January 15, 2013: The government boasts openly about how well its nuclear program (which Iran officially insists has nothing to do with nuclear weapons) is proceeding. Most Iranians (including many who oppose the current religious dictatorship) back the idea of Iran having nuclear weapons. Iranian media makes no secret of this.
While most Iranians back nukes, they are less enthusiastic about raising children. The religious leadership is alarmed at the falling birth rate and their inability to change it. Then again, the opinion surveys do show that young couples are unhappy with the current government (especially the corruption, lifestyle rules, and shaky economy).
The U.S. admits that Iran is responding to the financial sanctions by finding other ways to buy and sell internationally. These alternative methods are more expensive, so it costs Iran more to trade and does stop Iran from getting some items. The sanctions are hurting but they are not forcing Iran to make concessions on its nuclear weapons program, not yet. Iran admits that its oil sales are down by nearly half and the government has less cash to work with. This is compounded by the endemic corruption and how that makes families connected to the ruling clergy richer while causing real economic pain for most Iranians. The rising costs of imports (because you need more Iranian rials to buy dollars) means a lot of poor families cannot afford medicines. Even the hospitals are often short and the black market for medicines is back and booming.
Another morale problem has to do with the drug addiction that continues to grow among the young. The government says it finds and seizes about 20 percent (over a ton a day) of the drugs entering the country from Afghanistan. As impressive as that effort is, it’s not enough and there are still several million addicts in Iran, even though most of the Afghanistan opiates (opium, morphine, heroin) are just passing through to more lucrative markets in the Middle East and Europe.
The U.S. revealed that Iran stands to lose several valuable electronic monitoring facilities when the Syrian rebels oust the pro-Iran Assad dictatorship. Iran currently has several electronic monitoring facilities in Syria, including on the Israeli border, the Mediterranean coast, and along the Turkish border. Iran quite possibly shares (or sells) what it collects to allies like Russia or China.
Amidst all the tumult over Iranian nukes and support of terrorism, there is still the growing conflict between Shia Iran and the Sunni Arab countries. This is very visible in the local media (and not so much in the English sections of their web sites). The Syrian rebellion and continuing Sunni Arab terrorism in Iraq are seen as battlefields in this war, as are any areas where Islamic terrorists (who are usually Sunni fanatics) are in action. Iran continues to have no problem supporting Sunni Islamic terrorists (who consider all Shia heretics) as long as these terrorists will attack Sunni Arab governments. Iran’s religious leaders insist that Shia clerics should control the most holy Islamic shrines in Saudi Arabia and that Sunni Moslems really ought to convert to the Shia way of Islam. Meanwhile the Iranians are making more efforts to develop better diplomatic and trading relationships with neighboring states like Turkey, Pakistan, Afghanistan, India and Iraq.
Western security experts are unsure if Iran is behind the year-long Internet based attacks on Western banks. It was originally believed that Iran, angered at the growing number of (often very effective) Cyber War weapons unleashed against it, struck back with attacks on the web sites of Western corporations and banks. This was often primitive stuff and was believed to be all Iran could muster. There are some Cyber War mercenaries available, and Iran was thought to be hiring some for these attacks. But now the thinking is shifting towards pro-Iran freelancers and criminal gangs just doing what they always do.
January 13, 2013: The Iranian Navy completed several days of defense exercises off the port of Bandar Abbas. This sort of thing does have some training effect but it’s mostly to reassure Iranians that the government can do something against a Western attack. Many Iranians are not so sure.
January 12, 2013: The U.S. accused Iran of providing cash and other support to Sunni tribes in south Yemen who seek to divide the country. Iran has been caught several times supporting northern Shia tribes but those tribes have calmed down in the last few years.
Two major airlines (Air France-KLM and Austrian Airlines) have suspended most of their service to Iran because of the sanctions.
January 11, 2013: Spain detected, halted, and seized a shipment of special metals (for nuclear facilities) headed for Iran.
January 10, 2013: Islamic terrorists working with the Syrian rebels claim to have attacked a convoy of Iranian, Russian, and Hezbollah diplomats and military advisors travelling to a meeting with senior Syrian officials. Russia and Iran have been trying to persuade the Syrian government to make whatever deal they can to halt the violence that is tearing Syria apart. Iran and Russia no longer believe the Syrian government has any chance of winning.
January 9, 2013: Syrian rebels released 48 Iranians they captured last August, in return for the Syrian government releasing 2,130 Syrians (mostly innocent civilians, some of them Turks and other foreigners) held in jails. The captive Iranians were travelling by bus in Damascus when taken. The rebels accused the Iranians of being military personnel in civilian clothes on a reconnaissance mission and demanded that the government stop its attacks in Damascus if they wanted the Iranians released. Iran said the 48 were pilgrims on their way to the airport and a flight home. Three of the pilgrims were killed a few days later when a Syrian air strike destroyed the house they were held in. Since then the rebels, the Syrian government, and Iran have haggled over what it would take to get the Iranians released. Ultimately Iran used what little clout it had left in Syria to force the government there to make a deal acceptable to the rebels.