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The Farda Briefing: Iran's Shadow War With Israel Intensifies As Tehran Moves Closer To Nuclear Weapons Capability


A satellite photo shows a view of facilities at Iran's Parchin military site, where the UN's nuclear watchdog, the IAEA, previously said it suspected that Iran had conducted tests related to nuclear bomb detonations more than a decade ago.

Welcome back to The Farda Briefing, a new RFE/RL newsletter that tracks the key issues in Iran and explains why they matter.

I'm Hannah Kaviani, a senior broadcaster and editor at RFE/RL's Radio Farda. Here's what I’ve been following and what I’m watching out for in the days ahead.

The Big Issue

Tensions are soaring between Iran and Israel, its regional foe. This comes as Israel is suspected of carrying out a recent spate of assassinations and sabotage attacks inside the Islamic republic. Iran’s powerful Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) on June 20 said the death of a Defense Ministry engineer in May was the result of "industrial sabotage," not simply an "accident," as officials previously suggested.

The New York Times reported that the engineer had been killed in a suspected Israeli drone attack. Last month, Tehran blamed Israel for the killing of an IRGC colonel outside his home in the Iranian capital and vowed revenge.

Why It Matters: Tensions have flared as negotiations aimed at reviving the 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and world powers remain deadlocked. In the absence of a deal that would curb Iran’s sensitive nuclear activities in exchange for the lifting of U.S. sanctions, Tehran has reduced its commitments and expanded its nuclear activities.

There are fears in the West that Tehran is close to amassing enough highly enriched uranium for a nuclear weapon. If Iran does acquire a nuclear weapon, Israel is likely to launch military strikes inside the Islamic republic, a worst-case scenario that could trigger a wider conflict in the region.

What's Next: In the wake of suspected Israeli assassinations and sabotage attacks, calls have grown in Iran for a tough response. Some hard-liners have advocated for military strikes against Israel. The hard-line Resalat newspaper called for a “hard blow” against Israel. Iran is likely to target Israeli citizens or interests in the region.

As Iranian rhetoric intensifies, Israel has warned its citizens not to travel to Turkey. Israel has already claimed that it has thwarted attacks against Israeli tourists in Istanbul. Some Iranian observers have cautioned that Iranian retaliation is likely to harm rather than benefit Tehran’s interests.

Stories You Might Have Missed

-- Rights activist Maryam Karimbeigi was arrested by Iranian security forces after they raided her family’s home. Karimbeigi’s brother, Mostafa, was killed in the state crackdown that followed mass street protests over the disputed 2009 presidential election. Karimbeigi was arrested on June 14, and she has been on a hunger strike since. Shahnaz Akmali, Karimbeigi's mother, told RFE/RL's Radio Farda that her daughter had been under pressure by authorities as she sought justice for her brother’s death.

-- During a visit to a domestic aircraft manufacturer, President Ebrahim Raisi called on the company to intensify its efforts to build passenger planes. His comments on June 16 triggered skepticism and mockery among Iranian social media users. Due to U.S. sanctions, Iran has been unable to renew its aging fleet or import spare parts to maintain its aircraft. Days after Raisi’s comments, an Iranian-owned, U.S.-made F-14 fighter jet crashed during a military exercise, the second such incident in the past month. Tehran acquired the jets before the Islamic Revolution in 1979.

What We're Watching

Iran has been hit by near-daily protests by workers angered by soaring living costs in the Islamic republic. Authorities have tolerated some of the rallies, but they have cracked down on the teachers’ protests.

The Iranian Teachers' Union's Coordination Council said that more than 100 teachers were detained on June 16 for participating in widespread protests demanding the release of other imprisoned teachers and better working conditions. Some are still in detention, where they have launched hunger strikes. A decision by authorities to increase taxes on the private sector has led to strikes by merchants and shopkeepers at bazaars.

Why It Matters: Hamstrung by crippling U.S. sanctions and years of government mismanagement, Iran’s economy is unlikely to improve if the nuclear deal is not revived. In the meantime, discontent will grow, and more Iranians are likely to join the protests over living conditions.

As of now, teachers, pensioners and retirees, truck drivers, bus workers, taxi drivers, merchants, and shopkeepers are among those taking to the streets to vent their anger and frustration at authorities. The rallies at Iran’s bazaars, in particular, are ominous. Rallies at the markets have often been the trigger for bigger and more significant protests in the past.

That’s all from me for now. Don't hesitate to send us any questions, comments, or tips that you have by writing to newsletters@rferl.org

We invite you to check out the improved Farda website in English and its dedicated Twitter account, which showcase all of our compelling journalism from Iran. And Farda's YouTube playlist is also worth a look.

Until next time,

Hannah Kaviani

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*CORRECTION: A previous version of this article inferred that Tel Aviv is the capital of Israel. The text has been changed.
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