Iran has been following Russian operations in Ukraine closely. It was noted that Russia violated a 1994 agreement to protect Ukrainian borders in return for Ukraine getting rid of its Cold War era nukes. Russia insists that the 1994 agreement does not apply. What really interests Iran about the Russian violation of the 1994 agreement is the implication that if you really want to keep invaders out you need nukes. Treaties are simply not as effective as nukes. Iranians believe the negotiations to limit Iranian nuclear research and development are an effort to block Iran from getting nuclear weapons and to keep Iran weak and vulnerable. Most Iranians see nukes as a necessity for maintaining Iranian dominance in the region. Iran has been the regional superpower for thousands of years. Once you get a taste of superpower status, it’s a hard thing to put behind you. Iranians dismiss foreign nervousness about Iranian radicals threatening to use nukes against Israel. To most Iranians that’s just the sort of wild talk Iranian politicians sometimes indulge in and is nothing worry about. The Israelis don’t agree and many Westerners don’t either.
In mid-March American officials revealed that Iran was still operating its smuggling network that has been obtaining components for its nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs over the last few decades. There is still a lot of activity in this network that does not actually involve smuggled components. This includes setting up and maintaining shell companies to hide shipments and cultivating contacts with smuggling gangs or individuals as well as forgers (to create documents to get smuggled goods moved) and keeping key officials (especially customs inspectors in some countries) happy and bribed. While none of this technically violates a recent agreement to halt nuclear research, it does show Iran is not thinking of shutting down these illegal activities permanently.
Meanwhile Iran is declaring (at least inside Iran) that its January 20th interim deal with the UN over its nuclear program is a victory. One Iranian official pointed out that Iran could reverse the effects of concessions within a month and that Iran was not really giving up anything. At first UN officials and many Western governments dismissed all this as Iranian efforts to improve domestic morale. The UN still believes that the January agreement, which merely gives Iran some concessions ($4.2 billion in frozen funds are released and some sanctions eased) in return for agreeing to negotiate a more permanent deal, is worth it for the rest of the world. But Iranian officials are telling Iranians that there will be no permanent changes in the nuclear program and that full scale uranium enrichment could be resumed within 24 hours. Meanwhile the existing deal only allows for six months of negotiations. The way these things work the Iranians will demand more concessions to extend the negotiations after no deal is achieved within the first six months. Western officials report that Iran is conceding nothing and there has been little progress in the negotiations. Iran is now complaining that while billions in Iranian assets have been unfrozen Iran is having a hard time actually getting any cash. Iran is being told that as long as they refuse to actually negotiate there will be little actual release of unfrozen funds. This sort of thing has increased the cash shortages the government is suffering. This is being felt by some Iranian allies.
Hezbollah is suffering a cash-flow crises as international efforts to curb Hezbollah fund raising becomes more effective and Iran cuts back on cash aid because of the continuing sanctions on Iranian oil sales.
Iran feels that Hezbollah can tolerate these cuts more than Syria, which is barely hanging on financially.
government and its
Russia and Iran see eventual victory
over the rebels
although it may take years.
Iranian media and officials are now openly declaring this as fact.
The Assads have announced that the main fighting will end this year, followed by “counter-terrorist” operations for as long as it takes. The
government has made it clear that it can play rough. In addition to the use of chemical weapons, the
also accused to running brutal prison camps and regularly executing or torturing prisoners who do not provide information on rebel activities. This has produced calls for war crimes investigations against the Assads. This has not deterred the Assads, who are still in “fighting for survival” mode
and confident that Iran and Russia will stick by them
Iran does not want to lose a key ally in the region. The Assads have been on the Iranian payroll since the 1980s and Iran wants to keep it that way.
Assad backers now believe that foreign intervention is unlikely and that the best thing the Assads have going for them are the Islamic terrorist groups who fight for (and increasingly against) the rebels. As bad as the Assads are, many of the Islamic terrorist groups make the Assads look more acceptable as the continued rulers of Syria. While the war could continue into the next decade, the Assads are willing to inflict that much suffering on Syria to remain in power. Iran has contributed billions of dollars and sent in several thousand advisors and specialists to organize a force of fanatic foreign mercenaries (largely from the Lebanese Hezbollah militia and from Iraqi Shia militias) who match the ferocity of the Sunni Islamic terror groups that are the fiercest fighters on the rebel side. Iran also helped organize militias among pro-Assad civilians and these defensive forces tie down nearby rebels.
Elsewhere in the region Iranian allies are not doing so well. This is particularly the case in Gaza, where pro-Iran Islamic terrorists have been firing more rockets into Israel. There have been about 90 rocket and mortar attacks from Gaza since March 12th compared to 11 for all of 2013. This is largely due to Islamic terrorist group Islamic Jihad (an Iran backed terror group that is a Hamas rival in Gaza) threatening armed rebellion against Hamas because of perceived treason by Hamas against Islam. Meanwhile Islamic Jihad continues to take aid, and instructions, from Iran. Islamic Jihad takes credit for most of these rocket attacks. This aggression got Islamic Jihad criticized by the UN, which is usually condemning Israel for defending itself. The consensus is that Islamic Jihad is trying to goad Israel into attacking Gaza again. Such an attack would force Hamas to try to defend Gaza which would cause heavy Hamas casualties and make it easier for Islamic Jihad to oust Hamas by force. Many in Hamas see this as an effort by Iran to weaken Hamas, because Hamas began openly supporting the Syrian rebels in late 2013 and Iran was not pleased. That cost Hamas over a million dollars a month in Iranian cash and caused a lot of dissent within Hamas. Some Hamas men have gone to Syria to fight against the rebels and Hamas is trying to work out some kind of deal that would allow them to maintain support from both Iran and the Sunni Arab oil states that fund and arm many of the Syrian rebels. Meanwhile Israel has become so concerned about the continued activity of Islamic terrorists inside Gaza that senior Israeli military leaders are openly calling for Israel to resume control of Gaza. That would involve a lot of combat and there’s not a lot of support for going that far, at least not yet.
Without much fanfare or media coverage Iranian security forces continue to go after real or imagined dissidents inside Iran. Those calling for more democracy and less religious dictatorship are considered traitors and over the last few years more have been arrested and the number executed has increased as well. Nearly 200 people have been executed so far this year. While most were killed because of drug offenses, a growing number are being accused of terrorism or treason and executed for that. Internet censorship has grown more intense, yet millions of Iranians continue to use the Internet to complain about the government and call for change. The official government line is that this is all part of a Western plot to overthrow the Iranian government and harm Islam. Many members of the government realize what is really going on and that many Iranians are not happy with the way Iran is run and how they are forced to live. Trying to eliminate this dissent is a growing problem for the government.
While Iran officially pretends otherwise the U.S. is still strenuously enforcing the economic sanctions against them. Many American leaders believe that the Iranians are trying to play the Western nations and get sanctions gradually lifted without really giving anything up. So the U.S. is seeking to keep up the economic pressure. The rest of the West is not so eager and many of Iran’s major oil customers (especially India and China) are ready to get around the sanctions any way they can. The American threats work, as in the case of the proposed Iran-Russia barter deal that is meant to enable Iran to sell its oil despite the sanctions. Russia keeps insisting this deal will go forward but so far it hasn’t. The Iranians believe that the Americans will eventually tire of the cost (financial, political and diplomatic) of maintaining the intense sanctions and be forced to ease up.
April 13, 2014: The Iranian official in charge of nuclear energy said Iran was entitled to enrich uranium to 90 percent, which was far more enrichment than needed for nuclear power plants but what was needed for nuclear weapons. To support this Iran must be able to buy 30,000 new centrifuges to expand the enrichment program. He also said work on four new Russian built nuclear power plants was moving forward. He said actual construction of the first of these four plants would begin this year.
Iran announced that a court had overturned the death sentence of an American (Amir Hekmati) whose parents were born in Iran. Amir Hekmati was arrested while visiting relatives in Iran during 2011 and accused of spying. His sentence has now been changed to ten years imprisonment. The U.S. protested this prosecution and threatened retaliation. The Iranians apparently considered Hekmati’s guilt obvious because he had once served in the U.S. Marine Corps. But Hekmati was simply visiting relatives and many Western countries warn their citizens that they risk arrest and imprisonment if they are of Iranian ancestry (and speak Farsi, the language of Iran) and visit Iran. Dozens of such arrests have been made over the years and some of these visitors have died in custody. Iran considers anyone born in Iran or to parents who were to still be Iranian and subject to Iranian law. Most Iranians who left Iran and settled in the West are considered traitors. The only exceptions are those who are secretly working for the Iranian government and the arrests of ethnic Iranian visitors is seen as part of the secret program to recruit and control expatriate Iranians used as agents. However, some of these arrests are simply the work of paranoid security officials. The security agencies are run by Islamic hardliners who believe paranoia is a virtue.
April 11, 2014: The U.S. refused to let the new Iranian UN ambassador into the United States because the man in question, Hamid Abutalebi, prominently participated in the seizure of the American embassy in Iran in 1979 and holding 52 American diplomats captive for over a year. Iran never apologized for this serious breach if international law. Iran never criticized or punished any of the Iranians involved. Abutalebi says he was only an interpreter and should not be punished for a youthful indiscretion. Many in the U.S. do not agree and consider Abutalebi a very willing member of a government that regularly announces it will eventually destroy the United States.
In the northwest (Kordestan province) three people were wounded by landmines. One was herding animals and another was working his farmland. Kurds are the majority up here and there are a lot of minefields used to protect military bases and block smuggling routes used by armed Kurdish separatists.
April 8, 2014:
Some 30,000 tons of
Iran has become the pillar of the
economy providing cash, weapons and a willingness to fly or ship in essentials.
April 7, 2014: The IRGC (Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps) announced it had broken up another terrorist cell that was responsible for bombing attacks inside Iran. Few details were given. The IRGC, which is personally loyal to the clerics who hold the ultimate power in Iran, often make announcements like this to reassure the population that the nation is safe from foreign attack. IRGC members believe they are on a Mission From God and that this means Iran cannot fail in its sacred mission to lead Islam into a glorious future. These fanatics are a minority in the national leadership and not the most capable politicians. But since many of these guys supply the IRGC muscle that keeps the clerics in power, they must be tolerated and treated with some respect.
April 4, 2014: The government announced that the five Iranian border guards had been released inside Pakistan, although initial reports were that one of them was dead. Later the government said four of the guards had been released and reached Iran but that a fifth was still being held, alive, in Pakistan. Thus after more than two months this kidnapping crises has not yet been fully resolved. For two months the government demanded that Pakistan do something about the five Iranian border guards kidnapped on February 6th inside Iran. Pakistan insisted it was doing all it could and that the five men are not being held in Pakistan. The Islamic terrorists claiming to hold the guards insisted that one of the Iranians has been executed. Iran believed that the five Iranian border police were held just across the border in Pakistan (Baluchistan). There are Baluchi tribes on both sides of the border and the religious dictatorship in Iran has long been hostile to Sunnis and the Iranian Baluchis do not like this at all. During the last few years the Iranian Baluchi rebels have become bolder and more successful in their attacks on Iranian security forces. Iran responded by executing more captured Baluchi rebels and that resulted in even more Baluchi violence. Iran demanded that the Pakistani government find the five Iranian border guards fast or Iran would send its own troops into Pakistan to find and free the captive border guards. These threats intensified in March. On March 1st a senior Pakistani general announced (without providing much detail) that the five Iranian border guards had been released. This was a false claim but did indicate that the Pakistanis were making an effort.
April 3, 2014: The U.S. has given American aircraft manufacturer Boeing permission to export some aircraft parts to Iran. Boeing has not delivered any aircraft to Iran since 1979, when the current religious dictatorship took power. Since then even spare parts exports have been banned, but these rules have been changed to allow legal export of parts that help keep elderly Boeing aircraft Iran still uses safe in the air. Iran has been using its smuggling network to obtain needed spares and even some new aircraft.
April 2, 2014: The IMF (International Monetary Fund) believes that the Iranian GDP shrank 1.7 percent in the last twelve months. This was an improvement over the previous twelve months when GDP declined 5.8 percent. This is all the result of the more severe sanctions placed on Iran in an effort to halt the Iranian nuclear weapons program. Before the increased sanctions hit in 2013 Iranian GDP was growing at about three percent a year.