December 21, 2011:
Iran is turning into more of a military than a religious dictatorship. That was made clear when a government official revealed that half of government employees now belong to the Basij
(the reservist organization of the Revolutionary Guard, the separate armed forces of the clerics running the government)
. This was deliberate.
Since the late 1990s the Basij has been establishing units in schools for children of all ages. Using games, toys, and popular children's activities the kids are indoctrinated into Basij ideology (radical Islam, including the joys of being a suicide bomber). The Basij recruiters have found that their best prospects are from poor or broken families (including orphans). This was the Nazi and Soviet experience. The Romanian communist government did best at this with their secret police (the Securitati) forming much feared units of these orphans. Recruits were selected young and raised to be remorseless and savage operatives. Called "young wolves", these operatives could be depended on to do anything for the cause. Iran is always looking for plain clothes agents who can terrorize reform minded students and civilians in general. In the last few years, more and more of these Basij operatives, now adults, have been leading the fight against reform minded Iranians, or overseas as agents of Quds. Since Basij is largely a part-time operation many members have a full time government job.
The growing list of sanctions against Iran is being felt by the population at large. This is mainly in the form of inflation which has more than doubled, to 20 percent, in the last year. Corruption and mismanagement within Iran also contribute but the biggest cause is the difficulty, because of the sanctions, of obtaining a growing list of items. Oil sales have not been able to provide enough jobs for the growing population and the unemployed, and those fearful of that fate, are angry at the government. There is more open anger at senior government officials, especially those who are not clergy (attacking clergy can be declared an attack on Islam and lead to dire consequences.)
The government is trying to create more anti-American frenzy by arresting more people and accusing them of being CIA spies. Many of these spies are later quietly released, especially those who are citizens of other nations in the region (which make a big stink about these seemingly arbitrary arrests and threaten retaliation on Iranians abroad). Others, who are actually guilty of non-espionage offenses, are sent to prison as "spies." All this has less and less impact as domestic propaganda, but it still impresses some foreigners.
Iran continues to claim it brought down an American RQ-170 UAV in Iranian territory. But American experts believe video of the "captured" drone make it clear that the UAV crashed, broke up into several pieces, and was reassembled by Iran. The most visible evidence of this is the new paint job, in a color not used by the United States military. This would explain why Iran waited two weeks before exhibiting its prize catch.
To improve the security of its government websites they are being moved from foreign hosting services to new ones established in Iran. The government is increasingly paranoid about attacks via the Internet.
December 20, 2011: The U.S. has sanctioned the operations of ten Iranian owned or operated shipping companies, because their ships have been used to move contraband cargo for Iranian nuclear weapons and missile programs. This slows down Iranian progress for these programs and costs Iran more money to set up new shipping operations. The problem here is that the West, especially the U.S., has become much more aggressive in enforcing sanctions. This includes a major intelligence effort to find out which firms, including many multinationals that have been consciously, or unwittingly, breaking sanction rules. This approach does not result in spectacular victories but has increased the pressure on the Iranians. What annoys the Iranians the most is the Western intelligence effort is no longer just the use of CIA, MI6, or Mossad spies inside Iran, but private investigators crawling through the records and operations of the foreign companies Iran needs to break sanctions.
December 19, 2011: The government ordered trade sanctions with the UAE (United Arab Emirates) as part of an escalation of disputes between the two countries. Last year it was the UAE that escalated the dispute. The main issue is possession of three islands (Greater Tunb, Lesser Tunb, and Abu Musa) in the Persian Gulf. Iran seized them from the UAE in 1971 and refuses to give them back. Despite this dispute one of the Emirates, Dubai, has no oil and has long depended on trade with Iran for much of its income. As sanctions against Iran piled up more and more of this trade was illegal. But officials in Dubai tended to look the other way. No more, and that's partly because, five years ago, the U.S. State Department established a "listening
station" in Dubai. Iranian (Farsi) speaking American officials established relationships with the many Iranian businessmen who worked out of Dubai or visited frequently. This sort of intelligence gathering operation is common when you have a country that does not allow your officials to move freely about (or, in the case of Iran, even enter). In Iran, the secret police keep close watch on foreigners and any Iranians they talk to. But in Dubai the Iranian secret police are much less effective (but they are there, discretely) and it's easier for foreigners to mix with the Iranian business community. The CIA has had similar Iranian listening post operations operating for years, but those operations were more clandestine. Armed with better knowledge of how the Iran trade works the U.S. has convinced the UAE to help persuade Dubai to crack down on trade that aids Iranian military or secret police forces. This is not a critical blow to Iranian smuggling efforts but it does make it more difficult, costly, and time consuming to get some military supplies.
December 16, 2011: : In Moscow, radiation detectors went off at the main airport and a search of passenger luggage found a bag with eighteen small metal items contaminated with radioactive isotope Sodium-22. This stuff had to come from a nuclear reactor. The owner of the bag was on his way to Iran but is now being held and questioned. Iran denied any connection with the man or his radioactive baggage.
December 13, 2011: There was an explosion in a steel plant that produced special alloys for ballistic missiles. As many as twenty people were killed. The explosion could just be an industrial accident, but given the numerous recent explosions at missile and nuclear weapons facilities one might also see the recent catastrophe as part of a pattern of attacks.