The protests began over the death of 22-year-old Kurdish woman Mahsa Amini in the custody of morality police
President Ebrahim Raisi on Saturday hailed Iran’s Islamic Republic as a guarantor of rights and freedoms, defending the ruling system amid a crackdown on anti-government protests that the United Nations says has cost more than 300 lives.
Meanwhile, a social media video appeared to show authorities demolishing the family home of Elnaz Rekabi, a climber who competed in an international contest without a headscarf in October. Rekabi later she had done so unintentionally, but she was widely assumed to have expressed support for the protests.
State media on Saturday quoted the head of the judiciary in northwestern Zanjan province as saying the ruling to demolish the villa had been issued four months ago as the family had failed to obtain a construction permit.
Unfazed by the brutal crackdown, protesters have raised slogans against Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and repeatedly demanded an end to the Islamic government.
Social media videos showed renewed protests late on Saturday in some parts of the capital Tehran, including the eastern Haft Howz area where protesters could be heard chanting: “Murderer Khamenei should be executed.” The footage could not be immediately verified.
The authorities blame the revolt on foreign enemies, including the United States, Saudi Arabia and Israel.
Iran has begun construction on a new nuclear power plant in the country’s southwest, state TV has announced, amid tensions with the US over sweeping sanctions imposed after Washington pulled out of the Islamic Republic’s nuclear deal with world powers.
Saturday’s announcement also comes as Iran has been rocked by nationwide anti-government protests that began after the death of a young woman in police custody and have challenged the country’s theocratic government.
The move is seen as a significant addition to the country’s nuclear program.
Enrichment to 60 per cent purity is one short, technical step away from weapons-grade levels of 90 per cent. Non-proliferation experts have warned in recent months that Iran now has enough 60 per cent-enriched uranium to reprocess into fuel for at least one nuclear bomb.
The move was condemned by Germany, France and Britain, the three Western European nations that remain in the Iran nuclear deal. Recent attempts to revive Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal, which eased sanctions on Iran in exchange for curbs on its nuclear program, have stalled.
Since September, Iran has been roiled by nationwide protests that have come to mark one of the greatest challenges to its theocracy since the chaotic years after its 1979 Islamic Revolution.
The protests were sparked when Mahsa Amini, 22, died in custody on September 16, three days after her arrest by Iran’s morality police for violating the Islamic Republic’s strict dress code for women.
Iran’s government insists Amini was not mistreated, but her family says her body showed bruises and other signs of beating after she was detained
Iran said last month that it had moved ahead on uranium enrichment that Western governments worry is part of a covert nuclear weapons program.
“Iran informed us they were tripling, not doubling, tripling their capacity to enrich uranium at 60%, which is very close to military level, which is 90%” the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency Rafael Grossi said at a press conference in Rome.
“This is not banal. This is something that has consequences. It gives them an inventory of nuclear material for which it cannot be excluded… that there might be another use. We need to go. We need to verify,” he said, according to Reuters.
Iran said last month that the enrichment was being carried out at its underground Fordo plant using advanced IR-6 centrifuges, and was a response to an IAEA resolution criticizing Tehran’s lack of cooperation with the nuclear watchdog.
Under the terms of its 2015 agreement with world powers, Iran is only permitted to enrich uranium to 3.67% purity. That deal gave Iran sanctions relief in return for curbs on its nuclear program to prevent the production of a weapon.
Rafael Grossi, director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, speaks to journalists after the IAEA’s board of governors meeting at the agency’s headquarters in Vienna, Austria, on November 16, 2022. (Joe Klamar/AFP)
The deal also called for Fordo to become a research-and-development facility and restricted centrifuges there, used to spin enriched uranium into higher levels of purity, to non-nuclear uses.
“We’re going to make sure we have all options available to the president,” White House national security spokesman John Kirby said. “We certainly have not changed our view that we will not allow Iran to achieve a nuclear weapons capability.”
In a joint statement, Britain, France and Germany said Iran was moving “well beyond” limits set down in the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, the formal name of the 2015 deal.
By enriching uranium up to 60%, Iran was challenging global non-proliferation, they said.
“This step, which carries significant proliferation-related risks, has no credible civilian justification,” the European countries said.
In this photo released by the official website of the office of the Iranian Presidency, President Ebrahim Raisi, second right, receives an explanation while visiting an exhibition of Iran’s nuclear achievements in Tehran, Iran, April 9, 2022. (Iranian Presidency Office via AP)
Grossi also said Friday that Iran was still in conflict with the IAEA. The two sides have long been at odds as Iran has blocked inspectors from visiting suspicious sites and withheld information from the agency.
The IAEA is seeking an explanation from Iran for uranium traces that were discovered at three undeclared sites. The IAEA previously said Iran had agreed to allow UN inspectors to visit in November but the meeting has not taken place.
“We don’t seem to be seeing eye-to-eye with Iran over their obligations to the IAEA,” Grossi said. “We need to put our relationship back on track.”
The heavily protected Fordo plant around 110 miles (190 kilometers) south of Tehran was built deep underground in a bid to shield it from air or missile strikes by Iran’s enemies.
In September, Defense Minister Benny Gantz said the enrichment capacity had tripled at Fordo over the past year, months after Iran said it had begun enriching uranium to 20% purity at the plant.
This September 1, 2014 file photo, shows a nuclear research reactor at the headquarters of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi, File)
Last month, Military Intelligence chief Maj. Gen. Aharon Haliva said Iran has made “significant progress” toward producing 90% enriched uranium.
The IAEA reported in July that Iran had 43 kilograms of uranium enriched to 60% purity at other sites, enough fissile material for one nuclear weapon if Iran chose to pursue it.
However, Iran still would need to design a bomb and a delivery system for it, likely a months-long project.
Talks seeking to revive the nuclear deal have stalled, alongside international condemnation of Tehran’s heavy-handed response to domestic protests.
The deal collapsed after Washington’s unilateral withdrawal in 2018 under then-president Donald Trump.
Israel has long opposed the nuclear accord, saying it delayed rather than ended Iran’s nuclear progress and arguing that sanctions relief empowered Tehran’s proxy militias across the region, with expected incoming prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu coming out strongly against the deal.
The likely future Israeli prime minister said Iran’s deadly response to protesters shows weakness
By Ronn Blitzer , Andrew Murray | Fox News
In an interview with Fox News Digital, former and likely future Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu discusses protests in Iran, the future of the Iran nuclear deal, and peace between Israel and the Arab world.
“It’s probably dead because the entire world saw what the true face of this regime is,” Netanyahu said. “That’s thanks to the extraordinarily brave Iranian women and men who took to the streets – who take to the streets – against this vicious, murderous and brutal regime. And I think people ask themselves, ‘Do we want the ayatollahs, who chant death to America, to have the weapons of mass death and the ballistic missiles to deliver them to any part on Earth?’ and the answer is of course not.”
As the protests calling for an end to the Islamic regime have gone on, news came out that Iran was enriching uranium at an underground facility at a level approaching what is needed for a nuclear weapon. Asked if he is concerned that continued pressure from the demonstrations could make Iran more erratic, Netanyahu did not dismiss the idea but said the protests are exposing Tehran and showing the leadership’s vulnerability.
“I suppose so, but I think that it also highlights the fact that they’re really weak – that they govern only with basically the threat of murder,” he said. “And the people are showing remarkable resilience.”
As an example of the resolve of the Iranian people, Netanyahu referenced the Iranian World Cup soccer team remaining silent during their national anthem before their first game of the tournament.
“The whole world is watching, and the entire team refused to sing the anthem, not because they’re not Iranian patriots, because they are,” he said. “Because they know their country has been hijacked by this gang of theological thugs who govern simply by terror. And the fact that the entire world sees that I think has made the possibility of stopping Iran’s nuclear program and rolling back the tide of this horribly aggressive regime possible.”
Netanyahu observed that both sides of the political spectrum are more united against Iran now than they had been before. Whether or not this results in actually stopping Iran, he said, “depends on how much the community of like-minded nations unites” to keep them from getting a nuclear weapon.
Netanyahu angered many American officials in 2015 when he accepted an invitation to appear before a joint session of Congress and speak against the Iran nuclear deal – against the position of then-President Barack Obama. Netanyahu said he respected Obama but disagreed with him on this issue. Going against the president at that time “wasn’t an easy decision,” Netanyahu said, but it was a decision he made out of concern for Israel’s survival.
As it turned out, that speech may have helped lead to the one of the most remarkable regional developments in recent memory: emerging peace between Israel and its Arab neighbors.
Abraham Accords signing ceremony at the White House on Sept. 13, 2020. (Getty)
“In the course of giving that speech in Congress, our delegation received calls from Gulf governments – Arab governments in the Gulf – who said, ‘We don’t believe what we’re seeing. We don’t believe that your prime minister is willing to take this stand against an American president. It’s very hard,'” Netanyahu recalled. “And that’s what led to meetings in 2015, clandestine meetings with Gulf Arab leaders … and that created the foundations for the Abraham Accords.”
Netanyahu said that the developing peace with Arab nations debunked the long-standing myth that regional stability would not come until after Israel made peace with the Palestinians.
“That’s inside out. My argument is the exact opposite: it’s outside in. Complete the circle of peace with the entire Arab world and then get to the Palestinians,” Netanyahu said. “And perhaps then we could have them abandon their idea that they’ll do away with the Jewish State once they recognize the right – not merely the fact, but the right – of Israel to exist as a Jewish state, then I think we’ll be well on the way to a solution with them as well.”
The Israeli-Palestinian conflict had long been emblematic of a greater conflict between Israel and the Arab world, but that no longer seems to be the case as the local conflict continues despite Arab countries improving relations with the Jewish state. Most recently, Israel was hit by two explosions at Jerusalem bus stops, attacks that Hamas, the group in control of the Gaza Strip that the U.S. has on its list of designated terror organizations, praised, according to Reuters.
The cover of former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s new book, which covers his military service, work in politics and insights from his career. (Simon & Schuster)
Hamas is backed by Iran, setting it apart from much of the Arab world. Netanyahu noted that “the rise of Iran’s threat” was one of “the foundations” of the Abraham Accords, along with Israel’s growing military and technological power.
Another recent point of conflict between Israel and Palestinians involved the death of Palestinian-American Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh. Palestinians quickly blamed Israel, and Israel later stated that Abu Akleh was likely accidentally killed by gunfire from Israeli Defense Forces.
The U.S. Department of Justice said they were going to investigate the matter. Current Prime Minister Yair Lapid came out against this, and Netanyahu echoed that sentiment.
“Israel has its own investigatory powers,” Netanyahu said, adding that the IDF has “really meticulous internal mechanisms” to handle such situations.
Netanyahu himself has also drawn criticism from U.S. officials, including longtime supporter of Israel Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., over far-right members of the coalition that Netanyahu is looking to form to set up a new government that he would lead as prime minister. In particular, Menendez reportedly referenced the inclusion of individuals like Itamar Ben-Gvir.
Critics have painted Ben-Gvir as a right-wing extremist for his connections and support of far right-wing elements in Israel, including the late Rabbi Meir Kahane, whose ultra-nationalist party was outlawed from running in subsequent elections for inciting racism against Arabs. Kahane was assassinated by a terrorist in Manhattan in 1990. Ben-Gvir said that Menendez’s criticism was “incorrect and mistaken.”
Netanyahu said the criticism was not “morally or logically consistent,” calling out Menendez and others for being silent when his opposition aligned themselves with supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood. Netanyahu accused that group of supporting terror while his partners “support the Jewish State.”
Netanyahu said that having time away from the prime minister’s office “renewed” his energy to reenter the “cruel” world of politics.
“The reason I came back to power is because I live a life of purpose. And my purpose is to protect the Jewish state and make sure that Israel has a … secure and prosperous existence for the decades to come,” he said.
Netanyahu also addressed a problem facing Jews worldwide: rising antisemitism. The issue has especially been impacting Jews in the U.S. in recent weeks following the spread of antisemitic comments and tropes by notable figures such as Kanye “Ye” West and NBA player Kyrie Irving.
Asked about whether influential figures such as Ye and Irving could empower other antisemites, Netanyahu agreed that this is a concern.
“Yes, I think that’s clear,” he said, calling antisemitism “a chronic disease” that “changes its form” over the 2,500 years that it has existed.
Netanyahu said the only real defense against antisemitism is to “take a strong stance against it.” He also pointed out that the existence of the state of Israel gives Jews a means of defense, be it militarily, morally, politically or otherwise.
“The rebirth of Israel was meant to give a defense against antisemitism,” he said.
Fox News’s Benjamin Weinthal contributed to this report.
The commander of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard says the Supreme Leader wants to reach a point where having a nuclear deal with the West will make no difference for Iran.
Speaking to a large crowd on Thursday, General Hossein Salami also tried to present the IRGC and its paramilitary Basij as “servants of the people,” amid a popular uprising in which security forces have so far killed around 450 civilians since mid-September.
Salami repeated regime slogans about “independence” and “self-sufficiency” and said, Khamenei “has turned a few issues into a matter of pride that America cannot swallow. One of these is his strong stand on the issue of JCPOA, and it has reached a stage when the acceptance or rejection of the JCPOA has no importance for Iran.”
After 18 months of indirect negotiations by the Biden Administration to revive the 2015 nuclear accord known as the JCPOA, talks broke down in early September, when the US rejected excessive demands by Iran.
Salami also praised the 83-year-old authoritarian ruler for spreading the influence of the Islamic Republic to other countries, adding that “enemies” cannot accept “this development.”
Many countries raise the issue of Tehran’s “malign activities” in the Middle East, by financially and militarily building a network of militant groups in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Yemen and elsewhere.
People celebrating in the Kurdish city of Sanandaj after the Islamic Republic’s soccer team lost against the US and exit the World Cup on November 29, 2022
The IRGC commander then went on repeating accusations made by Khamenei and other officials in the past two months against “enemies” for plotting to destroy Iran. At the same time, he claimed that Iran has become a “powerful force” and “the enemy is fleeing from the Islamic world.”
For this reason, he claimed, the United States is fomenting unrest in Iran, but the Iranian people “are standing up to America.”
In fact, thousands of Iranians across the country celebrated the defeat of Iran’s team by the US side in the World Cup on Tuesday, seeing the loss as a defeat for the regime that tries to use sports to strengthen its image.
The United States has repeatedly dismissed accusations that it has anything to do with the anti-regime protests. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Wednesday that one of the “profound mistakes” that the “regime makes is in accusing the United States or any other country” of somehow being “responsible for, instigating what’s happening. That’s not at all the case. And to misunderstand their own people is at the heart of the problem that they’re facing.”
But the Biden Administration has also voiced support for Iranians to have the right to peacefully protest and officials have met with Iranian activists to underline that policy.
Blinken in a separate interview with NBC also reiterated the administration’s policy, saying “the most important thing that we can do is first to speak out very clearly ourselves in support of the people’s right to protest peacefully, to make their views known, and as I said, to take what steps we can take to go after those who are actually oppressing those rights, including through sanctions.”
Iranians mainly blame Khamenei, the Revolutionary Guard and its Basij paramilitaries for deadly use of violence against protesters. Many have reached the point that they will accept nothing short of a complete regime change and the establishment of a secular, democratic political system.
Iran’s announcement Tuesday that it was enriching uranium to 60 percent at the Fordow site was yet another “reaction to the excesses of the West,” IRNA argued, just as enrichment to 60 percent at Natanz, another nuclear site, in April came in response to “sabotage actions” at the site attributed to Israel.
In fact, Iran decided to start 60-percent enrichment in early 2021 just as the new US administration had announced its readiness to return to the JCPOA and talks in Vienna were about to begin.
Tehran announced the latest move as a reply to a resolution raised by France, Germany, the United Kingdom, and the United States passed November 17 at the board of the 37-member board of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). The US and ‘E3’ had “tied a technical and legal case…to events inside the country and protests turned into riots,” IRNA argued. “The troika of Europe and the United States stopped the nuclear talks under the pretext of unrest inside Iran.”
Casting further doubts on talks, IRNA argued, was the looming return to power of Benjamin Netanyahu, which it suggested would “definitely intensify…the Zionist regime’s delusional claims against the Islamic Republic of Iran.”
Ali Bagheri-Kani Iran’s chief negotiator in Vienna talks on August 4, 2022
Majlesi argued that “the West” had long given up hope of negotiating with Iran and sought to re-use tactics that had undermined the Soviet Union. “Western countries,” he said, had judged that President Ebrahim Raisi’s government, which took office in 2021, inclined against the JCPOA with ministers asking why Iran accepted nuclear restrictions while gaining nothing from the agreement.
The result was an “impasse” in diplomatic efforts to restore the JCPOA – an impression confirmed, Majlesi said, by the French president and Canadian prime minister recently meeting “supporters of subversion in our country,” a reference to exiled activists and social-media ‘influencers.’This accelerated an “agenda against Iran” over “recent years” that had “led to significant economic pressures” aimed at “impoverishing Iran.”
Kanani-Moghadam argued that Iran retained political levers “in the event of the escalation of hostile policies,” including “complete withdrawal from the JCPOA” (presumably ending all nuclear restrictions but staying within the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty), or even leaving the NPT.
Bagheri-Kani in India: Focus on economy
Post-JCPOA thinking were also evident in discussions during the visit to India of Ali Bagheri-Kani, deputy Iranian foreign minister and leading nuclear negotiator. While IRNA Thursday reported Bagheri-Kani attacking “the atmosphere created by some western media regarding the developments in Iran,” its focus was business.
While Bagheri-Kani’s brief as one of five deputy ministers is politics, his interview with Asia International News Agency(ANI) also focused on economics, and how commerce might continue should US ‘maximum pressure’ last. ANI noted that bilateral trade had risen 46 percent between 2011-12 and 2019-20.
While criticizing the US for disrupting world energy security with sanctions against Iran, Russia, and Venezuela, Bagheri-Kani highlighted potential for Iran to help India over energy in return for food exports, presumably through barter or non-dollar arrangements. He also stressed that India’s project for developing Chabahar port, in Sistan-Baluchistan province, was continuing.
New Delhi has been slow to develop the port in fear of US punitive action under ‘maximum pressure.’ Once a major buyer of Iranian oil, India has grown increasingly frustrated at Washington’s approach. It abstained, along with Pakistan, at the recent vote condemning Iran at the IAEA board.
The authors begin in an academic and methodical manner, with general descriptions of various political science models that explain why some states choose to develop weapons of mass destruction (WMDs). Next is a learned discussion of the role of religion in shaping states’ national security policies, and a very detailed focus on statements by Iranian clerics and a discussion of the Iranian theocracy’s policy on WMDs. The authors’ reasoning is based on the decisive role played by religious edicts (fatwas) in the decisions of the Islamic Iranian regime. Asserting that the development, acquisition and use of WMDs are forbidden in Islam, they then discuss how Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei’s alleged anti-nuclear weapons fatwa is legally binding upon Iran’s theocracy and would completely prevent Iranian attempts to acquire a nuclear bomb.
In a detailed rebuttal to those who doubt the existence of the fatwa, Modogal and Mousavian acknowledge that there is no such written fatwa (p. 69) but argue that “this concern is not significant considering the position of Ayatollah Khamenei and the publicity of his statements. As far as the legitimacy of a fatwa in concerned, it is not necessary to be issued in written form. It has been a practice since early times to issue oral fatwas, and it may be written down by those who heard them. The statements of Ayatollah Khamenei have also been reported by those who heard it. His statements against nuclear weapons have been published on his personal website.”
What the authors do not clarify is how one might distinguish between a political declaration in a speech by the Supreme Leader as head of state and a formal and binding religious edict that is considered a fatwa that he issues as the supreme religious authority. If Khamenei’s statements against Iran’s possession of nuclear weapons have indeed been published on his personal website, it would be strange for him, a jurisprudent, to have consistently refrained from taking one more step and publishing it on one of his two sites in which his fatwas appear in their traditional format. That format is a specific question addressed to the jurisprudent and, in response, his ruling on it, based on religious arguments.
“Question:Your Excellency has announced a ban on the use of nuclear weapons, and considering that nuclear weapons are a requirement for deterrence and that the aim of obtaining them is to intimidate the enemies in order to prevent them from acting aggressively, and in light of what is written in Surat Al-Anfal, Verse 60 […] is it also forbidden to obtain nuclear weapons, as per your ruling that their use is prohibited?”
Khamenei’s response, also on Facebook, was brief: “Answer: Your letter has no jurisprudential aspect. When it has a jurisprudent position, then it will be possible to answer it.” The exchange was concluded by a “Summary: No answer was given.”
A year later, on March 10, 2022, addressing Iran’s Assembly of Experts, Khamenei referred to nuclear weapons as “an arm of power” and explained: “The nuclear issue is […] about scientific progress and our future technology. […] People are talking about making concessions to America or to others in order to become immune to the sanctions. This means severing this arm of our policy and [giving up] this bargaining chip […] I believe that these [compromises] are mistakes. If, over the years, the people who want to chop off some of those arms of power had been given permission to do so, our country would be facing great danger today.” This position is in line with Khamenei’s ridicule, in his March 20, 2011 Persian New Year address, of Libyan leader Muammar Qadhafi for handing over his nuclear installations to the U.S.: “This gentleman wrapped up all his nuclear facilities, packed them on a ship, and delivered them to the West and said, ‘Take them!’ Look in what position our nation is, and in what position they [the Libyans] are now.”
The New Iranian Talk About Iran’s Need For Nuclear Weapons
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 sparked a surge of blunt Iranian talk, including depictions of Iran’s future nuclear weapons as essential to Iranian national security. Iranian Majlis (parliament) member Mohammad Ka’ab Amir said on February 26, 2022: “Ukraine is an example from which the supporters of the West and the East must learn. We must insist on the nuclear rights of the Iranian people […] so Iran will be strong, with nuclear and military might.” On the same day, the daily mouthpiece of the Iranian regime, Kayhan, wrote: “A close look at the dimensions of the Ukraine crisis and the world’s response to it indicates very clearly why the leader of the [Iranian] Revolution [Khamenei] has stressed the issue of building strength on every level, and has firmly opposed any concession regarding factors that guarantee the country’s [ability to defend its] security on its own, without relying on others.” Two days later, it clarified: “An important lesson of the Ukrainian war is that, in order to dispel threats, one must be strong. Disarming and handing over one’s sources of strength is the deadliest mistake…” Similarly, Passive Defense Organization head, Gen. Gholamreza Jalali said on March 6, 2022: “One of [Ukraine’s] mistakes was that although it is one of the world’s nuclear powers, it transferred all its nuclear facilities and capabilities to Europe in exchange for European security and support.”
Continuing in this series of open statements, Dr. Mahmoud-Reza Aghamiri, head of the nuclear engineering department at Shahid Beheshti University in Tehran, spoke candidly to an audience on April 9, 2022, saying: “Today, you have deterrence capability. What does this mean? It means you can raise your uranium enrichment level to 99% within a very short period of time. You have the power, if needed, to ‘let off control’ the nuclear fission. In other words, you can install it on a warhead and let it do whatever it wants […] It is natural to have the power, the might, and the capabilities that would make your enemy succumb to your demands in the negotiations.”
Kamal Kharrazi, former Iranian foreign minister (1997-2005) and currently a foreign policy advisor to Khamenei as well as chairman of Iran’s Strategic Council on Foreign Relations, said in a July 17, 2022 interview on Qatar’s Al-Jazeera TV: “It is no secret that we have become a nuclear threshold country. This is the reality. This is a fact. It is no secret that we have the required technological capabilities to produce a nuclear bomb. But we do not want that and have not decided to do so. In the past, we raised the level of uranium enrichment from 20% to 60% in a matter of days. We can simply raise this level to 90%.”
The Nuclear Fatwa Legend – Where Did It Come From?
In view of these statements, one may wonder where the legend of a binding, anti-nuclear fatwa issued by Khamenei came from. The following account shows its trivial origin. On November 15, 2004, in Paris, Iran signed an agreement with France, Germany and the United Kingdom in which it declared that “it does not and will not seek to acquire nuclear weapons.” It also undertook to “continue and extend its suspension to include all enrichment related and reprocessing activities.” In return, the International Atomic Energy Agency Board of Governors decided not to refer Tehran to the UN Security Council.
To reach this agreement, Iran’s then-chief nuclear negotiator Hassan Rouhani, who would later become Iranian president, sought an argument that would win the confidence of the Europeans, and decided to make use of a Friday sermon that Khamenei had delivered in Tehran on November 5, 2004, 10 days before the Paris agreement was signed. Years later, in a television interview with the U.S. Public Broadcasting Service that aired in May 2012, Rouhani claimed that Khamenei had “talked about the fatwa” in his sermon. However, Khamenei had only said in the sermon that “nuclear weapons, their production, storage and use – each of these is problematic. We have also expressed our jurisprudential opinion. It is clear, and everyone knows [it].” In other words, in his sermon Khamenei had neither issued a fatwa nor used the religious term “haram” (“forbidden”) – he had merely called nuclear weapons “problematic.”
In this 2012 interview, Rouhani exposed his trick, stating: “That was when we were on the verge of the Paris Agreement. The European troika emphasized [the need for] strong guarantees [to not develop nuclear weapons] […] I told the three European ministers that they should know about two explicit guarantees from our side, one of which is the fatwa of the Supreme Leader [who] declared the production of nuclear weapons haram [forbidden]. This fatwa is more important to us than the NPT [Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty] and its Additional Protocol, more important than any other law.” Asked whether he brought the matter up after previous consultations Rouhani answered: “it occurred to me right there to bring it up.” Thus, on the spur of the moment, the “nuclear fatwa” was diplomatically birthed. Responding to the next question, Rouhani said that the Iranian government had even considered making the “fatwa” into a law, because the Europeans “were saying that if [the fatwa] becomes the law, it would eliminate the West’s concerns. […] This was a confidence-building measure for the West.” It is thus clear that the legend of the “nuclear fatwa” was the result of Rouhani’s 2004 cunning political move.
Finally, a surprise: Despite the learned content of his new book Religion and Nuclear Weapons, and its emphasis on the binding nature of the “nuclear fatwa,” Professor Mousavian warned in a recent article (emphasis added): “If Western powers try to corner Iran and reinstate UN-led sanctions, Tehran would likely withdraw from the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Any military strike by Israel or the U.S. would likely then push Iran towards building a nuclear weapon.”
* Ayelet Savyon is Director of the MEMRI Iran Media Project; Yigal Carmon is MEMRI Founder and President; Ze’ev B. Begin is a Senior Fellow at MEMRI.
A spokesman for the Iranian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Nasser Kanaani, said the negotiations over the Iranian nuclear program have reached a “dead end”, adding that Europe has failed to fulfil its obligations as stipulated in the nuclear agreement.
Commenting on the UN Human Rights Council decision, last Thursday, to form a high-level fact- finding investigation into the Iranian authorities’ crackdown on protesters following the death of Mahsa Amini, Kanaani said, “Iran will not cooperate with the political committee called the Fact-Finding Commission”.
“The hasty use of human rights mechanisms and the use of these mechanisms as a tool against independent states is unacceptable and condemnable, and does not contribute to the advancement of human rights,” Kanaani said.
Regarding the attack on the Israeli oil tanker, Kanaani said, “Making false accusations against Iran is a goal that the Israeli Occupation and its allies seek to achieve. If Iran does something, it is brave enough to bear its responsibility.”
DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — An Iranian general on Monday acknowledged that more than 300 people have been killed in the unrest surrounding nationwide protests, giving the first official word on casualties in two months.
That estimate is considerably lower than the toll reported by Human Rights Activists in Iran, a U.S.-based group that has been closely tracking the protests since they erupted after the Sept. 16 death of a young woman being held by the country’s morality police.
The protests were sparked by the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini, who was detained for allegedly violating the Islamic Republic’s strict dress code. They quickly escalated into calls for the overthrow of Iran’s theocracy and pose one of the most serious challenges to the ruling clerics since the 1979 revolution that brought them to power.
Gen. Amir Ali Hajizadeh, the commander of the aerospace division of the paramilitary Revolutionary Guard, was quoted by a website close to the Guard as saying that more than 300 people have been killed, including “martyrs,” an apparent reference to security forces. He also suggested that many of those killed were ordinary Iranians not involved in the protests.
He did not provide an exact figure or say where his estimate came from.
Authorities have heavily restricted media coverage of the protests. State-linked media have not reported an overall toll and have largely focused on attacks on security forces, which officials blame on shadowy militant and separatist groups.
Hajizadeh reiterated the official claim that the protests have been fomented by Iran’s enemies, including Western countries and Saudi Arabia, without providing evidence. The protesters say they are fed up after decades of social and political repression, and deny having any foreign agenda.
The protests have spread across the country and drawn support from artists, athletes and other public figures. The unrest has even cast a shadow over the World Cup, with some Iranians actively rooting against their own national team because they see it as being linked to the government.
The niece of Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei recently called on people to pressure their governments to cut ties with Tehran over its violent suppression of the demonstrations.
In a video posted online by her France-based brother, Farideh Moradkhani urged “conscientious people of the world” to support Iranian protesters. The video was shared online this week after Moradkhani’s reported arrest on Nov. 23, according to the activist group.
Moradkhani is a long-time activist whose late father was an opposition figure married to Khamenei’s sister and is the closest member of the supreme leader’s family to be arrested. The branch of the family has opposed Khamenei for decades and Moradkhani has been imprisoned on previous occasions for her activism.
“I ask the conscientious people of the world to stand by us and ask their governments not to react with empty words and slogans but with real action and stop any dealings with this regime,” she said in her video statement.
The protests, now in their third month, have continued despite a brutal crackdown by Iranian security forces using live ammunition, rubber bullets and tear gas.
Iran refuses to cooperate with a fact-finding mission that the U.N. Human Rights Council recently voted to establish.
“The Islamic Republic of Iran will not engage in any cooperation, whatsoever, with the political committee,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Nasser Kanaani said Monday.
In a separate development, Iran released a 76-year-old dual Iranian-Austrian citizen from prison for health reasons, the Austria Press Agency reported.
APA quoted the Austrian Foreign Ministry confirming that Massud Mossaheb was given indefinite medical leave. The ministry said “intensive diplomatic efforts” had led to his release, which was first reported by Austrian daily Die Presse. There was no immediate comment from Iran.
Iran has detained several dual nationals in recent years on charges of threatening national security. Analysts and rights groups accuse hard-liners in Iran’s security agencies of using foreign detainees as bargaining chips in negotiations or prisoner swaps with the West, which Tehran denies.
Events over the past several weeks, in the U.S. and in Israel, indicate strongly that the Biden administration has decided to drop all notion of reviving the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, the JCPOA, as the 2015 agreement is called. In effect, Biden will hold to the position Donald Trump took when he pulled the U.S. out of the pact in 2018.
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This brings us straight back to those dangerous years when recklessly risky covert operations in the Islamic Republic and the threat of open conflict were the norm. But what is a little more existential peril when Washington is all but directly confronting the world’s most heavily nuclearized nation by way of a wildly irresponsible regime located on Russia’s doorstep? I suppose we can look at it this way.
I knew all along I had made a safe bet on the fate of the Iran accord. Given the way Biden has operated over his half-century career, if he says he is going to do something it is a fairly good sign he has no intention of doing it. And there seemed to me no way an American pol so deep in the Israelis’ pocket would take any step that would displease the apartheid state’s savagely anti–Iran leadership.
This is a man who famously proclaims “You need not be a Jew to be a Zionist”—an assertion of his position he repeated during a state visit to Israel but four months ago. This is also a man who long ago learned how to manipulate Capitol Hill politics to his own advantage.
I know it is asking a lot, but readers may cast their minds far, far back to the forgotten days of “Build Back Better,” the second coming of FDR, and all that. It seemed perfectly obvious that Biden knew he could make all the extravagant promises he thought politically expedient because he also knew few to none of them would ever make it through the houses of Congress.
It was the same with the idea of bringing the U.S. back into the JCPOA. The lying dog-faced pony soldier who moved into the White House in January 2021 knew he could commit to reviving the accord with no chance his administration would ever do so. As soon as Biden assumed office and named his national security detail it was perfectly evident that Israel would be running their Iran policy.
Bibi Netanyahu was prime minister at the time, readers will recall, and he made it explicitly clear on repeated occasions during Biden’s early months in office that his Israel would never accept a restored or even renegotiated JCPOA. From then onward, the fate of the accord has been color by number.
The U.S. went ahead with new talks with the Islamic Republic, beginning in April 2021 and continuing well into this year. These were conducted indirectly in a Geneva hotel, with European diplomats running room to room as go-betweens. The American negotiators were led by Robert Malley, a seasoned conflict-resolution man with a pretty good record.
Details of just what was in the new accord—what of the original limits on Iran’s nuclear development, what was added to them—were never made clear. Iran’s preoccupation during the Geneva talks was with a guarantee that sanctions relief it would receive in exchange for its concessions would not be withdrawn when one Washington administration gave way to another—Tehran having taken the Trump withdrawal as a stinging betrayal.
No chance. On August 24, a couple of weeks after the Borrell announcement, the bubble burst. Ned Price, the State Department spokesman, stated—deadpan, no detail—that the U.S. had sent a response to the draft Borrell was waving around. John Kirby then signaled that the U.S. would keep a safe distance from it. “Gaps remain,” Biden’s “strategic communications” man declared. “We’re not there yet.”
And then came Israeli PM Yair Lapid, who, like Netanyahu, is of the right-wing Likud party. “A bad deal,” he said of the draft. The diplomats in Geneva “must stop and say ‘Enough.’” The new outline “does not meet the standards set by Biden himself, preventing Iran from becoming a nuclear state.”
Note the language of a leader whose nation was party neither to the original agreement nor to the new negotiations: To his mind, what would constitute a good deal could not be limited to banning a nuclear weapons program; Israel would insist Iran must not have a nuclear program of any kind, even one limited to peaceful purposes—energy production, advanced medical procedures, and the like. Three months later, nearly to the day, we read this David Sanger piece published in Sunday’s New York Times:
“Now, President Biden’s hope of re-entering the United States into the deal with Iran that was struck in 2015, and that Donald J. Trump abandoned, has all but died…. At the White House, national security meetings on Iran are devoted less to negotiation strategy and more to how to undermine Iran’s nuclear plans, provide communications gear to protesters and interrupt the supply chain of weapons to Russia, according to several administration officials…. ‘There is no diplomacy right now under way with respect to the Iran deal,’ John Kirby, a spokesman for the National Security Council at the White House, bluntly told Voice of America last month.”
Sanger, who has followed the Iran question for many years and who consistently reflects the national security state’s perspective, asserts, “A new era of direct confrontation with Iran has burst into the open.”
Sanger’s piece explains what is supposed to be an abrupt turn away from the JCPOA talks by noting the Tehran government’s tough responses to recent protests in the capital and other cities, Iran’s sales of drones to Russia, and violations of Iraqi territory—yes, believe it, the U.S. gets very upset when it hears of violations of Iraqi territory. Most worrisome, it seems, is that Iran intends to enrich uranium to “near bomb grade”—not bomb grade—at a facility called Fordow that is built inside a mountain.
The problem with Fordow, Sanger writes, is that it is “hard to bomb.” I am reminded of a remark Netanyahu made in response to Iran’s development of missile defense systems a few years ago. These will make it hard for us to attack, Bibi complained. How dare those Iranians.
To be clear about these matters, the recent unrest in Iran is three things: justified, unfortunate given the official repression it prompts, and none of the Biden administration’s business if you subscribe, as I do, to the principle of nonintervention in the internal affairs of other nations. Iran’s drone sales to Russia reflect the steady elaboration of the bilateral relationship and simply do not hold up as an excuse to shut down the Geneva diplomatic process.
As to Iran’s enrichment programs, we’ve been around this any-moment-they-will-build-a-bomb bit for too many years to count. Far down in Sanger’s piece, where this stuff always appears, we read, “The United States recently issued an assessment that it had no evidence of a bomb-making project underway.” I love Sanger’s comeback after writing that obligatory sentence: But maybe the intelligence is wrong, he suggests.
Nowhere in Sanger’s report—as nowhere in all mainstream reporting, indeed—do we read that Iran condemns nuclear weapons as a matter of religious principle and national defense doctrine. Just a small matter of no particular account.
My take on Iran’s nuclear intentions, for the record, remains what is has been for many years: The Islamic Republic has no ambition to build a nuclear bomb but would find it a useful deterrent—and who wouldn’t with Israel next door?—were it to develop the capacity to build one.
The Biden administration has all along had to give the appearance of a genuine effort in Geneva, and maybe Malley’s work was so. But it is the same, again, as with Build Back Better: We tried to give Americans what they want and need, but Congress blocked us. In the Iran case, after months of diplomatic footsie, the recent developments David Sanger cited presented a convenient out: We tried to negotiate with these people, but then… and then… and then…
The timing of this turn in the administration’s public presentation of its Iran policy merits brief attention. Israel’s legislative elections earlier this month have opened the way for Netanyahu, still obsessed with attacking Iran, to return to power. As none other than Tom Friedman noted in “The Israel We Knew Is Gone,” the new government he appears likely to head will be an absolute freak show—“a rowdy alliance of ultra–Orthodox leaders and ultranationalist politicians, including some outright racist, anti–Arab Jewish extremists once deemed completely outside the norms and boundaries of Israeli politics.”
It is impossible to imagine—or I find it impossible, anyway—that the Biden administration’s decision to abandon negotiations on the Iran nuclear accord, apparently promising only a few months ago, is not primarily a reflection of this turn in Israeli politics.
Americans and Israelis have already trained for an attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities. Ehud Barack, a former Israeli defense minister, let it be known years ago that Netanyahu planned military strikes on three occasions—2010, 2011, and 2012—but was foiled by inopportune circumstances or reluctant officers.
The JCPOA talks in Geneva, apart from their stated intent, represented an open channel between Washington and Tehran. I recall John Kerry, Obama’s secretary of state, declaring after the accord was signed in mid–July 2015 that it was a door through which other matters could be addressed.
What will come now, as the Biden administration closes this door? To watch and pray is all I can think to do.
Patrick Lawrence, a correspondent abroad for many years, chiefly for the International Herald Tribune, is a media critic, essayist, author and lecturer. His most recent book is Time No Longer: Americans After the American Century. His web site is Patrick Lawrence. Support his work via his Patreon site. His Twitter account, @thefloutist, has been permanently censored without explanation.