Iran: Desperate Times, Desperate Gambles

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May 13, 2021: The IRGC (Islamic Revolution Guard Corps), whose main job is to keep the religious dictatorship in power, has been accused of seeking to expand its own control over Iran. That latest example of this Iran offering to free foreigners in return for returning billions of dollars’ worth of Iranian cash held in foreign countries because of the economic sanctions. The IRGC is apparently even offering to trade its presence in Yemen for decisive Saudi assistance in getting the sanctions lifted. This appears to be a good thing for Iran, but many Iranian leader see this as another effort by the IRGC to expand its power in Iran. This power was demonstrated when the sanction were lifted in 2015 via a treaty. Most Iranians expected the influx of cash to improve their lives. It didn’t, mainly because the IRGC for a lot of that cash to expand its military operations overseas.

The increased Iranian control in Yemen played a part in Iran and Saudi Arabia agreeing in mid-April to begin secret (unannounced and officially denied) negotiations. Such secrets do not stay secret for long and recently the Saudis confirmed that the negotiations were underway. That explains the nice things Iran and Saudis have been saying about each other since late April. Iran wants the economic sanctions lifted and the Saudis want Iranian forces gone from their southern border. Making that happen is how deals are made in the Middle East. Iranian threats against the Saudis continue and the current Iranian government believes that, with sanctions lifted, they can deal with the growing unrest inside Iran against the religious dictatorship that has mismanaged Iran since the 1980s. The Saudis believe that there will be another revolution inside Iran and that justifies getting Iran out of Yemen. For both sides, it’s a gamble but because both sides are run by Islamic governments which believe God is on their side so the risk factor is somewhat diminished. To an outsider, Iran seems to be in a weaker position. Yet the Iranians have been more successful at gaining and holding onto power for thousands of years and even the wealthy Gulf Arab states recognize that.

History justifies the hopes of both sides. The Iranians have suffered major defeats in the past because of inept rulers and civil war. That helped made it possible 2,500 years ago for a weakened but seemingly mighty Persian empire to fall to the Greeks, led by Alexander the Great. This conquest was considered impossible but the pattern repeated itself 1,500 years ago when the Arabs, inspired by a new religion (Islam) did the impossible (for Arabs) and conquered the Persian (Iranian) Empire. Five centuries ago, the Turks were able to block Iranian expansion into Arab lands. The Russians blocked Iranian expansion to the north and the British blocked expansion to the east. After the Ottoman Turk empire fell apart a century ago the Iranians found their imperial ambitions blocked by Russia and Western forces.

Iranians have long believed that without their internal squabbling Iran could have avoided damage done by the Greek, Arab, Mongol and Western invasions. Currently the moderates (nationalists) in the Islamic government pay attention to history and the radicals (Islamic zealots) don’t. But when radicals do look closely at the past, they often become moderates and that is how the moderates are winning. That has the Iranian government scared and the Arabs encouraged, at least in the short term.

The word from rebel held territory in Yemen is that Iran has been giving the orders this year. This began in late 2020 after Iran sent a Quds Force general to be the Iranian ambassador to Yemen. Since 2015 the rebels have controlled the traditional Yemeni capital, where all the foreign embassies were (and a few still are) as well as headquarters for the government ministries. Most of the embassies and government ministries have left for the temporary capital of the last elected government in the southern port of Aden. Despite that the rebels insist that because they occupy the capital and control over a third of the population, they are the real government and their opponents are southern separatists or foreigners. This ignores the fact that many of the people in rebel territory are kept in live via threats to cut off access to food, medical supplies and imported items. Tribes that try to break away risk starvation and a blockade of roadblocks and attacks on smugglers trying to get in. More and more tribes have been able to break away but the rebels have maintained a presence around many towns and cities.

The new Iranian “ambassador” came to Yemen mainly to supervise Iranian support for combat operations and take a more direct role in running the war. Quds felt so confident that they bluntly rejected recent UN and American offers for ceasefire talks and instead increased the number of offensive operations. For more than a month Quds force officers outside Yemen have boasted to foreign journalists who proceeded to publish what Quds Force was up to in Yemen. The Iranian senior clerics, who have the final say in what Iranian policy is, realized that openly discussing the direct Iranian control of rebel operations was a mistake. Quds was ordered to leave media interviews and Internet announcements to the government.

Iran is taking more direct control over the Shia rebels as part of negotiations to end economic sanctions on Iran. If Iran pulled out of Yemen, the Shia tribal forces would be defeated, as they have many times before. Quds force commanders are reluctant to give up gains made in Yemen and may have been told that they could revive support for the Yemeni Shia after the economic sanctions on Iran are lifted. Because of these sanctions Quds force saw its budget cut by half since 2017, forcing major reductions in Quds activities in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon. Yemen was always the least expensive Quds operation and did not suffer noticeable aid cuts.

Regulated Democracy

For the third time in the last month the Guardian Council has changed the rules for who can run for election to parliament. The next vote is June 18th and determining candidate criteria or blocking any potential candidate is a key tool for the Guardian Council to exercise their dictatorial control over Iran while still pretending Iran is a democracy. The three recent changes were directed at the growing number of “hostile” (to Guardian Council rule) candidates. Half the 14,500 candidates who sought to run for parliament were blocked. This kept any “unworthy” candidates from contesting 230 of the 290 seats in parliament. A record number of IRGC veterans sought to stand for election and few of those seeking to register were rejected by the Guardian Council. There is growing popularity of reformers who want to reduce corruption, especially among the families of Guardian Council members and the IRGC leadership. Another reform is curbing the power of the IRGC, or eliminating it entirely.

In response to the growing popularity for overthrowing the religious dictatorship and its private army (IRGC) only those of proven loyalty to the dictatorship are allowed to run for office. There may be a low turnout in protest but the religious dictatorship cannot afford to mellow or reform and believes it must crush its domestic enemies any way it can.

Commercial and secret public opinion polls both show that more Iranians oppose their Islamic dictatorship. In the last few years more of that opposition has come from segments of the population who were considered true believers and unshakable supporters. That’s no longer the case and the opposition is mainly about the corruption among the ruling families, including IRGC generals. The Guardian Council is also accused of tolerating corrupt and inept government as long as those officials are loyal to the Guardian Council and IRGC. One thing that triggered this opposition growth was how the 2015 deal to lift economic sanctions did not, as the Guardian Council promised, mean more government money for improving and expanding the economy and welfare of average Iranians. That did not happen, but IRGC foreign operations, especially in Syria, Iraq and Yemen suddenly had much larger budgets. The Americans noticed this and the increased budgets of the Iranian ballistic missile and nuclear weapons programs. The U.S. declared Iran in violation of the 2015 deal and reimposed sanctions. Iranians once more noticed that when budget cuts had to be made, the welfare of Iranians suffered the most. The large-scale public protests after 2017 scared the Guardian Council and the IRGC, which noted that areas which had long been the best source of new recruits, were no longer available as those areas were providing a lot of protestors. The Guardian Council ordered the IRGC to suppress the demonstrations by any means necessary and after about ten thousand protestors were wounded or killed by gunfire or other forms of lethal force, the protests went underground and continued to grow.

The opposition is not just in Iran but also in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon. For example, Iraqis pressured their government to outlaw billboards honoring Iranian leaders, including key IRGC personnel (like the late general Soleimani). While Iraqi and Lebanese long feared Iranian retribution for such bans, they now fear the growing anti-Iran sentiment among locals.

Loss of popular support in Iran has led former government supporters to reveal embarrassing secrets. One such recent revelation was about how Qatar arranged to ransom 57 IRGC personnel in 2012. The IRGC men were captured, while travelling in a bus through a “safe” area in Syria. The bus was stopped by a newly formed group of rebels. Iran was desperate to get these men back and Iranian ally Qatar used its connections in Syria to get a message to the kidnappers offering to pay ransom. The kidnappers wanted a million dollars per hostage. Iran asked the Qatari ruler to pay right away and Iran would reimburse him. The IRGC men were set free and when Iran $57 million to Qatar the emir (rulers) sent it back saying he did it out of friendship with Iran. Qatar is a pariah among the other Arab oil states and now known to all as a staunch supporter of Iran and its threats to Saudi Arabia and other Arab states. The emir who paid the $57 million has since (in 2013) retired and appointed one of his younger sons (who is now 41) to succeed him.

A Coalition Killed Soleimani

The United States recently revealed details of Israeli and Iraqi Kurd support during the operation to track and kill Quds Force commander Qassem Soleimani in January 2020. Both Israel and the Iraqi Kurds wanted Soleimani gone as they knew from experience that he was a key element for organizing attacks on Israel and Kurds in general. The Israelis had agents with access to the supplier of cellphones to Soleimani, who frequently (often every call) changed phones. The Israelis slipped phones with trackers in them and let the Americans know which phones were so equipped. This enabled the Americans to know when Soleimani would fly out of Syria and arrive in Iraq (Baghdad airport). The Kurds had agents throughout Iraq and their Baghdad Airport network was able to confirm what vehicles he and his entourage of local Iran-backed militia leaders were in as they left the airport. The U.S. already had three armed UAVs circling the airport and three SOCOM (Special Operations Command) sniper teams in position outside the airport. American electronic monitoring teams in Baghdad were also involved. Normally details like this are not released unless the enemy has already figured it out. That provides an opportunity to embarrass the Iranians with details of how many enemies they have in the region and the ability of those enemies to cooperate. This is particularly important because Iran’s leaders (Guardian Council) have been openly criticizing the successors to Soleimani. These IRGC generals have been noticeably less effective than Soleimani, who was a lot more crucial to Iranian terrorist operations and the smooth functioning of the Iranian government than the Guardian Council or foreign observers realized. The Guardian Council has also been critical of IRGC efforts prevent the Israelis from carrying out sabotage, assassination and data theft operations inside Iran and inside Iranian controlled foreign areas where Quds organizes local forces to fight for Iran. The recent leaks imply that Israel and the Americans understood how important Soleimani was more than the Guardian Council. If nothing else this creates more internal strife within the Iranian religious dictatorship, something the Iranian senior clerics did not appreciate until Soleimani was no longer available to deal with internal discord.

May 11, 2021: In the northwest (West Azerbaijan Province) IRGC troops clashed with some Kurdish separatists entering Iran from Turkey. Seven of the Kurds were killed while two IRGC men died. Clashes like this on the Iraqi and Turkish borders are becoming more common.

In Gaza (bordering Egypt and southern Israel), Hamas and Islamic Jihad, the two main Islamic terror groups there and both now financed and supplied (with weapons) by Iran, went to war with Israel. Iran has been openly and covertly calling for this. Recent Fatah organized riots in Jerusalem gave their rivals in Gaza an opportunity to upstage Fatah. Gaza groups have Iran supplied rockets while Fatah in the West Back does not. Hamas and Fatah had agreed to an election that would finally restore Palestinian units, which had been lost when Gaza won enough votes in the last Palestinian election to declare its independence from Fatah and declare itself the rightful leader of all Palestinians. Not all Palestinians agreed and Fatah failed to regain control of Gaza. Soon Fatah was also forced to adopt the Hamas policy that “Israel must be destroyed and no peace agreement with Israel is possible.” This put Fatah in a difficult position as their foreign aid, which flows much more freely than it does for belligerent Hamas and Islamic Jihad. The aid superiority could only be maintained by convincing the major donors (including the United States and Gulf Arab oil states) that the aid was used to improve the lives of West Bank Palestinians and not to support terrorists and enrich the Fatah leadership and their key supporters. The Fatah deception has been falling apart and the growing lack of aid made Palestinians angry and Fatah desperate. Fatah blamed all its problems on Israel and is constantly calling for more popular violence against Israel. Occasionally this works and recently disputes over holding Palestinian elections in Jerusalem enabled Fatah to get some large riots going. These things usually don’t last long but this time Hamas and Islamic Jihad both agreed to do something different; launch a massive (hundreds of longer-range unguided rockets at a time) attack on Jerusalem. Israel knew that its Iron Dome rocket defense system could not stop all of the rockets from hitting populated areas during a large volume attack and Israel would have to accept losses until ground troops could get into Gaza or Lebanon (depending on where the rockets came from) and occupy the rocket storage and launching sites. The initial Israeli response was large scale airstrikes against Hamas and Islamic jihad targets in Gaza. This included killing one Islamic Jihad senior leaders. Iran wants Israel to invade Gaza, as it did in 2014. Iran can also call on Hezbollah to launch its rockets, but Hezbollah has a much more precarious position in Lebanon where the majority of Lebanese want Hezbollah gone and getting Lebanon involved in another war with Israel might see Hezbollah fighting Israel and Lebanese at the same time.

Iran hopes a major war with Israel will result in more popular support from all Moslems in the region. That’s more of a gamble than a sure thing.

May 10, 2021: In the south west ( the Strait of Hormuz, the entrance to the Persian Gulf) thirteen Iranian armed speedboats sought to interfere with several American warships entering the Persian Gulf. The American ships sent signals to Iranian boats to get out of the way or else. Eleven of the speedboats heeded the message but two did not. Nearby American ships opened fire with 12.7mm machine-guns. Several dozen warning shots landed near the two Iranian speedboats before the boats turned away to join the other eleven. The navy videoed the incident and later released the video to the public while the Iranians were still describing the incident as an example of American aggression.

May 9, 2021: In southern Iraq (Karbala province) Iranian agents assassinated Ihab Jawad al Wazni, a prominent Shia leader of the growing anti-corruption and anti-Iran movement in Iraq. Wazni also organized mass demonstrations against Iranian influence in Iraq. Iran was warned that if they had Wazni killed, as Iran has already done to other prominent anti-Iran Iraqis, there would be consequence. By the end of day, the Iranian consulate in Karbala (where major Shia religious shrines are) was surrounded by angry Iraqis and access to the consulate blocked.

In northwest Yemen, Shia rebels launched another cruise missile, actually an explosives laden UAV (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles), into southwest Saudi Arabia. The rebels claimed this cruise missile was programmed to attack the King Khalid Air Base, which is about 200 kilometers from the Yemen border. This cruise missile/UAV was intercepted and destroyed before it could reach the airbase. The Shia rebels insisted the UAV hit its target but whenever that happens, which is rarely, there is suddenly a lot of chatter on the Internet, often accompanied by cellphone photos, from local witnesses.

Saudi Arabia has a growing problem with Iranian UAVs used as cruise missiles. For several years Iran has been smuggling in UAV components to northern Yemen. Unfortunately for the Saudis the home province of the Shia rebels is in northwest Yemen along the Saudi border. That border is 1,800 kilometers long although only about a hundred kilometers is controlled by the Shia rebels. Even before the civil war the Saudis suffered cross-border raids by the Yemeni Shia. Those attacks increased after 2015, with the addition of Iranian rockets and missiles. By 2019 Iranian UAVs and cruise missiles were used against Saudi economic and military targets farther from the border. The Saudis were prepared for the ballistic missiles and long-range rockets and used their Patriot AMD (anti-missile defense) systems to stop the rockets and missiles headed for a populated area or an economic or military target. The Iranian UAVs and small cruise missiles were harder to detect and shoot down. The Iranians noted that and ordered the Shia rebels it increase the number of attacks into Saudi Arabia. These attacks have been a lot more frequent in 2021.

The Saudis adopted older Israeli tactics against the UAVs, which were carrying explosives on a one-way mission using GPS to guide them along a programmed course to a specific target. These improvised cruise missiles were smaller, slower and flying lower than the original American cruise missiles that used a small jet engine and, before GPS became available in the 1990s, less accurate but effective guidance systems. The Iranian UAV/cruise missiles cost a tenth of what conventional cruise missile does and are easier to smuggle into Yemen and assemble locally for a single one-way mission. These UAVs were more prone to failure and some were found on both sides of the border after they crashed. But most of them worked and the Saudis turned to their American advisors for ideas. Radars that could detect the low/slow UAVs were easier and cheaper to obtain that methods for destroying them. The Saudis have apparently been using air-to-air missiles fired by their F-15 jet fighters. The Saudis are seeking a cheaper solution and Israel, their new unofficial ally, has may such solutions.

May 8, 2021: China joined the United States and Western Europe in refusing to contribute to the nearly half trillion-dollar cost of rebuilding the Syrian economy. Not as long as the Iran-backed Assad government is still running things. China claims it agrees that the Assads are an obstacle, and not because the Assads are ruthless dictators. China is more concerned about how long it will take to reunite and pacify Syria. China also believes several thousand Chinese Uighur Islamic terrorists are trapped in northwest Syria where the most of the remaining Islamic terrorists are cornered and no one can agree on how to deal with this. While China recently signed a 25-year economic cooperation with Iran, that deal is contingent on Iran keeping its own restive population under control and being able to defy Western anti-smuggling efforts. Iran is as much risk as China will deal with in the Middle East.

May 7, 2021: In Gaza a spokesman for Islamic Jihad confirmed what had long been known, that Islamic Jihad relies on Iran for weapons and cash to survive and agrees with Iran that Israel must be destroyed. The larger Hamas Islamic terrorist group, which has ruled Gaza since 2007, has been particularly critical of Islamic Jihad becoming dependent on Iran. In 2019 Hamas and Islamic Jihad worked out an arrangement that keeps Hamas from going to war with Islamic Jihad and seeking to destroy it, as it did successfully when an ISIL affiliate sought to establish itself in Gaza. This “arrangement” includes Hamas controlling many of the Islamic Jihad rocket stockpiles and various other restrictions. These to not prevent Islamic Jihad from independently attacking Israel but does limit the extent of such attacks. Iran ordered Islamic Jihad to agree to these restrictions because the Iranians understood that Hamas could, if they felt they had to, destroy Islamic Jihad. Hamas is now considered the moderate Islamic terror group in Gaza and wants to observe ceasefire with Israel so that foreign aid can flow freely into Gaza, including building materials and consumer goods to help improve the lives of Gaza residents, most of whom want Gaza and Islamic Jihad gone. In late 2019, an Israeli airstrike killed the Islamic Jihad leader in Gaza. Islamic Jihad has its external headquarters in Syria, as many Islamic terror groups have for decades. An hour after the Islamic leader died in Gaza, there were more Israeli airstrikes against Islamic Jihad leaders and facilities in Syria (Damascus).

May 6, 2021: In the Arabian Sea (northwestern Indian Ocean between India and Arabia) an American destroyer halted and searched a dhow suspected of smuggling. The boarding party found the cargo was twelve tons of weapons. This included over three thousand Chinese assault rifles, machine-guns and sniper rifles. Most of the weapons were older Chinese models, still sold by Chinese manufacturers to price-conscious customers. Some Russian ATGMs (anti-tank guided missiles) and hundreds of RPG rockets were also included. Questioning of the crew and checking intel information indicated the dhow (a coastal cargo ship long popular in the region) came from Iran and was apparently headed for Yemen, where final delivery would probably be made by fishing boats carrying cargoes of weapons rather than recently caught fish. There are so many of these fishing boats off the Red Sea coast of Yemen that not all can be searched and the smuggler boats seek to appear less suspicious than the actual fishing boats. Iran pays what it takes to get this smuggling done and there are plenty of skilled smugglers in Yemen looking for work, no questions asked. Such cargoes used to be sent to Gaza on a regular basis but the Israeli-Egyptian blockade is tighter than ever and it is difficult to even get individuals or suitcases of cash into Gaza.

Since 2015 seven shipments of this magnitude have been intercepted. It is difficult to tell how many got through but it is known the dhows are one of several methods for getting weapons to Yemen. The more frequently used one is to include the weapons with legitimate cargo headed for Oman and Qatar and then use bribes and established smuggling networks to truck the weapons to northern Yemen. Some of these are caught, mainly in Yemen where roadblocks manned by men who have recently lost friends or family to rebel violence don’t take the bribe and seize the truckload of weapons. The smuggler gangs react quickly to this and limit losses to uncooperative Yemenis. The growing poverty in Yemen makes it more difficult for anyone to turn down a bribe. At the same time this bribe approach is more a more expensive way to get weapons to the Shia rebels. In the last year Iran has had to reduce spending on its Yemen operation and using cheaper and riskier smuggling methods is one of them.

May 5, 2021: In northwest Syria (Latakia and Hama provinces) Israeli air strikes destroyed several Iranian targets, most of them warehouses for storing newly arrived weapons. Five Iranian IRGC and three Afghan mercenaries were killed. Latakia, which includes the Syrian Mediterranean coast, a large pro-Assad population and two Russian bases (one air and the other naval), is rarely hit with Israeli airstrikes. Russian warships have been seen escorting Iranian ships illegally delivering petroleum and weapons to Syria and that means Iran has more targets in the province that the Israelis go after.

In southern Yemen the tribal leaders are calling for partition of Yemen. S ince 2015 the STC (South Transitional Council) has been backing this. STC is composed of southern tribes that want autonomy but claim they are willing to fight and defeat the Islamic terrorists as well as the Shia rebels first. The STC leader is seen as more popular in the south than Abdrabu Mansur Hadi the last and current elected president of united Yemen. Hadi has only briefly visited Yemen a few times since 2015 and spends most of his time in the Saudi capital. This is for Hadi’s safety, given the number of assassinations going on in Aden, where the Hadi government was moved to in 2015. The Saudis and the UAE do not agree on dividing Yemen once more but for the moment it is more convenient to support the STC and efforts to defeat the Iran backed Shia rebels

Many Yemenis trace the current crisis back to the civil war that ended, sort of, in 1994. That war was caused by the fact that, when the British left Yemen in 1967, their former colony in Aden became one of two countries called Yemen. The two Yemens finally united in 1990 but another civil war in 1994 was needed to seal the deal. That fix didn't really take and the north and south have been pulling apart ever since. This comes back to the fact that Yemen has always been a region, not a country. Like most of the rest of the Persian Gulf and Horn of Africa region, the normal form of government until the 20th century was wealthier coastal city states nervously coexisting with interior tribes that got by on herding or farming (or a little of both) plus smuggling and other illicit sidelines. This whole "nation" idea is still looked on with some suspicion by many in the region. This is why the most common forms of government are the more familiar ones of antiquity; kingdom, emirate or modern variation in the form of a hereditary dictatorship. For a long time, the most active Yemeni rebels were the Shia Islamic militants in the north. They have always wanted to restore local Shia rule in the traditional tribal territories, led by the local imam (religious leader). This arrangement, after surviving more than a thousand years, was ended by the central government in 1962. Yemen also became the new headquarters of AQAP (al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula) when Saudi Arabia was no longer safe for the terrorists after 2007. Then came ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) and then an invading army of troops from oil-rich neighbors.

May 4, 2021: In the northwest (Kurdistan province) IRGC troops and Kurdish rebels clashed outside Mariwan at night and an IRGC officer was killed. This area is near the Iraqi border and the autonomous Kurdish territory in northern Iraq. This are has become more dangerous for IRGC personnel, especially officers. Assassination of such officers has become a growing threat.

May 3, 2021: Recent commercial satellite photos have revealed another group of Iranian missile silos under construction in the south, positioned so that they can protect ballistic missiles and reloads stored in nearby underground bunkers. The location of this new silo complex indicates that it is for an attack on Saudi Arabia.

April 30, 2021: In the capital (Tehran) IRGC intelligence personnel raided the offices of president Rouhani and those of the foreign minister. There was some initial resistance because this sort of thing is rare. The IRGC men remined the presidential security guards that they had the right to raid the offices of elected officials. That was true and documents were seized. The raid was triggered by the recent leak 0f recorded interviews with prominent Iranian economists and government officials who described how the IRGC and Russia collaborated to use the 2015 treaty that lifted economic sanctions to divert much of the increased government revenue to IRGC projects. Russia would help with continued Iranian smuggling efforts, especially after the U.S. restored the economic sanctions in 2017. Russia wanted help from the IRGC in Syria and against Turkey. These leaks were too convincing (not anonymous with names named and specific actions described) and the IRGC saw this as an attack on the IRGC. Most current members of parliament see the IRGC as the main obstacle to economic reform and the Guardian Council sees the IRGC as trying to expand its power at the expense of the Guardian Council.

April 22, 2021: Before dawn a missile from Syria landed a few kilometers from the Israeli Dimona nuclear research center. There was no damage because Dimona is 300 kilometers south of the Syrian border in a rural desert area. First thoughts were that this was another Iranian attempt to carry out some credible revenge for the April 11th Mossad operation that destroyed the underground Natanz nuclear fuel enrichment facility. If this was a deliberate missile attack it failed but it will mean Israel spending a lot of money firing expensive ABM (anti-ballistic-missile) missiles at more Syrian anti-aircraft missiles that cross the border either accidently or on purpose. Israel can solve this problem by modifying its ABM fire control software to discriminate between the trajectories of SAMs that are not headed for civilian or military targets and those that are. The Israeli Iron Dome system has long used such a method to only shoot down targets headed for targets that must be defended.

Initial examination of the impact area debris near Dimona revealed it was the kind of SAM (surface-to-air missile) that had landed in Israel accidently for years. For example, in 2017 Israel used an Arrow 3 anti-missile missile to intercept a Syrian SA-5 SAM that had been fired at Israeli jets bombing a target in eastern Syria near Palmyra. Apparently, several SA-5s missed the Israeli jets and instead of detonating anyway, as these missiles are programmed to do, continued into Israeli air space and an Arrow 3 ABM missile was fired just in case the incoming threat was a ballistic missile. At the time it was suspected that Syria might have deliberately modified some of their SA-5 missiles to operate as surface-to-surface missiles. This has been done before with Russian SAMs, usually as an unofficial (and crude) modification by Arab users. There have been some modern SAMs with a built-in surface-to-surface mode. This was done for the U.S. Nike-Hercules system used during the 1960s and still around. Other users of the Nike-Hercules (like Taiwan and South Korea) made this modification and produced an accurate, if expensive, surface-to-surface short range ballistic missile. The Nike-Hercules was designed for potential use as a surface-to-surface weapon.

The 2017 incident was the first time the Arrow 3 has been used in a combat situation and it was also implied that the Arrow fire control system was programmed to automatically assume that anything resembling a ballistic missile headed for Israel, whether intentional or by accident, was a danger to Israel and should be shot down just to be on the safe side. Syria responded by announcing that if Israel continued carrying out these air raids in Syria, then the Assad government would use hundreds of ballistic missiles (most SCUDs and other Russian designs) against Israel without warning. This is what Arrow was designed for and what the Israeli forces constantly prepare for. The recent Dimona incident was promptly claimed by Iran as a revenge attack.

April 20, 2021: Iranian efforts to increase its influence in Iraq while also inflicting serious damage on American troops and military contractors in Iraq is not working. Iran is still broke but are now hopeful of getting the Americans to lift their sanctions. This is being disrupted by continuing Israeli efforts to derail the Iranian nuclear weapons program that Iran tells the world they do not have but the average Iranian knows it is real and have mixed views about. What most Iranians do agree is a problem is their own government, a ruthless religious dictatorship that has so far resisted all internal and external efforts to overthrow it. This increased Iranian violence in Iraq and elsewhere is the aftereffect of the Americans killing Quds Force commander Qassem Soleimani in early 2020. The Americans had figured out that Soleimani was a, if not the, key Iranian leader responsible for the Iranian military efforts in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Yemen. If anything, the Americans underestimated the importance of Soleimani because Iran had no one with the leadership and organizational skills, as well as the trust of so many Iranian and foreign leaders, to replace him. Even the Iranians were surprised at how important Soleimani was and how impossible it was to replace him quickly, if ever.

One of the key services Soleimani provided was to get the Iranian moderates and radicals to cooperate, or at least not slide into open conflict with each other. “Moderate” Iranians is a term that has to be qualified. These are members of the senior leadership, all of them approved by the Council of Guardians (twelve senior Shia clerics) who have become divided into mutually antagonistic factions. The Moderates are those who want to put Iran’s interests first and concentrate on the economy and reducing the poverty that is visibly turning more Iranians against their government, Islam and all the foreign wars the radicals have dragged Iran into. These “realists” are also nationalists and often called “moderates” by foreigners.

Soleimani was a key leader in the IRGC the smaller but more fanatic army that keeps an eye on the regular military and Iranians in general for any disloyalty or rebellious intentions. The IRGC suppressed internal unrest over the last two years by killing thousands of protestors and jailing many more. Soleimani commanded the Quds Force, which deals with foreign wars and governments that resist Iranian influence. When Soleimani was killed he was in the company of several senior Iraqi militia leaders that were loyal to Iran. These men were killed by the same missile that got Soleimani and their loss made Iranian threats and violence less effective in Iraq. Soleimani was missed elsewhere because he provided similar coordination for factions in nations where Iran had military or paramilitary operations. This includes Iraq as well as Syria, Lebanon, the Palestinian territories elsewhere. Iranian rulers are losing its foreign wars as well as control of Iran itself because of the sanctions and the loss of key enforcers like Soleimani. Getting the American sanctions lifted is a do or die situation,

April 18, 2021: In Iran, Mohammed Hejazi, the deputy commander of the Quds Force, died of a heart attack. Or did he? Many Iranians, especially senior government officials, feared this was another Mossad assassination. The deputy commander is next in line to replace the Quds commander. Iran is still seeking revenge for the death veteran Quds commander Qassem Soleimani. This guy turned out to be the most effective boss Quds ever had and his replacement turned out to be mediocre in comparison. Paranoid Iranians believe that is why the new Quds commander has not been killed but his deputy has.

Outside Baghdad (the Balad airbase) five rockets were fired at the airbase and two landed inside the sprawling facility, wounding two Iraqi soldiers. Airbases and airports are large and easy to hit targets for unguided rockets. These targets consist of a lot of unoccupied (by people or structures) areas for the rockets to land in. The Baghdad airport, the largest in the country, consists of 14 hectares (35 acres) of enclosed (fenced in) space. Airbases and airports are currently favorite targets as Iran-backed groups are urged to kill or wound American military or contractor personnel, who often work or live on or adjacent to these large fenced and guarded areas. No one immediately took credit for this attack. Most of the recent attacks have been carried out by Iran-backed Iraqi militias.

April 15, 2021: week Iran went public with more details about the April 11th explosion at their Natanz nuclear fuel enrichment facility. Iran now admits the attack took place and that it did major damage to their new high-performance nuclear enrichment (turning uranium into weapons grade material) equipment. There was massive equipment failure and damage on a scale similar to the 2010 attack carried out with software designed to get into the Natanz nuclear fuel enrichment compound, which was well guarded. Later analysis indicated that the deep-underground (about 50 meters, or 155 feet) plant was effectively destroyed. The target was the thousands of centrifuges that turn uranium ore into nuclear fuel or, with more effort, nuclear material suitable for a nuclear explosive. Israeli hackers got to the centrifuges in 2010 via a computer worm hack called Stuxnet.

In 2021 the Israelis first got the technical details of the Natanz electrical system as well as details of the new generation of centrifuges Iran installed there. The Israeli plan was to use explosives placed and detonated where it would shut down the primary and back-up power systems when the maximum number of new centrifuges were powered up and vulnerable to severe damage if both the main power and backup power systems failed. The explosives were placed correctly and went off on time. The result was Natanz again suffered major centrifuge loss that will take months get back into production again and over a year to completely fix.

Then there are the needed security upgrades, which are uncertain until Iran can find out more about exactly how the attack was carried out. They knew a lot of explosives had been involved but were unsure of how the attacker figured out how and were to place them without being discovered. To aid in solving that mystery Iran went public with details, and the name of a suspected key operative. Iran is looking for Reza Karimi, a 43-year-old Iranian who left the country several days before the attack. There are probably other Iranians involved as well as the suspected Israel Mossad agents who came to Iran and worked with a growing number of Iranians seeking to overthrow their current religious dictatorship. The Iranians have been seeking more of these “Mossad Iranians” since the 2018 Mossad operation in the capital when a heavily protected warehouse containing top-secret documents was located by Mossad, covertly entered and half a ton of documents on the Iranian nuclear program were removed and 24 hours later showing up in Israel. Until now Iran denied that the Mossad operation took place and that the documents were real. Since 2018 Israel has allowed foreign intel and nuclear program experts to examine the documents and that led to international acceptance of the documents as authentic.

Iran is desperate to get hold of Reza Karimi and to help with that they also televised what looked like an Interpol (international police) “Red Notice”. To obtain a Red Notice a country must provide sufficient evidence that the suspect is indeed so dangerous that Interpol will request that the many nations that work with Interpol will accept the Red Notice and look for and arrest Karimi. The televised Red Notice could not be found on the Interpol website and so far, Interpol has apparently not decided whether or not to accept the Iranian Red Notice request. There were no casualties at Natanz and many Iranians support the attack and the many Iranians living outside their homeland can openly express their attitude towards the Iranian nuclear program.

The two attacks on Natanz were very damaging to Iranian claims that they do not have a nuclear weapons program. In the aftermath of both attacks it become clear that Iran was using powerful new centrifuge designs to create nuclear material that was far more refined (above 20 percent) than needed for a nuclear power plant. Iran needs a lot of nuclear material refined to 90 percent to make nuclear weapons. The data Mossad made public in 2018 and the aftermath of the 2021 attack demonstrate the Iran is still seeking nuclear weapons.

The growing number of Mossad operations in Iran has led to public criticism, often by senior clerics who actually rule the country. There has been more of this public criticism in Iran because the government has, for decades, devoted major resources to “destroying Israel.” That effort has consistently and often spectacularly failed, at great cost to Iran. This makes the religious dictatorship that seized control of the government during the 1980s war with Iraq, look incompetent and frauds because these senior clerics always insisted, they were doing God’s Work. In the last few years that Work appears to be finding ways to destroy Iran via corruption, mismanagement while blaming it all on Israel and the United States. The latest Mossad attack made a lot more Iranians realize that the Mossad was apparently entrenched inside Iran and finding more Iranians willing to work with Mossad against projects many Iranians agreed were endangering and impoverishing Iran and a major cause of the declining living standards and growing crackdowns by the IRGC and police. The IRGC knew that the Israelis had been successful at establishing a clandestine Mossad presence in Arab nations but thought Iranians were too sophisticated for that. That might have been the case for Iranians who trusted their government. That trust began to erode decades ago and even the IRGC, in one of its recent “actual public opinion” reports to the religious leadership, revealed that most Iranians now hated their government and many were also fed up with Islam. Which brings to the present, as Iranian leaders realize that many Iranians are willingly and effectively working with the enemy.

Iran is trying to portray itself to foreigners as the innocent victim of Israeli aggression. Iranians insist that Natanz was only producing enriched uranium suitable for power plant fuel. But recent IAEA (UN inspectors) reports describe evidence that Iran is seeking to develop a nuclear bomb and need highly (to 90 percent purity) uranium for that. The foreigners are not as easy to deceive as before but more questions are being asked about Natanz. Inside Iran the “accidental” fire at Natanz in mid-2020, described as a construction accident, is now being revisited as details of how Mossad agents inside Natanz got 150 kg of explosives into the underground complex and managed to hide them, and their remote-control detonators, where they would not be found and would do maximum damage when detonated.

April 13, 2021: In the Persian Gulf another Israeli owned cargo ship (the Hyperion Ray) was hit by an Iranian missile off the coast of the UAE. There was no significant damage to the 20,000-ton (DWT) vehicle carrier but the ship apparently went to nearby Oman to repair the damage and continue its voyage.

 

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