A hardline news agency with ties to the Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) has leveled a host of accusations against Reza Malekzadeh, who resigned as a deputy health minister yesterday in protest at Health Minister Saeed Namaki’s management of the coronavirus crisis.
In a commentary published on Saturday [November 21], the Tasnim agency demanded an explanation from Reza Malekzadeh over Iran’s “participation in an international study” and why he had supplied data on “a considerable number of Iranian Covid-19 patients to the World Health Organization (WHO) and other countries, some of which are hostile to Iran.”
Malekzadeh, who was Deputy Minister for Research and Technology, and Ali Nobakht-Haghighi, Vice-Chairman of the Covid-19 Advisory Council, both resigned from the health ministry on Friday. Both are medical doctors.
Malekzadeh and Nobakht-Haghighi published resignation letters on social media in which they criticized Namaki for ignoring advice and making inaccurate claims. They claimed the minister’s poor management had contributed to Iran’s high number of deaths.
Tasnim’s accusation over the “international study” appeared to refer to the Persian Cohort Study. The agency alleged this used Iranian Covid-19 patients as “a tool for testing unknown foreign-made medicine, the side-effects of which killed some of the patients.” The charges are reminiscent of similar “spying” accusations levelled at detained environmentalists.
The Tasnim commentary suggested that the study, which Malekzadeh directs, provided “vital information” on various Iranian ethnicities and age groups to “foreigners.” This, Tasmin alleged, could explain the “acute illness” of Covid patients in Iran.
The Persian Cohort Study was launched in 2014, with funding from the health ministry, and includes 170,000 men and women in 17 regions of Iran.
Russia Urges Iran To Avoid ‘Emotions’ In Reaction To Scientist’s Killing
Russia’s ambassador to the United Nations in Vienna, Mikhail Ulyanov, has cautioned Iranian lawmakers not to rush to cancel cooperation with the United Nations nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), based on “emotions’ triggered by the assassination of a top nuclear official.
An overwhelming majority in the Iranian parliament voted Sunday to review a bill that would halt implementation of the Additional Protocol of the Non-Proliferation Treat (NPT), after Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, a senior manager and scientist in the country’s nuclear program was assassinated November 27.
“Such reaction is understandable, but emotions aren’t always helpful,” Ulyanov tweeted on Sunday. “Observers note that, probably, the assassination was aimed at undermining #JCPOA and cooperation with #IAEA.” Russia is among world powers that signed the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), Iran’s 2015 nuclear agreement.
Many analysts have suggested that if Israel is behind the killing, its aim was to lure Iran into retaliation, thereby dashing chances of negotiations among world powers to revive the JCPOA. US President-elect Joe Biden has said he will rejoin the JCPOA once in office. President Donald Trump called the agreement inadequate and withdrew the US in May 2018, imposing draconian sanctions on Iran.
Iran still allows the IAEA to conduct regular inspections of its nuclear facilities according to understandings reached when JCPOA was signed, despite having reduced other commitments set by the agreement. Russia as a signatory has urged the revival of the agreement and is wary of Iranian actions that could harm prospects for dialogue.
NYT Op-Ed Tells Biden: This Is Not The Middle East You Left Four Years Ago.
In an opinion piece in the New York Times, columnist Thomas Friedman advised President-elect Joe Biden that if he wants to return to the Iran nuclear deal he has to take note that the Middle East has changed in the past four years when he was not in the government.
Friedman argues that the all-important issue now is not Iran’s nuclear program, but its development of precision-guided missiles and weapons systems that pause a clear threat to Israel and the Persian Gulf Arab states. The clear proof for this threat was demonstrated in the September 2019 attack on Saudi oil installations by precision-guided Iranian drones and missiles, he says.
That incident was a pivotal turning point that the columnist says united America’s regional allies into a “loose coalition” against Iran, especially as President Donald Trump decided not to respond militarily to the brazen Iranian attack, signaling that Saudi Arabia and others could not necessarily count on American protection. This led to even closer security cooperation between Israel, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
“Trump forced Israel and the key Sunni Arab states to become less reliant on the United States and to think about how they must cooperate among themselves over new threats — like Iran — rather than fighting over old causes — like Palestine. This may enable America to secure its interests in the region with much less blood and treasure of its own. It could be Trump’s most significant foreign policy achievement,” Friedman writes.
“President-elect Biden knows the region well, but if I had one piece of advice for him, it would be this: This is not the Middle East you left four years ago.”
Iran's Zarif Slams Hardline Rivals For Making Overtures To US
In an exclusive interview with an Iranian website, published on Sunday, the Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad-Javad Zarif alleged that some hardliners have been sending "signals" to the United States to convince them that working with a hardliner administration in Iran will be easier than working with the administration of President Hassan Rouhani.
"Some people send signals to the United States [saying] they are easier to work with. We have kept silent about these [overtures] but it doesn't mean that we don't notice such signals," Zarif told Entekhab news website in the long interview, which appears to have taken place before the assassination of Iran's nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh on Friday, as Zarif does not mention the incident.
"I'm not accusing any individual but I know and have been informed that they have told [the Americans or European powers?] that [our moderate rivals] are not going to remain in power and their influence will be short-lived," he added while stressing that those who make such overtures enjoy having "a propaganda machine and political cover" to accuse him of being a "spy" or "agent of globalists". "They believe that [Joe] Biden's victory [in the US elections] will help moderates and reformists to gain power in the [upcoming] elections.”
Zarif added that country’s foreign policy should be pursued in a “cohesive manner”. Iran-based political commentator Mohammad-Sadegh Javadi-Hessar in an interview Sunday told Iran International TV that hardliners have attempted such moves in the past and Iran’s foreign relations are influenced by several “centers of power”.
In another part of the interview Zarif reiterated that he has no intention to run in the presidential elections of June 2020 although many have tried to encourage him to run.
Iran Guards General Says Revenge For Slain Official Should Not Be 'Based On Emotions'
A high-ranking official of Iran's Revolutionary Guards (IRGC), Brigadier-General Mohammad-Esmail Kowsari, on Sunday said reaction to the killing of senior nuclear operative Mohsen Fakhrizadeh on Friday is certain but should not be "based on [immediate] emotions". Iranian officials have blamed Israel and the United States for the assassination without providing evidence.
"We cannot react to this issue based on [immediate] emotions. But we will never forget. We will take revenge for these cherished [slain nuclear scientists] but the time, place and kind of revenge will be decided by the authorities. People want the authorities to definitely demonstrate [Iran's] power to make them regret what they have done," Kowsari, Deputy Commander of IRGC's Sarallah Headquarters of Tehran, said in an interview with the Iranian Labour News Agency (ILNA) on Sunday.
Other IRGC top brass have also promised "hard revenge" for Fakhrizadeh's killing. IRGC Commander-in-Chief Major-General Hossein Salami on Friday in a statement said "perpetrators [of the killing] will be severely punished, while Major-General Abdolrahim Mousavi, Commander-in-Chief of Iran's regular Army, said Iran "reserves the right to take revenge from the enemy in any other arena."
In reaction to the January targeted killing of IRGC's Qods Force commander, Qasem Soleimani, the Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei stressed "revenge" but in his message after the killing of Fakhrizadeh he has urged "investigation and definite punishment" of those "who ordered and perpetrated" the assassination.
Some Iranian hardliners have been urging immediate reaction to Fakhrizadeh's killing by targeting Israeli and American interests. In an opinion piece on Sunday, the hardline Kayhan newspaper urged a destructive "deterrent" attack on Israel's port city of Haifa.
Iran Hardliner Paper Urges Destructive Attack On Haifa To Deter Israel
The hardline Kayhan newspaper in Iran published an opinion piece on Sunday urging a destructive “deterrent” attack on Israel’s port city of Haifa, after the assassination of the country’s top nuclear operative on Friday.
The piece, written by a commentator Sadollah Zarei, advocated a large-scale attack on Haifa to inflict maximum pain and civilian casualties, as the only way to establish a deterrence against “the Zionist enemy” and the United States. It added that previous Iranian reactions to Israeli air attacks in Syria targeting Iran-backed forces were weak. Zarei argued that even Iran’s January 8 ballistic missile attack against US bases in Iraq was not sufficient warning.
Iran claims it has evidence that Israel was behind the assassination of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, considered the father of Iran’s nuclear weapons program. Although he is called a scientist by Iran’s officials and state media, in fact he was a high-ranking member of the notorious Revolutionary Guards or IRGC. Israel has not acknowledged or denied its role in the attack.
Kayhan is financed by the office of the Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and its editor has the title of Khamenei’s representative at the newspaper. It usually advocates uncompromising and even extremist domestic and foreign policies.
President Hassan Rouhani on Saturday said that although Iran should avenge the killing, now would not be the right time as the assassination was planned to force Iran to react, thus reducing chances of any negotiations with the incoming Biden administration. But in a statement Khamenei directed all officials to find and punish those involved in the operation and those who issued the order.
Flood Shuts Down Four Cities In Iran's Khuzestan Province
After heavy rain in several cities of the southwestern province of Khuzestan in Iran, all businesses were shut down on Sunday in the cities of Ahvaz, Mahshahr, Ramshir, and Omidiyeh.
At the same time, local officials in Bushehr province also reported houses flooding in two cities and in Kohgiluyeh and Boyer-Ahmad province, first responders are on full alert.
The chairman of Khuzestan’s crisis management office announced that due to the flooding and the problems that it will cause the citizens, all government buildings and banks in Ahvaz, Mahshahr, Ramshir, and Omidiyeh are closed on Sunday; the shut down does not include hospitals and centers of the relief operation.
The director of Red Crescent in Khuzestan province said the aid workers of Red Crescent have provided relief to 729 people stuck in the flood and 133 people were moved to safer locations. It also reported that nine houses were destroyed in Izeh and Baghmalek counties.
The governor of Kohgiluyeh and Boyer-Ahmad province said the meteorologists have projected heavy rains and floods in the rivers in the upcoming days and people need to be more careful.
Local officials in Lorestan province in the west of Iran have also issued flood warnings and asked people to avoid unnecessary travel.
Iran witnessed heavy rain and flooding last year in 10 provinces across the country which caused millions of dollars in damages and many dead or injured.
Iranian Nursing Organization To Rouhani: 30 More Nurses Died Of Coronavirus In November
In a letter to President Rouhani, members of the board of Iranian Medical Organization warned about the increasing objections and discontent and of the medical staff and the increasing number of casualties among the nurses.
The Nursing Organization lists the problems the nurses face, including exhaustion, heavy workload, staff shortage, decreasing wages, partial overtime, job security, and high rate of contraction.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, this is the fifth time that the leaders of the Nursing Organization are writing a letter to the president of Iran.
The letter states that in November alone, 30 nurses died across the country from coronavirus.
According to the letter so far 84 nurses have died of coronavirus in Iran and 50,000 nurses have contracted COVID-19, and 8000 have left their job.
The board member of the organization said in some hospitals and coronavirus wards sometimes a nurse has to manage 10 or more patients.
The letter asks Rouhani to form a workgroup to provide better financial and mental support and a better working environment for the nurses.
In recent months, health workers in several cities across Iran have protested their wages and working conditions during the pandemic.
In July, nurses in Mashhad had planned on a peaceful protest in front of the courthouse regarding their low income. Reports indicate that the security forces attacked the nurses and beat them with tasers and batons.
In September, nurses at the Rouhani Hospital gathered to protest over low and unpaid wages in Babol city in Mazandaran province, northern Iran. They told ILNA they were faced particular challenges due to the Coronavirus pandemic.
In October, health care workers in Iran’s capital gathered outside the parliament to protest about their inadequate work conditions, as the coronavirus crisis has worsened in the country.
Energy Official Says Nakhichivan Corridor Spells Losses for Iran
Iran is set for serious losses due to a new transport corridor between Azerbaijan and Nakhchivan through Armenia, Hamidreza Salehi, Chairman of the Iranian Chamber of Commerce Energy Committee, told the Iranian Labour News Agency (ILNA) on Saturday. The corridor, he said, would allow Azerbaijan to supply Nakhchivan directly rather than through Iran under the terms of a 20-year agreement, signed in 2005, under which Iran transfers 350 million cubic meters of gas annually, and for which Tehran nets a transit fee in the form of a 15 percent cut of the gas.
The Nakhchivan-Azerbaijan transport corridor has been established under the Nagorno-Karabakh peace deal between Armenia and Azerbaijan agreed on November 10. The corridor – to be supervised by Russian peacekeepers for five years – will create a direct transit route for Azerbaijan not just to the Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic but on to Turkey.
This new link also raises the possibility that Turkey will switch from buying Iranian gas – under an agreement signed in 1996 – to buying Azeri gas, which is around 30 percent cheaper. Iran’s pipeline to Turkey, which carries around 10 billion m3 a year, saw its supply interrupted earlier this year after an attack by Kurdish militants, who were resuming a campaign that had been quiet since a 2013 ceasefire.
Salehi also told ILNA that after its discovery of natural gas in the Black Sea, Turkey would now begin seek its own markets and was set to become a rival to major regional gas exporters, including Iran, and would stop its gas imports from Iran and Russia.
Two More Former Officials Arrested In Large Corruption Case In Iran
Authorities have arrested two more former officials in Iran on charges of bribery and corruption in a case involving dozens of judicial and other high-ranking managers, many of whom have already been convicted and sentenced to long prison terms.
The former of head of security in Iran’s Judiciary and the former of head of intelligence in Mazanderan province were taken into custody according to media in Iran. Their charges relate to what has become known as the Tabari network, a former top Judicial official. Akbar Tabari himself received a 31-year sentence in September for establishing and running a vast corruption and bribery network involving dozens of officials.
The former chief of Judiciary’s security, Mohammad Javad Rashidi is accused of receiving a draft from Mostafa Niaz-Azari who was involved in the Tabari network and got convicted for smuggling two metric tons of gold and is currently a fugitive abroad. His father, Kiumars Niaz-Abadi who was the head of the intelligence department in Mazanderan from 2006-2016 has also been arrested.
The network was involved in all sorts of corrupt activities for years during the tenure of former Judiciary chief, Ayatollah Sadegh Amoli Larijani, who was removed from his post in early 2019. The Larijani family enjoyed unparalleled power and influence for more than a decade. Ali Larijani was Speaker of Iran’s parliament until May 2020.
The court also demanded Tabari pay back around $1.5 million to the treasury and a string of luxury properties he acquired as part of his corruption schemes. But many defendants have fled Iran after the case was launched in April 2019, raising questions of how they could travel abroad in a country with tight border controls.