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In Iran, Isfahanis shrug off risk of attack

By Najmeh Bozorgmehr,

ISFAHAN, Iran — Isfahan is home to several thousand historic monuments, many of which UNESCO recognizes as world heritage sites. The central Iranian city is also the site of one of the country’s nuclear installations.

As speculation grows over whether Israel will attack sites such as the Isfahan Uranium Conversion Facility, on the city’s outskirts, or Iran’s main uranium enrichment plant at Natanz, 87 miles to the northeast, Isfahanis themselves shrug off the danger.

“I am struggling with so many miseries every day, like the increasing rent of my shop and my house, that I do not have time to think about an Israeli attack, let alone be prepared for it,” said Saeed, the owner of a grocery store.

Near the historic Naqshe Jahan Square, which is surrounded by magnificent mosques and a palace, Rozhin, a 30-year-old homemaker, says she lives “very near” to the Isfahan nuclear site. But she voices no concern about the danger of a possible attack.

“Food has become like gold,” she said. “Now I can afford to buy meat only for my daughter. That is what I am worried about, not a strike.”

Inflation and unemployment is perceived by Isfahanis to be far higher than is suggested by official figures, which put inflation at 23.5 percent and youth unemployment at 28.6 percent.

“Inflation is 100 percent, or maybe 200 percent,” said Razieh, a 27-year-old homemaker, as she walked through the 17th century Si-o-se Pol, one of the city’s most beautiful bridges.

State-run “television says prices of meat have come down. I suppose we should go and buy meat from the television,” she added.

Razieh and other residents of the city blame their economic problems on both the populist policies of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the international sanctions over the country’s nuclear program.

The value of the Iranian rial has fallen by more than 50 percent this year because of the tightening of U.S. banking sanctions and the European Union’s ban on Iranian oil imports. That has dramatically increased the price of imported products and raw materials for local industries.

Sahar, a 22-year-old student of psychology with a part-time job at an upmarket toy shop, said that Thursdays, the first day of the Iranian weekend, used to be very busy but that now “you hardly see anyone walking into this shop on a Thursday.”

“Only those families who are well-off now buy imported toys for their kids,” she said.

Pessimism over the economy has been exacerbated by the drying of the city’s Zayandeh River, blamed on a combination of drought and a decision in Tehran to divert its waters to farms and factories.

The once-picturesque waterway is now a dismal stretch of scrub that cuts through the city. According to Mayor Morteza Saghaeian-Nejad, the sight has demoralized residents and could partly explain their angry comments on the economic situation.

Saghaeian-Nejad said he is not worried about a possible Israeli strike on Isfahan’s nuclear facilities, although he noted that it is the responsibility of UNESCO to protect a city with 4,000 historical sites.

The lack of anxiety over an Israeli attack may be due as much to the government’s well-publicized rhetoric that the Jewish state would not dare launch an attack on the Islamic republic as to a preoccupation with economic concerns.

But for Nader, a 55-year-old retired teacher, his beloved city appears threatened on all sides.

“I do not pass by the Zayandeh River anymore and would rather forget about it,” he said. “If the situation continues like this . . . people will eat each other up without any need for Israel to destroy this city and this country.”

— Financial Times

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