Iran is, not surprisingly, finding it alliance with Turkey and Russia as unstable, unreliable and still useful if you accept that this arrangement is historically unnatural and unsustainable. Iran has long been fighting the Russians and Turks over who had the most power, control and influence in the areas where they were neighbors. Each of the three still have fundamental differences with the other two and popular opinion in all three nations shows widespread distrust of these “unnatural” allies. But most Iranians also remember that many times in the past Iran has made such unstable alliances work, for a while at least. Iranians consider this a special Iran skill and admire leaders who can make it work.
Then again Turkey and Russia are not the only neighbors Iran is having trouble with. With ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) no longer a major threat Iraq has surprised Iran (and many others outside the Arab world) by rebuilding relations with Sunni Arab neighbors and telling Iran to back off with any plans it had to dominate Iraqi politics. Senior Shia Arab religious and political leaders have been leaning this way for a long time and Iran thought the war against ISIL was an opportunity to weaken the traditional Shia Arab distrust of Iran. That did not work. But the Iranians are used to that.
So are Iraqis and since 2005, when accurate opinion polls and generally free elections were once again available it became obvious that both in Sunni Arab areas (where there used to be a lot of support for al Qaeda) and Shia areas (where there used to be a lot of support for the kind of religious dictatorship found in Shia Iran) that Iran was seen as the enemy. This was obvious to familiar with Iraqi history. Fear of Indo-European Iran has always been greater than the fact that most Iraqis share their Shia faith with Iranians. Blood is thicker than religion. This is why there was always so much violence along the ethnic border between Kurds (who are ethnically related to the Iranians) and Arabs, especially in oil rich Kirkuk.
No matter what Iran did the vast majority of Iraqis, including Kurds and most Shia Arabs, continued to be suspicious of increasing Iranian influence. Although most Iraqis are Shia, they are also Arab, and do not want to be ruled by their fellow Shia in Iran. That's because the Iranians have long treated their Arab neighbors with disdain and cruelty. Iraqis could now see this happening regularly in western Iran, where the Iranian Arab minority (about two percent of the population) is constantly being persecuted by, as the Arabs see it, the Indo-European Iranians. The Iranian Arabs also get it from the Azeri Turk minority (25 percent of all Iranians). Iraqis have bitter memories of centuries of domination by the Ottoman Turks (who now control only Turkey), whose empire once stretched into North Africa and the Balkans.
One reason Saddam Hussein had some support from all groups in Iraq and from his Arab neighbors was his ability to keep the Iranians out. After Saddam was overthrown in 2003 many Iraqis (and most Arabs) feared that, without a tyrant like Saddam there would be no one to motivate Iraqis into blocking Iranian moves to occupy Iraq, or control its rulers. But now the Shia Arab Iraqi leaders (political and religious) appear confident that they can stand up to the Iranian threats. The is one thing all Iraqis can unite behind and apparently one of many reasons why Iraq is openly demanding that Iran back off while just as publically establishing economic, political and military links with Saudi Arabia and other Sunni Arab states in the region to oppose Iranian plans for expansion and domination of Arabia.
The new alignment means more technical and economic aid from the Sunni Arab states to the south and more vigorous efforts by those Sunni Arab rulers to ensure their Shia Arab minorities (or, in the case of Bahrain, majority) are treated well and that there is little support for Sunni Arab Iraqis. The Saudi leaders had always tried to maintain good relationships with their Shia minority but that had become more difficult as radical Sunni Islam (as in al Qaeda and ISIL) became more popular. Now that form of religious zeal has become less popular in Arabia, at least for a while. But that’s another problem that is less pressing hat the immediate ones posed by Iran.
The Other Addiction
Earlier in 2017 the American accused Russia of colluding with Iran, or Iranian arms smugglers, to supply the Taliban with weapons. Apparently Russia is again trying to destabilize the Afghan government so that they, and their ally Iran, will have more influence. This has been going on since the 1800s. But for over a thousand years before that warlords in Iran and northern India fought to control parts of Afghanistan, especially those areas that were part of the “Silk Road” between the Middle East (and Europe) and China (as well as stops along the way, like India and Iran.) Russia and Iran are concerned about the damage Afghan opium and heroin are doing (by creating millions of Russian and Iranian addicts) but are willing to tolerate the Afghan drug gangs if the export of the drugs can be better regulated to avoid Russia and Iran. That rarely works well but Russia, Iran and Pakistan are willing to try but understand that the American in particular and the West in general would never go along. Meanwhile Western nations are the main source of foreign aid that keeps the Afghan government going. Thus the Russians supplying weapons to the Taliban in northern Afghanistan.
Despite indications the Saudis are discouraged by their slow progress in Yemen and the lack of unity among Yemenis fighting the Shia rebels the Saudis are not planning to admit defeat and leave. The Saudis and most Yemenis blame Iran for causing this mess by backing the rebels and providing enough support and encouragement to keep the rebels going. The Yemen government and its Sunni allies are encouraged by growing internal disputes among the Shia rebels. In the last few days Shia rebels in the Yemeni capital placed former president Ali Abdullah Saleh under house arrest. Forces loyal to Saleh had clashed in the capital the day before. Tensions between Saleh, a long-time ally of the Shia rebels, had been growing since late 2016. The Shia rebels are losing territory and Saleh was apparently seeking to make a deal with the Saudi-backed Yemen government. Nevertheless Yemen has become an embarrassment for Saudi Arabia, mainly because an Iran backed force of Yemeni Shia rebels continues to operate on the Saudi southern border for three years and the Saudi military is unable to do much about it. In early 2015 hundreds of Saudi warplanes were tuned loose in Yemen along with several thousand Saudi ground troops. This helped halt and turn back the rebel advance that was all. Although the pilots and troops performed well they were unable to quickly defeat the Iran-backed rebels. At this point Iran saw this as an opportunity, even if the Shia tribes they backed would probably be defeated eventually.
Hamas Follows The Money
In Gaza the new Hamas leader announced that Hamas had restored old ties with Iran. Details were not made available but in 2012, when Iran cut most support for Hamas, some $50 million a month in aid came from Iran as well as clandestine assistance in smuggling weapons into Gaza and training Hamas Islamic terrorists and security personnel. Some of that assistance continued after 2012 and some was quietly restored but until now Hamas was officially opposed to Iran because Iran backed the Shia Assad government in Syria. Most Sunni Arab states backed the Syrian rebels, who were largely Sunni. With the Hezbollah and Assad threat to Israel crippled by the Syrian civil war Iran has sought to find other ways to hurt their archenemy Israel from the inside. Iranian efforts to cultivate an alliance with the Palestinians in general are not working out so well. Since 2011 Arab governments have been more open with their criticism of the corrupt and inept Palestinian leadership. This process accelerated after 2016 when the Arab Gulf states admitted they could no longer trust Hamas (or Fatah either) and are put off by the Iranian boasts that it was still subsidizing Hamas, which has run Gaza and its nearly two million Palestinians since 2007. Although Sunni Hamas sometimes persecutes Shia in Gaza, Iran supports energetic Hamas efforts to attack Israel. Hamas also supports Islamic terrorists active in Egypt and that has turned Egypt completely against Hamas and helped put Egypt firmly into the anti-Iran Sunni coalition. In response Hamas is currently trying to make peace with Egypt by selecting a new leader and making internal changes that Egypt has long demanded. The Iran link made Hamas an enemy as far as most Sunni Moslem nations were concerned but Egypt is willing to work with Hamas as long as Hamas is not a threat to Egypt. Hamas made a lot of bad decisions since 2007 and the Iran link is seen as one of the worst. In response Arab states who have cut aid to Gaza and the West Bank Palestinian leaders have quietly told the reluctant Arab donors that if they do not increase aid there will be violent Palestinian protests (in Gaza, West Bank and Jerusalem) against the Arab donors as well as Israel. These Arab donors (mainly Saudi Arabia, UAE and Kuwait) have lost patience with the Palestinians and not only cut donor aid (which was being stolen or misused by corrupt Palestinian leaders) but also openly allied themselves with Israel against Iran. The Arab world still technically backs the Palestinians and the effort to destroy Israel but have lost confidence in the Palestinians. Iran is making the most of this new situation.
August 25, 2017: Iran and Russia have implemented their new “no visa for tourists” policy. Visa free arrangements encourage tourism and is agreed to between countries who trust each other not to abuse it. Since the sanctions were lifted in 2015 a lot more Iranians (mostly tourists) are visiting foreign destinations and Russia has been popular. Turkey recently reported that there are more Iranian tourists visiting Istanbul now than German.
August 24, 2017: Qatar decided to restore full diplomatic relations with Iran. Qatar had recalled its ambassador from Iran in early 2016 as did most other Arab nations when government backed mobs attacked two Saudi diplomatic facilities in Iran. These attacks were part of the Iranian response to the January 2nd 2016 execution of an outspoken (against Sunni mistreatment) Shia cleric in Saudi Arabia. Iran loudly protested this execution as well and a crowd of Iranian protestors invaded and burned part of the Saudi embassy there. This led to Saudi Arabia breaking diplomatic relations with Iran and ordering Iranian diplomats out of Saudi Arabia within 48 hours. Kuwait followed suit despite Iranian apologies. Qatar did not mention the early 2016 events when it announced it was resuming diplomatic relations with Iran. Since June Iran has increased exports to Qatar by over 50 percent and played a major role (along with Turkey) in limiting the economic damage the Saudi-led action against Qatar.
August 23, 2017: Iran denied Turkish claims that the new military cooperation deal included combined operations against the Turkish Kurd separatist group PKK. The new cooperation arrangement is mainly about sharing intelligence not joint military operations.
August 20, 2017: In Syria the government again thanked Iran, Russia and Hezbollah for defeating the attempt to overthrow Assad family rule. This “overthrow” was a major 2012 rebellion backed by most Syrians. First Iran (and Hezbollah, the powerful Shia force Iran created in the 1980s) came to the aid of the Assads, who had been Iranian allies since the 1980s. Russia entered in 2015 at the request of Iran and Turkey sent in enough ground troops in 2016 to chase ISIL from the border and prevent Syrian Kurds from gaining control of any more of the border area. Technically Turkey is not an ally of Iran, but it often acts like one and doesn’t really care if Assad remains in power or not.
August 17, 2017: Next door in Iraq the Iran backed Shia militias are accused of continuing to recruit, train and sent into combat teenagers 17 and under. Iraq had agreed not to do that but there is evidence that the militias have deliberately done so. Several hundred such “child soldiers” were apparently recruited so far in 2017. This open criticism of how Iran-backed Iraqi Shia militias operate makes it easier for the Iraq government to reduce popular support for these militias and persuade Iran to back off in general.
August 16, 2017: In the northwest Iranian artillery fired several dozen shells into rural areas on the Iraqi side of the border (Erbil/Arbil province). It is believed the Iranians were (for the second month in a row) firing on suspected Iranian Kurdish separatist groups based in Kurdish controlled northern Iraq. There were no casualties this time but the July shelling left three dead.
General Mohammad Hossein Baqeri, commander of the Iranian armed forces, visited Turkey for the first time, and met with senior Turkish political and military leaders. Most of what was discussed was not disclosed, but Baqeri and Turkish leader Recep Erdogan met together for a press conference and agreed that the Iraqi Kurds holding a referendum on Kurdish independence was a bad thing. Iraqi Arabs agree with that. This historic visit by an Iranian military leader was believed to be mainly about joint efforts to block Kurdish efforts to establish a Kurdish state anywhere in the region. The Iraqi Kurds believe that it is more likely that there will be additional autonomous Kurdish areas in the region. The next one is likely to be in Syria although Kurds realize that Turkey and Iran have been the most hostile to any sort of recognition for the Kurds. Nevertheless Iranian Kurds see Turkey as a potential refuge from the increasing violence by the IRGC (Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps) in northwestern Iran. So far this year several thousand Iranian Kurds have fled to Turkey and asked for asylum. The new alliance between Iran and Turkey may put an end to this, or simply drive it underground.
August 15, 2017: The government warned the United States that Iran could revive its nuclear weapons program immediately (by having Iranian uranium enrichment equipment adjusted to produce weapons grade uranium rather than the less “enriched” form of uranium used for power plants) and this implied that Iran already had solved the many other technical details involved with building a nuclear weapon that works. This warning was in response to the United States planning sanctions on Iran because of the Iranian ballistic missile program and continued support of terrorism worldwide.
In Israel local media published Israeli photo satellite images of a new rocket and ballistic missile factory under construction in western Syria, near the coast. Also displayed were satellite photos of an existing factory in Iran that the new one is apparently based on. Israel has said it will destroy such factories before they can become operational and demanded the UN do something about it.
August 14, 2017: Hackers that had obtained emails from the UAE ambassador to the United States released another batch of them today. These emails indicate the new (since June 2017) Saudi crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman Abdulaziz Al Saud (or MBS as he is called), considers the war in Yemen a failure and more of a burden to Saudi Arabia than to Iran. The young (born 1985) son of the current king of Saudi Arabia, MBS is seen as one of the brightest (he has a degree in law) of the top Saudi royals. In addition to being the crown prince he still is, since January 2016, the youngest Minister of Defense ever. Mohammed bin Salman is ambitious and has proved himself capable to handling the Saudi bureaucracy. Since 2014 he has been working on a plan to move Saudi Arabia away from dependence on oil income. In April 2016 he announced that his plan has been accepted and he will implement it. MBS considers this economic plan more important than what is happening in Yemen. The UAE ambassador apparently agreed with that assessment and the need for the Saudis to reform their economy.
August 13, 2017: In the west, across the border in southwest Afghanistan (Nimroz province) two Taliban suicide bombers tried to attack a checkpoint and failed. One was shot dead and the other man captured. Both turned out to be Iranian, which was obvious for the captured man because he spoke Farsi (Iranian) as well as Dari (a language similar to Farsi that is common in Afghanistan) with an Iranian accent. A growing number of Iranians are showing up in Afghanistan involved in Islamic terrorism. The Taliban denies that it has any Iranian members but several have been encountered, usually after they were killed in combat. Several Taliban leaders with known Iranian connections (usually with the Quds force) are known to be active in central Afghanistan. Normally Quds Force (which supports Shia terrorism worldwide) avoids working with Sunni groups like the Taliban al Qaeda but Iran has taken the position that “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” and encourages its allies and Quds to work, when it is useful, with Sunni terrorists that are killing (or trying to) Americans or Israelis. The strategy is not popular with a lot of Iranians, although the Iranian government openly approved of the fact that senior al Qaeda leadership (including those outside Iran) had, since at least 2006, advised their subordinates to not kill Shia women and children. That advice has been frequently ignored but Iran has continued to work with al Qaeda and the Taliban when it suited Iranian interests.
August 11, 2017: In the southwest, Majid Al Nasrawi, the former governor of Basra Province illegally crossed the Iraqi border into Iran to avoid arrest. Nasrawi had resigned as governor the day before after being accused of corruption and told not to leave the country. Although Nasrawi insisted he was innocent he took advantage of corrupt security officials to get out of the country. This confirmed to Iraqi Shia Arabs that Iran was not a friend, especially after Iran refused to cooperate in getting Nasrawi back to Iraq.
August 9, 2017: In eastern Syria an Iranian Quds force advisor, captured near the Iraqi border two days ago, was beheaded by ISIL and video of the event put on the Internet. Iran vowed revenge.
August 8, 2017: In the northwest (West Azerbaijan Province), on the Turkish side of the border construction began on a border wall that will extend along most (144 kilometers) of the Turkish-Iranian border.
August 6, 2017: In the northwest (West Azerbaijan province) IRGC troops clashed with Kurdish separatists, apparently several times wounding and killing several of the Kurds while capturing weapons and equipment.
South of the capital (Tehran) a soldier at an air base shooting range fired on other men in his unit, killing four and wounding eight. He then tried to commit suicide but he survived that. The shooter was described as unstable and particularly upset at being denied a transfer. A similar shooting took place in July at an army base north of the capital. That one left three dead and six wounded.
August 4, 2017: Senior Iraqi Shia cleric Moqtada al Sadr called on the Iraqi government to dismantle the Iran backed Shia militias and incorporate loyal (to Iraq) members into the armed forces. For the moment the Iraqi government is allowing Iraqi Shia militias to take part in the battle for Tal Afar but generally agrees with Sadr. However Haidar al Abadi, the Iraqi prime minister, wants to dismantle these Iran backed Shia Arab militias with more care and take more time doing it.
August 2, 2017: The U.S. imposed additional sanctions on Iran, mainly to punish clandestine Iranian efforts to develop nuclear weapons and long range missiles to deliver them. Some the sanctions were directed at continued Iranian support for all sorts of corruption and terrorism outside of Iran. All these accusations were denied Iranian officials and more threats were made towards the United States. So nothing much has changed except that Iran noted Russia also had more sanctions imposed at the same time and called on Russia to join with Iran to undertake more joint efforts to strike back at the Americans. Russia was not enthusiastic about that and remains more concerned with maintaining good relations with Israel and through that having a better chance of making peace with the Americans in the future. Russia doesn’t trust the Iranians but won’t come right out and say it. Not necessary, the Iranians and everyone else in the region already understand.
July 29, 2017: In the southeast, just across the border in Pakistani Baluchistan a truck driving near the border triggered a landmine. The explosion killed four passengers and wounded five, all of them civilians. The Pakistanis blame Iran, which they accuse of planting mines on both sides of the border to discourage Iranian Sunni rebels from moving back and forth. The Sunni rebels often establish camps on the Pakistan side of the border.
July 27, 2017: The government announced the successful second test launch of the Simorgh SLV (satellite launch vehicle). Simorgh is an 87 ton two-stage liquid fuel rocket that can but satellites of up to 350 kg (770 pounds) into a LEO (low earth orbit) of 500 kilometers. The first test was in early 2016. Iran plans to use Simorgh to put surveillance satellites into orbit. That was supposed to happen earlier in 2017 but apparently another test launch was considered necessary.
In Yemen a Saudi Patriot anti-missile missiles intercepted another rebel ballistic missile fired deep into Saudi territory. This one was intercepted about 69 kilometers south of Mecca and a nearby airbase. Rebels later admitted that the missile was aimed at the King Fahad airbase in Taif province. The Saudi accused Iran of trying to disrupt the annual Haj pilgrimage at Mecca. Examination of the debris indicated it was another Iranian Burkan missile. The Shia rebels captured a number of SCUD and SS-21 ballistic missiles when they moved south in early 2015. Many army units joined the rebels, including troops who knew how to operate these missiles. In 2016 Iran apparently brought in some technical personnel and smuggled in some needed components so that Yemeni Scuds could be modified to increase their range (with a smaller warhead) to at least 800 kilometers. This would make it theoretically possible to his the Saudi capital or one of the larger Saudi bases. These modified SCUDs (called Burkan by the rebels) are not very accurate but they can hit somewhere in a large city or military base, providing the rebels with some positive propaganda. The first Burkan was fired in late 2016 and since then at least six have been fired. All were intercepted.
July 22, 2017:
In the east, across the Afghan border (Herat province) Afghan troops clashed with a group of Taliban near the Iranian border. The Taliban lost eleven dead and at least six wounded. Among the dead was Mullah Abbas, a known (and much wanted) Taliban leader who apparently managed the movement of Iranian weapons and other supplies from Iran for the Taliban. Iran denies that Iran is supplying the Taliban but Afghan intel has lots of evidence (Iranian made weapons, documents, and prisoner interrogations) that say otherwise.
July 21, 2017: In Syria Russian military police (MPs) began establishing checkpoints in southern Syria to prevent Iranians or Iranian mercenaries (especially Hezbollah) from getting too close (as in 12 kilometers or less) to the Israeli border along the Golan Heights. The Russian MPs have only set up two checkpoints and ten observation posts so there is nothing to really stop Iranian forces from getting to the border. So far the Iranian mercenaries (Hezbollah and others composed mainly of Iraqi and Afghan Shia) have not forced the issue, apparently because Israel threatens violent resistance if they do.
July 19, 2017: Iran announced it had begun mass production of its Sayyad 3 anti-aircraft missile which, when used with the Bavar-373 radar and fire control system, can intercept aerial targets up to 150 kilometers distant. Each Bavar-373 system can simultaneously track 30 aircraft and direct Sayyad 3 missiles at twelve of those targets. Iran insisted that it had developed its own clone (Bavar-373) of the Russian S-300 anti-aircraft missile system. 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 was supposed to be ready for final testing in 2014, then 2015, then 2016 when some tests apparently took place. The final testing is supposed to take place before the end of 2017. The Israelis indicate they are not concerned about the Bavar-373 and that they can handle it. Russian and Western air defense experts doubt that the Iranians have managed to create anything close to the capabilities of the S-300 systems Russia has already delivered once the sanctions were lifted in mid-2015. The Iranian designed and built Sayyad 3 missile for the Bavar-373 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 delivered S-300s Iran will be under pressure have to reveal if it believes its own propaganda about which system is superior.
July 18, 2017: Israeli leaders recently revealed that their warplanes had attacked Iranian arms shipments in Syria “dozens of times” since 2011 and would continue doing so if Iran attempted to establish a permanent presence in Syria. Israel complains that its Western allies do not take the Iranian threat here seriously enough. This is especially true when it comes to the Iranian effort to establish a secure land route from Iran, via Iraq and Syria, to Lebanon. Israel is supported in this by Arab states.