Iran: The Grim Reality Behind the Headlines

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June 15, 2010:  New economic sanctions on leaders of the Revolutionary Guards, and organizations controlled by them, are not expected to have much impact. The sanctions simply cost the Iranians more money, as the cost of smuggling weapons technology goes up. Greed motivates too many people in the world, to break or bend the rules to do business with Iran. Brazil and Turkey, for example, are taking advantage of the situation by voting against the sanctions, to gain political or economic favors from Iran.

What worries the Revolutionary Guards more is the planned September increase in petroleum products consumer prices. Sanctions have blocked the importation of equipment needed to build refineries, so about a third of  gasoline (petrol) has to be imported. Gasoline rationing, which began three years ago, has cut sharply into the $5 billion a year the government had to pay for imported gasoline (which is sold at highly subsidized prices). This has forced many of the seven million Iranian automobile owners to get some of their fuel from the black market, where the price is ten times higher (about $4 a gallon) compared to the subsidized, and rationed, price. This is very unpopular. The Iranian solution is to obtain the needed components to built more refineries, and slowly eliminate the subsidies (a very unpopular move, that would cut consumption). Attempts to get Malaysia and China to halt selling gasoline to Iran have failed, and that, for the moment, dooms any attempt to use gasoline shortages to put pressure on Iran. Iran spends a third of its $300 billion GDP on subsidies for gasoline, natural gas, electricity and food. Paying for these subsidies restricts what the government can do, but getting rid of these subsidies angers most of the population. But eliminating the subsidies would give the government more flexibility in rewarding its supporters.

For most Iranians, prices and jobs are more important than destroying Israel or establishing a Palestinian state in its place. Building nuclear weapons and taking control of the Islamic shrines of Mecca and Medina appeals to Iranian pride, but having a nice place to live, regular supplies of electricity and fuel, and food are more immediate concerns. Thus the government, run by men dedicated to establishing an Iranian led religious dictatorship controlling the entire Middle East (and eventually the world), play down Iranian economic problems, and plays up the destruction of Israel and Iranian military might. Since the radical clerics who control the government also control the media, there is little heard about economic woes inside Iran. At least not in public. In private conversations, including Internet based chatter, it's different. Over 40 percent of the population is poor, and the affluence of government supporters, and families of the religious leadership, does not go unnoticed. The poverty is largely the result of corruption and incompetence by the religious dictatorship. It is no secret inside Iran, and the religious leadership are having a hard time getting rid of the greedy and incompetent among them.

The police and pro-government paramilitary street gangs have driven anti-government demonstrators from the street, and prosecutors continue to threaten actual or potential opposition leaders.

Iran continues to get away with deceiving or ignoring UN nuclear weapons inspectors. The UN inspectors have compiled an impressive list of evidence that Iran is developing nuclear weapons, but Iran simply denies it, and has the Chinese veto to insure that the UN takes no really serious actions against them. China is a prime customer for Iranian oil, and major participant in developing new Iranian oilfields.

June 12, 2010: Saudi Arabia denied reports that it had secretly agreed to allow Israeli warplanes safe passage for an attack on Iran, and had actually practiced shutting down its air defense system to make it all happen. Such an arrangement had long been rumored, and the rumor was put back in play because it makes a catchy headline and annoys the Iranians a great deal. It might even be true.

June 11, 2010:  Russia has, once again, changed its mind regarding delivery of the S-300 anti-aircraft missile systems (bought three years ago). Russia has been pressured (and given counteroffers) from the U.S. and Israel to not deliver the missile systems, which would complicate any air attacks on Iranian nuclear weapons facilities. The S-300 sales is worth over a billion dollars, and the ailing Russian defense industry really needs the money. But the Russian government is increasingly upset at Iranian support for all sorts of Islamic radicals (including some operating inside of Russia.) The Iranians will not cooperate, and curb support for Islamic radicals that threaten Russia. A less discussed reason for not delivering the S-300s is Israeli claims that they have technology that can neutralize the S-300 radar and missile guidance electronics. That may or may not be true, but the Russians are not eager to see yet another of their weapons defeated by Israeli countermeasures.

June 5, 2010: Several times in the past week, small groups of Iranian troops, accompanied by several armored vehicles, crossed into northern Iraq in pursuit of Iranian Kurdish separatists. This group, the PJAK, uses bases in largely Kurdish northern Iraq. The Kurdish PKK, which operates in Turkey, has a similar problem, with Turkish ground troops and warplanes often entering Iraq to attack PKK fighters and bases. Iran and Turkey appear to have coordinated their operations against the Kurdish separatists.

May 30, 2010: U.S. commanders in Afghanistan have concluded that Iran is a major supporter of some Taliban factions, providing weapons, training and sanctuary inside Iran. This is being done mainly to get some help from some Taliban groups to decrease the amount of opium and heroin being smuggled through Iran. Those drugs have created several million Iranian addicts, and this is a major social problem. Although most Taliban sustain themselves by doing some work (usually security related) for the drug gangs, some Taliban go along with the "drugs are evil" angle, and are willing to work with the Iranians on this. Meanwhile, a larger number of Taliban are getting aid from Iran in the form of Iranian made weapons smuggled across the border and sold to the Taliban at a large profit. This sort of thing is illegal on both sides of the border. But Iran is barely holding its own in the battle with the smugglers and drug gangs all along its Afghan border.

May 28, 2010: Pakistan and Iran signed a deal to build a natural gas pipeline that would ship over a billion dollars worth of Iranian gas a year into Pakistan.

 

 

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