Iran News Round Up - January 9, 2017

A selection of the latest news stories and editorials published in Iranian news outlets, compiled by AEI Critical Threats Project Iran Analysts Marie Donovan, Paul Bucala, and Caitlin Shayda Pendleton with contributor Wali Miller. To receive this daily newsletter, please subscribe online.

(E) = Article in English

Excerpts of these translations may only be used with the expressed consent of the authors.

Key takeaway: Former President Ayatollah Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani passed away on January 8 at the age of 82.

President Hassan Rouhani’s cabinet declared three days of public mourning in Iran. A funeral procession will be held on January 10 in Tehran, and Rafsanjani will be buried at Grand Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini’s Mausoleum. Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s statement on Rafsanjani’s passing commemorated the “long and common experience” between the two. The statement notably downgraded Rafsanjani’s religious ranking, however, underscoring Khamenei’s contentious relationship with Rafsanjani. Rafsanjani’s death is a major blow to Iran’s centrists and will likely weaken their influence in the selection of the next Supreme Leader. The loss of Rafsanjani could also have significant implications for Rouhani’s bid in the May 2017 presidential elections, since his success depends on the continued support of the moderate-reformist coalition that Rafsanjani helped build. The coming months will be critical in determining how Rouhani handles the loss of his erstwhile ally as the de-facto leader of Iran’s pragmatic bloc.

Western media outlets reported that four IRGC Navy vessels approached the USS Mahan, a guided-missile destroyer, at high speed in the Strait of Hormuz. When the vessels did not respond to the destroyer’s request to stop, the USS Mahan fired warning shots. The IRGC’s aggressive behavior could be aimed at testing the U.S. ahead of Donald Trump’s inauguration.

AEI Must-Reads

Domestic Politics

  • Officials mourn Rafsanjani’s passing. Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei released a statement on the passing of his “old friend” Ayatollah Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani on January 8. Khamenei acknowledged the “differences in opinion” between himself and Rafsanjani but added, “With the loss of Hashemi, I know of no other individual who shared such a long and common experience with me in the highs and lows of this historic era.” Khamenei’s statement notably downgraded Rafsanjani’s religious ranking from ayatollah to hojjat ol eslam, highlighting the disagreements that characterized their relationship in the past decade. Rafsanjani increasingly sided with Iran’s reformist and moderate factions and publicly disagreed with Khamenei on issues including the suppression of the 2009 election protests and Iran’s ballistic missile program. (khamenei.ir)
    • Senior clerics and military and political officials gathered at Grand Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini’s residency north of Tehran, including President Hassan Rouhani, former President Mahmoud Khatami, Grand Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini’s son Hojjat ol Eslam Hassan Khomeini, Armed Forces General Staff Chief IRGC Maj. Gen. Mohammad Bagheri, and IRGC Quds Force Commander Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani.
    • Many officials, ministries, and other organizations also released statements mourning Rafsanjani’s death. Bagheri praised Rafsanjani for “paying particular attention to the country’s defense needs.” Rafsanjani played a critical role in Iran’s military efforts during the Iran-Iraq War and served as acting commander-in-chief of Iran’s armed forces at the end of the war. Iranian military commanders, including IRGC Air Force Commander Brig. Gen. Amir Ali Hajizadeh, heavily criticized Rafsanjani in September 2016 after he reportedly attributed Germany and Japan’s economic success to their lack of a military after World War II.
    • Rouhani’s cabinet declared three days of public mourning. A funeral procession will be held on January 10 in Tehran. Rafsanjani’s body will be buried at the Mausoleum of Ruhollah Khomeini. (Tasnim News Agency(E) (Tasnim News Agency(E) (Fars News Agency)
       
  • Rouhani praises Rafsanjani. President Hassan Rouhani praised Rafsanjani in a tweet posted on January 8. Rouhani called Rafsanjani “the giant of the revolution and politics.” Rafsanjani was a key powerbroker for Rouhani’s centrist camp. Rafsanjani was widely credited with helping Rouhani secure his victory in the 2013 presidential election. The loss of Rafsanjani’s support will challenge Rouhani’s attempt to secure his second term in the May 2017 presidential election. (Tabnak)
     
  • “Axis of Resistance” groups express condolences for Rafsanjani’s death. The leader of Yemen’s al Houthis, Abdul-Malik al Houthi, expressed condolences for the late cleric’s death and praised his efforts for “enhancing Muslim unity” against the U.S. and Israel. Lebanese Hezbollah Secretary General Seyyed Hassan Nasrallah and Hamas’ Representative in Iran Khaled Qaddoumi applauded Rafsanjani’s devotion to the “resistance” against Israel. Syrian President Bashar al Assad released a similar statement expressing his condolences. Rafsanjani had close ties to the Iranian regime’s security apparatus. Argentina implicated him in the 1994 bombing of a Jewish community center. He also allegedly directed the assassination of dissidents abroad and was implicated in the assassination of prominent reformers at home during his two-term presidency. (Tasnim News Agency(E) (Tasnim News Agency(E) (Tasnim News Agency(E) (Tasnim News Agency(E) 
     
  • Supreme Leader discusses disagreement between Rouhani and Ayatollah Larijani. Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei stated that “all must appreciate the existence of the brave and independent Judiciary” during a speech in the city of Qom on January 8. The comment may be a sign of support for the Judiciary following the recent public feud between President Hassan Rouhani and hardline Judiciary Head Ayatollah Sadegh Amoli Larijani, who have each accused the other of corruption. Khamenei also warned that Britain seeks the “partition” of Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Libya, and Iran. (Mehr News Agency

Regional Developments & Diplomacy

  • SNSC secretary meets with Assad. Supreme National Security Council Secretary Ali Shamkhani met with Syrian President Bashar al Assad in Damascus on January 8 to discuss the Syrian peace process. During the meeting, Shamkhani called for upcoming peace talks to be located in Damascus as the “capital of a united and strong Syria.” Shamkhani also credited the “close cooperation” between Tehran, Damascus, and Moscow with the “Resistance Front” for the creation “valuable battlefield victories” that contributed to the start of the political talks. (Tasnim News Agency)
     
  • French foreign minister to visit Iran. French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault is expected to arrive in Tehran in late January for a joint Iran-France economic commission. The visit marks a series of closer ties between the two countries following Rouhani’s historic trip to Paris in January 2016. (Press TV(E)

Military & Security

  • Parliament increases military spending to 5 percent of entire budget. Lawmakers approved a bill that would raise military spending to 5 percent and obligate the executive branch to take “fundamental measures” to promote the country’s military capabilities. The bill also focuses on developing Iran’s ballistic missile program. (Tasnim News Agency(E) (Fars News Agency)
     
  • New IRGC operations deputy appointed. IRGC Commander Maj. Gen. Mohammad Ali Jafari appointed IRGC Brig. Gen. Ali Zahedi as the new IRGC operations deputy. Zahedi replaces IRGC Brig. Gen. Mehdi Rabbani, whom Armed Forces General Staff (AFGS) Chief IRGC Maj. Gen. Mohammad Bagheri appointed as AFGS operations deputy in late September. Rabbani had also served as the commander of IRGC Sarallah Base. (Tasnim News Agency)

Economy

  • Iran receives first Airbus. Iran’s national carrier, Iran Air, announced that it had received the first Airbus plane as part of the 100 plane-deal finalized with Airbus in December. (Fars News Agency(E)