The governments growing closeness
with leftist Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez had led to hundreds of Iranian
intelligence and special warfare (terrorism) operatives being dispatched to
South America. It was only a decade ago that such Iranian operations were shut
down there, in the wake of terror attacks against Jews in Argentina. One truck
bomb attack in 1994 killed 85 Argentineans, most of them Jewish. This horrified
people throughout the region, and the backlash caused Iranian diplomats and
terrorism operatives to run for cover. But with Venezuela as a safe, and hospitable,
base, Iranian death squads are again up and running in South America.
2008: The government insists that it has
not bought S-300 long-range anti-aircraft missile systems from Russia. This
despite many reports coming out of Iran over the last year about preparations (training
of operators and building of bases) for these systems. Now Russia has offered
to not deliver S-300s to Iran if NATO membership is refused for Ukraine and
Georgia. This despite Irans enthusiastic backing of the Russian dismemberment
of Georgia via an invasion and occupation last month.
2008: There was an unusual flurry of new
weapons announced this month. In one respect, this was embarrassing, as Iran
has become something of a joke in the international defense community, for all
those press releases over the years, touting new weapons that don't exist, and
never seem to enter service. Iran does have an arms industry, but all it
produces is simple weapons (small arms, mortars, artillery, unguided rockets).
The high few tech items, like ballistic missiles, are handmade, using foreign
plans, and many foreign components, by select teams of Iranians with the necessary
skills and training. Overall, Iranian industry is not large enough, or skilled
enough, to manufacture all the new weapons announced over the last few years.
2008: Last year, the government said
that it had 3,000 uranium enrichment centrifuges operating. That was enough to
produce enough enriched uranium in a year for a nuclear bomb. Previously, Iran
had only 328 centrifuges operating in a research facility. Now, Iran says it
has 5,000 centrifuges, although UN IAEA inspectors believe that the Iranians
are exaggerating, and have only 4,000 functioning, with several thousand more
being prepared for operation. Iran is also believed to have increased the
efficiency of its centrifuges, so that 4,000 of them could produce enough
enriched uranium in a year for 3-4 nuclear bombs. Iran insists it is only
enriching the uranium sufficiently to run its Russian built nuclear power
plant. Iran insists on producing its own nuclear fuel, despite offers from
Russia and the West to sell fuel at much less than it would cost for Iran to
produce the stuff itself.
The World Health
Organization (WHO) believes Iran has an above average number of people (about
20 percent of the population) suffering from depression. WHO also believes that
Iran has at least a million drug addicts (mainly opium and heroin). The
government has long believed that the number of addicts was over two million.
2008: The governments solution for
decades of double digit inflation is to issue new currency, that is worth
10,000 times what the current one does (thus the current 10,000 rial note would
be replaced by one worth one rial). Three decades, 70 Iranian rials were worth
one dollar. Now it takes nearly 10,000 rials. So the new rial would be worth
about the same as a dollar. No date was given for the switch, but most likely
in the next six months. Inflation is caused when the government issues more
money than can be justified by the size of the economy. With more money out
there, people competing for relatively scarce good, drive the prices up. Thus
in the last three decades, prices have increased 400 times. That's more than a
hundred times more inflation than in the better run economies of the West.
2008: Much of the Iranian military aid (weapons,
cash, technical experts) being smuggled into Gaza is not going to the dominant
Palestinian faction, Hamas, but to smaller, more radical Islamic terror groups.
The Iranians are trying to make the more radical groups strong enough to resist
Hamas attempts to halt terror attacks on Israel. Last June 19th, Hamas signed a
ceasefire with Israel, but is having a hard time preventing more radical groups
in Gaza from continuing attacks.
2008: The government mismanagement of
the economy is resulting in growing labor unrest. Workers at many government
owned companies have not been paid for months, because the government runs so
many companies that don't make a profit. Having these workers go on strike does
not bother the government much, but increasingly the workers have realized that
and taken to organizing noisy public demonstrations against the government.
Using the government paramilitary forces (in civilian clothes) to attack the
workers does not always work (the paramilitaries are defeated). That, however,
has revealed another worrying syndrome; growing disenchantment with Islam. The
secret police reports on "the public mood" reveal a growing dislike
for Islam itself. Not just in the cities, but in the countryside. Mosque attendance
is down and clerics report more and more disrespectful (of Islam) attitudes
among the young. The government proposes to spend more money (about $15
million) on propaganda to convince Iranians to adopt a more austere and
"revolutionary" attitude towards Islam.