The Russian supported Syrian government forces went on the offensive in October and for a week or so seemed to make some progress. The Russian air strikes, guided by Syrian ground controllers, were accurate and allowed the Syrian/Lebanese/Iranian forces to advance. But by mid-October the advance had stalled. There were several reasons for this. First, the rebels were suddenly getting a lot more recruits as many Syrians who were not keen on fighting other Syrians were very eager to “fight the Russians.” Even though there were no (or very few) Russian troops on the ground involved in these operations there were a lot of foreign fighters (mostly recruited, trained, armed and managed by Iran). These included Lebanese from Hezbollah plus Iraqi, Iranian, Afghan and other Shia persuaded (by Iranian cash and other favors) to volunteer for dangerous duty in Shia militias. This Iran backed (and often led) forces have suffered heavy casualties this month, including four senior Revolutionary Guards officers (and more lower ranking ones) and dozens of Afghans and other foreign Shia recruited by Iran to fight for the Assads in Syria.
Iran has some special operations troops in Syria and they appear to serve mainly for collecting intelligence and attacking key rebel leaders (not always successfully). Iran is providing a lot of trainers, combat advisors and, judging from the number of dead Iranian officers (whose families back in Iran do not hide their grief or keep it out of the media) the Iranians are deeply involved in supervising these offensive operations. Russia would like Iran to be more secretive about Iranian generals getting killed in Syria. Ten have died there since 2013 and most of those deaths were recent. Syria is a much more dangerous place for Iranian military advisors as only one Iranian general has been killed in Iraq so far.
Meanwhile the U.S. had admitted that it has had commandos operating with Syrian Kurds this year and is sending in more special operations troops to help with the fight against ISIL. The Russians and Iranians are willing to leave ISIL alone if these Islamic terrorists are not attacking Assad territory. ISIL has been more frequently fighting other rebel groups, especially Islamic terrorist ones that refuse to acknowledge ISIL as their leader.
Meanwhile back in Iran the government still talks about destroying Israel and dominating the Sunni Arabs. Now the ruling clerics are also talking up improvements in the economy. Inflation has come down recently (to about 15 percent) after getting as high as 50 percent in 2014. Things that impact the lives of most Iranians like unemployment, inflation, water shortages, drug addiction and “loose morals” cannot be made to go away with exciting news from Syria. But as the economy improves (largely in anticipation of approval of the July treaty to lift sanctions) many Iranians turn to other problems they are having. One is the government campaign to suppress “loose morals.” Iranians see this as is a code word for more restrictions on how people (especially women) dress and entertain themselves. The clergy supported lifestyle restrictions are increasingly unpopular and the clergy are not inclined to compromise much here.
The economic sanctions that the July treaty lift are not the main economic problem Iran has to deal with. That would be the low oil price, which is Saudi Arabia’s way (along with some other local Sunni oil states) to put the hurt on Iran. One reason for seeking nuclear weapons is to give Iran the ability to persuade the Saudis to ship less oil and let the price go up. After that there will be the demand to let Iran run the Moslem holy places in Mecca and Medina. The Saudis are not willing to make deals and remain firm on their oil policy.
The Saudis are keen on maintaining a dominating influence in Iraq, which is a largely (80 percent) Arab country that is majority (60 percent) Shia. The religious angle puts Iraq in an awkward position. The Iraqi Shia Arabs don’t want to be dominated by non-Arab Iran (where Arabs are openly despised) but also don’t want to be dominated by their Sunni Arab neighbors and especially not by their own Sunni Arab minority (which created ISIL and has been a major supporter of Islamic terrorism since 2003). The Shia dominated Iraq government also has problems with its Kurds, who are Sunni but not Arab. The Iraqi government has been trying to get the Kurds to obey the Arab majority and since 2014 has been using Arab control over most oil income for that. The Kurds have not been sent their share of oil income in the last year and as a result the Kurds have not been able to pay their own excessive force of government employees. Many have not been paid in three months and are demonstrating more frequently and violently. Kurdish participation in the fight for Mosul is expected to involve some financial relief from the Iraqi government. This strained relationship between the Arab Iraqi government and the non-Arab Kurds shows you the kind of problems any ruler in the region has, especially if the ruler is corrupt and inefficient.
Iranian hopes for turning Iraq into a satellite state has another problem; the United States. The Iraqi government has backed away from recent anti-American (and pro-Russian) statements. This came after the United States threatened to withdraw military aid and let the Iraqis depend on Russia and Iran instead. While Iraq receives weapons from Iran and Russia, these do not match the higher quality (and more effective) stuff the Americans can provide. Moreover, if the Americans leave so does major protection against problems with Sunni Arab neighbors like Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. The government is also wary of the Shia militias Iran has helped organize, train and advise. Some of these militias are loyal to Iraqi Shia clerics who want Iraq to be ruled by a religious dictatorship, as Iran is. Most Iraqi Shia do not want that and the government makes sure these Shia militias get paid on time and are well supplied. These militiamen are not the best troops Iraq has but their fanaticism and enthusiasm makes them more effective than the average Iraqi soldier. Meanwhile these militiamen have sometimes turned on anti-Iran Iraqi demonstrators, beating up the otherwise peaceful Iraqi civilians. This just increases the tensions and is a major reason why Iran is less of a threat to Iraq than most foreigners (especially in the West) fear.
October 30, 2015: For the first time Iran was invited to meet with American and EU (European Union) diplomats for ongoing discussions in Europe about how to deal with the mess in Syria. Also attending are officials from Russia, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan and Lebanon. Iran has long complained loudly openly about being excluded from these talks and got an invite in part by promising to make a useful contribution. Few of these negotiators expect a deal to be made. The Arab Sunnis want no part of Assad but the Iranians need to maintain Shia (as in Assad or a Shia replacement) rule in Syria. The racial and religious animosities between Arabs and Iranians is a major obstacle. This is made worse by the popular belief in the Moslem world that ISIL and al Qaeda are inventions of Israel and the West to damage Islam. The West (and a growing number of Moslems) see the main problem as the Arab refusal to take responsibility for their actions. ISIL comes out of the Sunni radicalism tolerated (and subsidized) in Saudi Arabia for decades. Iran, Syria and Russia all have a history of supporting and promoting terrorist groups. Getting past all these bad habits, many of them not the sort of thing the perpetrators are willing to even acknowledge publicly, makes negotiating a peace deal in Syria extremely difficult.
While things are going well for Iran in Syria the pro-Iran Shia rebels of Yemen are facing defeat. This comes despite help from Iran and Lebanese Hezbollah smugglers and military advisors. The worst aspect of all this is that the foreign intervention was all Arab (Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain), using their modern Western weapons. The Arabs are succeeding, which does not bode well for Iran which has long (at least in the last few centuries) relied on its superior military capabilities to intimidate their Arab neighbors. What’s going on in Yemen is diminishing that threat quite a bit.
October 29, 2015: In Iraq, at a guarded camp outside the Baghdad airport, sixty rockets landed during a night attack. This left 23 members of the People's Mujahideen Organization of Iran (PMOI), or Mujahideen Khalq, dead. Also killed were three Iraqi policemen. PMOI is a secular (Marxist) organization that has long (since 1965) opposed the monarchy and later the clerical groups that now dominate Iranian politics. Saddam Hussein provided sanctuary for the Mujahideen Khalq in 1986 and let over 3,400 stay at Camp Ashraf, near the Iranian border. The Khalq was disarmed by U.S. forces in 2003. America and Iraq refused Iranian demands to arrest and return most members of Mujahideen Khalq to Iran for prosecution for terror attacks Khlaq made in Iran while working from their Iraqi base. Since 2003 there were several raids on Camp Ashraf and in 2012 most residents were moved to the more secure “Camp Liberty” near the Baghdad airport. An armed group invaded their previous camp in 2013 and killed about fifty of a hundred hard core Khalq members who had refused to move from Camp Ashraf. The Iraqi government says the 2013 deaths were the result of an internal dispute while Khalq representatives insist it was a raid, probably by Iraqi soldiers or pro-Iran terrorists. There have been several hundred Khalq deaths during these pro-Iran militia raids since 20o3. There were two attacks on the new camp in 2013. Iran has always denied involvement with these attacks, which appear to be carried out by pro-Iran Iraqi Shia militias. One of those militias soon took credit for the latest attack. The U.S. and the UN have long been seeking countries willing to take PLOI members as political refugees. But since PMOI members are dedicated leftist terrorists no one is eager to accept them.
Iraqi Kurds revealed that they had accepted shipments of small arms and ammunition from Iran in 2014 to help Kurdish troops continue their fight against ISIL. The Iraqi government was still blocking shipments of weapons and ammo to the Kurds (because of a dispute over oil revenue sharing) and Western countries who eventually ignored Iraqi government orders to not supply the Kurds, were still dithering while the Kurds were increasingly desperate to get more ammo. Apparently the Western nations who eventually came through with ammo and weapons shipments found out about the Iranian shipments and that helped change minds in the West.
October 28, 2015: Russia denied that it is illegally flying Iranian weapons and ammo to Syria aboard Russian transports. This would be in violation of international sanctions against Iran. The flights apparently are taking place and Iraqi officials are looking the other way.
Iran and Pakistan agreed to join forces (share intelligence, coordinate border security) in the struggle against ISIL. Both countries have supported (or tolerated) Islamic terrorist groups that attacked their neighbors. Pakistan has been the biggest offender, tolerating anti-Shia Islamic terrorist groups for decades and founding the Taliban, which was responsible for killing thousands of Shia in Afghanistan. Although Pakistan now has nukes and is not suffering from international sanctions, Iran seems on its way to eliminating both of those shortcomings. That would mean Iran would once more assume its traditional role as a serious threat to Pakistan. With that in mind, Pakistan is playing nice and hoping for the best.
Former (1989-97) president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani revealed that Iran had received nuclear research help from Pakistan in the 1980s. It was unclear if the assistance was official or part of the unofficial nuclear weapons data black marker run by Pakistan’s chief nuclear weapons scientist Abdal Qadir Khan. The Kahn network was made public in 2004 and shut down. Kahn was never really punished and is considered a national hero in Pakistan.
October 27, 2015: The Quds Force has succeeded in establishing another pro-Iran Islamic terrorist group in Gaza. This one, “Al-Sabireen Movement For Supporting Palestine” uses the same symbol as the Iran backed Hezbollah in Lebanon and has 400 members, all of them paid monthly by Iran. Most of these men formerly belonged to Sunni Islamic terror groups but agreed to become Shia (if only in name) because Iran promised financial and other support. Al-Sabireen " The Patient Ones" has been active since mid-2015 and has already lost several members in clashes with Israeli troops who patrol the border with Israel.
October 26, 2015: A Revolutionary Guards official revealed that more than 200 foreign Shia recruited, armed, trained and paid by the Revolutionary Guards have died in Syria so far. How many of those died since the Russians arrived was not revealed. There are believed to be several thousand of these volunteers.
A Russian official revealed that the long delayed (since 2007) S-300 anti-aircraft missile systems Iran had purchased were now being prepared for shipment. Russia expects to be the major supplier of weapons to Iran once the sanctions are lifted. Russia and Iran have already settled disputes over the 2007 S-300 contracts. After the 2007 S-300 purchase was stalled Iran said it would create its own clone (Bavar-373) of the Russian S-300. Iran began work on the Bavar-373 in 2010, after Russia refused to deliver S-300 systems Iran had ordered. International sanctions, plus pressure from the United States and Israel led Russia to cancel the Iranian order. Iran has issued progress reports ever since and Bavar-373 is supposed to be ready for final testing in 2016. The actual Iranian missile for the Bavar-373 is called the Sayyad 3 and it appears to be the same size and shape as the S-300 missile and carried in similar canisters. Iran insists that Bavar-373 is superior to the S-300. Now that Russia has agreed to deliver S-300s Iran will have to reveal if it believes its own propaganda about which system is superior. Meanwhile Saudi Arabia has ordered another $13 billion worth of American weapons so far this year.
October 20, 2015: The government failed to stop Sudan from agreeing to send 10,000 troops to Yemen to join the fight against Iran-backed Shia rebels. Some of those troops have already arrived. Sudan is doing this because Sudan is largely Sunni and its president had been indicted as a war criminal for backing a war against black skinned Sudanese (who are Moslem) in the west and Christians in the south. This made Sudan an international pariah but Arab states stuck by the Sudanese president, in part because he was championing Arab culture. His internal war perpetuated hostility of the Arab speaking Sudanese against those who looked the same, were Moslem but not culturally Arab. The Christians in the south were infidels and dealt with accordingly. For decades Iran has also supported the Sudanese government with weapons, military assistance and whatever else their Sudanese allies needed. But in the end the Sunni-Shia rivalry turned out to be more important. The fact that Saudi Arabia has more money to throw around played a part as well. The Saudis also help persuade countries where the Sudanese president wants to visit to ignore the UN arrest order.
October 17, 2015: In the largely Arab southwest (on the Iraqi border) a drive-by shooting against Shia celebrating a religious event left two people dead and two wounded. ISIL took credit for the attack.
For reasons that are still unclear Iranian border guards fired at least eight mortar shells into southwest Pakistan (Baluchistan). There was no damage or casualties and it is suspected that the Iranians were trying to discourage smugglers from crossing.
October 15, 2015: Another Iranian-American (Siamak Namazi) was arrested in Iran. This is the first such arrest since the July treaty to lift the sanctions on Iran. Namazi was arrested at the home of his mother, who still lives in Iran. Because Namazi is an outspoken advocate of better relations between Iran and the United States he was thought safe from this sort of thing. Namazi is one of four Iranian-Americans who have been arrested while visiting Iran. There are over dozen other Iranians with citizenship in other countries (mostly in the West) who have suffered a similar fate. Considering the large number of Iranian exiles who are allowed to visit Iran, the number of get arrested and often exchanged for favors of one sort or another, going to Iran is not considered a major risk. You are about as likely to get mugged or injured in a traffic accident. Iran usually accuses those arrested with spying. None have ever been found to be actual spies but some have come close. The most prominent of these is a missing American Iran insists they do not have. The missing man is Robert Levinson. In November 2013 it was revealed that a former FBI agent (Robert Levinson) who disappeared while visiting Iran in 2007 was actually working for the CIA. Well, sort of. It seems Levinson was being paid by some CIA analysts to seek out some specific information while visiting Iran. The analysts were not using Levinson as a professional spy but as a professional observer. The CIA, and most other intelligence agencies, often interview fellow citizens who have recently visited a foreign country and seek out items that may be unknown, or little known, to the intelligence professionals. China does this on a large scale and has been very successful with it. The problem with Levinson was that he had served in the FBI and was a trained observer. The Iranians apparently found out about this and arrested Levinson. This was done quietly and Iran has always denied any knowledge of Levinson. The U.S. kept the CIA connection (which took a while to discover) out of the news and paid the Levinson family $2.5 million to keep quiet. The family received “proof-of-life photos, audio recordings and videos in late 2010 and early 2011 via email. These were traced back to Pakistan and Afghanistan and the demands for Levinson’s release involved releasing prisoners the U.S. did not hold. Those who sent the emails never identified themselves. That left open the possibility that some Iranian secret police did grab Levinson and then sold him to smugglers or Islamic terrorists in Pakistan or Afghanistan. Meanwhile the U.S. government convinced the media to cooperate regarding the CIA connection because it was believed this would make it more likely to get Levinson out. This did not work and now the media has gone public with the incident. Several CIA analysts were punished even though most intelligence personnel insist that this sort of thing is common and generally accepted. But once something like the Levinson matter becomes a media item the rules change. Meanwhile American officials are convinced that their Iranian counterparts really do not know where Robert Levinson is, but may now suspect the entire affair is just another incidence of corruption within their security forces.
October 14, 2015: The government announced that two senior Revolutionary Guards officers (one of them a general) had been killed two days ago in Syria. That makes four senior Revolutionary Guards officers killed in Syria so far this month.
October 9, 2015: The government announced that a senior Revolutionary Guards officer (general Hossein Hamedani) had been killed the day before in Syria.