United States Institute of Peace

The Iran Primer

US Report on Iran's Support of Extremism

            Iran significantly increased its sponsorship of terrorism in 2012, according to a new report by the State Department. It claims that attacks in Africa, Europe, the Middle East, South Asia and the Far East were linked to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps-Qods Force or Iran’s ally in Lebanon, Hezbollah. The armed wing of the extremist Shiite political movement has also facilitated the training of Syrian government forces by Iran’s Qods Force. The following excerpts detail actions linked to Iran in several Middle Eastern countries . A link to the full report is included at the end.

            In 2012, there was a clear resurgence of Iran’s state sponsorship of terrorism, through the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps-Qods Force (IRGC-QF), its Ministry of Intelligence and Security, and Tehran’s ally Hizballah, who remained a significant threat to the stability of Lebanon and the broader region... In fact, Hizballah’s terrorist activity has reached a tempo unseen since the 1990s with attacks plotted in Southeast Asia, Europe, and Africa.
            Israel faced a wave of plots and attacks against its interests abroad that Israeli officials linked to Iran and Hizballah. Arms smuggling continued from Iran through Egypt into Gaza to Palestinian terrorist organizations…
            On the Northern Border, Israeli security officials remained concerned about the terrorist threat posed to Israel from Hizballah and its Iranian patron, arguing that Iran, primarily through the efforts of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps-Qods Force, continued to transfer arms to Hizballah in Lebanon… Terrorist plots were also uncovered against Israeli targets in Thailand, Azerbaijan, and Cyprus, and an attack was foiled in Georgia. Israeli officials publicly linked many of these plots and attacks to Hizballah and its Iranian sponsors…
            On October 6, the Israeli Air Force shot down an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) that entered Israeli airspace, and the IDF posted a video clip of the interception online. According to press, Hizballah leader Hassan Nasrallah, in televised remarks on October 11, acknowledged that the group had sent the drone, and claimed its parts were manufactured in Iran and assembled by Hizballah in Lebanon.
            On May 28, Kuwait’s Court of Appeals commuted the death sentences of three defendants (two Iranians and a Kuwaiti), convicted of belonging to an Iranian espionage cell, to life in prison. The court also upheld the life imprisonment sentence for the fourth defendant (a stateless man) and the acquittal of two other Iranians, but overturned the life sentence imposed by a lower court against a Syrian defendant and acquitted him. The cell’s seven members (four Iranians, a Kuwaiti, a Syrian, and a stateless man) were apprehended in May 2010 on charges of espionage, terrorist plotting, and vandalism. The Court of Appeal’s verdicts are not final, and are expected to be challenged at the Court of Cassation (Supreme Court equivalent), whose rulings are final.
            Hizballah, with deep roots among Lebanon’s Shia community and significant backing from the Iranian government, remained the most dangerous and prominent terrorist group in Lebanon… Hizballah has directly trained Syrian government personnel inside Syria, has facilitated the training of Syrian forces by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps-Qods Force, and played a substantial role in efforts to expel Syrian opposition forces from areas within Syria…
            Yemeni government officials accused some pro-secessionist members of the Southern Movement (Hirak), of carrying out violent acts in the south. Senior security and military officials accused Hirak in the south and Houthi groups in the north of receiving weapons and funding from Iran in an effort to destabilize Yemen. They also accused Iranian elements of raising political and sectarian tensions through disinformation that promoted and encouraged violent extremism.
Click here for the full report.

US Lifts Sanctions

            On May 30, the United States authorized the export of cell phones, computers and internet equipment to Iran. The export of such consumer electronics and communications tools had been banned since 1992. “As the Iranian government attempts to silence its people by cutting off their communication with each other and the rest of the world, the United States will continue to take action to help the Iranian people exercise their universal human rights, including the right to freedom of expression,” said State Department Spokesperson Jen Psaki.
            Even activist groups that oppose the Iranian regime have welcomed the U.S. move. “It is a critical step in providing Iranian citizens with safe and secure access to communications tools, enhancing their freedom of expression and access to information, which the Iranian government is trying to deny them at every turn,” said Hadi Ghaemi, executive director of the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran.
            The U.S. Treasury simultaneously designated an individual and two entities in Iran for censorship. The State Department also imposed visa restrictions on nearly 60 Iranian officials and other individuals who participated in political repression. The following are excerpts from the press release.

            The people of Iran should be able to communicate and access information without being subject to reprisals by their government. To help facilitate the free flow of information in Iran and with Iranians, the Department of the Treasury, in consultation with the Department of State, is issuing a General License today authorizing the exportation to Iran of certain services, software, and hardware incident to personal communications.  This license allows U.S. persons to provide the Iranian people with safer, more sophisticated personal communications equipment to communicate with each other and with the outside world.  This General License aims to empower the Iranian people as their government intensifies its efforts to stifle their access to information. The General License would not authorize the export of any equipment to the Iranian government or to any individual or entity on the Specially Designated Nationals (SDN) list.  The license can be found on OFAC’s Web site here
            The U.S. Department of the Treasury today also designated an individual and entities in Iran for contributing to serious human rights abuses committed by the Iranian regime, including through the use of communications technology to silence and intimidate the Iranian people.  Those designated include the Committee to Determine Instances of Criminal Content, the government entity charged with filtering the flow of information to the Iranian people as well Asghar Mir-Hejazi, the Deputy Chief of Staff to the Supreme Leader, who has used his influence behind the scenes to empower elements from Iran’s intelligence services in carrying out violent crackdowns against the Iranian people.  U.S. persons are generally prohibited from engaging in any transactions with those designated today, and any assets of those persons subject to U.S. jurisdiction are frozen. 
            Also today, the State Department imposed visa restrictions on nearly 60 other officials of the Government of Iran and other individuals who participated in the commission of human rights abuses related to political repression in Iran.  The individuals subject to these new U.S. visa restrictions include government ministers; military, intelligence, and law enforcement officers; judiciary and prison officials; and authorities from Iran’s information technology sector.  These restrictions cover those who have played a role in the ongoing repression of students, human rights defenders, lawyers, artists, journalists, religious and ethnic minorities, and other members of Iranian civil society.  The State Department previously imposed the same restrictions on more than 50 Iranian officials and other individuals involved in similar activities.
The Committee to Determine Instances of Criminal Content
            The Department of the Treasury designated the Committee to Determine Instances of Criminal Content (CDICC) pursuant to E.O. 13628 because it has engaged in censorship or other activities with respect to Iran on or after June 12, 2009, that prohibit, limit, or penalize the exercise of freedom of expression or assembly by citizens of Iran or that limit access to print or broadcast media.
            The CDICC, which falls under the Ministry of Justice of Iran, replaced a previous oversight committee after the adoption of the Cyber Crimes Law of 2009.  With the creation of the CDICC, the filtering process in Iran has become more systematic and uniform.  The Iranian authorities apply filtering on information they deem against the regime’s national beliefs and safety, and the filtering usually occurs without warning.
            Abdolsamad Khorramabadi, the head of the CDICC, said in May 2012 that the only legal authority in the country with decision-making powers on the matter of filtering was the CDICC, even though he had denied the very existence of the CDICC a month earlier.
            In a February 2013 meeting, the CDICC has assembled a list of “examples of cyber crimes” related to the upcoming presidential election. Some of the crimes listed include vague notions such as:
•           Disturbing the public and creating conflict in society;
•           Promotion of boycotting the election;
•           Publishing insulting content about the election and candidates;
•           Publishing any contents against the regime, government, judicial, legislature, and governmental organizations; and
•           Publishing untrue information regarding election results.
            The CDICC is empowered to identify sites that carry forbidden content and report the information to the Telecommunication Company of Iran and other major Internet service providers (ISP) for blocking.  The CDICC is headed by the prosecutor general and other members are representatives from 12 government bodies.  Laws identifying violations that might result in a website being marked for filtering are very broadly defined and range from insulting religious figures and government officials to distributing pornographic content and illegal circumvention tools.
            The CDICC’s expert council ordered the filtering of content surrounding the Majlis elections and Valentine’s Day in early February 2012.  The CDICC’s council approved the proposal to filter content and ISPs and website administrators were warned via e-mail about their obligation to block this illegal content on their networks.
Also, the CDICC’s expert council ordered the filtering of a popular Persian-language financial website, meshgal.org, in January 2012.
            This action was taken pursuant to E.O. 13628, which implements the Comprehensive Iran Sanctions, Accountability, and Divestment Act of 2010, as amended by the Iran Threat Reduction and Syria Human Rights Act of 2012 (TRA), by giving Treasury the authority to designate those who engage in censorship or other activities that limit the freedom of expression of the Iranian people.
Ofogh Saberin Engineering Development Company
            Ofogh Saberin was designated pursuant to E.O. 13628 because it has provided material support to censorship or other activities with respect to Iran on or after June 12, 2009, that prohibit, limit, or penalize the exercise of freedom of expression or assembly by citizens of Iran or that limit access to print or broadcast media, including the facilitation or support of international frequency manipulation by the Government of Iran or an entity owned or controlled by the Government of Iran that would jam or restrict an international signal.
            The Iranian Ministry of Communications and Information Technology and the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) placed the electronic warfare entity Ofogh Saberin in charge of a project to override and spoof commercial satellite communication frequencies emanating from what the Iranian government deemed were subversive Western media sources.
Asghar Mir-Hejazi
            Asghar Mir-Hejazi is being designated pursuant to E.O. 13553 for supporting the commission of serious human rights abuses in Iran on or after June 12, 2009, as well as providing material support to the IRGC and the Ministry of Intelligence and Security (MOIS).   Mir-Hejazi is the Deputy Chief of Staff to the Supreme Leader, and is closely involved in all discussions and deliberations related to military and foreign affairs. After the disputed 2009 election, Mir-Hejazi played a leading role in suppressing the unrest in Iran.
            Following the disputed June 12, 2009 presidential election and the massive protests it provoked, the government unleashed the most widespread crackdown in a decade. Both ordinary protestors and prominent opposition figures faced detention without trial, harsh treatment including sexual violence and denial of due process. Security forces were responsible for at least 30 deaths, according to official sources. Security forces also arrested dozens of leading government critics, including human rights lawyers, whom the government held without charge, many of them in solitary confinement. Security forces used beatings, threats against family members, sleep deprivation, and fake executions to intimidate detainees and to force them to confess that they instigated post-election riots and were plotting a coup. The IRGC, Basij, and the MOIS were responsible for many serious human rights violations.
            Mir-Hejazi, since the beginning of Khamenei's leadership, has been chief of the Supreme Leader's Office's Intelligence and Security Division, and is considered the working brain behind the scenes of important events. He is considered one of the primary officials in the oppression following the June 2009 post-election unrest. On March 23, 2012, the European Union added Mir-Hejazi to its restrictive measures (sanctions) list directed against certain persons and entities in view of the situation following the June 2009 elections in Iran.  .


Latest on the Race: Khomeini Daughter Defends Rafsanjani

      The daughter of late revolutionary leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini has urged the supreme leader to allow Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani to run for president. The Guardian Council ― the powerful body charged with vetting candidates ― has blocked the former president from running. “Please intervene in this important matter” and “prevent dictatorship,” Zahra Mostafavi Khomeini has written in a letter published online. She has warned that the rift between Rafsanjani and Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei is the “biggest harm” to Iran. Mostafavi has stated that her father had also considered Rafsanjani for the position of supreme leader, implying that he is capable of leading Iran.

            Khomeini’s most prominent daughter heads a party that advocates for women’s rights and increased political participation. The following is a translation of her letter.

             Since the day that I heard the Imam [Khomeini] approve your leadership, I've always repeated that view when needed. I also heard him confirm the qualifications of brother Hashemi [Rafsanjani], whose name the imam mentioned after yours. Fortunately, you were deservedly elected by the Assembly of Experts. Therefore, I did not think it was necessary to mention Khomeini’s comments. But unfortunately, today I see that the Guardian Council has rejected his [Rafsanjani’s] qualifications for the presidency ― so as a sister, I would like to point out that this action does nothing more than create a split between two companions of the imam and neglect the enthusiasm of people on the street for the system.
             I'm not claiming that Mr. Hashemi is the same person today that he was yesterday, as individuals do change: “And I do not acquit myself. The human soul is certainly prone to evil.” (The Koran, Yusuf 12: 53) But your gradual separation from one another is the biggest harm to the revolution and the system, since the Imam always said, “These two are good when they are together.”
             Please intervene in this important matter, and do not let one action undo all our previous efforts. Demonstrate why the imam used to say that “the supreme leader’s role is to prevent people from doing whatever they want” and to “prevent dictatorship.” 
             Please embody the true philosophy of the supreme leader. I'm certain that this is the request of many who are concerned about the situation in Islamic Iran ― their hearts want to hear the echo of unity and solidarity.
Zahra Mostafavi

Latest on the Race: Candidates Approved

            The Guardian Council has approved eight out of 686 candidates to run in Iran’s June 14 presidential election. The unelected body of 12 clerics and scholars rejected two individuals who might have been key contenders ― former President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani and Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s chief of staff. The approved group includes four hardliners who are close to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. The following are profiles of the eight candidates.

Mohsen Rezaei
      Born in 1954, he is the current Secretary of the Expediency Council, the powerful body charged with resolving disputes between parliament and the Guardian Council. Rezaei is also a former chief of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps. He unsuccessfully ran for parliament in 1999, and for the presidency in 2005 and 2009. He finished third in 2009 with 1.7 percent of the vote, far behind Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and reformist challenger Mir Hossein Mousavi. 

Mohammad Reza Aref
      Born in 1951, he served as vice president under former President Mohammad Khatami from 2001 to 2005. Since 2002, he has been a member of the powerful Expediency Council, the body charged with resolving disputes between parliament and the Guardian Council. Aref studied electrical engineering and reportedly did graduate work at Stanford University in the late 1970s. He was a professor at Isfahan University of Technology from 1981 to 1994. Aref then served as president of Tehran University from 1994 until 1997, when he was appointed telecommunications minister. He is widely considered to be the most reform-minded of the candidates.
Hassan Rouhani
      Born in 1948, the conservative cleric headed the Supreme National Security Council for 16 years from 1989 to 2005. Rouhani has also acted as lead nuclear negotiator in earlier rounds of diplomacy with European powers. Hardliners charged that he was too accommodating in negotiations. He resigned after President Ahmadinejad took office in 2005. Rouhani is currently a senior member of the Expediency Council.


Mohammad Gharazi
      Born in 1941, Gharazi was telecommunications minister from 1985 to 1997, partly under Rafsanjani’s administration. He reportedly studied electronics as a graduate at Tehran University and then served in the Revolutionary Guards during the 1980-1988 war with Iraq. Gharazi also served in parliament and was oil minister from 1981 to 1985.

Saeed Jalili
      Born in 1965, Jalili has been secretary of the Supreme National Security Council and head nuclear negotiator since 2007. He served in the Basij paramilitary under the Revolutionary Guards during the war with Iraq. Jalili ran the supreme leader’s office from 2001 to 2005. In 2005, newly elected President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad appointed Jalili, a personal friend, to be deputy foreign minister for European and American affairs.
Mohammad-Baqer Qalibaf
      Born in 1961, he has been the mayor of Tehran since 2005. Son of a dried-fruit seller, Qalibaf served in the Revolutionary Guards and rose to high ranks during and after the war with Iraq. He became the commander of the Revolutionary Guards’ air force and was chief of the Law Enforcement Force from 2000 to 2005. Qalibaf received less than 14 percent of the vote in the 2005 presidential election against Ahmadinejad.
Ali Akbar Velayati
      Born in 1945, he is the supreme leader’s principal foreign policy adviser. Velayati served as foreign minister under Khamenei and Rafsanjani from 1981 to 1997. Velayati serves on the Expediency Council. In 2005, he ran for president but later withdrew and supported Rafsanjani instead. Velayati has indicated that he may drop out in support of Saeed Jalili.
Gholam Ali Haddad-Adel
      Born to a business family in 1945, he is a member of parliament from Tehran. Haddad-Adel served as parliament’s speaker from 2005 to 2008. Haddad-Adel is reportedly a close confidant of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. His daughter is married to the Khamenei’s son. Haddad-Adel is also a current member of the Expediency Council.
Photo Credits:
Mohsen Rezaei by درفش کاویانی (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Hassan Rouhani by Mojtaba Salimi (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0  (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0 )], via Wikimedia Commons
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Latest on the Race: Reactions to Candidate List

      The Guardian Council has blocked two prominent figures from running in the June 14 presidential election. Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, a two-term former president, and Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei, former chief of staff to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, were both left off the list of eight approved candidates. Rafsanjani questioned whether Iran’s leaders know what they are doing in comments to his campaign staff on May 22. “I don’t think the country could have been run worse, even if it had been planned in advance,” he said according to opposition websites. Rafsanjani reportedly does not have plans to challenge the Guardian Council’s decision.
            But Mashaei and his supporters, including President Ahmadinejad, have vowed to  contest the Guardian Council's ruling. “I consider my disqualification as unjust, and I will follow up with the supreme leader,” Mashaei said on May 21. The following are excerpted reactions by the barred candidates, their supporters and other Iranian leaders.

Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, former president and current Expediency Council chief
            "I know that I shouldn't have run. I know them [Iran’s leaders] better than anyone else… I don’t think the country could have been run worse, even if it had been planned in advance… I don’t want to get involved in their types of attacks, but their ignorance is troubling. They don’t know what they’re doing…” May 2013 to campaign staff, according to opposition websites

Eshagh Jahanhgiri, Rafsanjani’s campaign manager
            “Rafsanjani will not consider any objection to his disqualification by the Guardian Council… Mr. Hashemi Rafsanjani and his campaign staff entered this race with absolute adherence to the rule of law and will continue the same way… Mr. Hashemi is one of the pillars of the system and will hopefully remain so.” May 21, 2013 in an interview with the Iranian Students’ News Agency
Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei, former chief of staff to President Ahmadinejad
            “I consider my disqualification as unjust, and I will follow up with the supreme leader… God willing, it will be resolved.” May 21, 2013 in an interview with Fars News Agency

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, outgoing president 
            “I believe the right of an oppressed man won't be trampled at this level in a country where there is velayat-e-faqih (guardianship of the jurist)… I ask those who support me and Mr. Mashaei to be patient, because there will be no problem due to the presence of the Leader (Ayatollah Ali Khamenei).” May 22, 2013 to reporters

Mashaei's campaign office
            The campaign office will use “the full legal capacity of the country” to contest Mashaei’s rejection. “We also ask the president Ahmadinejad to use his position to fix any possible violation over this issue.” May 21, 2013 in a statement

Ali Motahari, member of parliament
            “It appears the disqualification [of Rafsanjani] has happened for two unjustifiable reasons: his physical inabilities and his role in the 2009 sedition. This is damaging to the upcoming elections... My strong assumption is that if Imam Khomeini were alive, and he registered under a pseudonym, he would be disqualified, because sometimes he expressed criticism." May 2013 in a letter to the supreme leader

Naeimeh Eshraghi, reformist activist and granddaughter of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini
            “Old age is not something that the Guardian Council should determine, since the law allows candidates of this age. If the Guardian Council disqualified Hashemi [Rafsanjani], it should give a compelling reason for having done so, and Mr. Hashemi would certainly pursue legal means [if necessary], although I do not think he will contest this matter. The solution to the Guardian Council's disqualification of Mr. Hashemi is not street protests and creating disturbances.” May 22, 2013 in remarks to Tasnim news
Ali Asgari, member of parliament and Expediency Council Strategic Studies Center deputy
            “Ayatollah Hashemi, risking his reputation, came to the election to help shape the political ‘epic’ that the supreme leader mentioned… The Guardian Council’s disqualification of Hashemi was a shock for society, raising many questions by elites of the system…
            We had marjas (high ranking clerics) such as Ayatollah Araki, who passed away when he was 100. Imam Khomeini was also leading the country at a relatively old age but with more vitality, and today, the supreme leader, who is a few years younger than Hashemi, has lead the system for many years…
            Nevertheless, we abide by the law and would do anything for progress of the system… If Mr. Hashemi’s case is related to his old age, the physical health of others should be a matter of investigation.” May 22, 2013 according to Mehr News Agency

Hassan Khomeini, mid-ranking cleric and Ayatollah Khomeini's eldest grandson
            “From now on, Hashemi Rafsanjani’s name will not only be tied to fighting and revolution, the Holy Defense [1980-1988 Iran-Iraq War], and reconstruction… Your name, combined with hope for tomorrow, will have a prominent role in the memory of the Iranian people." May 22, 2013 in a letter to Rafsanjani
Ali Khamenei, supreme leader
            “I would announce this to everyone, all you know, those who were disqualified, are not necessarily incompetent individuals. Do not suppose because this guy was disqualified, he is no longer competent for any job; no, but he could not, according to law, run for elections; it might be that the authority disqualifying him was not careful enough; he may have not be competent for this particular job; but he may have other competences. Disqualification of an individual would not be assumed as his failure in whole life; but that he has other qualifications.” May 21, 2013 in a reposting of February 2011 remarks on his website and Facebook page

Abbas Ali Kadhkhodaei, Guardian Council spokesman
            “According to the law, disqualified candidates cannot appeal the decision of the Guardian Council… So the Guardian Council believes that an old candidate, despite his well management ability, is not physically capable to accept the responsibilities of presidency…  If a presidential candidate disqualified by the Guardian Council, it doesn’t mean that he is not qualified to serve in other political positions.” May 21, 2013 in an interview with state television


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