July 27, 2011: A major reason for international hostility to Iran is widespread Iranian efforts to encourage and support violence in so many countries. Although Iran admits that it has the Quds Force (a terrorism support organization), it denies that members of this outfit are operating in so many nations (Gaza, Lebanon, Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, throughout the Persian Gulf Arab states, Venezuela, Europe, Africa and North America.) Quds is partly an intelligence organization, but mainly it is about fostering and supporting Islamic terrorism.
Quds has over 10,000 personnel, and the main qualification for new recruits is fanaticism. One of the best sources of recruits is the Basij. Since the late 1990s, the Basij (the reservist organization of the Revolutionary Guard, the separate armed forces of the clerics running the government) 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. Iran is 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.
Five months ago, the government admitted that it was unloading nuclear fuel from the recently completed Bushehr power plant. It was believed that the Stuxnet computer worm had done some damage at Bushehr, but the Iranians say the move was made for safety reasons, because of poor construction of the power plant. The Russian designed plant is still not operational, more than a year since it was supposed to be. The most current start date (June) has been moved to August, but the Russian technical advisors are saying that there may be more delays. Government officials keep complaining to the Russians, with no apparent effect.
The government has a potential catastrophe on its hands in Syria. There, the Shia minority government (the Basher clan) is under growing pressure from a widespread rebellion. The Assad's have operated a police state in Syria for over 30 years, and have been a client of Iran since the 1980s. Using Syria as a base, Iran helped form the Shia radical Hezbollah militia in Lebanon. If the Assads are overthrown, Hezbollah will be more difficult to supply. Moreover, Hezbollah is hated and feared by many Lebanese, and a weaker Hezbollah might be destroyed. So Iran continues to supply security experts, cash and other lethal assistance to the Assad government. This makes Iran more unpopular with most Syrians, but Iran has never been loved by the majority of Syrians (who are Sunni, a sect of Islam that often regards Shia as heretics).
A recent opinion poll in the Arab world showed that Iran has become a lot less popular with Arabs in general this year. The highest favorability rating is found in Lebanon (63 percent approval, largely because of massive cash aid over the years, and the feeling the Shia Iran will protect the Shia and Christian majority in Lebanon from Sunni Arab aggression). Iran is least popular in Saudi Arabia (six percent, largely because some Iranian leaders have openly advocated taking control of Saudi Arabia) and Morocco (14 percent). Iran does better in Egypt (37 percent), partly because the previous Egyptian dictatorship (deposed by a popular uprising in February) had long been feuding with Iran. In most other Arab states, only about a quarter of the population regards Iran favorably. As more and more of the Iranian terrorism support is revealed, Arabs come to believe Iran is after conquest, not liberation, of Arabs. That, plus the thousands of years that Iran has been feared, by Arabs, as a conquering empire. Now, Arabs, and Afghans, see Iran as seeking to conquer with subterfuge (with the Quds Force taking the lead). The popular uprising in Syria has exposed many aspects of Iranian support to keep an Arab dictatorship in power. In places like Iraq and Afghanistan, more Iranian weapons, and technical advisors, are showing up.
North Koreans are still being spotted around nuclear and missile facilities, lending credence that North Korea and Iran are collaborating on designing and building a ballistic missile warhead that can handle a nuclear weapon. This is actually the most difficult part of building a nuclear armed long-range ballistic missile.
The government is using the death penalty (by hanging) more liberally, with over 60 people being executed each month. While some are pro-reform activists, most are drug smugglers and dealers. The opium and heroin from Afghanistan is a growing problem. For the Islamic conservative dictatorship in Iran, the drugs are a bigger problem than the pro-reform (democracy) movement. While a few reformers come from the families of the ruling clerics, more drug addicts do. The reformers are on the defensive, the drug smugglers and dealers are not.
The sanctions against Iran become more of a problem month by month. More Iranian officials cannot legally travel to more Western nations, and more Western firms turn down business with Iran.
July 24, 2011: The Revolutionary Guard warned the state-controlled media to be more careful in reporting military affairs. This was in response to an incident last week, where the media picked up a report (from a member of parliament) that an American UAV had been shot down in central Iran. What actually happened was that people saw an anti-aircraft exercise, where large autocannon were fired at an aerial target. Some witnesses assumed that the target was an American UAV and the story spread. The media picked it up without checking with the military, or the Revolutionary Guard (a parallel military force that answers only to the religious leaders that hold the ultimate power in Iran.)
July 23, 2011: More Iranian troops enter northern Iraq. Iran has already claimed to have seized three villages that have been bases for several PJAK (the Iranian branch of Kurdish separatist organization PKK). Hundreds of villagers flee the fighting. For the last two years, more troops have been sent to the border with northern Iraq, and artillery has regularly been fired into Iraq, at buildings where PJAK gunmen are believed to be staying. This put PJAK on the defensive, and fear that Iranian pressure on Iraq might result in Turkish and Iraqi troops attacking as well. Now the Iranian troops are coming to seize the PJAK bases and, if possible, PJAK members as well. But most of the Kurdish separatists got away. The "bases" were buildings in three villages where, altogether, about a hundred PJAK members lived and stored equipment. Several days of fighting left 10-20 Iranians and Kurds dead, and many more wounded.
July 21, 2011: The Kurdish government in northern Iraq warned Iran not to cross the border in pursuit of PJAK Kurdish separatists. This announcement was mostly for show, as Iranian troops have crossed the border before. The Iranians don't stay long. The Iraqi government protests, and that's that until the next time (which is anytime now).
July 19, 2011: The government announced the installation of more efficient centrifuges, for producing nuclear fuel (or more highly enriched uranium for a nuclear bomb). The government also announced that it was moving its uranium enrichment operation to underground (and bomb-proof) facilities.
July 17, 2011: In northwest Iran, troops began raiding villages and other locations believed used by Kurdish separatists (PJAK.) Some Iranian troops are believed to have crossed into Iraq.
July 16, 2011: Some 5,000 troops (mostly Revolutionary Guard and Basij reservists) have assembled on the Iraq border, some 470 kilometers west of the capital. These troops are poised to cross into northern (Kurdish controlled) Iraq.
China and Iran signed development deals (involving mostly Chinese money, technology and management) worth $4 billion. Imports from and exports to China are currently running at the rate of $40 billion a year.
July 8, 2011: In the southeast, two Sunni Baluchi terrorists were killed during an ambush by security forces.