The government has been trying to free 48 Iranian pilgrims kidnapped in Syria by rebels five months ago. At first the rebels tried to get jailed rebels freed in return for the Iranians but the Syrian government refused to cooperate. However, Iranian diplomats managed to halt the threatened killing of some of the hostages if rebel prisoners were not released in October. Since then secret negotiations have continued via tribal and religious leaders in Syria.
Iran has told the ruling Assad family of Syria that the rebels will probably win and that it would be best to try and make some kind of deal and get out of the country. Iran has been a patron of the Assads since the 1980s, and Syria has in turn been a useful ally. But two years of unrest and rebellion against the Assads has proved to be more than even the Iranians could help with. There are hundreds (or more) Iranian intelligence, police counter-terror, and security advisers in Syria trying to help out. Some of these Iranians have been captured or killed. These Iranians also report regularly back to their bosses in Iran and in the last month the news has been very bad for the Assads. Despite the Iranian advice, the Assads insist they will go down fighting. Iran appears to be withdrawing some of its people as a result of that intransigence.
Partly as a result of this Iranian aid to the Assads, more and more countries are declaring Iranian security agencies (especially the Quds Force) as international terrorists. This makes it more difficult for Iranian agents to travel and operate internationally. Meanwhile, more hackers in the West and Israel are waging a private Internet based war against Iran. In the last few months there have been several hacker attacks against various government and military agencies within Iran. These attacks are not the high-grade government funded stuff like Stuxnet but the garden variety weapons available to most hackers. Iran says it is defeating these attacks, but chatter from the Iranian Internet says differently. Israel is usually blamed, and in many cases it has apparently been Israeli hackers doing some of the damage.
The navy finished a week of naval exercises off the Straits of Hormuz, the Indian Ocean, and Persian Gulf coasts. This was done mainly to build morale inside Iran. There were lots of press releases and photos of missiles being fired. Foreign “spy planes” were warned to keep their distance but they did not (and Iran didn’t report that). There were also land operations by commandos and divers showing how they would fight to protect ports from invasion. The videos and pictures were, to the trained Hollywood eye, staged to maximum impact, not accuracy.
December 29, 2012: U.S. intelligence detected that some of the SCUD missiles fired in Syria recently were Iranian versions. This is the Fateh A-110, which has a shorter range (200 kilometers compared to 300) than the standard SCUD and is much more accurate (will land within a 100 meter/330 foot circle, versus 500 meters or more). Iran has long been supplying longer range rockets and ballistic missiles to Syria and the Hezbollah militia that controls southern Lebanon.
December 26, 2012: The government ordered airports to delay takeoffs, in order to avoid conflict with any of the five mandatory (to Islamic conservatives) prayer periods each day. Actually, the decree prohibited aircraft from being in the air during the 10-30 minute prayer periods, and aviation officials are seeking to convince the clerics that this was impractical.
December 25, 2012: The government has demanded that Russia discipline female Russian technicians working at the first (Russian built) Iranian nuclear power plant. The female technical personnel were paid a bonus to dress in the approved Iranian Islamic style (hair and body figure covered at all times). But the women often just dress as they would back in Russia. The women complain that the restrictive clothing interferes with their ability to get their job done. The Iranian clerics in charge of the Basher power plant refuse to accept this and would prefer that there were no women working inside the plant. The Russians insisted, saying the male and female techs were the best they could get who were willing to work in Iran. In the past Iran has threatened to arrest and hold hostage Russian workers in order to pressure the Russian government to do something.
The Persian Gulf oil states, via the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), have again openly accused Iran of interfering in Arab countries, usually by encouraging the Shia Arabs there to rebel. The Iranians have noted that most of the oil and gas in the region (which has long been over 60 percent of world reserves) is in areas where Shia Arabs or Iranians live. This fact makes the Arabs nervous and encourages the Iranians to demand that Shia Moslems (of whom Iranians are the most active and well-armed) should lead the Moslem world. But Shia are only 10 ten percent of Moslems, while most Gulf Arabs are Sunni (who are over 80 percent of Moslems).
December 22, 2012: Prominent Sunni clerics in Sudan are demanding that Iran halt its attempts to convert Sunni Sudanese to the Shia form of Islam. Most Sudanese are Sunni and Islamic conservative Sunnis consider Shia to be heretics and subject to execution for their blasphemy. Sudan and Iran have long been allies, with Iran supplying Sudan with weapons and Sudan allowing Iran to ship in weapons to be smuggled via trucks, bribes, and tunnels into Gaza. Sudan is under weapons import sanctions and the Sudanese president has been indicted for war crimes.
Border police captured several men trying to smuggle 20 bombs and bomb making materials into Iran from Pakistan. The Sunni Baluchi tribesmen of southeast Iran have been in rebellion (against persecution by Shia) for years. Iran complained to largely Sunni Pakistan about not going after Iranian rebels operating inside Pakistan. For many decades Pakistani Sunni radicals have been killing and harassing Pakistani Shia (who are about ten percent of the Pakistani population).
December 20, 2012: The North Korean success at launching a space satellite on December 12th, using a rocket designed to be an ICBM, indicated that a September technology sharing agreement signed with Iran was indeed about exchanging missile and nuclear weapons technology. Iranians have been seem more often in North Korea and North Koreans in Iran since September, which sparked rumors that the two countries were sharing more of something, as few people go to North Korea as tourists and few North Koreans (who appear to be technical people, not members of the ruling families) take pleasure trips to Iran.