Iran election seen as legitimacy test for rulers as dissent grows

Iranian women wave their country’s flags as they hold posters of the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, center, and the late revolutionary founder Ayatollah Khomeini during an election campaign rally ahead of the March 1, parliamentary and Assembly of Experts elections, in Tehran (AP)
Updated 29 February 2024
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Iran election seen as legitimacy test for rulers as dissent grows

  • Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei called voting a religious duty
  • Parliament has no major influence on foreign policy or Iran’s nuclear agenda

DUBAI: Iran holds a parliamentary election on Friday seen as a test of the clerical establishment’s popularity at a time of growing dissent over an array of political, social and economic crises.
The vote will be the first formal gauge of public opinion after anti-government protests in 2022-23 spiralled into some of the worst political turmoil since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.
Critics from inside and outside the ruling elite, including politicians and former lawmakers, say the legitimacy of Iran’s theocratic system could be at stake due to economic struggles and a lack of electoral options for a mostly young population chafing at political and social restrictions.
Iran’s top authority, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has called voting a religious duty. He accused the country’s “enemies” — a term he normally uses for the United States and Israel — of trying to create despair among Iranian voters.
The commander of the country’s elite Revolutionary Guards, Hossein Salami, said on Wednesday that “each vote is like a missile launched at the enemy’s heart.”
But Iranians still have painful memories of the handling of nationwide unrest sparked by the death in custody of a young Iranian-Kurdish woman in 2022, which was quelled by a violent state crackdown involving mass detentions and even executions.
Economic hardships pose another challenge. Many analysts say that millions have lost hope that Iran’s ruling clerics can resolve an economic crisis fomented by a combination of US sanctions, mismanagement and corruption.
While establishment supporters will likely vote for hard-line candidates, widespread public anger at worsening living standards and pervasive graft may keep many Iranians at home.
Prices for basic goods like bread, meat, dairy and rice have skyrocketed in past months. The official inflation rate stands at about 40 percent. Analysts and insiders put it at over 50 percent.
The US 2018 withdrawal from Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal with six world powers, and its reimposition of sanctions, have hit Iran’s economy hard. Efforts to revive the pact have failed.
Reformists shun ‘meaningless’ vote
Iranian activists and opposition groups are distributing the Twitter hashtags #VOTENoVote widely on social media, arguing that a high turnout will legitimize the Islamic Republic.
With heavyweight moderates and conservatives staying out of Friday’s race and reformists calling it an “unfree and unfair election,” the vote will pit hard-liners and low-key conservatives against each other, all proclaiming loyalty to Iran’s Islamic revolutionary ideals.
The interior ministry said 15,200 candidates will run for the 290-seat parliament, with a vetting body called the Guardian Council approving 75 percent of initially registered hopefuls.
The unelected Guardian Council, made up of six clerics and six legal experts generally within Khamenei’s orbit, has the authority to scrutinize laws and election candidates.
Ballots will mostly be counted manually, so the final result may not be announced for three days, although partial results may appear sooner.
On the same day, Iranians also vote for the Assembly of Experts, which appoints and can dismiss the supreme leader. The 88-member clerical body rarely intervenes directly in policy but is expected to help choose the 84-year-old Khamenei’s successor.
Parliament has no major influence on foreign policy or Iran’s nuclear agenda. These are determined by Khamenei who holds the utmost authority in the country’s unique dual system of clerical and republican rule.
Polling has projected turnover of about 41 percent, while former lawmaker Mahmoud Sadeghi said on Monday that surveys showed the participation could be as low as 27 percent, significantly lower than 42 percent in a 2020 parliamentary vote.
Discredited after years of failed attempts at widening political and social freedoms, the pro-reform opposition suffered further unpopularity in 2022 when protesters scorned its mantra of gradual change.
The Reform Front coalition has said it will not take part in the “meaningless” election but has not boycotted the vote.


Israeli forces kill two Palestinians including Hamas gunman

Updated 4 sec ago
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Israeli forces kill two Palestinians including Hamas gunman

  • Hamas confirms Mohammad Omar Daraghmeh’s death and his membership of its armed Al-Qassem Brigades
RAMALLAH: Israeli forces shot dead two Palestinians, including a member of the armed wing of Hamas, near Tubas in the occupied West Bank on Friday following a raid on the town earlier in the morning, the military said.
It said Mohammad Omar Daraghmeh, whom it described as the head of Hamas infrastructure in the Tubas area of the Jordan valley was killed during an exchange of fire with security forces. It said a number of weapons and military-style equipment, including automatic rifles were found in his vehicle.
Hamas confirmed Daraghmeh’s death and his membership of its armed Al-Qassem Brigades.
The official Palestinian news agency WAFA said another man was killed by Israeli forces conducting a raid in the Al-Fara refugee camp in Tubas. Hamas said it mourned the man’s death but did not claim him as a member.
The military said forces carrying out the operation opened fire on Palestinians who threw explosive devices and killed one man it said was attempting to attack them.
The incident was the latest in a wave of confrontations in the West Bank between Israeli security forces and Palestinians, including both armed militants and unarmed protesters, since the start of the war in Gaza last October.
Hundreds of Palestinians have been killed by Israeli forces, most of them armed fighters but some of them unarmed civilians, and thousands have been arrested or detained. In the same period more than a dozen Israelis have been killed by Palestinian attackers.

US does not expect to be drawn into war but predicts attack by Iran against Israel

The North Lawn of the White House in Washington, DC. (AFP)
Updated 24 min 5 sec ago
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US does not expect to be drawn into war but predicts attack by Iran against Israel

  • The White House said it warned Iran to not use that attack as a pretext to escalate further in the region

WASHINGTON: The United States expects an attack by Iran against Israel but one that would not be big enough to draw Washington into war, a US official said late on Thursday.
The White House said earlier Washington did not want conflict to spread in the Middle East and the US had told Iran it was not involved in an air strike against a top Iranian military commander in Damascus.
The White House added it warned Iran to not use that attack as a pretext to escalate further in the region.
Suspected Israeli warplanes bombed Iran’s embassy in Damascus on Monday in a strike for which Iran has vowed revenge and in which a top Iranian general and six other Iranian military officers were killed, ratcheting up tension in a region already strained by the Gaza war.
Iranian sources told Reuters Tehran has signalled to Washington that it will respond to Israel’s attack on its Syrian embassy in a way that aims to avoid major escalation and it will not act hastily, as Tehran presses demands including a Gaza truce.
The United States has been on high alert about possible retaliatory strikes from Iran and US envoys have been working to lower tensions.
Palestinian group Hamas attacked Israel on Oct. 7, killing 1,200, according to Israeli tallies. Israel’s military assault on Hamas-governed Gaza has since killed over 33,000 according to the local health ministry, displaced nearly all of Gaza’s 2.3 million population, caused a humanitarian crisis and led to genocide allegations that Israeli denies.
Iran-backed groups have declared support for Palestinians, waging attacks from Lebanon, Yemen and Iraq. Tehran has avoided direct confrontation with Israel or the United States, while declaring support for its allies.

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Russia, Germany and UK urge restraint as Iranian threat puts Middle East on edge

Updated 24 min 19 sec ago
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Russia, Germany and UK urge restraint as Iranian threat puts Middle East on edge

  • “Iran should instead work to de-escalate and prevent further attacks,” said Cameron
  • Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant told US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin that Israel would respond directly to any attack by Iran

MOSCOW: Russia, Germany and Britain on Thursday urged countries in the Middle East to show restraint and Israel said it was preparing to “meet all its security needs” in a region on edge over an Iranian threat to strike Israel.

The German airline Lufthansa, one of only two Western carriers flying to Tehran, extended a suspension of its flights to the Iranian capital and Russia warned against travel to the Middle East.
Iran has vowed revenge for the April 1 airstrike on its embassy compound in Damascus that killed a top Iranian general and six other Iranian military officers, ratcheting up tension in a region already strained by the Gaza war.
Israel has not claimed responsibility for the attack, but Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said on Wednesday Israel “must be punished and it shall be,” saying it was tantamount to an attack on Iranian soil.
The “imperative for Iran to punish this rogue regime” might have been avoided had the UN Security Council condemned the strike and brought the perpetrators to justice, Tehran’s mission to the United Nations said on Thursday.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel was keeping up its war in Gaza but making security preparations elsewhere.
“Whoever harms us, we will harm them. We are prepared to meet all of the security needs of the State of Israel, both defensively and offensively,” he said in comments released following a visit to an air force base.

A view of the consular annex of Iran's embassy in Damascus, Syria, that was demolished by an Israeli airstrike on April 1, 2024, killing at least 13 people, including two Iranian Revolutionary Guards generals and five personnel from the force. (AP)

Iran has signalled to Washington that it will respond to Israel’s attack in a way that aims to avoid major escalation and it will not act hastily, Iranian sources said.
Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant told US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin that Israel would respond directly to any attack by Iran, Gallant’s office said.
Conflict has spread across the Middle East since the eruption of the Gaza war, with Iran-backed groups declaring support for the Palestinians waging attacks from Lebanon, Yemen and Iraq. Tehran has avoided direct confrontation with Israel or the United States, while declaring support for its allies.
German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock called on her Iranian counterpart Hossein Amirabdollahian to urge “maximum restraint” to avoid further escalation.
Russia’s foreign ministry told citizens they should not travel to the Middle East, especially to Israel, Lebanon and the Palestinian territories.
“Right now it’s very important for everyone to maintain restraint so as not to lead to a complete destabilization of the situation in the region, which doesn’t exactly shine with stability and predictability,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told a news briefing.

‘Potential for miscalculation’
British foreign minister David Cameron said on Thursday he had made clear to Amirabdollahian that Iran should not draw the Middle East into a wider conflict.
“I am deeply concerned about the potential for miscalculation leading to further violence,” Cameron said on X.

 

US State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller said Secretary of State Antony Blinken called counterparts including the Turkish, Chinese and Saudi foreign ministers “to make clear that escalation is not in anyone’s interest and that countries should urge Iran not to escalate.”
US President Joe Biden said on Wednesday Iran was threatening to launch a “significant attack in Israel,” and that he had told Netanyahu that “our commitment to Israel security against these threats from Iran and its proxies is iron-clad.”
The US expects an attack by Iran against Israel but one that would not be big enough to draw Washington into war, a US official said late on Thursday.
Iran is the third-largest oil producer in the OPEC group and oil prices stayed near six-month highs on Thursday.
Late on Wednesday, an Iranian news agency published an Arabic report on the X platform saying the air space over Tehran had been closed for military drills, but then removed the report and denied it had issued such news.
Lufthansa said it would probably not fly to Tehran before April 13. Austrian Airlines said it was still planning to fly on Thursday but was adjusting timings to avoid crew having to disembark for an overnight layover.
Iranian air space is also a key overflight route for Emirates’ and Qatar Airways’ flights to Europe and North America.
Emirates, Qatar Airways, Turkish Airlines, Aeroflot and Air Arabia, among the airlines that fly to Tehran, did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

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US tells staff in Israel not to travel outside cities amid Iran threat

The US embassy in Jerusalem. (REUTERS file photo)
Updated 23 min 50 sec ago
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US tells staff in Israel not to travel outside cities amid Iran threat

  • Israel has killed more than 33,000 Palestinians in Gaza, mostly women and children, according to the health ministry in the Hamas-run territory
  • US President Joe Biden said on Wednesday Iran was threatening to launch a “significant attack in Israel,” and that the US remained committed to its ally’s security

WASHINGTON: The United States said on Thursday it had restricted its employees in Israel and their family members from personal travel outside the greater Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and Be’er Sheva areas amid Iran’s threats to retaliate against its regional adversary.
Iran has vowed revenge for the April 1 airstrike on its embassy compound in Damascus, ratcheting up tension in a region already strained by the Gaza war.
“Out of an abundance of caution, US government employees and their family members are restricted from personal travel outside the greater Tel Aviv (including Herzliya, Netanya, and Even Yehuda), Jerusalem, and Be’er Sheva areas until further notice,” the US embassy said in a security alert on its website on Thursday. “US government personnel are authorized to transit between these three areas for personal travel.”
Washington has a policy of informing all American citizens via such warnings when it updates security measures for its personnel in a country.
US President Joe Biden said on Wednesday Iran was threatening to launch a “significant attack in Israel,” and that the US remained committed to its ally’s security.
Asked about the security alert, State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller noted that Iran had been making public threats toward Israel.
“We conduct ongoing assessments all the time about the situation on the ground,” Miller said at a press briefing. “I’m not going to speak to the specific assessments that led to us to restrict our employees’ and family members’ personal travel, but clearly we are monitoring the threat environment in the Middle East and specifically in Israel.”

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More aid is supposed to be entering the Gaza Strip. Why isn’t it helping?

Updated 23 min 35 sec ago
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More aid is supposed to be entering the Gaza Strip. Why isn’t it helping?

  • While Israel says it has dramatically increased the number of aid trucks entering the territory, UN workers report only a slight uptick — possibly because they count trucks differently

JERUSALEM: Under heavy US pressure, Israel has promised to ramp up aid to Gaza dramatically, saying last week it would open another cargo crossing and surge more trucks than ever before into the besieged enclave.
But days later, there are few signs of those promises materializing and international officials say starvation is widespread in hard-hit northern Gaza.
Samantha Power, administrator of the US Agency for International Development, said this week she accepted “credible” reports that famine is now occurring in the area and urged Israel to take further steps to expedite humanitarian aid shipments.
Power’s remarks echoed those of US President Joe Biden, who said on Wednesday that Israeli efforts to increase aid were “not enough.”
While Israel says it has dramatically increased the number of aid trucks entering the territory, UN workers report only a slight uptick — possibly because they count trucks differently.
Here’s what we know about the aid entering Gaza, and why discrepancies in reporting persist:
HOW MUCH AID IS ENTERING GAZA?
Israel says that since Sunday it has transported an average of 400 trucks a day into Gaza and that aid is now piling up on the Palestinian side of the Kerem Shalom crossing, one of two major crossings into the territory.
But Juliette Touma, communications director for the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, known as UNRWA, said that while aid workers have noticed a slight increase in the amount of aid entering Gaza, it’s nothing close to the surge Israel is claiming.
On Monday, UNRWA says 223 trucks of aid passed. On Tuesday, that number hit 246. On Wednesday, it was down to 141.
Meanwhile, only trickles of aid are reaching northern Gaza.
WHAT HAS ISRAEL PROMISED?
After Biden said last week that future American support for the war in Gaza depends on Israel doing more to protect civilians and aid workers, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu promised a series of steps. Biden spoke out after an Israeli airstrike killed seven aid workers delivering food to the strip.
Netanyahu pledged to immediately re-open Israel’s Erez crossing into northern Gaza — a pedestrian crossing destroyed by Hamas militants when they stormed into southern Israel on Oct. 7. Netanyahu also said he would allow Israel’s port in Ashdod to process aid shipments and increase Jordanian aid packages through another land crossing.
But Israeli officials this week dropped the plan to open Erez. Instead, they say a new crossing will be built, though it is unclear when it will open. The Ashdod port, meanwhile, is not yet accepting aid shipments and Gaza aid groups report no significant increase in trucks received at their warehouses.
Before the latest Israel-Hamas war, some 500 trucks carrying food, fuel and other supplies entered Gaza daily. That was supplemented by fish and produce farmed within the territory.
Even that was barely enough in a crowded territory whose economy has been battered by a 17-year blockade imposed by Israel and Egypt. The blockade, meant to keep Hamas from arming, restricted the flow of goods in and out of Gaza and contributed to widespread poverty and unemployment.
Scott Anderson, the acting director of UNRWA in Gaza, said the low levels of aid since the war started have compounded an existing, pre-war nutrition deficit in the territory.
“You have to remember, this was not a nutrition-rich environment before the war. The resilience was not there,” said Anderson.
WHY IS THERE A DISCREPANCY BETWEEN THE UN AND ISRAEL’S NUMBERS?
Israel and the UN count trucks arriving in Gaza differently.
Israel counts every truck it inspects and allows to pass into Gaza, according to Shimon Freedman, a spokesperson for COGAT, the Israeli defense body in charge of Palestinian civilian affairs.
At the Kerem Shalom crossing, once the trucks pass into Gaza, the pallets of aid they are carrying are deposited in a 1-kilometer-long (a half-mile) zone for Palestinian drivers to pick up.
UNRWA only counts the trucks, driven by a Palestinian contractor, returning from that zone, Anderson said.
He also said that sometimes the trucks arriving from Israel are not fully loaded. Palestinian drivers on the Gaza side of the crossing load their trucks fully before passing through the gate — something that could further account for truck count differences.
WHAT IS SLOWING AID TRANSFER?
Getting from Israeli inspection, through the corridor and past the gate into Gaza takes time — and is made more arduous by the way Israel uses the Kerem Shalom crossing, Anderson said.
Since the war began, Israel has kept the crossing partially closed, Anderson said. Palestinian drivers must also wait for the incoming trucks to be unloaded — further narrowing the window of time allowed for pickup.
Aid inspected by Israel sometimes sits overnight, awaiting pickup. The UN says it stops all operations at 4:30 p.m. for safety purposes due to a breakdown in public order and airstrikes at night. UNRWA says they used to use local Palestinian police to escort aid convoys, but many refused to continue serving after airstrikes killed at least eight police officers in Rafah. Israel says armed Hamas militants have tried to siphon off aid.
COGAT denied allegations that they restrict the crossing’s hours or limit movement of trucks to pick up aid and blamed the UN for the backup, saying the agency does not have enough workers to move aid to warehouses for timely distribution.
WHAT HAPPENS MOVING FORWARD?
Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said Wednesday night that increasing aid efforts is a top priority.
“We plan to flood Gaza with aid and we are expecting to reach 500 trucks per day,” said Gallant. He did not specify a time frame for reaching that goal.
But even if Israel meets its goal, slowdowns at the crossings and convoy safety concerns may continue to hamper distribution. The UN has called for a return to prewar procedures — with additional terminals open and a significant amount of commercial goods, in addition to humanitarian aid, able to pass through.
“Gaza has become very quickly dependent on relief handouts,” Touma said. “The market has been forced to shut. This is not sustainable.”

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