The conflict between Iran and most of the world is all about trends. Decades of sanctions, and a number of new sanction efforts in the last few years, have left the Iranian economy crippled. The official unemployment rate is 12 percent, but the real one is over 20 percent. The government prints money to try and keep the unemployed quiet, but this has created persistent inflation (now running at over 20 percent a year.) Reforms are difficult, because of corruption among the Islamic clergy, and their families, that dominate the economy. Over a third of the economy is owned or directly controlled by the senior clergy and their families. Via control of the government, the clerical families exert great control over the entire economy. This is widely resented. In the last few years, that has led to a growing number of well educated technocrats, working for the government (on weapons and industrial program) to flee the country, or spy for the United States and other foreign nations. Despite the police state atmosphere, the resistance grows. Most Iranians want prosperity and economic freedom, not revolution. But resentment against the government turns more Iranians into active opponents each month.
One area of vulnerability is gasoline imports. Sanctions have blocked the importation of equipment needed to build refineries, so about a third of gasoline (petrol) has to be imported. Gasoline rationing, which began three years ago, has cut sharply into the $5 billion a year the government had to pay for imported gasoline (which is sold at highly subsidized prices). This has forced many of the 7 million Iranian automobile owners to get some of their fuel from the black market, where the price is ten times higher (about $4 a gallon) compared to the subsidized, and rationed, price. This is very unpopular. The Iranian solution is to obtain the needed components to built more refineries, and slowly eliminate the subsidies (a very unpopular move, that would cut consumption). Attempts to get Malaysia and China to halt selling gasoline to Iran have failed, and that, for the moment, dooms any attempt to use gasoline shortages to put pressure on Iran.
American officials announced that they believe Iran will have nuclear weapons in 3-5 years. Efforts by U.S. and European governments to halt Iranian smuggling (of forbidden technology and components) efforts has had more success. This has slowed Iranian efforts to build nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles. But China has apparently been willing to supply whatever cannot be obtained (illegally) from the West. China sees access to Iranian oil as more important than the threat of Islamic radicals in Iran getting access to nuclear weapons.
April 24, 2010: During naval exercises in the Straits of Hormuz, Iranian warships stopped two European cargo ships, conducted environmental inspections, and left. This was apparently done to remind the world that Iran can make a decent attempt to close the straits, through which 40 percent of the world's oil shipments move. About 15-20 large tankers exit the straits each day, plus an equal number entering, and nearly as many non-tankers. The 54 kilometer wide straits are a busy patch of water.
In the southeast, the government released another 110 Sunni (Baluchi) tribesmen, who had promised to behave and apologized for previous rebellious behavior. A total of 300 Baluchi tribesmen have gone through this process, after a major crackdown in the area in the last year. This culminated in the recent arrest of a major Baluchi resistance leader. Baluchi tribesmen regularly battle border police, regular police and revolutionary guards who try to keep smugglers from moving heroin, opium and consumer goods across the border from Pakistan. Armed Baluchi groups base themselves across the border in Pakistan (which refuses to crack down on this). The Baluchi are Sunni, and resent the way they are persecuted by the Shia government of Iran. About two percent (1.4 million) of Iranians are Baluchi. Most Baluchi tribes live across the border in Pakistan (all of southwest Pakistan is called Baluchistan, or "Land Of the Baluchi", a tribe ethnically related to the Pushtun in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and the Iranians themselves).
April 23, 2010: Iran announced yet another new weapon; an armed UAV (like the U.S. Predator). It will be ready in a year. Last week, a new air defense system, based on the U.S. Hawk anti-aircraft missiles Iran bought in the 1970s, was announced as ready for action. Don't hold your breath. Iran makes these announcements, of wondrous new weapons, regularly. Few ever show up in service. And, no, they are not hidden away somewhere, to provide a decisive surprise in wartime. If these weapons exist, the troops have to practice with them, and this is never seen. The "we have new weapons" announcements have become a standard fixture for Iranian propaganda. Iranians don't believe it, nor do foreign military professionals. But most Western media passes on the announcements without comment, leaving one with the impression that there's some reality involved here.
April 22, 2010: Three days of naval exercises are being conducted in the Persian Gulf. Most of this is for propaganda, with carefully staged photo ops, complete with spectacular (and unrealistic) explosions and lots of speed boats carrying trigger happy machine-gunners. Makes for great video, which is the point of these exercises.
April 19, 2010: In the northwest, secret police and revolutionary guards are rounding up Kurds suspected of belonging to separatist organizations.
The United Arab Emirates (UAE) has demanded access to the Arabs living on the three islands (Greater Tunb, Lesser Tunb and Abu Musa) in the Persian Gulf, which Iran seized by force in 1971, and refuses to give back. Iran has made it very difficult for the UAE to provide economic support for the Arabs on the islands, as this would make the "occupied Arabs" angrier at their Iranian overlords.
In the capital, six reform leaders were sentenced to jail for six years, and barred from politics for ten years. The government has disrupted the reform movement by arresting as many leaders as they could catch, and prosecuting them. Many leaders, or potential leaders, are fleeing the country.
April 17, 2010: Former presidential candidate, Mohammad Khatami, has been barred from leaving the country. This is believed to prevent Khatami from attending an international nuclear disarmament conference.
April 11, 2010: Iran has executed (by hanging) another five drug smugglers. There have been at least 35 executions so far this year, most of them because of drug related offenses. With over two million opium and heroin addicts, Iran is desperate to stem the flow of these drugs from Afghanistan.
April 9, 2010: The government announced that it was installing "third generation" centrifuges for enriching uranium sufficiently for use in nuclear weapons. The new centrifuges do this six times faster than the thousands of existing first generation centrifuges.
April 6, 2010: The U.S. announced a new nuclear policy, in which is pledged to not use nuclear weapons against any country that did not have them, even if that nation backed a major terror attack on the United States. The one exception to this new rule was Iran, which immediately protested, and called the United States impotent anyway. The U.S. also pledged to halt development of new nuclear weapons.