Iran News Round Up - May 11, 2016

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 contributors Ken Hawrey and Alice Naghshineh. 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: Guardian Council Secretary-General Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati defended the council’s controversial post-elections disqualification of reformist politician Minoo Khaleghi.

Jannati asserted that the Guardian Council’s supervisory power over candidates applies after the voting takes place as well as during the elections themselves. The Rouhani administration has contested her disqualification by asserting that only Parliament, not the Guardian Council, has the legal right to review candidates’ qualifications after election day. Interior Ministry Spokesman Hossein Ali Amiri, meanwhile, denied a Fars News Agency report that a governmental dispute reconciliation commission has formally announced its decision on whether to uphold or reverse Khaleghi’s disqualification. The report had claimed that the commission upheld the disqualification.

Artesh Ground Forces Commander Brigadier General Ahmad Reza Pourdastan announced the establishment of a headquarters for the Artesh’s quick reaction brigades. Pourdastan stated that the headquarters will “guide” the brigades, the formation of which he announced in early March.

IRGC soldier Mohammad Moini was reportedly killed in the vicinity of Khan Tuman, a town south of Aleppo. No further information on his rank or unit affiliation was reported.

 

AEI Must-Reads

 

  • Paul Bucala analyzes the details and significance of the Artesh’s deployment to Syria in “The Artesh in Syria: A fundamental shift in Iranian hard power.”
     
  • The Critical Threats Project has also translated an interview with the Artesh deputy commander on the deployment to Syria that hints at a transformation in the orientation of Iran’s conventional military. Read the translation here.

 

 

 

Domestic Politics

  • Guardian Council secretary-general defends reformist politician’s disqualification. Guardian Council Secretary-General Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati discussed the case of Minoo Khaleghi, a reformist politician whom the Guardian Council controversially disqualified after she was elected to Parliament in Esfahan province. Jannati asserted that the Guardian Council’s supervisory power over candidates applies after voting takes place as well as during the elections themselves. He stated that this supervisory power “applies in every stage” of the elections and claimed that there is precedent for disqualifying a candidate after voting, although he did not reference a specific case. The Rouhani administration has contested her disqualification by asserting that only Parliament, not the Guardian Council, has the legal right to review candidates’ qualifications after voting takes place. Rouhani stated on May 11 that he is “not hopeless” about Khaleghi’s case and added, “The Interior Ministry is currently carrying out necessary actions… We must not allow the law to be violated. If such a thing happens, hope in the future will be lost.” (Fars News Agency) (Fararu)
    • Interior Ministry Spokesman Hossein Ali Amiri denied a Fars News Agency report that the Supreme Commission for Conflict Resolution and Regulation of Relations Among the Three Branches has released its decision on whether to uphold or reverse Khaleghi’s disqualification. The Fars News Agency report had claimed that the commission upheld the disqualification. (Shargh)
    • Police arrested a journalist named Hamed Talebi for publishing photographs of Khaleghi unveiled. The photographs reportedly prompted Khaleghi’s disqualification, although the Guardian Council has not formally announced its reasoning. Khaleghi has denied that it is her in the photographs. (Tasnim News Agency)

 

  • Supreme Leader appoints Abdullahi Ali Asgari as IRIB head. Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei appointed Abdullahi Ali Asgari as president of the government-run Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB). Asgari is replacing Mohammad Sarafraz, whom Fars News Agency reported submitted his resignation due to illness. Rumors have circulated in Iranian media that Sarafraz missed 10 days of work and resigned earlier this year. IRIB Public Relations has since denied the rumors. Separately, Khamenei also appointed Sarafraz as a member of the Supreme Cyberspace Council; Sarafraz was previously a member of the council by virtue of his position as IRIB head. (Fars News Agency) (E) (Khamenei.ir)
     
  • Guardian Council continues reviewing election results. Guardian Council member Siamak Rahpeyk stated that the Guardian Council is still reviewing results in several electoral districts before it finalizes the April 29 parliamentary runoff election results. The Guardian Council must finalize the election results before they are official. (Tasnim News Agency)

 

  • Communications deputy: Khamenei has not ordered Rouhani to fire administration officials. Parviz Esmaeili, Rouhani’s deputy for communications and information, denied the “fake news” circulating that Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei ordered a reshuffle of Rouhani’s administration and criticized the news as helping “the enemies’ plots for polarizing” Iranian politics. The rumored changes would have included firing Chief of Staff Mohammad Nahavandian and Hossein Fereydoun, Rouhani’s brother and advisor. (Hamshahri) (Saham News)

 

Military and Security 

  • Pourdastan announces formation of headquarters for quick reaction brigades. Artesh Ground Forces Commander Brig. Gen. Ahmad Reza Pourdastan announced the “formation of a Quick Reaction Central Headquarters for the Artesh Ground Forces.” He stated that the headquarters will “guide the rapid reaction brigades and align them with the missions of battle-readiness. The brigades are prepared to act as soon as possible.” He also said that some of the quick reactions brigades “have already formed, and some are being formed now.” Pourdastan announced the formation of the Artesh Ground Forces’ quick reaction brigades in early March. Pourdastan also discussed Iran’s “red line” against ISIS of 40 kilometers from the Iran-Iraq border, stating, “If we feel that the takfiris are going to cross that line, we reserve the right to enter the field and deal with them.”  (Mashregh News
     
  • IRGC Navy Special Forces commander passes away. IRGC Brig. Gen. Mohammad Nazeri will be buried in Tehran on May 12. His replacement has not yet been named. Tasnim News Agency reported that he died from a heart attack, but Fars News Agency cited an IRGC official who claimed that he was killed during a “chemical accident” on the way to Faror Island located in the Persian Gulf. According to Fars News Agency, Nazeri was among “the commanders present” during the January 12 capture of two U.S. Navy vessels and their crew in the Persian Gulf.  IRGC Quds Force Commander Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani visited Nazeri’s family today in Tehran to express his condolences. (Tasnim News Agency) (Defa Press) (Mashregh News)   
     

Regional Developments and Diplomacy

  • Foreign Ministry warns Saudi Arabia over Hajj. Foreign Ministry Spokesman Hossein Jaberi Ansari warned that if Saudi Arabia does not resolve certain travel, security, and visa issues, “it will be responsible halting the travel of Iranian pilgrims.” The severing of diplomatic ties between Saudi Arabia and Iran following the January attack on the Saudi embassy in Tehran has reportedly complicated the process for Iranian pilgrims traveling on the Hajj. Saudi government officials have requested that Saudi diplomatic facilities in other countries issue visas to Iranian pilgrims, while Iranian officials have claimed that the Swiss diplomatic mission in Tehran, which represents Saudi interests, should be able to issue visas to Iranians. The Saudi government is also requesting that third-party airlines transport Iranian pilgrims to Saudi Arabia, whereas in the past both Iranian and Saudi airlines transported Iranian pilgrims. Ansari noted, “It is completely natural that Iran will not accept this unusual request.”
    • The Head of Iran's Hajj and Pilgrimage Organization, Saeed Ohadi, gave an ultimatum on May 10 that if Saudi Arabia does not address Iran’s concerns over the Hajj within ten days, he will request an emergency meeting of Iran’s Supreme Hajj Council to make a “final decision” on Iranian pilgrims traveling to Saudi Arabia for Hajj. (Tasnim News Agency) (Asr Iran)

 

  • Velayati reacts to U.S. State Department’s labelling of Iranian missile launches as “destabilizing.” The Supreme Leader’s Senior Foreign Policy Advisor, Ali Akbar Velayati, stated, “To defend itself, the Islamic Republic will aptly take the necessary measures, whether some like it or not… The Islamic Republic does not ask any country or international or non-international organization for permission to defend itself.” Velayati’s statement follows U.S. State Department Spokeswoman Elizabeth Trudeau’s criticisms during a State Department briefing on May 9. Trudeau did not confirm reports that Iran had tested a ballistic missile two weeks ago, but she called Iran’s recent ballistic missile test launches “provocative and destabilizing” and “inconsistent with UN Security Council Resolution 2231 in which the Security Council called on Iran not to undertake launches of ballistic missiles designed to be capable of delivering a nuclear weapon.” (Press TV) (E)

 

  • Principlist parliamentarian: Ahmadinejad tried to compromise on nuclear program. Hojjat ol Eslam Gholam Reza Mesbahi Moghaddam, the spokesman for the conservative Combatant Clergy Society, criticized former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s time in office and stated:
    • “Ahmadinejad submitted a report to the Supreme Leader that we have reached the end of the line and must sign the UN Security Council resolutions on the nuclear program. The Supreme Leader disagreed with this report. Ahmadinejad met with the Supreme Leader afterwards and said, ‘If you disagree with this view, then I am not responsible for this [nuclear] case. The Supreme Leader clearly and decisively said, ‘I accept this responsibility.’” (Aftabir)
       

Economy

  • Guardian Council objects to annual budget for the second time. Guardian Council member Siamak Rahpeyk announced that the Guardian Council rejected certain sections of the annual budget during a meeting on May 11. This fresh disapproval marks the Guardian Council’s second round of objections to parts of the bill after it returned the bill to Parliament on May 1. (Fararu) (Donya-e Eqtesad)

 

Casualties in Iraq and Syria

  • Former IRGC Mazandaran deputy commander: “1,200 fighters have died in Syria.” Abdullah al Tabrizi told reporters that over “1,200 fighters” have died in Syria over the past four years. It is unclear, however, whether he was referring to strictly Iranian nationals or also to Afghans and Pakistanis who have been dispatched to Syria from Iran. The estimation of 1,200 fighters is far above most open-source estimates of Iranian casualties in Syria. He added that “many fighters are ready to volunteer to be sent to Syria, but they have not been allowed to go.” (ISNA)

 

  • IRGC member killed south of Aleppo. Mohammad Moini was reportedly killed around the town of Khan Tuman. No further information on his rank or unit affiliation was reported. (Fars News Agency)
     
  • IRGC 25th Karbala Division soldier buried in Mazandaran province. Habibollah Ghanbari was among the IRGC 25th Karbala Division soldiers who were killed during the rebel offensive on Khan Tuman. No further information on his rank was reported. The bodies of the division’s other soldiers killed during the attack are still being held by rebel groups. (Defa Press)