As tensions dramatically escalate and the death toll rise amongst the anti-government demonstrators in Iran, the country’s president Hassan Rouhani attempted to tamp down the extent and gravitas of the violent protests that have gripped his nation and dominated international headlines. Thus far, 21 people are dead in the biggest challenge to the authority of the Tehran regime since mass demonstrations in 2009.
“Our great nation has witnessed a number of similar incidents in the past and has comfortably dealt with them. This is nothing,” Rouhani said in a meeting with Iranian members of parliament on Monday.
Rouhani has called for calm as his government deals with the widespread spontaneous uprising.
Authorities have yet to launch a wide-ranging crackdown, as they did eight years ago, preferring instead to contain the protests locally.
The protests have attracted global attention, and footage of the action has been shared hundreds of thousands of time on social media.
The demonstrations became so widely publicized that Iran blocked access to Instagram and a popular messaging app used by activists to organize and discuss the protests.
The Revolutionary Guard killed three Iranians participating in a Saturday night demonstration in Iran’s Loerstan province, Saudi Arabia’s Al-Arabiya network reported on December 31st.
Also on Sunday reports said that as many as 200 people were arrested in the demonstrations. Iran’s Ministry of Information issued a statement saying that a number of agitators in the recent disturbances were identified and arrested, and it provided a telephone number for citizens to report any illegal activity to the ministry, according to the semi-official ISNA (Iranian Students News Agency).
The ministry said more people will be arrested and warned that “they will be seriously dealt with.”
Iran’s state broadcaster said six people were killed Sunday in the small western town of Tuyserkan, according to Agence France-Presse (AFP). Six others were killed over the weekend in separate incident, according to Iranian news agencies.
The string of protests, which began last Thursday night, call for an end to the Iranian government’s policies and corruption. What started as an isolated economic grievance appears to have morphed into a wider expression of dissatisfaction with the government.
Those supporting the Iranian government claim the protesters’ main complaint is rampant unemployment and the corruption Iranian President Hassan Rouhani is currently fighting.
According to the Iranian News Service Fars, seventy students protested at Tehran University, throwing rocks at local police and chanting “Death to the dictator.”
Reuters reported that protesters elsewhere in Tehran had also been arrested, and in the western towns of Shahr-e Kord and Dorud, Iranian authorities used tear gas to counter the protesters.
CNN reported that Iran has not seen the economic boost that Rouhani, who won re-election in May, had hoped would come after the nuclear deal relieved the country of sanctions and opened it up to international markets. In the spring of 2017, unemployment was 12.6%, up only slightly from 2016, according to the World Bank.
In a nod to the concerns fueling the protests, Rouhani said: “We have no bigger challenge than unemployment. Our economy requires major corrective surgery.”
State TV reported Monday that another 10 people had been killed during clashes. Clashes overnight between protesters and security forces killed nine others, state television reported early Tuesday.
On Tuesday, it was reported that fresh protests broke out in Tehran and other cities, with amateur video showing demonstrators chanting anti-government slogans.
The videos which were posted on social media sites on Monday purport to show anti-government protests for a fifth straight day, according to CNN. The videos showed crowds marching down the streets of different cities, including Tehran, and chanting anti-government slogans. In one video, angry protesters could be heard shouting “death to Khamenei,” referring to Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s Supreme Leader.
As was reported by CNN, in Tehran, protesters appeared to be playing a game of cat and mouse with police and security forces, according to Los Angeles Times reporter Ramin Mostaghim. He told CNN the police presence outnumbers the mostly younger protesters in the busy Azadi Street, but he saw several protesters yelling “down with the dictator” and sprinting away from police on the side streets. Mostaghim said some trash was lit on fire, but police quickly extinguished it.
On Monday, Trump weighed in on the demonstrations against the current Iranian government in a tweet. He said: “Iran is failing at every level despite the terrible deal made with them by the Obama administration. The great Iranian people have been repressed for many years. They are hungry for food & for freedom. Along with human rights, the wealth of Iran is being looted. TIME FOR CHANGE!”
For his part, Rouhani said that Trump had no right to sympathize with Iran because he has previously called the Iranian people “terrorists” and has been “constantly creating problems” for Iran since being elected, according to Iran’s semi-official Tasnim News Agency and as was reported by CNN.
On Tuesday, White House spokesperson Sarah Sanders said that the US stands with Iran’s long suffering victims, its own people who have initiated a ‘local uprising’ against the ‘corrupt’ Iranian government.
CNN reported that British Foreign Minister Boris Johnson called for “meaningful debate about the legitimate and important issues the protesters are raising.”
In a Facebook message, Johnson called on Iranian authorities to permit dissent and stressed the importance of freedom of expression and peaceful demonstrations.
Russia called the protests an “internal affair” for Iran. The Russian Foreign Ministry added that “external interference destabilizing the situation is unacceptable” and said it hopes the demonstrations “won’t develop under the scenario of bloodshed and violence,” state-run Russian news agencies Tass and Sputnik reported.
Late last week, INN reported that Israel and the United States signed a joint memorandum of understanding (MOU) to cooperate to counter the Iranian nuclear and ballistic missile threat, according to a report by Channel 10 News in Israel.
According to the report, the MOU was signed on December 12 at the White House following discussions between Israeli and US intelligence officials.
Channel 10 reporter Barak Ravid reported that the Israeli delegation during the talks which preceded the agreement was led by National Security Council head Meir Ben-Shabat, while the American team was led by US National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster.
The agreement follows President Trump’s speech on October 13 in which he decertified the 2015 Iran nuclear deal signed by his predecessor, Barack Obama.
Trump used the speech to slam Iran, who he called a “fanatical regime” whose “aggression continues to this day. The regime remains the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism,” he said, pointing out that “the regime’s two favorite chants are ‘Death to America’ and ‘Death to Israel”.
Trump said that the United States would level new sanctions on Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps, and vowed to block the Islamic Republic’s financing of terrorism around the globe.
According to the Channel 10 report, Israel and the US agreed to set up a number of joint task forces to handle different aspects of the Iranian threat, from Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons to its funding for global terrorism.
Yochanan Visser, an independent journalist/analyst who worked for many years as Middle East correspondent for Western Journalism.com in Arizona and was a frequent publicist for the main Dutch paper De Volkskrant penned an op-ed piece for Israel National News in which he provided details of the teams being established to counter the burgeoning Iranian threat.
He writes that the agreement outlined “steps on the ground” against the various threats emanating from Tehran and culminated in the forming of three joint teams.
The first team is to deal with the growing threat to Israel and the Sunni Arab countries and plans to focus on Iran’s creeping encroachment on the Syrian Israeli border and its aid to Hezbollah in Lebanon.
The second team was set up to gather intelligence on Iran’s nuclear program, which both the Trump Administration and Israel think is covertly commencing, despite the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the nuclear deal between Iran and six world powers.
A third team would grapple with Iran’s ballistic missile program and the Iranian efforts to build underground missile silos, factories which manufacture precision weaponry and military bases for the Quds Force of the IRGC in Syria.
According to Ravid, Israeli officials said that the agreement showed that the US and Israel “see eye to eye on the trends and processes in the region.”
Ravid said that the December 12 deal would have “a far greater impact on the security of Israel’s citizens” than Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel the previous week, on December 6.
The Channel 10 report was aired a couple of days after Arutz Sheva reported Quds Force commander Qassem Soleimani had offered Hamas and Islamic Jihad in Gaza “ to provide the Palestinian people with all the means at the IRGC’s disposal in the struggle for Jerusalem.”
Visser states in his op-ed piece that, “nobody is able to predict the outcome of the current uprising against the Iranian Islamist regime but as Christopher Hitchens, who, by the way, was far from a Zionist, already pointed out in 2011, the moment has come when the old order cannot continue in the old way. Young Iranians – who make up half of the population- clearly have no desire to be ruled in the old way.”
“They have raised a generation who completely sees through religion,” Hitchens, an expert on Iran and Hezbollah, who passed away in that same year, said about what was going on in Iran.
By: Fern Sidman