The impact of the UN sanctions have been made worse by the falling price of oil. Iran and its ally Russia are two countries that are economically very dependent on oil revenue and the falling oil price is a major, and growing, problem. This oil price decrease is caused largely by American innovations (fracking) that have unlocked huge quantities of oil and natural gas. For example, in 2010 foreign oil accounted for half the oil consumed in the United States. That is now 20 percent and falling rapidly. The U.S. expects to be a major oil and natural gas exporter soon and that hurts the economies of Iran and Russia a great deal. Meanwhile the fighting with ISIL is hurting Iran economically as a natural gas pipeline Iran is building to Iraq (to sell lots of unused natural gas) goes through territory currently controlled or threatened by ISIL. Some Iranian construction workers have been fired on by ISIL and most have been withdrawn from threatened areas until ISIL is destroyed or driven away.
The negotiations to end the sanctions against Iran are still stalled. Iran missed the agreed upon July deadline to come up with an agreeable compromise and now there are more sanctions imposed. Iran continues to refuse acceptable inspections and monitoring of its nuclear program to assure the rest of the world that there really is no nuclear program. But many foreign intelligence agencies (especially the U.S., Europe and Israel) have lots of evidence that the weapons program exists and Iran simply dismisses this evidence without offering credible proof that the charges are false.
Many Western politicians are uneasy with the fact that they are now de-facto allies with Iran and the Syrian Assad dictatorship as well as rebel groups that are openly Islamic terrorists and hostile to the West. Iran wants to destroy the West but at the moment it’s a case of “the enemy of my enemy is my ally whether I like it or not.” Despite official bans on cooperation there is some informal military coordination with Iran and the Assads. Meanwhile the Iranian government is encouraging the rumor that ISIL is part of an American plot to hurt Iran. This sort of thing is believed by most Iranians and many Arabs as well, who see the Western operations against ISIL as another form of the Western “war on Islam”. This conspiracy theory is so popular that many Arab states are reluctant to get too involved with the mainly Western coalition formed to stop ISIL. This is despite the fact that ISIL is a very immediate threat to Iran and all Arab states in the region. Iran backs the “ISIL is an American plot” in part to show their anger at the growing sanctions and Iranian efforts to formally coordinate anti-ISIL operations.
The Iranians appear to believe that the U.S. air strikes and all the military aid (from Iran, the U.S. and other NATO nations) going to the Iraqi Kurds, plus a new government in Iraq, will be able to deal with ISIL in Iraq. Iran has been very active in supporting the Shia Arab government in Iraq against ISIL, but not very public about it. This is because many of the things that ISIL is hated for (restrictions on women and on what people drink and do for entertainment) are the same things that have long been enforced in Iran. It is possible for Iran to condemn the ISIL tendency to slaughter lots of people just for being different (not Islamic or not Islamic enough) but they are reluctant to go into much detail, as least in the media. Iran would like ISIL to just go away, permanently and with great violence if necessary.
All the Gulf states (Arabs and Iran) agree that extreme radical groups, especially one like ISIL that have declared themselves the leader of the Islamic world (by declaring a caliphate run by ISIL) are a threat to all Moslems. Actually, ISIL has a lot of supporters throughout the Islamic world, but these people are a minority (a few percent to maybe twenty or so in some countries) and most of these supporters would change their minds if they actually had to live under ISIL rule. That said, Saudi Arabia has long enforced strict Islamic lifestyle rules similar to those used by ISIL and beheads those who are major offenders of those rules. But the Saudis have courts and limits on the authority of those enforcing Islamic law. That makes a big difference, big enough to get a lot of Moslem countries that are at odds with each other over a wide variety of issues to finally have one thing they can unite against.
Al Qaeda also condemns ISIL, initially for ignoring al Qaeda orders to tone down the barbaric treatment (mass murder and torture) of the enemy because al Qaeda realized that this eventually extreme and triggers a backlash from other Moslems. Iran condemns ISIL because to them all Shia (meaning nearly all Iranians) are heretics and deserving of summary execution. Iran-backed Hezbollah is now using that ISIL threat against Lebanon to justify Hezbollah grabbing more power in Lebanon, where Shia are a third of the population but far more powerful politically because Iranian cash, weapons and training have made Hezbollah too strong for the elected Lebanese government to suppress or even oppose effectively. In Syria, the minority (Shia) Assad government, fighting a Sunni rebellion since 2011, now calls on their current Sunni enemies (Saudi Arabia and other Gulf Arabs, plus the Sunni majority in Syria) to join with them in destroying ISIL. There is not much public support for this, because the Assads are seen as vicious oppressors of Sunni Moslems (who own most of the oil in Arabia and comprise 80 percent of all Moslems). Nevertheless, the presence of a common threat (ISIL) has forced a temporary truce in the growing conflict between Shia (led by Iran) and Sunnis (led by Saudi Arabia).
So whatever else ISIL has done it has united many other Sunni factions and the Shia in the region into an uneasy anti-ISIL coalition. But even after ISIL is gone, Islamic radicalism will still be there. For most Moslems this radicalism is like the weather; every Moslem talks about but Moslems cannot seem to do anything to eliminate or even control it.
Iranian aid can make a big difference, even if the Iranians don’t send in troops to fight. For example, thanks to Iranian trainers and cash, the Syrian pro-government militias are better trained and more effective as are the Syrian soldiers. All of these men are paid regularly and most see a better future than do many of the rebel fighters. The Syrian Army is about half its pre-war strength of 300,000 but the remaining troops are loyal and most have combat experience. The army is expanding back to its pre-war strength. This is thanks to cash from Iran, because the Syrian economy is wrecked. In other instances, Iranian interference is not helpful. I
n western Afghanistan local (Herat province) police blame Iran for an increase in violence and accuse Iran of funding the local Taliban and providing sanctuary for them in Iran.
Performing similar magic in Iraq means shoving corrupt Iraqi officials and officers out of the way and taking care of Iraqi troops with Iranian cash and training these troops using experienced (in that sort of thing) Iranians. This is insulting to many Iraqis, especially senior politicians. But at the moment it is preferable to being murdered by ISIL gunmen.
September 18, 2014: Negotiations with the West over the sanctions and the Iranian nuclear program resumed. There is a November 24 deadline to reach a deal.
A court sentenced six young Iranians to a whipping (91 lashes) and six months in prison. The sentence was suspended, in part because the charge, “obscene behavior” was the official reaction to the four men and two women making and posting a video of them lip syncing and dancing to an American hit song (“Happy”). The video was very popular inside Iran and the government tends to back off in cases like this. The same may not happen with a blogger who was sentenced to death in late August for insulting Islam online in 2013. There’s no suspended sentence, and may not be as religion is still a very touchy subject in Iran. Despite these displays of tact, the government is still cracking down on things like women appearing in public with their heads not covered or wearing clothing that shows too much skin or too many curves. The government also warned the population that they were about to put 4,000 religious police (3,000 women and 1,000 men) in civilian clothes on duty to patrol public spaces and arrest those who do not dress properly.
September 17, 2014: A new opinion poll showed that 94 percent of Iranians backed the Iranian nuclear power program and 70 percent agreed that it was for peaceful purposes only. The survey did not address the nuclear weapons program, which officially does not exist but that all Iranians are proud of, especially because it frightens foreigners.
September 16, 2014: In Kenya two young Iranian men were arrested when they were caught using stolen Israeli passports modified to include pictures of the Iranians. The two were on their way to Israel, via Brussels and Israel confirmed that these were passports stolen from Israelis travelling abroad. Kenyan and Israeli police are now trying to find out what the two were up to. In the past, most Iranians caught with fake Israeli passports were involved in some terrorist operation against Israel.
September 15, 2014: The U.S. again officially proclaimed that they will not cooperate with Iran against ISIL. This comes in the face of mounting evidence that such cooperation is taking place, but discreetly. Both sides prefer this arrangement and it continues at the tactical and diplomatic level. As a result of the official denunciations Iran can, for example, accuse the U.S. of refusing needed assistance while also openly blaming America for creating ISIL in the first place. It is all good.
September 14, 2014: Israel continues to accuse Iran of being largely responsible for the large number of Internet based attacks on Israel during the recent war between Hamas and Israel. This conflict, like the two previous “wars” with Hamas, brought out a lot of pro-Arab (if not pro-Hamas) hackers to attack Israeli Internet operations. This time around the attacks, while low level (defacing websites and trying to shut down sites with DDOS attacks) were more numerous and intense. Most were from Moslems far from the Palestinian territories who had acquired some hacking skills. While the Moslem nations have lower percentages of Internet users and Internet experts, that is slowly improving every year. More worrisome to Israel is the apparent growing of Cyber War operations in Iran. All this increased hacking against Israeli targets is no surprise and it has been developing since September 11, 2001. Israel also now accuses Iran of using Cyber War operations to aid all Moslem anti-Israel groups. This support does not include high grade stuff, which only Iranian hackers are allowed to handle, but training and hacker software that many eager Moslem amateurs were not aware of or felt capable of using. Israel is accusing Iranian hackers of carrying out the few serious attacks. Iran denies everything, at least in public.
September 9, 2014: In the southeast security forces defeated an attack by Baluchi Sunni separatists. The attackers suffered “heavy losses” but no numbers were provided. The Shias living there are unhappy with the continued violence. The area is home to the Baluchi minority, which is Sunni and backing an increasingly violent opposition to the government.
September 8, 2014: A recent study of Internet use in Iran found 69 percent of young (under 30) Iranian Internet users employed proxy servers (VPNs mostly) to avoid government Internet censorship and monitoring and to reach the international Internet without interference. Studies like this have led many politicians to call for the religious leadership to ease up on the Internet censorship and many of the lifestyle restrictions. Although all elected officials must have permission from religious leaders to even run for election, many see that a lot of the current policies are just making young Iranians angrier.
September 5, 2014: The U.S. again denied that it is coordinating anti-ISIL operations with Iran. But on the ground there is some, obviously unofficial and informal, communication and coordination. Iran also denies any formal cooperation.
September 3, 2014: Sudan ordered Iranian culture centers shut and Iranian embassy staff expelled because of continuing Iranian efforts to convert Sunni Sudanese to the Shia form of Islam. The Iranian ties with Sudan get little publicity, but they are important to Iran. The ties to Syria and Hezbollah get a lot more media attention making it easier for Iran to keep its Sudan connections quiet. Iran supplies Sudan with weapons and military technology. In return Sudan, which is run by a Sunni religious dictatorship, provides Iran with a base in Africa and an overland route to smuggle weapons to Hamas in Gaza.
September 1, 2014: Iran appears to have been trying to get a media story going about Israeli UAVs being used over Iran and Iraq. Three times in August 2014 there were stories about Israeli Hermes UAVs crashing (in Iraq, Iran and Gaza). The Iraq story was reported by a Hezbollah satellite news channel, the Iranian crash was reported by Iran and the Gaza crash was reported by Hamas (which receives regular supplies of Iranian cash and weapons). Hezbollah is also on the Iranian payroll, but is more public about it. The one thing all these events had in common was that in each of them it was claimed there was physical evidence of a Hermes type UAV crashing and that the evidence would be presented. But the evidence never was made public and the three stories faded away, perhaps because they never gained any traction. Iran was also embarrassed when informed that the Hermes could not reach Iran from Israel. Iran then blamed other countries in the area for working with the Israelis. That line was quickly abandoned because most Moslems don’t believe any Moslem would support Israel. It’s unclear why Iran chose now to try and get this story going. It is no secret that Israel keeps a close eye on Iran, especially the Iranian nuclear weapons program. The “Hermes” UAV brought down in Iran was allegedly near a uranium enrichment facility. Israel has apparently used UAVs to spy on Iran, but Israel also has spy satellites that can do the same job, although not in as much detail as with the more powerful cameras carried by UAVs. Then again, they may be about Azerbaijan, which uses Hermes UAVs and other Israeli equipment. This annoys the Iranians a great deal and there has been something of an undeclared war going on between Azerbaijan and Iran. In any event internal Iranian politics can get very murky and confusing, what with all the “more Islamic than thou” posturing among the various factions of what is, for all practical purposes, a religious dictatorship that is often at war with itself.
August 29, 2014: The U.S. imposed some additional economic sanctions on Iran, in response not meeting the July 20 deadline to work out a deal. The new curbs make it more difficult for Iran to do business internationally and increases the costs of smuggling in forbidden goods.
August 27, 2014: The U.S. Navy revealed the day before an American Coast Guard patrol boat fired a single warning shot at a nearby Iranian patrol boat that had pointed two of its heavy machine-guns at the U.S. ship. After that warning shot the Iranians turned their machine-guns away and departed the area.