Iran: All Is Going According To Plan

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August 8, 2015: Officially the Arab Gulf states are supporting the new peace deal with Iran, despite the threat of Iran getting out from under sanctions and continuing to develop its nuclear weapons. Arab public opinion is another matter and is largely hostile to the July 14 th agreement. Turkey has always had a chilly relationship with Iran as the two nations have been rivals for over a thousand years. One thing Turkey, Iran and the Arabs can agree on is the need to cooperate in fighting ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant), which is a threat to all of them.

Another worrisome aspect of the July 14 deal is that it does not compel Iran to comply. Moreover there are parts of the treaty that have not been released yet. The U.S. admits that there are two secret side deals that must remain secret. Meanwhile Iranian hardliners are openly calling on their government to, in effect, not comply with many aspects (especially inspections) of the treaty. 

Saudi Arabia and the other Arab oil states take some comfort in the fact that they do retain some real leverage over Iran. The world price of oil is still under $50 a barrel and the Arab oil states can keep it there for a long time. While the lifting of sanctions will bring Iran some financial relief, their major money problem is the low price of oil, less than half of what it was in 2013. The deal with the oil weapon Iran will have to negotiate, as least as long as they don’t have nukes.

Critics of the new treaty point out that two similar, and recent, deals failed. The 1994 deal with North Korea was simply ignored by the North Koreans who went on to create their primitive but very real nukes. A few years before that there was a deal with Iraq, which had an even more peculiar outcome. Saddam Hussein admitted, after he was captured, that he had shut down his “weapons of mass destruction” programs in the 1990s (because of the expense) but kept that secret from the outside world and all but a few Iraqis. He wanted the Iranians to believe that Iraq was still actively working on nuclear and chemical weapons. To make the deception convincing he ordered that UN inspectors be deceived and interfered with at every opportunity. Some UN inspectors believed that, despite what the rest of the world (including most major intel agencies) believed the Iraqi nuclear and chemical weapons programs were just not there anymore. It wasn’t until after the 2003 invasion and the capture of Saddam that the truth was known. Saddam also revealed that he had made sue to keep key personnel and technical knowledge safely hidden away and ready to get back to work once sanctions were lifted. Gulf Arabs understand that Saddam’s deception was not a unique event but a common tactic in the region and one that Iran will surely adopt in some form. The treaty also ignored issues like Americans and other Westerners held prisoner in Iran and so on. These items were left out at the insistence of the Iranians who took advantage of the fact that many Western leaders, especially the Americans, were eager to have a deal and willing to give in on many “non-essential” Iranian demands. The sanctions have been costly to the West in terms of lost sales and the local jobs that creates. European nations supporting the sanctions need the jobs renewed trade with Iran would provide. Israel and the Gulf Arabs accuse the Europeans of being hypocrites about this angle, even as those same Europeans keep calling to sell stuff to oil-rich Arab states.

There is already evidence that Iran does not plan to observe the July 14 treaty. The latest example is satellite photos made recently showing Iranian bulldozers and many workers at a military base (Parchin) that was long suspected of housing a nuclear research facility but that Iran never let UN (IAEA) inspectors into. One condition of the July 14 treaty is to let IAEA visit Parchin in mid-October. The facilities IAEA wants to inspect are now being destroyed or modified and much material is being removed. Parchin won’t be what is long was when IAEA shows up.

The deal is supposed to be approved (or not) by early 2016 but in several of the nations involved, especially the United States, the majority of voters oppose the deal. Israel and the Arab Gulf states were also not part of the negotiations but have the most to fear from a more powerful Iran. Israel is openly opposed to the deal while Arab public opinion is also opposed. But many Arab governments find it prudent to pretend to approve until the ratification process is complete. Meanwhile the average Iranian, including the much oppressed pro-reform groups, see the treaty as a great victory and make no secret that they approve of Iran being more powerful and influential in the region. The Iranian attitude is well known to the Gulf Arabs, who have had to live with an Iranian threat for thousands of years.

The new treaty will help Iranian military efforts in Syria and Iraq, as more cash and fewer import restrictions means it is easier to get modern weapons and military gear. However, all this won’t do much for Iran in Yemen, mainly because there is still a blockade (by Arab and Western warships and warplanes) around Yemen. The Saudis and their Arab allies have managed to put the Iran backed Shia rebels on the defensive. This was most visible recently as hundreds of Yemeni troops, trained in Saudi Arabia and given new weapons, were seen crossing the Saudi border into northern Yemen. These troops were in armored vehicles supplied by the Saudis and continue to have air support from the Saudi led Arab coalition. Iran feels humiliated and won’t forget.

Meanwhile AQAP (Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula) is openly allied with some of the Sunni tribal militias in eastern Yemen and this makes it possible for the Islamic terrorists to regularly carry out suicide bombing attacks in the capital and even in the far north homeland of the Iran-backed Shia tribes. AQAP and pro-government tribesmen have also been assassinating Shia troops and low-ranking leaders in the capital and even firing on checkpoints throughout the capital. ISIL Islamic terrorists also take credit for some of the attacks in the capital. ISIL and AQAP are technically at war with each other but that seems to have been put aside for the moment because of the Shia threat and the open involvement of Shia Iran. These Sunni Islamic terrorists are particularly eager to take any Iranian operatives alive. Because of this de facto Islamic terrorist help against the Shia rebels the counter-terrorism efforts by government forces (mostly in disarray anyway) and various Sunni tribal militias (who outnumber the Shia but are not united and often at odds with each other) has largely lapsed. The only ones fighting the Sunni Islamic terrorists are the Iran-backed Shia rebels and the Americans. Despite all this an anti-Shia coalition has formed and grown stronger.

August 6, 2015: The government denies a claim by Kurdish separatists (PJAK) that the Kurds killed 20 IRGC soldiers during an attack earlier today on a border post in the northwest. PJAK said this was payback for Iranian failure to observe the 2011 ceasefire and for their continued persecution of Kurds suspected of disloyalty. Iran admits there was an attack, but that it was repulsed with no IRGC losses. Iran does not allow foreign reporters into this largely Kurdish area and it has always been difficult to confirm any claims. What is proven is that the Kurd violence up there is real and has been going on for decades. Unable to suppress the armed Kurds in the area Iran has been pressuring European nations (where the exiled PJAK leadership resides) to prosecute the rebels in exile. After decades of pressure Iran has obtained some cooperation from foreign governments (in Europe, as well as Turkey and Syria, where most Kurds live) to arrest, or at least monitor, PJAK members. Iraq pretends to cooperate, but doesn't do much. Iranian secret police agents also have informants in these other Kurdish communities, to monitor PJAK activities, and provide targets for Iranian death squads, which still stalk PJAK members who are deemed too troublesome to tolerate. Iran has to be careful with overseas "wet work" (assassinations), as without permission from the local government, this sort of thing invites diplomatic retaliation. There are no such problem inside Iran, and in northwest Iran, where most of the Kurdish minority lives, Iranian secret police and Revolutionary Guards have long maintained a reign of terror, to smoke out PJAK members and discourage Kurds from cooperating with the rebels. That kind of effort often just helps PJAK, which only has a few thousand armed members (out of 12 million Kurds in Iran).

August 5, 2015: Iran announced that it is preparing a new peace proposal for Syria. This will apparently incorporate Russian suggestions that the Assads be eased out (and into comfortable exile) and the growing anti-ISIL forces in Syria unite, if only temporarily, to deal with the common threat. This will be a hard sell because many rebel factions in Syria hate Iran in particular and Shia in general.

August 1, 2015: A previously unknown hacker group, the YCA (Yemen Cyber Army) took credit for the hacks that obtained the trove of Saudi Arabian government emails the group recently released. The main thing the emails revealed was that Saudi Arabia and other oil-rich Arab countries use their money as a tool to influence political and diplomatic decisions in the Middle East and worldwide. These revelation were not surprising, but some of the details were. The emails show that the Saudis continue to support Islamic terror groups, even though many of these same groups want to seize control of Saudi Arabia and establish a religious dictatorship (and execute every member of the House of Saud they can grab along the way). The Saudis are looking at the big picture and the perceived greater danger posed by Shia Iran, which wants an Iranian Shia clergy controlling the holy places in Saudi Arabia. In this scenario Iran would also control the Saudi oil as well. This is the ultimate Saudi nightmare and they are trying to buy and bribe their way out of it. That, however, won’t make their past activity disappear. It also appears that Iran and Russia were behind this hack because the Iran backed Shia rebels in Yemen do not have the technical resources to crack the formidable network defenses the Saudis are known to have built. In fact, not all departments of the Saudi government appear to have been hacked. This is indicative of the high-end defenses the Saudis have bought, which isolates different bureaucracies networks so hacking one does not get you into all the others.

July 27, 2015: In the northwest a natural gas pipeline to Turkey was badly damaged by Kurdish separatists (PKK) just across the border in Turkey (about 15 kilometers from the border). The explosives put a hole in the pipeline and forced gas flow to be shut off for several days until repairs could be made. Various rebellious groups, like Sunni Baluchi tribesmen in the southeast and Iranian Arabs in the west threaten other pipeline projects underway to send natural gas to Iraq and Pakistan.

July 25, 2015: Bahrain has recalled its ambassador in Iran because of a recent (July 15th) incident where a small boat was stopped off Bahrain and two men with known terrorist connections were arrested after the boat was found to be carrying 44 kg (96 pounds) of C4 explosive, other components (detonators) for making bombs, six assault rifles and several hundred rounds of ammo. The men admitted they had received the weapons from a nearby Iranian ship in international waters. One of the men was known to have received terrorist training in Iran in 2013. Iran dismissed the accusations. This is not an isolated incident. In June Bahrain arrested several Islamic terrorists and seized supplies of explosives meant for terrorist bombings in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia. Iran was blamed for this and Bahrain said Quds Force was responsible for the explosives getting in. This sort of thing has been going on for some time. Over the last few years Iranian politicians have increasingly mentioned in public that Bahrain is really the 14th province of Iran. That's because, well, it isn't called the "Persian" Gulf for nothing (although since all the oil money showed up the Arabs have been trying to popularize the term "Arabian Gulf," with mixed success). There have been ethnic Iranian communities in Bahrain for centuries, along with a Shia Arab majority, and Iran had a formal claim on the island until 1969 when the claim was dropped, in order to improve relations with Arab neighbors. Iran has always been an empire and still is (only half the population is ethnic Iranian). The way this works you always have a sense of "Greater Iran" which includes, at the least, claims on any nearby areas containing ethnic Iranians or people of similar religion. Hitler used this concept to guide his strategy during World War II. Bahrainis (both Sunni and Shia) get very upset when these claims are periodically revived. The local Shia want an independent Bahrain run by the Shia majority. The Iranian government officially denounces such claims on Bahrain but apparently many Iranians have not forgotten. Arabs are not very happy about that and have responded by pointing out that Iran was Sunni until 500 years ago and were forced to convert, on pain of death, by a Shia emperor (who killed about a million of his subjects in the process). Saudi Arabia is trying, with some success, to organize Arab resistance to Iranian expansionist moves. Iran has responded by encouraging the Shia minorities on the west side of the Gulf to demonstrate their unhappiness with their minority status. The Iranian claim is based on Iranian control of Bahrain for a few years during the 18th century. Iran resents Western interference in the area believing themselves to be the regional superpower and the final arbiter of who is sovereign and who is not. Arabs see Iran continuing to throw its traditional weight around, despite the decades of sanctions and the current low oil prices. Traditional thinking among Sunnis is that Shia are scum and a bunch of unreliable losers, although the Iranians have always visibly contradicted that. The average Iranian holds similar views towards Arabs, especially Sunni Arabs.

July 24, 2015: Iranian Quds Force commander Qassem Soleimani flew into Moscow to meet with Russian defense officials. He left two days later. Since 2007 Soleimani has been under numerous sanctions, including ones that are not being lifted by the July 14th deal. Soleimani was not supposed to be able to travel to Russia and Russia knows it. But Russia and Iran deny the visit actually happened, the same way Iran denies that Soleimani has spent time in Iraq supervising the creation and use of pro-Iran Shia militias.

 

 

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