March 5, 2012:
It's hard times for most Iranians. The latest round of sanctions has caused many prices to go up by 20 percent in the last few months. For people who get consumer goods smuggled across the Gulf (a big business) it's much worse. Buying dollars with the Iranian currency has doubled in the last year. That means the cost of these imported goods has doubled. The only Iranians immune to all this inflation are the super-rich, which includes the corrupt clerics who rule Iran and whose policies have caused most of the inflation. This economic distress is expected to get worse before the end of the year as the harsher sanctions are implemented over the next few months.
The cause of all the sanctions, Iran's nuclear weapons program, continues to be an open secret inside Iran but consistently denied by Iran. The UN says it has proof that the program exists, but Iran insists this is all a plot to hurt Iran and refuses to negotiate dismantling a weapons program it denies exists. In the West the mass media keeps flogging the idea that Israel or America would bomb Iranian nuclear facilities. The Iranian clerical dictatorship would love this, as it would rally Iranian popular opinion behind the clerics and the Iranian nuclear program. The clerics need this kind of help because their traditional tools (terror, intimidation, and public execution) are not eliminating all the dissent. The number of public executions quadrupled last year, yet people continue to demand action against corrupt clerics and government mismanagement. This problem persists in large part because many of the millions of Iranian expatriates continue to support reformers inside Iran. The expats supply cash, moral support and most importantly, technology to get around the growing effort to monitor and censor the Internet inside Iran.
Many Western intelligence agencies openly assert that there is no hard proof of Iran trying to build nuclear weapons. This effort was believed halted in 2003, but the nuclear fuel work Iran has done since then is an essential precursor to building a bomb. It is believed that North Korea may have already provided workable plans for a bomb and that Iran has already obtained the key non-nuclear components (special metals and electronic devices) needed. A nuclear weapon is not particularly high-tech. The original design is over 60 years old. The key ingredient, then as now, is highly enriched nuclear fuel. The UN insists that Iran is enriching nuclear fuel to weapons grade levels. Much lower levels of enrichment are needed for power plant fuel.
Iran is playing down its aid to long-time ally Syria. But the Iranian assistance in monitoring the Internet and cell phones in Syria has become a crucial weapon in tracking down and killing or arresting key resistance members. Iran has quietly increased its own monitoring abilities, partly with software smuggled in from the West, partly with assistance from China.
The pro-Iran Shia militia in Lebanon, Hezbollah has been subsidized by Iran for over two decades. That support has increased as Syria has come under more pressure from a popular uprising. Iran is also offering the government of Lebanon more aid, in return for more cooperation. The Lebanese government represents the non-Shia majority, which is trying to resist a takeover by Hezbollah. Iran is offering a less messy alternative. It's a classic "gold or lead" gambit. The non-Shia majority in Lebanon can either accept Iran's cash or Hezbollah's bullets (bought and paid for by Iran).
The UN ordered Iran, and several other nations, to cease jamming communications satellite signals. Some nations do this in order to control media within their borders but the jamming sometimes interferes with reception in neighboring countries. In general, such jamming is considered illegal but no one has ever gone to war over it.
March 2, 2012: National elections were held for parliament. Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who controls who can run, saw to it that only candidates apparently loyal to him were allowed to participate. As a result, Khamenei loyalists won over 75 percent of seats. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, while not very popular outside of Iran, is a hero to many Iranians because of his efforts to curb corruption and the unfettered power of the unelected clerics who have, by law, veto power over everything the government does. Criticism from Ahmadinejad finally got to the clerics and these latest election results are another effort to shut Ahmadinejad up. Khamenei has to be careful in how he handles Ahmadinejad and other prominent critics because there is a growing popular resistance to the religious dictatorship and its poor management of the economy.
February 23, 2012: Hackers calling themselves the Iranian Cyber Army, and similar names, defaced media web sites in neighboring Azerbaijan. Iran is angry with Azerbaijan for arresting locals and Iranians for trying to organize terror attacks on Israeli targets. Iran is also unhappy with the growing diplomatic and economic ties Azerbaijan has with Israel. Azerbaijan has bought over a billion dollars of Israeli weapons and military equipment.
February 22, 2012: The government announced the imminent appearance of the Halal ("clean" in Islamic terms) Internet. HalalNet will go live in May. Maybe. It was supposed to be ready by last month but there have been technical problems. HalalNet would only contain religiously correct material and would, in effect, be an Iranian branch of the Internet essentially cut off from the rest of the Internet. Access to the world Internet would be restricted. Most Iranians would only have access to HalalNet. It will be interesting to see if HalalNet works at all and, if it does, whether it causes a revolution.
February 21, 2012: An Iranian destroyer and a supply ship left the Syrian port of Tartus after a brief visit. The supply ship is believed to have delivered cargo to the Syrian government. Turkey is making it difficult to send stuff to Syria via Turkish roads or airspace.
February 16, 2012: The U.S. has imposed sanctions on the Iranian Ministry of Intelligence and Security. This will make it more difficult for Iranian spies and intelligence specialists to operate openly in the West.