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Overview: Iran Analysis Weekly Report Jan 07, 2018

15 Jan, 2018

Vistar Business Monitor
Ongoing protests in Iran are unlikely to immediately threaten the survival of the regime in their current form. While the protests have expanded to a much broader swath of Iran, protesters remain without central leadership and unarmed. Regime officials, including President Hassan Rouhani and First Vice President Eshagh Jahangiri, are attempting to de-escalate the situation. Government and security officials as well as government-friendly media outlets are largely blaming the protests on the U.S. and external actors. Security forces are working to impose de-escalating discipline on the police (Law Enforcement Forces, or LEF) and Basij forces responding to the protestors.

Friday prayer leaders’ unified message is likely a regime attempt to quell anti-regime protests. Mashhad Friday Prayer Leader Hojjat ol Eslam Ahmad Alam ol Hoda called for cooperation between the government and its people to resolve economic difficulties. Orumiyeh Friday Prayer Leader Hojjat ol Eslam Mehdi Ghureyshi stated that the people’s demands are the same as those of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Prayer leaders in Tabriz, Ahvaz, Tehran, Qom, Rasht, and Shahr-e Kord also acknowledged the economic grievances of the anti-regime protesters. Iranian authorities likely aim to instill confidence that the country can resolve the protesters’ economic grievances, as well as portray the image of a sympathetic regime that is synchronized with the will of its people.

The Iranian regime likely intended the sentencing of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad-era Vice President Hamid Baghaei as a warning to Ahmadinejad amidst increased tensions between him and Judiciary Head Ayatollah Sadegh Amoli Larijani. The long-standing Ahmadinejad protégé, who registered for and was rejected from running in the May 2017 presidential elections, was previously arrested in 2015 and imprisoned for over six months, possibly on corruption charges. Baghaei was arrested again in July 2017 and later released. The regime likely intended Baghaei’s sentencing as a warning to Ahmadinejad. Ahmadinejad has challenged Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s authority repeatedly since his fall-out with the Supreme Leader at the end of his presidency, including disobeying Khamenei’s direct order not to run in the May presidential elections. Tensions between Ahmadinejad and Judiciary Head Sadegh Amoli Larijani have sharpened in recent weeks. Ahmadinejad called for his resignation following Larijani’s accusations that the former president has been “fomenting [unrest].” Analysts have suggested that Ahmadinejad may be attempting to damage Larijani’s chances at being considered a serious successor to Supreme Leader Khamenei.

Heightened rhetorical tension between Iran and France may be driving French President Emmanuel Macron’s increasing alignment with President Donald Trump’s Iran policy. Senior Foreign Policy Advisor to the Supreme Leader Ali Akbar Velayati called Macron the “pawn” of Trump, underscoring the uptick in heated rhetoric between Iran and France since the November 4 al Houthi ballistic missile launch targeting Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. France has increased its public criticism of Iranian malign regional activities and suggested further sanctions against Iran for its ballistic missile program. France’s alignment with a White House policy focused on rolling back Iranian influence could influence other European partners to take a similar stance toward Iran.

The Rouhani administration’s proposed 2018-2019 budget recommends moderate increases in the IRGC and Army budgets. President Hassan Rouhani administration presented a budget proposal for the upcoming Iranian calendar year on December 10. Rouhani’s proposal advocates for significant increases from last year’s proposal for Army and IRGC budgets, approximately 25 percent and 15 percent respectively. Parliament will review Rouhani’s proposal and approve a final budget before spring 2018. Parliament increased the Army and IRGC budgets beyond Rouhani’s proposal last year. Parliament’s likely move to increase the budgets once again would signal continued regime consensus to maintain and possibly expand Iran’s conventional and asymmetric capabilities post-ISIS.

President Trump has a Friday deadline for deciding whether to renew temporary waivers for US sanctions against Iran. Iran’s nuclear chief, Ali Akbar Salehi, is quoted by Reuters as warning Monday: “If the United States does not meet its commitment in the JCPOA [nuclear deal], the Islamic Republic of Iran would take decisions that might affect its current cooperation with the International Atomic Energy Agency.”

Former President and popular reformist figure Mohammad Khatami worked to lessen the heightened public criticism of President Hassan Rouhani’s administration. Many have criticized the Rouhani administration’s recent proposal to cut household cash and non-cash subsidies by 25 percent. Conservatives and moderates alike have also criticized the Rouhani administration for not tackling unemployment, especially among the youth. Despite a Judiciary-mandated media ban on publishing images or video of Khatami, the reformist former president has rallied the reformist-moderate support base for Rouhani at key decision points, such as the May 2017 presidential elections. Many have also attributed the reformist-moderate victory in Tehran during the 2016 parliamentary elections to Khatami’s social media presence.