Iranian officials claim foreign enemies are planning civil war; Analysts say Tehran is to blame


Welcome back to The Farda Briefing, an RFE/RL newsletter that tracks the top issues facing Iran and explains why they matter. Click to subscribe here.

I’m RFE/RL correspondent Golnaz Esfandiari. Here’s what I’ve been tracking over the past week and what I’ll be watching for in the coming days.

The big topic

Authorities in Tehran accuse Iran’s foreign enemies of fomenting unrest in the country in order to start a civil war.

Officials made the allegations following so-called “terrorist” attacks that took place in Izeh in the southwestern province of Khuzestan and downtown Isfahan on November 16, where they said gunmen on motorcycles opened fire on security forces and civilians. Seven were killed in Izeh and two in Isfahan.

The incidents followed an October 26 attack on Shah Cheragh’s shrine in Shiraz that killed 13 people. The Shiraz attack was claimed by the Islamic State (IS) extremist group.

On November 18, Mohsen Rezai, Iran’s vice president for economic affairs, blamed the “bitter” incidents on Tehran’s enemies, claiming they were trying to ignite civil war in the country. “Iran cannot be transformed into another Syria or another Lebanon by carrying out acts of violence similar to those in Shah Cheragh, Isfahan and Izeh,” he said.

A day earlier, Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abollahian accused Israel and Western countries of plotting a “civil war” and “dismantling” the Islamic Republic.

“security services, [Israel]and Western politicians who have made plans for civil war and the destruction and dissolution of Iran need to know that Iran is not Libya or Sudan.” Amir Abdollahian said on Twitter without providing any evidence to support his claim.

Why it matters: The warnings come amid nine weeks of anti-establishment protests in Iran sparked by the death of Mahsa Amini after her arrest by morality police in Tehran. Iran has accused foreign countries and intelligence agencies of orchestrating the unrest that has become the biggest challenge to the clerical establishment in the past four decades.

Ali Alfoneh, an Iran analyst at the Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington, told RFE/RL that the Islamic Republic blames only itself for the situation it is facing, “but without the courage to look in the mirror to look and admit their own mistakes, regime officials cowardly blame the foreign powers.”

Others said Tehran could use the attacks as an excuse to crack down on the protests. “We don’t have a good idea of ​​what happened in Izeh and Isfahan – was it a terrorist group or possibly the regime itself?” he said Henry Rome, an Iran expert at the Washington Institute. “In any case, the government is likely to use the attacks to send the message that the protests are undermining national security and opening the door to Western-backed terrorism,” Rome added.

What’s next: Statements by Iranian officials promising a damning response to those behind the “terrorist attacks” could provide clues as to the country’s next steps. Authorities said the perpetrators of the attacks and their leaders, who are said to be based outside the country, would be “introduced to the people”.

Stories you may have missed

• Activists say Iran has stepped up its crackdown on the US Kurdistan Region in a bid to instill fear among protesters and quell the nationwide anti-establishment protests that have rocked the country for the past two months.

• At least 47 children were killed in Iran’s ongoing crackdown on protests sparked by the death of Mahsa Amini in custody. Among them is a 9-year-old Kian Pirfalak who was killed on November 16 in the southwestern city of Izeh amid anti-establishment protests. State media claimed the boy was killed in a “terrorist attack”. But his mother says he was shot dead by Iranian security forces. His tragic death prompted an outburst of sadness and anger.

• Protesters in Iran set fire the parent company of the late founder of the Islamic Republic, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, in the central Iranian city of Khomein, according to amateur videos posted online. Amid the ongoing unrest, pictures of Khomeini have also been set on fire in recent weeks.

what we observe

Iran said on November 22 that it had started producing uranium enriched to 60 percent at its underground Fordow plant. The announcement was part of Iran’s response to the UN nuclear watchdog’s passage last week of a resolution accusing Tehran of non-cooperation. Tehran condemned the resolution as politically motivated and announced retaliation.

“We had said that Iran would respond seriously to any resolution and political pressure…that’s why on Monday Iran started enriching uranium to 60 percent purity.” [November 21] at the Fordo site,” the head of the Iranian Atomic Energy Agency, Mohammad Eslami, was quoted as saying by state media.

Why it matters: Enrichment to 60 percent is just a step away from the 90 percent level required for nuclear weapons. Iran had already enriched it to 60 percent purity in other plants.

The 2015 nuclear deal – which was on life support after the US pulled out of the international deal in May 2018 – had capped Iran’s nuclear enrichment activities at 3.7 percent for civilian purposes.

Tehran’s recent escalation is likely to raise concerns about the country’s nuclear activities among other countries that were involved in the stalled nuclear deal and are working to revive it. The EU trio of Great Britain, France and Germany said in a joint statement that Iran’s increased enrichment “poses significant proliferation-related risks [and] has no credible civil justification.”

That was all from me. Don’t forget to send me your questions, comments or tips.

Until next time,

Golnaz Esfandiari

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