Iran: Fear And Factionalism At The Top

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July 19, 2018: The religious leaders who rule Iran are divided over how to deal with the growing anger Iranians are demonstrating (in the streets and each other) against the government. One faction of the leadership, supported by the IRGC (Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps), advocates putting down public protests forcefully. After all Iranian religious dictatorship is on a Mission From God and any opposition is un-Islamic and thus punishable by death. A growing number of senior clerics are reluctant to sanction mass murder of fellow Iranians on religious grounds. That approach is seen as ultimately counter-productive because a growing number of Iranians are turning on Islam as well as the corrupt Islamic clerics they see as the source of so many problems. So far there have not been a lot of (less than ten so far this year) demonstrator deaths. The security forces appear to be under orders to avoid killing demonstrators as they would simply giving the demonstrators a reason to arm themselves and shoot back. 

The government is particularly concerned about the persistent unrest in the southwest (Fars province) where Kazerum city (population 145,000) unrest began in April and continues, despite escalating government efforts to shut it down. Even cutting Internet access to the city did not work because people could send texts and videos via their cell phones. The anger in Kazerum was largely against a corrupt and unpopular government. Because the government is basically a religious dictatorship the protestors also denounce Islam, which is the most frightening (to the religious leadership) aspect of this unrest as it attacks the very cornerstone of the religious dictatorships claim to authority. This religious angle could tear the country apart like never before.

Bloody civil wars are the rule not the exception in Iran and have been breaking out periodically for thousands of years. This time it is different because it has a heavily armed minority of religious fanatics versus the majority of Iranians who are fed up with the oppression and misrule of the minority. If the religious fanatics lose so does Islam as a major factor in Iranian politics. That’s why many religious leaders are opposing the IRGC and the hardliners.

The protests are not just on the streets but increasingly on the Internet. Twitter is full of messages from Iranians about the need for a new government and every day new videos are uploaded to social media sites showing Iranian women taking off their mandatory headscarves and dancing in the streets. This is strictly forbidden hundreds of Iranian women have appeared in these videos so far with their faces clearly visible, daring the IRGC thugs to try and come after them.

Since 2015 Iranians got to know what Syria and other foreign operations were costing and it was obvious that the billions spent on government efforts to destroy Israel could be better spent on improving the lives of Iranians. The opinion polls, the massive nationwide protests and the police reports on Internet chatter all confirm that Iranians want a new government, preferably a non-religious and democratically selected one. After that Iranians want improved relations with the neighbors, particularly the Arabs and Israel (in other words, all the Semitic nations). All this is anathema to the Islamic clerics who have been running the country since the 1980s. Particularly disturbing has been demonstrators calling for an end of Islam in Iran and a return to older religions, 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 all their lives. Meanwhile, the Iranian rulers had a lot more to worry about.

In May 2018 the United States announced it was exercising its option under the 2015 Sanctions treaty and reviving economic sanctions on Iran. The other nations that signed the treaty say, for now, they will continue to support the treaty. This is important for Iran because it means they might still be able to sell their oil and import some industrial and consumer goods. Longer term the situation is not so good. That is largely because of a recent Israeli espionage success.

The Americans and Israelis are on a roll and intent on exposing much more Iranian bad behavior. In some cases, Iranians will be a source, but in all cases, Iranians will be consumers of such news and that weakens the control the Iranian clerics have over the Iranian government. President Rouhani has offered to continue the 2015 treaty with the other participants if those countries, especially the European ones, can ensure that Iran does not suffer from the American withdrawal. This puts the Europeans on the spot because they have to consider this proposal at the same time more and more evidence of Iranian bad behavior surfaces. This is largely because Israel is allowing the European nations to send their own intel and nuclear weapons experts to examine the huge trove of Iranian documents Israel got out of Iran earlier in 2018. So far these documents have been toxic for Iran and any Iranian claims to never having had a nuclear weapons program.

Many older Iranians, who were young when the monarchy was overthrown in 1979 now admit that the religious dictatorship that replaced the Shah (emperor) was worse and many be even more difficult and costly (to Iranians) removing it than it was overthrowing the imperial government. These older Iranians also speak of a time when Israel was an Iranian ally. That has not been forgotten in Israel. That explains the recent appearance of two-minute video by the Israeli leader in which he offered to share Israeli tech used to deal with water shortages (especially low use and recycling tech). This is a growing problem throughout Iran (and in neighboring countries like Afghanistan, Iraq and Turkey) but Israel has been dealing with far worse situations for decades. Iranian leaders angrily refused the Israeli offer but the average Iranian, especially one personally suffering from the current water problems is willing to take help from whoever offers it. While the Iranian government angrily dismissed the Israeli offer hundreds of thousands of Iranians took to the Internet to back the offer. This has led to a new catchphrase in Iran; “We (Iranian government) offer them death, they (Israel) offer us life”. The Iranian government was further rattled by this response and insisted that Iran had all the technology it needed to deal with the growing water shortages. The average Iranian doesn’t see it that way.

Iraq

The growing popular unrest in southern Iraq is spreading. The unrest is largely anti-Iran and senior Shia clerics have openly encouraged the protestors and approved of their cause. One of the complaints the protestors have was the way Iran interfered in the recent (May) national elections. Because of that, the Iraqi government is in worse shape than it usually is. The current parliament ended on June 30 and a newly elected parliament was supposed to take its place. It will be a few months before that happens because of a disputed election and even then the members of the new parliament have to form a new government. Delays like this are nothing new in Iraq. The May 12th elections were controversial, as is normal in Iraq, and more than half the members of the outgoing parliament want to annul the results but have been unable to do that. There growing evidence that despite (or because of) the new electronic voting system there was a lot of vote manipulation. That has led to agreement on a manual recount. That effort was approved by court decisions and now the May 12 vote results may not be certified and a new government formed until late 2018. The current parliament believes this is all about Iranian efforts to increase control over Iraq and delays in forming a new government suits Iran.

The two largest Shia coalitions (anti-Iran Sadr and pro-Iran Amiri) agreed to form a coalition that would control over 30 percent of the seats in parliament and make it possible, with a few minor coalitions added, to form a government. The Amiri faction control pro-Iran PMF (Popular Mobilization Force) forces and is seeking to repeat the Iranian success in Lebanon with the creation of a Hezbollah type organization. Amiri has used violence against those who oppose, secure in the fact that the police are controlled by a pro-Iran politician (who runs the Interior Ministry). These police are suspected of instigating political violence rather than containing it. Police are never around when groups hostile to Iran are attacked and police are the primary suspects in the recent warehouse fire that destroyed half the ballot boxes used in Baghdad. The fire makes it impossible to recount these disputed votes.

The real reason for the unexpected elections results is popular anger at corruption. One thing that united all Iraqi voters was anger at the persistent and crippling corruption. Moqtada al Sadr, who was the unexpected winner, had been openly and actively anti-corruption for years and that was why his victorious coalition contained so many non-Shia groups (including communists, who are anathema to Iran). Despite that many Iraqis (and foreign allies) believe Sadr is secretly allied with Iran because the Sadr family has long had ties with Iran and members of the Sadr clan often took refuge in Iran. But that was because the Sadrs were respected Shia clerics and Iran was where the best schools and scholars were. Yet the Sadrs, like most Iraqi Shia Arabs, are Arabs and Iraqis first and that has been proven time and time again. Moqtada al Sadr has seen up close and frequently how a Shia clerical dictatorship works in Iran and was not impressed. He largely kept quiet about this but it was no secret that Sadr did not want a religious dictatorship in Iraq, mainly because it would make the country even more difficult to rule.

Sadr also noted that Iranian Arabs (and Arabs in general) are despised by most Iranians. Meanwhile, Iraq will demonstrate, over the next few months (or more) why it is considered the most dysfunctional country in the Middle East. Iraqi politicians will argue and negotiate in a lengthy effort to form a governing coalition and then for that coalition to select a prime minister and all the subordinate ministers.

Sadr is often described as anti-American but he is generally anti-foreigner in general but is willing to work with other nations if it helps Iraq. Thus there was a recent visit by Sadr to Saudi Arabia to meet with Saudi leaders. The Saudis had long supported the Sunni minority rule in Iraq because it worked and helped contain Iran. With that Sunni minority government gone and not likely to return anytime soon Sadr believes the Saudis still want an Arab government in Iraq that will help keep Iran out of Arabia. Sadr and the Saudis agree on that as do the majority of Iraqis (including most Kurds and Sunni Arabs).

Iran has not given up on Sadr and still refers to him as a friend and brother. Sadr says nice things back but it is what Sadr does that counts and that won’t be clear until the new government is formed. This might not happen until the end of the year.

Iran is still controlling Iraqi Shia terrorist groups and Sadr has become more of an Iraqi nationalist than an Iranian puppet. By August 2017 Sadr was calling on the Iraqi government to dismantle the Iran backed Shia militias and incorporate loyal (to Iraq) members into the armed forces. The Iraqi prime minister (a Shia), wanted to dismantle these Iran backed Shia Arab militias with more care and take more time doing it. This caution was the result of the (then) upcoming May 12th elections. That vote was expected to be a very concrete example of how much political clout Iran has gained in post-ISIL Iraq. Iran has worked hard to line up political support in Iraq. That Iranian effort failed because at this point Sadr was seen as an opponent of Iranian influence efforts in Iraq. Sadr is also opposed to the Iraqi Shia groups that remained loyal to Iran. One of the things that hurt support for pro-Iran candidates was video on the Internet that purports to show millions of dollars in cash seized at the Iranian border. The money was meant for pro-Iran Iraqis running in the parliamentary elections. Finally, Sadr himself did not run for office and instead served as the administrator, and chaplain, for his coalition.

Syria

In Syria, the alliance between Russia, Iran and Turkey is coming apart because all three nations have different goals even though the three have been cooperating with the Assad government since 2015 to win and end the war. The Russian term for this triple alliance is troika, which also refers to the three horse team Russians used for large sleighs when there was snow everywhere. Troikas can be difficult to manage and the horseless one in Syria is in real danger of coming apart. With the rebels no longer a major threat to the Assad government each of these three allies are more interested in their own objectives in Syria. For Russia, it is to maintain its two bases there and that is only possible if the Assad government (which granted the use of an airbase and port facilities) survives. Iran is in Syria to keep the Assads in power so Iran can mass forces there to attack and destroy Israel. Turkey is mainly there to destroy Turkish and Syrian Kurdish separatist groups, as well as any Islamic terrorists that are seen as a threat to Turkey. To accomplish this Turkey wants to clear all Kurdish separatists and from the Syrian side of the border and turn that “security zone” over to the FSA (a Syrian rebel group that not works for the Turks). After that, there has been some vague talk of forming and leading an Arab alliance that would destroy Israel. At the moment there are few Arab states interested in that sort of thing (because of Iran) or doing anything under Turkish leadership (bad memories).

All three of these unlikely allies have run into different, although sometimes interrelated, problems with achieving their goals. The Russians want an end to the seven years of fighting and are now in conflict with Iranian plans to attack Israel. Russia and Israel have long been on good terms and the Russians want to keep it that way. Iran doesn’t really care much what the Turks do in the north and are more concerned with their growing (and so far failed) effort to do some damage to Israel. Russia is trying to convince Iran that the Israelis are really, really serious about getting Iranian forces out of Syria. Israel demands this. Turkey agrees with it and the Assads would prefer that. So far Iran appears to be ignoring this advice.

Russia has made it clear that it sides with Israel when it comes to Syria and a long-term peace deal. Russia backed this up by openly accepting Israeli use of Jerusalem as their capital and moving functions normally held in Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. This angers many Moslems, and especially Iran. This support for Israel is one the few things the United States and Russia agree on these days. The durability of this alliance is mainly a matter of paying attention to who can do what. For example, unclassified rankings of “the most powerful nations” tend to include tiny Israel in the top ten, as in; U.S., Russia, China, Germany, Britain, France, Japan, Israel, Saudi Arabia and the UAE (United Arab Emirates). These rankings combine economic, technical, military and diplomatic capabilities. Israel may be small in population but they are world class in many technology areas, have nukes and the most capable armed forces in the Middle East. Saudi Arabia and UAE have much of the world oil reserves and armed forces they have built up over decades at great expense and, to the surprise of many (including Iran) made it work. Their combat pilots are competent and their anti-missile defenses work (as they have intercepted over a 100 ballistic missiles, many of them Iranian made, fired by Yemeni Shia rebels at targets in Saudi Arabia.) Iran and Turkey are not in the top ten and Russia notices that. Despite all that the Israeli alliance with Russia is unwritten and has limits. Yet it is real because Israel has not attacked any Russian targets with its growing air offensive against Iranian forces. During May the Russian president met separately with the Israeli and Syrian leaders and apparently worked out terms of a peace deal that Israel and the Assads can live with. These terms were unacceptable to Iran.

Turkey is willing to follow as long as Turkish border security measures (a security zone on the Syrian side of the border patrolled by Turk supported Syrian militias) are left alone. In the northeast, the Syrian Kurds could have their autonomy as long as they kept the peace. Basically, the Russian proposal is that “all foreign troops” leave Syria. That will include the Americans but not those that now have treaty rights (Russia has an airbase and part of a port). The Americans have no interest in a permanent presence they just want to deal with some Islamic terrorists and then leave. The U.S. may stay to protect its Syrian Kurd allies.

Israel has told the Assads that if they stick with Iran they will be destroyed. The Assads realize that the Iranians are fanatics about destroying Israel and that the Israelis have demonstrated their ability to counter any move the Iranians make. Moreover, all the other Arab states consider the Assads traitors for aligning themselves with the Iranians, who are quite openly at war with Arab control of Arabia and much else. Worse, no one has much sympathy for the Assads, who have very few good qualities. Despite this, the Assads apparently try to side with Russia and Israel rather than Iran. What this comes down to is the fact that Iran is a foreign (Indo-European, not Arab) power that wants to increase its direct control over Syria. Russia and Israel do not. Many Iranians (but few of their leaders) note that the three most powerful Middle Eastern states (Israel, Saudi Arabia and UAE) are now allies, mainly against Iran. While the Turks are now led by a nationalistic Islamic leader who also wants to destroy Israel the Turks also admit that Iran is a traditional rival and the Arabs are not as weak as they were during the centuries the Turks (the Ottoman Empire) ruled them. Many Turks are smitten with the nationalism thing, just as they once were when they had an empire. But the Turks didn’t get their empire and then transition to a modern, industrial age state when the empire collapsed a century ago by being stupid. The only dummies at this point are key factions of the religious dictatorship that rules Iran. The other members of the Troika note that the Iranian rulers are facing their second popular uprising in less than a year as well as growing dissent within the clerical leadership. Ask yourself, who would you side with?

Yemen

The UN persuaded the Arab coalition to pause its offensive in late June so the UN could attempt to negotiate an end to the battle for the Red Sea port of Hodeida. But so far all the rebels will offer is to turn over control of the port to the UN (something the UN has been demanding for years) while the government demands that the rebels move away from the coast. The rebels will not consider this because it would cut them off from the weapons and equipment the Iranians smuggle in as well as opportunities to attack ships in the Red Sea. The rebels show no signs of surrendering control of Hodeida or any portions of the Red Sea coast. The Arab coalition reminded the UN that a “pause” was not a ceasefire and the fighting around Hodeida and other key rebel locations (the capital Sanaa and the Saada, the home province of the Shia rebels) are experiencing more combat with government and coalition forces.

As the battle for Hodeida continues the rebels are taking heavy losses and more of their Iranian advisors are being killed or captured, along with some of the specialized equipment that has been smuggled in. The advisors are from Hezbollah, an Iran backed Lebanese militia that dominates Lebanese politics and controls the border with Israel. The Hezbollah operatives are Arabs, which makes it easier for them to blend in than the Iranians, who are Indo-European. There are apparently some Iranian advisors in Yemen but they stay away from the front lines.

In Hodeida, the rebels are still allowing ships to dock and unload relief supplies. But they have also been seen stealing more foreign aid and moving it to rebel storage areas outside the city. In response, the Arab coalition has increased aerial surveillance of the few roads going from Hodeida to the rebel homeland in Saada province on the Saudi border. These vehicles coming out of Hodeida are being hit with airstrikes, even when they move at night. Some are getting through but many are not.

Inside the city, the rebels are preparing a defense in depth, especially in residential neighborhoods where they intend to use civilians as human shields and the homes for snipers to fire from. Many buildings are having bombs installed that will go off when someone gets close or can be detonated by remote control.

The rebels apparently prefer to see the Hodeida port facilities put out of action for months (or longer) by battle damage and see much of the city turned to rubble by fighting rather than give it up. Severe destruction of the port will force all the foreign aid to come in via the two main southern ports (Aden and Mukalla) on the Gulf of Aden. This would mean more frequent use of trucks to get the food and other essential supplies to the civilians that need it. That would expose the supplies to bandits and Islamic terrorists who would attack aid convoys (as they have been doing for years). For several weeks now aid convoys have been coming south from Saudi Arabia to feed civilians in areas recently taken from the rebels. This includes over 120,000 civilians who have fled Hodeida so far. There are still over 200,000 civilians in the city.

In late June there was an effort by the Shia rebels to send several fishing boats armed with RPGs and other weapons into the Red Sea shipping channel and make attacks. The warships and aircraft of the Red Sea naval blockade detected this and captured or destroyed several of the fishing boats while others retreated to small coastal port towns. The rebels have used anti-ship missiles as well as rockets and suicide bomb boats against shipping and there remains the fear that Iran may have supplied the rebels with naval mines.

Gaza

Noting all the pressure on Iran in Syria (by Russia and Turkey as well as all the Sunni Arab states and the United States) get out of the country and not try to start a war with Israel, Hamas is having second thoughts about its renewed alliance with Iran. This was supposed to be a winning strategy to destroy Israel by attacking on two fronts. In the north, there are over 100,000 rockets in Lebanon and Syria aimed at Israel. In the south, there are over 50,000 rockets in Gaza, where Iran is once again a major backer of Hamas. But now it is obvious that Iran has far more enemies than allies and with renewed sanctions against Iran (and public anger in Iran over economic issues) Hamas is not going to receive the degree of economic support it expected. Meanwhile, Hamas is totally isolated with Egypt continuing to block access to Gaza and Israel controlling the other access points. Foreign donors are cutting aid to Gaza because of Hamas threats against Israel and generally corrupt rule of Gaza. Meanwhile, the Iranian situation on the ground is not getting any better. Iran cannot provide a lot of support for Hamas because Gaza is more physically isolated than Yemen.

July 18, 2018: So far this month Iranian security forces have arrested more than 40 Kurds because of actual or suspected opposition to the government. That is more than usual and possibly an effort to halt Kurdish anti-government demonstrations.

July 17, 2018: In the northwest IRGC artillery fired on two DPIK (Iranian Kurdish separatists) across the border in Iraq (Erbil province). Two of the separatists were killed. The firing continued overnight and into the next day causing hundreds of Iraqi Kurdish civilians to flee their homes.

July 16, 2018: Russian officials confirmed that according to their sources (Russian troops and military police in the area) there were no longer any Iranian forces in southern Syria near the Israeli border. The Israelis monitor the border constantly for any Iranian presence and apparently, there is not currently any. There are a growing number of Syrian civilians showing up at the Israeli border fence hoping to get into Israel and away from the continued fighting near the border. Israel is not letting anyone in, except the occasional medical emergency.

In Gaza IRGC general (and Quds Force commander) Soleimani canceled his scheduled speech at a conference at a hotel auditorium. The speech was supposed to be televised and sent via satellite to Iran as well as Arabic cable outlets. Hamas claimed it was technical difficulties that caused the cancellation. The rumors in Gaza ranged from “pressure from Arab countries” to “Israelis jamming the satellite feed.” All three explanations are plausible.

July 15, 2018: An Iranian airline pilot was arrested, and released a few hours later. This was all about a TV appearance five days earlier in which the pilot revealed that some Iranian airliners were flying despite unsafe conditions (like mandatory repairs not made). Pilots were ordered to fly anyway even though the safety violations made the aircraft a lot more likely to have an accident or at least be forced to make an emergency landing. Experienced pilots have been fired for refusing to fly these unsafe aircraft. The arrested pilot was quickly released because the TV network he had appeared on was prepared to make a big deal about the unrest and that would have given more Iranians to hit the streets and demonstrate against the government. The American decision to revive the sanctions means Iran will not be able to refurbish or replace its many elderly American airliners.

Israel released more documents on the Iranian nuclear program. Many intelligence and nuclear weapons experts from foreign nations have been allowed to examine all the documents and the consensus is that they are authentic and reveal details of the Iranian effort to develop nuclear weapons while keeping that effort a secret. Many Iranians believe Israel did indeed get these documents and that Mossad carried out a well planned and executed operation in January that took the material from a well-protected warehouse and hustled them out of Iran overnight to avoid getting caught. Israel spent months getting these documents authenticated while the news that the documents had been taken slowly went from rumor to reality in the three months between the documents were taken and Israel announced it. Now the Israelis are releasing more and more of the documents, and details of the Mossad operation (including photos of the inside and outside of the warehouse) to the media while the Iranian government tries to depict all of this as another clever Israeli fabrication. But even inside Iran, enough details of the Mossad operation got into circulation to confirm, for most Iranians, that it was all true.

In northern Syria (outside Aleppo) an Israeli airstrike destroyed part of an Iranian base. Iran denied this initially but two days later Israel released “before and after” satellite photos confirming the damage. Israel has its own photo satellites, built in Israel and put into orbit by Israeli rockets. Locals reported that nine Iranians were killed (and a dozen others) by the airstrike, which basically wiped out an Iranian military supply facility near an airport.

July 14, 2018: In the west (Kermanshah province) the IRGC encountered a group of Islamic terrorists near the Iraq border and killed three of them and captured another. Also seized were lots of weapons and ammo as well as plans for carrying out terror attacks in the area. This province is largely Kurdish and Arab as well as Sunni. ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) has never established any official presence in Iran but some Iranian Sunni Arabs and Kurds have been attracted to the more radical ISIL and there have been efforts by ISIL to get an ISIL branch established inside Iran. So far that has failed with the head of the Iranian branch of ISIL killed in this area in 2015 and remaining ISIL members rounded up within a year. There is still a lot of activity by Kurdish separatists.

July 13, 2018: In Yemen, the leader of the Shia rebels gave a speech on TV where he praised Iran and Hezbollah for the support given to the Shia rebels of Yemen.

Satellite photos show that the Iranian warehouses and other facilities destroyed at the Damascus airport during a May Israeli airstrike have been rebuilt. That was quick, and bold as well since the Israelis have continued to attack similar Iranian facilities all over Syria.

A senior Iranian official announced that Russia was going to invest up to $50 billion in Iranian oil and gas facilities. Russia quickly responded that there was no such commitment. This was a very public embarrassment for Iran, especially in the wake of recent (July 5th) Chinese warnings about Iranian threats to close the Straits of Hormuz.

July 12, 2018: In Afghanistan, recent Taliban prisoners (taken in eastern and northern parts of the country) report a special Taliban force being trained in Iran, where the trainees also receive new equipment and weapons with the understanding that they will return to Afghanistan and concentrate their attacks on Americans and ISIL. Iran is desperate to strike back at the Americans for renewing economic sanctions and thwarting Iranian efforts to take control of Syria and then launch attacks on Israel. These Iran backed Taliban have apparently been going after ISIL groups in western Afghanistan but not the Americans, at least not as far as anyone can tell. So far in 2018 three Americans have been killed but none of those deaths can be traced back to Iranian influence. Meanwhile, as many as 600 Taliban are being trained or completed their training in Iran. This sort of foreign meddling is unpopular in Afghanistan where such interference by neighbors, especially Pakistan and Iran, is an ancient and always unwelcome problem. Meanwhile, the renewed American economic sanctions on Iran has provided some less lethal (and also illegal) benefits for Afghans. The return of sanctions has caused a dollar shortage in Iran and Afghan traders are taking advantage of it by taking over two million dollars a day into Iran where they get exceptional value (because the dollar is suddenly worth so much more in Iranian rials) and buy Iranian good cheaply for sale in Afghanistan.

Israel announced it had an agreement with Russia to deal with Iranian efforts to move troops to the Israeli border. Russia agreed to withdraw its forces from the Israeli designated security zone and allow Israel to do whatever it thought necessary to deal with the Iranian threat. Russia had warned Iran not to take on the Israelis and now was telling Iran that if they went to war with Israel in Syria they were on their own. This Russian warning came after the third meeting this year between the Israeli and Russian leaders.

July 11, 2018: The United States told its Arab allies in the Persian Gulf that the renewed economic sanctions against Iran were working. Iran was losing buyers for its oil and major industrial nations were backing out of the trade and investment deals with Iran. Moreover, the United States had moved military forces into the Gulf region to deal with any Iranian efforts to close the Straits of Hormuz. This pledge has added impact because even China is opposed to Iranian threats to close the straits. The U.S. also noted that its current military posture in the Gulf had put an end to Iranian harassment of U.S. warships. There had been 22 of those incidents in 2015, 36 in 2016 but only 14 in 2017 and none so far in 2018. Although the EU (European Union) nations that still support the 2015 treaty that lifted most Iran sanctions are not officially supporting the American revival of those sanctions most major European companies are going along with the U.S. because they were told that doing business with Iran meant they could not do business with the United States.

July 10, 2018: Across the border, in southern Iraq, anti-Iran demonstrations broke out in largely Shia areas. The protests were all about the corruption in the Iraqi government and the belief that Iranian influence is making it worse. This was very much a popular demonstration of anger and frustration with no major political party behind it. The unrest continues and is spreading although it is most active in the Shia south (Basra province and city). Demonstrators have blocked the border crossings to Kuwait and Iran. Pro-Iran political parties and militias were also attacked.

The Yemeni Shia rebels fired an Iranian Badr-1 ballistic missile at a residential area  in the Saudi province of Jizan, which is near the Yemen border. Saudi anti-missile defenses intercepted the Badr-1.

July 8, 2018: Israel apparently carried out another air (and missile) strike on the Syrian T4 airbase. Syria claims to have shot down some of the Israeli missiles and damaged an Israeli warplane. There is no proof of these claims but when one of your largest bases has been recently trashed three times by the Israelis, claiming to have made the attackers suffer sounds good in the press release acknowledging the attack. Israel had carried out similar attacks in February and April. Iran has threatened to retaliate against Israel for the first two attacks on T4. These threats were not unexpected but so far Iran has not been able to carry out an attack on Israel itself. Iran has been supporting efforts from its allies in Gaza but there have been nothing but failures so far. Israel recently revealed that the Iranian UAV shot down on February 10th as it entered Israeli airspace was armed with explosives. The UAV incident prompted the attack on Iranian UAV bases in Syria. Another reason for the T4 attack was also revealed; Iran had just set up a new air-defense system that might have made a later attack less successful. Meanwhile, the Iranian inability to strike a blow against Israel is making the Iranian radicals (IRGC, Quds) back in Iran look bad at a time when they are under attack for corruption and brutally suppressing widespread protests by Iranians against the misrule of the Iranian radicals and the religious dictatorship the radicals serve. To make matters even worse the radicals campaign against Saudi Arabia and other Arab oil states has resulted in the Saudis openly siding with Israel and reveling in the apparent Iranian ability to hurt Israel. All this makes for a dangerous situation as the Iranians are notorious sore losers and far more adept with technology than the Arabs.

July 6, 2018: The Yemeni Shia rebels fired an Iranian Badr-1 ballistic missile at a residential area in the Saudi province of Jizan, which is near the Yemen border. Saudi anti-missile defenses intercepted the Badr-1.

July 5, 2018: China publicly warned Iran that threats to block the Strait of Hormuz in a crisis (and block most world oil exports) would be considered a hostile act by China. The Chinese put it more politely by simply saying that Iran should make more of an effort to get along with its neighbors. The Chinese warning carries much weight. China is, and has long been, a major customer for Iranian oil and been very helpful when it came to certain types of imported goods that might be seen as violations of sanctions. China was also very helpful in the UN because China is one of a handful of nations that have a permanent veto power and often used it when Iran needed it. When China admonishes an ally openly like this it is not just to put some emphasis on a private warning but also to let others know exactly what the Chinese position is on the situation. This was triggered by Iranian leaders threatening to stop exporting its oil and block the Strait of Hormuz if the United States went ahead with renewed sanctions. The U.S. said it would proceed and Arab states criticized the way Iran worded their threat (“Iran will withdraw permission for any nation to use the Strait of Hormuz.”) The rest of the world does not believe Iran has the authority to grant or deny permission to use Strait of Hormuz. Iran has also stirred up more hostility in Europe by ordering the IRGC and Quds Force officers assigned to embassy staffs to increase their efforts to silence (by murder if necessary) Iranians living in Europe who are criticizing the Iranian government. That action led to a number of European nations expelling certain Iranian diplomats (who are suspected to be running or participating in their “silencing” operations.

July 4, 2018: Russia made it clear to Israel that it would be unrealistic to expect Iran to withdraw completely from Syria. However, Russia still willing to recognize Israeli demands that Iranian forces stay away from the Israel border and that the terms of the 1974 ceasefire on the Israeli border and whose forces can be near the border, be observed.

The Yemeni Shia rebels released a video showing an underground ballistic missile launcher. This appears to be an erector launcher sitting in a trench so that the launcher and missile is just below ground level. But the erector-launcher can quickly move the Iranian Badr-1 ballistic missile to vertical position for firing. Badr 1 showed up in March 2018 and appears to be a GPS guided version of the Iranian Fajr rocket. This is a 910 kg (thousand pound) rocket with a range of at least 75 kilometers. Two are carried and launched from a 6x6 truck. The Badr 1 is used against targets just across the Saudi border, like the city of Jizan and all less than a hundred kilometers from likely launching sites.

July 1, 2018: A senior IRGC general accused Israel of causing the drought currently causing much suffering for Iranians. The general insisted that he had scientific proof that Israel is stealing Iranian rainfall. Iranian weather experts openly disagree with the general. Such was not the case back in 2011 when the Iranian president (Mahmoud Ahmadinejad) accused the West in general and European nations in particular of possessing special secret technology that enabled them to do change the weather. Such accusations are common in the Middle East where many believe that ISIL and al Qaeda are the invention of Israel and the Americans along with many other misfortunes found in the region. This means many Moslems believe that the 911 attacks were staged by the CIA and Mossad (Israeli CIA) to make the Arabs look bad. Many of these public pronouncements are for internal (inside Iran) audiences, not foreigners. That’s why Iranian technical experts will follow some of these delusional accusations with the assurance that competent experts inside Iran do not believe that stuff.

June 28, 2018: In Pakistan Muhammad Ahmed Ludhianvim the leader of Islamic terror group ASWJ (Ahl e Sunnat Wal Jamaat) was taken off the national terrorist watch list so that he could participate in parliamentary elections in which several candidates identify as ASJW followers. ASWJ has been supporting attacks on Pakistani Shia since the 1990s and this has caused problems with Iran, not to mention the many Pakistanis who are Shia. The government official who authorized taking Ludhianvim off the watch list cannot be identified (everyone with that kind of power says it was someone else). The military is seeking to make it possible for many of the Islamic terror groups it supports to form political parties and run candidates. ASWJ is not known to have military support but ASWJ does have the support of many Sunni Pakistanis.

June 26, 2018: In Iran, large demonstrations in the capital (Tehran) continued into their second day, triggered by a collapse in the value of the Iranian currency. People are also protesting the poor state of the economy and most Iranians. Israeli officials issued Farsi (Iranian) language messages on social media pointing out the Iranian government had agreed to spend at least $2.5 billion in 2018 supporting foreign terrorists like the Shia rebels in Yemen, the Assads in Syria, Hezbollah in Lebanon, Islamic Jihad in Gaza, and Shiite militias in Iraq. This is in addition to over $14 billion Iran admits it has already spent on supporting the Assads in Syria since 2012. The Iranian protestors need little encouragements as they have been shouting “Down With The Palestinians” and criticism of the Syrian War as well. Yemen is particularly embarrassing because for all the Iranian money spent there (particularly to smuggle in Iranian ballistic missiles) Iran has nothing to show for it. Actually, the results of the Iranian effort in Yemen have been embarrassing. All those ballistic missiles fired into Saudi Arabia have been shot down by the Saudi anti-missile defenses (American Patriot systems). Iranian propaganda plays up all the Yemeni civilians killed by Saudi and UAE airstrikes without mentioning that the Arab warplanes are using smart bombs to go after Shia rebels who were trying to use civilians as human shields. Middle Eastern armed forces generally ignore the use of human shields. What bothers the Iranian government, and the Iranian protesters is that the Arab air defense systems can regularly shoot down Iranian ballistic missiles and the Arabian pilots can effectively use smart bombs. What does that say about the prospects of Iranian forces taking on the Arab Gulf states? The Iranian government had always implied that Iranian forces, as they have for thousands of years, would roll over the Arabs. Yet Iran has few modern warplanes and hardly any smart bombs. Iranian air defenses cannot handle Arab ballistic missiles and probably would not do well against Arab warplanes either. Iran is trying to turn its support of the Yemeni Shia rebels into a propaganda victory but have ended up with a very public defeat in the eyes of the Iranian people.

June 25, 2018: The Yemeni Shia rebels fired two Iranian long-range ballistic missiles at targets in central Saudi Arabia (outside the capital, Riyadh). Saudi anti-missile defenses intercepted both missiles.

In the southeast, on the Pakistani border, soldiers clashed with a group Sunni Islamic terrorists who were trying to sneak across the border. Three Iranians and three Sunnis (apparently Iranian Baluchi separatists belonging to Jaish al Adl/Army of Justice) were killed and the intruders fled back into Pakistan.

In Turkey president, Recep Erdogan won the presidential and parliamentary elections with more than half the vote and the ability to add even more power to the presidential form of government he has introduced over the last decade. Because of the vote, Erdogan will now be president until 2023 and will have more political power to do whatever he wants. At the same time, Erdogan cooperates with Iran in shutting down the PKK (Turkish Kurdish separatists) headquarters and other bases in northeastern Iraq. These PKK facilities are also close to the Iranian border, where less numerous Kurdish separatists often work with the PKK. The Kurdish minorities in Turkey and Iran have been kept down, often with force, for centuries. This is one of the few things Turkey and Iran agree on. Erdogan recently announced that Turkish air and ground operations against the PKK in northeastern Iraq had led to the deaths of dozens of PKK members, including several senior leaders.

June 23, 2018: In the northeast Syria, near the Iraqi border, another IRGC general (Shahrokh Daiepour) was killed while working with Hezbollah forces. These IRGC officers have been key in making the thousands of Iranian mercenaries (mainly Lebanese and Afghans) the most effective troops available to the Assads. Daiepour was killed in the same area where fifty Iraqis were killed by an Israeli airstrike on the 18th. This area has been much fought over with remaining ISIL forces.

June 20, 2018: In Baghdad members of a pro-Iran PMF unit fired on a police patrol, wounding two police. Return fire wounded several of the PMF men. The headquarters of this PMF unit was then surrounded by police until the men responsible for causing the incident were turned over. This PMF unit considers itself part of the new Iraqi Hezbollah and has sent some of its members to fight in Syria. Some fifty of those PMF men were recently killed in Syria by an Israeli airstrike. The PMF fighters in Syria say they are there as volunteers not as members of the PMF. But many of them are still on the PMF payroll, which is part of the Iraqi military budget now.

June 19, 2018: The Yemeni Shia rebels fired an Iranian Badr-1 ballistic missile at a residential area in the Saudi province of Asir, which is near the Yemen border. Saudi anti-missile defenses intercepted the Badr-1 but some of the debris that fell to earth and injured a Pakistani man.

 

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