Saturday, November 28, 2015

Ahmadinejad's Ex-Bodyguard Among Growing Number Of Iranians Killed in Syria

Former Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad (right) visits the family of one of his ex-bodyguards, who was killed in Syria.

Golnaz Esfandiari

A onetime bodyguard for former Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad has been killed in Syria while fighting Islamic State (IS) militants, according to Iranian media reports.
Abdollah Bagheri Niaraki was killed October 22 while "fighting terrorists" in the suburbs of the northern city of Aleppo, the hard-line Tasnim news agency reported, adding that he was "martyred."
His death adds to a rising number of Iranians -- mostly members of the powerful Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) -- who have been killed in Syria in recent weeks as Tehran deepens its support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, its regional ally.
The IRGC-affiliated Fars news agency said Niarakari, 34, served in the elite force and was killed while "fulfilling his duty as military adviser in Syria." 
Pictures posted on Iranian media showed Ahmadinejad weeping as he visited Niaraki's home on October 23 to personally offer his condolences to his former bodyguard's relatives. Tasnim reported that several IRGC commanders accompanied Ahmadinejad on the visit. 

IRGC spokesman Ramezan Sharif was quoted by Iranian news sites on October 23 as saying that eight Iranians have been "martyred" in Syria in recent days
He denied, however, earlier reports that 15 Iranians had died in the violence in Syria during the past two days.
"Two of the members of IRGC's Ansar unit were martyred in Syria [on October 23]. The number 15 is not accurate," Sharif said.
Four IRGC commanders were among those killed in Syria in recent weeks, including top commander Hossein Hamedani, who reportedly played a crucial role in Iran's support for Assad's regime.   
Hamedani was also in charge of the 2009 state crackdown in Tehran against antigovernment demonstrators who took to the streets to protest against Ahmadinejad's disputed reelection.
Opposition websites claimed at the time that Niaraki was also involved in an IRGC-led crackdown against the opposition.

Walking 'A Tightrope'
The deaths of Niaraki and other IRGC members in Syria come amid Western media reports last week that hundreds of Iranian troops have joined an offensive by the Syrian Army in Aleppo.
Russia has launched a campaign of airstrikes that that has provided cover for this offensive against IS militants and more moderate armed groups, some of which have received support from the United States and its allies.
Moscow says the goal of its intervention is to defeat "terrorists," while Syrian opposition forces and Western governments say it is aimed at strengthening Assad, Russia's longtime ally. The U.S. administration has insisted that the Syrian president cannot be part of a postwar government, a position the Kremlin rejects.
Iranian officials have denied its troops are fighting in Syria but say Tehran has increased its deployment of military advisers to assist the Syrian government in its fight against "terrorism." Iranian officials refer to anti-Assad forces, including IS militants and other rebel groups, as terrorists.
Some Iran watchers question Tehran's claim that it is providing only military advisers to help Assad, particularly in the face of mounting Iranian losses.
"Iran is trying to walk a tightrope by maintaining that its troops in Syria are advisers. It is simply a fiction to claim that Iranians are serving as only advisers in Syria," Afshon Ostovar, a senior Middle East analyst with the Washington-based nonprofit Center for Naval Analyses (CNA), told RFE/RL.
Ostovar, whose forthcoming book on the IRGC is slated to be published next year, added: "We don't know their precise roles, but there is far too much evidence at this point suggesting Iranians are directly involved in the fighting."
Speaking earlier this week during a visit to London, Deputy Iranian Foreign Minister Amir Abdollahian maintained that Iran has no combatant force in Syria but added that Tehran has boosted the presence of its military advisers in the war-torn country.
"Those advisers have the required experience and military expertise for an effective antiterrorism campaign," Abdollahian was quoted as saying by the state news agency IRNA on October 20.
Ostovar suspects that Iranians are playing more of a command-and-control role in the operations in Syria, but that "this is not preventing them from serving on the frontlines of battle."
"Aside from the several prominent senior commanders that have been killed, more and more of the Iranians killed in action have been mid- to low-ranking soldiers," Ostovar told RFE/RL. "This strongly suggests that these Iranians were in Syria as trigger-pullers, not advisers." 
IRNA reported in June that some 400 Iranian and Afghan "volunteers" have been killed in the fighting in Syria in the past four years.
Iranian media say the "volunteers" travel to Syria to defend the Sayeda Zeynab shrine on the outskirts of Damascus. The shrine is a revered pilgrimage site for many Sh'ia Muslims, who believe it holds the remains of the daughter and granddaughter of the Prophet Muhammad. 

To Burn Or Not To Burn? Kerfuffle Flares In Iran Over Torching U.S. Flag

Demonstrators burn a U.S. flag during a protest near the Swiss Embassy in Tehran in 2012.

Golnaz Esfandiari

Burning U.S. flags has become a tradition in Iran at annual state-organized events commemorating the anniversary of the 1979 U.S. Embassy takeover in Tehran and the hostage taking of U.S. diplomats that led to the severing of ties between the two countries.

But a kerfuffle over flag-burning has flared after the head of the Islamic Propagation Coordination Council in the northeastern city of Kashmar appeared to suggest that officials last year frowned upon torching the Stars and Stripes.

"Last year we had a letter from the Council of Islamic Propagation stating that the U.S. flag should not be burned because it's an official country, and that only the flag of Israel should be set on fire," the hard-line Fars news agency quoted the official, Hojatoleslam Ghassem Ali Majidi, as saying on October 18.

Iran does not recognize the state of Israel.

The report was published just weeks ahead of this year's November 4 anniversary, which follows the historic nuclear agreement reached between Iran and world powers in July after months of intense negotiations, including direct talks between top U.S. and Iranian diplomats, as well as an easing of tensions between Washington and Iran.

But Fars later removed Majidi's comments from its report without explanation (a cached copy is still accessible here), and the Islamic Propagation Coordination Council -- which organizing state rallies in the Islamic republic -- swiftly issued a statement saying it had "never" issued any order or statement advising against burning the U.S. flag. 

"God willing, the ceremonies will be held with greater glory [than before] and the loud chants of 'Death to America,' 'Death to Israel,' and 'Death to Arrogance' will be heard all over Iran," the October 19 statement said.

The council added that the United States remains "The Great Satan" and that the Iranian nation will protest against the "Global arrogance led by America" during this year's commemoration in Tehran and another 770 cities.

Majidi clarified in a subsequent interview with the semiofficial ISNA news agency that the alleged directive against burning U.S. flags was from "previous years" and that during the upcoming anniversary, U.S. flags will be set on fire, along with Israeli flags.

"Based on the conversation I had today with the Islamic Propagation Coordination Council of [the northeastern Khorasan] province, the letter is from previous years, and on [November 4] there is no problem with setting America's flag on fire," Majidi was quoted by ISNA as saying on October 19.

Despite Majidi's claim about the purported flag-burning directive, U.S. flags were set ablaze last year outside the former U.S. Embassy in Tehran to mark the 35th anniversary of its takeover.

In recent weeks, Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has the final say in all state matters, has warned of "infiltration" attempts by the United States and that further talks with Washington are banned.

Iranian President Hassan Rohani, who is seen as a moderate, has nonetheless signaled that Tehran is open to better ties with the world.

Muharram Not Fashionable In Iran

Iranian authorities have tried to keep strict tabs on women's clothing and fashion since the 1979 revolution.

Golnaz Esfandiari

If you are celebrating the sacred month of Muharram in the Islamic republic, you best not make it a fashion statement.

Amid reports that some hair salons and barbers have been advertising "special Muharram" styling to lure clients, warnings have been issued against the practice of shaving the words "Ya Hossein" into peoples' hair.

Also out is the wearing of garish makeup, T-shirts, and leggings during Muharram, which honors the martyrdom of Imam Hossein -- the grandson of the Prophet Muhammad.

The warnings against hairstyles bearing Hossein's name, issued by the heads of the country's associations of barber shops and hair salons following the beginning of the sacred month on October 15, come amid reports in conservative media about the rise of Muharram fashion.

The head of Iran's barbers union, Mostafa Govahi, warned specifically against shaving the name of Imam Hossein, who was slain in a battle in Karbala in 680 and whose martyrdom is commemorated by believers during Muharram.

"The so called special Muharram makeup and hair designs that have become popular in the society is an insult to religion," Govahi was quoted as saying by Iranian media earlier this month. "We will deal with it." 

Govahi also noted that plucking eyebrows, tattoos, and the use of lipstick were among measures that could lead to the closure of barber shops.

The head of the association of Iran's hair salons issued a similar warning.

Afsarolmoluk Sayan is quoted by Iranian news sites as saying that "special Muharram makeup" and related advertisements are banned, and that salons that offer such services would be reprimanded.

"A text has been sent to salons that fall under the association, warning them about legal action, and a notice was also published in newspapers," Sayan was quoted as saying on October 15.

Sayan did not elaborate on the kind of makeup that is used during Muharram rituals -- which include singing, passion plays, and chest beatings in mosques and on the street -- that reach a peak on the ninth and tenth day of Muharram known as Tasua and Ashura.

Tighter, Shorter Clothes

However, a conservative website offered some details in a story about the "strange appearance of the youth in Muharram."

"Lips turned red, blond hair, short scarfs and shawls, along with supports [i.e. leggings] that are sometimes inscribed with 'Ya Hossein' are among [the highlights] of this year's Muharram's nights," reported on October 18.

"In fact, the times when barbers shops and hair salons would close to respect the mourning rituals of Imam Hossein, have come to an end," the report noted.

The website quoted a 30-year-old hairdresser in Tehran, identified as Mina, as saying that, in the past five years, Muharram fashion has become quite popular in the Iranian capital.

"Young girls want us to put makeup on their face that is appropriate for the evening, even hair colors that are brighter and can be seen at night become fashionable and in demand," Mina said.

Artist Sima told the website that two weeks prior to the month of Muharram, young Iranians place their orders to have the name of Imam Hossein inscribed on their clothing.

"Young women, even young men, come to me to have 'Ya Hossein', or parts of well-known dirges inscribed on their manteaux, t-shirts, and shawls," the artist told

The Azad news agency (ANA) quoted Massumeh Mahmudian, the manager of a hair salon in the Iranian capital, as saying that there was "a new wave" among some Iranians requiring special makeup for Muharram.

"We don't have the right to ask our clients what they do with such makeup, we haven't been told that such activity is banned in the month of Muharram," she said.

A report in said disapprovingly that some of those attending Muharram rituals were dressed as if they were going to a wedding.

The report added that it has become a common scene in recent years for women and girls with heavy makeup and hair dyed blond to come onto the streets to watch Muharram rituals without sincerely mourning.

"In recent years Muharram has become an excuse for some to hold night carnivals and wear inappropriate clothing and makeup, "the report said.

Since the creation of the Islamic republic, authorities have attempted to control all aspects of citizens' life, including their appearance.

Women have fought back by gradually pushing the boundaries by showing more hair and wearing tighter and shorter manteaux.

Son Of Iranian Hostage-Takers Is Schooled By 'Great Satan'

American hostages in Tehran after the seizure of the U.S. Embassy by a student group in 1979.

Golnaz Esfandiari

The face of the Iran hostage crisis probably never envisioned the day her child would enroll at a university in the "Great Satan."

Yet the oldest son of Massumeh Ebtekar -- a sitting vice president who made a name for herself as "Mary," spokeswoman for the Islamic student revolutionaries who seized the U.S. Embassy in Tehran in 1979 -- sure looks like he's living the college dream in California.

Ebtekar's son, 33-year-old Eissa Hashemi, is a doctoral student at the Los Angeles branch of the Chicago School of Professional Psychology, according to his LinkedIn profile.

Eissa Hashemi, the son of Iranian Vice President Massumeh EbtekarEissa Hashemi, the son of Iranian Vice President Massumeh Ebtekar
Eissa Hashemi, the son of Iranian Vice President Massumeh Ebtekar
Eissa Hashemi, the son of Iranian Vice President Massumeh Ebtekar

A spokesperson for the graduate school did not confirm his registration, citing its privacy policy. But his wife, Maryam Tahmasebi, has listed Los Angeles as her home city on her Facebook page. And an acquaintance of the couple has confirmed to RFE/RL on condition of anonymity that the two have been living in the United States for several months.

As Hashemi pursues a PhD in organizational leadership, he appears to be enjoying his time in the country demonized by Iranian revolutionaries, including his parents.

His recent Instagram posts include a beach selfie, inspirational quotes printed on teabag tags, and a video of the San Francisco National Cemetery, the final resting place of tens of thousands of U.S. military veterans.

And by posting a screengrab of a Facebook conversation thread on social media, he has revealed an appreciation for some high-profile Americans.

The thread shows him "liking" a White House photo marking the October 3 wedding anniversary of U.S. President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama. But it concludes by noticing that both he and Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg have something in common.

"We liked it," he wrote, concluding with a smiley :).

Mother 'Mary'

During the hostage crisis, when 52 U.S. citizens were held captive for 444 days, "Mary" became a familiar sight on American television.

Exhibiting excellent command of the English language, she faced the cameras to outline the positions, demands, and threats (watch from 4:40 mark) of the hostage-takers' group -- the Muslim Student Followers of the Supreme Leader.

The young woman, who would later be revealed to be Massumeh Ebtekar, repeatedly and unabashedly explained her hatred for the United States.

Iranian Vice President Massumeh Ebtekar in NovemberIranian Vice President Massumeh Ebtekar in November
Iranian Vice President Massumeh Ebtekar in November
Iranian Vice President Massumeh Ebtekar in November

She later married one of the core hostage takers, Mohammad Hashemi, a former deputy intelligence minister turned businessman.

In a recent interview, Hashemi explained that he recruited Ebtekar to be the hostage-takers' spokeswoman shortly after the seizure of the U.S. Embassy because of the language fluency she gained growing up in Philadelphia, where her father studied.

Eissa Hashemi is not alone -- a number of children of Iranian officials have reportedly made the choice to study in Western countries, including the United States.

But as could be expected, Hashemi's choice has led critics to question how his parents could allow their son to study in the country they once regularly denounced. After all, hostility toward the United States is one of the pillars of the Islamic establishment that Ebtekar and her husband helped forge.

Harsh Reaction At Home...

Ebtekar's revolutionary fervor has waned somewhat over the years. Now 55 and a vice president, she has mellowed to the point that she can be considered a reformist, and is a supporter of President Hassan Rohani's efforts to engage with the West.

For this she's been criticized by hard-liners who vehemently oppose the idea of the Islamic republic taking a more moderate approach both at home and on the international scene.

When an Iranian news site first broke the story in late 2014 that the younger Hashemi would be studying in the United States, there was some criticism on social media but the news went unnoticed by the mainstream media.

Screen shot of Obama's post on Instagram in October 2015 that Hashemi and Zuckerberg "liked" at the same time.Screen shot of Obama's post on Instagram in October 2015 that Hashemi and Zuckerberg "liked" at the same time.
Screen shot of Obama's post on Instagram in October 2015 that Hashemi and Zuckerberg "liked" at the same time.
Screen shot of Obama's post on Instagram in October 2015 that Hashemi and Zuckerberg "liked" at the same time.

That changed in September when an anonymous blog post about Ebtekar on the news site Iranwire gave the story new life. The post mentioned Hashemi's presence in the United States, prompting a new wave of criticism.

Amid the controversy, neither Ebtekar nor her husband has commented publicly on the reports that their son is studying in California, and their silence has not quieted their critics.

"The Great Satan is not such bad place after all," a 35-year-old engineer in Tehran told RFE/RL via the messaging app Telegram, when asked about his reaction to the news that Ebtekar's son was studying in the United States.

"Iranian officials are hypocritical, even these moderate figures," he wrote, noting that ordinary citizens have suffered as the result of three decades of enmity with the United States.

He, too, had hoped to study in the United States, but the obstacles were too formidable to overcome. "There is no U.S. embassy in Tehran because of the hostage taking," he wrote. "We have to travel to Dubai or Turkey to request a visa, and everyone knows how difficult and costly it can be."

...And Abroad

Karim Sadjadpour, senior Iran analyst at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, says the issue of studying abroad is a sensitive one in the Iran.

Because of the actions of Ebtekar and her fellow hostage takers, "tens of thousands of Iranians" have been denied visas to visit their families or study in the United States, Sadjadpour notes. It stings when people see officials like Ebtekar staunchly defend the laws and values of the Islamic republic but flaunt them when it comes to their personal lives.

"They praise the achievements of the revolution, and attack the immorality of the U.S., while sending their children to live and study in the U.S.," Sadjadpour says.

Iranians burn U.S., British, and Israeli flags at the inauguration of an anti-U.S. panel on the wall of the former U.S. Embassy in Tehran on September 2, 2015.Iranians burn U.S., British, and Israeli flags at the inauguration of an anti-U.S. panel on the wall of the former U.S. Embassy in Tehran on September 2, 2015.
Iranians burn U.S., British, and Israeli flags at the inauguration of an anti-U.S. panel on the wall of the former U.S. Embassy in Tehran on September 2, 2015.
Iranians burn U.S., British, and Israeli flags at the inauguration of an anti-U.S. panel on the wall of the former U.S. Embassy in Tehran on September 2, 2015.

In the three decades since the hostage crisis, which led to the breaking off of diplomatic ties between Tehran and Washington, Ebtekar has stuck to the line that the hostage takers did what they had to do.

"The decision should be viewed in the context of the conditions of that time; in our view it was the best move to prevent the revolution from being harmed," she said as recently as 2013 during an event held in Tehran to discuss the hostage taking and the Oscar-winning movie Argo, which was about the crisis.

As Sadjadpour notes, "several of the prominent hostage takers of 1979 came to realize they were stupid kids whose actions had profoundly negative consequences." But Ebtekar, he says, "has never expressed remorse."

To former U.S. hostage and State Department official John Limbert, the irony that sons of the Islamic Revolution are studying in the United States is exasperating.

Limbert was among those held captive for 444 days, during which time he was subjected to psychological torture. "[Ebtekar] and her husband built their career on yelling 'Death to America,'" he says.

"Aren't they ashamed of themselves?" Limbert asks. "It would be okay if they would simply say we screwed up."

Living Two Lives

Eissa Hashemi did not respond to an interview request by RFE/RL.

But a person identifying him- or herself as the administrator of Massumeh Ebtekar's webpages, responding to queries from RFE/RL from a different e-mail account, wrote that upon completing their master's programs in Iran, Hashemi and his wife had decided to obtain their PhDs abroad.

Former U.S. hostages in Iran John Limbert (left) and Bruce Laingen in 2013.Former U.S. hostages in Iran John Limbert (left) and Bruce Laingen in 2013.
Former U.S. hostages in Iran John Limbert (left) and Bruce Laingen in 2013.
Former U.S. hostages in Iran John Limbert (left) and Bruce Laingen in 2013.

The e-mail said the couple's move was a "personal decision" and that they were studying on their own expense and without the benefit of scholarships or "special" connections.

"They're not interested in providing any explanation about it," the e-mail read.

Like some children of former Islamic revolutionaries, Hashemi does not appear to be ideologically oriented.

In an interview published in 2008, Hashemi provided a rare window into his views on the hostage crisis, saying he got a grasp of the reasons behind it after reading a book his mother published in Canada.

"When mother's book was translated from English, I understood the issue fully," he said. "The students then had a big move, an important cause."

More recently, he provided a possible hint at his current leanings when he posted a video of President Rohani mocking hard-line clerics for fostering state intervention in all aspects of citizens' lives.

Hashemi's apparent move to the United States -- coming at a time of decreased tensions between Tehran and Washington and other world powers following the historic nuclear deal agreed to in July, even as Iran's hard-liners maintain that the United States remains an enemy -- is perhaps evidence that the doctoral student is simply living out his own philosophy.

Writing on his LinkedIn page, he says he has divided his work life into two parts:

One is the "doing part" -- which includes "HSE planning and Auditing, Manager representative in Management Systems."

The other is the "being part" -- which includes "Jungian Psychology, Teaching Jungian Archetypal Studies, Awakening The hero Withing (sic), and Psychoanalysis.

"I love to have these both together," he concludes, "and I will try to keep them so."

Death Of Iranian General On Syria Mission Highlights Tehran’s Commitment

General Hussein Hamedani was reportedly killed on October 8.

Golnaz Esfandiari

Iran’s deepening investment in the struggling regime of its closest regional ally, Syria, came into further focus this week with the death of a top general in the elite Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC). 

Hossein Hamedani was one of dozens of military advisers and other officials Tehran has sent to Damascus to help President Bashar al-Assad stay in power. According to a statement released by the IRGC, Hamedani was “martyred” on October 8 at the hands of "terrorists” of Islamic State militants on the outskirts of the northern Syrian city of Aleppo. 

Hamedani had "played a determining role in the protection of the [holy Shi’a Sayeda Zeynab shrine] and helping and reinforcing the front of Islamic resistance against the terrorists,” the statement released October 9 said. 

The exact circumstances of his death however were not clear from the statement.

Iranian officials refer to anti-Assad forces, including Islamic State and other rebel groups, as terrorists.

Alireza Nader, a senior Iran analyst with the Rand Corporation, told RFE/RL that Hamedani’s death shows the Iranian government is willing to risk some of its most important commanders in order to protect the Syrian regime.

“I don't doubt Tehran is willing to seek a negotiated settlement to end the Syrian conflict, but on its own terms and in the pursuit of its own interests,” Nader said. "For now, Iran has to make sure it has military leverage in Syria."

In recent months, a number of Iranians, including several IRGC members, have been killed in the fighting in Syria. Iranian media refer to them as “volunteers” who were killed while defending the Sayeda Zeynab shrine on the outskirts of Damascus. The shrine is a revered pilgrimage site for many Sh’ia Muslims, who believe it contains the remains of the daughter and granddaughter of the prophet Muhummad. 

'Brave Commander'

Major General Mohammad Ali Jafari, the commander of the IRGC, a powerful paramilitary organization that also has extensive economic holdings in the Iranian economy, described Hamedani as “one of the strong pillars of the line of resistance.”
“Hamedani was ultimately martyred by the mercenaries affiliated with the U.S. and Zionists, namely the terrorists who have been armed by the hegemonic system’s allies, including Saudis, and have afflicted the Muslim people of Yemen, Iraq, Syria and Bahrain," Jafari said in a statement issued by Iranian media.

Iranian President Hassan Rohani also praised Hamedani as a “brave commander” while calling his death a “great loss” that caused “deep sorrow” in the country. 
Lawmaker Ismail Kowsari said Hamedani had coordinated the efforts of the Syrian army and volunteer forces and prevented the fall of Damascus. He said Hamedani’s mission had already ended at the time of his death, and that he had returned to Syria for a few days to provide “mental help” due to his knowledge of the country. 

Hamedani was a veteran of the bloody 1980-88 war with Iraq. He was also instrumental in the 2009 state crackdown against opposition members, when tens of thousands of Iranians took to Tehran’s streets to protest the disputed reelection of President Mahmud Ahmadinejad.
The protests were brutally suppressed by IRGC forces who were later accused of killing and torturing a number of the protesters. Hamedani had been blacklisted by the European Union since 2011 for his role in suppressing the protests. 

Major General Hassam Firuzabadi, the chief of staff of Iran’s armed forces, praised Hamedani’s role in the 2009 unrest, calling it a “shining juncture” in his career. 
“[Hamedani] did not spare any effort in defending and safeguarding the Islamic republic and its achievements,” Firuzabadi said.  

Iran's Powerful Revolutionary Guards Chief Warns Of ‘Nuclear Sedition,’ U.S. Plot

IRGC chief Mohammad Ali Jafari says the adoption of the nuclear deal by the Iranian parliament would create a “new atmosphere” that would give Iran’s external and internal enemies more fuel to lead the country away from revolutionary ideals.

Golnaz Esfandiari

The commander of Iran’s powerful Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) has denounced unspecified events surrounding Tehran’s nuclear deal with world powers as “sedition” tied to a U.S. plot to derail the Islamic republic from its revolutionary path.

Speaking on October 8, IRGC chief Major General Mohammad Ali Jafari cited “nuclear sedition” as among four key dangers masterminded by the United States that Iran has faced since the revolution that ousted the U.S.-backed shah in 1979.

It was not clear from Jafari’s comments whether he used the term to refer to the nuclear deal itself or to the efforts by the United States and other countries to bring Iran's atomic program to a halt.

But he said that the “nuclear sedition” and the three other key threats faced by Iran were orchestrated by the United States and its “entourage” inside Iran.

Iran struck the nuclear deal in July with the so-called P5+1 -- Britain, China, France, Russia, and the United States, plus Germany. The agreement significantly restricts Tehran’s nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief.

Jafari said that the adoption of the nuclear deal by the Iranian parliament would create a “new atmosphere” that would give Iran’s external and internal enemies more fuel to lead the country away from revolutionary ideals.

"From the beginning of the revolution, the Americans have been trying to penetrate Iran, but all their attempts have been fruitless. But today the infiltration by the enemy is one of the most important threats," Jafari was quoted as saying by Iranian media. 

Jafari listed the other three key “seditions” as the 1980-88 war with Iraq; the landslide 1997 election of former reformist President Mohammad Khatami and the reform movement that was stymied and repressed; and the 2009 mass street protests over the disputed reelection of then-President Mahmud Ahmadinejad that shook the Iranian establishment.

His comments appear to highlight concerns by Iran’s hard-liners that the nuclear agreement would open up the country to U.S. influence, strengthen the moderates, and diminish their power.

Since the deal was reached, Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has warned of “infiltration” attempts by the United States and told officials -- namely, the IRGC and its intelligence branch -- to remain vigilant and reinforce the foundation of the revolution.

Khamenei, who has repeatedly praised Iran’s nuclear negotiators, has not publicly endorsed the deal. But officials have said that he was informed about the details of the talks and that progress was made under his guidance.

Speaking on October 7, Khamenei banned further negotiations with Washington, citing “countless harms.”

"Negotiations with the United States means opening the gates to their economic, cultural, political, and security influence. Even during the nuclear negotiations they tried to harm our national interests," Khamenei was quoted as saying by Iranian news sites.

Last month, Khamenei warned that “political infiltration” would mean that “the direction in which the country moves will be according to the will of hegemonic powers.”

Comments by Khamenei, Jafari, and other hard-line figures in the Iranian establishment stand in clear contrast to public statements by Iranian President Hassan Rohani, who is seen as a moderate, and his allies, who have suggested that Iran is open to better ties with the world. 

Rohani and U.S. President Barack Obama spoke by telephone in 2013 in the first direct exchange between top officials from the two countries since the 1979 revolution that ousted the U.S.-backed shah.

Last month, Rohani’s foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, became the first Iranian official since the revolution to shake hands with a U.S. president. Zarif and Obama shook hands on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in a brief gesture that the Iranian foreign minister later called an “accident.”

Conspiracy Theories Fly In Iran Over Deadly Hajj Incident

Iranian protestors demonstrate on September 25 in Tehran against Saudi Arabia after Iranians pilgrims were killed in a stampede at the annual hajj.

Golnaz Esfandiari

Tehran has said that negligence and mismanagement by Saudi organizers caused last week's hajj stampede that left at least 464 Iranians dead.

The Iranian losses were the largest incurred by any nationality in the deadly crush that took place in the Mina neighborhood of Mecca on September 24, the deadliest tragedy to befall the annual Muslim pilgrimage in 25 years.

And according to the head of Iran's paramilitary Basij force, there is one main culprit -- the United States. "The Americans are behind the Mina disaster. From their propaganda, we can understand that they're aiming at turning away people from the principle of hajj," Basij commander Mohammad Reza Naghdi was quoted as saying by Iranian media on September 29. 

Naghdi, who has a record of blaming the United States for many of the world's problems, added that Washington wanted "to put hajj under question" and "give Islam an ugly face."

His claim is one of several conspiracy theories related to the tragedy that have been pushed by Iranian hard-line media and officials as Saudi Arabia investigates the deadly incident.

Iran says that it and other affected countries should have a role in the investigation. Saudi Foreign Minister Abdel al-Jubeir has called on Tehran to wait for the results of the probe and avoid playing politics with a tragedy that has heightened tensions between the regional rivals.

The Saudi minister's request has done little to stem the flow of byzantine purported schemes that Iranian officials have posited in connection with the tragedy.

The deputy chief of staff of Iranian Brigadier General Massud Jazayeri suggested that the September 24 stampede and the deadly Mecca crane collapse on September 11 may have been deliberately orchestrated by Israel and the Saudi government.

"Given the oppressor Zionist regime's infiltration and influence on the Al-Saud, there is a growing possibility that the two incidents -- the crane-crash incident at the Grand Mosque [in Mecca] and the death of thousands of people in Mina -- were deliberate," Jazayeri told the semiofficial Fars news agency on September 28. 

Jazayeri said it's the duty of Muslim states to undertake fact-finding missions "to decode these crimes by Al-Saud."

Speaking on September 30 to the hard-line Tasnim news agency, Jazayeri said that the Mina incident had many "unclear and suspicious dimensions," adding that Iranian armed forces "are ready to conduct any mission in this regard."

He did not clarify what kind of action Iranian forces might take.

Saudi Kidnapping?

Iran's hajj organization said in a statement carried by state TV on October 1 that 464 Iranians had been confirmed dead as a result of the hajj stampede, and their bodies identified. The organization also said that the status of all injured had been "completely cleared and reported."

But a week after the tragedy, hundreds of Iranian pilgrims had remained unaccounted for, leading to speculation about their fate.

Among them was Iran's former envoy to Beirut, Ghazanfar Roknabadi, whose death was acknowledged by the Interior Ministry on October 1. But prior to the announcement, Roknabadi's undetermined situation had led some hard-line websites and officials to suggest he had been kidnapped.

Roknabadi's presence in Beirut when an Al-Qaeda-affiliated group carried out a 2013 suicide bombing targeting the Iranian Embassy fueled suspicions that he may have been targeted in Mina.

Culture Ministry spokesman Hossein Noushabadi was quoted by the hard-line Fars news agency as saying on September 29 that a plot by Saudi security forces to kidnap Roknabadi was a "serious possibility."

Iran's Foreign Ministry has denied a report by the Saudi-funded Al-Arabiya news network that Roknabadi had traveled to Saudi Arabia under a fake name because there was no official record of his arrival in the kingdom to perform the hajj rituals. 

Iranian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Marzieh Afkham said on September 28 that Roknabadi entered Saudi Arabia with his regular passport.

Other Iranian officials have cast doubt on conspiracy theories related to the stampede. Ali Shamkhani, the secretary of Iran's Supreme National Security Council, dismissed claims that Roknabadi had been snatched as "unreal."

Shamkhani was responding to a question by Tasnim about "reports of the kidnapping of Roknabadi and some Iranian commanders" during the hajj incident. 

Shamkhani said some Arab governments had broken "the taboo of working with the Zionist regime," which, he said, was driving "doubts and suspicions" about whether some of the missing former Iranian officials were kidnapped.

Shamkhani added that the hajj incident was not "deliberate" and that it was likely the result of "incompetence and inefficiency."

Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has said that the Saudi government should accept responsibility for the incident and apologize to Muslims.

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Persian Letters is a blog that offers a window into Iranian politics and society. Written primarily by Golnaz Esfandiari, Persian Letters brings you under-reported stories, insight and analysis, as well as guest Iranian bloggers -- from clerics, anarchists, feminists, Basij members, to bus drivers.

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