Iran’s Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) announced on Friday they had killed two “terrorists” allegedly involved in the May 7 killing of two Basij militia near Nikshahr, a city in the south-east province of Sistan-Baluchestan. The announcement said weapons, ammunition and communications equipment had been seized, but did not name any militant group.
The IRGC announced on May 12 that its forces were involved in clashes with seven armed “terrorists” and “anti-revolutionaries.”
According to Fars News quoting the commander of Basij forces in Nikshahr County Ali Akbar Safavi, the two Basij, named as Khodabakhsh Gharib and Moslem Darzadeh, were killed on May 7 on the outskirts of Hichan village in “an exchange of gunfire with terrorists.”
Sunni insurgents from the Baluchi ethnic group espousing a mix of Baluchi nationalism and Sunni extremism have been active for decades, with attacks ranging from bombings to al-Qaeda-style beheadings. In 2010, Iran captured and executed Abdolmalek Rigi, leader of Jundallah, a faction that spawned several successors.
Baluchi widely allege discrimination both in terms of their ethnicity and their Sunnism, making the area fertile for extremism. Sistan-Baluchestan, bordering Pakistan and Afghanistan, is also relatively poor and exploited by smugglers, as armed gangs deal narcotics and poorer folk try to make ends meet.
Last month, border-guard command in the province announced that two soldiers had been killed by assailants. In February, protests erupted when security forces shot dead ten people carrying fuel across the border to sell in Pakistan, where prices are higher. Days of unrest followed, with protesters attacking police stations and additional troops dispatched to the region.
Bennett Warns Israel Able To 'Act Alone' Against Iran Over Ship Attack
JERUSALEM, Aug 3 (Reuters) - Israel is rallying global action against Iran over an attack on an Israeli-managed tanker off Oman last week but is capable of responding on its own if necessary, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said on Tuesday.
The United States, Britain and Israel blamed Iran for the suspected drone strike on Thursday in which two crew members, a Briton and a Romanian, were killed. Tehran denies any involvement.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken predicted a "collective response" to the incident, which British Prime Minister Boris Johnson described as an "outrageous attack on commercial shipping".
Standing alongside military generals during a tour of Israel's northern border with Syria and Lebanon, Bennett said Israel had shared intelligence with the United States, Britain and others tying Iran to the attack.
"We are working to rally the world, but at the same time we also know to act alone," Bennett said.
"Iran already knows the price we exact when someone threatens our security. The Iranians need to understand that it is impossible to sit placidly in Tehran and ignite the entire Middle East from there. That's over."
Iran said on Monday it would respond promptly to any threat against its security.
Iran and Israel have exchanged accusations of carrying out attacks on each other's vessels in recent months.
Tensions have increased between Iran and Israel since 2018, when then U.S. President Donald Trump ditched Tehran's 2015 nuclear deal with six world powers and reimposed sanctions that have crippled Iran's economy.
Officials In Iran Demolish Three Homes Belonging To Persecuted Baha'is
Officials of the Islamic Republic have demolished three homes on Monday belonging to members of the persecuted minority Baha’i sect in the Sari region of northern Iran.
The Human Rights Activists News Agency (HRANA) reporting the development said, “The systematic effort to force Baha’is to leave this region was the result of a meeting held one year ago by several government security organs in the area.”
HRANA added, that the land on which the houses were built belonged to the three families since at least 1963, while the Department of Natural Resources has claimed that 14 parcels of land in the Roshankuh village were forests before. The ruling was used as an excuse to demolish the homes.
The human rights monitoring group also said that in recent years there have been many systematic and planned attempts to force the Baha’is out of the region.
This is not the first instance of Baha’i homes and cemeteries being destroyed or confiscated. The ruling Shiite clerical system in Iran does not recognize the Baha’i faith and since the establishment of the Islamic Republic it has persecuted members of the community. Hundreds have been jailed, refused work and university education in what amounts to official discrimination. In many instances, businesses belonging to Baha’is have been forced to shut down.
Iran Health Officials Warn Hospitals Reach Maximum Capacity
As health officials in Iran say that hospitals have reached the end of their capacity to help Covid-19 patients, the government’s official newspaper, Iran daily quoted reports Tuesday that in some provinces victims are being buried in mass graves.
A top doctor in Tehran’s large Masih Daneshvari hospital said the number of cases is unprecedented, all beds in his hospital are full and there is no further capacity to care for patients. The health system’s dam is about to break, he warned.
Many Iranians on social media have begun openly blaming Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei for Covid “massacre”, since he banned the purchase of American and British vaccines in January and set back the national vaccination effort by at least six months.
Iran has so far administered around 11 million doses of Russian, Chinese and some Western vaccines acquired through the World Health Organization’s Covax mechanism and donated by Japan. But for a population of 85 million, the country is still far from inoculating a significant percentage of the populace.
Iran daily also wrote that the pandemic has reached a stage where the real number of deaths must be more than official figures announced by the government. Deputy health minister Iraj Harirchi had also admitted earlier that the real number of cases and deaths are more than what his ministry reports.
A Tehran city official said that the number of daily deaths in the capital has reached a daily average of 180. Iran on Monday reported over 400 deaths nationwide, while Tehran has around 10 percent of the total population.
Israel Lambasts EU Decision To Send Envoy To Iran Inauguration
Israel on Monday strongly condemned a European Union decision to send a senior diplomat to Iran for the inauguration of Ebrahim Raisi, the controversial new president implicated in the killing of thousands of prisoners in 1988.
The Israeli foreign ministry on Monday called the EU decision to send Enrique Mora, the Deputy Secretary General of the European External Action Service and EU’s representative in the Vienna talks on Iran’s nuclear issue, a “shameful” display of “poor judgement”.
International human rights organizations have accused Raisi, a former judge, of human rights abuses, having served on a Death Commission in 1988 which sent thousands of political prisoners to their deaths. Amnesty International has called for Raisi to be investigated for crimes against humanity.
The Israeli statement also pointed to last week’s fatal attack on a tanker off the coast of Oman that the United States, United Kingdom and Israel have blamed on Iran. “The participation of the EU representative in the ceremony comes just a few days after Iran killed two civilians, one of whom was from an EU member state, in an act of state terrorism against civilian shipping.”
Israel has vowed retaliation, while the US and the UK have also said “a collective” response is on its way.
“Flattery and subservience to violent totalitarian regimes only invites more violence and aggression,” the Israeli statement said.
Blinken Says US 'Confident' Iran Attacked Tanker, Vows 'Collective Response'
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has reiterated on Monday that Washington is “confident” Iran carried out the fatal attack on an Israeli-managed tanker off the coast of Oman.
In a briefing with reporters, Blinken said, “It follows a pattern of similar attacks by Iran, including past incidents with explosive drones. There is no justification for this attack on a peaceful vessel on a commercial mission in international waters. Iran’s action is a direct threat to freedom of navigation and commerce.”
The drone attack on Thursday killed two crew members, a Briton and a Romanian. The Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett called the act a big mistake by Iran and vowed not to allow it to go without a response. Both the US and UK in a coordinated manner called Iran responsible and vowed to come up with a response.
Iran on Monday denied any role in the incident and warned that it will respond to any threat to its security.
Blinekn, responding to a question during the briefing, also said that the attack on the tanker, the Mercer Street, follows a pattern of similar actions by Iran that “continues to act with tremendous irresponsibility when it comes to, in this instance, threats to navigation, to commerce, to innocent sailors who are simply engaged in commercial transit in international waters.”
The Secretary of State again pledged a “collective response” to Iran.
EU To Send Diplomat To Iran To Attend Raisi’s Inauguration
Laurence Norman from The Wall Street Journal reported on Monday that the European Union (EU) has decided to send the Deputy Secretary General of the European External Action Service Enrique Mora to Iran this week as its representative at the inauguration of Iran’s new President Ebrahim Raisi. Mora has been playing the role of coordinator of the Iran nuclear talks in Vienna.
On Tuesday, Iran’s Supreme Leader will first preside over an endorsement ceremony for Raisi at the Imam Khomeini Hussainiyah. Then on Thursday, Raisi will be formally inaugurated in the Iranian parliament. Today, Iranian officials announced that 115 officials from 73 countries will attend the inauguration.
At the last presidential inauguration for Hassan Rouhani’s second term in office, the EU sent Federica Mogherini, who was then the High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy. Mora’s presence there will thus be at a lower level. But it comes at a very sensitive juncture, as the talks in Vienna to revive the Iran nuclear deal have stalled with no date scheduled for a next round. It also comes amid a diplomatic crisis with the United Kingdom, the United States, Israel, and Romania all implicating Iran in the attack on the Mercer Street vessel, which killed two Europeans.
The decision to send such a high-ranking EU diplomat has also been very controversial in the Iranian diaspora. This is because of Raisi’s reported role in human rights abuses, having served on a Death Commission in 1988 which sent thousands of political prisoners to their deaths. Amnesty International has called for Raisi to be investigated for crimes against humanity. Norman reported that the United Kingdom, France, and Germany raised objections over the EU decision to dispatch Mora to Tehran.
Israel 'Must Act Without Delay' Against Iran, Defense Chief says
Israel’s Defense Minister Benny Gants Monday said that his country must act without delay against Iran, after a tanker was attacked by UAVs off the coast of Oman last Thursday.
The United States, the United Kingdom and Israel have accused Tehran of launching the attack that damaged the ship and killed two crewmen, one Briton and a Romanian.
Iran on Monday denied any responsibility and blamed Israel for destabilizing the region. It also warned that will immediately respond to any threat to its security.
“Iran’s aggression in the region generally and on the maritime front, in particular, is intensifying,” Gantz said during a Knesset session. “This is the exact reason that we must act right now against Iran, which not only strives for a nuclear military [program] but also is leading to a dangerous arms race and the crumbling of stability in the Middle East.”
Referring to talks this year between Iran and world powers, Gantz said, “And any agreement with Iran must also address the removal of its threat to the region, and its harm to innocent people and the world economy.”
The US and UK have also said that they are weighing a response to Iran’s action in consultations with allies, but a direct Western military action is less probable than some sort of Israeli reaction.
Iran Lawmaker Confirms New Bill Restricts Access To Instagram
One of the lawmakers behind a controversial bill setting new highly restrictive internet regulations in Iran confirmed that access to Instagram will be limited if parliament passes the legislation.
Speaking in a state-run television program Saturday evening, Abbas Moradi said the bill aims to make Iranian users of Instagram, the only major social network not blocked in Iran, to "emigrate" to a domestic platform. Moradi admitted that there is no domestic platform like Instagram at the moment but promised the launch of what he dubbed as "Instagram Plus" which he said would be "safe".
Moradi explained that to encourage developers, they would be offered tax exemptions. Bandwidth currently used by Instagram users will gradually be reduced in proportion to extent of its substitution by the domestic version.
In the same program, Mohammad Keshvari, an internet expert who opposes the planned legislation said reducing the bandwidth for Instagram means the speed of access to the platform will become so slow that people give up using it.
Keshvari pointed out that foreign companies operating social media platforms will not accept the fourteen conditions set for them in the bill to prevent them from being blocked in Iran, including compulsory registration of their subscribers, and providing their information to Iranian authorities on demand. This condition will completely prevent any anonymous posting on social media.
Another lawmaker participating in the program said lawmakers behind the bill were responding to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei's concerns about the harms of unregulated internet access.
With Rising Inflation, Residential Rents Climb By 39% In Iran
Residential rents in Iran’s cities have risen almost by 39 percent in the last reporting month compared with the same period last year, the Central Bank of Iran (CBI) reported on Sunday.
In the capital Tehran, rents increased by 35 percent as general inflation has reached nearly 50 percent amid depleted government coffers that leads to printing more money and creating excess liquidity. Rising inflation usually manifests itself in real estate prices and rents with a delay of a few months.
At the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic the government set a limit of 25 percent annual rent increase for Tehran and 20 percent in other cities. The CBI report shows authorities were not able to enforce the regulation.
Iran’s currency has lost its value by more than eightfold since the end of 2017, when it became apparent the United States would withdraw from the 2015 nuclear agreement. The currency rial steeply declined in 2018 as former US president Donald Trump abandoned the agreement and imposed heavy sanctions on Iran. Since then, rising inflation has pushed nearly 60 percent of the population into poverty, Iranian officials and media have said.
Real estate prices have kept their value in US dollars, while they have kept rising in the local currency as it has continued to decline. One square meter (11 sq feet) of a residential unit in Tehran costs an average of $1,200, with little change from three years ago, while in rials the price has more than tripled from 84 million rials to 300 million.
Another IRGC General Demands Parliament Pass Internet Censorship Bill
As Iranians collect 800,000 online signatures against a proposed law to further restrict access to the internet, an IRGC general has said that it is in the interest of those who complain “to engage in debauchery on cyberspace”.
Golamreza Jalali urged the parliament on Saturday to pass a proposed bill called Legislation to Protect Cyberspace Users’ Rights, saying the parliament’s step to consider the legislation was “a welcome” development. He added that criticism of the bill emanates from “misunderstandings” and is promoted by people whose interest is “debauchery”.
Another military figure, Brigadier-General Mohammad-Reza Naghdi, a senior official in the Revolutionary Guards (IRGC), wrote Friday to members of parliament urging them to end the "shameful situation" of "the hegemony of foreigners on Iranian cyberspace."
The legislation would require foreign-owned social networking and messaging corporations to appoint an Iranian representative, agree to comply with Iranian laws and regulations, and to officially register subscribers and provide this information to the authorities if requested.
This could result in further steps to completely ban major social media platforms such as Twitter and Instagram unavailable in Iran. Except Instagram all other major Western platforms are already blocked.
Protests against the Islamic Republic have been going on since mid-July and social media is a major factor both in mobilizing the people and also informing the world about the events and government crackdown.
Principlist Lawmaker Says West Demanding Iran Missile Curbs
Mojtaba Zolnour, a prominent principlist member of the Iranian parliament’s national security committee has claimed that “Westerners” had demanded during talks in Vienna over Tehran’s nuclear program that it limit the range of its missiles “to 200-300 kilometers”.
“They want to install cameras in military centers, like the ones the International Atomic Energy Agency has installed in nuclear facilities, to monitor military and missile installations,” Zolnour told Mehr news agency on Saturday. He gave no details.
Zolnour’s statement raised the question as to how far the US and the three European signatories of the 2015 nuclear deal - France, Germany and the United Kingdom – have in Vienna raised issues of regional security. While the Europeans have expressed concern for years over Iran’s missile program, they have argued the nuclear deal should be revived before opening discussions on regional issues. Saudi Arabia and Turkey also pursue missile programs – and, unlike Iran, both have advanced aircraft. Iran says its missiles have a range of up to 2,000km.
The Biden Administration has continued Donald Trump’s “maximum pressure” sanctions on Iran, introduced in 2018, on leaving the nuclear deal, the JCPOA (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action). Biden has said he wants to return to the JCPOA but there has been speculation that he plans to pressure Iran into other concessions.
While resumption of talks in Vienna await President-elect Ebrahim Raisi (Raeesi) taking office, Zolnour expressed confidence over an agreement, saying that West will eventually give in and added that the situation in Iran would “definitely” improve. Iran expects Washington to remove JCPOA-incompatible sanctions should it return to the agreement, but there have reportedly been disagreements in Vienna over which measures fit that category.
US Navy Says It Is Assisting A Tanker Attacked In The Arabian Sea
The US Navy is assisting an Israeli-managed petroleum products tanker that was attacked on Thursday off the coast of Oman, the US military said on Saturday, adding the ship was most likely hit by a drone strike.
The Mercer Street, a Liberian-flagged, Japanese-owned vessel, is currently being escorted by the aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan, the US Central Command said in a statement. Two crew members died in the attack.
"US Navy explosives experts are aboard to ensure there is no additional danger to the crew, and are prepared to support an investigation into the attack," said the Central Command, which oversees American military operations in the Middle East and Central Asia.
"Initial indications clearly point to a UAV-style (drone) attack," it added.
Israel's foreign minister blamed Iran on Friday for the attack, which killed two crewmen, a British and a Romanian.
US and European sources familiar with intelligence reporting said on Friday Iran was their leading suspect for the incident, which a US defense official said appeared to have been carried out by a drone, but stressed their governments were seeking conclusive evidence.
Al Alam TV, the Iranian government's Arabic-language television network, cited unnamed sources as saying the attack on the ship came in response to a suspected, unspecified Israeli attack on Dabaa airport in Syria.
There was no immediate official reaction from Iran to the accusation that it may have been responsible.
Indirect talks between the United States and Iran since April have stalled. One of Washington's main demands is that Iran agree to negoatiate over its role in the region, which Tehran says is out os question.