Exhibit B: Iranian Cheetos

I’m a little late on this, but in case you missed it, there was an amusing recent development in the ongoing Iranian missile debris saga. On January 30, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif took to Twitter to suggest that the “evidence” of Iranian interference in the Yemen conflict may not have been all that it seemed. He posted photos of the alleged Iranian missile debris — supplied, it should be noted, by Saudi Arabia — that served as a backdrop for a highly publicized speech by United States Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley last December along with two new photos. The first is a closeup of some kind of rod or ring that clearly says “Made in Iran” on it. The second is a bag of cheese puffs.

As the Iranian Foreign Minister noted, the symbol next to the “Made in Iran” writing is the logo for ISIRI, the Iranian Insitute of Standards, essentially a consumer protection/quality control organization for the Islamic Republic. Several Iranian Twitter users pointed out that ISIRI is usually responsible for verifying the standards of things like potato chips or laundry detergent. Artillery isn’t typically considered a consumer good, but who knows? Maybe they’re expanding.

As far as I can tell, the photo of the “Made in Iran” stamp originally came from the Twitter account of the United Kingdom’s Deputy Permanent Representative to the UN Jonathan Allen following a briefing from U.S. personnel on the Iranian missile debris at the storage warehouse where it is being kept. As you can see in this Tweet, posted January 29, the briefing was followed by a lunch with President Trump and a visit to the Holocaust Museum. All-in-all a very busy day.

Allen posted other pictures from the briefing that day that he claimed pointed to the Iranian origins of the weapon, including a photo of a Persian (Farsi) keyboard and a Persian calendar inside the gas cylinder on an anti-tank missile. What purpose these items serve inside heavy weapons he failed to explain. It’s hard to dismiss the nagging thought that all of this evidence feels a bit too obvious. Then again, it’s hard to know without some sort of independent expert context about weapons design what any of this means.

Regardless, none of this looks good for the Trump Administration’s ongoing PR campaign against Iran. Haley’s December speech, which was supposed to provide incontrovertible evidence of Iran’s involvement in Yemen, fell flat. Nothing the administration has done so far has convinced any countries beyond those who were ideologically predisposed toward confrontation — Israel and Saudi Arabia, mainly — to join the United States in its effort to re-isolate Iran. Despite President Trump’s decertification of the Iran Deal back in October, the deal remains in force and nuclear sanctions have not been reimposed. The administration’s only success, if you can call it that, is that their wavering with regard to their actual Iran strategy moving forward has generated a lot of uncertainty in the global business community and is making foreign firms hesitant to invest in the Iranian market.

Ultimately, this uncertainty may be all that matters. Whether foreign firms refuse to invest long-term in Iran out of fear or due to sanctions is irrelevant; the result for the Iranian economy is the same. If the last year has taught us anything, it’s that Iran’s citizenry is anxious to see economic improvements in the country. President Rouhani has staked the fate of his administration — as well as that of the moderate/reformist camp — on the ability to bring tangible improvements to people’s lives. Failure to deliver could result in a backlash of some kind, and with it, an additional injection of uncertainty straight into the spine of an already unstable region.

If it comes to that, the Trump Administration’s bungled smear campaign will have achieved its goal.

Author: Jonathan Leslie

PhD candidate at School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) in London.

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