Iran: Another Revolution Gains Traction


October 11, 2022: The anti-government protests that started in Tehran September 17th have spread to most major cities and many towns throughout the country. Gunfire and mass arrests have not yet stopped this current wave of protests, which for the first time have featured mob attacks on isolated police and IRGC (Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps) security personnel, and even some instances of police joining protest marches. Oil industry workers have now joined the protests as well as the merchants. These two groups are refusing to work as well as joining protests. This has not happened since the 1979 uprising that overthrew the monarchy. It was the oil industry workers and merchants who made the difference then and that seems to be happening. The only 1979 group missing is the military, but that is changing. The IRGC is not as strong or effective as it was during past protests. The Iranian armed forces contain about 600,000 active-duty troops. About 30 percent of them belong to the IRGC, whose primary task is to deal with any disloyalty in the regular military. That is difficult right now as most IRGC personnel are dealing with the protestors. The IRGC also has the Basij, a civilian reserve recruited mainly from a few provinces containing lots of Islamic conservatives. Many of these conservatives have joined the protests and the Basij are not nearly as numerous or effective as they were in the past. This time a lot of Basij members have joined the protests. There have been other changes as well. A decade ago, half of government employees belonged to the Basij. This was no accident. Since the late 1990s, the Basij has been establishing units in schools, for children of all ages. Using games, toys and popular children's activities, the kids are indoctrinated into Basij ideology (radical Islam, including the joys of being a suicide bomber). The Basij recruiters have found that their best prospects are from poor or broken families (including orphans.) This was the Nazi and Soviet experience. The Romanian communist government did best at this, with their secret police (the Securitati) forming much feared units of these orphans. Recruits were selected young, and raised to be remorseless and savage operatives. Called "young wolves", these operatives could be depended on to do anything for the cause. Iran was always looking for plain clothes agents, who can terrorize reform minded students, and civilians in general. Since 2009, more and more of these Basij operatives, now adults, were leading the fight against reform minded Iranians, or overseas, as agents of Quds. Since Basij is largely a part-time operation, many members have a full-time government job. All this helped keep the growing number of unhappy Iranians in line. This system has unraveled since then and many of those indoctrinated youngsters who joined the Basij have changed sides.

As has been happening since 2017, IRGC violence is having less and less impact in reducing protest activity after episodic major increases in protest numbers and intensity. The current protests include more anti-government factions. The 2017 protests were about the growing poverty caused by government corruption in the face of sanctions. The IRGC killed a few dozen protestors, arrested several thousand and the major protests halted but smaller ones continued. In 2019 the economic protests flared up again, in part because the government sharply increased prices for fuel but was doing nothing to fix the economy and the rising poverty rates. These widespread protests were suppressed, but not completely eliminated by the IRGC, which killed over 300 and arrested nearly 10,000 protestors. In 2020 there was another spike in protest activity because the government lied about IRGC responsibility for mistaking a Ukrainian airliner for an enemy attack and killing 176 crew and passengers, including several dozen Iranians. The IRGC killed a few dozen protestors and arrested over a thousand. The government lied about the protestor deaths.

The next year (2021) was relatively quiet but some members of the senior leadership pointed out to the larger, more conservative faction in charge, that most of the protestors were younger Iranians who had not experienced the 1979 revolution and knew only the rules of the religious government. The protestors consider their government corrupt and obsessed with Islamic conservatism and its foreign wars against Israel and non-Shia Moslems. The 2022 protests were triggered by the murder of a young woman by the Morality Police who was arrested for allowing her hijab (the mandatory hair covering for all women who are outside the home for any reason) to allow some of her hair be show.

This was one of the issues that sparked the 1979 protests after most Iranians united to overthrow the monarchy in 1978. One of the protest factions represented Shia clerics who were zealous religious conservatives. These violence zealots were one the groups that helped bring down the monarchist government. The 1978 protests left over 3,000 protestors dead and many more imprisoned. Once the monarchy was expelled, the religious factions insisted that the new government enforce lifestyle rules. Before the new government could react to continued protests, especially by women, against lifestyle rules, a foreign threat appeared, an attack by Iraq to seize a portion of Iran’s oil fields, which halted these early protests. Iraq attacked to seize a portion of the Iranian oil fields. After nearly a decade of fighting the Iranians had to settle for a draw. This was a defeat for most Iranians because Iran had been the regional superpower for thousands of years. Most Iranians still feel that way but the younger generation believes Iran’s local superpower status could be revived and expanded with a new, democratic government that does not murder real or imagined Iranian opponents.

The first major post-revolution protests took place in 1999. This was all about eliminating the growing censorship of the media and government inability to manage the economy. Most of the protestors were young people who had not grown up under the monarchy and understood that the new religious dictatorship was not an improvement over the monarchy. Younger Iranians were not yet a majority of the population and the protests by about 10,000 students in several cities were quickly put down with only a few dead and over a thousand arrested.

The first of the modern protests took place a decade later, in 2009 and were mainly about government corruption, vote rigging and government mismanagement of the economy and refusal to act on the corruption. The government now had the IRGC and used it to put down the protests. This worked but left over a hundred protestors dead and over 4,000 arrested.

Discontent over the religious dictatorship continued and as more young Iranians reached adulthood, the number of potential protestors increased as did the popular anger against an oppressive, incompetent government. By 2017 the perpetual protests began and increased in intensity over the last five years.

The hijab protests appear to be persistent as well as widespread despite as many as 200 killed and over 5,000 arrested so far. The protests now take place in cities and provinces that were long strongholds of very religious government supporters. These areas were where the IRGC recruited most of its religious fanatics, who were trained to protect the religious dictatorship against angry Iranians. The IRGC is not as effective as it once was, even in the face of recent protests that had widespread support and demanded an end to the religious dictatorship and the IRGC.

These younger protestors have been more active, and effective, online and tear apart government online propaganda. The government’s response has been to go after Internet-based supporters of the protests. Stifling these protests is urgent because they are openly against the government, and have included chants of “death to the dictator” (the leader of the religious dictatorship). The religious dictatorship has been in power since 1979 and one of the first things they established was the Morality Police, to enforce the new dress and appearance restrictions. These dress codes were never very popular and most Iranians today were born after 1979 and never experienced life without these rules. But they see it on TV and in movies as well as visits to the West.

This all began on September 16th, when Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old Kurdish woman from northern Iran, was in Tehran with her family. While with her brother, she was arrested by the Morality Police for not covering her hair properly with a hijab scarf. She was taken to a local police station. Her brother was told she would undergo a one-hour lecture on the importance of using the hijab properly and then released. Her brother waited at the police station for two hours before he was told his sister had suffered a heart attack and collapsed. She was taken to a hospital and died the next day. The cause was not a heart attack but a severe beating administered by police. The police tried to conceal this but too many people had seen her in the hospital, where her visible injuries were obviously from a beating, not from a heart attack. That was enough to trigger another round of nationwide protests against the government, the Morality Police and religious rule in general. This time the protestors were not intimidated by the IRGC, which was organized in the 1980s to protect the religious dictatorship. That included the frequent use of lethal (gunfire) force which in the past managed to halt protests quickly. Not this time and the IRGC is more intimidated than the protestors. Increasingly the protestors include religious Iranians who are also fed up with the religious dictatorship and the IRGC.

These protests have become more frequent and outspoken over the last two decades. In the last few years more protesters have called for an end to religious government as well Islam itself. The situation is worse than anyone realized after the results of a 2020 opinion poll were released by GAMAAN (Group for Analyzing and Measuring Attitudes in Iran). This group made an effort to determine the true religious feelings of Iranians by using its experience with online anonymous surveys to determine just how religious Iranians are and how many still consider themselves Moslems. That has been something of a mystery because for years there have been larger and larger anti-government protests. One surprising feature of these protests is the growing number of Iranians hostile to Islam and willing to be public about. Iranians are reluctant to tell strangers how they feel about religion but the word on the street was that most Iranians had quietly abandoned Islam. The 2020 GAMAAN survey, supervised by expatriate Iranians, contacted a number of online groups inside Iran and convinced them to participate in an anonymous survey of religious beliefs. GAMAAN assembled 400,000 online participants, representing an accurate cross-section of Iranians in Iran, and conducted the survey. The results were a shock, at least to the government. While the government insists that 99 percent of Iranians are Moslem, the survey found that only 40 percent were. Breaking that down further 32 percent of Iranians are Shia, five percent Sunni and three percent Sufi (a more mellow Islam hated by Islamic extremists). Other religious preferences included 8.8 percent atheists, 5.8 percent agnostic 2.7 percent humanist and seven percent non-denominational “spiritualists.” Not surprisingly eight percent were Zoroastrian, a native Iranian religion older that Judaism and believed eliminated in the 7th century by invading Islamic armies. Since then, a small number of Iranians continued to practice Zoroastrianism in secret inside Iran and openly outside of Iran. Many Zoroastrianism customs are still practiced inside Iran, much to the dismay of some Islamic clerics. Efforts to suppress these ancient customs have failed for over a thousand years. Now Iranians are openly (in crowds) calling for the revival of this ancient monotheistic (one-God) religion as more Iranians seek a humane alternative to Islam.

Another 1.5 percent said they were Christian, 0.1 percent Jewish, 0.5 percent Bahai, 3.3 percent “other” and 22.2 percent declared they had no religious beliefs at all. Overall 78 percent of Iranians believed in God while 90 percent of Iranians admitted to growing up in or still practicing some religion. A third of Iranians admitted they regularly consume alcoholic beverages, something forbidden to Moslems. Less than 40 percent observed the daily schedule of Moslem prayers and about the same percentage observed the fast during the holy month of Ramadan. The rest would claim an illness and this was widely tolerated. Trying to enforce the fast on that many Iranians was seen as an impossible task. Even so 68 percent believed that religious practices should not have the rule of law and 72 percent opposed the law or custom mandating that women wear hijab (hair covering) outdoors. Despite all these changing attitudes, a recent international survey found that Saudi Arabia, Israel and Iran were three most religious nations in the world. The United States ranks 66th while most of the least religious nations are in Europe.

In the northwest (Kurdistan province), IRGC troops have been making attacks on the Iraqi side of the border for the last 17 days. To distract attention from their own responsibility, the government falsely blames Iraqi and Iranian Kurds for the anti-hijab protests that have taken place since mid-September. Most of the ten million Iranian Kurds live in the northwest, on the Iraqi border with Iraqi Kurdistan. Most of the five million Iraqi Kurds live across the border in autonomous Kurdish Iraq.

Iraq has continuing problems with Iranian (IRGC) interference. Most of the Iraqi problems are caused by Iraqis, in particular the many inter-related corrupt Iraqi politicians and businessmen. Such corrupt families are a minority in Iraq but all that stolen cash is used as a defensive weapon and that is what has been happening for the last year. Iran takes advantage of this to obtain economic, military and political goals in Iraq.

An example of this is still playing out in Iraq where parliament deadlocked because the minority of Iran-backed parties has blocked efforts to form a government. The Sadr coalition has a majority in parliament after winning the 2021 elections. The deadlock is a year old and Iran has managed to keep the pro-Iran members of parliament dedicated to not giving into the demands of Iraq senior Shia cleric and political leader Muqtada al Sadr. The political deadlock over forming a new government shows no sign of being settled. This is all about Iran playing the spoiler and using its minority coalition of Iranian-controlled parties to block the coalition led by Sadr from forming a government. Sadr has been unrelenting in his anti-corruption campaign. Everyone so far has played by the rules here, with no violence. Nonetheless there is a deadlock between Sadr, who wants new elections because the current parliament contains many members elected fraudulently. A pro-Iran block in parliament blocks acceptance of Sadr’s demand. Sadr followers see this as an essential battle to eliminate Iranian influence and reduce corruption. Both Iran and corrupt Iraqi officials refuse to back down. This is a clash between a younger generation of very anti-Iran Iraqis versus older men who have prospered, often because of Iranian support, during the last two decades. The one group that can break this deadlock are a small group of senior Shia clerics. Sadr has been the most active senior cleric supporting change but he needs the support of several less activist senior clerics who, so far, have been unwilling to join Sadr. Intentionally or by accident Sadr’s activism is pressuring the cautious senior clerics to join the opposition to Iranian interference. Another factor aiding Sadr is the current anti-government demonstrations in Iran, which call for the end to the corrupt religious dictatorship that has misruled Iran since 1979.

The IRGC At Work

Despite its problems at home, Iran continues to seek cooperation from the Turks, Syrians and Russians in getting Iranian IRGC forces close enough to the Israeli border to make attacks possible. So far no one is interested. Iranian efforts in Syria and Lebanon are very low-budget and Iranian officers in charge of this have to make do with very little. This has changed recently as Iran has been supplying Russia with weapons, including dozens of Shahed 131 and the slightly larger 136 cruise missile UAVs for use against Ukraine. In return Iran is getting some modern (Su-35) jets and spare parts for older Russian-made aircraft. Some of the Shahed 136 UAVs were recently used against Ukrainian forces and despite Russian efforts to eliminate any Iranian identification markings on these UAVs, the Ukrainians analyzed all the remaining components of these UAVs that had been shot down or simply crashed. These UAVs were definitely Iranian Shahed 136 and could be effective, but not spectacularly so. The explosive warhead only weighs 36 kg (80 pounds), compared to 10 kg for a 155mm shell or 23 kg (51 pounds) of explosives for a 114 kg (250 pound) aircraft bomb. The Iranian UAV is expensive for a weapon that can only be used once and has reliability problems. A growing number of Shahed 136s are being used in Ukraine and most are detected by Ukrainian troops and shot down. This does not discourage the Russians, who have never been able to develop useful and effective UAVs themselves.

Iran expects Russia to be more helpful in Syria, where Russia already has an understanding with Israel that involves Russia not interfering with Israeli airstrikes on Iranian targets. In return Israel does not supply Ukraine with weapons. Most Israelis support the Ukrainians but they also recognize the threat from Iranians in Syria, Lebanon and Gaza. Russia and Iran are still negotiating on this issue because Russia does not want to lose all its economic, military and diplomatic links with Israel.

Since August Russia and Iran have been expanding their economic and political cooperation. These discussions ignore sanctions currently imposed on Russia and Iran and formalize cooperation between them to evade Western sanctions, notably on their oil exports. This includes finding ways to support each other militarily. Iran has supported the Russian invasion of Ukraine while Russia backs Iranian threats to other Middle Eastern oil producers. This does not include unofficial Russian agreements in Syria that keep Israel and Russia from going to war because of continued Israeli attacks on Iranian forces in Syria. Russia continues to support Iranian efforts to expand its influence over the Iraqi government.

October 10, 2022: The IRGC has added psychological warfare efforts in an attempt to halt the protests. Internet messages are being sent to family members of prominent protestors demanding that they pressure their protesting kin to shut or the other family members will suffer.

October 8, 2022: State controlled TV was hacked during a prime-time speech by supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. For fifteen seconds anti-government images appeared on the screen, while Khamenei continued to talk. This certainly sent a message to Iranians who still supported the government or were leaning towards supporting the revolution.

October 6, 2022: Iran is having a growing problem with the IEA (Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan) government over ISK (Islamic State Khorasan), which is the local ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) affiliate that attacks Afghan Shia. This has led Iran to threaten support for an armed Afghan Shia resistance manned by the thousands of Afghan Shia who served as mercenaries in Syria. Some still do, because the Afghan mercs were the best fighters and demanded higher pay than Arab mercenaries. These armed Shia fighters would work with their 1990s Northern Alliance allies, which has reassembled as the NRF (National Resistance Front) and become a major problem for the IEA. That is more than the IEA can handle. Some of the NRF leaders are sons of successful Northern Alliance commanders. Iran threatens to provide more support to the NRF (National Resistance Front) than they gave the Northern Alliance. So far this year NRF dominated Panjshir province (northeast of Kabul) has come under attack and IEA forces have been fighting back but not making a lot of progress in eliminating armed NRF members and their unarmed local supporters. NRF forces have put IEA forces in the Panjshir Valley on the defensive. The 1990s Northern Alliance dominated the Panjshir Valley (a 90-minute drive from Kabul) right up to the defeat of the Taliban government after September 2001. Northern Front leaders became members of the IRA government and now their sons have reassembled as the NRF (National Resistance Front), once more controls much of the Panjshir Valley and has resisted IEA forces sent to gain control there. The NRA uses mines, roadside bombs and ambushes to attack IEA forces as well as their supply convoys. The NRA men (and women) know the valley but few IRA troops do. IEA soldiers and police who have spent some time in the valley learn to be wary just to survive. That means exercising caution when attempting to arrest locals suspected of supporting the NRA.

The IEA is also having problems on the Iranian and Pakistani borders because of disputes over exactly where the border should be, or because of Iranian efforts to block Afghan drug smugglers, or because of Pakistani efforts to go after TTP (Pakistani Taliban) operations on the Afghan side of the border.

October 1, 2022: In the northwest (Kurdistan province) IRFC artillery fire forced the evacuation of six border villages across the border in Iraq (Kurd run Arbil province).

September 28, 2022: In the northwest, the IRGC used guided and unguided rockets as well as armed UAVs to cause over 70 explosions in Iraq (Sulaymaniyah province). This left 13 dead and 58 wounded. Two of the dead were American (a mother and her day-old infant). Iran justified this attack by blaming Iraqi Kurds for supporting twelve days of demonstrations protesting the death of Kurdish woman in Tehran who was accused of not properly covering her hair with a hijab. The 12 days of protests have left over fifty dead and thousands arrested. Anti-hijab protests have been taking place since 1979 when a religious dictatorship replaced the monarchy. Iraq made a diplomatic protest against Iran for the Iranian rocket and artillery attacks in the north.

In nearby Erbil (Arbil) province American troops shot down an Iranian Mohajer-6 UAV. About half the weight of an American Predator, Mohajer-6 is normally used for aerial surveillance but is equipped to carry about a 100 kg (220 pounds) of missiles and bombs. American bases in Iraq, especially near the Iranian border in the north, have strong air defenses. Mohajer-6 is among the many UAVs Iran recently sold to Russia for use in Ukraine. Some Mohajer-6s were given to Iran-backed PMF militias in 2021. These have to be careful not to fly too close to any American bases.

September 24, 2022: In Ukraine, the government expelled the Iranian ambassador and reduced the size of the Iranian embassy staff because Ukraine had recently shot down several Iranian Shahed-136 attack UAVs that were headed for Ukrainian targets. Examining the wreckage of the downed UAVs revealed that they had been modified to appear Russian. This consisted of replacing any Iranian language markings with one in Russian. Internally, the UAVs were identifiable as Iranian made Shahed-136’s. There were media reports earlier in the year that Iran had sold many Shahed-136s to Russia in a barter deal that had Russia sending Iran Su-35 jet fighters. The Iranian embassy in Ukraine denied these reports but now Ukraine has evidence that the Iranians were lying. Saudi Arabia and the other Arab Gulf oil states were also angry about this because Su-35 jet fighters are superior to any other combat aircraft Iran has and could be used against the Arab nations, just as Iran has used Shahed-136s and similar UAVs against targets in the Gulf States and denied that they came from Iran. These UAVs fly low and use internal (GPS) navigation make these UAVs difficult to detect with radar, especially if they are used at night when even visual detection is difficult. Iran has used these UAVs against Israel, which has developed optical and radar sensors that can detect them quickly so they can be shot down at the border (usually of Lebanon). While Israel is criticized by Ukraine, and many Israelis, for not supplying Ukraine with weapons to fight the Russians, the two countries maintain diplomatic relations and Israel has quietly shared information with Ukraine about Russian weapons and cooperation with Iran in Syria. Ukraine apparently does the same for Israel about what Iran is up to in Ukraine.

September 23, 2022: The Russian situation in Ukraine grows increasingly desperate as the Ukrainian counter-offensive has been a major success and Russia is in danger of losing all the Ukrainian territory it has occupied since 2014, Now Russia is threatening to use nuclear weapons against Ukraine. Russian allies like Iran and North Korea are watching this with keen interest because North Korea already has some crude nukes and recently declared it would use them without warning if they felt threatened. Iran doesn’t have any nukes yet but could produce them. Fear of retaliation has made the Iranians more circumspect. Both Iran and North Korea see the Russian nuclear threats as the most realistic use of nuclear blackmail yet attempted and are very much hoping the Russians will win his gamble.

September 17, 2022: Protests broke out in Tehran over the death of Mahsa Amini, a young woman arrested by the Morality Police yesterday and beaten to death in a police station. The police tried to hide their involvement but there were too many eye witnesses and photographs for the police to conceal their guilt. The protests began.

September 15, 2022: In Gaza (between Egypt and Israel) Iran backed Hamas, which runs Gaza, announced that it had resumed diplomatic relations with Syria. These diplomatic links had been severed in 2012, as the Syrian civil war got underway. Syria had long provided sanctuary for Hamas leaders but that ended when many of the Palestinian refugees living in Syria sided with the rebels trying to overthrow the Assad government. The rebels lost, in part because of massive aid from Iran. Hamas has also become a recipient of Iranian aid.

September 10, 2022: In eastern Syria (Deir Ezzor province) the Iran backed Lebanese Hezbollah militia has been turning over dozens of its local (Syrian) members to the Syrian army because these men had joined Hezbollah to avoid getting conscripted into the Syrian army. This resolves one of many disputes between the Assad government and Iran.

September 6, 2022: In northern Syria (Aleppo) an Israeli airstrike hit the main airport outside the city because it is where Iran flies in weapons. This is the second such Israeli attack in the last week. Israel has been intensifying its airstrikes on airports that Iran uses to fly in weapons. Israel has already disrupted road and sea movement of these weapons. Israel is deliberately damaging the runways of major airports and preventing repairs from being made. The airstrikes also target airport navigation equipment. Israel told Syria that these attacks are not directed at Syrian forces but just Iranian efforts to move modern weapons into Syria for use against Israel.

September 5, 2022: Since February, when massive economic sanctions were imposed on Russia because of the invasion of Ukraine, Russia has sought to adapt and that meant establishing closer relationships with Iran. Russia already has a number of diplomatic, economic and military relationships with Iran. At the same time Iran has a lot more experience operating as an outcast or pariah state. In the past Russia was the senior partner when it came to deals with Iran. Because of the Ukraine sanctions, Russia needs Iran more than the other way around. Iran is able to dictate terms and gain a lot of trade concessions from Russia.

This realignment became tangible between June and August when Russia and Iran signed several new agreements that expanded economic and political cooperation between the two nations. These agreements ignore sanctions currently imposed on Russia and Iran and formalize the cooperation between the two oil producers to evade Western efforts to prevent Iran and Russia from exporting its oil. The new agreement also confirms joint efforts to support each other militarily. Iran has supported the Russian invasion of Ukraine while Russia backs Iranian threats to other Middle Eastern oil producers. This does not include unofficial Russian agreements in Syria that keep Israel and Russia from going to war because of continued Israeli attacks on Iranian forces in Syria. Russia continues to support Iranian efforts to expand its influence over the Iraqi government.

September 4, 2022: The military announced the new Arash 2 version of their stealthy, long-range, UAV optimized for one-way missions acting as a cruise missile. The main difference between the original Arash, revealed in 2021, is that Arash 2 has a range of 4,000 kilometers compared to 1,400 kilometers for the original Arash. The new version is also said to have improved stealth, navigation and protection against electronic countermeasures. That last item is important because it is often used by Israel to defeat UAVs. The military and IRGC regularly announce new weapons that never see combat or don’t perform as expected if they do. There are some Iranian systems that are effective but none of them are as effective as advertised. Iran has used the element of surprise and deception to make attacks on neighbors but succeed in denying responsibility. This continues because it boosts morale and frightens some of Iran’s many enemies. The latest announcement features the Arash-2 UAV cruise missile which was designed specifically to attack Israel. The long range implies the Arash 2 can evade all the air defenses of other hostile countries between Iran and Israel. Iran could bribe or intimidate enough Iraqi officials to ignore any visual or radar detection of Arash 2s passing through to reach Israel via Jordan, Saudi Arabia or Syria. Iran would have to know what detection capabilities Israel has in or on the airspace of those nations. Israel has its own surveillance satellites as well as access to similar but more numerous American satellites. Iran has already tried using UAVs to attack Israel via launch sites in Lebanon or Syria. Israeli air defenses have foiled all of those efforts and increased attacks on Iranian efforts to transport these cruise missiles to Lebanon or Syria. Despite Iran’s past experience with these untested and the possible exaggerated capabilities of these weapons, Israel has to devote intel resources to check it out. Israel’s success at this is one reason so many Arab nations have finally established diplomatic or defense relationships with Israel in the past few years.

September 3, 2022: The government announced that the Su-35 barter deal with Russia was agreed to and that Iran would receive at least 65 Su-35s. When Su-35s will be delivered to Iran is unclear. The Russians only have about a hundred Su-35s in their air force and production has been halted by the sanctions. Too many key Su-35 components come from Western suppliers. Russia is unlikely to ship most of its own Su-35s to Iran, especially now that it knows that the Iranian UAVs supplied were not as effective as expected. Russia is also still building Su-35s for Egypt. Apparently less than a third of the 26 Su-35s Egypt ordered in 2018 have been delivered by 2022. Then there is the problem that Egypt and Iran are enemies. Egypt belongs to an anti-Iran coalition that includes Israel and Saudi Arabia. This is a problem in other ways. Israel and Iran are at war with each other in Syria and Iran is losing. Israeli F-35I fighters have encountered Russian Su-35s in Syria and have a good idea of what the Su-35 can and cannot do. One thing the Su-35 cannot do is defeat the F-35I. The F-35I can detect the Su-35 first and shoot it down with missiles. This is not a major concern for Iran, which wants the Su-35 so that it can more effectively threaten its Arab neighbors. On paper the Su-35 is impressive. It is a 34-ton fighter that is more maneuverable than the original, 33 ton, Su-27 it was based on, and has much better electronics. It can cruise at above the speed of sound. It also costs nearly twice as much as the Su-27. That would be some $80 million for a barebones model, about what a top-of-the-line F-16 costs. Export models go for about $100 million. The Su-27 was originally developed to match the F-15, which is larger than the single engine F-16. The larger size of the Su-27/30/35 allows designers to do a lot more with it in terms of modifications and enhancements. The Su-35 has some stealth capabilities (or at least be less detectable to most fighter aircraft radars). Russia claims the Su-35 has a useful life of 6,000 flight hours with engines good for 4,000 hours. That is longer than earlier Su-27/30 aircraft. Russia promises world-class avionics, plus a very pilot-friendly cockpit. The use of many thrusters along with fly-by-wire means the Su-35 is even more maneuverable than Su-30s, which were Su-27s tweaked to be extremely agile. The Su-35 was in development for two decades before it was declared ready for production in 2005. Even then there were problems with the new engines that gave it its superior performance. Russia says the engine problems are solved, but only time will tell if that is true. The Su-35 is not meant to be a direct rival for the F-22 because the Russian aircraft is not nearly as stealthy. The Su-35 carries a 30mm autocannon (with 150 rounds) and up to eight tons of munitions, hanging from 12 hard points. This reduces stealth effectiveness, which the F-22 and F-35 get around by using an internal bay for bombs and missiles. But if the maneuverability and advanced electronics of the Su-35 live up to the promises, the aircraft would be more than a match for every fighter out there except the F-22 and possibly the F-35. Since each Su-35 sold for $100 million (or less) there were supposed to be a lot of buyers. There weren’t and Russia is eager to change that if only to improve the reputation of the Su-35.

There is yet another complication. Egypt is buying Su-35s only because Saudi Arabia is providing the cash. China ordered 24 of them in 2015 and received all of them by 2018. Indonesia bought eleven in 2017 and began receiving them in 2019. The sale of Su-35s to China was special. Because of frequent illegal copying of Russian technology this was expected to be the last Russian warplane exported to China. Currently Russia has 103 Su-35s in service and 30 on order. Russia received its first Su-35s in 2013 and four were sent to Syria in early 2016 for some combat experience. These were apparently successful, especially when delivering Russian built smart bombs. Russia then increased its own orders from 50 to over a hundred. The Egyptian sale is more about diplomacy than air power. This purchase, financed by Saudi Arabia, increases diplomatic relations between Russia and the Middle Eastern Arab states. The two most important ones are Egypt and Saudi Arabia. The Egyptian air force has nearly 400 combat aircraft in service (and a lot of older Russian stuff “in storage’). Most of the current combat aircraft are Western, including 210 F-16s, 40 Alpha Jets, 90 Mirages and 17 Rafales. There are 15 MiG-29s in service and another 32 on the way. When all the MiG-29s and Su-35s are delivered (by 2022) Egypt will have 66 modern Russian fighters, which will come to about 17 percent of the fighter force. Because of the Iran deal, the number of Russian aircraft in the Egyptian Air Force will be a lot less.

August 31, 2022: Iran, responding to Iraqi and American complaints and possible retaliation, ordered all its militias, including Hezbollah, in eastern Syria (Deir Ezzor province and the Euphrates River Valley) to take down any rocket launching facilities aimed at American bases near the Iraqi border. Iran wants to concentrate its efforts on Kurdish forces in the area.

August 27, 2022: In northwestern Syria an Israeli air-strike in Hama province destroyed a group of warehouses where over a thousand Iranian rockets were stored. Some of these rockets had been assembled there while others were flown in. It had taken Iran over a year to amass this stockpile. The Israeli airstrike set off a series of explosions that lasted for over six hours.

August 17, 2022: In western Afghanistan (Herat province) IEA border guards killed Mehdi Mujahid, the only Shia commander in the Taliban. Mujahid criticized the IEA lack of effort to deal with anti-Shia violence. Mujahid was apparently heading for Iran, from which he could continue organizing resistance to anti-Shia violence in Afghanistan.

August 14, 2022: In Syria Israeli air strikes outside Damascus and the port of Tartus left three Syrians dead and three wounded. The targets were apparently related to Iranian weapons shipments.




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