Iran Under Scrutiny over Deal with China and a Series of Unexplained Explosions

  • Middle East Policy

    Middle East Policy has been one of the world’s most cited publications on the region since its inception in 1982, and our Breaking Analysis series makes high-quality, diverse analysis available to a broader audience.

Views from the Region


Iran and China are said to be close to finalizing a deal that would see the two countries enter a 25-year partnership plan. Speculation in the region has centered on the possible sale or lease of Iran’s Kish Islands to China, and even the presence of Chinese troops in Iran to protect Chinese investments in the country. Iranian officials have pushed back against such rumors, suggesting that they come from countries that would like to see Iran isolated. Meanwhile, the number of unexplained explosions across Iran continues to rise, with speculation swirling around Israel’s covert targeting of Iran’s nuclear program.

Writing for the Saudi daily Arab News, Majid Rafizadeh notes that if reports of the Iran-China deal are accurate, then the “deal appears to be a colonial agreement, in which the ruling mullahs are granting a foreign country significant rights over Iran’s resources…. The Iranian regime has become so desperate economically that it is violating its own revolutionary values. The Islamic Republic has long prided itself on the notion that it is different from the pre-revolution regimes that capitulated to Russia, China and the West…. In short, the ruling clerics of Iran, who previously criticized the shah for granting power over the Iranian nation to the West, are now giving significant power to China and Russia.”

 Mark Dubowitz and Richard Goldberg, analysts at Foundation for the Defense of Democracies,  on the other hand, consider the implications of the deal for Israel’s security, concluding in a recent Yedioth Ahronoth op-ed that Israeli officials need to reconsider the close relationship they have cultivated with China: “Israel is one of only nine countries where positive views of Beijing recently increased. Sino-Israeli comity is particularly evident in the economic sphere: China accounts for roughly 10 to 15 percent of the Israeli economy…. But for any Israeli who fears a nuclear-armed Iran with advanced ballistic and cruise missiles capable of bringing a second Holocaust, China’s full-throated defense of the Islamic Republic should set off alarm bells…. If China embraces and protects the world’s most anti-Semitic regime – even arming it with weapons to attack the world’s only Jewish State – perhaps it’s time for Israelis to reexamine ties with Beijing.”

Iran, for its part, has pushed back against criticisms that it is selling out, with several Iranian officials coming out in support of the deal. In a statement published by the Iranian daily Tehran Times, government spokesman Ali Rabiei asserts that the real reason for the criticism is that “This plan proves the failure of the United States’ policies to isolate Iran, sever Iran’s relations with the international community and also to harm Iran’s will to expand relations with other countries’…. He said that the plan is based on a win-win approach which ‘heralds long term cooperation. Recognizing cultural commonalities, encouraging multilateralism, supporting equal rights of the nations, and insisting on domestic development are parts of this plan’.”

The message was echoed and further amplified by the Iranian ambassador to China, Mohammad Keshavarz-Zadeh, and Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi, who in recent interviews for the Iranian IRNA and various official statements again pointed the finger in the direction of the Western countries, which, according to Keshavarz-Zadeh, “do not want a growing of Iran’s relations with other countries…. The roadmap we prepare for relations with China is a lamp which shows the path. Within the framework of this agreement, we will not just import commodities; development of the country’s infrastructure in land, air and space areas is included in the 25-year plan,’ Iran’s top diplomat to Beijing stated’…. Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi said on Thursday that the 25-year plan for cooperation is ‘honorable’, calling relations ‘strategic’. ‘There has been a hype against this issue in social media, however, this document is honorable’.”

But Iran’s deal with China is not the only event that has been dominating the news, especially following a series of unexplained explosions across Tehran, some of them occurring at suspected Iranian nuclear facilities. Baghdad Post’s Abdel Aziz Aluwaisheg believes the incidents demonstrate that Iran may not be able to guarantee the safety of its nuclear program and that “these incidents should worry Iran’s neighbors and its nuclear deal partners alike…. The fires and explosions in Iran’s nuclear facilities should persuade Tehran to join international nuclear safety agreements and accept international inspections. That step could be the beginning of a process of confidence-building with its neighbors. International actors with close links to Iran should also shoulder their responsibility for nuclear safety. It is a pity that previous nuclear talks did not take safety concerns fully into consideration.”

Meanwhile, Yedioth Ahronoth’s Raz Zimmt suggests that, while it is reasonable to assume that not every explosion is related to the country’s nuclear program, their cumulative effect is one of a heightened sense of insecurity as well as uncertainty about the government’s next steps: “The series of unusual incidents in Iran over the past week has proven again the weakness of the regime in Tehran in the face of serious challenges at home and abroad…. There has been severe criticism on Iranian social media in recent days over the regime’s failures and its inability to guarantee the safety of buildings and infrastructure in the face of technical or intentional sabotage…. Even if the latest incidents cannot be connected, and even if most of them are not the result of sabotage, the heightened sense of alert within Iran could lead to increasingly severe actions, despite its leaders unwillingness to do so in the four months leading to the U.S. elections in November.”

The effort to identify who may have been behind some of these explosions is already underway.  Early suspicion has fallen on Israel, which has both the motive and the means to execute such covert operations. Public discussions in Israel about that possibility have caught some, including The National’s Con Coughlin, by surprise, given the country’s penchant for a strict code of silence on these matters: “For decades Israeli military and intelligence chiefs have rigidly observed the country’s strict protocol that they never make any public comment on sensitive operations undertaken overseas…. Therefore, the public row that has erupted in Israel over suggestions that it was behind the recent spate of explosions in Iran provides a rare glimpse of the simmering tensions that lie at the heart of its intelligence establishment, as well as pointing to its involvement in the attacks…. To date, Iran has not responded directly to the upsurge in Israeli activity. But that could easily change now that Israeli politicians and intelligence officials no longer seem to have any qualms about discussing their anti-Iranian operations in public.”


  • Middle East Policy

    Middle East Policy has been one of the world’s most cited publications on the region since its inception in 1982, and our Breaking Analysis series makes high-quality, diverse analysis available to a broader audience.

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