As the impact of American sanctions continues to deplete the religious dictatorship's finances and perpetuated the recession that has persisted for over a decade, the Iranian leaders make threats against the U.S. and Israel that they seem to have no intention of following through with. The threats are pretty standard Iranian tactics. Iran will get violent if they think they can get away with it but the current American government has demonstrated a willingness to meet force with force. The current Israeli government is also particularly aggressive in striking back at any Iranian moves that threaten Israel. This target list includes all the Iranian proxies; the Assad government, Hezbollah, Hamas and Islamic Jihad. At home the IRGC (Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps), which often suggests more violent responses to such situations, finds itself on the defensive inside Iran. Most Iranians hold the IRGC responsible for the persistent recession and growing list of foreign nations that see Iran in a bad light. The popular protests against the government have been going on since late 2017 and even some elected officials (who are screened first by the senior clerics) are protesting the government for trying to ignore or suppress some very real grievances. Some government hardliners still back starting a war if all else fails but most Iranian leaders fear that anything that bold will more likely backfire on Iran. The enemy this time is openly aware of the many ancient Iranian strategies and tactics which often worked in the past. Not all the countermeasures developed have been disclosed but from what Iranian has seen in the last few years, starting a war to mobilize the Iranian people is likely to be a flop because Iranian enemies will not cooperate. So for the moment, there is a lot of posturing and other theatrics while the Iranian position worsens and Iranian leaders frantically seek to come up with a solution that does not include putting the current Iranian rulers out of a job.
Demise By Many Cuts
During May Iran suffered several major economic setbacks that Iranian leaders had not expected. The worst one was China, a major customer for Iranian oil, announcing it would comply with the American sanctions and halt Iranian oil imports as its 180 day import waiver expired. Until mid-May China had not made it clear how it would react and is still indicating that it could keep changing its policy. The Chinese decision was enforced quickly and Iranian tankers in transit or waiting to unload at Chinese ports were told that their cargo would not be accepted. This was a major blow for Iran as China was Iran’s largest oil customer. China was buying nearly half a million barrels a day and paid by barter to avoid the American banking sanctions. China offered lots of items in trade, including high tech goods that Iran needed. Now all that was gone.
Adding to the China decision, Turkey also announced it would halt its purchases of Iranian oil. Turkey buys a lot less oil than China but Turkey is a neighbor and Iran needs to maintain good relations with the Turks in order to use Turkey for smuggling operations. At the moment Turkey needs the Americans more than it needs Iran. The United States is cutting military ties with Turkey because the Turks insist on buying a new S-400 air defense system from Russia while also purchasing F-35 stealth fighters. The American said the Turks cannot have both and have begun cutting Turkey out of the F-35 program. Turkey can replace Iranian oil easily enough, but not the F-35. Turkey is also at risk of being expelled from NATO, something most Turks oppose.
All this bad news came at the same time that European allies were admitting that their new financial system, designed to get around American economic sanctions and allow payment in hard currency, was not working and not likely to. The Americans were able to block such schemes and the Europeans, like the Chinese, were not willing to take on the United States because the Americans have been remarkably effective and determined this time around. Iran is applying more pressure by threatening to resume nuclear weapons development unless the Europeans get the Americans to back down on at least some of the sanctions or find a way around the sanctions. Many European leaders are trying but a growing number of European voters are turning against these pro-Iran policies.
The immediate Iranian response was very hostile with threats to shut down all ship traffic in the Persian Gulf and attack American diplomats and military personnel in the region, mainly in Iraq where these Americans were most vulnerable. Iran gave its European allies, especially the ones that are still abiding by the 2015 treaty that lifted sanctions, 60 days to provide Iran with meaningful relief from American sanctions. If that does not happen Iran threatens to take some vague “strong measures.”
Iranian leaders feel pressure on all sides. There are still popular protests against the religious dictatorship and its corrupt ways, and these protests are persisting and increasing. Iran threatens to shut down all oil exports from the Persian Gulf if all Iranian oil exports are blocked. That is considered unlikely because it would be a declaration of war by Iran, and even the elderly clerics who have ruled Iran since the 1980s have made it clear they understand their military is more mirage than real. It is also obvious to all Iranians that war would destroy Iranian oil production and export facilities and much else. It would take years to repair that damage and there is no good outcome for Iran if there is war in the Persian Gulf.
Iran also threatened to resume its nuclear weapons program (which it still insists never existed), but that is not likely because the program is expensive and doing so invites special operations type attacks (the Stuxnet hack, Israeli assassinations inside Iran and so on). Iran won’t maintain the “we will build nukes” threats unless they get a useful (and not harmful) response. The Europeans might want to submit but they have nothing to offer. The Russians also have little to offer and the Chinese have removed themselves for the time being. Iran is alone and does not like it at all.
The Iraqis are growing more aggressive in curbing
the Iranian backed PMF (Popular Mobilization Force) militias. The PMF was created in 2014 after the Iraqi army fell apart in the face of the ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) advance that took Mosul and about a third of Iraq in a few months. The creation of the PMF was an admission by the Shia government that had failed to curb corruption, especially as it weakened the military. Iran rushed in with trainers and advisors for the new PMF groups and that did indeed help. But at the same time, Iran took control of many of these militias. By 2018 Iraqis realized that the pro-Iran PMF units were a threat to the Iraqi government. Iraqis also remembered that in 2011 there was a crackdown on Iranian militias and although the Iranians are now better prepared for that, popular hostility towards Iran is greater in 2019 than in 2011. Although the Shia Arabs feel an affinity with Shia Iran, the ancient (we're talking thousands of years here) Arab fear of the Iranians makes it possible for Shia and Sunni Arabs to make deals. And that's what Saudi Arabia, and the other Sunni Arab Gulf States, are doing with Iraq. Saudi Arabia sees Iran as the neighborhood bully, and Iraq as an Arab, not an Iranian, asset. The Iraqi Shia Arabs don’t want to be dominated by non-Arab Iran, where Arabs are openly despised, especially the few percent of Iranians who are Arab. At the same time, Iraq doesn’t want to be dominated by their Sunni Arab neighbors and especially not by their own Sunni Arab minority (which created ISIL and has been a major supporter of Islamic terrorism since 2003).
There are still over a thousand Iranians providing training, advisory and support assistance to the PMF Shia militias. The Iraqi government fears that these IRGC advisors and trainers are secretly building pro-Iran armed militias in Iraq. That’s simply not true because the IRGC is quite open about what they are doing to encourage Iraqi Shia to organize armed groups so they can work with Iran someday to impose the same kind of religious dictatorship in Iraq that has existed in Iran since the 1980s. That is equally unlikely (because of popular opposition inside Iraq) but the Iranians tend to think long-term. The Iranians like to pretend that they have a lot of support in Iraq. They do have some, but it is declining, as it usually does after it is no longer useful for Iraq.
If the Americans should leave and take most of their foreign aid with them the Taliban would still have their Pakistani backers but the anti-Taliban Afghans would have numbers and support from Iran. The Iranians oppose the drug gangs and the Sunni Islamic terrorists, especially the Taliban, al Qaeda and ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) who see Shia as heretics and subject to death if they do not embrace Sunni Islam. This confrontation is a recent (the 1970s) development caused by Saudi support for the Afghans fighting the Russian effort to impose a communist dictatorship. The Saudis supplied cash, weapons, and missionaries to convince the Afghan rebels that they were defending Islam against the godless communists. Before the Saudi missionaries introduced their conservative Wahhabi form of Sunni Islam, most Afghans were Sunni but of more moderate persuasions which did not target Shia or any other form of Islam as worthy of extermination.
Despite recent Pakistani pledges to cease any involvement with Afghan “internal conflicts,” Iranians, Indians and Afghans generally agree that Pakistan has no interest in abandoning its use of certain Islamic terror groups (like the Taliban) to put pressure on neighbors. This is considered a problem for everyone, especially the Afghans. Worse, few people in the region (especially Afghans and Iranians) expect the Taliban to agree to a ban on Taliban controlled Afghanistan again becoming a sanctuary for Islamic terrorists. Many Afghans are wondering why the Americans are even negotiating with the Taliban, who have long demonstrated that they cannot be trusted. Iranians are particularly wary of this as they see the Taliban as inherently anti-Iranian. Iran also has issues with the Afghan drug gangs, who continue to produce, with Pakistani cooperation, all that heroin, opium and hashish. Much of it gets out of Afghanistan via Iran and that has turned the Iran/Afghan border into an increasingly bloody battle zone.
Russia has become the most reliable, and least threatening, ally of the Syrian government but not the most significant. Syria recognizes that as much as they want Iranian forces out of Syria, that is not going to happen unless the Iranians decide to leave. Turkey is seen as a foreign invader by the Syrians while Iran is appreciated for all its help in defeating the rebels, but resented for trying to turn Syria into an extension of Iran rather than treating Syria as a sovereign nation and ally. Syria cannot ignore Iran because the Iranians still have a large force of mercenaries in the country and these are useful in dealing with the remaining Islamic terrorists.
Russia and Iran oppose Turkish plans for Idlib and Kurdish held areas to the east (all the way to the Iraq border). The Turks want permanent control over the Syrian side of the border to improve their own border security and, more importantly, cripple Syrian Kurdish efforts to establish an autonomous Kurdish region in the northeast. This puts the Turks at odds with Syrians in general and especially the Iranian backed Assad dictatorship in Syria. Now into its second generation, the Assad clan feels it has won a major victory that will not be complete until all foreigners (Turks in the north, Americans in the east and Israelis in the Golan Heights) are out of Syria. None of those foreigners want to cooperate because they feel the Turks, at least the current Islamic government, cannot be trusted.
Hezbollah, the Iran-backed Shia militia in Lebanon, was created in the early 1980s. Hezbollah has been increasingly dependent on Iranian cash subsidies to maintain itself. Somewhat abruptly, in 2019, those cash subsidies were cut in half. The main reason for this is Iran is broke. The 2019 financial aid cuts have cost Hezbollah over $30 million a month and Iran warns that it is liable to get worse. As of May 2019, this has caused massive pay and benefits reductions to Hezbollah members and families of Hezbollah members killed in Syria since 2012. These survivor payments have been cut in half and the several thousand families involved are not taking this quietly. That’s because the Hezbollah participation in Syria fighting to keep the Iranian backed Assad dictatorship alive was never popular with most Hezbollah members, and even less popular with Lebanese in general. Thousands of Hezbollah employees have had their pay cut and all this has triggered a very visible economic recession in southern Lebanon, which Hezbollah dominates the local government and economy.
The Americans have also been increasingly successful in shutting down illegal Hezbollah fundraising around the world, especially in Europe and the United States. For decades Hezbollah got away with operating under the cover of Islamic charities. Since the late 1990s, more and more people involved with this fundraising have been identified and prosecuted. Hezbollah has also suffered increasing losses from Israeli defensive operations against two decades of Hezbollah efforts to attack Israel and Israelis wherever they are. Hezbollah also found itself increasingly restricted by getting labeled an international terrorist organization by the United States, Canada, most European countries and Arab ones as well (including the Arab League).
Iran, Russia and Cuba are cooperating in Venezuela to keep the Maduro dictatorship in power. Maduro and his “Bolivarian Socialists” have trashed the local economy, with the Venezuelan GDP shrinking more than 50 percent in the last few years. Why keep Maduro in power? Because Iran has the largest oil reserves in the world. While Venezuelan oil is “dirty” (with contaminants that have to be removed before it can be sold), that merely increases the cost of extraction. All oil producing nations have to deal with this and some have higher extraction and exporting costs than others. The Chinese are restoring the Venezuelan oil industry to past (pre-socialist) levels of efficiency and, if the American sanctions can be overcome, there are economic and political rewards for all involved. Maduro allies include drug gangs, leftist rebels from Colombia and Venezuelan militias that are basically criminal-gangs-for-hire. Cuba has supplied the expertise in operating a communist police state with the Russians supplying technical expertise and Iran providing their terrorist skills. Nearly all the neighbors (except Cuba) have declared the Maduro government illegitimate and unwanted by the neighbors as well as most Venezuelans. Conditions are so bad that 12 percent of the population has fled the country. That’s four million Venezuelans and rising. About a million of those impoverished Venezuelans fled since last November. Venezuela used to have a population of 32 million which was the most affluent population in the region. No more, and it’s getting worse. Iran sees Venezuela as a land of opportunity and feels right at home.
June 10, 2019: Syrians opposed to the Assads, or just the Iranian influence, still exist in Syria and quietly observe what the Iranians are up to and get that information out of the country for the rest of the world to see. One of the latest revelations are the locations of remaining Iranian stockpiles of Iranian missiles. This includes small anti-tank and anti-aircraft systems as well as mobile Fateh-110 ballistic missiles and their transports. Some of these have been quietly moved to areas that Israel had previously bombed. Most of these new storage sites are i
n eastern Syria (Homs province)
at the previously bombed T4 airbase as well as some new sites. Syria warned Iran that such stockpiles, so close to Israel, would be destroyed if discovered.
June 9, 2019: In northwest Syria (Idlib province), Iranian support for an offensive against the 20,000 or so Islamic terrorists trapped there has failed to make a difference, mainly because can no longer provide much infantry. Since late April Russian and Syrian airstrikes and artillery have forced over 300,000 Idlib civilians from their homes and killed over a thousand people (40 percent of them civilians). The Syrian and a few Iranian mercenaries gained some ground but not enough and in the last week the Islamic terrorists have been launching more counterattacks. The Turks have allowed military supplies to reach the Islamic terror groups in Idlib, with the understanding that this military aid would be used to halt the Syria-Iran efforts to destroy the Islamic terrorist control over most of the province. This is a win for the Turks, who do not want over a million desperate Idlib civilians trying to force their way into Turkey.
The main problem Syria has is a growing shortage of effective combat troops. The Syrians long depended on Iranian mercenaries to do the aggressive and dangerous ground fighting for them. But money shortages back in Iran have cut the budget for Iranian mercenaries and many mercenaries have been laid off and sent home. Iranian efforts to bring in Iran-backed Iraqi Shia militias to replace the unaffordable mercenaries has not worked. Iraq is reluctant to see pro-Iran Iraqi militiamen heavily involved in the Syria fighting. So is Israel, which will bomb any pro-Iran forces if they become a problem. In effect, the Syrian army can no longer depend on Iran mercenaries to help out with the high-risk combat operations. Russia has stepped in and increased their training efforts for Syrian soldiers and has increased the effectiveness of Syrian artillery, armor and infantry units. This does reduce infantry casualties but at the expense of carrying out attacks as quickly and effectively with Iranian mercenaries, who tended to be fanatically aggressive and not discouraged by the risk of heavy casualties. Few Syrians have that kind of enthusiasm after nearly a decade of civil war. Worse, the Russian training program has only produced about 20,000 graduates so far. The training takes months and not all the trainees are successful. The training program remains popular because it does turn dispirited Syrians soldiers (veterans and conscripts alike) into capable and confident troops. But that confidence will only last as long as there are no heavy casualties. Meanwhile, Iranian trainers and advisors are still working with the Syrian armed forces. The Russians are more popular but the Iranians can use their presence to retain control, or at least access, to key support operations (like intelligence) and headquarters.
June 8, 2019: The U.S. imposed additional sanctions on PGPIC (Persian Gulf Petrochemical Industries Company) which is partly owned by the IRGC, which the Americans consider an international terrorist organization. PGPIC is the largest Iranian refiner and exporter of refined petroleum products. The sanctions mean PGPIC export customers and project partners are severing ties because of the terrorist connection. While Iran still denies that IRGC is a terrorist organization, the rest of the w0rld have seen enough evidence of IRGC mayhem to accept the sanctions. That is very bad news for Iran because over the years IRGC has acquired ownership shares of many Iranian industries. These assets were often acquired by intimidation, force or simply using IRGC police powers to steal it. This is no secret in Iran and one of the complaints Iranians have against their own government. Sanctions against PGPIC hits Iran in a very vulnerable spot. Refined products are much more in demand than crude (right out of the ground) oil and easier, if need be, to smuggle. More countries, including some European ones, are willing to evade sanctions to obtain bargain priced refined products. With the terrorist connection, PGPIC products are going to be harder to sell.
June 7, 2019: The government has recruited over 10,000 new lifestyle police in response to the growing number of Iranian women who refuse to obey the rules, especially those that dress modestly but obviously not according to the rules and will resist getting arrested. When these disobedient women travel in groups they will cause an embarrassing public situation even if confronted by lifestyle police. The government solution is the use of teams of eight female police. These new “morality police” are being deployed in towns and cities were “disobedient women” are most active. Early reports are they this is going to get interesting in ways the religious leaders may not like.
June 6, 2019: In Syria, Israeli air defense radar spotted several Syrian anti-aircraft missiles being launched towards the Israeli Golan Heights. The S-200 missiles were launched from outside Damascus and Syria was apparently hoping that these largely unguided (for a surface-to-surface attack) missiles would hit targets on the Israeli side of the border. That did not happen.
June 5, 2019: The World Bank, which regularly analyzes global economies to gauge their health and creditworthiness has been putting Iran at the bottom of the list for years now and has been regularly changing (for the worse) forecasts of Iranian economic performance. The most recent forecast has Iranian GDP declining by 4.5 percent in 2019. Previously the forecast had been a 3.6 percent decline.
June 4, 2019: In the Red Sea, off Yemen, a Saudi military transport helicopter came to the aid of an Iranian freighter (the Saviz) anchored in international waters 150 kilometers northwest of the Yemeni port of Hodeida. An Iranian sailor was flown from the Saviz to a Saudi hospital for emergency treatment. The Iranian request for medical evacuation was done via the UN because the two nations have no diplomatic relations. This is one of those curious situations so common to the cultures of the region. The Saviz has been anchored (outside the shipping lanes and in plain sight) since late 2017. Apparently, the ship, which is regularly resupplied by other Iranian merchant ships, is unarmed but there are also several speedboats on the deck and men in IRGC uniforms are regularly seen on deck as well. The Saviz apparently serves as a mothership for small, fast, smuggling boats that can carry limited quantities of small items ashore and get away with it. The Saudis have not shut down the Saviz apparently because of some unofficial understanding that as long as Iran does not resume putting naval mines in the shipping channel and firing missiles at passing military and commercial traffic, the Saviz would be left alone. The Saviz may well be the main source of the additional UAVs the Shia rebels are getting and using. But as long as none of these UAV attacks do any serious damage, the Saviz will be left alone. Eventually, the truth about the Saviz will come out and join that many other strange tales of the mysterious Middle East.
June 3, 2019: In Yemen Arab Coalition air defenses shot down a Shia rebel UAV, equipped with explosives, that was headed for a military parade at a coalition base. These UAVs have proved more effective than the ballistic missiles Iran had been providing to the Shia rebels. Some of the explosives equipped UAV attacks have hit Saudi oil and military facilities but have only caused minor and inconsequential damage (like fires that are quickly put out.) For Iran and the Shia rebels, this much progress is worth it and costs a lot less than the failed ballistic missile attacks. The Saudi air defenses are being modified to detect and destroy the slow, low flying UAVs and a growing number are being shot down. But so far this year there have been several successes and even the failures get publicity which Iran counts as a win. But not enough to win the war in Yemen.
June 2, 2019: In Syria (Golan Heights), Israeli airstrikes against at least six Syrian and Iranian military targets was retaliation for two rockets fired from near Damascus into Israeli Golan Heights territory the day before. Israel acknowledged these airstrikes and openly declared that there would be more of them as long as Iran and Hezbollah threaten Israel. Israel also pointed out Iranian and Hezbollah attack have been ineffective because of Israeli defenses and Syria is unable to stop Israeli airstrikes and Israel intends to keep it that way. This sort of public criticism is very annoying to Iranian leaders, who cannot afford to be identified as weak and powerless, not with the growing internal unrest over poor economic performance and government corruption.
In northeastern Syria (Deir Ezzor province), there was another clash between an Iran-backed militia and a pro-Assad one.
Heavy weapons were used and there was some street fighting. This caused over a dozen casualties before it was halted. Iranian forces, including IRGC personnel supervising pro-Iran militias from Syria and Iraq dominate the area and often keep Assad forces out.
June 1, 2019: In the first five months of 2019 185,000 Afghan refugees returned from Iran.
There are still several million Afghan refugees in Iran. Many are not registered as refugees and more and more of them are the children of Afghans who fled to Iran during the 1980s and 90s to escape the fighting (first with the Russians than with other Afghans and the Taliban).
2002 and 2008,
a million left Iran,
Afghanistan. Since then the number of returnees per year has fluctuated. But since American sanctions on Iran were revived two years ago the Iranian economy has been in recession and more Afghans are returning because of that. In 2018 alone at least 800,000 Afghans left Iran, most coming back to Afghanistan.
May 29, 2019: In Lebanon, the Hezbollah leader held a press conference in which he assured the world that Hezbollah would attack Israel if Israel attacked Iran. But right after that, he announced, in Arabic, to a Lebanese audience that Hezbollah would never attack Israel unless Israel attacked Lebanon first. That is an important point for Hezbollah because since 2011 local support for Hezbollah has declined considerably. Hezbollah never had the support of the majority of Lebanese and maintained its political and economic power through the use of force, or they threat of that. Hezbollah has been responsible for the assassination of several prominent local politicians who opposed them and the Iranian influence in the country. The Hezbollah role in keeping the hated (by most Lebanese) Assad government in Syria in power hurt, as did the fact that the years of violence in Syria sent millions of refugees into Lebanon, where they were the cause of many problems. In 2006 Hezbollah attempts to kidnap Israeli soldiers near the border led to a massive Israeli attack. Hezbollah blamed Israel but many Lebanese blamed Hezbollah for that short war and all the damage it did to Lebanon overall. The Lebanese government is still officially hostile to Israel and not critical of Hezbollah. But anyone who pays attention to public opinion, as Hezbollah leaders do, know that Hezbollah is more disliked and hated in Lebanon than ever before and any talk of starting a war with Israel is not well received in Lebanon. As a result, Iran sees Hezbollah as much less useful. This is the fault of Iran, which insisted that thousands of Hezbollah fighters be sent to Syria to prop up the Assads. Iran paid for combat bonuses, medical care and life insurance for the Hezbollah gunmen but there was no way to buy the affection of all the Lebanese who wanted Hezbollah disbanded and Iran out of the region (Syria and Lebanon). Iran has cut its cash subsidies to Hezbollah by half, saying it was necessary because the Iranian economy was in bad shape. While that was true, the value of Hezbollah to Iran was in even worse shape not worth the $700 million a year Iran was paying to make Hezbollah worth the cost.
May 24, 2019: In Yemen, the UN is openly accusing the Shia rebels of stealing food aid and blocking distribution to starving civilians that opposed the rebels. To get aid shipments resumed the rebels were forced to allow UN air personnel to travel with the food convoys to ensure they reached the intended recipients. That was supposed to halt the rebel theft and diversion of aid shipments. The Iranian IRGC advisors apparently convinced the Shia rebels that they could do as they pleased with the UN people along because Iran would tie the UN up for weeks, if not longer, by backing Shia rebels claims that the UN observers are lying.
May 19, 2019: In Iraq (Baghdad), a rocket was fired into the Green Zone, the well-protected area where foreign embassies and key government offices are located. This rocket landed about a thousand meters from the American embassy but it was unclear of that embassy was the target. The rockets are unguided and there is lots of open space in the Green Zone. This 10 square kilometer (four square mile) sanctuary in downtown Iraq was long a sanctuary for Americans and senior Iraqis. Most Baghdad residents wanted the Green Zone and the way it disrupted major traffic patterns, eliminated after the Americans left. But rich and powerful Iraqis wanted to live in the Green Zone, as protection from criminals and terrorists (both of whom murder, kidnap and rob the rich). So the Green Zone lives on, under Iraqi management. Since 2010 there have been occasional rockets or mortar shells fired into the Green Zone. It is a large target, with a lot of open space, so there are rarely casualties. This rocket was fired from an area controlled by an Iran-backed militia. Iran officially condemned the rocket attack although it was later announced that fragments of the rocket had been collected and it was Iranian made and commonly used by groups Iran supports throughout the region. That’s proxy war.
May 18, 2019: In Syria (Aleppo), Russian troops again clashed with an Iran backed militia. This time the Russians were Iranian efforts to control operations at the Aleppo airport and using these “proxy forces” to do it. Russia has sent military police battalions, composed of Russian Moslems, to Syria to deal with troublesome pro-government militias. The most bothersome militias tend to be the ones created by Iran using foreign mercenaries and the Russian military police have orders to arrest or open fire on any of these militias that misbehave. Syria cannot do this without offending Iran while the Russians can and everyone understands that the Russians are performing a needed service. This time the Russian military police made arrests. Last month they had to open fire and that made an impression on the pro-Iran forces.
In southern Syria (Quneitra province), an Israeli airstrike apparently destroyed at least two targets that were probably Iranian.
May 17, 2019: The commander of the Iranian IRGC alerted all his forces (mainly those who are armed and on the payroll) in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen to prepare for war with the West. This is because Iran is now in a lot more trouble back home. The IRGC is not declaring war, just rattling the saber to see what happens. In addition to killing people, the IRGC likes to make threats.
Syrian air defenses near the Israeli border reported “strange objects” coming from Israel. The next day the Syrians fired anti-aircraft missiles at more of the “strange objects” but did report anything shot down. Foreigners in Damascus report hearing two explosions outside the city, indicating another successful Israeli air strike. Israel rarely comments on its airstrikes at the time they occur. These days Syria always reports that its air defense systems have shot something down after each Israeli airstrike, but do not present any evidence (like the wreckage of what was shot down). So far Israel has regularly demonstrated it can shut down (permanently with bombs or temporarily with countermeasures) Syrian air defense systems. The Israelis don’t destroy all the Syrian air defense systems because that would be expensive and Israel only needs to shut down systems that attempt to interfere with Israeli airstrikes or surveillance missions. This approach also intimidates the Syrians and Russians (and anyone else using Russian air defense systems). This Israeli policy avoiding damaging Russian air defense systems as long as Russia does not try to interfere with Israeli air operations. One reason Russia is exasperated with Iran is that the Iranians fail to appreciate the technical and military superiority the Israelis have when it comes to air defenses and how to defeat them. The Russians are being practical while the Iranians are believing their own press releases.