After three decades, the revolution is returning. Back the government of the Shah was corrupt and unpopular, and the small businessmen and clerics supported widespread discontent, which evolved into massive demonstrations that the security forces were not willing to put down with force. It's different this time, in that hundreds of thousands of hard core government supporters are in the Revolutionary Guard. Unlike the shah's forces, the Revolutionary Guard contains a lot of Islamic true believers, who will shoot to kill. They have already done this. Will they do it on a large enough scale to intimidate most Iranians? The government, a religious dictatorship, is betting on that. Meanwhile, the Revolutionary Guard has become a stronger, and more independent, force in Iran over the last few years. That's largely because the leaders of the Revolutionary Guard have successfully defied orders from the religious leadership, to sell off their growing commercial empire. It's control of most of the nations major companies, that provides the financial incentives for religious leaders to stay in control of the country. But the Revolutionary Guard has a lot of non-clerics in charge. But these Revolutionary Guard leaders are still Islamic radicals, ready to kill for the cause. The most numerous killers, that the Iranian clerics can depend on, belong to the Revolutionary Guard. The government has recently warned opponents in the government, including many senior clerics and officials, that they would be held responsible, and punished, if the opposition demonstrations continued, and became more aggressive and violent.
The government is also using its agents to threaten Iranian exiles who express anti-government sentiments. These attacks are usually carried out so they look like crimes, but some are more explicit, especially when the exiled Iranian is not getting the message. There have been some murders as well, but these are avoided, because they bring more attention from local police.
The government continues to ignore, or reject, international pressure to halt its missile and nuclear weapons programs. In response, the U.S. is urging the use of the kind of financial sanctions (restricting access to the international banking system) that got North Korea's attention. Unlike North Korea, which is broke, Iran has all that oil money to play with. But even threadbare North Korea made a big fuss when their banking system access was messed with. In the past few years, the U.S. has used its power over the major world banks to crack down on those who have, in the past, helped Iran bypass banking sanctions. These banks have been fined (in one recent case, over half a billion dollars) and warned of harsher punishments if they assist sanctioned nations in the future. While Iran could still find ways to move some of its money in the face of tighter banking sessions, they would have big problems using a lot of their oil wealth for illegal activities.
The U.S. has backed Iranian claims of innocence when it comes to supporting Shia tribal rebels in northern Yemen. This means that the U.S. is telling Yemen and Saudi Arabia that their evidence of such meddling is either misinformed, or a lie. Yemen and Saudi Arabia are not amused, Iran is bemused. The U.S. is more willing to believe that Iran is aiding Palestinian terror group Hamas, which currently uses the hundreds of millions of dollars of Iranian cash to maintain control over Gaza, and 40 percent of the Palestinian population.
The Iraqi government is still trying to figure out what Iran was trying to accomplish by recently moving a few troops into a tiny piece of Iraqi territory in the south. Iran believes the current border should be farther west, and Iraq was told that there were no Iranian troops in Iraq. The Iraqi government eventually sent the army and police to ask the Iranian troops to withdraw. Meanwhile, the incident they caused widespread anti-Iranian demonstrations in Iraq.
The anti-government demonstrations, triggered by the recent death of pro-reform Ayatollah Montazeri have spread from Qom, where Montazeri's funeral was recently held. The growing number of demonstrations, and their increasing size, is forcing the government to either get more violent, or back down. If more violence is used, demonstrators will get killed, providing martyrs for the opposition and feeding a spiral of growing violence.
It recently became widely known that the U.S. Army discovered, last year, that Iranian supported Iraqi militias were using a $26 satellite signal eavesdropping program to tap into unencrypted video from U.S. UAVs. There is not yet any evidence that the terrorists in Iraq or Afghanistan have done anything with this capability, but it was embarrassing to the U.S. military. Encryption is to be added quickly. Iranian hackers are believed to have discovered the vulnerability, and how to exploit it.
December 23, 2009: Saudi Arabian media revealed that, a month ago, one of the daughters of Osama bin Laden (17 year old Iman), escaped from her guards in Iran, and sought sanctuary in the Saudi embassy there. Saudi Arabia is negotiating with Iran to get Iman out of the country, and back to Saudi Arabia. Bin Laden has several wives, and 19 children. Apparently, one of those wives, and her five children (Eman and five older brothers) have been held, under house arrest, in Iran for the last eight years. Her father lost his Saudi citizenship 1994, shortly after she was born. Osama bin Laden fled to Afghanistan in 1996, and has been there, or in Pakistan, ever since. Bin Ladens father is from Yemen, but moved to Saudi Arabia in the 1930s, and made a huge fortune in construction. Osama is one of about fifty brothers and sisters, most of whom have disowned him for his terrorist activities. Most of these children have distanced themselves from their father, and have never been involved with terrorism. At least one of Osama's sons, Saad, was believed to have been killed recently by a U.S. Hellfire missile in Pakistan.
Iran successfully test fired another of their new, solid fuel, Sejil 2 ballistic missiles. This one has a range of 2,000 kilometers, and can reach Israel.
December 22, 2009: Opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi has been fired form his last remaining government job (as president of the Academy of Art). Mousavi ran for president last June, and lost, in a disputed election, to incumbent Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The government has also been sending its Revolutionary Guards (in uniform and civilian clothes) to harass or even beat up senior clergy or anyone else who is prominent and expresses anti-government sentiments. The government wants to prevent the rise of any widely known people to become leaders of the growing opposition. But an increasing number of government officials are, publicly or privately, expressing dissatisfaction with the clerical dictatorship that has run the government for nearly three decades.
December 21, 2009: The funeral for Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri in Qom, turned into a major anti-government demonstration. Cell phones and the internet were used to report this throughout the country, as the government controlled media ignored the violence.
Iranian troops left the disputed territory, just across the border in Iraq, that they had occupied for the last four days. Iraq moved troops to the site of the incursion, and this apparently made the Iranians believe it was time to leave. The two countries announced that they would hold talks to try and settle outstanding border disputes.
December 19, 2009: Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri died of old age, at 87, in the city of Qom (considered the capital of the religious establishment, because so many seminaries are located there.) Last July, Montazeri criticized the clerics running the country, the first time such a high ranking cleric had done so. Statements like this give reform minded clerics the opportunity to preach against the government. This is where the government is vulnerable. If the rebellion starts coming out of mosques, especially after Friday (the Moslem Sunday) services, the government is in trouble.
In the face of growing anger (at home and abroad) about arrested protestors dying in custody, the government admitted that three protestors, arrested during the mass demonstrations last June, were beaten to death in prison. Three prison officials are to be tried for the deaths. But no one expects any government officials to suffer, as that would be a big blow to morale in the security forces.
December 17, 2009: About a hundred Iranian troops, and two armored vehicles, crossed the Iraqi border in the south, and surrounded an inoperative oil well just on the other side. This portion of the border is disputed by both nations (mainly because there is still a lot of oil underground here).
December 16, 2009: The Gulf Arab states have agreed to form a military rapid reaction force, that could quickly confront any military mischief the Iranians might come up with. Case in point is the Iranian backed Shia rebellion in northern Yemen.
December 14, 2009: The government decided to put three American tourists, who wandered over the unmarked border in northern Iraq while hiking earlier this year, and were seized by nearby security forces, on trial for espionage. Apparently the government believes it can get some good propaganda out of the exercise (to distract Iranians from the growing anti-government violence), and then extract a concession from the U.S., for the freedom of the three, after the tourists are sentenced to long prison terms.
December 11, 2009: A Russian built, Il-76 air transport was seized in Thailand, after police found that the crew were carrying false documents, and that the cargo, from North Korea, was actually 35 tons of weapons, including components for a North Korean ballistic missile with a range of 6,000 kilometers. The cargo, or at least the missile components, were eventually found to be headed for Iran (which currently has ballistic missiles that can go no farther than 2,000 kilometers). Iran has been buying ballistic missiles, and related technology, from North Korea, for over two decades. North Korea is currently banned (by international sanctions) from exporting such technology, and Iran is banned from importing it.