The government is now willing to talk to the U.S. about the Iranian nuclear weapons program but only if sanctions were halted. The Americans refuse to go along with this because the Iranians would just conduct pointless talks while free to make up for lost oil sales. Meanwhile, Iranian leaders boast openly that nothing can stop them from developing nuclear weapons and that Iran is not doing that because the world would not approve. The official line remains that Iran is only developing technology for creating nuclear fuel from uranium. But on the street the average Iranian has no doubts about the existence of a nuclear weapons program and is very much in favor of it. Some senior officials (like members of parliament) are agreeing publically with the street talk.
The U.S. is increasing its use of sanctions against specific individuals involved with international crime, as well as the Iranian nuclear weapons program. This means naming those believed to be involved in smuggling, Internet based attacks, and supporting terrorism. Meanwhile Iran is having some success in convincing European courts to declare some American sanctions illegal in Europe because there is not enough evidence to prove some Iranian banks are involved in the nuclear weapons program. The sanctions are hurting, with oil income effectively halved since last June. The government is running out of foreign currency to pay for imports and that means less money to try and keep the population quiet. But the shortages and more difficult access to Western technology is causing growing problems with infrastructure. Roads and utilities (gas, electric, water, and sewage) are falling apart, often literally. Last month a $40 million offshore oil rig partially collapsed, and it was caught on a cell phone camera and went viral. This was very embarrassing inside Iran because in confirmed, in many people’s minds, rumors of many similar disasters.
New American sanctions have blocked Turkey’s use of gold to pay for Iranian natural gas imports. Billions of dollars worth of gold has been flowing into Iran over the last year, especially from Turkey (to pay for natural gas imports). While some nations have received temporary exemptions from the sanctions to buy Iranian oil (until they could line up other suppliers), there have not been any exemptions to dealing with Iran in dollars. It’s more expensive for Iran to take payment in gold (higher fees and transportation costs) but it has been working. Alas, the huge Iranian purchases drive up the price, which will then fall when Iran again gains access to the international banking system. That access was sharply curtained over the last year as investigators identified major banks that had been, for years, illegally handling transactions for Iran. Several billions dollars in fines, and the addition of monitors within the accused banks, put a big chill on any further illegal banking activity for Iran. Now the sanctions have been modified to block the use of gold to get around the currency restrictions and forcing the Iranians to seek more barter arrangements.
Despite the boost in public support from the nuclear weapons program, people are increasingly upset with the shortages and inflation caused by the new sanctions. In response, the government launched a heavy crackdown on journalists who dare to criticize, or even admit, that there are economic problems or Iranians unhappy with the religious dictatorship.
The government is also increasingly obsessed with revenge against the United States and Israel. This is not a secret obsession but a very public one, with the matter frequently being mentioned in speeches and articles by senior leaders. Few revenge efforts have succeeded, one of the exceptions being some Cyber War operations. There have been more Internet based attacks coming out of Iran. This is not high-grade stuff but the kind of Cyber War weapons you can find (for free or a fee) on the Internet. But at least it gets the government some media attention. While most Iranians hate their government, they are nationalistic and love revenge for attacks (like Stuxnet) on Iran.
In addition to the economic problems (caused by the sanctions and inept management) and popular dislike for all the lifestyle rules, the government also has increasingly visible disorder in its own ranks. The government is now cracking down on public disagreements between members of different factions within the government. This may just be another effort to gain some positive public opinion (showing that the government is aware of problems and struggling with them). Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the supreme leader of Iran, normally does not go public with his orders and criticism. But now he is openly chastising politicians for boisterous behavior against each other. These are all government approved politicians, with the main distinction being attitudes towards corruption. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is running for reelection this June and he and Ali Larijani (his Khamenei-backed opponent) have been quite theatrical in their attacks on each other. Ahmadinejad is very much an Islamic radical (“kill the Jews” and all that) but he is also the foe of the endemic corruption at the top, which has made many clerics and their supporters wealthy.
The government has begun conducting public amputations of convicted thieves. Public whippings are also more common. These events are photographed and given wide publicity. The government hopes this will help reduce the rising crime rate.
Iran denies any involvement in smuggling weapons into Yemen but there is now enough evidence against Iran that the UN is joining the investigation.
Iranian leaders are sounding more alarmed at the prospect of losing control of Syria. The Pro-Syrian Assad dictatorship is losing control of the country due to a two year old uprising by the Sunni Arab majority (as in 80 percent of the population). Some Iranian leaders see the loss of Syria as the beginning of the end for the religious dictatorship in Iran. Most Iranians at the top are less pessimistic and are working on a solution. There is a proposal that Iran select, train, and equip a special street fighting force of 50,000 Iranians, Lebanese (Hezbollah), and loyal Syrians. This would provide the muscle to push the rebels out of the cities into the countryside, where the government can cut off foreign aid and literally starve them into submission. Most Iranian military leaders believe it is too late for this and that the Assads are near collapse.
February 14, 2013: A UN nuclear weapons monitoring team left Iran after being politely prevented from doing any investigating of Iranian nuclear research matters.
February 13, 2013: A Revolutionary Guards general, Hessam Khoshnevis, was killed by rebels in Syria. Hessam Khoshnevis has worked in Lebanon for most of the last decade as part of the Iranian Quds Force staff that monitors and supervises the activities of Hezbollah, as well as how Iranian aid is used. Iran later blamed Israel for the death of Khoshnevis and promised revenge. Iran gets particularly upset when one of their Quds Force leaders is killed. Late last year the Revolutionary Guards commander openly bragged that members of the Quds Force were operating in Syria. Quds is
Iran's international terrorism support organization. The Quds Force supplies weapons to the Afghan and Pakistani Taliban as well as Islamic radicals in Somalia, Iraq, and elsewhere. Quds has been advising Syrian forces on how to deal with the rebels and occasionally helping with raids and interrogations. Iran is also bringing in some badly needed special weapons and equipment. Most of this is coming in by air via Iraq. Syrian rebels are getting more and more proof of Iranian aid out of the country.
February 12, 2013: Iran has outdone itself in the phony new weapons department, by trying to convince Iranians that their air force had developed a new stealth fighter (the F-313). The evidence consisted of an unconvincing (to aeronautical engineers) mockup and doctored photos of that mockup in flight over snow covered mountains. While all this was unconvincing to foreigners, it was believed by many of the rural, uneducated people who form the core of the popular support for the government. While most Iranians hate the religious dictatorship, about a third of the population supports the clerics.
February 9, 2013: Yemen asked Iran to stop arming Shia rebels and al Qaeda terrorists inside Yemen. Iran insisted it was innocent of any such activity. But the evidence is piling up that Iran has been a major source for the illegal weapons (rifles, pistols, machine-guns, mortars, rockets, and bomb making materials) showing up in Africa and elsewhere in the region. Most of this stuff cannot be easily traced to the source (like all the unmarked ammo Iran was recently found to be making). Years of investigations and assembling large quantities of evidence (seized shipments, especially ones that could be traced back to Iran via tracking of the ship carrying the stuff) has made it clear Iran is the chief culprit.