Iran has executed at least 80 people so far this year compared to at least 625 for all of 2013. Unofficial deaths are more difficult to get an accurate count of. Executions have been more frequent (over 400 so far) since the new president (the kinder and “more moderate” Hassan Rouhani) took office in August 2013. High unemployment (averaging over 20 percent but much higher for young men) and growing drug addiction has created a large criminal underground that the government attacks aggressively. Most of those executed were associated with the drug trade. Anti-government reformers are also killed regularly in an attempt to discourage such dangerous talk.
Iranians have adapted to the sanctions and the economy is growing again. Not by much (less than two percent for the year) and not enough to reduce the unemployment or inflation rates much. Last year the economy contracted by nearly six percent. The government is using some short-term gimmicks to reverse this and just printing more money and shuffling assets around will not work long term with half the oil income blocked by sanctions. Less corruption and government interference would help the economy but that is not likely to happen.
Iranians have noted how Ukraine and the West are upset about how Russia is so blatantly violating a 1994 agreement in which Ukraine allowed the ICBMs and other nuclear weapons based in its territory to be removed and destroyed. In return the West paid for it all and everyone (Russia and Western nations) agreed to never try and take territory from Ukraine. This clause was meant mainly for Russia and at the time there were many Ukrainians who wanted to hold onto the nukes (despite the enormous costs and technical problems) as a way to discourage Russian from trying to regain control of Ukraine. It is because of this agreement that Russia is making an effort to hide its role in the takeover of Crimea, where Russian backed dissidents are now asking to be annexed by Russia. Some of the uniformed men who took control of Crimea are apparently locals, but the core of this “local militia” are men with obvious military training and who have been using those skills recently. Some have admitted they are Russian soldiers. Iranians believe the negotiations to limit Iranian nuclear research and development is an effort to block Iran from getting nuclear weapons. Most Iranians see nukes as a necessity for maintaining Iranian dominance in the region. Iran has been the regional superpower for thousands of years. The UN sponsored negotiations on the fate of the Iranian nuclear program are proceeding slowly.
Iran’s major military effort for the last year has been keeping the pro-Iran Syrian Assad government in power and so far this year this aid has been increasing. More weapons and equipment are being flown to Syria and hundreds of additional Iranian “advisors” have been sent to help train and guide Syrian operations against the rebels. Perhaps the most important bit of Iranian aid gets the least publicity. This is the economic aid effort. The influx of cash from Iran and Russia has enabled the government to rebuild its reserve of hard currency to about $600 million.
The Assads continue to keep the economy going in areas they control with the help of Iran and Russia. Iran supplies the foreign currency and Russia helps get it into the international banking system so the Assads can still buy foreign goods.
The Assads are fighting a war of attrition. They believe the side with the best economic situation and most reliable troops still in action will prevail. As long as the Iranian cash and military assistance keeps coming, the Assads have reason to be optimistic that they will eventually be the last man standing.
It’s the 30th anniversary of the imposition of Islamic clothing rules for women in Iran. This mandates modest dress and women still openly oppose these rules (that hair, arms, legs and body shape be covered when in public and that women generally behave modestly and deferentially). During the first decade of this many women were whipped and beaten in public for violating the new rules. Some were sent to prison. In the last decade the punishments have been less severe but have continued with over 3,000 women (mostly teenagers) arrested each year for dress violations and many more warned by the lifestyle police. Women still lose their jobs over this and continue to resist.
March 5, 2014: In the Red Sea, off the coast of Eritrea, Israeli commandos boarded a 110 meter (360 foot) long cargo ship and found several dozen M-302 long range (160 kilometers) rockets that were made in Syria, shipped to Iran where they were loaded onto this ship and hidden under a cargo of bagged cement. Israel believes the missiles were headed for Sudan and from there were to be smuggled into Gaza. Then again, Iran has been supplying Sudan with weapons as well, although there has long been a secretive pipeline of Iranian weapons shipped to Sudan then smuggled via truck and tunnel to Gaza. Iran denied having anything to do with this ship despite the fact that Israel has the ship (and is towing it to an Israeli port in the Red Sea), the crew, the rockets and evidence that this cargo was loaded at an Iranian port. Israel revealed that its intelligence had noted the Syrian made rockets being flown to Iran, which was unusual. Israel traced the rockets being moved to the Iranian port of Bandar Abbas and loaded on the ship now in Israeli custody. That ship then went to an Iraqi port to load bags of cement that were used to hide the boxes with the rockets. The cargo ship carried a fake cargo manifest stating that no cargo had been loaded in Iran. This is not the first time Israel has caught an Iranian arms smuggling ship. Since 2002 this has happened five times. Iran insists that this is all a publicity stunt invented by Israel to embarrass Iran.
March 3, 2014: A female student leader of a reform movement was sentenced to seven years in prison for organizing peaceful demonstrations in favor of ending the religious dictatorship and establishing a true democracy.
March 1, 2014: President Hassan Rouhani publically urged more conservative government leaders (especially those in the Revolutionary Guard) to stop criticizing efforts to negotiate with the West. The Revolutionary Guard generals tend to talk openly about how the foreigners cannot be trusted and that the Revolutionary Guard and all Iranians stand ready to punish anyone who makes a move on Iran. Rouhani is among the many Iranian leaders who understand that Iranian military power is largely an illusion created for domestic consumption. Rouhani may fear that the Revolutionary Guard leaders are beginning to believe their own lies. At the same time Rouhani repeats to the UN and the West that the official Iranian policy is to not develop nuclear weapons because that is the morally correct stance and Iran has signed agreements not to make nukes. American intelligence experts believe that Iran is, despite a recent agreement, continuing with its nuclear research and development. Iran says it has reduced its stockpile of enriched uranium and some foreign intelligence agencies do not believe this. Then there is the fact that Iran tested two long-range ballistic missiles in February and the idea of Iranian nuclear weapons is still popular with most Iranians.
In Pakistan a senior army general announced (without providing much detail) that five Iranian border guards who were kidnapped inside Iran and moved into Pakistan on February 7th had been released. The Iranians were held just across the border in Pakistan (Baluchistan). There are Baluchi tribes on both sides of the border. The religious dictatorship in Iran is hostile to Sunnis and the Iranian Baluchis do not like this at all. During the last few years the Iranian Baluchi rebels have become bolder and more successful in their attacks on Iranian security forces. Iran has responded by executing more captured Baluchi rebels and that has resulted in even more Baluchi violence. Iran demanded that the Pakistani government find the five Iranian border guards. Iran threatened to send its own troops into Pakistan to free the captive border guards if Pakistan did not act. These threats have been intensifying over the last two weeks.
February 27, 2014: Iran announced that it will negotiate changes to its nuclear program but will not under any circumstances agree to shut it down.
Iraqi officials denied signing any arms deals with Iran. Two days earlier the United States asked Iraq to comment officially on media reports that Iraq had signed an agreement in late November to buy $195 million worth of weapons and ammo from Iran. This is forbidden by international sanctions. Those sanctions have not prevented a lot of “smuggling” between Iran and Iraq. Much of this “illegal” trade apparently has official approval and assistance. According to documents Iraqi journalists had obtained state owned Iranian defense firms agreed to sell Iraq assault rifles, machine-guns, mortars and ammo for these weapons in addition to ammunition for 125mm tank guns and artillery. In addition the Iranians are providing night vision goggles and communications equipment. These arms deals were sought by Iraq because the U.S. was reluctant to sell Iraq weapons that it was feared would fall into the hands of terrorists.
February 25, 2014: Despite the many sanctions, Iranian trade officials announced that Iran “is open for business”.
In the Pakistani tribal territories (Peshawar) a suicide bomber attacked outside the Iranian consulate, killing himself and two security guards.
February 23, 2014: Iran recently announced that their scientists and engineers had built two new space satellites. This was done at a university. One of the satellites was for communications, specifically for supporting satellite phones that use encryption. Just the thing Quds Force requires for its agents overseas. Quds Force supports Islamic terrorists that are allies of Iran. The second satellite can take photos and transmit them back to earth. This one is capable of 100 meter resolution (pictures taken allow the identification of any object 100 meters wide or larger.) You can get higher resolution photos on the web. But the point Iran is making here is that it is becoming less and less dependent on other nations for space satellites. The many sanctions against Iran make it increasingly difficult to buy satellites from foreign manufacturers so Iran must learn to build its own or do without.
February 20, 2014: Two Israeli arms dealers (Avihai Weinstein and Eli Cohen) are again under arrest and accused of trying to smuggle weapons components to Iran. This time a joint Greek-American investigation intercepted containers of F-4 jet fighter parts headed for Iran. This is the third time since 2012 that Weinstein and Cohen are being investigated for this sort of thing. These two are suspected of smuggling spare parts for aircraft, armored vehicles and anti-aircraft missiles to Iran since the 1980s. Weinstein and Cohen have been formally investigated six times but no charges have ever been made that would stick and result in a conviction.
February 16, 2014: For the last two weeks Iranian TV has been broadcasting a lot of shows featuring new weapons developed in Iran. One of these shows provided a sneak peak at of their new Fateh class mini-subs. These appear to be the largest subs built by Iran so far and are still in development. The Fatehs are 500 ton boats that are 40 meters (130 feet) long. Boats this size are considered coastal subs. By way of comparison a post-World War II German coastal sub, the Type 205, was similar in size to the Fateh. The Type 205s were designed in the early 1960s and were 450 ton, 44 meter (144 foot) long boats armed with eight torpedo tubes each loaded with a torpedo. There were no reloads. The 22 man crew had sufficient food and fuel on the boat to stay out for about four weeks. This German sub is apparently similar to the Fatehs. Unable to legally import military gear, Iran has adapted by manufacturing what it can, and that usually means older tech. So the Fateh will probably resemble the Type 205s in many ways.