Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has made it clear that the official Iranian position is that any Moslem nation (especially Saudi Arabia and Turkey) that improve relations with Israel is betraying Islam. Along those lines Khamenei also repeats his belief that the United States cannot be trusted and he makes a big deal about how the economic sanctions the July 2015 treaty lifted are not the main economic problem Iran has to deal with. That would be the low oil price, which is Saudi Arabia’s way (along with some other local Sunni oil states) to put the hurt on Iran. One reason for seeking nuclear weapons is to give Iran the ability to persuade the Saudis to ship less oil and let the price go up. After that there will be the demand to let Iran run the Moslem holy places in Mecca and Medina. The Saudis are not willing to make deals and remain firm on their oil policy. Khamenei regularly lets the Iranian people know that their continued poverty is the fault of the Gulf Arabs and their allies (especially Israel and the United States).
Iran also makes no secret of its desire to become the dominant foreign influence in Iraq. The Saudis are keen on maintaining a dominating influence in Iraq, which is a largely (80 percent) Arab country that is majority (60 percent) Shia. The religious angle puts Iraq in an awkward position. The Iraqi Shia Arabs don’t want to be dominated by non-Arab Iran (where Arabs are openly despised) but also don’t want to be dominated by their Sunni Arab neighbors and especially not by their own Sunni Arab minority, which created ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) and has been a major supporter of Islamic terrorism since 2003.
While Iraqi Shia appreciate Iranian support against ISIL, they are constantly reminded that this support comes with dangerous conditions. Case in point is the need for air support during the upcoming battle to push ISIL out of Mosul. Iraqi military leaders know that American air support is crucial to the success of Iraqi forces in talking Mosul. The Americans have offered substantial air support during the final assault on Mosul. The U.S. led air coalition over Iraq and Syria has been averaging about a hundred attacks (using either a guided missile or smart bomb) a day in June and July. About a third of that is in Syria but more will be switched to Iraq when the fighting is heavy inside Mosul. The Americans have brought in more ground controller teams to operate with Iraqi forces and provide timely air strikes. At its peak there will probably be several hundred guided missiles and smart bombs a day used in Mosul. Iran-backed Shia militia refuse to use American air support at the same time the Iran is pressuring Iraq to allow these Shia militias to play a major role in the Mosul battle.
Side Effects In Afghanistan
Iran has made itself useful to Afghanistan but that has caused more friction with Pakistan. The most noticeable example of this is the continued loss of business for Pakistani firms that export to Afghanistan. These exports are being replaced by goods from Iran and Central Asia. This trend is accelerating because the Afghans can often get higher quality goods at lower prices and much less risk of shipments being delayed for political reasons (Pakistan closing the border to pressure the Afghan government to do something). Soon goods from India will become a major factor Indian firms are spending over two billions dollars to expand a port on the Iranian coast (near the Pakistani border) and build new roads and railroads through Iran to Afghanistan and Central Asia. Iran is also a major investor.
In Yemen Iranian support for the Shia rebels has been largely intangible but very evident. For example UN sponsored peace talks have long been stalled because the Shia rebels insist on being part of any new government and appear to be taking advice from Iran on how to respond to peace offers in general. For example on July 31st the Yemen government accepted another UN brokered peace proposal. The Shia rebels have until August 7th to sign, or not and have not responded yet. Meanwhile the Shia rebels continue to make attacks across the border into Saudi Arabia. The Shia rebel majority areas border Saudi Arabia. Iran blames the Saudis for all that has gone wrong in Yemen. This is only partially true. The Shia rebels are willing to keep fighting and the largely Sunni government forces don’t want a bloody finale to all this. Meanwhile the Arab coalition air and naval blockade has kept out nearly all Iranian efforts to send in weapons or ammunition for the rebels. The major Iranian contribution has been a formidable Information War (propaganda and media manipulation) capability. Using this Iran has successfully made a major international issue of Arab coalition air strikes and the resulting civilian casualties. At the same time Iranian publicists and diplomats have successfully played down the Yemeni rebel practices of deliberately using civilians as human shields. Since the Arab coalition entered the Yemen civil war in early 2015 both sides have accused the other of deliberately attacking civilians. The Arab coalition believes their efforts (since March 2015) have succeeded and expect to withdraw most of their forces by the end of 2016. The Yemeni rebels have not surrendered yet but the Arab coalition assessment seems reasonable. In the part of the world, making a deal is always possible.
July 31, 2016: Russia made its first major sale to Iran since the July 2015 treaty. This one is for $1.3 billion and involves building a 1.4 gigawatt non-nuclear power plant and a desalination facility near the entrance to the Persian Gulf (outside port of Bandar Abbas).
July 29, 2016: Railroad traffic with Turkey resumed after having been halted on the 23rd because a Turkish freight train headed for Iran was halted by a bomb planted by the PKK Kurdish separatists.
July 28, 2016: Iraq agreed to incorporate 80,000 members of Iran-backed Shia militias into the armed forces. This will include paying the militiamen monthly salaries comparable to what soldiers get allowing the militiamen the use of military bases. It is hoped that this will restore confidence in the Iraqi military. Since 2015 most men the Iraqi army wanted to recruit preferred to join one of the Iran supported Shia militias. It was all a matter of trust. Potential Shia recruits (in a country where Shia are over 60 percent of the population) did not believe the Iraqi Army could be reformed and rebuilt and felt the paramilitary Shia militias would be better led and more effective even though the Iraqi Army had better weapons and was more likely to get American air support. American military leaders were disappointed, but not surprised. Unfortunately many of the Shia militias are led by men known to have been members of pro-Iran militias that, before 2008, attacked American troops as well as Sunni Islamic terrorists. These militias were disbanded by 2010 but after 2014 were allowed to reform again. This alone was considered a great victory for Iran. What triggered the current American training effort in Iraq was the ISIL offensive in mid-2014 that took control of most of western Iraq (Anbar province) and the northwestern city of Mosul, the second largest city in Iraq. By the end of 2014 Iraq had asked the United States to help rebuild the Iraqi armed forces and called in Iran to revive the Shia militias. Then came the rapid and unexpected loss of Ramadi (the capital of Anbar province) in May 2015 to a much smaller ISIL force. Government troops outnumbered nearby ISIL gunmen by ten to one. After that it became increasingly difficult to get Shia Iraqis to join the army.
July 22, 2016: Bahrain announced it had rounded up all five members of an Iranian sponsored terrorist cell and found explosives in the home of one of the suspects. Earlier in the month police announced the arrest of two more suspects in a June terror bombing and accused Iran of providing training for the two as well as a third man involved who escaped to Iran and had earlier received his bomb building training in Iran. Bahrain believes the Iranian Quds Force (which specializes in supporting Islamic terrorists) is providing terrorist training to Bahraini Shia in Iraq and Iran and assisting in obtaining explosives and weapons for these men. Relations between Bahrain and Iran have been getting worse since the 1980s, when a religious dictatorship took power in Iran. It got so bad in July 2015 that Bahrain recalled its ambassador in Iran because of a recent incident where a small boat was stopped off Bahrain and two men with known terrorist connections were arrested after the boat was found to be carrying 44 kg (96 pounds) of C4 explosive, other components (detonators) for making bombs, six assault rifles and several hundred rounds of ammo. The men admitted they had received the weapons from a nearby Iranian ship in international waters. One of the men was known to have received terrorist training in Iran in 2013. Iran dismisses all these accusations as lies. But these are not isolated incidents. There are many of them and they occur regularly. They often involve arresting Islamic terrorists and seizing supplies of explosives meant for terrorist bombings in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia. This sort of thing has been going on for some time. Iranian politicians have increasingly mentioned in public that Bahrain is really the 14th province of Iran. That's because, well, it isn't called the "Persian" Gulf for nothing (although since all the oil money showed up the Arabs have been trying to popularize the term "Arabian Gulf," with mixed success). There have been ethnic Iranian communities in Bahrain for centuries, along with a Shia Arab majority, and Iran had a formal claim on the island until 1969 when the claim was dropped, in order to improve relations with Arab neighbors. Iran has always been an empire and still is (only half the population is ethnic Iranian). The way this works you always have a sense of "Greater Iran" which includes, at the least, claims on any nearby areas containing ethnic Iranians or people of similar religion. Hitler used this concept to guide his strategy during World War II. Bahrainis (both Sunni and Shia) get very upset when these claims are periodically revived. The local Shia want an independent Bahrain run by the Shia majority. The Iranian government officially denounces such claims on Bahrain but apparently many Iranians have not forgotten. Arabs are not very happy about that and have responded by pointing out that Iran was Sunni until 500 years ago and were forced to convert, on pain of death, by a Shia emperor who killed about a million of his subjects in the process. Saudi Arabia is trying, with some success, to organize Arab resistance to Iranian expansionist moves. Iran has responded by encouraging the Shia minorities on the west side of the Gulf to demonstrate their unhappiness with their minority status. The Iranian claim is based on Iranian control of Bahrain for a few years during the 18th century. Iran resents Western interference in the area believing themselves to be the regional superpower and the final arbiter of who is sovereign and who is not. Arabs see Iran continuing to throw its traditional weight around, despite the decades of sanctions and the current low oil prices. Traditional thinking among Sunnis is that Shia are scum and a bunch of unreliable losers, although the Iranians have always visibly contradicted that. The average Iranian holds similar views towards Arabs, especially Sunni Arabs.
July 21, 2016: In the northwest (West Azerbaijan province) troops intercepted four armed Kurds trying to enter Iran. Two fled back into Turkey, one was killed and one was captured. The four were apparently Iranian Kurds belonging to PJAK, which usually hides out in northern Iraq but also has ties with the Turkish PKK. Kurds are about ten percent of the Iranian population and most live in the northwest near the Iraq and Turkish borders. The PJAK separatists have been active for a long time and have links to similar groups in Turkey (PKK) and Iraq (where the Kurdish minority in the north has been autonomous since the early 1990s). Most of the 2,000 armed PJAK members are in northern Iraq, where local Kurdish government tolerates their presence. There has been more clashes between PJAK and the IRGC since Saddam Hussein was taken down in 2003.
July 20, 2016: In the southeast security forces arrested forty local Baluchi and accused them of planning terror attacks. Also found were tunnels dug by these Baluchis to facilitate the terrorist activity. Iran has been fighting Baluchi separatists for centuries. Armed Baluchi groups often base themselves across the border in Pakistan, which has been unable to halt this sort of thing. The Baluchi are Sunni, and resent the way they are persecuted by the Shia majority in Iran. About two percent (1.4 million) of Iranians are Baluchi. Most Baluchi tribes live across the border in Pakistan (all of southwest Pakistan is called Baluchistan, or "Land Of the Baluchi", a tribe ethnically related to the Pushtun in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and the Iranians themselves).
July 19, 2016: In Yemen Shia rebels claim to have used two Iranian Zelzal-3 unguided rockets in the last week. The one fired today was directed at a Saudi military base at Jizan, which is 150 kilometers from the border. It is unclear how the rebels got these Zelzal-3 rockets. If they have them there were apparently in one of the few Iranian smuggling ships that got through the blockade. Zelzal-3 is a 3.9 ton missile based on the Russian Cold War era FROG (Free Rocket Over Ground) rocket. Zelzal-3 has a max range of 250 kilometers and Iran claims it can land within 300 meters of what it is aimed at. The one launched on the 13th hit a military base in central Yemen (Marib province) but only caused a few casualties. The one aimed at the base in Saudi Arabia claims to have killed three Saudi soldiers. No comment yet from the Saudis but if this attack was successful it would be the first successful rebel missile attack on a target in Saudi Arabia. Several other attempts used ballistic missiles that were all intercepted by American Patriot anti-missile missiles.
July 18, 2016: In the southwest (Khuzestan province) local Arab separatists bombed an oil pipeline and escaped. Earlier in the month (the 11th) a similar attack was made on a natural gas pipeline. There are several Arab separatist groups active in Khuzestan province, including the al Farouq Brigade which took credit for these two attacks. On July 9th another group (Hawks of Ahwaz) took credit for a recent fire in a local petrochemical plant. Hawks of Ahwaz took credit for two other similar fires that have occurred since 2015. Iran is acutely aware of how unruly its own Arab minority (a few percent of the population) can be. There are a growing number of terrorist incidents inside Iran traced to Iranian Arabs. Most Iranian oil is pumped from the ancestral lands of these Arabs, who are bitter about how they receive little benefit from all that oil wealth. The three million Arabs in Khuzestan province (formerly Arabistan) are Shia and have been ruled by non-Arab Iranians for centuries. Arab unrest here has grown since 2003, when the Sunni dictatorship of Saddam Hussein was overthrown in Iraq and the Shia majority won elections to take power. Since 2003 hundreds of Iranian Arabs have been arrested for separatist activities. Many are still in prison and nearly 30 have been executed.
July 17, 2016: The most powerful political and religious leader in Iraq, Shia cleric Moqtada al Sadr, declared on his web site that it is time to let the Americans know that his followers, especially members of Iran-backed Shia militias, are eager to kill American troops in Iraq. The Iraqi and American governments have not responded to this. Since January 2015 Sadr has been urging all Shia militias to work more closely with the Iraqi army. Sadr leads the largest religious party in the country and has long been openly pro-Iran and in favor of establishing a religious dictatorship in Iraq. But he does not want Iran running the country. Sadr is famously anti-American, but also a shrewd politician and as corrupt as they come. He works for the government in return for financial support (legal and otherwise.) He is also popularizing the belief that ISIL was created by the Americans to hurt Arabs in particular and Moslems in general. Many Iraqis are buying into that and it surprises no one that Sadr will continue to exploit all this. Sadr also considers the Iraqi Kurds as enemies.
July 15, 2016: A failed coup in neighboring Turkey caused some problems for Iran (who accused Saudi Arabia of backing it). Turkish leader Erdogan is no Assad, is a Sunni and Turkish democracy still works. Thus Erdogan’s bad habits (many Turks call him “The Sultan” and a wannabe dictator) not only made him more concerned about his hold on power but also interfered with concentrating on the mess in Syria or improving relations with Iran. That meant the traditional regional superpower, the nation most able to settle the mess in Syria, has been sidetracked by messy domestic politics. That apparently will continue and possibly get worse especially since Iran is a big fan of Erdogan and quickly let Erdogan know that Iran opposed the coup. Another reason for Iran to support Erdogan is because he, the Assads, Iran and the Iraqi government all agree that an independent Kurdish state is a bad thing and must be prevented at all costs. But there are complications when it comes to Iran and Turkey. Before the coup attempt the civil war in Syria and the growth of ISIL led Turkey to repair relations with Israel, something which antagonizes ISIL and Iran a great deal. To make that even more annoying Egypt and the Gulf Arabs have also improved their relations with Israel as a result of the Islamic terror threat. Turkey, Egypt and the Gulf Arabs all had developed links with Islamic terror groups over the years but by 2015 realized that Israel was a better ally and certainly less dangerous than Islamic radicals. Arabs criticize Iran, with much justification, for continuing to openly support Moslem terrorism against other Moslems. This is done largely with the Quds Force to help Shia Moslems attack Sunni. Meanwhile the border with Turkey was closed for two days because of the coup and was open again by the 17th.
July 11, 2016: Germany has revealed, in some detail, how Iran continued its smuggling (of nuclear weapons tech) operations in Germany after signing an agreement in July 2015 that ended the trade sanctions in return for Iran halting its nuclear weapons program. It was thought that this would end the ballistic missile projects as well but Iran later pointed out that this was not explicitly addressed in the agreement and Iran was going to continue work on the missiles. Iran denied the German findings about nuclear tech but Iran has always denied accusations of smuggling.