Braced to crush unrest, Iran’s rulers heed lessons of Shah’s fall — analysts

Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi and Empress Farah at Mehrabad Airport, Tehran, Iran, Jan. 16, 1979. (AP Photo)
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Updated 06 October 2022

Braced to crush unrest, Iran’s rulers heed lessons of Shah’s fall — analysts

  • Kasra Aarabi: ‘The one striking similarity the current protests have with 1979 is the mood on the streets, which is explicitly revolutionary ... They don’t want reform, they want regime change’
  • Alex Vatanka: ‘Today, the Bazaar has nothing to defend, as it no longer controls the economy which is now in the hands of the Guards’

DUBAI: Iran’s clerical rulers will likely contain the country’s eruption of unrest for now, and prospects of the imminent dawn of a new political order are slim if history is any guide, four analysts said.
The protests, which began over the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini her arrest by morality police, have spiralled into a revolt against what protesters said was the increasing authoritarianism of its ruling Islamic clerics.
However, the chances of this snowballing into the kind of uprising that rapidly unseated veteran Egyptian and Tunisian rulers in 2011 seem remote any time soon, since Iran’s rulers are determined to maintain their grip on power at any cost.
For decades, the clerical establishment has used its loyal elite force, the Revolutionary Guards, to violently crush ethnic uprisings, student unrest and protests against economic hardship. So far the Guards have been relatively restrained, but they could be mobilized quickly.
If the protests persist, the Islamic Republic will turn to its usual solution: “unrestrained violence against unarmed civilians to quash the protests this time around,” said Kasra Aarabi, the Iran Program Lead at the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change.
Already, the protests have lasted nearly three weeks – turning into one of the biggest demonstrations of opposition to Iran’s Islamic clerical rule in years.
Although the volume of protests cannot be compared to the 1979 Islamic revolution, when millions took to the streets, the solidarity and unanimity of protesters calling for the downfall of the clerical establishment are reminiscent, analysts said.
“The one striking similarity the current protests have with 1979 is the mood on the streets, which is explicitly revolutionary ... They don’t want reform, they want regime change,” said Aarabi.
“Of course, no one can predict when this moment will happen: it could be weeks, months or even years ... But the Iranian people have made up their mind.”
Challenging the Islamic Republic’s legitimacy, protesters have burned pictures of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and chanted “Death to the Dictator,” unfazed by security forces using tear gas, clubs and, in many cases, live ammunition.

But Iran’s top rulers are determined not to show the kind of weakness they believe sealed the fate of the US-backed Shah.
To human rights campaigners at that time, the Shah’s great error was to alienate the population with torture and bloodshed. But in hindsight some historians say the Shah was too weak, slow and irresolute in repression.
“The regime’s approach is far more reliant on repression than the Shah,” said Alex Vatanka, director of the Iran Program at the Middle East Institute.
Rights groups said the state crackdown on protests has so far led to the death of at least 150 people, with hundreds injured and thousands arrested.
Officials say many members of the security forces have been killed by “thugs and rioters linked to foreign foes,” echoing Khamenei’s comments on Monday in which he blamed the United States and Israel for fomenting the “riots.”
Shortly before the revolution, Iran’s Shah appeared on national TV, saying: “As Shah of Iran ... I heard the voice of your revolution ... I cannot but approve your revolution.” His opponents saw that as a sign of fragility. “Khamenei had learned the lesson, as he lived through the revolution, that if you tell the people you’ve heard their voices and that you are wrong, this is the end of your leadership. He doesn’t want to do that,” said Vatanka.
Nevertheless, Khamenei’s unyielding rhetoric also carries risk, Vatanka said. “If Khamenei does not listen ... and stop this nonsense that protests are all foreign-led, there will be more protests,” he said. Demonstrations have spread from Amini’s native Kurdistan province to all of Iran’s 31 provinces, with all layers of society, including ethnic and religious minorities, joining in.
“These broad-based protests have attracted almost all segments of the population whose grievances have not been addressed by the regime,” said Vahid Yucesoy, a specialist on political Islam based in Canada.
A popular political Kurdish slogan used in the Kurdish independence movement, “Woman, Life, Freedom” that was first chanted at Amini’s funeral on Sept. 17 in the Kurdish town of Saqez, has been used globally in protests against her death.
Fearing an ethnic uprising, the establishment has adopted a restrained repression instead of the iron fist strategy it displayed in the past, analysts said.

The protests are “secular, non-ideological to some extent anti-Islamic,” said Saeid Golkar, an assistant professor of political science at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.
“Iranians are revolting against the clergy ... who use religion to suppress the people,” he said.
The anti-Shah revolt reverberated around provincial cities, towns, and villages. But what paralyzed his rule was strikes by oil workers, who turned off the taps on most of the country’s revenue, and by bazaar merchants, who funded the rebel clerics.
While university students have played a pivotal role in current protests with dozens of universities on strike, there has been little sign of the Bazaar and oil workers joining in.
“Bazaaris were important during the 1979 revolution as, at the time, they saw the Shah’s economic reforms as against their interests and therefore backed the revolution,” Vatanka said.
“Today, the Bazaar has nothing to defend, as it no longer controls the economy which is now in the hands of the Guards.”
The Guards, loyal to Khamenei, is an industrial empire as well as being a powerful military force. It wields political clout and controls Iran’s oil industry.


Palestinian teen killed in Israeli army raid in West Bank

Updated 1 min 36 sec ago

Palestinian teen killed in Israeli army raid in West Bank

  • 17-year-old Hamza Al-Ashqar died of a gunshot wound to the head
  • Since the start of this year, 42 Palestinians have been killed in the West Bank and east Jerusalem

JERUSALEM: The Palestinian Health Ministry said Tuesday that Israeli troops killed a Palestinian teenager in an army raid in the occupied West Bank.

He was the latest casualty in what is already one of the most violent periods in the West Bank in recent years.

The ministry said 17-year-old Hamza Al-Ashqar died of a gunshot wound to the head but provided no additional details about the incident. There was no immediate comment from the Israeli military.

The incident came a day after Israeli forces killed five Palestinian gunmen linked to the Islamic militant Hamas group in a raid on refugee camp in the occupied West Bank.

The Israeli army has staged almost nightly raids across Palestinian towns in the occupied West Bank since a series of deadly attacks in Israel last spring. The Palestinian Authority declared it would cease security coordination with Israel after 10 Palestinians were killed in a raid last month.

Nearly 150 Palestinians were killed last year in the West Bank and east Jerusalem, making it the deadliest year in those areas since 2004, according to figures by the Israeli rights group B’Tselem. Since the start of this year, 42

Palestinians have been killed in those territories. Palestinian attacks against Israelis killed some 30 people in 2022.

The Israeli army says most of the Palestinians killed have been militants. But stone-throwing youths protesting the incursions and others not involved in confrontations have also been killed.

Israel captured the West Bank, Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem in the 1967 Mideast war. The Palestinians seek those territories for their hoped-for independent state.


Earthquake death toll rises to over 4,800 in Turkiye, Syria

Updated 18 min 47 sec ago

Earthquake death toll rises to over 4,800 in Turkiye, Syria

  • Turkiye’s relief agency AFAD said 3,381 dead in the country, bringing the confirmed tally to 4,890
  • More than 5,600 buildings flattened across several cities

HATAY, Turkiye: Rescuers in Turkiye and Syria braved freezing darkness, aftershocks and collapsing buildings Tuesday, as they dug for survivors buried by a string of earthquakes that killed at least 4,800 people.
Disaster agencies said several thousand buildings were flattened in cities across a vast border region — pouring misery on an area already plagued by war, insurgency, refugee crises and a recent cholera outbreak.
Through the night, survivors used their bare hands to pick over the twisted ruins of multi-story apartment blocks — trying to save family, friends and anyone else sleeping inside when the first massive 7.8-magnitude quake struck early Monday.
“Where is my mum?” asked a distraught seven-year-old girl who was pulled — her face, hair and pyjamas covered in dust — from a collapsed building in Hatay, on the Turkish side of the border.
The sense of disbelief was widespread, as residents struggled to comprehend the scale of the disaster.
“We thought it was the apocalypse,” said Melisa Salman, a 23-year-old reporter in the southeastern Turkish city of Kahramanmaras.
Some of the heaviest devastation occurred near the quake’s epicenter between Kahramanmaras and Gaziantep, a city of two million where entire blocks now lie in ruins under gathering snow.
As residents tried to clear a mountain of masonry, plasterboard and furniture that had been a multi-story building, another collapsed nearby — sending crowds screaming and clamouring for safety.
With aftershocks continuously rattling the area, many terrified and exhausted survivors spent the night outdoors, too afraid to go home.
Some huddled under bus shelters, some wrapped themselves in plastic to repel the freezing rain and others burned debris to keep warm.
Mustafa Koyuncu packed his wife and their five children into their parked car.
“We can’t go home,” the 55-year-old told AFP. “Everyone is afraid.”
Turkiye’s relief agency AFAD put the latest death toll at 3,381 in that country alone — bringing the confirmed tally in both Turkiye and Syria to 4,890.
There are fears that the toll will rise inexorably, with World Health Organization officials estimating up to 20,000 may have died.
“There is a family I know under the rubble,” said 20-year-old student Omer El Cuneyd in the Turkish city of Sanliurfa.
“Until 11:00 am or noon, my friend was still answering the phone. But she no longer answers. She is down there.”
Overwhelmed medics struggled to treat the estimated 20,000 injured.
The US Geological Survey said Monday’s first earthquake struck at 4:17 am (0117 GMT) at a depth of about 18 kilometers (11 miles).
The initial earthquake was so powerful it was felt as far away as Greenland and was followed by a series of aftershocks, including a 7.5-magnitude tremor that struck in the middle of search and rescue work on Monday.
The impact was devastating and sparked a global response, with dozens of nations from Ukraine to New Zealand vowing to send help.
But a winter blizzard has covered major roads into the area in ice and snow and officials said three major airports have been rendered inoperable, complicating deliveries of vital aid.
Much of the quake-hit area of northern Syria has already been decimated by years of war and aerial bombardment by Syrian and Russia forces that destroyed homes, hospitals and clinics.
The conflict is already shaping the emergency response, with Syria’s envoy to the United Nations Bassam Sabbagh seemingly ruling out reopening border crossings that would allow aid to reach areas controlled by rebel groups.
The Syrian health ministry reported damage across the provinces of Aleppo, Latakia, Hama and Tartus, where Russia is leasing a naval facility.
Even before the tragedy, buildings in Aleppo — Syria’s pre-war commercial hub — often collapsed due to the dilapidated infrastructure.
Officials cut off natural gas and power supplies across the region as a precaution, and also closed schools for two weeks.
The UN cultural agency UNESCO expressed fears over heavy damage in two cities on its heritage list — Aleppo in Syria and Diyarbakir in Turkiye.
At a jail holding mostly Daesh group members in northwestern Syria, prisoners mutinied after the quakes, with at least 20 escaping, a source at the facility told AFP.
The United States, the European Union and Russia all immediately sent condolences and offers of help.
President Joe Biden promised his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan that the United States will send “any and all” aid needed to help recover from a devastating earthquake.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky also offered to provide “the necessary assistance” to Turkiye, whose combat drones are helping Kyiv fight the Russian invasion.
Chinese state media said on Tuesday that Beijing was sending rescuers, medical teams and other supplies.
Turkiye is in one of the world’s most active earthquake zones.
The country’s last 7.8-magnitude tremor was in 1939, when 33,000 died in the eastern Erzincan province.
The Turkish region of Duzce suffered a 7.4-magnitude earthquake in 1999, when more than 17,000 people died.
Experts have long warned a large quake could devastate Istanbul, a megalopolis of 16 million people filled with rickety homes.


Earthquake piles misery on war-ravaged Syrians in wintry north

Updated 07 February 2023

Earthquake piles misery on war-ravaged Syrians in wintry north

  • Millions of people in northwest Syria have been left vulnerable by the conflict, with 2.9 million people in the region have been displaced
  • Young men could be seen clawing through debris and heaving hammers onto slabs of concrete to look for survivors

JANDARIS: Wailing children, flattened buildings and hospitals full of bodies — a devastating earthquake on Monday looked painfully familiar for Syrian families and rescuers worn down by nearly 12 years of bombardment and displacement.
The 7.8 magnitude earthquake sent people rushing into the streets in the country’s north, where air strikes and shelling have already traumatized the population and weakened the foundations of many buildings.
In the rebel-held town of Jandaris in Aleppo province, a mound of concrete, steel rods and bundles of clothes lay where a multi-story building once stood.
“There were 12 families under there. Not a single one came out. Not one,” said a thin young man, his eyes wide open in shock and his hand bandaged.
“We were pulling people out ourselves at three in the morning,” he said, his breath visible in the cold winter air as he spoke.
Young men could be seen clawing through debris and heaving hammers onto slabs of concrete to look for survivors. Dented water tanks and solar panels had flown off roofs and landed on the damp ground.


The White Helmets, a rescue service founded in rebel-held territory to treat people hurt in bombardment, said at least 147 people were killed in opposition-held northwest Syria. In government-held territory, officials put the death toll at more than 300 with more than 1,000 injured.
In Turkiye, President Tayyip Erdogan said more than 900 people were killed and more than 5,000 injured.
“We are in a race against time to save the lives of those under the rubble. Even if our teams are exhausted, we don’t have time to rest,” White Helmets head Raed Fares told Reuters by phone.
He said air strikes over the years had left buildings structurally fragile so they “immediately collapsed,” ultimately leading to more deaths.
FREEZING TEMPERATURES
Millions of people in northwest Syria have been left vulnerable by the conflict, according to the United Nations, which says 2.9 million people in the region have been displaced and 1.8 million are living in camps.
The rescue teams have worked for years rescuing people from shelling and aerial raids by Syrian government or Russian forces which often hit the same location multiple times, risking paramedics’ lives.
“At least now, no one is going to bomb us as we work,” Fares said.
But the cold winter weather added another challenge for the rescue workers, who said families have been left exposed in near-freezing temperatures and heavy rains.

In the countryside of Idlib province, the earthquake damaged the modest structures set up in displacement camps hosting Syrians who had fled the war over the years, said Ahmad Al-Sheikh, a resident of a nearby border town.
Further west, the main hospital in the rebel-held town of Afrin was teeming with wounded residents writhing on the ground and women struggling to reach loved ones by phone as the lines were down.
Medics zipped up black body bags on a bloodstained floor as toddlers screamed in the background.
“Ambulance sirens are heard everywhere. People are shocked,” said Afrin resident Ibrahim Obaid. “The situation is so tragic. There’s so much fear and we still feel the tremors.”


UAE pledges $13 million in aid to quake-hit Syria

People sit together at a temporary shelter in the aftermath of the earthquake in Aleppo, Syria February 6, 2023. (Reuters)
Updated 06 February 2023

UAE pledges $13 million in aid to quake-hit Syria

  • The 7.8 magnitude quake struck near the Turkish city of Gaziantep before dawn on Monday
  • More than 1,651 people in Turkey and another 1,100 in neighboring Syria have died

DUBAI: The United Arab Emirates on Monday pledged humanitarian assistance worth around $13.6 million to Syria following an earthquake in Turkiye that killed at least 1,000 people in the war-torn country, Emirates News Agency reported.
The 7.8 magnitude quake struck near the Turkish city of Gaziantep before dawn on Monday, killing more than 1,651 people in Turkiye and another 1,100 in neighboring Syria.
Dubai Ruler and UAE Prime Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al-Maktoum “directed urgent humanitarian aid to those affected in Syria,” WAM said.
The assistance is valued at 50 million dirhams, it added.
Countries around the world have mobilised rapidly to send aid and rescue workers to affected areas.
The UAE has dispatched a first plane to Adana Airport in southern Turkiye “”carrying search and rescue teams, crews, and medical equipment,” WAM said.
The UAE said it was planning to establish a field hospital in Turkiye and will also send search and rescue teams to Syria, along with urgent relief supplies and emergency aid, the news agency added.
Earlier on Monday, Emirati President Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al-Nahyan offered his condolences to his Syrian and Turkish counterparts in two separate phone calls, according to WAM.
He “emphasized the UAE's support for Syria and Turkiye and offered to provide any assistance in their efforts to mitigate the impact of the earthquake,” it said.

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Five Palestinians killed by Israeli troops during dawn raid in Jericho

Updated 06 February 2023

Five Palestinians killed by Israeli troops during dawn raid in Jericho

  • The deaths, during a military operation at the Aqbat Jaber camp, sparked anger and condemnation across the West Bank
  • Palestinian PM Mohammed Shtayyeh said ‘occupation soldiers continue to commit massacres against our defenseless people’

RAMALLAH: Israeli forces assassinated five Palestinians during a raid on a refugee camp near the occupied West Bank city of Jericho on Monday, according to Palestinian officials.

The office of President Mahmoud Abbas described the killings as a crime, and urged the US to put pressure on Israeli authorities to restrict incursions by their forces.

“The new Israeli government is continuing its series of crimes against our Palestinian people,” it said.

Israeli forces also injured three people, one of them seriously, and arrested eight in the early-morning raid, the Palestinian sources said.

Jihad Abu Al-Assal, the governor of Jericho and the Jordan Valley, said the military had so far refused to release the bodies of the dead.

The violence on Monday came days after an Israeli military raid on the Jenin refugee camp during which 10 Palestinians were killed. Most were militants but a 61-year-old woman was also among the dead.

In Monday’s raid, a large number of troops stormed the Aqbat Jaber camp at dawn. The five people killed in the confrontations that followed were named as: Raafat Wael Awadat, 21; Malik Awni Lafi, 22; Adham Majdi Awadat, 22; Ibrahim Wael Awaidat, 27 and Thaer Awadat, 28.

The Israeli army alleged that all of the dead were affiliated with Hamas. It released photos of rifles seized during the raid, which had the name of the military wing of Hamas written on them.

Israeli forces continued their siege of the city of Jericho and the Aqabat Jaber camp for a 10th day in a row on Monday. Main and secondary entrances to the city remained blocked by military checkpoints, restricting the movement of vehicles.

The killing of the five Palestinians sparked anger across the West Bank. Strikes took place in Jericho, Ramallah, and some other cities to mourn the dead. A protest march took place in the center of Ramallah, accompanied by chants condemning the Israeli occupation.

Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammed Shtayyeh called on the UN to protect “our people and not to allow the perpetrators to escape punishment.”

He added: “With a sense of the ability to escape punishment, and motivated by the desire to practice killing according to a doctrine that shapes the thought and behavior of the perpetrators, the occupation soldiers continue to commit massacres against our defenseless people, in a scene that brings to mind the heinous crimes committed by the Zionist gangs against our people in cities and villages.”

The General Secretariat of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation condemned the killings, the siege on Jericho, injuries inflicted on Palestinian citizens, premeditated killings, the continuing Israeli settlements policy, the demolition of Palestinian homes in East Jerusalem, and the displacement of its residents.

The organization called on the international community to urgently intervene to help put an end to the attacks and daily crimes against Palestinians. It stressed the need to hold the perpetrators accountable and for the world to provide protection for the Palestinian people.

The Israel Defense Forces were put on alert following the killings in Jericho amid fears that Hamas would respond by firing rockets from Gaza at Israeli targets.

Israeli National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir warned Hamas not to launch any rockets from the Gaza Strip in retaliation. He said the response to any such aggression should be integrated and that for every missile fired from Gaza “we must respond with 50 missiles.”

He added: “This is my vision and I hope the government will implement it. I am optimistic and believe that this will happen.”

Palestinian political analyst Ghassan Al-Khatib told Arab News that he would expect any response by Hamas or its supporters to the killings in Jericho to originate in the West Bank and not the Gaza Strip.

“There is a great exaggeration and harshness in the Israeli oppression against the Palestinians, more than ever before, which will bring violent reactions against the Israeli occupation,” he added.

He said that the killing and abuse of Palestinians by Israeli authorities weakens the status and prestige of the Palestinian Authority.

In a joint statement, the Israeli military and the internal security service Shin Bet said that they had conducted counterterrorism activity in the Aqabat Jabr Camp to apprehend a Hamas terrorist squad responsible for shooting at a restaurant in the community of Vered Yeriho on Jan. 28. It added that several armed assailants had been killed after they fired at IDF soldiers.

The Fatah movement said that what it described as the bloody massacre committed by the Israeli army during its aggression against the Aqabat Jaber camp reflected the fascist ideology of successive occupation governments.

“The neo-fascist government, which is trying, through this systematic terrorism, to export its internal crises and to practice the most brutal methods of bloody terror against the Palestinians through the policies of killing, execution, abuse, arrest and incursions into the Palestinian lands,” it added.

Fatah said attempts by the occupation to erase the Palestinian existence were doomed to failure. It also condemned the international silence about the Israeli actions and what it described as the US bias in favor of the occupation and its terrorist regime, which its said provides the occupation and its army with a guarantee that it can commit massacres and other crimes without being held accountable.

Hamas vowed to respond to the killing of five of its members. It said it would not tolerate the spilling of Palestinian blood by Israeli army bullets, and that it was ready to respond to the occupation with full force.

Ismail Haniyeh, head of the political bureau of Hamas, said its battalions will continue their operations “until the occupation is defeated.”