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December 29, 2023

Escalating Middle East Tensions: The Assassination of Iranian Commander, Tragic Car Accident Claims Life of Iranian Women’s National Soccer Team Player and, More

Week of December 25, 2023 | Iran Unfiltered is a digest tracking Iranian politics & society by the National Iranian American Council 

Escalating Middle East Tensions: The Assassination of an Iranian Commander 

In a recent development highlighting the ongoing turmoil in the Middle East, Seyed Razi Mousavi – a senior Iranian Revolutionary Guard Commander and associate of the late General Qasem Soleimani – was killed in an Israeli missile attack on the Zeynabiyeh area in the suburbs of Damascus. Since Mousavi’s assassination, Iranian military and civilian officials have issued stern warnings to Israel, signaling potential harsh retaliation to what they view as a blatant act of aggression by the Israeli government. 

This incident adds to already increased tensions in a region marred by complex geopolitical dynamics that have dangerously surged since October 7th. Moreover, the killing of Mousavi ahead of the fourth anniversary of Soleimani’s assassination by a U.S. drone in Iraq, during what Iran calls the “Week of Resistance,” has further intensified Iranian officials’ reactions.

The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) has condemned Israel’s actions and promised retribution as well. These developments occur against a backdrop of frequent Israeli strikes in Syria aimed at curbing Iran’s military influence through support to allied militia groups.

Israel’s Defense Minister implicitly acknowledged responsibility for Mousavi’s killing, with Iranian political and military officials vowing that Israel will “pay the price” for its actions. Meanwhile, the United States struck targeted locations associated with Iran-backed militias this week, including Kata’ib, Hezbollah, and other related groups identified by the U.S. Department of Defense as militants supported by Iran.   

The context of these U.S. strikes is significant. They were a response to a drone attack on a U.S. airbase in Erbil, which resulted in injuries to three American soldiers. In retaliation, the U.S. targeted multiple locations, reportedly causing several militant casualties. According to the Iraqi government, these strikes also resulted in the death of an Iraqi soldier and injuries to several others, including some civilians.

The Iraqi government decried these strikes as a violation of its national sovereignty, emphasizing that such actions are unacceptable under any circumstances. The Iraqi statement highlighted the contradiction between these aggressive acts and the U.S.’s declared intention to improve relations with Iraq, stating that these strikes are hostile moves that work against the shared interests of security and stability in the region.

Iran Ramps Up Uranium Enrichment to 60% Purity, Exacerbating JCPOA Instability and Global Concerns

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has reported a significant acceleration in Iran’s high-purity uranium enrichment activities. While the enrichment level had previously decreased to 60% purity at a rate of three kilograms per month, it has now reportedly tripled to nine kilograms.

This increase in enrichment has been observed at Iran’s Natanz and Fordow facilities. Earlier in the summer, Iran had slowed down its high-purity uranium enrichment, presumably to reduce tensions. However, the IAEA notes that the enrichment levels have returned to their mid-2023 rates. According to the IAEA report, the uranium enrichment level at the Fordow and Natanz facilities has risen to nine kilograms per month over the past two months. IAEA inspectors confirmed this increase during their recent visits on December 19 and 24.

While enriched uranium at 60% purity is not in itself sufficient for nuclear weapons, it can be further enriched to 90% purity, which is sufficient for nuclear armaments. The IAEA has cautioned that a 42-kilogram stockpile of 60% enriched uranium cannot be discounted in bomb-constructing potential.

The United Nations Security Council recently dedicated a session to Iran’s nuclear program and the status of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). Rosemary DiCarlo, the UN’s Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, warned of a diplomatic stalemate in reviving the JCPOA and noted that Iran’s enriched uranium stockpile is now approximately twenty times the limit set by the agreement. DiCarlo echoed UN Secretary-General António Guterres’ calls for all parties to exercise utmost restraint and explore all diplomatic avenues for reviving the agreement, stressing its importance for global peace and security. 

Previously in November, the French news agency AFP, citing another confidential IAEA document, reported that Iran’s enriched uranium stockpile had been fifteen times the limit allowed under the JCPOA; those numbers have increased since then. The JCPOA has been moribund since the U.S. withdrawal in 2018, and negotiations for Washington’s return and Tehran’s full compliance have not yet been successful.

In response to the U.S.’s withdrawal from the JCPOA and the failure of other parties to meet its benefits, Iran ceased adhering to the nuclear deal’s restrictions. Mohammad Eslami, head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization, responded to U.S. concerns about increased high-purity uranium production, stating that Iran had not altered its production or created new capacity.

The White House had earlier expressed deep concerns over the IAEA’s report about this increase in production. Eslami dismissed these reports as “media hype,” suggesting they aim to shift attention from Gaza to Iran. He claimed the high-purity uranium production is for medical applications.

Adrienne Watson, a spokesperson for the U.S. National Security Council, found the timing of the most recent IAEA report concerning, particularly given the increase in “dangerous and destabilizing activities” by Iran-backed groups in the region, including drone attacks in Iraq and Syria and targeting commercial ships in the Black Sea by Houthi forces.

Iran’s Guardian Council Sends ‘Modesty and Hijab’ Bill Back to Parliament for Clarification and Amendments

The Guardian Council has returned the ‘Modesty and Hijab’ bill to the Iranian Parliament for further review. Hadi Tahan Nazif, the spokesperson for the Guardian Council, announced on Tuesday, December 25, that the bill was sent back due to various ambiguities and issues identified in it.

Nazif did not provide specific details about these ambiguities but stated, “In its previous review, the Guardian Council had numerous objections and ambiguities regarding the bill aimed at supporting families through the promotion of modesty and hijab culture. The Parliament addressed these issues in its sessions, and we subsequently revisited the bill. It was found that many of the concerns had been resolved.”

He added, “As soon as the Parliament rectifies the remaining issues, we will review the amended bill again and announce the final opinion of the Guardian Council.” The Guardian Council had initially returned the bill to the Parliament, citing 109 issues and 23 spelling errors. The Council’s primary concerns revolved around ambiguities in many clauses of the bill and deemed several articles and provisions to be contrary to the constitution and Sharia law.

Tragic Car Accident Claims Life of Iranian Women’s National Soccer Team Player

A fatal car accident near the city entrance of Bam in Kerman province claimed the life of 23-year-old Malika Mohammadi, a member of the Iranian women’s national soccer team. The incident, which occurred in the early hours of Sunday, December 24, also injured two other female footballers, Behnaz Taherkhani and Zahra Khavajui.

Ali Taheri, the head of the pre-hospital emergency service at Bam University of Medical Sciences, reported to the IRNA news agency, “The rollover of a Tiba car at the entrance of Bam city resulted in one fatality (a member of the women’s national football team) and three injuries.” According to Taheri, Mohammadi died at the scene of the accident, while the other two footballers, along with the driver, were injured and taken to the hospital. Malika Mohammadi was a midfielder for the Khatun Bam football team and a member of the Iranian women’s national football team. The two injured athletes also play for the Khatun Bam team.

The funeral procession for Malika Mohammadi took place at Fajr Stadium in Bam on the Monday afternoon on December 25. A gathering of athletes and teammates attended the ceremony. According to Iranian domestic media reports, the body of the 23-year-old footballer was moved to Shiraz following the funeral, and per her family’s request, it will be transferred to the United States for burial and interment. Malika Mohammadi was born and raised in the United States and had traveled to Iran to join the women’s national football team until her life was tragically cut short.

NIAC expresses its heartfelt sympathy to the family of Mohammadi and to the entire  Iranian and Iranian-American community who admired Mohammadi.

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