Rise in Iranian Fuel Prices Spark Protests

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The US economic pressure on Iran has been having a decisive effect for some time now. Unfortunately, this reality has been largely ignored by the Western media, and papered over by Tehran. This week the Iranian government ran out of paper mache and has been forced to face the grim reality that US sanctions are quickly moving the country towards the brink of economic collapse. On Thursday, Iranian President Hasan Rouhani admitted Iran is facing a major deficit, the number covering roughly two-thirds of its annual budget. Today, the government announced a 300 percent increase in fuel prices, as well as a strict rationing system. Within a few hours protests broke out across the country. Angry crowds in a number of towns and cities have called for the removal of Rouhani from power.

Since the Trump administration tightened the screws on Iran, protests have occurred periodically with some being violent. On the surface, the economic anxiety brought on by US sanctions appears to be the root cause of the Iranian people’s anger and frustration. However, the root cause, as has been the case for years, is the government, and its policies. With that in mind, it came as no surprise to learn that Friday’s protests have taken on an anti-government tone.

The timing of the fuel policy revisions could’ve been better. Popular unrest in Iraq, Lebanon, and many other locations around the world over economic conditions, and government neglect might provide an impetus for the Iranian citizenry to challenge the government in a similar fashion. It is a moot point now though. The prices have been raised, the people are responding, and the Iranian government now has another major problem to contend with. As if it didn’t have enough already.

For the United States, today’s developments in Iran are concrete proof that the Trump administration’s hardline policy on Iran is working perfectly.

Saturday 4 August, 2018 Update: Iran Braces

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With the return of US sanctions rapidly approaching, the Iranian people are facing austere days on the horizon. The nation has been hit hard by high inflation, and a depressed currency, sparking sporadic protests against the government across Iran in the past week. The latest demonstrations are not as large, or widespread as those that rocked Iran in January of this year, however, that can change quickly as the effects of US sanctions begin to be felt. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani is facing heavy pressure from hardliners, as well as middle class Iranians, for what they perceive as the failure of his economic policies. Economic dissatisfaction was simmering in Iran even before the US pulled out of the JCPOA and announced that sanctions against Tehran would be imposed once again, likely beginning in August, 2018. The sanctions expected to be put back into effect on 7 August will include restrictions on Iran’s purchase of US dollars, along with its trade in gold, and other precious metals. Tehran’s nightmare scenario is that US sanctions will cut Iranian oil exports dramatically by the end of the year, likely putting its national economy into an unrecoverable tailspin. Should this scenario become reality, the regime understands it will not survive the backlash of the Iranian people.

Therefore, the Iranian regime is looking beyond its borders for relief. The military exercise currently underway around the Strait of Hormuz is a clear demonstration of Iran’s ability to close the waterway and choke the global economy. The timing of the exercise is not coincidental. Tehran wants Washington to understand what could lie ahead if US sanctions threaten to cripple Iran’s economy, or jeopardize the survival of the regime. Call it blackmail, or a not-so-subtle reminder, the fact is that cutting off access to the Strait of Hormuz is the most powerful card in Iran’s deck and if pushed, it will likely not hesitate to use it.

Sunday 20 May, 2018 Update: Iran, Sanctions, & Saving the Nuclear Deal

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The past few weeks have been a challenging period for Iran, both at home and abroad. The regime is facing a variety of obstacles and growing opposition to its policies, actions, and to its rule. This is not the first time that Iranian leaders have faced this sort of situation, however, the present geopolitical climate does not favor Iran. Unless Tehran moves swiftly and favorably on at least one front, the trend will not change.

Iran’s leadership is pinning its hopes on salvaging the Iran nuclear deal, believing that this will help reverse its fortunes of late. The future of the deal is very much up in the air at the moment. In spite of the European Union striving to keep the current deal alive, there’s no guarantee that anything substantial will stem from the effort. The US withdrawal from the deal has complicated matters for both Iran and the EU. Tehran has said it will live up to the terms of the nuclear deal if the EU is able to counteract US sanctions. A prime concern for Iran is that sanctions will have an adverse effect on its oil industry, and subsequently, on its economy as a whole.

With the US giving consideration to imposing new sanctions on Iran, a number of European companies are thinking hard about pulling back from Iran. This has led to claims by Iranian government officials over the weekend that the EU is clearly not doing enough to keep the nuclear deal alive. Next Friday, a meeting will be held in Vienna between representatives from Britain, Germany, France, China and Russia to discuss the future of the deal after the US withdrawal. According to Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi, his nation will also be taking part in Friday’s talks.

Time is working against Iran at the moment. On Monday US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is expected to lay out a potential US plan to force Iran back to the negotiating table. The plan will address not only Iran’s nuclear program, but its activity in other areas such as involvement in Syria, Yemen, and its escalating proxy war with Israel. If a US plan comes to fruition and gains traction, Iran’s options will narrow, forcing the regime to contend with the rising amount of international pressure in a less cooperative fashion.

Tuesday 1 May, 2018 Update: Pressure on the US Grows as Iran Nuclear Deadline Approaches

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With the deadline for a decision on the future of the Iran nuclear deal approaching, supporters and detractors of the agreement have been showcasing positions over the past week in an effort to influence President Trump’s final decision on whether or not the deal will be scrapped. It is no secret that Trump has long viewed the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) as deeply flawed and overly advantageous to Tehran.

Last week the subject broached during French President Emmanuel Macron’s state visit to Washington. Macron, an ardent supporter of the deal, as well as Europe’s role in crafting it, has been pushing hard to rescue the nuclear deal. Macron, along with the leaders of the United Kingdom, Germany, are convinced that the agreement is the best instrument to stop Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. Yesterday, Macron spoke with his Iranian counterpart President Hassan Rouhan and urged him to enter negotiations on the deal, but Rouhan declared it to be non-negotiable.

Israel, a major opponent to the deal, has been pressuring the United States to scrap the deal entirely. Yesterday’s presentation by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was a tad light on facts though it did serve to highlight Israel’s position with regards to JCPOA, as well as its fervent belief that Iran is still conducting nuclear research in violation of the deal. Netanyahu, and other members of the Israeli government have been conducting behind the scenes discussion with their US counterparts. Although the final decision on the fate of the nuclear deal will be made by President Trump, Israel is working hard to influence that decision to its favor, especially as tensions between Tel Aviv and Tehran have spiked in recent months.

The nuclear deal is only one part of the growing conflict between Iran and Syria. Iran’s increasing involvement in Syria is another. Tehran’s actions in Syria have brought on a heightened Israeli military response over the past two months. The latest example of this was a Sunday airstrike against an Iranian target near the city of Hama in Syria. Concern is growing in Washington about the growing conflict between Iran and Israel.

Trump’s final decision on the future of JCPOA, no matter what it may be, will undoubtedly  have a far-reaching effect across the globe.

Tuesday 2 January, 2018 Update: Iran Blames Protests on Enemies

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Speaking for the first time since protests began in Iran last Thursday, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei accused Iran’s enemies for instigating the internal strife. He was quoted with the following statement: “In recent days, enemies of Iran used different tools including cash, weapons, politics and intelligence services to create troubles for the Islamic Republic.”

Although Khamenei did not specifically mention the enemies by name, his comment was designed to be a swipe at Iran’s traditional adversaries, namely Israel, the United States, and Saudi Arabia. President Trump has been especially vocal with his support of Iranian protesters, tweeting his views as well as reminders that the United States is watching events in Iran closely. So is the rest of the world, for that matter. Khamenei had to release a statement of some sort in response to Trump’s comments. It comes as no surprise that his first public comment on the crisis was to blame the riots on Iran’s enemies. The statement was generic. When faced with internal unrest, Iran has a history of blaming its enemies for inciting it.

 

At least twenty Iranians have died in the protests and over 500 were arrested thus far. Those numbers will continue to rise as long as the unrest continues. This round of protests and riots is significantly smaller than those which took place in 2009. Back then, millions protested the results of the presidential election that gave Mahmoud Ahmadinejad a second term in office. Security forces eventually crushed the Green Movement following weeks of violent protests.

 

The current demonstrations are being fueled by economic hardship though and this reality is leaving Iran’s leadership somewhat unnerved. Economic problems have a way of spiraling into political chaos. Inflation and unemployment are rising, yet the government has been unable to do anything substantial to reverse economic conditions. Iranians are feeling the pinch and their frustrations have blossomed into anger against the government. Where it goes from here is anyone’s guess.