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March 29, 2024

Celebrating Norooz: A Timeless Tradition Uniting Millions Across the Globe, Deadly Airstrikes in Syria Target Iran-Backed Forces, U.S. Implements Sanctions on Allies of Quds Force, Expresses Concerns Over Iran-Pakistan Gas Pipeline, and More

Week of March 25, 2024 | Iran Unfiltered is a digest tracking Iranian politics & society by the National Iranian American Council 

Celebrating Norooz: A Timeless Tradition Uniting Millions Across the Globe

Norooz, the ancient Persian New Year, stands as a pivotal celebration that transcends borders, connecting a diverse array of cultures across Western Asia and beyond. This centuries-old festival, deeply rooted in the traditions of Persian and Zoroastrian civilization, serves as a significant marker of cultural identity for millions, highlighting the rich tapestry of shared heritage in this region. Unlike conventional new year observances, Norooz is distinguished by its celebration of nature’s rebirth in spring rather than historical or religious events, embodying the essence of renewal and life.

Historians estimate that Norooz has been observed for over 3,000 years, with its practices and rituals now embraced globally by approximately 300 million people. This widespread celebration reflects not only the migration patterns and technological advancements of modern society but also a growing global consciousness towards environmental preservation. The United Nations’ formal recognition of Norooz in 2009 underscores its international significance, promoting it as a cultural bridge between observants of this holiday and the rest of the international community.

Tracing its origins to mythical times, Norooz is believed to have been instituted by the legendary Persian king Jamshid, who symbolically vanquished winter to usher in the prosperity and warmth of spring. This act of rejuvenation is meticulously chronicled in Ferdowsi’s Shahnameh, illustrating the enduring legacy of Norooz through the ages. As the Achaemenid Empire expanded, so did the observance of Norooz, weaving its way into the cultural fabric of regions far beyond its Iranian heartland.

Today, Norooz is a kaleidoscope of customs and celebrations, varying in duration from a single day to as long as forty days, depending on the region. Officially marked at the moment of the spring equinox, typically March 20, it heralds the season of renewal in the Northern Hemisphere. This festival has been honored in various forms across countries such as Afghanistan, Albania, Azerbaijan, Iran, and many others, reflecting its universal appeal.

In the contemporary era, Norooz has gained momentum as a symbol of cultural pride among the Iranian diaspora, celebrated with fervor in cities from Los Angeles to London. The global embrace of Norooz not only preserves the cultural heritage and history behind it but also fosters a sense of unity among communities dispersed far from their ancestral lands. Legislative recognitions, such as its formal acknowledgmentby the U.S. House of Representatives and in Canada’s national calendar, has further demonstrated its modern significance.

As Norooz continues to be celebrated by diverse ethnic and religious communities worldwide, it stands as a testament to the enduring power of cultural traditions to bridge divides and bring people together in shared celebration. Iran remains at the forefront of this ancient tradition, with millions participating in various festivities and visiting historic sites, demonstrating the unbroken chain of this rich cultural legacy.

Norooz’s essence, deeply interwoven with themes of renewal, unity, and respect for nature, offers a timeless message of hope and rebirth, resonating across generations and borders. As it continues to flourish, Norooz not only commemorates a historical and cultural heritage but also embodies a living bridge to a sustainable and interconnected world.

Deadly Airstrikes in Syria Target Iran-Backed Forces, Sparking Tensions

In a recent surge of violence in eastern Syria, airstrikes have led to significant casualties among forces linked to Iran, including members of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a UK-based monitoring group, reported that an aerial attack last Tuesday on a villa in eastern Syria resulted in the deaths of nine individuals associated with the IRGC, one of whom was identified as one of their  commanders.

The Mehr News Agency has attributed the death of Behrouz Wahedi to “American attacks” against “the Resistance Axis” positions in Syria’s Deir ez-Zor province, and Syrian state media have suggest it was conducted by the U.S.; however, the U.S. Department of Defense has stated the U.S. did not carry out the strikes. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights further detailed that the villa, serving as a communications hub, was the focal point of the strike.

While Israel has neither confirmed nor denied its involvement, Israeli media outlets have suggested that the Israeli military might be behind the operations, aligning with Israel’s stated policy of preventing Iranian entrenchment in Syria. Iran maintains that its presence in Syria is at the invitation of the Assad government, serving in an advisory capacity.

Further reports from the region have identified additional casualties from separate strikes in the town of Abu Kamal, near the Iraqi border. Russia’s Sputnik news has reported a total of ten simultaneous airstrikes targeting both Mayadin and Abu Kamal cities in Deir ez-Zor, indicating a coordinated effort to hit strategic locations. The Al-Mayadeen network further confirmed that the attack resulted in multiple fatalities and injuries, though the exact figures remain uncertain.

The backdrop to these developments includes recent American military actions against Iran-supported groups in eastern Syria, implicated in attacks on the international coalition forces combating ISIS in the region.

The Observatory added that among the casualties in the targeted villa was one Syrian national, with nearby civilian residents also suffering injuries. The total count of wounded from the incidents is reported to have reached up to thirty individuals.

This series of strikes comes in the aftermath of a drone attack on a U.S base in Jordan, which resulted in the deaths of three American servicemembers on January 28, 2024. Following this incident, the U.S. retaliated with strikes on 85 locations in Syria and Iraq, targeting positions associated with Iranian-backed forces.

Amid these escalating tensions, Kata’ib Hezbollah in Iraq, a militia supported by the IRGC and reportedly responsible for the attack on the Jordan-Syria border, has declared a temporary halt in its operations against U.S. forces, reportedly aiming to avert further “American humiliation.”

The overall decrease in Iran-affiliated group attacks on U.S. interests as of lately marks a notable shift in the region’s precarious balance, highlighting the ongoing complexities of Syrian geopolitics, U.S. military involvement in the region and the dynamics of the continued conflict in Israel and Palestine.

U.S. Implements Sanctions on Allies of Quds Force, Expresses Concerns Over Iran-Pakistan Gas Pipeline

The United States has recently implemented sanctions targeting entities associated with the IRGC’s Quds Force, the Houthi rebels in Yemen, and Hezbollah in Lebanon. 

On Tuesday, the U.S. Treasury Department announced the imposition of sanctions on six organizations, an individual, and two oil tankers accused of supporting the Quds Force and its allied militias. These sanctions, affecting entities in Liberia, India, Vietnam, Lebanon, and Kuwait, are part of an ongoing effort to counteract Iran’s military actions and its engagement with proxy groups across the region.

Central to these sanctions is a network tied to Jamal Saeed, a Yemeni Houthi economic agent residing in Iran, accused of using a web of companies and ships to export Iranian energy products via forged documents, highlighting the sophisticated methods used to evade international sanctions.

Matthew Miller, a U.S. State Department spokesperson, indicated America’s continued commitment to disrupting these networks. He appealed to the international shipping community to help prevent the exploitation of global energy markets by these groups.

Among those sanctioned are the Liberia-based company Hisaleh and its Panama-flagged oil tanker, Dawn 2, which allegedly facilitated the transportation of Iranian oil to China with forged documentation and in collaboration with the Indian company KNH. Additionally, the Abyss tanker, under the Palau flag, has been implicated in aiding Jamal Saeed’s operations, linked to the Vietnamese Kuoik Maritime Transport and operated by the Indian firm Melody.

The sanctions extend to Toufiq Mohammed Saeed Alla as well, a Syrian currency exchange operator living in Lebanon, for his role in managing cryptocurrency transactions benefiting the Quds Force, Jamal Saeed’s network, and Hezbollah members, showcasing the intricate financial mechanisms employed by these groups.

Simultaneously, the United States has expressed its reservations about the Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline project, commonly referred to as the “Peace Pipeline.” Despite Pakistan’s attempts to negotiate sanction exemptions, the State Department has reiterated its concerns about the project’s implications, warning Islamabad of the potential consequences of its engagement with Tehran. This stance reflects the complex geopolitical and sanctions-related challenges surrounding a project that is crucial for Pakistan’s energy requirements.

Pakistan’s Oil Minister has highlighted the critical nature of gas imports from Iran for the country’s energy sustainability, despite American insistence on halting the pipeline’s construction, emphasizing the sanctions risks associated with such initiatives.

Sanctions on Iran’s oil and gas have not only exacerbated poverty and economic difficulties for the middle and lower classes within Iran but have also impacted the lives of people in neighboring countries, including Pakistan. Facing energy supply challenges, Pakistan could benefit from Iran’s significant gas reserves but has been hindered by the sanctions..

Tehran Hosts Strategic Meeting of the “Axis of Resistance,” Signaling Regional Coordination

In a notable gathering that has drawn attention from Iraqi and Arab media sources, Tehran has recently played host to a meeting of the “Axis of Resistance,” a coalition of Iran-backed groups and their allies, unified in opposition to Israeli and American influence in the region. Kata’ib Hezbollah (Hezbollah Brigades), a leading Shiite group, announced through its Telegram channel that its Secretary-General, Abu Hussein al-Hamidawi, engaged with leaders from the “Axis of Resistance,” representing forces both within and outside Iraq.

During this significant assembly, al-Hamidawi reportedly articulated the Axis’ claimed commitment to defending the oppressed and safeguarding the achievements of the Islamic community. He emphasized a strategic and cautious approach to decision-making, underscoring an awareness of their operational domain and an insistence on not allowing politically compromised figures to interfere in their actions.

Furthermore, al-Hamidawi emphasized that halting military operations does not signify an end to their efforts but rather a preparedness for enduring conflict. He also highlighted the Iraqi people’s role –referring to Iraqi militia groups – in supporting Gaza, calling for impactful and distinctive contributions that echo the historical resistance against Israel. Reports from the gathering also bolstered the Axis’ argument that the success of liberation movements goes hand in hand with the interests of anti-imperialist forces, particularly across West Asia and North Africa, attempting to bolster the Axis’ cause.

This strategic pause in military activities, announced by Kata’ib Hezbollah on January 30, 2024, and echoed by other Iran-supported militias, comes amid escalating regional tensions, especially following Pentagon accusations against Kata’ib Hezbollah for the drone attack on a Jordanian military base that resulted in American casualties.

Iraq’s Al-Etejah TV, aligned with Kata’ib Hezbollah and other regional and pan-Arab outlets like Al-Quds Al-Arabi, covered the Tehran meeting, albeit without delving into the details of the discussions. Lebanon’s Al Mayadeen TV, known for its support of Iran, reported that this session was part of a continuum of strategic and political collaboration within the “Axis of Resistance,” including a prior meeting with representatives from Hamas, Islamic Jihad, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, and Yemen’s Houthis.

Al-Akhbar, a Lebanese newspaper supportive of Hezbollah, offered further insights into the Tehran session as part of a broader series of meetings aimed at coordinating operations against American forces, emphasizing a unified stance on continuing their activities and support for Palestinian causes. An Iraqi parliament representative from the Shiite “Coordination Framework” told Al-Araby Al-Jadeed that such meetings are regularly held to evaluate and strategize on the regional situation.

As the situation in the region continues to evolve, the Tehran meeting underlines the Axis’ collective strategy in challenging American and Israeli ambitions in the region.

“Princess Serene” Arrested in Iran Amid Controversial Social Media Presence

A social media influencer known as “Princess Serene” was detained in Iran on March 25, 2024. Claiming lineage from Iran’s ancient royal families, Serene has been living in the United States for many years. On his website, he introduces himself as “Serene Badiei” and had recently surprised his Instagram followers by announcing his unexpected arrival in Iran. The Iranian judiciary confirmed his detention, noting he is currently under investigation after being charged. Mizan News Agency identified him as “Serene Curtis,” accused of insulting religious sanctities. His website outlines his goal to challenge “religious dictatorship, corruption, and injustice” within Iran.

Serene’s varied content, which ranges from sharp political critiques to displays of luxury and sensuality, has provoked reactions from critics and supporters alike. His criticisms frequently target the Islamic Republic, the Pahlavi regime, and Islam itself, making his presence in Iran initially seem unlikely to many of his followers.

Before his trip to Iran, “Princess Serene” revealed his travel intentions on Instagram, expressing his fatigue with life in America and indicating an understanding of potential risks from the Iranian government.

The publication of his videos on Instagram sparked concerns for his mental health among viewers. In his last live session with Nadia Zand, another social media personality, Serene confirmed he was in Iran and inadvertently revealed his exact location in the Ekbatan district. His arrest shortly after this disclosure has ignited discussions on freedom of expression and the dangers faced by individuals with significant online followings in politically sensitive areas.

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