NEWS: Eye on Iran

Israel launches advanced spy satellite

Israel launched an advanced spy satellite Monday that will be able to track events in Iran, the country it considers its top foe, even at night and in cloudy weather, defense officials said.

The TECSAR satellite is of particular importance for Israel because it can be used to keep tabs on Iran’s nuclear program, which the U.S. and Israel fear is a cover for pursuing nuclear weapons, they said. [complete article]

Iran’s supreme leader rebuffs Ahmadinejad in gas row

The political authority of the Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, suffered a serious blow today after the country’s most powerful figure sided with MPs by ordering him to supply cheap gas to villages undergoing power cuts amid an unexpectedly harsh winter.

In a humiliating rebuff, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s supreme leader who has the final say over all state matters, ordered the enactment of a law requiring the government to provide £500m of gas supplies from emergency reserve funds.

Ahmadinejad had refused to implement the measure, accusing parliament of exceeding its powers in passing the bill in response to plummeting temperatures and gas cuts, which have left many areas without heating during the country’s coldest winter in years.

At least 64 people are reported to have died after gas supplies were turned off in sub-zero temperatures. The cuts, belying Iran’s status as possessor of the world’s second biggest natural gas reserves, have provoked public outrage and threaten to turn a mood of rumbling unhappiness into a winter of discontent for Ahmadinejad. [complete article]

Iran sanctions ripple past those in power

Sanctions weren’t supposed to hurt Majid Taleghani. But the Iranian book publisher says they have forced him to increase prices and scale back the number of titles he issues.

“In the past few weeks, the price of South Korean paper has soared at least 25%,” Taleghani complained, chain-smoking nervously. “Why? South Korean banks refuse to open letters of credit. They won’t work with Iranian banks anymore.”

President Bush’s recent tour through the Middle East was meant in part to rally U.S. allies against Iran before talks Tuesday in Berlin by members of the U.N. Security Council and Germany over the possibility of imposing a third round of sanctions on Iran to pressure the government to halt its nuclear program.

A year after the Security Council first imposed sanctions, they clearly have begun to have an effect. But in an echo of the debate over sanctions against Iraq under Saddam Hussein in the 1990s, diplomats and economic analysts disagree sharply over whether such measures would pressure those in power to change their policies or merely hurt the Iranian people. [complete article]

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