Iran’s Shiite Crescent and the Coronavirus Prof. Hillel Frisch BESA, March 6, 2020
Iran’s Shiite crescent, which until recently reflected its imperial reach into the Arab world, has now become pathological with the spread of Covid-19 (the official name of the coronavirus pathogen).
A study released on February 24 by the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota inadvertently revealed how salient Iran’s religious ties to Shiite communities in Arab states have been and continue to be in the spread of the epidemic.
The five Middle Eastern countries that first reported Covid-19 cases—Afghanistan, Bahrain, Kuwait, Iraq, and Oman—all have substantial Shiite populations, and all the cases cited are clearly linked to Iran. The first confirmed case in Afghanistan was flagged in Herat province, which is in the country’s west on the Iranian border. Another sufferer had recently returned from the city of Qom, Iran’s Shiite religious center and, tellingly, the epicenter of the disease in Iran. The first Bahraini to be confirmed as having succumbed to Covid-19 had also just been in Iran, as had all three cases first reported in Kuwait, Iraq, and Oman.
The link between Shiite pilgrimage and the spread of the virus is to be found at its source in the region: Iran, specifically the religious city of Qom.
As the University of Minnesota report notes, eight of 18 new cases in Iran were in Qom compared to three in the metropolis of Tehran, which has a population seven times greater. Qom has been the site of 40% of the cases identified so far in Iran though it comprises less than 3% of the population.
Iraq and other Arab states with substantial Shiite populations have grown understandably apprehensive about pilgrimage to Qom. Flights between Qom and Najaf, the holy city in Iraq, which neighbors a third holy city, Karbalah, usually outnumber flights between the capital cities of Tehran and Baghdad, indicating that most movement between the countries has to do with religious observance and pilgrimage rather than business and commerce. But the Iraqi authorities have banned entry into the country by Iranian nationals and prohibited travel by Iraqi nationals to Iran, and have ceased flights between Tehran’s Khomeini airport (which services Qom, a three-hour drive away) and Najaf.
Such moves might be too late. The day after the halt on Iraqi-Iranian travel, Iraq announced its first case of Covid-19.
Data for China indicate that one of around 30 cases of the virus results in death (2,873 deaths out of 79,968 cases as of March 1). The percentage outside China is slightly lower because most of the states in which there have been confirmed cases are more advanced and have benefited from the opportunity to learn from the steps China has taken to control the spread of the virus. … [To read the full article, click the following LINK – Ed.] ______________________________________________________
The Shia Vs. The “Shia Crescent” Hanin Ghaddar The Hoover Institute, Mar. 5, 2020
On February 15, 2020, Hezbollah organized a ceremony to unveil a statue of Qassem Soleimani in the Lebanese town of Maroun al-Ras, roughly half a mile from the border with Israel. The statue shows Soleimani with his arm stretched out in front of him, pointing toward Israel. While Hezbollah’s officials and supporters were celebrating at the Lebanese-Israeli borders, the Lebanese people were commemorating four months of dynamic but painful protests against the Lebanese political class, whose corruption and failed policies have led to Lebanon’s financial collapse.
In Lebanon, Syria, and Iraq, and inside Iran itself – the countries that fall along the Shia Crescent – the people have realized that the enemy is within. It’s their own governments that have allowed the Iranian regime to take over the state and its institutions. Ideologies, resistance rhetoric, sectarian identities and conspiracy theories that have shaped the collective identities and views of the Shia communities across the region, are slowly but surely disintegrating and are being replaced with economic concerns, and strong aspirations towards citizenship and national identifies.
The Shia Crescent, which Iran has been investing in for decades, is finally turning against the Iranian regime and its proxies. From Beirut to Baghdad, all the way to Tehran, Iran is facing its most complicated adversary in years – the Shia protestors. For Iran, the enemy is also within, and it’s one that cannot be contained without a drastic upheaval in Iran’s own strategies and political alliances across the region.
Iran has probably never thought that its main challenge was going to emerge from the Shia communities themselves. The regime in Tehran has been following one strategy across the region: empower the Shia identity, throw weapons and money at proxies, and become the father-figure for the Shia by replacing the state and state institutions. However, they never realized that after all the investments in resources and people, and after achieving all the military victories in Lebanon, Syria and Iraq, the people – mainly the Shia – needed a practical translation of these victories; that is more – not less – food on the table, and better prospects for their children. The reality is the opposite. With the absence of a socio-economic vision for Iran-controlled capitals, living conditions are no longer viable.… [To read the full article, click the following LINK – Ed.] ______________________________________________________
Archive of Secret Iranian Nuclear Documents Draws Fresh Scrutiny as Tehran Stockpiles Enriched Uranium Joby Warrick Washington Post, Mar. 5, 2020
In early 2003, a group of Iranian scientists began scouring the country on a secret quest for a place to dig an unusual tunnel. They searched Iran’s vast Lut Desert until they finally found what seemed to be the right spot, a Mars-like dead zone regarded as one of the hottest and driest places on Earth.
Conditions in this stretch of salty desert are so extreme that almost no animal or plant can survive there. But it was ideally suited for what Iran wanted — an underground chamber for the country’s first nuclear detonation. Photos and measurements were taken and then stashed away, to await the time when the bomb was nearly ready for testing.
The tunnel was never constructed, but 17 years later the images and surveys still exist, part of a recently unearthed trove of secret Iranian nuclear documents. The records, now being studied in major Western capitals, are drawing fresh attention as weapons experts seek to answer a suddenly timely question: How quickly could Iran build a nuclear bomb if it decided to do so?
This week, the U.N. nuclear watchdog reported that Iran is accelerating its production of enriched uranium amid rising tensions over the Trump administration’s withdrawal from the 2015 Iran nuclear deal. The growing stockpile potentially gives Tehran a crucial ingredient for a future bomb — fissile uranium. And the long-hidden papers, stolen from Iran two years ago by Israeli spies, are offering new insight into how far Iran had already come in acquiring other critical components needed to build a nuclear weapon.
Newly released records from the document trove are testaments to the depth and scale of Iran’s past nuclear research, showing the country’s scientists racing to master key technical challenges. Summary reports provided to The Washington Post show that Iranian officials were conducting scores of complex experiments across a network of secret laboratories, while also seeking to answer practical questions such as where in the country they could sink an underground shaft for a future nuclear test. … [To read the full article, click the following LINK – Ed.] ______________________________________________________
How the Iranian Regime’s Allies are Calling the Shots in Washington Bradley Martin Washington Examiner, Mar. 5, 2020
The National Iranian American Council, a nonprofit civic action group that spreads regime propaganda in the United States, continues to manipulate U.S. foreign policy through aggressive lobbying and pressure campaigns.
Mark Hemingway of RealClearInvestigations recently wrote a scathing report on how the Washington, D.C.-based group has worked in public and behind the scenes to shape the American response to conflict with Iran. The veteran journalist revealed how, during the most serious anti-regime protests in Iran since the Islamic Revolution, the NIAC endorsed a letter from 17 members of Congress to Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin calling on the White House to halt Iranian sanctions.
Hemingway also cited the “No War with Iran Strategy Call,” a public teleconference convened to drum up opposition to military deterrence against Iran just a day after it launched ballistic missiles at U.S. armed forces stationed in Iraq. Hosted by NIAC and a coalition of left-wing anti-war groups, the call included remarks from Democratic presidential candidates, Sens. Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts.
But this only scratches the surface of NIAC’s recent lobbying efforts. NIAC Action, the nonprofit’s 501(c)4 sister organization, has been vigorously engaging lawmakers and building public pressure around key friction points concerning U.S.-Iranian relations. In recent months, the pro-Iran lobby has sought to limit U.S. military options, undermine U.S. border security, weaken sanctions, disrupt counterterrorism efforts, and pressure a return to the failed Iran nuclear deal.
Don’t throw Iran a lifeline
Although NIAC presents itself as an American organization free from foreign influence, it is indelibly tied to an Iranian regime network that includes business interests, foundations, and Khomeinist clerics. NIAC staff are more than just savvy political activists; they are true believers in Shiite theocracy, characterizing the Islamic Revolution as “the same ideas of democracy and independence that had long been ideologically espoused in the United States,” while seeking to defund actual democratization programs in their homeland. … [To read the full article, click the following LINK – Ed.]
Bradley Martin is a CIJR Fellow. ______________________________________________________
What Happened to the New York Times’ Man in Tehran?: Peter Theroux, Tablet, Mar. 9, 2020 — Last month marked one year since the occultation of the New York Times Tehran correspondent, Dutch national Thomas Erdbrink. His last reporting for the Times ran on Feb. 16, 2019.