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The Iran Primer

Khamenei Google+ : On Iran’s Lazy Youth

            On August 29, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s office announced the launch of his English language Google Plus account. One of the first postings bemoaned the laziness of Iran’s youth and included a picture of Khamenei walking up a mountain road. Tehran has periodically blocked some Google services, including YouTube. But Google Plus remains one of the only Western social media sites accessible in Iran. Khamenei’s office opened his Farsi language Google Plus account in March 2012.

 

 

Rouhani Tweets: Women, Egypt, Econ & Sport

      During his first month in office, President Hassan Rouhani’s office tweeted extensively on women’s rights, job creation and foreign policy. He promised to take decisive action to fix the economy within 100 days. But Rouhani also warned, “I'm no miracle maker” in one tweet. “National unity, building bridges not walls, hard work, #dedication, #prudence and #hope however might lead to miracles,” he added. The following is a rundown of Rouhani’s tweets on key issues in August.

 
 
 
On Women
            Rouhani argued for increased women’s participation in society during the presidential campaign. In August, he went further by linking domestic security to women gaining equal opportunities. Rouhani also welcomed the appointment of the Foreign Ministry’s first female spokesperson, Marzieh Afkham.
On the Economy
            Rouhani pledged to take quick and decisive action on the economy within his first 100 days in office. One tweet indicated that his administration will share the results of new policies with the public. Rouhani previously claimed that job growth under Mahmud Ahmadinejad’s administration was exaggerated.
 
On Egypt
            Rouhani warned Egypt’s army to not “suppress” its own people, alluding to violent crackdowns on supporters of ousted President Mohamed Morsi.
 
On Foreign Policy
            Rouhani’s tweets emphasized Iran’s desire to improve its relations with other Middle Eastern countries. His account posted a picture of him with Oman’s Sultan Qaboos bin Said al Said, the first foreign head of state to visit Tehran since Rouhani’s inauguration.
 
On Sports
            Rouhani’s account has kept close track of Iranian teams competing internationally. @HassanRouhani has posted more than a dozen messages congratulating men’s and women’s teams on their wins. The men’s basketball team was the most recent victor.
 
On Syria
            Rouhani’s tweets encouraged outside powers to help facilitate dialogue between the regime and the opposition instead of arming the rebels.
 
 

Khamenei Comments: On Foreign Policy

      In August, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei focused particularly on regional conflicts and foreign policy. He urged Egyptians to avoid a civil war—and prevent the kind of conflict that is destroying Syria. Khamenei blamed the bloodshed in Syria and Iraq on foreign powers. “U.S. intervention in Syria or any other country will turn into a disaster for the region,” he warned. Through his official social media accounts, Khamenei responded to allegations that Syria used chemical weapons. He condemned the use of weapons of mass destruction by the United States in Japan and Iraq against Iran. The following are excerpts from the supreme leader’s speeches, sermons and social media.

 
Egypt
      “We are concerned about what is happening in Egypt. Considering the things that are being done in this country, the idea that a civil war may break out in Egypt is gaining strength on a daily basis and this is a disaster. It is necessary for the great people of Egypt and political, scientific and religious personalities in this country to take a look at the current situation and see what catastrophic consequences this situation may have. They should see the current situation in Syria. They should see the consequences of the presence of western and Zionist mercenaries and terrorists wherever they are active.”
            Aug. 9, 2013 sermon for Eid al Fitr
 
Weapons of Mass Destruction
            “With its large stores for collecting extremely dangerous weapons of mass destruction, the corrupt Zionist regime is a serious threat for the region…  The region needs public security and this goal will be achieved only if there is a genuine effort to prevent weapons of mass destruction from being built in the region.”
            Aug. 27, 2013 at a meeting with Omani Sultan Qaboos bin Said
Graphic posted on Khamenei’s official Facebook page
 
Syria
            “U.S. intervention in Syria or any other country will turn into a disaster for the region. The region has turned into a gunpowder stock. The United States’ intervention means nothing but warmongering and acts like a spark in a stockpile of gunpowder.”
            Aug. 27, 2013 in a meeting with President Hassan Rouhani’s cabinet
 
Iraq
            “In Iraq, a democratic administration and government has come to power with the votes of the people. Because superpowers and the reactionary forces of the region are unhappy about this situation, they do not want to let the people of Iraq feel comfort. These explosions, these killings and these criminal and terrorist activities results from the assistance and financial, political and arms support of a number of regional and ultra-regional powers which do not want to let the Iraqi nation live its life the way it wants.”
             Aug. 9, 2013 sermon for Eid al Fitr
 
Regional Problems
            “If it was not for the intervention of foreigners, if it was not for the hostile policies of global powers, the events that are taking place in West Asia and North Africa today would definitely not be as complex as they are in the present time. Today, the cure for these problems lies in the fact that nations should make a decision on their own. Others should not intervene.”
            Aug. 9, 2013 speech to representatives from Muslim countries for Eid al Fitr
 
New Israeli-Palestinian Talks
            “We believe that the world of Islam should not back down on the issue of Palestine... It should not let these negotiations which are conducted with the so-called mediation of America lead to more oppression against the people of Palestine and to the isolation of Muslim Palestinian fighters. In fact, America is not a mediator.”
            Aug. 9, 2013 sermon for Eid al Fitr
 
 

U.N. Report: Iran Slowing Nuke Program

            Iran has made slow but steady progress on its nuclear program, according to a new quarterly report by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). The following analysis by the Institute for Science and International Security breaks down the positive and negative developments.

Positive Developments
• The stock of near 20 percent low enriched uranium (LEU) hexafluoride has increased by only a small amount to 185.8 kilograms.  This amount is below the amount assumed sufficient to produce, if further enriched, enough weapon-grade uranium for a nuclear weapon.

• Iran has made only 10 fuel assemblies for the Arak heavy water reactor so far, despite intending to have made 55 assemblies by now.  Not surprisingly, Iran announced that it will delay the commissioning of the reactor.  This is a positive development since the reactor would produce plutonium that, if separated, could be used in nuclear weapons. Furthermore, the loading of this reactor could trigger an Israeli strike; Israel has bombed two reactors, one in Iraq in 1981 and the other in Syria in 2007.  Negotiations should seek to indefinitely delay the start of the Arak reactor or to convert it to use light water and LEU fuel.

• Iran has not started enriching in any newly installed centrifuges for many months.  It could be producing much more enriched uranium in those newly installed centrifuges. Any negotiations should limit Iran’s enrichment activity to those currently enriching and prohibit enrichment in additional installed centrifuges.
 
Negative Developments
• Iran has installed over 1,000 IR-2m centrifuges at the Natanz Fuel Enrichment Plant (FEP).

• Iran has installed another 1,861 IR-1 centrifuges at the FEP, bringing the total to 15,416 IR-1 centrifuges installed at the FEP.  Iran is on track to achieve a “critical capability” as of mid-2014, or perhaps sooner.  Critical capability refers to Iran’s ability to produce enough weapon-grade uranium for a nuclear weapon before inspectors could detect the breakout.

• Iran continues to refuse to cooperate with the IAEA on the possible military dimensions of its past and possibly on-going nuclear programs, including refusing to permit an IAEA visit to Parchin.  Iran should allow the IAEA access to Parchin immediately, but more importantly, should address the IAEA’s concerns about its suspected past and possibly ongoing work on nuclear weaponization.
 
 

Marriage and Divorce of Hamas and Hezbollah

Hanin Ghaddar

            Iran has always been the element that tied Sunni Hamas and Shiite Hezbollah together. The Islamic Republic’s priority was to foster organizations that would be part of the “resistance” against Israel and the West. Hanin Ghaddar analyzes the split between the two organizations and Iran’s role in their relationship.
 

Hamas and Hezbollah have been allies since the 1980s, when they were both founded. How is their relationship today?

      Hamas and Hezbollah have had a dramatic breakup after the Syrian conflict erupted in 2011. Part of the breakup is due to sectarian differences; another part is due to rival regional alliances. Hamas is a predominantly Sunni group. Hezbollah is overwhelmingly Shiite. The split has played out between their forces on the ground as well as between their political leaders.
      Both movements—which are political parties as well as militias—have been allied with Syria and Iran since they were both founded in the 1980s. The rupture is one of the most profound shifts in Islamist politics over the past three decades.
            Relations have steadily soured between the two organizations since protesters took to the streets against the regime of President Bashar Assad in March 2011. Hezbollah remained loyal to the Damascus regime, while Hamas relations with Assad eroded.
            Sectarian differences began to redefine their relationship in later 2011, as the Syrian conflict devolved into a confrontation between Sunni rebels and a government led by Alawites, a Shiite offshoot. In January 2012, Hamas moved its headquarters from Syria to Qatar, which is a Sunni sheikhdom. Within weeks, Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh formally announced support for Sunni rebels.
            In early 2013, Hezbollah increased its presence in the conflict, dispatching troops to fight alongside Syrian forces. By mid-2013, Hezbollah and Hamas were reportedly fighting each other in the Syrian town of Qusayr, which is near the Lebanese border. Hezbollah fought side-by-side with the Syrian Army against rebels boosted by Hamas operatives.
           In June 2013, the two organizations tried to patch things up at a high-level meeting in Beirut. They reportedly agreed to disagree about the Syrian crisis and not allow political differences to affect their bilateral ties. But relations are almost certain to remain strained as long as they are both on the ground in Syria.
           For the wider Middle East, the Hamas-Hezbollah split is a dangerous microcosm of a growing trend. The Sunni-Shiite rivalry is now the main fault line on the ground and in politics, and it may impact the Syrian crisis most of all.

How has their relationship changed? What role has Iran played?
           Iran has always been the element that tied (Sunni) Hamas and (Shiite) Hezbollah together. The Islamic Republic’s priority was to foster organizations that would be part of “resistance” against Israel and the West. Tehran’s elite Revolutionary Guards basically created Hezbollah soon after Israel’s 1982 invasion of Lebanon. Iran has reportedly provided the organization with millions of dollars in funding and advanced weapons as a frontline resistance in Lebanon against Israel.
            Tehran was not involved in the creation of Hamas, which grew out Muslim Brotherhood remnants in the Gaza Stip. Hamas formally announced its formation when the first Palestinian uprising, or Intifada, erupted against Israeli occupation in 1987. Tehran reportedly started providing Hamas financial aid and military training in the early 1990s. Thousands of Hamas militants have reportedly trained at Revolutionary Guard bases in Iran and Lebanon, while Hamas opened an office in Tehran.
            Iran continued support for Hamas during the Second Intifada from 2000 to 2005. It increased aid to Hamas after Yasser Arafat’s death in 2004 and Israel’s 2005 withdrawal from Gaza. It also helped bail out Hamas after it took control of Gaza in 2007. Tehran also allegedly provided Hamas military equipment used in the 2008 and 2012 conflicts with Israel.
            Hezbollah developed close ties to Hamas as a result of Tehran’s sponsorship. In Lebanon, Hezbollah hosted Hamas leaders for years. But in mid-2013, Hezbollah reportedly asked Hamas leaders to leave Dahiyeh, the southern suburbs of Beirut.
            Tehran reportedly reduced its funding for Hamas over its involvement in Syria. “For supporting the Syrian revolution, we lost very much,” Ghazi Hamad, Hamas’ deputy foreign minister, said in May 2013.
            But Hamas may be reconsidering its strained relationship with Hezbollah and Tehran. Hamas may feel its position has weakened since the July 3, 2013 toppling of Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi, a former Muslim Brotherhood leader. A few weeks later, Hamas official Ahmad Youssef told the press that the movement had met with Iranian and Hezbollah representatives in Beirut. “Both sides stressed that their common enemy is Israel, with the understanding that each side understands the other’s position regarding areas of difference,” Youssef said, “particularly when it comes to the situation in Syria.”
 
What are the similarities and differences in their agendas? How have their goals and strategies changed since the 1980s?
      Hezbollah have Hamas have both undergone profound transformations since they were founded. In their early years, both were considered underground movements associated with violence and suicide bombings. But they later gained reputations for delivering social services. Hamas and Hezbollah built bases of support that allowed them to establish influential political parties.
      Since its inception, Hezbollah has been committed to resisting Israel. The Party of God has also been loyal to Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Its agenda has almost always aligned with Tehran’s interests. But it has accepted that Lebanon’s diverse population may necessitate a multi-sectarian state rather than an Islamic government.
            Hamas has had parallel goals to Hezbollah. It has been committed to the destruction of Israel and creating an Islamic state in Palestine, although some leaders have indicated in recent years that they might accept a Palestinian state based on the 1967 borders—next to a Jewish state. But the organization has retained its right to resist Israel with violence.
            Hamas and Hezbollah had similar goals and objectives as long as they considered Israel the main enemy. But the Syrian uprising changed everything. Hezbollah shifted its primary focus to defending the Assad regime rather than confronting Israel.
 
What countries influence, army and train Hamas and Hezbollah funds?
           Qatar stepped in to provide Hamas with money and arms once Iran reduced for support for Hamas. Qatar’s influence over Hamas also increased after Khaled Mashaal moved to Doha in 2012. He reportedly had a close relationship with the former emir, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al Thani. In October 2012, Sheikh Hamad became the first head of state to visit Gaza since Hamas took control in 2007. He pledged $400 million to build homes and rehabilitate roads. But Qatar’s relationship with Hamas has been merely political, not military.
            Hezbollah’s main benefactor is still Iran. But their relationship runs much deeper than any relationship Hamas has ever had with a sponsor. Hezbollah is significantly dependent on Iranian support, particularly the Revolutionary Guards.
            Hezbollah initially resisted getting involved in Syria because of the potential costs. But Iran’s needs have trumped Hezbollah’s interests. Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah has visited Iran twice since the Syrian uprising began. Hezbollah eventually entered Syria on the side of Assad, almost certainly under Iranian pressure.
 
What have Hamas and Hezbollah achieved politically?
            Hezbollah entered electoral politics in 1992, winning eight parliamentary seats. It gradually gained more influence as a member of coalition governments but did not play a major role until Syria’s 2005 withdrawal from Lebanon. Hezbollah effectively inherited the Syrian role, including influence over state institutions. By 2010, it was powerful enough to force the resignation of Prime Minister Saad Hariri by pulling out of the coalition government, although the move cost it some support.
            Hezbollah is now entrenched in the Lebanese state. It has sufficient clout to prevent the creation of any government that would try to exclude it. Its hold extends into some branches of the Lebanese Army and intelligence services.
            Hamas entered politics much later than Hezbollah. In 2006, it won a stunning victory against the long-dominant Fatah Party of Yasser Arafat in parliamentary elections--and quickly had to learn how to govern. In 2007, clashes between Hamas and Fatah left Hamas in uncontested control of Gaza, which it still held six years later.
            The electoral victories of Islamist parties in Egypt, Tunisia and Morocco boosted Hamas’ status after the 2011 uprisings. Two years later, however, its popular support may be ebbing. Ironically, Hamas now faces challenges from other Islamists, notably ultraconservative Salafis and jihadi groups in Gaza.
 
For more information on Hezbollah's interests in Syria, watch Ghaddar's July 25 presentation at the Wilson Center.
 
Hanin Ghaddar is the managing editor of NOW Lebanon and was a public policy scholar at the Woodrow Wilson Center for International Scholars Middle East Program in 2012.
 
Photo credits: Khaled Meshaal by Trango (Own work) [CC-BY-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

 

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