In a rare victory of Arabs over Iranians, the half century effort to rename the Persian Gulf as the Arab Gulf made significant progress recently when the U.S. Navy officially backed the switch. From now on, all U.S. Navy communications will refer to the waters between Iran and Arabia as the Arab Gulf. Iran is infuriated. For thousands of years, these waters were known as the Persian Gulf (or similar names). The Turks tried to change the name to Gulf of Basra, for the tiny bit of shoreline they controlled when they ran what is now Iraq from the 16th to early 20th centuries. The Turks still call it the Gulf of Basra, but no one else does. But with many Arabs, and now the U.S. Navy, calling it the Arab Gulf, Iranians are enraged. Web pages are being defaced, press conferences held and tears shed over this great tragedy. For most Iranians, this atrocity reminds everyone what America is truly the "Great Satan."
Wikileaks revelations have brought into the open Iranian support for terrorist activity against the Afghan government and NATO troops. The Iranians are not so much supporting the Taliban (who believe Shia Moslems, which most Iranians, and many Afghans, are, are heretics and must be killed), as they are simply arming and training Afghan men (usually guys in their teens and 20s) who are willing to fight against the foreign (NATO) troops. The Iranians don't want to make the Afghan drug gangs stronger either, but training gunmen for them (the drug gangs pay well) does just that. In fact, there is a disagreement in the Iranian leadership about how to deal with this problem, and the solution seems to be let everyone do what they feel is best. So while Iranian border guards will shoot on sight if they see Taliban or drug smugglers, Iran also hosts training camps for Afghan tribesmen, and smuggles weapons into Afghanistan to arm these young fellows once their training is complete.
Western nations (especially the U.S. and Europeans) want more sanctions against Iran, to halt the continuing weapons smuggling. In the last three months, the Iranians were caught moving 13 cargo containers of weapons through Nigeria, and over seven tons of explosives through Italy. Iran doesn't mind supplying terrorists, which is why the military grade RDX explosives seized in Italy three months ago were such a shock. While the RDX was on its way to Syria, it's no secret that Syria is an Iranian pawn, and notorious supporter of Islamic terror groups.
The government continues its crackdown on opposition media. Publications, websites, bloggers and foreigners are all being attacked or arrested. News Corporation's satellite channel, Farsi1, had its offices in Tehran raided and five Iranian employees arrested. Farsi1 began broadcasting 16 months ago and is enormously popular. It's programming consists of dubbed (into Farsi, the language of Iran) soap operas from around the world, and U.S. shows like Dharma & Greg, Malcolm in the Middle, Prison Break and 24. Women love the soaps and men love the action shows. The government condemns both genres for being un-Islamic. Farsi1 continues to bring Jack Bauer to his eager Iranian fans.
For the third month in a row, inflation has increased, to nearly ten percent. Not as bad as it was two years ago (30 percent), and the trend is largely the result of large subsidies being gradually removed from fuel and food. These subsidies cost the government over $100 billion a year. That's about 12 percent of GDP, which means the average Iranian is facing a sharp jump in the cost of living. Riot police are standing by.
The recent Wikileaks revelations about how nervous Arab states are with Iranian nuclear weapons development and objectives in the region, resulted in an interesting Iranian reaction. The Iranians denied everything, and sent their diplomats forth to sell the idea that Iran simply wanted the entire region to prosper together, and that Iranian military power (without mentioning nuclear weapons) were for regional, not just Iranian, defense. Iranian diplomats ignored recent threats from Iranian politicians and senior clerics (who control the government) that anyone who opposes Iran will be crushed and that Shia Iran would make a better guardian of Islamic holy places in Mecca and Medina that the Sunni Saud family. It is said that a diplomat is someone who lies for his country.
The Wikileaks messages forced Iran to confront the fact that its Arab neighbors hated them, and considered Iran a dangerous bully. In fact, Iran has been such an effective bully that the Arab states, at least the ones close to Iran, refused to openly criticize Iran. But more distant Arab states, especially Egypt, have been more public in their criticism. While the Gulf Arab states can be invaded by Iran, Egypt is protected by Israel.
December 8, 2010: An Iranian diplomat, who defected (while stationed in Norway) earlier this year, described how, when (2002-7) he was in charge of Foreign Ministry operations at airports, he witnessed frequent visits by North Korean technical experts, on both nuclear and ballistic missile matters. American intelligence officials believe that Iran has received sufficient technical assistance from North Korea (who obtained lots of useful material from China and Russia) to build ballistic missiles that could reach Eastern Europe.
December 7, 2010: The UAE foreign minister asked Iran to cooperate with UN nuclear inspectors, and for the UN to life many of the economic sanctions against Iran. The UAE is a major supplier of goods to Iran (both legal and smuggled). The sanctions have hurt UAE export firms. So while the UAE has territorial disputes with Iran, and Iranian agents seek to stir up unrest among Shia Arabs in the UAE, business is business. Thus many American and European goods can be found sold in Iran, at much higher prices. Smuggling is expensive. The UAE is the largest exporter to Iran (over $8 billion a year, nearly 16 percent of all Iranian imports) and the largest foreign investor in the Iranian economy.
The stronger economic sanctions imposed several months ago, are having an increasingly destructive impact on the Iranian economy. The new sanctions make it much more difficult, or sometimes impossible, for Iran to use the international banking system. This is particularly troublesome when Iran is trying to pay for major infrastructure projects, like building refineries or upgrading oil facilities.
December 5, 2010: Iran announced that it had found significant deposits of uranium and was now mining enough of it to become self-sufficient in nuclear fuel. Foreign intelligence agencies were not surprised, but believe the amount of uranium being extracted is not sufficient for that Iran wants to do in the nuclear area.
November 29, 2010: Two nuclear scientists were attacked, in Tehran, with cleverly placed bombs. One scientist was killed. The two scientists had a government security detail, but the assassins got past them. Within a week, the government announced it had arrested suspects (who, of course, were trained in a foreign country), but gave no other details. It was also announced that security for key nuclear scientists would be increased. Iran blamed Israel and the United States for the attacks, but offered no proof. There have been an increasing number of similar attacks on Iranian nuclear scientists over the last few years.
The government admitted that that the Stuxnet computer worm was the cause of recent shutdowns in uranium enrichment operations. This came less than a week after Iran denied Stuxnet was a problem, but shortly after announcements from computer security experts in the West, who have been dissecting Stuxnet, that the code appears to be directed at the kind of software and hardware Iran is using to control its enrichment equipment. The elaborate and well crafted Stuxnet Cyber War weapon is being blamed on Israel or the United States, and was only discovered four months ago. It was believed to have been released in late 2009, and millions of computers have been infected as the worm sought out specific targets. Stuxnet was designed to interrupt the operation of the control software used for industrial equipment, but it was unclear initially exactly what specific industrial gear. This is the scariest aspect of Stuxnet, and is making Iranian officials nervous about other Stuxnet-type attacks having been made on Iran. The U.S. and Israel have been successful with "software attacks" in the past. This stuff doesn't get reported much in the general media, partly because it's so geeky, and because there are no visuals. It's computer code and arcane geekery that gets it to its target. But the stuff is real, and the pros are impressed by Stuxnet, even if the rest of us have not got much of a clue.
November 25, 2010: Senior clerics pardoned 19 reformers on the occasion of a religious holiday. The government regularly pardons, or just releases, some of the opposition activists it increasingly arrests. Some of those let go are believed to have provided useful information.