deceiving political leaders about what really happened to the plane, according to a report from the UK’s Telegraph newspaper.

Popular anger has swelled at the Iranian government’s attempt to conceal its role in the airliner tragedy, with days of protests and several prominent Iranians critiquing the regime.

Iran initially claimed the plane crashed last Wednesday, killing all 176 on board, due to engine failure, but over the weekend admitted that it had been shot down after being mistaken for a hostile aircraft.

Government spokesman Ali Rabiei indicated the military had at first misled rulers over what actually happened to the airliner.

Rescue teams work amidst debris after a Ukrainian plane carrying 176 passengers crashed near Imam Khomeini airport in the Iranian capital Tehran early in the morning on January 8, 2020, killing everyone on board. (AFP)

”All relevant authorities had assured us that there had been no missile involved in the downing of the Ukrainian plane,” Rabiei said in the report.

The Ukrainian Airlines flight was hit in the hours after Iran fired volleys of missiles at two US bases in Iraq in revenge for the US drone strike killing of top IRGC commander Gen. Qassem Soleimani.

Most of the people aboard the Ukraine International Airlines jet were Iranians and Iranian-Canadians. For three days, Iranian officials ruled out any attack on the plane, suggesting the crash of Flight 752 was caused by a technical failure. Only on Saturday did authorities acknowledge shooting it down, as evidence mounted and after Western leaders accused Iran of culpability.

Mourners attend a funeral ceremony for Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani and his comrades, who were killed in Iraq in a US drone strike, in the city of Kerman, Iran, January 7, 2020 (Erfan Kouchari/Tasnim News Agency via AP)

Rabiei insisted Iran’s civilian officials learned only on Friday that the Revolutionary Guard had shot down the plane. The Guard answers directly to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

“The point is that we did not lie,” Rabiei said. He went on to blame the US for “spreading the shadow of war over Iran.”

Meanwhile a recording of an IRGC commander speaking to other officers, published by the Iranian opposition site Pyk Net, appeared to show that the unit’s leaders are angry at the government for so quickly putting responsibility for the incident on the Guards.

“The statement by the government admitting the cause of air crash was disgraceful,” the officer said according to the Telegraph, citing the recording. “The statement should not have blamed the entire Revolutionary Guard and could have just said it was the fault of one individual.”

This commander suggested the government could have waited “two or three months” before revealing the cause of crash so that the Guards could continue to enjoy public support over the missile attack on two US bases in Iraq.

“The November protests were caused by the Rouhani government but the Revolutionary Guard sacrificed itself and put them down, but this time the government is so passive in the face of the attacks on the Revolutionary Guard,” the commander said, referring to demonstrations sparked by fuel price hikes late last year. Amnesty International estimated that some 300 people were killed by Iranian security forces as they suppressed nationwide protests. The Reuters news agency estimated 1,500 were killed.

Rouhani has been at odds with the Guards for years, the newspaper report said. Whereas he supports diplomacy with the West, the Guards want isolation.

Iranian police officers take position while protesters gather in front of Amir Kabir University in Tehran, Iran, January 11, 2020.(AP Photo)

Many Iranians, already suffering under crippling US sanctions, expressed shock and outrage over the plane crash that killed scores of young people. They also decried the misleading statements from top officials.

For a growing number of critics — from ordinary citizens to notable athletes and artists — the events have revealed a government that is incapable of following through on its incendiary rhetoric and willing to mislead its own people about a national tragedy in order to avoid embarrassment. In addition to the street protests, Iran’s government has also faced harsh criticism from prominent artists, athletes and journalists.

A number of artists, including famed director Masoud Kimiai, withdrew from an upcoming international film festival. And two state TV hosts have resigned in protest over the false reporting about what happened to Flight 752.

Gelare Jabbari, an Iranian state television anchor who resigned, said: “It was very hard for me to believe the killing of my countrymen. I apologize for lying to you on TV for 13 years,” the Telegraph reported.

Taraneh Alidoosti, one of Iran’s most famous actresses, posted a picture of a black square on Instagram with the caption: “We are not citizens. We are hostages. Millions of hostages.”

Iranian actress Taraneh Alidoosti during a photo call for the film ‘Forushande (The Salesman)’ at the 69th international film festival, Cannes, southern France, May 21, 2016. (Joel Ryan/AP)

Saeed Maroof, the captain of Iran’s national volleyball team, also wrote on Instagram: “I wish I could be hopeful that this was the last scene of the show of deceit and lack of wisdom of these incompetents but I still know it is not.”

He said that despite Iran’s national team qualifying for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics after years of effort, “there is no energy left in our sad and desperate souls to celebrate.”

Sentiments first boiled over late Saturday, shortly after the Revolutionary Guard admitted to shooting the plane down by mistake. A candlelight vigil at a university rapidly turned into an anti-government demonstration.

“They are lying that our enemy is America! Our enemy is right here!” students shouted.

On Sunday night, protesters massed in Tehran’s Azadi, or Freedom, Square.

The IRGC, which has enormous power in Iran, has also in the past rattled Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif. Zarif reportedly resigned his position last year after Soleimani met with Syrian President Bashar Assad in talks the minister felt should have been his responsibility. Rouhani rejected Zarif’s resignation.

 

IDF sees chance to halt Iranian entrenchment in region with Soleimani gone 

January 14, 2020

Source: IDF sees chance to halt Iranian entrenchment in region with Soleimani gone | The Times of Israel

In army’s annual intel assessment, Tehran remains the primary foe in the region; the death of its viceroy might make the fight easier, but potential for unwanted conflicts abounds

Iranians walk past a poster of slain military commander Qasem Soleimani off a main square in the Islamic republic’s capital Tehran on January 11, 2020. (ATTA KENARE / AFP)

Israeli Military Intelligence believes the killing of Iranian general Qassem Soleimani represents a significant opportunity to counter Tehran’s growing aggressiveness in the region, The Times of Israel learned Tuesday.

In its annual intelligence assessment, which is presented to the country’s decision-makers, the Israel Defense Forces relates to Iran as its primary enemy, albeit one that is both increasingly weakened by internal protests in the country and by the recent loss of one of its main leaders, who served as something of a viceroy commanding and counseling allies throughout the Middle East.

However, the assessment also warns that Iran’s attempts to maintain control of its country and allies, who have also seen protests against Tehran’s influence, could end up raising the risk of heavy retaliation by Iran against Israel for ongoing Israeli airstrikes against its efforts to entrench itself militarily in Syria, Iraq and elsewhere in the region.

The IDF does not foresee Iran intentionally initiating a war against the Jewish state in the coming year, but does see a risk of unwitting conflict as Israel intends to continue acting against Tehran in the region, which could prompt Iranian strikes against it in return.

In this photo from June 23, 2017, supporters of Iraqi Hezbollah brigades march on a representation of an Israeli flag with a portrait of late Iranian leader Ayatollah Khomeini and Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, in Baghdad, Iraq. (AP Photo/Hadi Mizban, File)

The full ramifications of Soleimani’s death earlier this month in an American airstrike in Baghdad remain unclear, but as the long-time commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ Quds Force, who created and controlled Shiite militia proxies throughout the Middle East, his absence is expected to have a positive effect on regional stability, according to the military assessment.

Specifically, the IDF believes Soleimani’s death has the potential to allow Israel to curb or halt Iran’s efforts to entrench itself militarily in Syria and continued attempts to transfer technology needed for Hezbollah to produce its own precision-guided missiles within Lebanon.

For now, Hezbollah is not believed to have this capability — a threat that Israel is prepared to go to war to prevent. Access to large numbers of highly accurate missiles would represent a significant threat to Israeli national security, second only to the danger posed by an Iranian nuclear weapon, Israeli officials have said in the past.

The assessment notes that it’s not clear if Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah fully believes that the IDF is prepared to go to war to prevent Iran and the Lebanese-based terror group from establishing factories to produce precision-guided rockets, and warns that the misunderstanding could end up sparking a intense, prolonged military confrontation with Hezbollah.

No breakout plans

On the nuclear front, the IDF does not believe that Iran is currently interested in rapidly “breaking out” and developing an atomic bomb as quickly as possible. Though the military sees Iran’s ongoing violations of the 2015 nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), as a troubling development, it does not assess that Iran is inclined to race toward a weapon.

Following Soleimani’s death, Tehran announced it would no longer abide by the limits on quantities and levels of enrichment for uranium of the JCPOA — the latest in a line of violations of the agreement since US President Donald Trump abandoned the deal in 2018. Israel believes that these violations are not meant to signify an effort to develop a nuclear bomb as quickly as possible, but are rather meant to serve as a form of pressure on the other signatories of the JCPOA.

The exterior of the Arak heavy water production facility in Arak, Iran, 360 kilometers southwest of Tehran, October 27, 2004. (AP Photo)

However, should it choose to “break out” rapidly, by the fall of 2020 Iran would be able to produce the 1,300 kilograms (2,900 pounds) of low-enriched uranium needed to get the 25 kilograms (55 pounds) of highly enriched uranium necessary for a bomb, assuming it continued at current projected rates, according to Israeli assessments. The overall current assessment is that Iran is potentially two years from a bomb — the same time frame that has been assessed for some time.

For Iran, while there is relatively broad consensus on the importance of its nuclear program, it is facing increasing pressure domestically to abandon or limit its expansionism as American sanctions wreak havoc on the Iranian economy.

The IDF sees the ongoing protests throughout Iran, which began in November, as the most significant challenge to the regime led by Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei since the Islamic revolution that brought it to power in 1979.

Iranian forces quelled those protests in a bloody crackdown that killed as many as 1,500, according to some estimates.

New protests have broken out in recent days since Iran admitted accidentally downing a Ukrainian airliner, killing all 176 aboard.

 

Person who shared video of Iranian missile hitting plane detained — report 

January 14, 2020

Source: Person who shared video of Iranian missile hitting plane detained — report | The Times of Israel

A person who shared video online of an Iranian missile hitting a Ukrainian passenger plane has been taken into custody by Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, Reuters reports, quoting the Fars news agency.

The Fars report says the investigation will be published, without elaborating.

The Revolutionary Guard admitted over the weekend to shooting down the plane, killing all 176 people on board.

Iran’s judiciary earlier today announced arrests in connection to the missile strike on the plane, but didn’t specify how many people were detained or name them.

 

Russia warns Europe’s disputing of Iran nuclear deal risks ‘new escalation’ 

January 14, 2020

Source: Russia warns Europe’s disputing of Iran nuclear deal risks ‘new escalation’ | The Times of Israel

MOSCOW — Russia condemns the EU move to put the Iran nuclear deal in dispute, warning it risked causing a “new escalation.”

“We do not rule out that the thoughtless actions of the Europeans could lead to a new escalation around the Iranian nuclear accord,” the foreign ministry says in a statement.

The ministry adds that Moscow sees “no reason for such a move.”

“The mechanism to resolve differences was created for totally different ends,” the ministry addd.

“The reasons for the difficulty of implementing the accord were broadly known and not linked to Iran,” but to the unilateral US withdrawal from the accord in 2018 which led to new sanctions being imposed on Tehran, in Moscow’s view.

The ministry addd that Iran’s nuclear program “remains under the constant control of the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency).” It says that level of oversight was “unprecedented” in its scope.

“Despite all the challenges the Iranian nuclear accord has not lost its relevance,” the ministry concludes.

Britain, France and Germany earlier today launched a dispute mechanism charging Iran with failing to observe the terms of the 2015 deal curtailing its nuclear program.

The move comes as tensions soar between the West and Iran following the killing of top commander Qassem Soleimani in a US strike, and the admission by Tehran days later that it had accidentally shot down a Ukrainian airliner

— AFP

 

Iran police ordered to show ‘restraint’ at air disaster protests

January 14, 2020

Source: Iran police ordered to show ‘restraint’ at air disaster protests | The Times of Israel

Chief says force is showing ‘patience,’ Germany urges Iranian authorities to allow demonstrators ‘to express their opinions’ over downing of airliner

Iranians walk past a poster honoring the victims of a Ukrainian passenger jet accidentally shot down in the capital last week, in front of the Amirkabir University in the capital Tehran, on January 13, 2020.  (ATTA KENARE/AFP)

Iranians walk past a poster honoring the victims of a Ukrainian passenger jet accidentally shot down in the capital last week, in front of the Amirkabir University in the capital Tehran, on January 13, 2020. (ATTA KENARE/AFP)

Police in Tehran have been ordered to show “restraint” at demonstrations that erupted after the accidental shooting down of a Ukrainian passenger jet, the Iranian capital’s police chief said Monday.

“The police treated the people who had gathered with patience and tolerance” in a second night of demonstrations in Tehran on Sunday, said General Hossein Rahimi.

“The police did not shoot at the gatherings at all because a restraint order (had been issued) for police in the capital,” he said in a statement published by state television.

The protests have drawn the attention of the international community.

German Foreign Office spokeswoman Maria Adebahr said Iranians have the right to take to the streets to express their “grief and also their anger” after the plane disaster.

“The Iranian people must have the opportunity to protest peacefully and freely, and to express their opinions,” Adebahr told reporters at a regular government press conference.

“We are convinced this has to happen in a peaceful, free and unhindered way,” she said.

This image from a Sunday, Jan. 12, 2020 video provided by the New York-based Center for Human Rights in Iran shows a crowd fleeing police near Azadi, or Freedom, Square in Tehran, Iran (Center for Human Rights in Iran via AP)

On Saturday evening, a memorial at Tehran’s Amir Kabir University in honor of those killed turned into a demonstration that AFP correspondents said was attended by hundreds of students.

They shouted “death to liars” and demanded the resignation and prosecution of those responsible, Fars news agency reported, saying that police “dispersed” them.

Similar demonstrations were held in the Iranian capital again on Sunday night, according to unverified videos shared on social media, but it was difficult to assess how many people took part.

Adebahr said videos reportedly showing security forces cracking down on the demonstrations were “very worrying.”

“We urge the security forces to show the greatest possible restraint,” she added.

The Ukraine International Airlines plane bound for Kyiv was shot down shortly after take-off from Tehran on Wednesday, killing all 176 people on board.

Officials in Iran initially denied Western claims the Boeing 737 was downed by a missile, before acknowledging on Saturday that it had been shot down in a catastrophic error.

Iran has invited experts from Canada, France, Ukraine and the United States to take part in the investigation into the air disaster.

Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani has promised a “thorough investigation.”

Trump support for Iran protesters could fuel anti-US forces 

January 14, 2020

Source: Trump support for Iran protesters could fuel anti-US forces | The Times of Israel

US president’s open encouragement of demonstrations and praise for protesters refusing to walk on Israeli flag is break from previous Washington policy on Iran affairs, say experts

US President Donald Trump stands for the national anthem before the beginning of the NCAA College Football Playoff National Championship game between LSU and Clemson, in New Orleans, January 13, 2020. (Evan Vucci/AP)

US President Donald Trump stands for the national anthem before the beginning of the NCAA College Football Playoff National Championship game between LSU and Clemson, in New Orleans, January 13, 2020. (Evan Vucci/AP)

WASHINGTON (AP) — US President Donald Trump’s embrace of anti-government protesters in Iran is another departure from his predecessors, who feared such overt support could backfire and inadvertently help hardliners in the Islamic Republic.

Trump has tweeted repeatedly in recent days in support of protesters who surged into the streets in anger over the apparently accidental downing of a Ukrainian jetliner and their government’s initial attempt to conceal its role in the disaster.

But his encouragement carries a risk by seeming to confirm the claims of Iranian hard-liners who accuse the US of fomenting the unrest.

“When the Iranian people are upset with their government for blatantly lying about shooting down a plane, he should have taken the high road and send his condolences to the families,” said Jon Alterman, director of the Middle East Program at Center for Strategic and International Studies. “By seeming to make it about him, he de-legitimizes the protesters and allows the government to portray the protests as a US plot.”

Previous administrations have sought to keep some distance between Washington and demonstrators opposed to Iran’s Islamic leadership. That was why the Obama administration offered only muted expressions of support during the major political unrest in Iran in 2009.

This image from a Jan. 12, 2020, video provided by the New York-based Center for Human Rights in Iran shows a crowd fleeing police near Azadi, or Freedom, Square in Tehran, Iran (Center for Human Rights in Iran via AP)

Trump and his team have no such qualms. They see their pro-demonstrator comments — even the president’s tweets in Farsi on Sunday — as a way to further pressure Tehran.

Popular anger swelled Monday in Iran over the downing of the Ukrainian jet, which was apparently knocked out of the sky by an Iranian missile hours after the Islamic Republic fired a barrage of missiles at Iraqi bases housing American soldiers. Iran’s action was in response to the US killing of its top military leader, Gen. Qassem Soleimani, in a drone strike.

All 176 people on board the jet, including scores of young Iranians and people of Iranian descent, were killed, prompting widespread shock and outrage in Iran and around the world.

Ali Rabiei, a government spokesman, insisted Iran’s civilian officials learned only on Friday that the Revolutionary Guard had shot down the plane. The Guard answers directly to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

“The point is that we did not lie,” Rabiei said. He went on to blame the US for “spreading the shadow of war over Iran.”

Hard-line cleric Ebrahim Raisi speaks during a 2017 presidential election rally in Tehran, Iran, May 16, 2017. (Vahid Salemi/AP)

Ebrahim Raisi, the head of Iran’s judiciary, issued a warning to protesters, saying “the agents of America and agents of foreign countries” want to use anger over Flight 752 to “compromise” Iran’s security. Iran often blames anti-government protests on foreign conspiracies.

Yet others say the Trump administration’s hands-on approach might not make any difference.

“The reality is when (President Barack) Obama offered only tepid support to Iranian protesters in 2009, the regime still called them American agents and crushed them. If the Trump administration offers more enthusiastic support, the regime will call them American agents and attempt to crush them,” said Karim Sadjadpour, an Iran expert and senior fellow in the Middle East program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

“The best thing any US administration can do is inhibit the regime’s ability to shut down the internet and repress people in darkness,” he said. “But, I think the Islamic Republic’s penchant for repression is high regardless of whatever anyone says in D.C.”

In a series of tweets sent since late last week as protests against Iran’s shooting down of a Ukrainian passenger jet intensified, Trump has personally exhorted the Iranian people to rise up and be heard.

He has applauded the apparent refusal of some to walk over painted flags of Israel and the United States at a Tehran campus in a quiet show of defiance. He has also demanded that the government allow the protests and protect the demonstrators.

Students at an Iranian university are seen attempting to avoid trampling large Israeli and American flags painted on the ground, in what pro-protester social media accounts depicted as a rejection of the Tehran regime. (Twitter screen capture)

“To the leaders of Iran – DO NOT KILL YOUR PROTESTERS,” he tweeted on Sunday. “Thousands have already been killed or imprisoned by you, and the World is watching. More importantly, the USA is watching. Turn your internet back on and let reporters roam free! Stop the killing of your great Iranian people!”

On Saturday, as protests grew following the admission by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corp that it had unintentionally shot down the Ukrainian plane, Trump tweeted, “To the brave, long-suffering people of Iran: I’ve stood with you since the beginning of my Presidency, and my Administration will continue to stand with you. We are following your protests closely, and are inspired by your courage.”

Beyond supporting the protesters, Trump and fellow Republicans have denounced Democrats, saying they have not expressed robust backing for the Iranian demonstrators.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Republican-Kentucky, heads to a briefing by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Defense Secretary Mark Esper, and other national security officials on Capitol Hill in Washington, January 8, 2020. (J. Scott Applewhite/AP)

“Even under threat of tear gas or even gunfire, the brave people of Iran are themselves displaying more willingness to criticize their own brutal rulers than we saw in the initial responses from some Democrats and so-called experts right here at home,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Republican-Kentucky, said Monday on the Senate floor.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo also joined in, following an unprecedented appeal to the Iranian people last year to send in photos and videos of security forces cracking down on protests that erupted over fuel price increases that the government had blamed on US sanctions.

“The United States is with them in their calls for freedom and justice, in their justified anger at the Ayatollah and his minions,” Pompeo said in a speech at Stanford University on Monday. “And I repeat President Trump’s insistence that Iran not harm a single protester. The world must do the same.”

“The voice of the Iranian people is clear,” Pompeo tweeted over the weekend. “They are fed up with the regime’s lies, corruption, ineptitude, and brutality of the IRGC under @khmanei_ir’s kleptocracy. We stand with the Iranian people who deserve a better future.”

 

UK’s Johnson calls for ‘Trump deal’ to replace Iran nuclear agreement

January 14, 2020

Source: UK’s Johnson calls for ‘Trump deal’ to replace Iran nuclear agreement | The Times of Israel

British PM says US president is a ‘great dealmaker, by his own account and many others,’ stresses goal must be ‘to stop the Iranians acquiring a nuclear weapon’

US President Donald Trump meets with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson at the United Nations General Assembly, September 24, 2019, in New York. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

US President Donald Trump meets with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson at the United Nations General Assembly, September 24, 2019, in New York. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Tuesday called for US President Donald Trump to put forward a new agreement, in lieu of the existing Iran nuclear deal, that would guarantee Tehran cannot acquire nuclear weapons.

“If we’re going to get rid of it let’s replace it and let’s replace it with the Trump deal,” Johnson told the BBC.

Trump pulled the US out of the international agreement to limit Iran’s nuclear program in 2018, saying the deal did not do enough to prevent the Islamic Republic from acquiring atomic arms.

Iran has since reduced its commitments to the 2015 accord in response to reimposed US sanctions, faulting the deal’s remaining European signatories for not providing relief amid growing economic pressure.

Noting the Trump administration’s criticism of the current deal, Johnson said a new agreement was necessary to prevent Iran from developing nuclear arms.

“My point to my American friends is somehow or other we’ve got to stop the Iranians acquiring a nuclear weapon,” Johnson said.

“President Trump is a great dealmaker, by his own account and many others, let’s work together to replace the JCPOA,” he added, using the initials of the deal’s formal name.

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Trump said last week “the time has come” for others to pull out of the nuclear deal, after Iran said it was no longer bound to the agreement following the US killing of top Iranian military commander Qassem Soleimani on January 3.

The United Kingdom, France and Germany, who along with Russia and China remain parties to the deal, have called for Iran to return to “full compliance” with its agreements.

In the BBC interview, Johnson said he was on vacation when the strike on Soleimani in Baghdad was carried out. He said there was no reason the UK should have been told in advance because it “was not our operation.”

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, right, greets then British foreign secretary Boris Johnson at the start of their meeting in Tehran, Iran, December 10, 2017. (Iranian Presidency Office via AP)

He also addressed Iran’s acknowledgement it shot down a Ukrainian passenger jet plane hours after firing missiles at US targets in Iraq to retaliate for Soleimani’s killing, killing all 176 people on board.

“Iran made a terrible mistake, it’s good they have apologized,” Johnson said. “The most important thing now is that tensions in the region calm down.”

He indicated the UK was not weighing any penalties on Iran for downing the plane and called for an easing of regional tensions.

“I don’t want a military conflict between us and the United States and Iran. Let’s dial this thing down,” he said.