Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani said on Wednesday that the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain will be responsible for any “consequences” resulting from their normalisation of relations with Tehran’s arch-foe Israel.
The remarks came a day after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the foreign ministers of Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates signed agreements establishing full diplomatic ties at a ceremony at the White House.
Speaking at a cabinet meeting, Rouhani said Israel was “committing more crimes in Palestine every day”.
“Some of the region’s countries, their people are pious Muslims but their rulers neither understand religion nor (their) debt… to the nation of Palestine, to their brothers speaking their language,” he said in televised remarks.
“How could you reach out your hands to Israel? And then you want to give them bases in the region? All the severe consequences that would arise from this are on you.”
US President Donald Trump said similar Washington-brokered deals were close between Israel and several Arab countries, including Iran’s regional rival Saudi Arabia.
“After decades of division and conflict we mark the dawn of a new Middle East,” Trump said.
An aide to Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said on Wednesday that some Gulf states had become “puppets” of the US and Israel in the “vain hope” of getting their support.
“They have pinned their hopes on nothing and built a house on water, and they will pay for this cowardly act,” foreign affairs adviser Ali Akbar Velayati was quoted as saying by Tasnim news agency.
The remarks were made during a meeting of the council of the “International Society for the Islamic Awakening”, Tasnim said.
Iran had previously warned Bahrain that its deal made it a partner to Israel’s “crimes” and accused the UAE of betraying the Muslim world.
In 2016, Bahrain cut diplomatic ties with Iran and the UAE downgraded relations amid rising tensions between Saudi Arabia and the Islamic republic.
Sunni-ruled Bahrain has faced long-running unrest among its large Shiite community that it has consistently blamed on Iran.
US President Donald Trump on Monday vowed that any attack by Iran would be met with a response “1,000 times greater in magnitude,” after reports that Iran planned to avenge the killing of top general Qasem Soleimani.
A US media report, quoting unnamed officials, said that an alleged Iranian plot to assassinate the US ambassador to South Africa was planned before the presidential election in November.
“According to press reports, Iran may be planning an assassination, or other attacks, against the United States in retaliation for the killing of terrorist leader Soleimani,” Trump tweeted.
“Any attack by Iran, in any form, against the United States will be met with an attack on Iran that will be 1,000 times greater in magnitude!”
Relations between Washington and Tehran have been tense since the Iranian revolution, and have spiralled since Trump unilaterally pulled out of a landmark international nuclear deal with Iran in May 2018.
In January, a US drone strike killed Soleimani in Baghdad, and Washington is pushing to extend an arms embargo on Iran that starts to progressively expire in October as well as reimposing UN sanctions on the Islamic republic.
The Iranian navy last week said it drove off American aircraft that flew close to an area where military exercises were underway near the Strait of Hormuz.
The military said three US aircraft were detected by Iran’s air force radars after they entered the country’s air defence identification zone.
The United States and Iran will face off at the UN’s top court on Monday in the latest round of a battle over sanctions on Tehran reimposed by President Donald Trump.
Tehran dragged Washington to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague in 2018 after Trump pulled the US out of a landmark international nuclear deal with Iran.
They will argue over the coming week about whether the court, set up after World War II to deal with disputes between UN member states, actually has jurisdiction in the case.
Iran says the sanctions brought back by the Trump administration breach the 1955 “Treaty of Amity” between the two countries, signed long before the 1979 Iranian revolution severed ties.
Tehran won an early victory in October 2018 when the ICJ ordered sanctions on humanitarian goods to be eased as an emergency measure while the overall lawsuit is dealt with.
The US responded by formally ending the treaty, agreed when Iran was ruled by the Western-oriented shah, and accusing Iran of using the ICJ for “propaganda” purposes.
The United States will first address the court on Monday at 1300 GMT about whether judges have jurisdiction in the case, while Iran will speak on Wednesday.
A decision on that issue could take several months, while a final judgment will take years. – ‘Unclean hands’ –
Relations between Washington and Tehran have been tense since the Iranian revolution, and have spiralled since Trump unilaterally pulled out of the nuclear deal in May 2018.
The deal, involving the five permanent members of the UN Security Council — Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States, plus Germany — had limited Iran’s nuclear programme.
Washington then reimposed sanctions on Iran and companies with ties to it, notably hitting Iran’s vital oil sector and central bank, while major global firms halted their activities in Iran.
Tehran took the case to the ICJ and, in response to Iran’s request for so-called “provisional measures” while the case is resolved, the judges two years ago found that some of the sanctions breached the 1955 treaty.
The court ordered Washington to lift measures on medicines, medical equipment, food, agricultural goods, and airplane parts and services.
The ICJ is also dealing with a separate case over Tehran’s bid to unfreeze $2 billion in assets frozen in the United States.
In February 2019 the court said the case could go ahead, rejecting US arguments that Iran’s “unclean hands” — Tehran’s alleged backing for terror groups — should disqualify its lawsuit.
Iran said it executed a wrestler Saturday for murdering a man during a wave of anti-government protests in 2018, drawing widespread condemnation and eliciting shock from the International Olympic Committee.
Navid Afkari, 27, was executed at a prison in the southern city of Shiraz, provincial prosecutor general Kazem Mousavi was quoted as saying on state television’s website.
Afkari had been found guilty of “voluntary homicide” for stabbing to death Hossein Torkman, a water department employee, on August 2, 2018, the judiciary said.
Shiraz and several other urban centres across Iran had been the scene that day of anti-government protests and demonstrations over economic and social hardship.
The International Olympic Committee said it was “shocked” by the execution and that it was “deeply upsetting” that pleas by athletes around the world and international bodies had failed to halt it.
“Our thoughts are with the family and friends of Navid Afkari,” the IOC said in a statement.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo denounced a “vicious” execution.
“We condemn it in the strongest terms. It is an outrageous assault on human dignity, even by the despicable standards of this regime. The voices of the Iranian people will not be silenced,” Pompeo tweeted.
London-based rights group Amnesty International said the “secret execution” was a “horrifying travesty of justice that needs immediate international action”.
Reports published abroad say Afkari was convicted on the basis of confessions aired on television after being extracted under torture, prompting online campaigns for his release.
Amnesty has repeatedly called on Iran to stop broadcasting videos of “confessions” by suspects, saying they “violate the defendants’ rights”.
The judiciary’s Mizan Online news agency denied the accusations.
According to Amnesty, Afkari’s two brothers Vahid and Habib are still in the same prison where he had been detained.
The death sentence had been carried out at “the insistence of the victim’s family”, said Mousavi, the prosecutor general for Fars province.
Afkari’s lawyer, Hassan Younessi, tweeted that a number of people in Shiraz were to meet on Sunday with the slain worker’s family to ask for their forgiveness.
He also said that based on criminal law in Iran “the convict has a right to meet his family before the execution.”
“Were you in such a hurry to carry out the sentence that you deprived Navid of his last visit?”
US President Donald Trump had pleaded for Afkari’s life earlier this month, saying his “sole act was an anti-government demonstration on the streets”.
“To the leaders of Iran, I would greatly appreciate if you would spare this young man’s life, and not execute him. Thank you!” he said on Twitter.
Trump has maintained an aggressive approach of “maximum pressure” toward longtime US foe Iran since becoming president, enacting crippling economic sanctions after withdrawing from a landmark nuclear deal with Tehran and world powers in 2018.
A global union representing 85,000 athletes had also called on Iran to spare the wrestler’s life.
In a statement published Tuesday on its website, World Players United had called on the International Olympic Committee to use its leverage to help Afkari.
Sweden joined the condemnation.
“Appalled by reports of the execution of Iranian wrestler Navid Afkari,” its foreign minister, Ann Linde, tweeted.
Campaign group Global Athlete said the execution was “heinous” and called for sanctions to stop Iran competing in international sport.
A small group of flag-waving protestors stood outside Iran’s embassy in London on Saturday to condemn the execution, bearing placards showing crossed-out faces of Iran’s supreme leader and president.
Wrestling is a hugely popular in Iran, one of the world’s superpowers in the sport.
The Persian hashtag #Navid_Afkari was also being widely used on Twitter to protest the execution.
Iranian rights activist Emaddein Baghi tweeted that Afkari’s execution was a “great sin” as the judiciary should have tried to persuade the murdered man’s family to forgive the wrestler.
Lawyer Babak Paknia also criticised the judiciary for its “haste” to carry out the sentence.
“Even if a murder had really ocurred, is it not the judicial system’s procedure to do all that is possible to receive forgiveness?” he tweeted.
Paknia represents three men sentenced to death over links to similar protests in November, but the trio’s execution was halted over a request to the supreme court to review the verdict.
Amnesty said Iran executed at least 251 people last year, the world’s second highest toll after China.
Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said Tuesday that cartoons of the prophet Mohammed that were republished by a French satirical magazine last week were “unforgivable”.
“The grave and unforgivable sin committed by a French weekly in insulting the luminous and holy personality of (the) Prophet revealed, once more, the hostility and malicious grudge harboured by political and cultural organisations in the West against Islam and the Muslim community,” Khamenei said in an English-language statement.
“The excuse of ‘freedom of expression’ made by some French politicians in order not to condemn this grave crime of insulting the Holy Prophet of Islam is completely unacceptable, wrong, and demagogic.”
During a visit to Beirut last week, French President Emmanuel Macron said Charlie Hebdo had broken no law in republishing the cartoons to mark the September 2 opening of the trial into a deadly 2015 attack on its offices by Islamist extremists.
“There is… in France a freedom to blaspheme that is linked to freedom of conscience,” Macron said.
“It is my job to protect all these freedoms.”
Twelve people, including some of France’s most celebrated cartoonists, were killed on January 7, 2015, when brothers Said and Cherif Kouachi went on a gun rampage at the magazine’s Paris offices.
The perpetrators were killed in the aftermath of the massacre but 14 alleged accomplices in the attacks, which also targeted a Jewish supermarket, went on trial.
Despite its outrage at the cartoons, Iran condemned the attack on the paper’s offices.
The UN’s nuclear watchdog said Friday that Iran had granted its inspectors access to one of two sites where undeclared nuclear activity may have taken place in the early 2000s.
“Iran provided Agency inspectors access to the location to take environmental samples,” an International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) report seen by AFP said.
“The samples will be analysed by laboratories that are part of the Agency’s network,” it added.
One diplomatic source told AFP the results of this analysis could take up to three months.
An inspection at the second site will take place “later in September 2020,” the report said.
Iran had denied the agency access earlier this year, prompting the IAEA’s board of governors to pass a resolution in June urging Tehran to comply with its requests.
Tehran announced last week it would allow the IAEA access to the two sites, following a visit by IAEA Director General Rafael Grossi.
In a separate report also issued on Friday, the IAEA said Iran’s stockpile of enriched uranium now stands at more than ten times the limit set down in a 2015 nuclear deal with world powers.
The limit was set at 300 kilogrammes (661 pounds) of enriched uranium in a particular compound form, which is the equivalent of 202.8 kg of uranium.
Measured against the latter figure, Iran’s stockpile now stands at over 2,105 kg, the report said.
Iran is also continuing to use more advanced centrifuges to enrich uranium than is permitted under the deal.
However, the level of enrichment has not gone above that which would be needed for use in a nuclear weapon.
US trying to up pressure
The 2015 deal has been fraying ever since US President Donald Trump dramatically withdrew from it in May 2018 and re-imposed swingeing sanctions on Iran.
Tehran has responded by progressively exceeding limits on its nuclear activities set down in the deal.
In recent months the Trump administration has tried to increase pressure on Iran, but Washington suffered a humiliating defeat in August when it failed in its bid to reimpose international sanctions on the Islamic republic.
At a meeting in Vienna earlier this week the remaining parties to the 2015 deal — Britain, France, Germany, China and Russia — said they remained committed to the deal and wanted to find a way to ensure its “full implementation despite current challenges”.
The second IAEA report issued Friday also gave an update on another location in Tehran which had not been declared to the agency and where it found uranium particles last year.
The Agency has analysed samples from the site, the results of which were “not inconsistent” with information provided by Iran about the possible origin of the particles.
“However, the Agency has recently informed Iran that there are a number of other findings for which further clarifications and information need to be provided,” the report says.
Shiite pilgrims poured into the Iraqi shrine city of Karbala on Friday for the rites of the holy month of Muharram, ignoring calls to stay home as COVID-19 spreads.
The pilgrimage is expected to be one of the largest religious gatherings in the Muslim world since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, which already forced Saudi Arabia to hold the smallest hajj in modern history.
Now begins Muharram, the first month of the Islamic year, which will later include commemorations for the Prophet Mohammed’s grandson Hussein, killed in 680 AD at the Battle of Karbala, the seminal event in Islam’s confessional divide.
Usually, millions of Shiites from around the world flock to Iraq to commemorate the birth of their faith, praying, eating and reflecting together.
But this year, authorities in Iraq, Iran and beyond have repeatedly urged their citizens to forgo real-life pilgrimages due to the high risk of contracting the coronavirus.
Shiite-majority Iran is the hardest-hit Middle Eastern country with more than 20,000 coronavirus deaths. Iraq is second with more than 6,200.
Still, by Thursday night, thousands of pilgrims were already en route to the gates of the golden mausoleums in the holy city of Karbala, some masked and gloved but others proceeding shoulder-to-shoulder as they always had.
– ‘Dramatically Different’ –
Enormous tents have been erected as usual to host pilgrims in Baghdad and Basra as well as Karbala, but with a new twist, an attempt at social distancing.
On the ground, stickers of footprints or large crosses suggest how far worshippers should stay from one another.
“It’s dramatically different from other years,” said Salim Mahdi, a tent manager in Basra near the Iraq-Iran border.
“People are disinfecting themselves as soon as they enter the tent, then positioning themselves far away from one another and disinfecting themselves again.”
In neighbouring Iran, reformist newspaper Arman called it “the most astonishing Muharram of the century.”
Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and the health ministry banned the usual marches, musical performances and banquets, and any ceremonies indoors.
Some worshippers adapted quickly: Ali Moadab, who writes funerary chants traditionally recited during Muharram, told AFP he would perform the hymns live on Instagram.
At home, he said, “I will read to my family books telling the story of Imam Hussein.”
In Lebanon, powerful Shiite movement Hezbollah announced that no large tents would be installed this year and families were urged to celebrate at home.
Muslims in the Bahraini capital Manama watched televised and online commemorations, as access to mosques was severely restricted.
“We are used to being there in person, and before Muharram starts we usually help with the placing of the black cloths. This year, it is heart-breaking,” said Ali, a 22-year-old shopkeeper in Manama who was watching prayers online.
– Big flags, small crowds – Without the throngs of people worshipping or marching outside, the only indications Muharram had begun were the ubiquitous black flags.
In Karbala, there were markedly smaller crowds under the grim banners of the Imam Hussein mausoleum — and for the first time, nearly all were locals, as entry to the province had been banned for non-residents.
Iraqis from other provinces managed to sneak into the city, using unmarked roads to circumvent checkpoints.
Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, the top cleric for many of the world’s Shiites, had called for all ceremonies to be broadcast live and for the faithful to pray at home or to wear masks and keep their distance if praying in public.
Other religious figures appear to have thrown caution to the wind, directing their followers to gather in large numbers as usual throughout the first 10 days of “Muharram.”
On August 30, they are expected to gather for Ashura, the apogee of mourning, when some worshippers flagellate themselves or make small cuts to their heads in displays of grief over Hussein’s death.
Iran said on Sunday it has sanctioned an ex-aide to a former US national security adviser who is a senior member of the Washington-based Foundation for Defense of Democracies.
Richard Goldberg, who served as an aide to John Bolton, was sanctioned over “being actively involved in economic terrorism against the interests of Iran’s government and citizens,” state news agency IRNA reported, citing a statement from the foreign ministry.
The sanctions were predicated on a 2017 law “confronting America’s human rights violations and adventurist and terrorist acts in the region”.
But the nature of the sanctions was not specified.
Iran had blacklisted the FDD and its chief executive Mark Dubowitz last year, likewise for “economic terrorism”.
The FDD describes itself as a Washington-based “non-partisan research institute focusing on foreign policy and national security.”
It strongly opposed the 2015 deal that saw world powers lift sanctions against Iran in return for placing limits on its nuclear programme.
Tensions between arch-foes Iran and the US have escalated since President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew from the nuclear accord and began reimposing sanctions against the Islamic republic in 2018.
Goldberg said on Twitter it was “a badge of honor” to be sanctioned by Iran for “coordinating” Trump’s maximum pressure campaign against the Islamic republic.
Trump sacked Bolton from his post as national security adviser in September last year.
Iran said Saturday it had arrested the head of a US-based “terrorist group” accused of being behind a deadly 2008 bombing in the southern city of Shiraz and planning other attacks.
“Jamshid Sharmahd, who was leading armed and sabotage operations inside Iran, is now in the powerful hands” of Iran’s security forces, state television said, citing an intelligence ministry statement.
It did not elaborate on where or when the alleged leader of the opposition royalist group known as the Kingdom Assembly of Iran, or Tondar (Farsi for Thunder), was detained.
Iran slammed its arch-enemy the United States for hosting Sharmahd and “supporting known terrorists who have claimed responsibility for several terrorist acts inside” the country.
“This regime must answer for its support of this terrorist group and other groups and criminals who orchestrate armed, sabotage and terrorist operations against the people of Iran from inside America and spill Iranians’ blood,” a foreign ministry statement said.
The intelligence ministry said Sharmahd had orchestrated the April 12, 2008 bombing in a packed mosque in Shiraz that killed 14 people and wounded 215.
A US State Department spokesperson said, “the Iranian regime has a long history of detaining Iranians and foreign nationals on spurious charges”.
“We urge Iran to be fully transparent and abide by all international legal standards.”
Iran hanged three men convicted of the bombing in 2009, saying they had ties to the monarchist group.
The three men said they had been taking orders from an Iranian US-backed “CIA agent” identified at the time only as “Jamshid” to try to assassinate a high-ranking official in Iran, Fars news agency reported at the time.
They were 21-year-old Mohsen Eslamian and Ali Asghar Pashtar, 20 — both university students — as well as Rouzbeh Yahyazadeh, 32.
The three were found guilty of being “mohareb” (enemies of God) and “corruption on earth” by a revolutionary court in Tehran.
Iran in 2010 hanged two other convicted members of the group, who had “confessed to obtaining explosives and planning to assassinate officials”.
The statement issued on Saturday said that Tondar had plotted several other “big operations” which failed.
It said that Tondar had planned to blow up a dam in Shiraz, use “cyanide bombs” at a Tehran book fair, and plant an explosive device at the mausoleum of the Islamic republic’s founder, the late Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.
Iran’s intelligence ministry published a picture later on Saturday of a grey-haired man in a blindfold it said was Sharmahd. It did not say where or when the photo was taken.
It was not clear how Iran arrested Sharmahd, who has generally been based in the US, in what its intelligence ministry called a “complicated operation”.
According to the association’s website, Sharmahd was born in Tehran in 1955 and grew up in an Iranian-German family before moving to the United States in 2003, where he started to voice anti-Islam and anti-Islamic republic statements.
Tondar rejects the Iranian political system and campaigns to overthrow the Islamic republic and re-establish a monarchy similar to that of Cyrus the Great.
Iran announced the arrest of a former opposition figure in similarly mysterious circumstances in October last year.
It said Ruhollah Zam was arrested in a “sophisticated and professional operation”.
Zam, described by Iran’s Revolutionary Guards as a “counter-revolutionary” who was “directed by France’s intelligence service”, was sentenced to death in June over “corruption on earth”.
Zam, who reportedly lived in exile in Paris, ran a channel on the Telegram messaging application called Amadnews and was accused of sparking unrest during anti-government protests in 2017-18.
The Islamic republic also captured the head of a Sunni Muslim rebel group in a dramatic operation in 2010 and executed him in the same year, boasting of its reach in capturing adversarial figures.
Abdolmalek Rigi was arrested while on a flight from Dubai to Kyrgyzstan, when Iranian warplanes forced the plane he was travelling on to land in Iran.
The rebel group Jundallah (Soldiers of God) had waged a deadly insurgency in Shiite Iran’s southeastern province of Sistan and Baluchistan for a decade before it was severely weakened by Rigi’s execution.
Iran on Monday executed a former translator convicted of spying for the US and Israel, including helping to locate a top Iranian general killed later by the Americans, the judiciary said.
The killing of Major General Qasem Soleimani in a US drone strike near Baghdad airport in January brought decades-old arch-enemies Iran and the United States to the brink of conflict.
The judiciary’s Mizan Online website said Mahmoud Mousavi Majd’s death “sentence was carried out on Monday morning over the charge of espionage so that the case of his betrayal to his country will be closed forever”.
Its spokesman said earlier this month that Majd had been sentenced to death for spying on “various security fields, especially the armed forces and the Quds Force and the whereabouts and movements of martyr General Qasem Soleimani”.
Majd had been found guilty of receiving large sums of money from both the US Central Intelligence Agency and Israel’s Mossad, said the spokesman Gholamhossein Esmaili.
Soleimani headed the Quds Force, the foreign operations arm of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.
Iran retaliated for his death by firing a volley of ballistic missiles at US troops stationed in Iraq, but US President Donald Trump opted against responding militarily.
While the attack on the western Iraqi base of Ain Al-Asad left no US soldiers dead, dozens of them suffered brain trauma.
Majd was arrested some two years ago and was not directly involved in the killing of Soleimani in Baghdad, according to a statement the judiciary issued in June.
Majd had migrated to Syria in the 1970s with his family and worked as an English and Arabic language translator at a company, Mizan said.
When war broke out, he chose to stay in the country while his family left.
“His knowledge of Arabic and familiarity with Syria’s geography made him close to Iranian military advisers and he took responsibilities in groups stationed from Idlib to Latakia,” the site added.
Majd was not a member of the Revolutionary Guards “but infiltrated many sensitive areas under the cover of being a translator”.
He was found to have been paid “American dollars to reveal information on adviser convoys, military equipment and communication systems, commanders and their movements, important geographical areas, codes and passwords” until he came under scrutiny and his access was downgraded.
He was arrested in October 2018, Mizan said.
Iran said last week it had executed another man convicted of spying for the CIA by selling information about Iran’s missile programme.
Reza Asgari had worked at the defence ministry’s aerospace division for years but retired four years ago, after which he sold “information he had regarding our missiles” to the CIA in exchange for large sums of money.
Iran in February handed down a similar sentence for Amir Rahimpour, another man convicted of spying for the US and conspiring to sell information on Iran’s nuclear programme.
Tehran announced in December it had arrested eight people “linked to the CIA” and involved in nationwide street protests that erupted the previous month over a surprise petrol price hike.
It also said in July 2019 that it had dismantled a CIA spy ring, arrested 17 suspects between March 2018 and March 2019 and sentenced some of them to death.
Trump at the time dismissed the claim as “totally false”.