November 8, 2023No Comments

Iranian women, civil disobedience and what has changed after the death of Mahsa Amini 

Authors: Ilaria Larusso, Margherita Ceserani, William Kingston-Cox, Shahin Modarres - Iran Team

Introduction
On 16 September 2022, the Iranian’s morality police - the Guidance Patrol - arrested 22-year-old Iranian woman Masha Amini for allegedly not wearing the hijab in accordance with the proscribed governmental legislation. Whilst in custody, the Iranian authorities claimed she had suffered a heart attack, leading to her death. However, many witnesses reported that Amini had been severely beaten and that her death was the direct consequence of Iranian police actions.
Her death has sparked widespread protests and civil unrest - commonly known as the Masha Amini protests - whose advocates seek to topple the Iranian regime, bring about the reintroduction of the protection of civil and political rights for women, enforce the revocation of mandatory hijab and other religious morality laws, as well as the dissolution of the Guidance Patrol. However, Amini’s death has served as a catalyst, rather than a creationary force, for Iranian resistance against the system.


As such, this article explores the history of the women’s movement in Iran since 1979, the year the mandatory hijab laws were introduced, as well as the history of Iranian civil disobedience against the government, to assess and analyze what, if anything, has changed since the death of Masha Amini.

Women’s movement in Iran since 1979
Clearly, the rise to power of Khomeini’s theocratic rule in Iran brought significant transformations in the country as a whole. Nevertheless, the aftermath of the 1979 Revolution for Iranian women particularly underwent considerable changes, spread across every aspect of their lives as citizens and human beings. The advancements women conquered during the White Revolution, a modernization period guided by the last Shah just before the monarchy was dismissed, suffered important steps back due to the strict interpretation of Sharia law - i.e., legislation determined by Islamic religious texts. The latter immediately manifested itself, for instance, with the elimination of the 1967 Family Protection Law right after Khomeini rose to power, eliminating rights for women and mothers and re-establishing strict patriarchal standards.


On the other hand, the restriction of rights was promptly matched with manifestations of women voicing their discontent towards these setbacks - the first one ever after the revolution was symbolically held right in 1979, on International Women’s Day in relation to the mandatory enforcement of the veil. What has always been peculiar about women’s movements in Iran is the bi-partisan character of the arguments used in support of gender equality. These theoretical grounds are not traceable back to a single source: as a result, Islamic theses intertwine with socialist and liberal arguments in an essential way. Accordingly, an indigenous trait of Iranian feminism resides precisely in its capacity to bring together diverse forces which, despite internal disagreements, all aim at achieving female autonomy and true empowerment. It is symbolic that, as they protested the Shah for prohibiting the veil in the second half of the 1930s, after the revolution the movement was taking the streets for the exact opposite reason.


Throughout the initial years of the Islamic Republic’s existence, Iranian women managed to regain some of the spaces that were taken away from them with the establishment of the new regime - first and foremost, judicial courts and public institutions. Female active involvement in the Iran-Iraq war from 1980 to 1988 was also praised by the main members of the clergy. However, with Ayatollah Khamenei (since 1989), an even more rigorous religious rule further enhanced gender inequalities to the detriment of women. This political phase for activists also saw the increasing involvement of female-based press, as exemplified by the well-known Zanan magazine founded in 1992. Feminist media helped voice the constellation of perspectives and opinions that ultimately all advocated for the liberation of women and their reproductive, social and political rights. The situation fluctuated between reformist and conservative governments from 1997 to 2008. Conservative leader Ahmadinejad chose a particularly hard line towards gender equality, closing Zanan and arresting activists involved in the One Million Signature campaign. Tensions between the government and social movements reached their peak in 2009, after the controversial vote that saw Ahmadinejad's re-election. The Green Movement, the name given to the pro-democracy force that took the streets in those days, saw many Iranian women as protagonists and proactive agents of change. The non-violent protests - features strongly advocated and adopted by Iranian feminists - were suppressed by the authority, leading to the death of civilians such as Neda Agha-Soltan and the arrest and torture of several thousands of people.


Rouhani’s rule, starting in 2013, can be seen as a phase in between for the women’s movement: some legal victories were achieved, but broader changes remained unseen. Concerning the number of activists sentenced to decades of years in prison and controversial trials, together with episodes like the suicide of Sahar Khodayari after her arrest for having attended a football match explain very vividly what is the context in which Iranian women live and organize their civil resistance. As a consequence, it did not come as a surprise that further uprisings occurred when, in September 2022, the news that Mahsa Amini had died, after being detained by the Iranian morality police, reached the broader public.

Source: photo by Shahin Modarres

Iranian women in the aftermath of Mahsa Amini’s death
The protests in the aftermath of Mahsa Amini’s death have once more expressed the power of Iranian women to make their voices heard within Iran as well as obtaining global resonance thanks to the power of social media (i.e. via X). Since September 16th of last year, the burnt veil has become a prominent symbol, disseminating rapidly a willingness for political change across the country. Women activists of all kinds have stood up for equal rights, such as the right to be equal under the law, one’s freedom in the public sphere - including the right to choose one’s clothing - and the right to participate equally in political life. Indeed, the Woman, Life, Freedom Movement is not addressed to a specific audience, but instead, it welcomes any religious, or secular, people of any gender, and sends to the government the clear message that part of the Iranian population is at odds with its current tightness.


Although the veiling order was not strictly applied formally, during the last year systematic attacks on the female gender have occurred starting from November 2022. One of the most notorious cases is the poisoning in schools, which according to the UN hit more than 1200 young girls. The state reaction to these events was slow and inadequate compared to the quick deployment of personnel during the protests, also considering that the words pronounced by the Iranian Interior Minister reduced the attempts to undermine the activists cause to simple stress due to exams.


The restriction to freedom of speech shortly followed, once again targeting those who were advocating feminist activism, such as journalists and lawyers. Examples would be plentiful, however, it is worth remembering the irregular trial of Niloofar Hamedi and Elaheh Mohammadi in May and again in July 2023. After 8 months of custody, both the women were judged for exposing Amini’s death and inciting protests against national security. Law has been used as a tool to intimidate Iranians, retain them from joining the Movement and gain feminist consciousness. Indeed, it has been reported that several other journalists have perished in an effort to raise the voices of the activists instance.


More recently, the Iranian government has presented a pro-Islamic dress code bill, then adopted by the Parliament on August 13th, now it is waiting for the approval of the Guardian Council. The implementation of such a law could envisage gender segregation in public spaces, fines and between 5 and 10 years of prison for women not correctly wearing the compulsory headscarf, as well as for businesses who may host such women, and the reduction of the owner’s income up to 3 months.


All in all, the woman's body affair is becoming an ever more political matter if we consider that in March 2024 elections will be held in Iran and that the burnt hijab is denoting the urge for democratization. Nevertheless, it is hardly realistic to expect the Movement to turn into a political party or for existing parties to take over the feminist demand for reform.

In the wake of Mahsa Amini's tragic death in September 2022, a significant transformation has swept across Iran. This article explored the history of Iranian women's activism since the 1979 Revolution, revealing a narrative of resilience and commitment to gender equality.


Throughout the years, Iranian women have consistently voiced their grievances, enduring hardships and championing civil disobedience as a means to assert their rights. Amini's death served as a catalyst, sparking renewed protests demanding equal rights, freedom of expression, and the repeal of repressive laws.


However, these efforts have faced staunch opposition from the Iranian government, which has responded with tough measures, including systematic attacks on women and limitations on freedom of speech. A proposed pro-Islamic dress code bill adds to these concerns.


The Woman, Life, Freedom Movement embodies hope for a more equal system, although it may not become a formal political entity. Mahsa Amini's tragedy has not only mobilized Iranian women but has also ignited a global conversation about their rights and the need for change in Iran.


In conclusion, Amini's death has galvanized Iranian women, highlighting their resilience and commitment to justice. Their contest continues, serving as a reminder that the pursuit of equality and freedom knows no boundaries

November 6, 2023No Comments

Israel’s Possible War Scenarios: From a Temporarily Restrained Conflict to a Prolonged All-out War

Author: Omri Brinner - Middle East Team

With the beginning of its ground invasion into the Gaza Strip, Israel is at a crossroads it hoped it wouldn’t be in. It can be argued that any route Israel would take in this historic intersection would lead to regional escalation, even if only in the long-run. It is safe to assume, then, that even if there is no immediate backlash to the Israeli ground invasion, another front, sooner or later, will follow. 

The most popular Israeli approach in responding to the October 7 Hamas attack is that the IDF’s infantry and armored brigades would invade the Gaza Strip, backed by heavy artillery, actionable intelligence, and preceded by intense aerial bombardment (as is happening). Israel, it has been argued, must respond forcefully, or else it would project to its enemies that it would refrain from war at all costs. 

The ground invasion itself is meant to root out Hamas from the Gaza Strip and to disable its military capabilities. The other objective is the release of the 239 Israeli and foreign hostages, most of whom are civilians. Ideally – from Israel's point of view – the IDF would achieve its goals in the Gaza Strip without having to fight on another front simultaneously, as its capabilities in fighting multiple fronts at the same time are limited, and such a scenario will necessitate Israel to change its objectives. However, this is the least likely scenario. Total victory against Hamas is not guaranteed – and even unlikely  within the limits of military power – and the ground operation can last for months. What is more likely is that Israel would embark on a limited ground incursion (due to American pressure and the possibility of another front elsewhere), achieve some tactical victories against Hamas, and will force a ceasefire on better conditions – which would lead to the release of some hostages (most likely women, children, and the elderly). However, the restrained war efforts in Gaza will surely be followed by war and terror on other fronts, and possibly simultaneously.

One ongoing front is in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, where Hamas, armed militias, and lone-wolf terrorists take arms against Israeli civilians and security personnel. At the time of the Hamas attack on October 7, most of the IDF was stationed in the West Bank, demonstrating its symbolic and strategic importance to Israel. The latter would have to react forcefully to any significant development there. It is in Hamas’ interest to start a new intifada in the West Bank, and possibly in Israeli cities, in order to destabilize and weaken Israel.  

The other ongoing front, where Israel might face a full-scale war, is from the north. Hezbollah, with its arsenal of 150,000 projectiles (of close, medium, and long range) and army of approximately 100,000 soldiers, most of whom are well-trained and with some battle experience, pose a strategic threat – even bigger than the one Hamas poses. 

Thus far, Hezbollah – which is backed by Iran and serves as its most strategic proxy in the region – has been reacting to Israel’s limited ground invasion, albeit with restraint. While Hezbollah needs to show it is committed to the Palestinian cause, it aims to avoid an all-out war with Israel. 

Source: https://twitter.com/IDFSpokesperson/status/1721014635623522767/photo/4

According to Israeli calculation, an all-out war is not fully in Hezbollah’s interests, nor is it in Iran’s. According to this theory, both Iran and Hezbollah would rather open an all-out war with Israel only once Iran guarantees applicable nuclear military capabilities, which, in the long run, seems inevitable. This means that from Israel’s point of view – and contrary to the best-case scenario described above – it would be better for Israel to engage with Hezbollah and Iran before the latter becomes a nuclear power. 

Israel, then, might choose to attack Hezbollah and either drag it into the war – and by so eliminating the surprise element of Hezbollah’s reaction – or, if Hezbollah chooses not to retaliate, to reestablish its deterrence up north.  While it may seem like an act of self harm, the Israeli public would view a Hezbollah surprise attack as another failure of the government, IDF, Shin Bet and Mossad. In a way, then, these institutions hope to project to the public that Israel is on the front foot, and that if a war with Hezbollah and Iran is inevitable in the long run, then better now than later. It is important to note that while Israel calculates that the two Shia powers would rather avoid an all-out war prior to Iran’s nuclearization, Israel’s working assumption that Hamas was deterred and would have opted to avoid an armed conflict fell apart with the October 7 attack. Therefore, there are no guarantees that any theory that existed before the attack is still relevant.

Would Iran and Hezbollah wait peacefully for an Israeli strike, or for it to finish its fighting in Gaza? Unlikely. From their point of view, Iran and Hezbollah are happy to let Israel keep guessing whether they would join the war or not. From Israel’s standpoint, it cannot afford to be surprised again. While it is less likely that there would be a ground invasion from the north following the one from the Gaza Strip on October 7, an extensive missile attack on central Israel would be just as bad.

But initiating war with Hezbollah – and Iran – would force the US into the conflict, as it would be extremely challenging – on the verge of impossible – for Israel to conduct an all-out war with Hamas, Hezbollah, and Iran simultaneously. At the same time, if US forces end up fighting alongside Israel, then it is likely that other Iranian allies would occupy the US forces elsewhere in the region (such as in Yemen, Iraq, and Syria). While a recent poll shows that the vast majority of Americans are against US military involvement in the Middle East, the US would feel it has to protect its allies and interests in the region. 

It seems, then, that the region is ahead of a long period – whether months or years – of an armed conflict.

July 10, 2023No Comments

Iranian Drone Warfare: theory and praxis

Author: Danilo dalle Fave - Article Intelligence and Military Strategy Team

The Iranian strategic doctrine and the role of drone warfare

Iranian strategic doctrine has been influenced by the peculiar nature of its political regime and its history. The Islamic Revolution of 1979 infused in the Iranian strategic doctrine of Shah’s era, inspired by the contemporary Western military doctrines, some elements that influence the current role of drones in Iranian warfare: “holy defence”, export of the revolution, and especially the concept of self-reliance are the ideological foundation of the current Iranian strategic doctrine.

The Iraq-Iran war of the ‘80s has defined the current duality of Iranian armed forces: due to the distrust toward the Iranian army (Artesh), seen as an instrument of Shah’s supporters, the khomeinists developed the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) as a parallel army and the main instrument of their foreign policy. The purges against the high command of Artesh and the lack of strategic doctrines among the pasdarans compelled them to create an ad hoc military doctrine, deeply influenced by their origin as an ideological militia with a revolutionary structure.

The result is a strategic doctrine centred around three pillars: proxy warfare, which means the use of guerrilla groups of Shia communities around the Islamic world used as an instrument for the projection of Iranian influence abroad; asymmetric warfare, a direct consequence of the military and technological superiority of their enemies; the focus on Ballistic missiles, which is caused by the weak Iranian air forces and the foreign dependency for aeronautical components and have compelled to focus on specific arms systems that can provide deterrence and be produced domestically.

Despite being formally a defensive strategic doctrine, the current supreme leader Ali Khamenei has provided also the official state doctrine for external interventions in 2010, the so-called two-wing doctrine: the Foreign Ministry and the Quds Force, the overseas operations arms of the IRGC, have the task to protect Iran and enhance Iranian role in the region. This means that the military instrument is embedded in Iranian foreign policy.

IRGC interventions of the last ten years have shown how foreign operations are usually conducted when certain conditions are met: the presence of a Shia community that can provide the proxy actor (e.g. in Lebanon Hezbollah or the Houtis in Yemen), the weakness of the state actors, like in Iraq or Lebanon, that can allow the strengthening of pro-Iranian forces and provide a logistics pipeline, capable of transfer personnel, weapons and allowing training by IRGC forces.

In this framework, drone warfare is exclusively conducted by the IRGC aerospace force, which also controls Iran’s strategic-missile force. Drones are used to compensate for the weakness of Iranian air forces in the reconnaissance and surveillance domain and the industrial constraints to the mass production of warplanes.

IRGC drones are perfectly suited to match the IRGC view of warfare: in the air domain, drones can be used along with ballistic and cruise missiles to attack enemy positions to strike and rapidly retreat, for reconnaissance and to overwhelm enemy positions. Swarms of loitering munitions can overburden enemy air defence allowing missiles to strike their objectives. The recent use in the Ukraine of Iranian-made drones by Russia is a clear example of how these kinds of saturation tactics can be very effective.
In the sea, the traditional naval swarming tactics, developed during the Iran-Iraq war, can be augmented with unmanned vehicles and balance the military superiority of the US and their allies.

Source: https://president.ir/fa/135803   

Iranian Unmanned Aerial vehicles and industry

The first family of Iranian drones are the Iranian Aircraft Manufacturing Industrial Company (HESA) Ababil: originally developed by the IRGC-owned Qods Aviation Industries, the Ababil-1 was a suicide drone used during the Iran-Iraq war usually launched by pneumatic truck launchers. Now they developed a specific Unmanned loitering munition drone, the DIO Arash.

This experience allowed the production in the 90s of the Ababil-2 and its different variants: the Ababil-B, a target drone for air-defence exercises, the Ababil-S, the first Iranian surveillance drone, the Ababil-T, a twin-tail variant that can be used for surveillance and as strike munition payloads and has been adopted by Hezbollah and the Houtis. The latter has deployed the Qasef-1 and Qasef-2K, Abadil-2 variants with 30 kg warheads, used as loitering munition against the Saudi-led coalition forces since 2016.

The Ababil-3, suspected to be a copy of the South African Denel Dynamics Seeker, is an Intelligence-Surveillance-Reconnaissance (ISR) drone and has been used extensively by Iranian forces during the Syrian civil war. The last member of this family, the Ababil-5, debuted in April 2022 and appears to be a Unmanned Combat Aerial Vehicle, similar to the American Predator.

The other family of Iranian drones is represented by the Mohajer, the first ISR drone produced in the 80s and widely exported to Iranian proxies. Many Iranian drones are the result of a reverse-engineered version of Western drones, like the IAIO Fotros, IAIO Yasir, HESA Hamaseh, and IRIAF Kaman-22: the most important of them are the Saegheh, an entire family of drones that are the result of the acquisition of US Lockheed RQ-170 Sentinel, downed in 2011, which shows how Iranian industries are capable to copy stealth drones and in general to adapt western technology for internal purposes.

The most important drone family is the Shahed: the HESA Shahed-129, a dual-role drone is deployed for patrols and direct attacks for the Iranian Army and Navy, while the HESA Shahed-136 is a loitering munition designed for swarm attacks against ground targets. The last addition is the HESA Shahed-149, a reusable attack drone capable of launching missiles and bombs and being equipped for electronic warfare.

As previously said, Iran relies on drones in order to overcome the lack of a proper aerospace industry: the cost-effectiveness of drones in production and maintenance avoids the costly traditional aircraft procurement. At the same time, it is also a matter of internal political dynamics. Drone producers are mostly linked with the IRGC which managed to concentrate power in recent years, especially with the current president Ebrahim Raisi. The main consequence of this, apart from a greater role of IRGC in Iranian politics, is the “capture” of funds by the IRGC, leaving the Iranian Air Forces with shrinking resources to develop their vehicles and devices.
That is why Iran relies, as during Shah’s era, on imports: the recent discussion for the procurement of the Russian Su-35, a 4th generation multi-role jet fighter, is a clear sign of the overreliance on imports for traditional aircraft.

Conclusion

Summing up, drone warfare is an important element of the Iranian way to wage war: it reflects Iranian leadership’s preference for asymmetric approaches and the adaptation to Western sanctions that prevented the development of traditional aerospace vehicles. Despite domestic strifes and tensions with the US, Iran can exploit its expertise in drones to obtain technology and know-how in the aerospace field that needs to scale up its military prowess: deeper cooperation with Russia, favoured by the isolation of both countries in the international arena, could augment Iranian aerospace forces, with consequences on the military balance in the Middle East.

March 27, 2023No Comments

What is the future of Russo-Iranian military relations?

Authors: Margherita Ceserani, Will Kingston-Cox, Ilaria Lorusso, Shahin Modarres

Russia’s war in Ukraine has reached its 398th day and the pro-Russian mercenary Wagner Group is still engaging in the battlefield of Bakhmut, in the Donetsk province, after eight months of combat. They have been assaulting the city since August 2022 and, even though they succeeded on the East frontline, there is still room for a defeat by hands of the Ukrainian resistance backed by three Mi-8 helicopter gunships.

That the war was also being conducted from the air is not news as several sources confirmed the deployment of Iranian drones serving the Russian army, although information was repeatedly denied by Tehran. Moreover, Iran has just confirmed a deal through which it will be in receipt of three SU-35 fighter planes from Russia. This signals two trends: firstly, the Iranian intention to reconstitute its military arsenal and to strengthen its aircraft forces; ultimately, its willingness to develop a weapon market and become a relevant seller, given that the embargo on ballistic missile commerce is expiring in October 2023.

The ties with Moscow have been growing increasingly close. Indeed since the rapprochement in 1989, the interests of the two Eastern powers have often converged, for example, on critiques of Western sanctions and the JCPOA. Today, the presence of Iranian personnel in Ukraine has the double aim of bringing support, training and know-how to Russian soldiers employing Iranian kamikaze drones, observing their functioning, and finding vulnerabilities to be improved. How do the military doctrines of these two countries meet? What should we expect from their bilateral relationship?

Russia’s military doctrine can be defined by its active pursuit of modernization and expansion in Russian military capabilities, such as investing in new weapons systems and conducting full-scale military exercises. The current doctrine–adopted in 2014–enshrines the importance of securing Russia’s borders and Moscow’s interests overseas, as well as the maintenance of the Kremlin’s strategic nuclear deterrence, vis-à-vis the identification of NATO and the United States' expansion of its missile capacity as a significant threat to Russia’s national security. It also contains the concept of ‘strategic deterrence’, which seeks to deter adversaries from attacking Russia under the notion that Moscow is willing to employ ‘preemptive strikes’ wherever it deems necessary

Similarly, the military doctrine of Iran is centred around the principles of defence and deterrence. Iranian military authorities emphasize the importance of perpetuating a strong, unwavering defensive position to deter potential threats and defend Iran’s territorial sovereignty against external belligerence. The doctrine’s latest update, in 2018, identifies the importance of enhancing and refining Iran’s military capabilities–both conventional and asymmetric–to advance the end goal of protecting Iranian territorial integrity.

The convergence of Russian and Iranian military doctrines through security cooperation is not a new phenomenon. For example, both Tehran and Moscow supported Bashar al-Assad in Syria to assert their geopolitical interests and strategic partnership in the region. However, in the context of the Russo-Iranian strategic partnership vis-à-vis the Ukrainian invasion, we can identify a greater synthesis of the military doctrines of Tehran and Moscow and their respective political and economic objectives. The war in Ukraine provides another dimension to the Russo-Iranian strategic cooperation.

Source: KREMLIN/ALEXANDR DEMYANCHUK via Associated Press

Both Russia and Iran find themselves increasingly isolated from the international community. Thus, strategic military cooperation provides unparalleled economic and political relief for the two ‘quasi-pariahs’. Russia, now a state proficient in the avoidance of sanctions, has been keenly training their Iranian counterparts the same techniques so as to continue fruitful trade between the two nations. Through the provision of loitering munitions–“kamikaze” drones–to Russia on the Ukrainian battlefields, Iran is hopeful it can alleviate the pressures of its current economic position–a position exponentially compounded by sanctions imposed by the West, as well as a metaphoric flex of muscles to its regional adversaries.

For Moscow, importing Iranian drones provides a cheap and effective method of carrying out its strategic goals in Ukraine. Costing roughly $20,000 per unit, Iranian “kamikaze” drones, such as the Shahed-136, strategically emboldens Putin’s war machine at little significant cost to Moscow. The capability of devastation loaded to these drones, however, should not be underexaggerated. Not only does ‘strategically cooperating’ with Iran alleviate the pressures of drone production on a beleaguered Russian economy, but it also perpetuates the likelihood of Russian attacks on Ukrainian civilian infrastructure.

The so-called strategic cooperation between the Islamic Republic and Russia is in reality, mostly a one-way pact in favour of the Kremlin. Russia has backed its allies, such as Syria and Belarus to suppress the protests ruthlessly. In this case regarding Iran, Russian intervention can be divided into three categories:

  1. Sending forces, which is not possible considering the serious lack of forces on the Ukrainian front. It is also crucial to mention that officials such as Sergei Surovikin who is one of the very few suitable forces to have such a role is now the new commander of the Russian forces in Ukraine.
  2. Intelligence and Security cooperation, which precedent shows cannot exceed a certain level as it is a double-edged blade. Such cooperation in precedent was provided for Ba’ath movement in the Arab world but never exceeded a certain limit
  3. Disinformation and #propaganda support, for which Russia holds the first place in the world but has already offered its best to the Islamic Republic.

Hence, it should not be a point that can discourage the Iranian people. Also, the international community is closely following the Tehran-Kremlin affairs. They will respond to such cooperation under many causes, making them take more serious positions regarding Iran's atrocious human rights violations.

The Islamic Republic’s interest in Russia is mostly based on three main elements. The first element is cooperation regarding the development of satellite technologies because the Islamic republic wants to save its three satellite positions and benefit from Russian satellites, not only for communication means but also for espionage. The second element to consider is Islamic republics’ dependency on the Russian campaign and models of disinformation, which they try to apply within the country. Finally, the third reason is their #intelligence cooperation and their need for structural support from Russia.
Beyond these three elements, we should consider something called “the mad king phase, " a state where it’s a totalitarian system, before its demise, tends to commit grave strategic mistake after strategic mistake.

The response by the international community can only manoeuvre a little on the particular matter of drones because of legal technicalities that make this matter quite hard to analyze. However, it is crucial to consider that the political will to oppose the affluence of the Islamic republic will become much stronger, more systematic, and more collective.

Ukraine’s best strategy to counter the drones made by the Islamic Republic can come from a country that has been studying them for quite a few years. Israel has developed both #IronDome and IronBeam at the Rafael Company by precisely studying and developing mathematical models of the technologies that were used in most of the missiles and drones that came from Gaza and Lebanon, but originated from the Islamic republic. Even though the Israelis have expressed that they will not intervene in this war, it does not keep Israel from giving Ukraine practical, useful intelligence that can help them with countermeasures for these drones.

The convergence of Iranian and Russian interests has constituted a long-lasting partnership characterized by anti-Western sentiments focusing on limiting NATO expansion, protecting and affirming the countries’ respective sovereignty, and enhancing military and technological capabilities. This partnership has materialized, across the years, through a constellation of hard and soft power measures, spacing from exchanges of weapons and military know-how on one hand to the common ideologically-based spread of disinformation and counter-narratives against common enemies on the other. As for now, the war in Ukraine provides new momentum to this allyship as the conflicts continue to evolve.


Whether the international community is effective vis-à-vis Iran and Russia also depends on the cohesiveness of their collective action. We have already witnessed a round of sanctions from the EU and the UK on Iranian drones in October 2022, precisely in response to their use on the Ukrainian conflict. As for the US, punitive measures targeting drones’ producers for Teheran have been issued as of three days ago. While Western power keeps a strict opposing stand against the Iranian-Russian allyship, China may emerge from this as a new mediating power between the two parts. The latter has already facilitated the recent agreement between Iran and Saudi Arabia to restore their diplomatic relations. It will discuss a possible resolution of the war in Ukraine with Spanish PM Sanchez in a soon-to-come meeting.


In the meantime, Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei continues to deny the Islamic Republic’s involvement in Ukraine. Accordingly, and in line with the anti-Western rhetoric previously mentioned, the official position reiterated by the Ayatollah is that the conflict in general was devised as a US-based diversion to justify NATO’s enlargements. As the UK gets ready to send armour-piercing rounds containing depleted uranium to Ukrainian forces, between the Kremlin, already protesting for the use of “nuclear weapons”, and the care recommendations of the UN on radioactive exposure, the conflict confirms to be yet another chessboard where the international power games unfold, with Iran and Russia playing on the same side.

January 23, 2023No Comments

The Middle East in 2023: From Revolution to Survival

Author: Omri Brinner and Chantal Elisabeth Hohe.

2022 brought about several game-changing developments in the Middle East and beyond. These events - from domestic political instability, through the weakening of American influence in the region, to the protests in Iran - will all leave a mark in 2023, a year that is shaping to be decisive for the Middle East’s future.

Of the many things to monitor in the region during 2023, four issues stand out the most, largely due to their international significance. These are the American involvement in the Middle East; climate change and the region’s efforts - or lack of - to counter it; the domestic upheaval in Iran and its global impact; and the economic situation across the region, with a growing number of countries in economic disarray (Turkey, Lebanon, Egypt and Yemen).

Image Source: https://www.spiegel.de/international/world/protests-in-iran-the-regime-s-trail-of-blood-a-8775e064-e031-4f80-8a87-5ec4cb59246c 

The US in the Middle East

Going into 2023, the United State’s role in the Middle East is undefined. Had it been clear and obvious, American officials wouldn’t have to reiterate that their country will remain pivotal as it once was. The facts on the ground suggest less American physical involvement. There are less American troops in the region; American diplomacy has been weakened; and one is much more exposed to alternative soft power than before. In that sense we are expected to see declining American presence across the region. Diplomatically, the US is losing grip as well. While it largely has Israel on its side in its competition with China and Russia, other allies - most notably Saudi Arabia - are becoming less and less dependent on the US, fueling a multipolar world where the US is now one of many, rather than the one. The US can stay assured that it will continue to have leverage over several individuals and countries in the coming year, but all in all - and much due to the multipolar inertia across the region - this leverage is not infinite, and further distancing from American policies are likely to follow. This dynamic played out in the relations between President Biden and the Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin-Salman, where the latter refused to give-in to American pressure on oil prices, proving that the American leverage on him and his country is limited. In other words, American superiority will not only continue to be challenged from afar, but also from within the region itself.

Iran

2023 might very well be the year of the Persian Spring. The revolutionary protests that began in September have the potential to spin the regime out of control and to create a new reality in the country, and the region. What started as a social protest against the state’s brutality and the killing of Masha Amini has developed into a full regime-change movement, with the slogan “death to Khamenei” gaining momentum and legitimacy on social media. It is of course possible that the harsh and lethal crackdown by the state will break the back of the revolution, but these past few months and the ones to follow will certainly change Iran and affect the region as a whole, whichever way the wind blows.

Furthermore, in light of the internal turmoil and the fact that the Iranian nuclear deal is all but alive, it is likely that Iran will push to both enrich as much uranium as possible and to create destabilizing chaos across the region in the coming months. All in all, what happens in Iran during 2023 will determine the near future of the Middle East.

Climate

After a rather unsuccessful COP27 failed to produce actionable policy solutions or real commitments from the international community, a decisive year lies ahead for the Middle East, where people will continue suffering from the consequences of the climate crisis. Most prominently, water scarcity will lead to an increasingly dire situation, fueling food insecurity, economic downturn, civil unrest, and violent extremism. That said, several innovative start-ups and promising technologies are on the rise, with the GCC countries upping the funding to accelerate developments in the field. Hope now lies upon the Abu Dhabi COP28, set to take place in November and, ironically, hosted by UAE’s National Oil Company CEO, with civil society organizations and academia urging for serious action.

Economy

A cleavage in economic performance is increasingly visible among Middle Eastern countries, with the oil-based GCC monarchies witnessing continuous growth - whereas others are facing economic decline, leading to or exacerbating existing socio-political turbulences. The economic outlook for 2023 indicates that inflation is likely to surpass 30% in numerous countries, with Syria at 63% and Lebanon at a staggering 167% . Further regional actors, such as Iran, Turkey, Egypt, and Yemen, face economic hardship while also having to tackle political challenges, civil unrest, and violent conflicts. Overall, domestic and international factors - such as the war in Ukraine - are likely to deepen a looming recession and the energy crisis. While it is likely that wealthy GCC countries will continue to support struggling regional allies, countries such as Yemen, Libya and Lebanon will continue to be used as arenas for proxy wars, further deepening their economic troubles.

December 9, 2022No Comments

Revolutionary Iran: Women, Life, Freedom

ITSS Verona and King's College London hosted a joint event on the protests in Iran to discuss how the ongoing protests are different from the previous ones and how come "Woman, Life, Freedom" represents a collective will of the Iranian people and how was it formed? Is it a modern revolution based on the values that are identified within this context? What is the role of Iranian women in this revolution? And finally what is the outcome, are amongst questions that we will discuss with our guests during this event.

Panellists:

Dr Sadegh Zibakalam Mofrad is an Iranian academic, author, and pundit described as reformist and neo-liberal. Zibakalam is a professor at the University of Tehran and frequently appears on international news outlets including BBC News and Al Jazeera.

Dr Ali Fathollah-Nejad is a German–Iranian political scientist focusing on Iran, the Middle East, and the post-unipolar world order. He is a McCloy Fellow on Global Trends of the American Council on Germany (ACG), exploring how transatlantic foreign policy toward authoritarian states could reconcile interests and values.

Dr Nayereh Tohidi is a Professor Emerita and former Chair of Gender & Women’s Studies and the Founding Director of the Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies (2011-2021) at California State University, Northridge. She is also a Research Associate in the Program of Iranian Studies at UCLA coordinating “Bilingual Lecture Series on Iran” since 2003. She received her MA and Ph.D. from the Universities of Tehran and Illinois in Champaign-Urbana. She is also the recipient of several post-doctoral fellowships and research awards, including an NEH grant, a year of Fulbright lectureship and research at the Academy of Sciences of the Soviet Republic of Azerbaijan; universities of Harvard and Stanford, the Kennan Institute of the Woodrow Wilson Center, and Keddie-Balzan Fellowship at UCLA.

Ms Elahe Amani learned about conflict resolution and mediation in 1990, through the CSUF Certificate Program of “Managing Multicultural Work Environments”. She completed formal mediation training through Pepperdine School of Law Straus Institute for Dispute Resolution in 1991 and promptly joined the Southern California Mediation Association (SCMA) and published a book review on “Mediation Across Cultures” in the SCMA newsletter. In 1992-93 after the Los Angeles riots, Elahe conducted sessions of community mediation between Korean and African Americans in Town Hall settings through a program organized by the Los Angeles City Attorney's Office. In 2006 Elahe did a presentation at SCMA Salon on “Gender and Mediation” and presented on the panel in the affinity discussion at SCMA’s annual conference at Pepperdine University on “Culture and Mediation.” She is currently Interim Director of the Academic Technology CenterInterim Director of Academic Technology Center at California State University, Fullerton.

Moderators: Dr Michele Groppi and Shahin Modarres.

July 18, 2022No Comments

Prof. Germano Dottori on Iran’s shifting role amidst developments in the Middle East

In this interview conducted by the "Iran Desk" at ITSS Verona Prof. Germano Dottori addresses and analyzes Iran's role within the new developments in the Middle East. The interview focuses on the possible outcomes of Biden's travel to the Middle East and the developing potentials of new Middle Eastern alliances.

Professor Germano Dottori was the Chair of Strategic Studies at Luiss-Guido Carli University in Rome until November 2020. He was an Adviser to the Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee between 2001 and 2006. He has worked with the Rivista Italiana di Difesa (Italian Defence magazine) since 1997. He has published books and research in Italy and Great Britain on security and defence.

Interviewer: Shahin Modarres

June 18, 2022No Comments

Will METO be the new NATO?

Author: Shahin Modarres.

As the light at the end of the tunnel of revitalizing the JCPOA grows weaker the tension between Iran and the international community rises fiercely. Tension can be analyzed on two levels, regional level, and international level. On a regional level whilst Iran's regional competitors express their concerns regarding Iran's nuclear program, Israel has been applying a drastically different approach, a completely physical approach that dances on the edge of initiating a direct regional conflict. For the past month a notable number of high-ranking officers and scientists within the IRGC and Ministry of defense have been targeted and assassinated in the streets of Iran, almost all targets played an important role in the country's nuclear and missile program. Even though the Israeli officials never officially accepted the responsibility but Israel remains to be the main guess behind the calls. At the same time reports have been registered regarding threats against Israeli citizens in Turkey and Thailand. Earlier Israel's minister of foreign affairs asked all citizens to evacuate Istanbul immediately because of a series of imminent threats against their lives. 

On another proxy level, the shelling of Iranian infrastructures in Syria by the Israeli Air Force has been intensified. Drones trying to reach Israeli territories through Iraq's airspace have been shot and there have been reports of drone attacks on safe sites of Israel's intelligence operations according to Iranian authorities. Constant cyber war has been going on as well, every now and then, Iranian or Israeli hackers have been claiming victory by accessing infrastructures or personal data from the rival. A full encounter between the countries is now more threatening than ever. That is the main reason why both actors are reinforcing their teams in anticipation. 

Image Source: https://www.bakerinstitute.org/center-for-the-middle-east/

One of Iran's main bargaining leverages has been its regional influence. A military influent formed of mostly Shiite militant groups in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, and Yemen running alongside vast support of Sunni groups such as Hamas for years gave Iran an upper hand to proceed with its regional proxy wars but what has changed? Iran's influence in the region has been limited mainly because of two reasons, a technological shift in the defense paradigm and a realistically Machiavellian perception of diplomacy. The aerial defense system known as the "Iron Dome" by Israel has definitely been a game-changer redefining traditional defensive methods through advanced approaches to countering missile attacks. On the diplomatic level, the "Abraham Accords" were none other than a realist perception of "my enemy's enemy can be my friend!" The growing angle of difference between Iran and Arab countries of the Persian Gulf and Saudi Arabia itself lead the tension between Israel and Arab countries to decrease gradually. Now a new form of an alliance is being formed between them. An alliance that some interpret as a Middle Eastern form of NATO; is METO. 

A few days ago Israel's minister of defense called for a new alliance between Israel and its Arab partners against Iran led by the United States. It appears that the defensive circle against Iran is getting tighter but at the same time Iran has decided to deactivate the surveillance set by the IAEA within its nuclear facilities. President Biden's trip to the Middle East will happen soon during which he will visit Israel and Saudi Arabia. Against all odds, the Biden administration appears to be considering its foreign policy legacy none other than peacebuilding between Israel and Saudi Arabia. Hence, his trips will play a crucial role that may affect and form Middle East's near future on different levels.

A Middle Eastern Treaty Organization(METO) on a dynamic scale may only live with the blessing of the United States. But on a regional level, actors are consciously trying to build an independent alliance as well. Almost each and every member of the new alliance at some point during the past two decades has been unhappy regarding US policies in the region hence traces of a collective will to have independent strong regional alliances are quite clear amongst actors. There is already talk regarding Israel sharing parts of its "Iron Dome" technology with Arab partners. Whilst wealthy Arab partners can generously invest in the Israeli technological and scientific R&D, all allies may benefit from the results.  

On the other end, Iran has shown a Russo-Oriental turn towards developing military and security cooperation with China and Russia. Also, there has been a fast development of the county's Aerospatiale program, particularly in regards to ballistic missiles program, drones, and satellites. Even though the Iranian economy is facing its most fragile state expenses regarding the doctrines of "Defense and Influence" have indeed increased. 

To anticipate the outcome of this equation we all need to think in a Machiavellian context, to simply interpret the equation based on each country's national interest. Will the US join the coalition to form METO? Will Russia and China support their supposed ally if Iran's nuclear program once again ends up in the United Nations Security Council? And eventually, the final unfortunate question is, will we face another devastating war in the Middle East?  

May 16, 2022No Comments

Manochehr Dorraj on the development of bilateral relations between Iran and China

In this interview conducted by the "Iran Desk" at ITSS Verona Prof. Manochehr Dorraj addresses and analyzes the gradual development of bilateral relations between Iran and China. The interview focuses on the importance of Iran to China, how both countries try to optimize their gain and influence through this bilateral relation, and how this relation is affected by and may affect regional bilateral relations with China. 

Manochehr Dorraj is a Professor at Texas Christian University where his areas of focus cover International Affairs, Comparative politics, Political Theory and Middle East politics. He received his Ph.D. from the University of Texas at Austin. He is the author, coauthor, editor or coeditor of 7 books and more than 80 refereed articles and book chapters.

Interviewers: Shahin Modarres, Yasmina Dionisi and Filippo Cimento.

April 18, 2022No Comments

Iran’s Nuclear Policy: Roots and Reasons

By: Shahin Modarres, Yasmina Dionisi, Filippo Cimento.

How often do we consider nations with glorious histories tend to live under the constructed shadow of their past and continue a collective sense that is tangible yet sophisticatedly laying behind layers of time? Is it correct to assume the roots of Iran's nuclear program are somehow attached to reviving its past? What are the main differences between pre and post-1979 Iran and its nuclear development policies?

The issue appeared in the public debate a few years after Mohammed Reza Shah Pahlavi came to power in 1944. The latter, who studied in Switzerland, developed a western attitude enriched by power aspirations and ideals of modernization. In this project, the nuclear program has always been present. For Shah, modernization necessarily passed through the implementation of a nuclear program. First, Shah intended to give his country a real energy alternative, not forgetting that nuclear weapons could give a strong international legitimacy: a powerful state, a state capable of defending itself, is a compelling state and a state which is able to develop its regional influence. Moreover, the program could give birth to a process of technological and scientific progress, increasing the power of the country through investments in new researchers. With the 1979 revolution and the change in the alliance system, Iran remained isolated and the nuclear program was suspended.

Image Source: https://www.nytimes.com/1974/06/28/archives/france-and-iran-sign-4billion-accord-shah-will-receive-5-nuclear.html

The decision of resuming the nuclear program has been guided by the will to conserve independence from other powers, intensify the distances from the United States, and start the first net of relations with its neighbours from a strong position of power. The government started gradually to intercept the feeling of the elite and of the public that the nuclear strategy crystallized the regional position. In other words, nuclear power could give to Iran not only a decisive international bargaining leverage but mostly a stabilizing tool in domestic politics. In some way, the perception that  the Iranian people could have of the government and of its action could have been influenced by the ideal of a political elite capable of taking strong decisions. The Iranians would see the development of a nuclear program as an ambitious project enabling the country to develop a strategic aim and enhance its regional influence. From this element, some scholars have claimed that a new uniting consensus aroused around the nuclear pact, allowing the executive power to gain a wider leeway. Scholars have argued that the main reason that pushed Iran toward a nuclear program was deterrence. In this reconstruction, a primary role is played by the War against Iraq, which must be analyzed in a wider context. The war broke out after 1979 when Iran was isolated, and Iraq exploited the opportunity to improve its relations with the US. Such an attack, which engaged Iran all of a sudden, found it unprepared and taught to Iran the importance of appearing strong and resistant.

However, it could be claimed that deterrence is a dangerous strategy and that Iran in this way could face enormous risks in challenging the international community in such an open approach. Nonetheless, among the political elite, a decisive idea has spread and motivated the choices of Iran: if Iran goes beyond the imposed threshold, the international community will accept it. This has been a compelling argument that animated the internal debate about the nuclear program. In the international non-proliferation agenda, Iran’s nuclear program has been placed as a priority security issue: the consequences of a nuclear Iran, in the fragile region of the Middle East, could trigger threatening outcomes. To counter such a threat and identify the main efforts to be undertaken to address it, studies have focused on understanding the causes behind Iran’s nuclear aspirations. Realism has been the predominant international relations theory for this purpose. Yet, an opposite analysis has placed constructivist interpretations at the center of the debate.

In constructivist views, the revolutionary values associated with the regime are linked to the development of the nuclear programme. As such, normative factors have been proposed as the elements behind the Islamic Republic of Iran’s foreign policy. Mahdi Mohammad Nia has argued that, since 1979 brought the clerical regime under Ayatollah Khomeini to power: The Iranian nation has been dominated by a revolutionary ethos and this has been translated into its foreign and security policy. Consequently, Iran's nuclear aspirations should be looked at through the lens of this discourse.

This discourse involves the aim of the Islamic Revolution. Through such, the regime has been seeking to reaffirm its independent, anti-western, anti-hegemonic, and anti-colonial nature. The nuclear weapon would therefore fulfill these values. It is in this same argument that Homeria Moshirzadeh shows how the main discourses of justice, independence, and resistance are profoundly ingrained in the constitution of the identity of the Islamic Revolution and that therefore gaining nuclear weapons. Constructivists aside, realism continues to dominate the analysis of nuclear Iran. In fact, the security dilemma is still sought as an important motivator. According to Shaheen Akhtar and Zulfiqar Khan, the regime’s perceived threat from the not-so-distant Israeli nuclear weapons would continue to act as an urgent security threat and that within an anarchical order, where Iran itself acknowledges its vulnera

Overall, the role of domestic politics, thus in conjunction with both theories, remains prevalent in scholarly analysis. Shahram Chubin and Robert S. Litwak for instance have argued that the question of nuclear development in Iran is rooted in domestic politics and that efforts to address the regime’s aspirations must look at the nuclear debate within the Iranian public. It is essential to conclude that in the current frame of international relations particularly the Middle Eastern dynamics of power development of a nuclear program is not justified yet understandable. By comparing the cooperation once held before 1979 between Iran and the international community and the bitter hostility that gradually developed after the revolution it is important to focus on the role of the agent, not the context.