June 19, 2018:
Most Iranians, especially those involved with importing manufactured goods, understand that the United States withdrawing from the 2015 treaty means that deal is dead, even if the other nations (Germany, Britain, France, Russia, and China) who signed the deal keep Iran supplied with imported goods.
As it is, Iran's government is threatening to revive the nuclear weapons program it insisted no longer exist (though most Iranians thought otherwise). While most Iranians back the idea of Iran having nukes (because Iran has been the regional superpower for thousands of years) the popular mood has changed a lot since 2015. Iranians are no longer praising their government (an increasingly unpopular religious dictatorship) for the 2015 deal because there was no economic benefit (as the government promised) for most Iranians. Turned out that it wasn’t the sanctions that were impoverishing most Iranians but the corruption and mismanagement of their government. Iranians are not only hostile to the revival of an expensive nuclear weapons program, they also want Iran out of Syria, Lebanon, Yemen and Gaza. Since 2015 Iranians got to know what these foreign operations were costing and it was obvious that the billions spent on government efforts to destroy Israel could be better spent on improving the lives of Iranians.
The opinion polls, the massive nationwide protests and the police reports on Internet chatter all confirm that Iranians want a new government, preferably a non-religious and democratically selected one. After that Iranians want improved relations with the neighbors, particularly the Arabs and Israel (in others all the Semitic nations). All this is anathema to the Islamic clerics who have been running the country since the 1980s. Particularly disturbing has been demonstrators calling for an end of Islam in Iran and a return to older religions, like Zoroastrianism, the ancient Persian religion that Islam replaced violently and somewhat incompletely in the 7th and 8th century. After decades of mandatory rallies where you had to shout “Death to America” and “Death to Israel” these same young Iranians were now shouting about who they believe is really the enemy rather than who they were ordered to pretend was the enemy.
It’s been six weeks since the United States announced it was exercising its option under the 2015 nuclear agreement would reimpose economic sanctions on Iran. The other nations that signed the treaty say, for now, they will continue to support the treaty. This is important for Iran because it means they might still be able to sell their oil and import some industrial and consumer goods. Longer term the situation is not so good.
The Americans and Israelis are on a roll and intent on exposing much more Iranian bad behavior. In some cases, Iranians will be a source, but in all cases, Iranians will be consumers of such news and that weakens the control the Iranian clerics have over the Iranian government. President Rouhani has offered to continue the 2015 treaty with the other participants if those countries, especially the European ones, can ensure that Iran does not suffer from the American withdrawal. This puts the Europeans on the spot because they have to consider this proposal at the same time more and more evidence of Iranian bad behavior surfaces. This is largely because Israel is allowing the European nations to send their own intel and nuclear weapons experts to examine the huge trove of Iranian documents Israel got out of Iran earlier in 2018. So far these documents have been toxic for Iran and any Iranian claims to never having had a nuclear weapons program.
Iranians are being told by their government to restrict foreign travel (or find it restricted for them) and use of anything that uses a lot of foreign currency. The Iranian government expects the sanctions to return, despite pledges of help from Russia and China. The travel restriction threats are not really directed at trips to visit kin overseas or go on vacation, but the much more numerous (several million a year) trips to Iraq for religious reasons (most Shia shrines are in Iraq). The pilgrims don’t spend a lot of the sheer number of them makes it add up (to nearly a billion dollars a year).
On the plus side, the revived sanctions will make it (in theory) easier to crack down on the growing use of foreign Farsi language news media (radio, TV and Internet). The return of sanctions will make economic problems worse and the government plans to put all the blame on the United States and Israel. But that may not be possible anymore because so many Iranians use the foreign media (about 20 percent of the under 30 Iranians) and spread the word to those who do not. A growing number of Iranians see the Americans and Israelis as friends. Actually, this has long been the case with the Americans but now Israel is being included. Israelis and Iranians have a lot in common. Both oppose getting involved in the Syrian civil war.
Water for Peace
Another example of how foreign media is shaking things up was the recent appearance of a two-minute video by the Israeli leader in which he offered to share Israeli tech used to deal with water shortages (especially low use and recycling tech). This is a growing problem throughout Iran (and in neighbor countries like Iraq and Turkey) but Israel has been dealing with far worse situations for decades. Iranian leaders angrily refused the Israeli offer but the average Iranian, especially one personally suffering from the current water problems is willing to take help from whoever offers it. While the Iranian government angrily dismissed the Israeli offer hundreds of thousands of Iranians took to the Internet to back the offer. This has led to a new catchphrase in Iran; “We (Iranian government) offer them death, they (Israel) offer us life”. The Iranian government was further rattled by this response and insisted that Iran had all the technology it needed to deal with the growing water shortages. The average Iranian doesn’t see it that way.
The Syrian Quagmire
The alliance between Russia, Iran and Turkey is coming apart because all three nations have different goals even though the three have been cooperating with the Assad government since 2015 to end the civil war. But with the rebels no longer a major threat to the Assad government each of these three allies are more interested in their own objectives in Syria. For Russia, it is to maintain its two bases their and that is only possible if the Assad government (which granted the use of an airbase and port facilities) survives. Iran is in Syria to keep the Assads in power so Iran can mass forces there to attack and destroy Israel. Turkey is mainly there to destroy Turkish and Syrian Kurdish separatist groups, as well as any Islamic terrorists that are seen as a threat to Turkey. To accomplish this Turkey wants to clear all Kurdish separatists and from the Syrian side of the border and turn that “security zone” over to the FSA (a Syrian rebel group that not works for the Turks).
All three of these unlikely allies have run into different, although sometimes interrelated, problems with achieving their goals. The Russians want an end to the seven years of fighting and is now in conflict with Iranian plans to attack Israel. Russia and Israel have long been on good terms and the Russians want to keep it that way. Iran doesn’t really care much what the Turks do in the north and are more concerned with their growing (and so far failed) effort to do some damage to Israel. Russia is trying to convince Iran that the Israelis are really, really serious about getting Iranian forces out of Syria. Israel demands this. Turkey agrees with it and the Assads would prefer that.
It is generally accepted (and Syria even admits it) that Iran does have thousands of trainers, advisors, technicians and other support specialists in Syria to make the Syrian Army and their Iranian allies (mainly Shia mercenaries recruited by Iran and controlled by Iranian trainers and advisors) a formidable force. The chatter from Iran (Internet postings or street talk) confirms that and the number of these Iranians killed. Most of the dead belong to the Quds Force (similar to the U.S. Special Forces, but which specializes in supporting Islamic terrorists not fighting them). Over a hundred IRGC (Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps) officers have been killed in Syria and Iraq since 2012. But a growing number of non-Quds personnel are dying as Israel attacks Iranian bases in Syria. Quds supervised the creation of the huge (over 50,000) mercenary force in Syria. Quds recruits these foreign Shia (mainly Afghans and Lebanese), trains, arms, equips, supplies and pays them (including death benefits) and usually has Quds (or IRGC) officers leading the mercenary units. Iranian advisors are also embedded with most Syrian Army units. These Quds, IRGC and Iranian army personnel have rotated in and out of Syria since 2012 and when they get home they talk about their experiences and that (usually via friends or kin) gets posted on social media or emailed to friends and kin overseas (usually via encrypted apps like Telegram). All this is great for intel agencies and journalists with contacts in the overseas Iranian community and a knowledge of Farsi (the major Iranian language). As a result, we know that morale in the Syrian army is really bad because the troops are recruited from the minority (no more than 15 percent of the pre-war population) that supports Assad (usually because they are not Sunni Arabs, who comprised 75 percent of Syrians in 2012). These Syrians often go to great lengths to avoid getting conscripted and if they do end up in uniform few are eager to see combat. Thus the Iranian mercenaries are the key to whatever combat capabilities the Assad forces have. This is why the Assads also want Iran to withdraw its forces once all the rebel forces are destroyed, disarmed or otherwise neutralized. Otherwise, the Iranian led mercenaries will be the real power in Syria.
Iran insists it will not officially leave Syria until all the rebels have been defeated (preferably by killing them.) To achieve such a goal the remaining rebel groups have to be destroyed. Most of these holdouts are Sunni Islamic terrorist groups aligned with al Qaeda or ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant). The Kurds and Americans, with some help from Iraqi forces, are going after the remaining ISIL personnel in eastern and northeastern Syria. The Assads, with the help of Iranian mercenaries and Hezbollah, are clearing areas along the northern and southern borders of remaining rebels. These rebels are non-ISIL groups, many of them aligned with al Qaeda. Many, if not most of these groups have finally united in a new coalition called the NLF (National Liberation Front). This will make it more difficult for the Assads to eliminate the remaining rebels although, because the NLF also opposes Kurdish autonomy (which the Assads will tolerate) the Assads are not facing a very formidable opponent in the NLF. This coalition would have been decisive six years ago but now it is largely meaningless.
One thing most everyone can agree on, including most European and Middle Eastern nations, is that Iran should get out of Syria. Iran dominated (and created) Hezbollah in Lebanon has been around since the 1980s and provides a grim example of what happens when Iran is allowed to maintain a large armed presence in a country.
The Russian Resistance
Russia has made it clear that it sides with Israel when it comes to Syria and a long-term peace deal. Russia backed this up by openly accepting Israeli use of Jerusalem as their capital and moving functions normally held in Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. This angers many Moslems, and especially Iran. This support for Israel is one the few things the United States and Russia agree on these days. But the alliance with Russia is unwritten. Yet it is real as Israel has not attacked any Russian targets with its growing air offensive against Iranian forces. During May the Russian president met separately with the Israeli and Syrian leaders and apparently worked out terms of a peace deal that Israel and the Assads can live with. Turkey is willing to follow as long as Turkish border security measures (a security zone on the Syrian side of the border patrolled by Turk supported Syrian militias) are left alone. In the northeast, the Syrian Kurds could have their autonomy as long as they kept the peace. Basically, the Russian proposal is that “all foreign troops” leave Syria. That will include the Americans but not those that now have treaty rights (Russia has an airbase and part of a port). The Americans have no interest in a permanent presence they just want to deal with some Islamic terrorists and then leave. The U.S. may stay to protect its Syrian Kurd allies.
Israel insists that Iran have no treaty rights and get out completely, along with their local affiliate Hezbollah. Russia has specifically called on Iran get its foreign mercenaries (including Hezbollah) out of Daraa province, which borders Israel. The Russians did this by referring to all “foreign forces” in Daraa and those are all Iranian. Russia knows that Iran has already made a big deal about being near the border and attacking Israel. But so far attempts to attack have only resulted in heavier Iranian losses from Israeli air and missile attacks.
The Assad government denies there is any cooperation between Israel and Russia, despite the very visible signs. The Assads depend on both Iran and Russia for the unexpected comeback from certain defeat. Iran has been backing Assad since the 1980s while the Russians largely stopped supplying Assads with much material aid after the Soviet Union dissolved in 1991. The Russians returned in 2015 and the air and tech support put the Assads on the road to victory. But now Russia is siding with Israel on the issue of Iranian efforts to take control of Syria. The Russians have also acted against bad behavior by Assad forces. Russian military police assigned to supervise surrender agreements between rebels in Damascus suburbs have been seen (in late May) arresting pro-Assad militiamen caught looting homes in neighbors recently controlled by rebel forces. The surrender deals guaranteed residents would be left alone and the Russian troops were enforcing those terms. No one else was. Russia did not publicize these actions and the Assads made no public statements. But cell phone videos of the incidents got out and that was followed with Internet chatter confirming it.
The Assads would like the Iranian forces (most of them Iranian paid and led mercenaries) to leave but the Iranians refuse. Israel has told the Assads that if the stick with Iran they will be destroyed. The Assads realize that the Iranians are fanatics about destroying Israel and that the Israelis have demonstrated their ability to counter any move the Iranians make. Moreover, all the other Arab states consider the Assads traitors for aligning themselves with the Iranians, who are quite openly at war with Arab control of Arabia and much else. Worse, no one has much sympathy for the Assads, who have very few good qualities. Despite this, the Assads apparently side with Russia and Israel rather than Iran. What this comes down to is the fact that Iran is a foreign (Indo-European, not Arab) power that wants to increase its direct control over Syria. Russia and Israel do not.
Iranians are angry with their government over how foreign affairs have been mismanaged, especially in Syria. The major complaint is how much the government has been spending on the war in Syria since 2012. Long before Israeli agents made off with details of the Iranian nuclear program earlier in 2018 there were Iranians collecting data on what the Syria war was costing Iran. The government downplayed the cost and declared the Iranian presence in Syria as a religious duty and a crucial step in the effort to destroy Israel. But now most Iranians understand that Syria was costing Iran $10-20 billion a year, which is about twice what the government spends to help the poorest Iranians (which happens to include a majority of Iranians). Iran’s religious leaders know this is why the late 2017 nationwide demonstrations included many groups that had long supported the religious dictatorship but were not in opposition because their leaders were making it clear that the welfare of the Iranian people, including those who long supported the clerics, was less important than propping up a murderous dictator in Syria who happened to be Shia. Then there was the issue of blaming all misfortunes on Israel or the Americans. The United States has always been a popular place to most Iranians and many still would move to America if they could get out of Iran. The Internet makes it easy for the Iranian-Americans to let the folks back in the old country what the U.S. (the “Great Satan” according the Iranian clerics) is really like. There are still mandatory “death to America” demonstrations in Iran but all concerned have noted that most Iranians just go through the motions and would rather go to America than stand around shouting “Death to America.”
To compound the Syria problems the Iranian leaders are saying that the May 9th Iranian rocket attack on Israeli military targets in the Golan Heights was a great success. But it wasn’t. Of the 32 rockets, Iran claims to have fired the Israelis can only account for twenty of them and none of those hit anything of note. Some of the Iranian rockets, the ones Iron Dome deduced were headed for populated areas or military bases were shot down. There were no pictures of damage Iran claims their rocket attack caused. Yet ever since that attack, Israel has made a growing number of attacks against Iranian targets in Syria and there have been plenty of pictures of the damage. Plus there is the growing number of Iranian bodies shipped back to Iran for burial. In Syria Iranian ally Russia has refused to use its jet fighters or SAM (Surface to Air Missile) systems to defend Iranian bases from Israeli attack. Syria did try to use its SAMs (over a hundred of them) but to no effect. The Israeli attacks keep coming and the Iranian people are told Iran is winning.
June 18, 2018: The emir (ruler) of Qatar and the Iranian president spoke by phone and Qatar reaffirmed its support for Hamas in Gaza. For a year now Qatar has been sanctioned by its Arab neighbors for its pro-Iran policies. Qatar is oil-rich and with the support of Iran and Turkey has survived the Arab sanctions. Most Iranian are not keen on supporting the Palestinians, especially those in Gaza because that place has become a sanctuary for Islamic terrorists who attack Egypt.
June 17, 2018: In Yemen pro-government militia shot down an Iranian made UAV the Shia rebels were using to help defend to the Red Sea port of Hodeida. The government forces have taken the airport there and are closing in on the vital docks area of the port. This port city is currently the only way for the rebels to accept legitimate imports. Those aid shipments contain a lot of smuggled items. The smuggling is no secret and UN officials are unable to do much to stop it because of the armed Shia personnel (mostly Yemeni, but also a growing number of Iranians and Lebanese) are there to prevent inspection. Russia will also use its veto to block any serious UN moves to investigate or punish Iran for this sort of thing. Hodeida has been the main port for the delivery of foreign aid for civilians in rebel held areas and, in theory, government controlled areas as well. The UN has been, without much success, trying to get the rebels to allow the UN to police the port and basically control the smuggling and diversion of foreign aid the rebels have been engaged in. The UN has been unable to assert control.
With the loss of Hodeida Iran can no longer supply the Shia rebels with as many weapons and other military equipment. Despite the Iranian aid (missiles, UAVs, arms and ammo) the Shia led rebel coalition has fallen apart and the Saudi led Arab collation forces and rebuilt Yemen army is now advancing rapidly into rebels held (since 2015) territory.
June 16, 2018: In Britain, the government has finally agreed to add the Hezbollah “political wing” to the 2008 ban on the Hezbollah “military wing.” This action had long been sought by Israel and a growing number of other Western countries because Hezbollah as a whole is dedicated to terrorism and it is a common fiction for many Islamic terror groups with many fans in the West to form political and militant subdivisions and declare that the political group has nothing to do with terrorism and should not be considered a criminal organization. In reality “political wing” scam makes it easier for the political wing to raise money and attract new recruits for the military wing now Britain joins the growing number of Western nations that refuse to go along with the scam.
June 15, 2018: With the football World Cup starting in Russia the Iranian government is faced with more public protests because the government refuses to ease its ban on women attending football matches in Iran. Plans to erect large screens in public places to show football games the so far unbeaten Iranian team are in were canceled at the last minute (because women would be watching alongside men). There is division in the senior leadership over this, especially since Saudi Arabia recently allowed women to attend sporting events. Iranian leaders believe allowing women at sporting events and easing enforcement of dress restrictions on women will lead to more unrest and public protests against the government.
June 13, 2018: In western Yemen the final assault to take Hodeida began and on the first day at least 250 rebels were killed by airstrikes and ground fighting. In addition, 140 rebels were captured. The rebels responded with an Iranian Badr-1 ballistic missile fired at the Saudi city of Jizan, which is near the Yemen border. Saudi anti-missile defenses destroyed the Iranian missile. So far at least 120 ballistic missiles (most of them Iranian) have been fired into Saudi Arabia by the Shia rebels.
June 12, 2018: Syrian leader Bashar Assad was seen in a TV interview on an Iran-backed Arab language news channel. Assad confirmed that Russia was given basing rights because Russian air and technical support is crucial to his survival. He said he would consider an Iranian request for basing rights and that Saudi Arabia had offered to replace Iranian financial support of Assad would cut ties with Iran. Assad said he refused to abandon the decades-old relationship (begun by his father) with Iran. Assad admitted that Syria did not have the means to strike back at Israel in response to Israeli air strikes but was silent about Iranian plans to destroy Israel any way they could. Assad also admitted that Russia had a long term relationship with Israel that Syria had to respect. In short, Assad was keeping his options open even though the Iranians have the most powerful ground forces in Syria.
Meanwhile, on Twitter, which is officially banned (but still used) in Iran thousands of Iranians joined in Twitter-based Farsi language campaign to promote peace between Israel and Iran. The two were allies before the 1979 revolution and many Israelis are Iranian or trace their ancestry back to Iran. The growing anti-government protests in Iran have adopted “peace with Israel” as one of their demands because it is something that is becoming more popular in Iran.
Turkey announced that Iraq would allow (or at least tolerate) Turkish and Iranian troops to enter Iraq in an area where the borders of Iraq, Iran and Turkey form a triangle. This area, especially the Quandil Mountains, has long been the site of PKK (Turkish Kurdish separatists) camps. The Turks demanded that the Iraqi Kurdish forces deal with this but the Iraqi Kurds refused. Iran has not had as many problems with this area as the Turks but apparently would do what the Turks are doing if asked. The Iranian Kurdish separatists have sanctuaries south of the Quandil Mountains.
June 11, 2018: The government is trying to avoid another round of massive nationwide anti-government protests by designating areas in cities were protests can be held. This idea did not do much good as most Iranians saw it as another government effort to control and suppress the protests. The popular anger is definitely growing and the government has not come up with any effective ideas to deal with it. The government refuses to withdraw from Syria, even though Russia and Turkey have made it known this would be a good idea. Then there is the American withdrawal from the 2015 deal to lift sanctions on Iran. Many of those sanctions are coming back, even if many European governments (who are still backing the 2015 treaty) are not encouraging such behavior by local firms.
June 10, 2018: In northeast Syria, the Syrian Kurds (including the SDF) made public their willingness to negotiate a peace deal with the Assads. This has always been an option and for the Kurds, it means autonomy, preferably similar to what the Iraqi Kurds have enjoyed since the early 1990s. The Assads are open to this sort of arrangement and would not mind if the Americans maintained, as they did in Iraq, their support of the Syrian Kurds. The Turks could live with that because it has worked for the Iraqi Kurds. However, Turkey is becoming less willing to accommodate foreign Kurds and is now hinting that perhaps the Turks should deal with the “Kurdish problem” with more force and occupy the Kurdish controlled border areas in Syria and Iraq. This is one area where Turks and Iranians are in agreement. But the Iranians remained focused on attacking Israel do a joint Turk-Iranian war on Kurds will have to wait.
June 9, 2018: In southern Syria, Israel has discovered Iranian forces returning to the Israeli border wearing Syrian Army uniforms and pretending to be Syrian soldiers. Israel warned that it would attack any Iranian forces approaching their border and it doesn’t matter which uniforms the Iranian mercenaries are wearing. This is the Iranian response to the May 28 agreement between Russia and Israel in which Russia will keep Iranian forces away from the Israeli border and in return Israel will tolerate Syrian troops on that border. This puts Russian in an embarrassing situation as the Iranians are obviously willing to sabotage any deals the Russians and Israelis make about Syria, or anything else. The Russian response to this uniform subterfuge was to tell Iran to back away from this sort of thing. Since Russian troops man checkpoints on roads leading to the Israeli border, the Russian soldiers have been told to check IDs of suspicious Syrian soldiers and given a list of tips on how to spot a Hezbollah operative pretending to be a Syrian soldier by wearing a Syrian Army uniform. Russian military advisors have also been ordered to check Syrian bases they operate in to see if there is a sudden influx of Syrian soldiers who are not Syrian. Israel wants Russia to persuade Iran to get all its troops and mercenaries out of Syria but Russia does that see that as possible while it does believe Russia can help keep Iranian forces from the Israeli border.
June 8, 2018: In the northwest (West Azerbaijan Province) PDKI Kurdish separatists ambushed Iranian border guards near the Iraq border and killed nine Iranians and wounded 18 others. The PDKI contains Iranian and Iraqi Kurds and is based in Kurdish controlled northern Iraq. The government said only two border guards were killed while disrupting 20 Kurds entering the country to carry out an attack.
It has been a month since the U.S. declared it was withdrawing from the 2015 treaty. This was not a violation of the treaty because the U.S. used a provision of the treaty to exit the deal. American sanctions on Iran will return in November. Even though the other nations that signed the treaty refused to follow the American example, it doesn’t matter. All those nations have much smaller economies than the United States and these European nations are more dependent on the American economy than the other way around. Because of that these multinational firms, including the European ones, are cancelling deals made with Iran after 2015, European political leaders oppose this but cannot stop it because their own lawyers point out it’s a legal matter, not a political one and trying to ignore that would create more problems (litigation and embargoes). The European problems is that the U.S. withdrawal from the treaty are legal. The American president, as required by the treaty, had to regularly certify to the American legislature that the terms of the treaty were being met. For a number of reasons, including the Israeli revelations about the Iranian documents they obtained earlier in the year, the most recent certification was not made and America accused Iran of all sorts of bad behavior.
June 7, 2018: For the second time in two weeks Iranian reformers hacked the TV displays in a major Iranian airport (Tabriz) and displayed messages supporting the government protests. The hack like this was the Mashhad airport. There are a growing number of anti-government protests ranging from more anti-government graffiti to an increasing number of “illegal” public protests.
June 5, 2018: Germany openly called for Iran to withdraw its forces from Syria. This rare criticism of Iran was caused by Israel pointing out that the presence of Iranian forces in Syria is a major cause of Syrians fleeing their country and heading for Germany where it is easy to get asylum. Until there is peace in Syria more Syrians will flee and those that can afford it will head for Germany, which is one of the few European nations accepting Syrian refugees.
May 31, 2018: In Syria, there were more Israeli airstrikes against Hezbollah ammunition storage areas outside Damascus. Iran has long flown in long range rockets and other advanced weapons. The Damascus airport and airbases near the city were used and the equipment was usually stored in warehouses and bunkers near the city before the stuff was moved to Lebanon or some combat zone in Syria.
The defense ministers of Israel and Russia met in Russia. After that, there were rumors that Russia had agreed to not interfere with any Israeli attacks on Iranian targets in Syria and continue pressuring Iran to withdraw its mercenaries from the Israeli border. Israel and Russia later stated that there was no Russian blanket pledge to not interfere. There was, however, no change in the existing policy of Russian forces not confronting Israeli attacks on Iranian targets. The Russians consider this a case-by-case decision. The Russians clearly do not want to fight the Israelis, especially when the Russians have growing evidence that Russian military equipment would not do well if there were a fight. At the same time senior officials back in Israel let it be known that Israel would not object to Syrian troops at their border, especially if there were no Iranian forces in Syria.
May 30, 2018: Iranian media broadcast an interview with Mohammed Javad Larijani, a senior judiciary official in which Larijani detailed how Iran aided al Qaeda in carrying out the 911 attacks in the United States as well as other operations against Western targets. This was done by allowing al Qaeda members to move through Iran (usually to or from Afghanistan) without having their Saudi (or other Arab states) passports stamped to show they had been in Iran. That Iranian stamp could get these al Qaeda members arrested if they tried to use that passport back home or in the West. It was already known that Iran had long (and still does) provide sanctuary (often under house arrest) for key members of al Qaeda and other Sunni Islamic terror groups (except for ISIL, which hates everyone). But Iran had usually denied this testimony of al Qaeda members. But now Larijani boasted of it. These Sunni Islamic terror groups returned the favor by easing up on (but not halting) their persecution (and often murder) of Shia. More importantly, these Sunni groups will share intel on Sunni terror operations, especially against the West. This apparently proved useful when al Qaeda and Iran found themselves united in the war against ISIL. Iran obtained useful intel on ISIL efforts to carry out attacks in Iran.
May 27, 2018: Syria has banned Iranian backed forces from using hangers and others buildings on Syrian bases. The Iranians must stay in a separate area and use structures they have built. This is in an effort to limit Syrian losses when Israeli airstrikes go after Iranian forces sharing Syrian bases. The Syrians apparently believe the Israeli aerial reconnaissance and information from informants on the ground is accurate enough to make this new policy work.
May 25, 2018: Next door in Iraq it may be a while before Iraq has a new government, which is nothing new. The May 12th elections were controversial and more than half the members of the outgoing parliament want to annul the results. They have until June 30th (when their terms expire) to do so. There is some evidence that despite (or because of) the new electronic voting system there was some vote manipulation. The current parliament may also be upset over suspected Iranian efforts to increase control over Iraq.
The real reason for the unexpected elections results is popular anger at corruption. One thing that united all Iraqi voters was anger at the persistent and crippling corruption. Moqtada al Sadr, who was the unexpected winner, had been openly and actively anti-corruption for years and that was why his victorious coalition contained so many non-Shia groups (including communists, who are anathema to Iran). Despite that many Iraqis (and foreign allies) believe Sadr is secretly allied with Iran because the Sadr family has long had ties with Iran and members of the Sadr clan often took refuge in Iran. But that was because the Sadrs were respected Shia clerics and Iran was where the best schools and scholars were. Yet the Sadrs, like most Iraqi Shia Arabs, are Arabs and Iraqis first and that has been proven time and time again. Moqtada al Sadr has seen up close and frequently how a Shia clerical dictatorship works in Iran and was not impressed. He largely kept quiet about this but it was no secret that Sadr did not want a religious dictatorship in Iraq, mainly because it would make the country even more difficult to rule.
Sadr also noted that Iranian Arabs (and Arabs in general) are despised by most Iranians. Meanwhile, Iraq will demonstrate, over the next few months (or more) why it is considered the most dysfunctional country in the Middle East. Iraqi politicians will argue and negotiate in a lengthy effort to form a governing coalition and then for that coalition to select a prime minister and all the subordinate ministers.
Sadr is often described as anti-American but he is generally anti-foreigners in general but is willing to work with other nations if it helps Iraq. Thus there was a recent visit by Sadr to Saudi Arabia to meet with Saudi leaders. The Saudis had long supported the Sunni minority rule in Iraq because it worked and helped contain Iran. With that Sunni minority government gone and not likely to return anytime soon Sadr believes the Saudis still want an Arab government in Iraq that will help keep Iran out of Arabia. Sadr and the Saudis agree on that as do the majority of Iraqis (including most Kurds and Sunni Arabs).
Iran has not given up on Sadr and still refers to him as a friend and brother. Sadr says nice things back but it is what Sadr does that counts and that won’t be clear until the new government is formed. This might not happen until the end of the year.
May 24, 2018: In northwest Syria (Homs province) Israel carried another attack at a base used by Iranian forces. The missiles left at least 21 dead, including nine Iranians. The government denied any Iranians had been killed but there are a growing number of funerals announced in Iran of IRGC who were killed abroad “defending Islam.”
May 23, 2018: Iran indicated that it was willing to negotiate a peace deal on Yemen. This turned out to be nothing new as Iranian terms included allowing Iranian support for the Shia tribes (who are now supplying most of the rebels) to continue.
May 22, 2018: In eastern Syria Assad forces suffered a surprise were attack by ISIL remnants they were looking for. The Assad troops lost about 26 dead, including some of the Iranian mercenaries that are among the most effective fighters the Syrian Army has.
The United States imposed sanctions on five IRGC men who are believed primarily responsible for supplying the Shia Yemen rebels with ballistic missiles. The IRGC has smuggled in components for about a hundred Iranian ballistic missiles (most of them short range) that are assembled and fired with the help of IRGC advisors.
May 16, 2018: In the southwest (Fars province) an anti-government protest left two dead and 48 wounded. The government claimed to have suppressed the nationwide protests that took place at the end of 2017 but that “suppression” was only temporary and the anger is growing once more. People are often protesting against specific local complaints and most every town and city in the country has something specific to protest.
May 12, 2018: Next door in Iraq there was a surprise (but not unexpected) upset with the winner of the parliamentary elections the Sadr coalition, which won control of 17 percent of the seats in parliament. Sadr is thus able to take the lead in trying to form a coalition government. His main opponents are pro-Iran politicians and the much larger group of corrupt politicians. Moqtada al Sadr has come a long way since 2011 when as a Shia leader and senior cleric Sadr was threatening violence against any American military and police trainers who remained in Iraq once U.S. combat troops withdrew by the end of the year. Sadr’s Mahdi Army was defeated by Iraqi forces in 2008 and he was forced to flee to Iran. Sadr returned just before the U.S. troops pulled out and pro-Iranian terror groups become more active. Since then Sadr has been more bluff (and bluster) than real threat, especially to the Americans.
Iran is still controlling Iraqi Shia terrorist groups and Sadr has become more of an Iraqi nationalist than an Iranian puppet. By August 2017 Sadr was calling on the Iraqi government to dismantle the Iran backed Shia militias and incorporate loyal (to Iraq) members into the armed forces. The Iraqi prime minister (a Shia), wanted to dismantle these Iran backed Shia Arab militias with more care and take more time doing it. This caution was the result of the (then) upcoming May 12th elections. That vote was expected to be a very concrete example of how much political clout Iran has gained in post-ISIL Iraq. Iran has worked hard to line up political support in Iraq. That Iranian effort failed because at this point Sadr was seen as an opponent of Iranian influence efforts in Iraq. Sadr is also opposed to the Iraqi Shia groups that remained loyal to Iran. One of the things that hurt support for pro-Iran candidates was a video on the Internet that purports to show millions of dollars in cash seized at the Iranian border. The money was meant for pro-Iran Iraqis running in the parliamentary elections. Finally, Sadr himself did not run for office and instead served as the administrator, and chaplain, for his coalition.
May 11, 2018: A Russian official quietly let it be known that Russia was not going to deliver S-300 Air Defense systems to anyone in Syria. Israel has been publicly and privately urging Russia to institute such a ban and now the ban is official. Israel has apparently made it clear, during the recent exchange of fire with Iranian forces in Syria, that the Israelis have the upper hand in terms of tech and military capabilities. Russia needed that demonstration so they could maintain their good relationship with Iran while also refusing to deliver S-300 systems to the Assads. This was something the Iranians wanted and were willing to pay for. But the Russians were not willing to lose the good relationship they had long (actually since the beginning in 1948) had with Israel. Nor were the Russians willing to risk having the S-300 defeated by Israeli SEAD (Suppression of Enemy Air Defenses) tactics and equipment. The Iranians may be willing to underestimate the Israelis, but the Russians prefer to be more realistic.