Iran: No More Make Believe

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March 6, 2018: A month after the government admitted that it had arrested over 30 women for deliberately appearing in public without the mandatory head covering (hijab) the protests actually continue. The dress codes were a prominent issue triggering the nationwide protests against the religious dictatorship in December. After a few weeks the government, at least the hard liners of the IRGC (Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps), declared the demonstrations over. That was another failed IRGC media trick. The demonstrations had not ended and it has gotten worse with major factions in the government arguing in the media over what was wrong with the country. Thus the Intelligence Ministry is criticizing other branches of government for arresting people for spying and then embarrassing the country when it becomes public that the accused was not a spy but someone government wanted to shut up, intimidate or hold for ransom (usually foreign visitors). The kidnapping of foreigners (usually Iranians who were now citizens of other countries) has caused Iran increasing problems in the UN and diplomatic circles as well. In addition the IRGC tends to carry out illegal (under international law) operations without any apparent restraint and then expects everyone in the government to do whatever they can to rescue the IRGC when these ops blow up into another international embarrassment. To the politicians involved these disputes are about power but to most Iranians they are about the unsavory and unpopular way the ruling clerics make things up as they go along to justify the religious dictatorship. Iranians are demanding the rule of law the religious dictatorship insists justifies the current form of government. Clerics and politicians are leaking more secret discussions about what to do about the widespread popular anger directed at the government. The usual slogans and promises no longer work and the clerics have no easy solution for the mess they created since the 1980s.

Despite growing government efforts to censor access to the Internet Iranians are still able to communicate with the rest of the world, particularly the many Iranians living abroad and learns how the rest of the world (for better or worse) interprets actions by the religious dictatorship of Iran. Most ominous is the IRGCs aggressive efforts to launch an attack on Israel from Syria, Lebanon and Gaza. While the IRGC dismisses the possibility of this triggering war with the Gulf Arab states and the Americans, many Iranians are not so sure. Open discussion of issues like this and the likely impact on Iran are not permitted but more Iranians do discuss it and are doing so more openly, despite the IRGC and whatever other thugs the government can muster for mind-control duty.

Syria

Iran, Russia, Turkey, the United States and Israel are all present in Syria along with the Assad government and a considerable number of Syrian rebels. Everyone has different goals and a different (often constantly shifting) set of allies.

Israel wants to keep Iran out of Syria and Lebanon and avoid a war with Iran.

Russia wants to get Turkey out of NATO, keep the Iranians from starting a war with Israel and make the Americans look bad. At the same time Russia needs to do this on the cheap and make Russia look good, especially to Russians back home.

Turkey wants to create a security zone on the Syrian side of the border that has no Kurds or Islamic terrorists in it. Turkey also wants to show the Sunni Moslem world that it can handle Iranian aggression (without going to war with Iran) and keep the Israelis out of Lebanon and Syria. Turkey is willing to play diplomatic games with Russia and Iran to achieve these goals.

The U.S. wants to ensure that ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) does not reestablish itself in Syria. To help with that the American are doing what they can to help the local Kurds maintain autonomy in northwest Syria (east of the Euphrates) where the Kurds have always been dominant. Secondary objectives are keeping Iran, Turley and Russia out of Syria. The U.S. and Israel are allies and any attack on Israel will trigger American intervention on the Israeli side.

Syria in general wants all the fighting to stop but the minority Assad dictatorship wants to resume ruling all of Syria and the Syrian rebels want Assad gone.

Iraq would like less violence in Syria and less Iranian interference in Iraq.

Israel has persuaded Russia to do what it can to prevent Iran from assembling, arming and positioning a large force of non-Iranian forces to attack Israel. Russia has limited ability to block Iranian efforts but does what it can. Iran is building bases to support a large force of Lebanese (Hezbollah), Syrians (whichever Shia Syrians it can recruit) and lots of foreign Shia mercenaries (mainly Afghans, Iraqis other non-Iranian Shia) in parts of Syria where Russia does not have much military power on the ground and Russian air power cannot occupy ground or otherwise interfere with what Iran is doing. Russia does not want Iran starting a war with Israel but as a practical matter Iran is pretty irrational when it comes to Israel. Russia has publicly criticized Iran for regularly calling for the destruction of Israel. Russia has also sided with Turkey in disagreements with Iran over strategy and tactics in Syria. Russia still considers Iran an ally, but a flawed one that really should work on their bad habits.

Meanwhile Turkey is becoming troublesome with its offensive into northwest Syria. Then there are the Kurds and their American allies in the northeast. That has become particularly nasty and embarrassing especially when American troops repulsed a Russian effort (using Russian military contractors and some Syrians) to occupy oil fields east of the Euphrates. The Russian force suffered about 50 percent casualties and that was a great embarrassment for the Russians.

Many of the problems Russia has in Syria are self-inflicted. , For example Russia declared victory there in December 2017 to bolster morale back home. With that came the announcement that a gradual withdrawal of most Russian forces was to occur in 2018. That meant the only Russian ground forces left in Syria were to be contractors who are, of course, not members of the military. That victory claim and withdrawal plans are now on hold as Russia has to deal with heavy losses of Russians in northeast Syria (because of the Americans) and heavy losses to their Iranian allies in the south (because of Israel). Russia had always positioned itself as the deal maker in Syria. That was largely because Russia alone was on reasonably good terms with most of the players (Israel, Americans, Iran, Turkey, Iraq and the Assad government of Syria).

Iran appears to control most of the military forces available to the Assads. This force is better armed, trained and led than the Syrian military. The Iranian forces includes 3,000 Iranian personnel, 8,000 Hezbollah fighters (with more on call in Lebanon) and some 70,000 pro-Iran militias. About a fifth of these are foreign Shia mercenaries recruited, armed and led by Iranians. The rest are local pro-Assad militias that are equipped (and often paid) by Iran. Russia is the main source of logistic, technical, air and diplomatic (via a UN veto) support. But Iran has the most armed people on the ground. To make matters worse the main function of the Iranian ground forces is to prepare for a war with Israel.

Iraq

Iraqis are generally seeking help from fellow Arabs, China and the West, and not Iran, when it comes to reconstruction. Iraqi Arabs, including most Shia, see Iran as more threat than friend. Most Arab oil states seem much less threatening than in the past, especially with Saudi Arabia enacting long overdue reforms that make it easier for the Saudis to support Shia majority Iraq.

The government also has to deal with the growing threat from Iran and over 120,000 armed men of the PMF (Popular Mobilization Force) militias that were organized after 2014 because the Iraqi army fell apart. Most PMF are pro-government but a large majority openly pledge allegiance to Iran and lead the calls for the expulsion of all American troops from Iraq. The pro-Iran PMF units are popular targets for ISIL attacks, especially those using suicide bombers.

Iran continues to call for a military coalition to oppose American expansion in the region. So far there have been no takers. Iraq has been trying to convince Iran that most Iraqis see Iran as more of a threat than the Americans. The hardcore Iranians who hear this are not pleased and tend to threaten “ungrateful” Iraqi leaders. This further reinforces Iraqi fears of Iranian domination. Most Iraqi Shia oppose Iranian demands. Neighboring Pakistan, which has nukes, quietly points out that Pakistan is on very good terms with Saudi Arabia, an ally of the United States and now Israel as well. The Saudis and other Arab oil states have responded with pledges of financial and military support for Iraq. The Saudis also indicate that the Arab oil states continue to crack down on all Islamic terrorist activity within their borders. For a long time this Islamic terrorist fund raising and recruiting was tolerated, if only because it got the Islamic radicals out of the country. That backfired and now Iraq and Saudi Arabia openly agree that groups like ISIL and al Qaeda are a danger to all and will not be tolerated. This is a new development because for over half a century the Saudis supported the Sunni minority dictatorship in Iraq because it was seen as the only way to keep Iran from taking over Iraq.

Iraqi officials admit that the Americans are taking the Iranian threats seriously and increasing security around their bases. The threat is the continued calls by Iran-backed Shia militia leaders to drive all American forces out of Iraq. The problem is most Iraqis want the Americans to stay because of the threat of Iranian domination. Meanwhile the American government has confirmed that U.S. troops will remain in Syria and Iraq for as long as they are needed. At the moment that appears to be indefinitely and Iran does not agree with that at all. Meanwhile Iraqi leaders, including the current prime minister, are admitting that the withdrawal of all U.S. troops in 2011 was a mistake they do not want to repeat. It appears that the pro-Iranian PMF militias leaders calling for violence against American forces will hold off until after the May 12th national elections (which will indicated how much popular support the pro-Iran groups have.)

Yemen

The Iran supported rebels are losing ground and popular support. This means more rebels are being captured and many of those captives speak freely of being trained and indoctrinated by Lebanese Hezbollah Shia who admit they are working for Iran. Prisoners also speak of their Iranian weapons and Iranian support in general. Most UN members agree with this evidence but Iran regularly depends on a Russian veto to block UN resolutions condemning Iranian meddling in Yemen. What further angers the UN is the fact that the Shia rebels have, more than once, expressed interest in a peace deal but then were apparently convinced by Iran to stop short of agreeing to any peace deal and demand more concessions. Iran denies all this but most of the UN officials in Yemen have seen ample evidence of Iranian influence and that has led to more public criticism of Iranian interference of UN peace efforts.

The Shia rebels are having a hard time maintaining an effective defense against relentless government and Arab coalition advances on the ground. The Shia rebels have lost of their local support because the rebellion appears to have failed and most Yemenis don’t approve of the Iranian interference. Back in Iran it is no secret that the Iranian government sees the Yemen operation as a relatives inexpensive way to torment and embarrass their Arab enemies. Not inexpensive according to most Iranians but so far the Iranian hardliners remain in charge.

Another problem for Iran in Yemen is a change of Saudi military leadership. In late February the young crown prince of Saudi Arabia (Mohammad bin Salman or MBS) replaced several senior military commanders, including the head of the land forces and the Strategic Missile Force (Chinese long range missiles aimed at Iran). This was apparently an effort to generate some better performance and new ideas in the Yemen operations. MBS has been working on major reforms in the military but he had to work through some higher priority items first. His Defense Ministry reforms involve over thirty major moves, including changes in senior military leadership and new personnel policies. This includes allows Saudi women to participate in the military. Pakistan and other Arab countries have long done this and even found success in several areas, including using women as military pilots, including fighter pilots. Most Saudis are aware that back when Islam was founded Arab women (including the Prophet Mohammed’s wife) sometimes rode with their husbands into battle and were consulted on military decisions. Saudi women are well aware of this and have been demanding some action.

The United States, France, Germany and Britain have openly accused Iran of violating the 2015 treaty (that lifted economic sanctions) with continued Iranian covert support of Shia rebels in Yemen. Iran responds to this criticism of Iranian actions in Yemen (as well as Syria, Iraq, Palestine and Lebanon) by insisting that it had an obligation to aid these nations in their fight against American and Israeli threats. This justification is unpopular with most Iranians who want their government to pay more attention to real problems inside Iran rather than imaginary ones overseas. Leaders of Iran backed groups in Iraq, Hezbollah in Lebanon. Hamas in Gaza and Shia rebels in Yemen openly boast of their financial and other support from Iran.

Corruption

For Iranians a major predictor of political and economic success is the amount of corruption the country suffers from. Iran ranks 130th out of 180 countries (compared to 131 out of 176 last year) while many neighboring nations do better (and many do worse. Progress, or lack thereof, can be seen in the annual Transparency International Corruption Perception Index where countries are measured on a 1 (most corrupt) to 100 (not corrupt) scale. The most corrupt nations (usually Syria/14, South Sudan/12 and Somalia/9) have a rating of under 15 while of the least corrupt (New Zealand and Denmark) are over 85.

The current Iranian score is 30 (29 in 2016) compared to 32 (32) for Pakistan, 28 (26) for Bangladesh, 33 (36) for the Maldives, 38 (36) for Sri Lanka, 40 (40) for India, 15 (15) for Afghanistan, 30 (28) for Burma, 29 (29) for Russia, 41 (40) for China, 17 (14) for Libya, 71 (66) for the UAE (United Arab Emirates), 62 (64) for Israel, 75 (74) for the United States, 27 (28) for Nigeria, 43 (45) for South Africa, 73 (72) for Japan, 37 (37) for Indonesia, 54 (53) for South Korea, 18 (17) for Iraq, 40 (41) for Turkey, 49 (46) for Saudi Arabia and 28 (28) for Lebanon. A lower corruption score is common with nations in economic trouble and problems dealing with Islamic terrorism and crime in general. Iran’s corruption score has not changed much since 2012, when it was 28.

March 3, 2018: Responding to Israeli requests Russia blocked Iranian efforts to set up a naval base at the port of Tartus. This is where Russia has already built a facility to handle the needs of its warships operating off the coast and has a long-term lease. Tartus is also where Russian military cargo for Russian and Syrian forces is unloaded. Meanwhile Iran has built a new base 16 kilometers northwest of Damascus.

March 2, 2018: Pakistani and Iranian military officials met and agreed that while the two nations had different national objectives they also had common problems. This mainly involves terrorists and the Afghan drug trade. Pakistan and Iran agreed to cooperate even more closely to deal with those two problems.

March 1, 2018: The government banned buying imports requiring payment in dollars. The increasing number of new American economic sanctions has made it more difficult for Iran to obtain dollars. Efforts to ban the use of dollars for international trade have been largely futile because most Iranian trading partners insist on using dollars. Despite that the government insists on new rules meant to say one thing (damn the dollar) and mean something else (more economic misery for most Iranians.)

February 28, 2018: Iran told its Arab neighbors (especially the Arab oil states led by Saudi Arabia) that there should be some discussions about dealing with mutual problems. In other words Iran wants to negotiate. Iran is not doing very well in Yemen and is encountering resistance in Iraq to increased Iranian influence. Relations with the Turks are not so good (they never have been, for about a thousand years). Iran apparently wants some kind of truce with the Arabs as preparations proceed to launch an attack on Israel. Most Arabs and many Iranians believe that is a dumb thing to do but the Iranians also know the Arabs would be content to just watch Iran and Israel go at it, especially if the Arab states were kind of neutral. Meanwhile Iran counts its support for Qatar as a victory as Saudi led threats against Qatar over relationships with Iran and Arab neighbors were neutralized. Qatar did most of the work, having long developed good relations with the West and the Turks and basically made themselves invulnerable to the Saudi led threats.

February 27, 2018: Russia blocked a UN effort to renew arms sanctions on Yemen. Russia also blocks UN efforts to criticize Iran of supplying weapons to the Shia rebels in Yemen as well as any effort by anyone to criticize Iran.

February 24, 2018: The FATF (Financial Action Task Force) agreed to give Iran three more months to prove that it is no longer engaged in illegal financial activities that aid Islamic terrorism. The FATF is threatening to move Iran to the blacklist, with North Korea, and make it very difficult for Iran to use the international banking system. In 2016 FATF suspended such sanctions on Iran for a year so Iran could Iran prove it had shut down these illegal activities by the Iranian government to finance terrorism. The Iranian government tried hard enough to get FATF extensions to that deadline. This may be the last extension because the U.S. and other nations keep providing new evidence that Iran continues to finance terrorism. The Iranian government knows that the problem is; the IRGC continues to do whatever it wants and expects the government to deal with nuisances like the FATF. The IRGC are religious zealots on a Mission From God and not concerned with whatever FATF is trying to do. This is a problem the Iranian government cannot admit even exists and is finding that getting the IRGC to cooperate does not seem possible either. Neighboring Pakistan is having similar problems with the FATF. In Pakistan it is the ISI (military intelligence) that is dominated by supporters of Islamic terrorism and reluctant to cooperate. Pakistan has three months to prove it is clean otherwise it goes back on the “gray list” of countries who are not doing enough to block terrorist groups from using the international banking system to finance their violence. Pakistan had been on the gray list from 2012 to 2015 and that was bad for businesses that import or export. Pakistan is on the FATF list but not designated as dangerous. Being on the gray portion of the list makes it more expensive to do business and is very bad for the reputation of Pakistan and Pakistanis. China played a major role in keeping Pakistan off the gray list this time but the odds are against Pakistan staying off the list because it has long been an open secret that Pakistani support for its own pet Islamic terrorists included making it easier for Islamic terrorists in general to do business in Pakistan. The United States has been gathering evidence to justify the FATF to put Pakistan back on the gray list (along with Ethiopia, Yemen, Iraq, Syria, Serbia, Sri Lanka, Trinidad and Tobago, Vanuatu and Tunisia). FATF meets every three months to consider new evidence to get nations on, or off, the list. Next review is in June and the Americans are gathering more evidence against Pakistan and Iran. The U.S. considers former ally Pakistan a problem in the war against terrorism and no longer a reliable partner. India and Afghanistan share that view on Pakistan but not Iran, which has important economic ties with India and Iran. Then again the IRGC does not target Afghanistan or India and expects something in return for that immunity.

February 22, 2018: In Syria Iran is supporting Syrian Kurds fighting Turkish troops west of the Euphrates River in Afrin. The Assads, Iran and the Syrian Kurds can all agree that keeping the Turks out is a good thing. The Kurds east of the Euphrates have less to worry about because the presence of American troops there (to supply air strikes, training and advice) keeps the Turks out, as well as the Assads, Russians and Iranians. The Syrians have always been practical when it came to forming needed alliances. Thus the Kurds west of the Euphrates are not “American supported” while those west of the river definitely are. The Kurds on both sides of the river share the same goal of Kurdish autonomy in northern Syria but the Turks have insisted that there be no Kurdish forces west of the river and are willing to go to war over that and they are doing so with the help of thousands of FSA (non-sectarian Free Syrian Army) rebels.

February 21, 2018: Former (2005-13) president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad went public with his criticisms of the election process in Iran and demanded that the presidential and parliamentary elections be free of interference by the senior clerics. While in power Ahmadinejad proclaimed that he would crack down on corruption and all the damage corruption was doing to the economy. He largely failed, mainly because some senior clerics and especially the IRGC, quietly but decisively opposed him on this. Faced with continuing corruption related problems Ahmadinejad simply repeated his belief that these misfortunes were all the work of Israel. That did not work in 2009 when Ahmadinejad was up for election to his second, and last, term as president. The widespread and blatant rigging of the vote caused nationwide protests. Since he left his job as president the IRGC and senior clerics have continued to harass Ahmadinejad for going public with corruption allegations (that were mostly true). Ahmadinejad also believes that the only way forward is to have a government that is supported by most Iranians and the current election process is moving farther and farther away from that. This, Ahmadinejad and many other Iranians believe, will do great damage to Iran. Free elections, even if it hurts many current Iranian leaders, is the only way to prevent even greater damage to the Shia clergy and Iranians in general. Ahmadinejad called for basic reforms in the Iranian government but did not provide specifics. He doesn’t have to. The December protests had many Iranians calling for a return of the constitutional monarchy the religious leaders replaced in the 1980s (after first promising true democracy). Even more disturbing is that some of the protestors are calling for Islam to be replaced with something else, like Zoroastrianism, the ancient Persian religion that Islam replaced violently and somewhat incompletely in the 7th and 8th century. After decades of mandatory rallies where you had to shout “Death to America” and “Death to Israel” these same young Iranians were now shouting about who they believe is really the enemy rather than who they were ordered to pretend was the enemy. The government says it has things under control while admitting that the protestors do voice some (unspecified) legitimate grievances that must be attended to. Young Iranians have, like their Arab neighbors, noted the success of Israel (a former Iranian ally, before the current religious dictatorship took over in the 1980s) and are now demanding changes that involve less foreign troublemaking. The cost, in terms of money (billions) and Iranian lives (thousands) of operations in Lebanon, Syria, Yemen, Afghanistan, South America, Africa and elsewhere does most Iranians no good at all and makes the people on the receiving end hostile to Iran. The operation in Syria was seen as particularly wasteful and expensive, especially with Israel threatening to use whatever it takes (including their nukes) to prevent Iran from creating a military presence there. Iranian history is one of frequent rebellions and civil wars. The current Iranian rulers were young men in the 1970s and 80s and many can sense a bit of déjà vu here. Since the senior leaders are nearly all clergy, some have always been critical of the corruption and more of them are speaking out.

February 20, 2018: Israel believes Iran has three large bases in Syria and seven smaller “tactical” ones near areas where there is active fighting. Iran is also bringing in more rockets, missiles, ammunitions and weapons for the 80,000 militiamen it supports in Syria. In response Israel is preparing for an Iranian attack from Lebanon and/or Syria. In addition to moving more troops to the Syrian border, improving the security fence and anti-aircraft/rocket defense Israel is also making deals with rebels on the Syrian side of the border in an effort to establish a 40 kilometers deep buffer zone. Israel has long provided some support (usually medical, in Israeli hospitals) for cooperative Syrian rebels. Now that support includes material aid and airstrikes and artillery fire against shared threats. Nevertheless Iran keeps pushing its mercenary forces closer to the Israeli border.

February 19, 2018: In the capital hundreds of Sufis (a mystical Moslem sect) gathered to protest government persecution of Iranian Sufis. Over the next two days more than 300 Sufis were arrested and at least five members of the security forces were killed. Sufis are less than ten percent of the Iranian population and most are also Shia. Sufis hold an honored place in Iranian religious history as they supported the rise of the current form of Shia Islam in Iran and backed the 1979 revolution against the monarchy. But most Sufis opposed the establishment of a religious dictatorship during the 1980s war with Iraq. Now Sufis are backing the growing popular calls for government reforms.

Next door Iraq is demanding that Iran help Iraq get back several U.S. made M1 tanks held by pro-Iran militias. Getting these tanks back is critical for Iraq because otherwise the Americans will not deliver any more M1s. In 2008 Iraq ordered and received (by 2010) 140 M1A1 tanks and in 2015 ordered 170 more. Delivery of those is being held up until Iraq can account for all the M1s it already has. As many as nine M1s are apparently being held by pro-Iran PMF militias and the government is having difficulty in getting them back. The U.S. threatens to cut more military support, including deliveries of F-16s and other aircraft, if the M1s are not recovered. Iran says it can supply Iraq with what it needs. Iraq does not believe or want that. Iraq has seen the American equipment in action since the 1990s and has been increasingly using that stuff over the last decade. Iraqi commanders want the American weapons and equipment and the U.S. government is not cutting Iraq any slack over the missing M1s. This could get interesting.

February 18, 2018: Russian diplomats told Israel that Russia would support Israel if Iran attacked. However Russia was not convinced that Israel shooting down an Iranian UAV over Israel on the 10th was an Iranian attack. After all, Syria or Hezbollah (which Russia considers a “Lebanese” not an Iranian force) have been using Iranian UAVs for a long time. This was an example of how unreliable Russian “support” is. Other Middle Eastern allies of Russia, like Iran and Turkey, have noticed the same thing. Russia apparently also persuaded Israel to not destroy Iranian weapons (missile and rocket) factories in Syria and Lebanon after the February 10th incident where they destroyed an Iranian UAV that had entered Israeli air space. Israel and Russia are continually making deals involving decisions like this but in the end Israel will do what it has to do to defend itself and Russia openly acknowledges that.

February 17, 2018: A senior Iranian cleric (Ali Akbar Velayati) made an official visit to Iraq and told everyone that Iran will not allow “liberals and communists” to rule Iraq. This was seen as a direct criticism of an Iraqi political alliance containing a major Shia (Sadr) religious party (that opposes Iran) and the Iraqi Communist Party (same attitude). While the pro-Iran groups (and militias) backed this Iranian attitude the majority of Iraqis did not and the seeming arrogance of Velayati reinforced popular fears that Iran is out to control Iraq whether the majority of Iraqis agree with that or not.

India and Iran signed a deal that gave India control over part of the newly expanded Chabahar port complex. This deal is for 18 months and renewable in the future. Chabahar gives India road and rail access to Afghanistan and Central Asia.

February 16, 2018: Pakistan has agreed to send a thousand troops to Saudi Arabia to “train and advise” Saudi forces. This sort of cooperation is nothing new. In late 2017 Saudi Arabia hosted 68 Pakistani special operations troops for a two week joint training exercise with their Saudi counterparts. Pakistan is maintaining its support for the Saudi led (and financed) IMCTC (Islamic Military Counter Terrorism Coalition) while also maintaining good relations with its neighbor Iran. IMCTC was formed mainly to oppose Iran, which was not invited to join the IMCTC while a retired Pakistani general was invited to lead the IMCTC (and accepted the job). The thousand Pakistani troops make it clear to Iran whose side Pakistan is on. Note that there are already over 700 Pakistani military personnel in Saudi Arabia, but as security for the holy places in Mecca, not for any military purpose. Saudi Arabia has always paid Pakistan more to be helpful and then there are the many Pakistanis working in Saudi Arabia and currently sending over $5 billion a year home. On the downside the collapse of oil prices has forced the Arab oil states to reduce the number of foreign workers. Thus while 522,000 Pakistanis had jobs in Saudi Arabia during 2015 that fell to 143,000 in 2017.

February 10, 2018: In southern Syria (Golan Heights and Israel border) an Israeli F-16I was shot down by a Russian built S-200 (SA-5) surface to air missile. This was but part of a very complex day. It began when an Iranian UAV (launched from an Iranian base in central Syria) entered Israeli air space and was shot down 90 seconds later. In retaliation Israel sent eight F-16Is to hit the Iranian base, especially the operations center for the larger Iranian UAVs operating over Syria. This facility was destroyed and some Iranians were killed. Israeli warplanes had dealt with the SA-5 for years and could destroy all the Syrian SA-5 launchers and radars. But Israel had an understanding with Russia, a nation that was something of a frenemy in Syria and the Russians wanted the SA-5s left alone. Even though the SA-5s were older tech they still posed some risk to Israeli (and American) warplanes and that is what happened to the F-16I today. Post-crash investigation determined the cause was pilot error (not implementing countermeasures properly.) The aircraft crashed on the Israeli side of the border and the crew of two safely ejected. Israel then prepared to carry out their plan to destroy the Syrian air defense system when the Russian leader called the Israeli leader and asked that the Israeli attack be put on hold. Given the relationship Israel and Russia had developed over many decades, Israel agreed. But now the Russians owed Israel a favor and the Israelis consider that another weapon to use against the Iranian threat in Syria.

February 7, 2018: In the north, across the border in Syria the government claims that Israeli aircraft in Lebanon fired missiles at a research center outside Damascus. Syria claim they shot some of the missiles. Israel did not comment, which is typical. Other witnesses report the missiles hit a new Iranian base near the Jamraya research center which specializes in weapons development.

 

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