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Spotlight on Iran Update November 27, 2011

Iran's activities this week, including war scenarios, the IAEA Board of Governors, Iran's internal power struggle, and Islamic law enforcement campaign and finally the Azeri separatism at Iranian soccer match.  

Possible scenarios of war against Iran: a look from Tehran 

This week the official website of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei uncharacteristically published a commentary article titled “Possible scenarios of threat against Iran”.

The article, also published in the daily Resalat, was written by Dr. Amir Mohebbian, a top Iranian political commentator affiliated with the conservative camp. In light of the media discourse about a possible attack on Iran, the author of the article offers an in-depth analysis of three possible scenarios of an attack on Iran led by the United States and its allies, and estimates the likelihood of each.

Mohebbian argues that the main objective of the West is to topple the Iranian regime. Having tried and failed to achieve this objective through various means, it is now left with two options: weakening the regime to render it more vulnerable, and launching a military attack.

He details three possible scenarios of war against Iran: an all-out war of attrition combined with ground intervention, a limited war that includes action against the command centers of the regime and is aimed to promote political objectives, and a selective war against specific targets aimed to strip Iran of its offensive capabilities.

The political commentator goes into great detail about the severe problems involved in a military campaign against Iran in each of the three scenarios. It is his assessment that the third scenario (selective war against specific targets) is the most plausible of the three, but even the likelihood of this scenario is not particularly high due to several reasons, including the difficulty of attacking a large number of targets, the possibility of a selective war developing into an all-out war, the regional environmental consequences of an attack on nuclear facilities, and the inability of such an attack to impact Iran’s scientific nuclear abilities.

Mohebbian argues that the military option is brought up by the West as part of a psychological warfare campaign aimed to achieve a number of objectives: testing Iran’s reaction and the cohesion of the top echelon of its regime, mobilizing the support of Russia and China for sanctions against Iran, encouraging Arab countries to purchase American weapons to defend themselves against Iran, and forcing Iran into political concessions.

The author concludes the article with a discussion of Iran’s response to the threats it has received, arguing that the well-coordinated reactions by top regime officials and all of the country’s political factions reveal the inadequacy of the American strategy. The commentator also argues that the Supreme Leader’s public remarks concerning the military threats are aimed to send several important messages to the West: Iran will not yield to pressure, there is internal unity among the decision makers, Iran has no offensive intentions and poses no threat to any country in the region, and its policy is dependent on the policy of the other side. A reasonable policy by the United States will be met with a reasonable course of action, and any aggression will be met with a strong reaction.

Iran portrays IAEA Board of Governors’ resolution 
as political achievement following Amano’s report

This week top Iranian officials and conservative media portrayed the IAEA Board of Governors’ resolution on the Iranian nuclear program as a political achievement for Iran. Last Friday, November 18, the Board of Governors passed a draft resolution condemning Iran for going forward with its nuclear program and expressed its concern over Iran’s intentions, but chose not to refer the nuclear issue once again to the U.N. Security Council.

Mohammad Karamirad, member of the Majles Foreign Policy and National Security Committee, said that the Board of Governors’ resolution proves that the United States has failed to mobilize international support to isolate Iran. Mostafa Kavakebian, another member of the committee, also claimed that the main objective set by the United States ahead of the Board of Governors’ session was unfulfilled: referring the Iranian issue to the Security Council and imposing further sanctions against Iran. He noted, however, that Iran has to adopt an active diplomacy to close the nuclear issue and prevent any more resolutions against it, and fully disclose its nuclear program to IAEA member countries.

The daily Keyhan argued that the Americans, who believed they would have no problem persuading the Board of Governors to pass an anti-Iranian resolution based on the IAEA secretary-general’s report, have been defeated and realized none of their goals: referring the Iranian nuclear issue to the Security Council, confirming the IAEA secretary-general’s report, declaring Iran’s nuclear program as essentially military in nature, and presenting an ultimatum to Iran. According to the daily Qods, gone is the era when the United States could impose its views on the international system, and the resolution of the Board of Governors proves it.

International affairs commentator Hassan Beheshtipour, who spoke against Iran’s withdrawal from the NPT last week, defined the Board of Governors’ resolution as “neither a victory nor a defeat”. In an interview to the Fararu website, the commentator said that the fact that the Board of Governors did not refer the nuclear issue to the Security Council can be viewed as an achievement for Iranian diplomacy, but even that resolution is not beneficial for Iran, which must try to prevent similar resolutions in the future by cooperating with the IAEA and submitting a detailed response to the arguments brought up in the secretary-general’s report.

Internal power struggle in conservative camp: president’s
advisor sentenced to one year in prison and almost arrested

Ali-Akbar Javanfekr, the president’s media advisor and director of the government daily Iran and the official news agency IRNA, was sentenced to one year in prison and three years of suspension from journalism on charges of publishing content that goes against Islam in a special supplement released in August 2011 by the daily Iran. The supplement expressed controversial views on women’s veils and drew strong criticism from the conservative establishment. On Monday, November 21, security forces attempted to arrest Javanfekr at the offices of the Iran newspaper. Over 30 employees were detained in confrontations with the security forces. Javanfekr was not arrested, apparently thanks to the president’s intervention.

In addition to being convicted for the supplement, Javanfekr stirred a political and media scandal this week following an interview given to the reformist daily E’temad, in which he strongly condemned the government’s critics and the judiciary. The daily was then shut down for two months by the authorities.

In the interview, Javanfekr accused the judiciary of making false allegations against the president’s supporters and arresting his allies for political reasons. He also lashed out against former Intelligence Minister Gholam-Hossein Mohseni Eje’i and former Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki, who were dismissed by the president, saying they should keep quiet to retain their dignity. He rejected claims made by the president’s critics that Ahmadinejad and his allies are disloyal to the Supreme Leader and involved in economic corruption, and also denied reports according to which the president intends to resign before the legal end of his term.

After the interview, Keyhan’s editor-in-chief Hossein Shariatmadari strongly criticized Javanfekr, accusing him of collaboration with Iran’s external enemies and the reformist opposition to undermine the regime and Iran’s status in light of regional and global developments.

Next target of Islamic law enforcement campaign: internet cafés and photography shops

Tehran’s police chief Hossein Sajedinia reported last weekend that the Tehran police recently launched an operation to shut down illegal photography shops and internet cafés which provide their clients with banned services that go against the commonly-accepted “social norms”. On the first day of the operation the Tehran police inspected 90 photography shops and 260 internet cafés, issued tickets, and even shut down some of them.

Conservative news websites have complained recently that internet cafés operating in Tehran have become the preferred recreation sites for youngsters who do not comply with Islamic religious law and do not adhere to the Islamic dress code and moral values.

In recent years internal security forces have stepped up the campaign to enforce the Islamic code in various fields, which include confiscating satellite dishes, enforcing the Islamic dress code, confiscating unlicensed DVD films, closing down barber shops that offer Western-style haircuts, and taking action against designers of “inappropriate-style” clothing.

Azeri separatism at Iranian soccer match

A number of independent websites and blogs reported this week that some fans of the Tractorsazi soccer team from Tabriz wore shirts with the flags of Turkey and Azerbaijan to a soccer match against the Fajr-e Sepasi team from Shiraz. One fan even raised the Azerbaijan flag.

The conservative website Raja News strongly condemned the fans for bringing “separatist symbols” to the match, accusing them of an attempt to stir “pan-Turkish” ideas at soccer matches. The website called on the Iranian authorities to take action against the phenomenon.

Iranian concerns over internal Azeri separatism increased following the dissolution of the U.S.S.R. in 1991 and the establishment of independent Muslim republics, including Azerbaijan, due to the existence of a sizable Azeri minority in the country (about 20 percent of Iran’s population). Such concerns are one of the main reasons behind the differences of opinion between Iran and Azerbaijan, which escalated this past year over the suppression of the Islamic opposition in Azerbaijan, the authorities’ effort to restrict religious activity in the republic and their sometimes hostile approach towards Iranian tourists, the growing Israeli involvement in the country, and disagreements over the division of the Caspian Sea.

 

Possible scenarios of war against Iran: a look from Tehran

This week the official website of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei uncharacteristically published a commentary article titled “Possible scenarios of threat against Iran”. The article, also published in two parts in the daily Resalat, was written by Dr. Amir Mohebbian, a top Iranian political commentator affiliated with the conservative camp. In light of the media discourse in recent weeks on a possible attack on Iran, the author of the article offers an in-depth analysis of three possible scenarios of an attack on Iran led by the United States and its allies, and estimates the likelihood of each.

Dr. Mohebbian begins the article by discussing the Western policy towards Iran, saying it is based on a combination of hopes and concerns about developments in Iran. On one hand, the West hopes to take advantage of Iran’s ethnic and national heterogeneity to stir instability in the border regions populated by ethno-linguistic minorities; in addition, the West pins hopes on internal political developments in Iran and the chance to make the regime lose control as a result of domestic challenges. On the other hand, the West is aware of Iran’s growing influence in the region due to the “Islamic awakening”; the relative ineffectiveness of the sanctions imposed on Iran; the strong ties between Iran, Hezbollah, and Syria; and Iran’s military growth despite the sanctions.

For years the West has tried various tactics against Iran: Western-backed subversion in the border regions was curbed thanks to Iranian activity against the Baluchi Jondollah  and the Kurdish Pejak organizations, efforts to help the Syrian opposition in an attempt to topple President Assad and escalate pressure on Hezbollah have so far been unsuccessful, activity against the Revolutionary Guards’ Qods Force and the escalation of sanctions against Iran have also failed to fulfill the objectives of the West, key among which is toppling the regime. The Western world’s hopes of toppling the regime by having Iran’s neighbors exert the same kind of pressure they did in the Iran-Iraq War; organizing an internal uprising, as was the case in the riots of 2009; and secularizing the regime, which was evident in the reform period, have been disillusioned. The West is therefore left with two ways to realize its objective: weakening the regime and rendering it more vulnerable, and launching a military attack

Top political commentator Dr. Amir Mohebbian, from the Supreme Leader’s website
Top political commentator Dr. Amir Mohebbian,
from the Supreme Leader’s website

Dr. Mohebbian goes on to detail three possible scenarios for a war against Iran led by the United States and its allies:

1. An all-out war of attrition combined with ground intervention after an air assault. 
2. A limited war which includes action against the command centers of the regime and is aimed to advance political objectives: at best, toppling the regime; at worst, forcing Iran into submission at the negotiating table. 
3. Selective war against specific targets aimed to strip Iran of its offensive capabilities, particularly those that can be used against Israel.

Mohebbian believes that the first scenario is highly unlikely given the severe problems involved in its implementation: the ability of Western countries to coordinate and carry out such a complex operation is limited and almost non-existent; occupying and exerting complete control over Iran will have far-reaching geopolitical and geo-strategic consequences for the international balance of power which will pose a threat to the status of Russia and China and force them to react; historic experience shows that after the Vietnam War the United States avoided going to war against countries it wasn’t certain of being able to defeat; the end of the George Bush era marked the end of the radical era of United States policy; the coming presidential elections in the United States will likely have an impact on its foreign policy and the American administration will go to war only if it’s clear that it ends successfully in time for the elections; the United States is facing severe economic and social problems that prevent it from going into another war; Iran is a very large country where waging a war of attrition will be difficult; and the West doesn’t have enough intelligence on Iran’s capabilities. In light of the above, it is Mohebbian’s assessment that the chances for an all-out war against Iran are approaching zero.

The second scenario (limited war against the regime’s “nerve center”) also involves considerable problems: such an offensive would require the West to have confidence in its ability to paralyze the regime already after the first blow; the Iranian regime, which learned the lessons of previous wars waged by the United States, took the necessary measures to prepare for an attack on its power structures and is ready to protect itself from serious damage; such an attack can lead to unpredictable reactions by the regime against the West; the United States cannot be certain that an attack on the regime’s targets will not further radicalize it and encourage it to set the entire region on fire, threatening nearby Arab countries; it is unlikely that European countries, which enjoy good economic relations with Iran, will be willing to take part in the “dangerous game” played by the United States for the latter’s own interests; the United States cannot be certain that, if the regime falls, there will be a new regime it can control; even if such a war can bring Iran back to the negotiating table, there is no guarantee that it will end with any kind of achievement for the West. Regardless of its negotiating stance, Iran may employ strategic deception and engage in covert operations, and even if the regime does surrender and sign an agreement to suspend the nuclear program, there is no guarantee that it will not be rejected by the Iranian people.

The third scenario (selective war against specific targets) is likewise complicated. If the West chooses to attack economic targets, it will put Iran’s civilian population at risk and will only garner more support for the regime; it is impossible to attack all of Iran’s military targets due to its size; a selective war may deteriorate into an all-out or at least a regional war; if nuclear targets such as the Bushehr reactor are attacked, it may have severe environmental repercussions for nearby countries; an attack on specific nuclear targets will not eliminate Iran’s scientific nuclear capabilities.

Mohebbian concludes by saying that while the third scenario is the most plausible, even the likelihood of this scenario is fairly low.

The commentator also discusses the question of why the West keeps bringing up the military option even though it is aware of the fact that it will come at a high, unknown price. His answer is that it is part of a psychological warfare campaign. The war is a lie that can always be used to put Iran to the test and achieve a number of objectives: intimidating the Iranian people to increase the pressure exerted on the regime, provoking disagreements between hawks and doves among senior regime officials, hitting Iran’s economy and reducing the regime’s ability to justify the harsh economic conditions, creating an internal crisis, making achievements at the negotiating table, throwing the regime from the offensive to the defensive and forcing it to focus on its own survivability, and testing the regime’s ability to deal with crisis situations.

By bringing up the military option, the United States aims to test Iran’s reaction and the cohesion of the regime’s top echelon, mobilize the support of Russia and China for sanctions against Iran, spread fear in Arab countries and encourage them to purchase American weapons to defend themselves against Iran, force Iran into such political concessions as terminating its support for Hezbollah and Syria, and curbing Iran’s influence on the “Islamic awakening”.

Mohebbian concludes the article with a discussion of Iran’s response to the threats it has received, arguing that the well-coordinated reactions by top regime officials and all of the country’s political factions to the threats, as well as the public’s disregard for them, reveal the inadequacy of the American strategy. According to the commentator, the Supreme Leader’s public remarks concerning the military threats are aimed to send several important messages to the West: Iran will not yield to pressure, there is unity among the decision makers, Iran has no offensive intentions and poses no threat to any country in the region, it will not accept being terrorized and threatened, and its policy is dependent on the policy of the other side. A reasonable policy by the United States will be met with a reasonable course of action, and any aggression will be met with a strong reaction (www.khamenei.ir, November 18).

Iran portrays IAEA Board of Governors’ resolution 
as political achievement following Amano’s report

This week top Iranian officials and conservative media portrayed the IAEA Board of Governors’ resolution on the Iranian nuclear program as a political achievement for Iran. Last Friday, November 18, the Board of Governors passed a draft resolution condemning Iran for going forward with its nuclear program and expressed “deep and increasing” concern over Iran’s intentions. At this point, however, the Board of Governors avoided a resolution that could make it possible to impose stronger sanctions on Iran through the U.N. Security Council.

Ali-Asghar Soltaniyeh, Iran’s representative to the IAEA, said that the Board of Governors’ resolution is not particularly significant. He stressed once again that Iran will continue its nuclear activity, will not agree to suspend uranium enrichment for even a second, and continue allowing the IAEA to inspect its nuclear facilities (Fars, November 18).

Mohammad Karamirad, member of the Majles Foreign Policy and National Security Committee, said that the Board of Governors’ resolution proves that the United States has failed to mobilize international support to isolate Iran. He said that the efforts made by the United States to refer the nuclear issue to the Security Council have failed due to the resistance of Russia, China, and the non-aligned countries (Press TV, November 19).

Mostafa Kavakebian, another member of the committee, also claimed that the main objective set by the United States ahead of the Board of Governors’ session was unfulfilled: referring the nuclear issue to the Security Council and imposing further sanctions against Iran. He added, however, that despite the failure of the United States and the IAEA secretary-general, the Board of Governors’ resolution isn’t a cause for celebration. He noted that Iran has to hold talks with the countries that supported the decision to fully disclose its nuclear program, while allowing the agency’s inspectors to visit its nuclear facilities. He further stated that Iran has to adopt an active diplomacy to close the nuclear issue and prevent any more resolutions against it, and to make IAEA Secretary-General Yukiya Amano understand that he must stop acting like he is the one in charge of implementing decisions made by the United States (Mardom Salari, November 20).

The daily Keyhan reported that the Board of Governors did not yield to American pressure and did not agree to pass an aggressive resolution against Iran’s nuclear program. The Americans, who believed they could have the Board of Governors pass an anti-Iranian resolution based on the IAEA secretary-general’s report, have been defeated. A commentary article published by the daily said that many countries questioned the information contained in the secretary-general’s report, and that Russia and China said it had no new information and defined it as being political. Nevertheless, the Americans attempted to use it as a basis for a new resolution against Iran, but were met with unprecedented opposition from Russia, China, and the non-aligned countries. The Americans wanted the Board of Governors to pass a resolution that would once again refer the Iranian nuclear issue to the Security Council, confirm the IAEA secretary-general’s report, declare Iran’s nuclear program as essentially military in nature, and pose an ultimatum to Iran over its cooperation with the agency on the military aspects of the nuclear program. In practice, the Americans could not achieve even one objective, and the resolution passed by the Board of Governors cannot prove useful to America’s strategy against Iran. The daily stressed Israel’s disappointment with the decision and the strong criticism voiced by representatives of the non-aligned countries against the IAEA secretary-general for the report he released (Keyhan, November 19).

The daily Qods also discussed the failure of the United States to pass a more aggressive resolution against Iran, and said that the position taken by China, Russia, and the non-aligned countries proves that the time when the United States could impose its views has passed, and that international resistance to Western dictates is on the rise (Qods, November 20).

International affairs commentator Hassan Beheshtipour, who spoke last week against Iran’s withdrawal from the NPT, defined the Board of Governors’ resolution as “neither a victory nor a defeat”. In an interview to the Fararu website, the commentator said that the fact that the Board of Governors did not refer the nuclear issue to the Security Council can be viewed as an achievement for Iranian diplomacy, but even that resolution is not beneficial for Iran, which must make an attempt to prevent similar resolutions in the future.

Beheshtipour said that Iran has to re-launch cooperation with the IAEA to remove the doubts brought up in Amano’s report over its nuclear program. Iran has to adopt an active nuclear diplomacy and promptly present its views on the nuclear program to world public opinion. He argued that it is not enough simply to continue cooperating with the IAEA inspectors to prevent any more resolutions against Iran, and that Iran has to submit a detailed response to the IAEA’s claims, particularly those that touch upon the allegedly military aspects of its nuclear program (Fararu, November 19).

Internal power struggle in conservative camp: president’s
advisor sentenced to one year in prison and almost arrested

Ali-Akbar Javanfekr, the president’s media advisor and director of the government daily Iran and the official news agency IRNA, was sentenced this week to one year in prison and three years of suspension from journalism on charges of publishing content that goes against morality and the principles of Islam. On Monday, November 21, security forces attempted to arrest Javanfekr at the offices of the Iran newspaper. Over 30 employees were detained in confrontations with the security forces. Javanfekr was not arrested, apparently thanks to the president’s intervention (ISNA, November 21).

The president’s advisor was sentenced for publishing a supplement on women’s veils called Khatun (“Lady”) in an August 2011 issue of the daily Iran. The supplement, which included articles and photographs that addressed the subject, expressed controversial views and drew strong criticism from the conservative camp. An article authored by Javanfekr and published in the supplement criticized the operations conducted by the internal security forces to enforce the Islamic dress code on women. After the release of the supplement, the president’s critics in the conservative camp claimed that the views expressed there reflected the anti-religious outlook of the “deviant faction” affiliated with President Ahmadinejad and his allies, particularly his office chief Rahim Masha’i.

In addition to being convicted for the Khatun supplement, Javanfekr stirred a political and media scandal this week following an interview given to the reformist daily E’temad, in which he strongly condemned the government’s critics and the judiciary. The daily was then shut down for two months by the authorities.

In the interview Javanfekr claimed that the president enjoys widespread public support and owes nothing to the conservative political establishment. He categorically denied claims about the alleged involvement of the president’s allies in corruption, saying that no such claim has been proven so far. He lashed out against the judiciary, blaming it for what he referred to as politically-motivated arrests of some of the president’s allies.

Referring to the dismissal of former Intelligence Minister Heydar Moslehi, which provoked a serious crisis between the Supreme Leader and President Ahmadinejad, Javanfekr said that the president had not disobeyed the Supreme Leader, and that those saying he had did not represent Khamenei’s opinion. He argued that the Intelligence Ministry was not under the government’s control after the 2009 presidential elections, and that both Moslehi and his predecessor, Gholam-Hossein Mohsen Eje’i, who was removed from his post by the president in July 2009 and is currently Iran’s prosecutor-general, were not Ahmadinejad’s allies.

Ali-Akbar Javanfekr (E’temad, November 19)
Ali-Akbar Javanfekr (E’temad, November 19)

Javanfekr lashed out against Eje’i and former Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki, who was also dismissed by the president, saying that the two ministers had better keep silent to maintain their dignity. He also condemned Majles members Ali Motahhari and Ahmad Tavakoli, two of Ahmadinejad’s most prominent opponents in the conservative camp, claiming they had never supported Ahmadinejad, and that Motahhari even supported reformist opposition leader Mir-Hossein Mousavi.

The president’s advisor added that Ahmadinejad doesn’t follow through his threats to expose corruption to avoid compromising the regime’s interests, and that the president’s opponents are concerned over such an exposure and therefore work against his allies. He rejected claims made by the president’s critics that Ahmadinejad and his allies are disloyal to the Supreme Leader, saying that Iranians know full well who stands behind the Supreme Leader and who is loyal to him. Javanfekr also denied reports according to which the president intends to resign before the legal end of his term (E’temad, November 19).

After the interview, Keyhan’s editor-in-chief Hossein Shariatmadari strongly criticized Javanfekr, accusing him of collaboration with the reformist opposition and the enemies of Iran. In a strong-worded article published by Shariatmadari, a former Ahmadinejad supporter who in recent months has strongly criticized the president’s association with the “deviant faction”, the editor-in-chief of Keyhan said that the interview reflects the joint efforts undertaken by Iran’s external enemies, the reformist opposition, and the “deviant faction” to undermine the regime and the position of the Islamic republic.

The timing of the interview is no coincidence, Shariatmadari claimed, and cannot be explained simply as a device to divert public opinion from the involvement of the “deviant faction” in the massive embezzlement recently exposed in Iran’s banking system. The main reason behind the interview granted by Javanfekr to a reformist daily he himself defined as unreliable only three years ago has to do with regional and global developments. The Islamic revolutions in the region, the fall of the Arab dictators, the growth of Iran’s status, and the escalation of social protest in the United States and Europe requires the enemies of the Islamic republic to use all means possible to destabilize its status: bringing up claims about Iran’s nuclear program and human rights situation, making false accusations about its alleged involvement in the plot to assassinate the Saudi ambassador in Washington, and passing anti-Iran resolutions in international institutions. According to Shariatmadari, the interview given by the president’s advisor to E’temad also plays into Western attempts to weaken the regime, emphasize internal differences of opinion, and destabilize Iran’s regional position (Keyhan, November 21).

Hojjat-ol-Eslam Mehdi Ta’eb, chairman of the central council of Ammar Headquarters, a think-tank affiliated with the radical wing of the conservative camp, also strongly condemned Javanfekr. He said that the “deviant faction” wants to cause damage to the leaders of the regime and provoke internal disagreements to divert public opinion from the major, important issues on the agenda, including the Islamic awakening (Fararu, November 21).

Speaking at a press conference he convened after being convicted for the Khatun supplement, Javanfekr once again expressed his controversial views. He said that there is no “deviant faction”, and that the president and his supporters have always upheld the principles of the revolution, do not deviate from anything, and have nothing to hide from the public.

Javanfekr noted that he had no intention of slandering anyone in his interview to E’temad, and that his claims against the judiciary are objective rather than personal. He stressed that the judiciary has to safeguard the rights of the Iranian people and treat them fairly. As long as he is alive, Javanfekr said, he will continue expressing his opinions and voicing his views under the law. Thirty-two years into the Islamic revolution, the right to voice one’s opinion deserves to be freely exercised and tolerated, he added.

Referring to his incrimination, the president’s advisor said it is unjust and that he intends to lodge an appeal. He claimed that he was incriminated as a result of the media storm that broke out after the publication of the Khatun supplement, and that it had no basis in fact (ISNA, November 21).

Next target of Islamic law enforcement campaign: internet cafés and photography shops

Tehran’s police chief Hossein Sajedinia reported last weekend that the Tehran police recently launched an operation to shut down illegal photography shops and internet cafés which provide their clients with banned services. He noted that the police will take strong action against those who “mislead the youth” and violate the law or social norms.

According to Sajedinia, the police was prompted to launch the operation by complaints it received from many families about inappropriate services offered by photography shops and internet cafés to young people. He said that, among other things, photography shop owners expose private photos that cause numerous family problems, and internet cafés provide illegal services. As the operation began the Tehran police inspected 90 photography shops and 260 internet cafés, issued tickets, and even shut down some of them (ISNA, November 19).

Internet cafés and photography shops

A number of conservative news websites have complained recently that internet cafés operating in Tehran have become the preferred recreation sites for youngsters who do not comply with Islamic religious law and do not adhere to the Islamic dress code and moral values. Young men and women spend hours sitting side by side, talking to each other, smoking, and listening to music in an inappropriate environment (Farda News, September 16).

In recent years internal security forces have stepped up the campaign to enforce the Islamic code in various fields, which include confiscating satellite dishes, enforcing the Islamic dress code, confiscating unlicensed DVD films, closing down barber shops that offer Western-style haircuts, and taking action against designers of “inappropriate-style” clothing.

In June 2007 internal security forces chief Esma’il Ahmadi-Moghaddam announced that many internet cafés that cater mostly to young people operate without a license and violate the law. Iranian law has clear criteria as to who qualifies to operate an internet café, stating among other things that such a business may only be opened by a married person aged 30 or older.

Azeri separatism at Iranian soccer match

A number of independent websites and blogs reported this week that some fans of the Tractorsazi soccer team from Tabriz wore shirts with the flags of Turkey and Azerbaijan to a soccer match against the Fajr-e Sepasi team from Shiraz. One fan even raised the Azerbaijan flag.

The conservative website Raja News strongly condemned the fans for bringing “separatist symbols” to the match, saying that on a number of past occasions the same fans had incited other soccer fans to shout separatist slogans during matches. The website accused them of encouraging “pan-Turkish” ideas and attempting to take advantage of the situation to promote their “deviant objectives”. It also called on security, law, and sports authorities to take action against the phenomenon and ban these fans from stadiums (Raja News, November 18). The incident was also reported by the Documentation Center of the Islamic Republic and independent blogs mostly affiliated with the radical wing of the conservative camp.

After the dissolution of the U.S.S.R. in 1991 and the establishment of independent Muslim republics (including Azerbaijan) to the north of Iran, Iran became increasingly concerned over the growth of Azeri national consciousness, particularly when considering the existence of a sizable Azeri minority in the country (about 20 percent of Iran’s population), which does not enjoy national rights. In March 2006 the government was forced to temporarily shut down the government daily Iran, which published a mocking caricature of an Azeri child and sparked riots among the Azeri minority.

Iranian concerns over internal Azeri separatism are one of the causes of the disagreements between Iran and Azerbaijan, which stretch back several years. Such concerns have escalated this past year over the suppression of the Islamic opposition by the Azerbaijani authorities and their efforts to restrict religious activity in the republic, the growing Israeli involvement in the country, the authorities’ sometimes hostile approach towards Iranian tourists, and disagreements over the division of the Caspian Sea. On a number of occasions Iranian media even threatened that unless Azerbaijan ceases its efforts to encourage Azeri separatism in Iran and change its hostile stance towards Tehran, Iran may demand the return of the Caucasus territory it ceded to Russia under the treaties signed between the two countries in the 19th century.

Pictures of the week: 
central council of World Assembly of Islamic Awakening meets in Tehran

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