April 19, 2024

Explosions Heard in Isfahan as Israel and Iran Exchange Aerial Engagements, Western Nations Ramp Up Sanctions, Crackdown on Hijab Intensifies in Iran Amidst Legal Controversies, and More

Week of April 15, 2024 | Iran Unfiltered is a digest tracking Iranian politics & society by the National Iranian American Council 

Explosions Heard in Isfahan as Israel and Iran Exchange Aerial Engagements

In the early hours of Friday, April 19th, residents of Isfahan, Iran, reported hearing explosive sounds. Social media users attributed these to the vicinity of Isfahan’s 8th Air Force Base. IRNA, Iran’s official news agency, subsequently confirmed that the air defense systems at the base were activated around 4 a.m local time.

State television in Iran later announced that “three drones” seen flying over Isfahan had been intercepted and destroyed early that morning. Mehr news agency further reported the destruction of these “three small drones.”

An anonymous media source claimed the sounds of explosions were due to these drones being shot down by the passive defense system. Siavash Mihandoust, a senior army commander in Isfahan, assured the public that the explosions caused “no damage or incidents.” General Abdolrahim Mousavi, commander-in-chief of the Islamic Republic of Iran’s army, clarified that the morning’s explosions were due to anti-aircraft fire at a suspicious object, with no resulting casualties or damage.

Internationally, reports in the West portrayed a slightly more serious strike. The New York Times confirmed through two Israeli defense officials that there had been an Israeli airstrike on Iran. ABC News, citing an American official, reported that Israeli missiles had successfully hit an Iranian site, a claim supported by a similar CBS News report citing two U.S. officials.

Prior to the incident, Bloomberg was informed of a planned Israeli retaliatory action. The Jerusalem Post reported near-simultaneous related explosions in southern Syria, Iraq, and Isfahan. Syrian state media also verified airstrikes on military sites in the southern regions of Sweida and Daraa.

However, Iranian state television reassured audiences that the nuclear facilities in Isfahan remained secure, and rumors of an emergency National Security Council meeting were denied. CNN confirmed the Israeli attack on Iran, stating that the targets were not nuclear facilities, according to an American official. The International Atomic Energy Agency corroborated that Iran’s nuclear installations had sustained no damage.

In a precautionary move, UK-based Amber Security advised commercial ships in the Persian Gulf and Western Indian Ocean to maintain high alert. Israeli authorities have yet to officially comment on the attack. However, in a veiled response on Twitter, hardline Israeli Internal Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir criticized the effectiveness of the operation, calling it “ineffective.” Opposition leader Yair Lapid responded sharply, accusing Ben-Gvir of seriously compromising the nation’s security and international stature.

Crackdown on Hijab Intensifies in Iran Amidst Legal Controversies

Recent developments in Iran have seen a severe intensification in the enforcement of hijab laws, leading to widespread arrests and violent confrontations. This escalation occurs as the Islamic Republic continues to face ongoing tensions with Israel, diverting international focus from domestic issues.

Dubbed “Plan Noor” by the Iranian government, the initiative has been justified by Abbasali Mohammadian, the police chief of Greater Tehran, as a response to the “demands of the devout public.” Official statements portray increased compliance from the public, especially among women, since the plan’s implementation on April 13.

However, social media tells a different story, with numerous videos and images showing women and girls being physically assaulted by morality police for not adhering to strict dress codes. These incidents have been particularly pronounced in the cities of Rasht and Tehran, where the newly intensified morality patrols have made their presence felt.

Legal experts have criticized these actions as unlawful. Mohsen Baraheni, an attorney, pointed out that “There is no existing law named hijab and chastity in Iran; thus, enforcing any plan or bill before it is officially legislated is undoubtedly illegal.”

Parallel to these street-level enforcements, the Islamic Azad University has issued a new directive focusing on strict hijab adherence within its campuses. Farzad Jahanbin, head of the Central Disciplinary Committee, emphasized the importance of grooming and decorum, stating that any failure to comply would be met with disciplinary actions.

In a related incident, journalist and student activist Dina Ghalibaf was arrested by security forces at her home and taken to an unknown location. Ghalibaf, a student at Beheshti University previously barred from studying due to her participation in the “Woman, Life, Freedom” protests, had been active on social media discussing the recent brutalities of the “moral security” forces.

Nobel Peace Prize laureate Narges Mohammadi criticized the Iranian regime’s tactics, describing the streets as having been turned into battlefields against women and youth. She attributed this to the government’s desperation to mask its dwindling legitimacy and authority through fear and intimidation. Mohammadi’s statement highlighted the ongoing civil disobedience movements, underscoring the resolute spirit of Iranian women challenging the regime’s oppressive measures.

Western Nations Ramp Up Sanctions on Iran Following Attacks on Israel and Maritime Targets

The United States and European Union have announced a new round of sanctions targeting Iran’s oil sales and military programs. These announcements come in response to recent Iranian attacks on Israeli soil and commercial ships in strategic maritime corridors.

U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen stated on Tuesday that in conjunction with global allies, the U.S. aims to impose these sanctions due to Iran’s destabilizing activities in the region and adverse impacts on the global economy. The sanctions are set to focus primarily on crippling Iran’s ability to export oil, with Yellen noting ongoing efforts to reduce Tehran’s oil export capabilities.

Simultaneously, the European Union, led by Josep Borrell, High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, has initiated discussions on increasing punitive measures against Tehran following the Islamic Republic’s aggressive actions. Borrell highlighted the critical state of affairs in the Middle East, describing it as being “on the edge of a deep precipice,” and emphasized efforts to prevent the conflict from escalating into a regional war.

The coordinated Western response also targets Iran’s missile and drone programs, which have have been deployed both against Israel and in the Ukraine war. The new U.S. sanctions target 16 individuals and two institutions that facilitate Iran’s drone production, specifically targeting technologies used in drones that were employed in an April 13th attack on an Israeli air base.

President Joe Biden has underscored the commitment of G7 countries to this joint effort, emphasizing that these sanctions are intended to thwart Iran’s aggressive tactics and support Israel in neutralizing threats. In a parallel development, the U.K. government announced sanctions that encompass the entire Revolutionary Guard, alongside other military and defense entities linked to Iran’s ballistic missile and drone industries.

Sanctions have historically had a profoundly negative impact on Iran’s economy, destabilizing the lives of ordinary citizens and leading to increased poverty within Iranian society. However, except for the brief period where they were exchanged for a rollback of Iran’s nuclear program, they have so far failed to effect any significant positive change in the official policies of the Iranian government. Despite the extensive sanctions, Iran continues to pursue its regional, nuclear, and missile policies as it sees fit.

Political Activist Ghorban Behzadian-Nejad Sentenced to One Year in Prison

On Saturday, April 13th, Ghorban Behzadian-Nejad, a prominent political activist, was incarcerated at Evin Prison to begin a one-year prison term. Behzadian-Nejad’s sentencing stems from his involvement in a virtual conference titled “Dialogue for the Salvation of Iran” held in April 2023.

Charged with “propaganda against the system,” Behzadian-Nejad was initially convicted following his participation in this online event. His conviction was subsequently confirmed by an appellate court.

During that meeting, Behzadian-Nejad, addressed a pressing concern shared by all sectors of society: how to prevent the country from collapsing, foreign interference, fragmentation, and descending into a vortex of violence without succumbing to blind vengeance. Behzadian-Nejad explained that the current crises are immense and perilous, but they can only be resolved by a government that has not lost and undermined ideological foundations and public trust but also generated and perpetuated these crises. Despite this, he asserted that Iran has overcome even more significant challenges in the past and has always emerged with pride. Drawing from Iran’s experience and capital, as well as the talents of its citizens, he said, the country has the capacity to effect change, as evidenced by Mir Hossein Mousavi’s three-pronged plan for a referendum and transition from the Islamic Republic.

Behzadian-Nejad concluded his remarks in last year’s conference by emphasizing the importance of focusing on the core essence of Iran and fostering interaction and dialogue among all ethnic groups, social classes, and strata through democratic processes in harmony with the nation’s diverse and vibrant nature. He called for respect and protection for various political, civil, and trade union organizations, as well as efforts to institutionalize their activities to ensure that every citizen, particularly the silent and marginalized and especially women, have representation in the movement and can influence their own fate and that of the country. Lastly, he highlighted the need to establish boundaries for interaction and coexistence with the world, distancing from dependence and allegiance to the past while avoiding repeating past mistakes.

Behzadian-Nejad is no stranger to political pressures. He served as the campaign manager for Mir Hossein Mousavi in the contentious 2009 presidential elections. His political activities led to his arrest in December 2009 amid the “Ashura protests,” resulting in a five-year prison sentence.

In 2020, Behzadian-Nejad faced legal challenges again when he was handed another one-year sentence over the “Statement of 77 People.” This statement, signed by 77 reformist activists, advocated for the right to protest, criticized the state’s violent responses, and demanded legal repercussions for those responsible for shooting protesters during the November 2019 demonstrations.

Behzadian-Nejad, who also holds a Ph.D. in Medical Microbiology, has long been a vocal advocate for reform and the upholding of human rights in Iran.

Time Magazine Names Narges Mohammadi Among the World’s 100 Most Influential People of 2024

Time Magazine has recognized Narges Mohammadi, a long-imprisoned Iranian civil activist and Nobel Peace Prize laureate, as one of the 100 most influential people in the world for the year 2024. This announcement comes amid a resurgence of government violence against women in Iran, particularly against those resisting the mandatory hijab, reflecting the ongoing struggle for basic rights within the country.

Mohammadi, heralded for her relentless pursuit of human rights, was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2023. Despite her imprisonment, her efforts have continued to echo worldwide, drawing attention to the plight of those fighting for reform in Iran. Over the past two decades, Mohammadi’s advocacy has seen her arrested multiple times by Iranian authorities, with her latest sentence amounting to 16 years.

The publication of Mohammadi’s name on the Time 100 list on Wednesday, April 17, underscores the international recognition of her courage and her pivotal role as a voice against the Iranian regime and its treatment of women. Her activism, which has included calling for the end of the mandatory hijab, became even more prominent following the death of Mahsa Amini in police custody in September 2021, which sparked widespread protests across Iran under the banner of “Women, Life, Freedom.”

From her prison cell, Mohammadi has continued to issue statements and conduct interviews, advocating for women’s rights and opposing the Islamic Republic. On the anniversary of Amini’s death, she described the ongoing movement as a continuing “revolutionary struggle” and declared the inevitable downfall of what she described as the “despicable state” of the Islamic Republic.

Her written reflections convey a stark picture of the current state in Iran: “A year has passed. The killing and execution of young people in the streets and prisons, the arrest and torture of women and men have plunged a nation into grief, yet they have brought the government to a state of misery, contempt, and fearful instability.” Mohammadi’s placement among the world’s most influential figures not only highlights her individual contributions but also shines a light on the broader movement for freedom and equality in Iran.

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