In Austria the negotiations with Iran to revive the 2015 treaty that ended sanctions (if Iran halted work on nukes) are not going well. There have been eight rounds of talks since the new, hardline Iranian government took power in August 2021. This was the result of the
2020 national elections which were
rigged, as they traditionally are, so the new president would be Ibrahim Raisi, an infamous mass-murderer and recognized war-criminal. Putting Raisi into such a public position is another example of how desperate Iran is to make clear to opponents in Iran, Yemen, Iraq and elsewhere what they are up against. Raisi insisted that Iran would not negotiate with the West until the 2018 sanctions were first lifted. Nations seeking to negotiate a new peace deal with Iran discovered that Raisi had the support of the religious dictatorship in Iran as well as the IRGC
(Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps)
for this desperate, “all or nothing” negotiating strategy.
The Americans and some other negotiators believe the Iranians are simply not serious or interested in reaching an agreement. This interpretation is that Iran wants the negotiations to continue so they can put maximum (face-to-face) pressure on the Western members (United States, Britain, Germany and France) of the sanctions group. Inside Iran the economic situation is getting worse, even though the new American government has, over the last year, eased up on tracking and disrupting Iranian oil smuggling efforts. This has provided Iran with more cash but not enough incentive to change their negotiating demands. Iran refuses to discuss their weapons programs until all the economic sanctions imposed since 2017 are ended. No matter how the negotiations go, Israel is monitoring Iranian progress towards building a functional nuclear weapon and is prepared to take action, including airstrikes, if Iran gets close to having a nuke.
Ibrahim Raisi succeeded
Hassan Rouhani, who had been president since 2013. Rouhani was allowed by the Guardian Council to run for president because he presented himself as an Islamic conservative who could reform and improve the economy. He briefly did that by scamming the West into signing the 2015 treaty that lifted sanctions while Iran essentially changed nothing. In 2016 a new American president was elected, in part because so many American voters saw the 2015 treaty for what it was and that Rouhani was just another lethal tool of the ruling clerics. During the dozen years Rouhani was president over 4,000 Iranian civilians were murdered by the IRGC for the crime of protesting the religious dictatorship that has made their lives so miserable.
Rouhani was not as bloody-minded as some other members of the clerical elite but this record of failure and growing popular protest and the threat of civil war has caused problems within the senior leadership. Rouhani was also criticized for violence against Iranian protesters and expensive foreign wars. There have always been feuding factions in the Guardian Council and among the hundred or so senior clerics who are eligible to seek a seat on the Council. A major problem has always been the radical faction, which is a major supporter of the IRGC and a believer in the “it is better to be feared than loved”. This approach is especially useful if most Iranians hate you. If the IRGC dominated the council Iran would escalate the use of Islamic terrorism against their enemies and essentially drop any pretense of peacefully pursuing the basic Guardian Council goal of world domination by Shia Islam. For thousands of years Iran has been preeminent in the region by favoring shrewd diplomacy, espionage and intimidation rather than outright warfare. That’s why the IRGC fans are the minority among the senior clerics. But the IRGC has the guns and willingness to use them against anyone, including Iranians, who oppose the will of the Guardian Council. A growing number of senior clerics see the IRGC as part of the problem, not the solution to anything. This attitude has been around since the 1980s when senior clerics with long memories counseled restraint in what the IRGC was allowed to do. That advice was not followed, at least not often enough, and now the solution is the problem.
The IRGC does not want to discuss the thousands of Iranian demonstrators they have killed recently, but they do like to publicize efforts to kill Americans, especially soldiers in the Middle East and civilians back in the United States. Not much success with killing Americans but the IRGC insists they will get it done, if only to avenge the death of Quds Force commander Qassem Soleimani two years ago via an American UAV missile attack near the Baghdad (Iraq) airport. Iran also discovered that Soleimani was far more valuable to Quds operations than realized and his successor has so far failed to exact a suitable revenge attack on the Americans in Iraq, Syria or anywhere else.
The 2015 treaty was achieved because
Rouhani acted like a traditional Iranian leader. He was shrewd, practical and ruthless in his efforts to improve the economy. Domestically he supported the big spending by the IRGC on their foreign wars and nuclear weapons/ballistic missile development. Rouhani negotiated the treaty with
JCPOA, an economic alliance consisting of China, France, Russia, Britain, the U.S., and Germany, which signed the 2015 treaty with Iran despite all of the Western nations dealing with varying degrees of internal dissent over the reliability of the Iranians. The Americans were the first to call out
Rouhani for his deceptions and efforts to restore the 2015 treaty are complicated by an even more fanatic Iranian president and Western nations where the skeptic have more clout when it comes scrutinizing any Iranian promises. A majority of Iranians agree with the Western skeptics and fear that their religious dictatorship is willing to risk a major war with Israel and its allies rather than appear weak and surrender any power.
January 14, 2022: American diplomats declared that Iran has less than a month left to either come up with a realistic approach to negotiations. If the Iranians persist with their unrealistic negotiating tactics, Western efforts to restore the 2015 treaty will evaporate and the Western nations will back, or tolerate the Israeli solution. This was expressed by American diplomats saying that if Iran persists the American would employ other measures. This apparently includes returning to the 2020 level of oil smuggling enforcement and applying more sanctions, as well as letting Israel defend itself.
January 11, 2022: Israel declared that it would attack Iranian nuclear weapons facilities alone if the U.S. and key European countries agreed to lift the economic sanctions on Iran in return of Iranian assurances that it will halt its nuclear weapons program. Israel does not believe Iran will abide by these terms, just as it has never halted work on nukes in the past. Iran work has slowed down in the past, largely because of economic sanctions. When Iran has more money, some of it goes to nukes and most of it goes to overseas military operations in places like Syria, Gaza, Iraq and Yemen. Most nations feel no immediate threat from Iranian nuclear weapons, especially early models, which will be crude and less effective. Iran believes nukes will make neighbors more likely to agree to Iranian demands. The one country that is always mentioned as the first target for Iranian nukes is Israel. The Islamic radicals in Iran continue to openly proclaim their desire to nuke Israel. No other nation has been threatened with nuclear attack and Israel considers lifting economic sanctions on Iran as an opportunity for Iran to finally build a nuclear weapon and use it against the Little Satan (Israel). The Great Satan is the United States, which is too far away and too powerful to be the first foe to feel the nuclear wrath of Iran.
Israel is gaining more Arab allies against Iran. A growing number of Moslem states are establishing diplomatic and trade relations with Israel. After more than a century of increasing anti-Semitism, most of Israel’s Arab neighbors realized that Israel would be a valuable economic, diplomatic and military ally against common enemies like Shia Iran and Islamic terrorism in general. Israel is also the only nation in the region with nukes and reliable ballistic missiles, which are also used to put Israeli spy satellites into orbit. These missiles can also reach any target in Iran, using nuclear or non-nuclear warheads.
Many Iranians are willing to change but their corrupt leaders are not and use their war on Israel as an excuse to violently suppress any Iranian opposition to the current suicidal strategy. Iranians born after the 1980s are now the majority and want an end to corruption, theocracy and expensive foreign misadventures. The decade-long 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 on their northern border. These young Iranians also know that until the 1980s Israel and Iran were allies and trading partners and that may well be a case of the “Good Old Days” being more reality than misleading nostalgia.
January 17, 2022: Iran-backed Shia rebels in Yemen took credit for three explosions in a UAE (United Arab Emirates) fuel storage area outside Abu Dhabi, the UAE capital. There were three dead and six wounded, all of them foreign workers. Hours later the Shia rebels took credit but it is unclear if Iranian UAVs launched from Shia rebel territory in Yemen because that is an air-distance of 1,400 kilometers while Iran is about 300 kilometers away across the Persian Gulf. This appears similar to a September 2019 attack on a Saudi oil facility that Iran attributed to the Shia rebels in Yemen but was later traced back to Iran. The same disparity in distances was present in the 2019 attack and examination of the debris from the explosive-laden UAVs identified them as Iranian and incapable of travelling from Yemen to northeast Saudi Arabia. Later in the day UAE and Saudi warplanes carried out airstrikes in Yemen against rebel targets. Even if there is proof that the attack was launched from Iran, as happened in 2019, Iran is not implicated immediately and is not the target for retaliatory attacks. Although there are no immediate consequences for Iran, the long-term impact is that Iran is considered untrustworthy and unlikely to comply with any treaties. This is why the 2015 treaty lifting sanctions on Iran began to fall apart in 2018 when the U.S. renewed economic sanctions and Iranian attacks on Saudi Arabia in 2019 and the UAE today make it less likely that Iranian demands for the restoration of the 2015 treaty are unlikely and Israeli preparations for air and missile attacks on Iranian nuclear research facilities are more likely if Iran does manage to build a nuclear weapon, or get close. With the latest attack on the UAE, which is now a less desirable tourist destination and fearful of more attacks, more nations are agreeing with the Israeli assessment of Iran as a hostile nation that only fears retribution for its misdeeds. The Americans did that in 2018 with the renewed sanctions but Iran managed to portray itself as the victim. The 2018 American efforts also led to most Arab Gulf states agreeing in 2020 to recognize Israel diplomatically and establish trade links. The Arabs are buying defense systems designed to detect and defeat the kind of attacks Iran uses. While Iran won some short-term victories, the long-term situation is less favorable.
January 8, 2022: In Lebanon, the national electrical grid in neighboring Lebanon was out of service for several hours. The cause was protestors against continued scheduled blackouts, getting into a key facility of the national network and damaging equipment. The scheduled blackouts are due to fuel shortages and a government deadlocked by corruption and politics, especially the presence of Iran-backed Hezbollah. Iran tried to mend relations with the Lebanese by smuggling in free oil. That backfired as Iran-backed Hezbollah mismanaged the distribution of the oil, selling much of it on the black market rather than to keep the national electrical grid going.
January 6, 2022: South of Tehran, in Shahrekord city, a statue honoring Quds Force commander Qassem Soleimani was destroyed by an anti-government group. This came a day after the statue was unveiled in a ceremony praised by president Raisi and attended by senior government officials and IRGC generals. This was the second anniversary of the American airstrike outside Baghdad airport killed the most successful Quds force commander,
Qassem Soleimani along with the commander of the Iraqi Katab Hezbollah and several other key Iran-backed Iraqi militia leaders. Since then, Iran has been seeking revenge for the loss of Soleimani and have only found failure and, as the statute incident revealed, growing hostility inside Iran towards the government and Soleimani. These negative sentiments are shared throughout the region. For several years before the death of Soleimani Iranian protests were defacing or destroying billboards praising the foreign wars Quds Force managed, and disrupting official celebrations of these expensive (in cash and lives) government operations as well as the failure of the religious dictatorship to improve the Iranian economy. Currently more than half the population is visibly living below the poverty line, even though the official poverty rate is about 40 percent. Ever since the death of Soleimani a growing number of senior officials expressed fear failure to address the poverty in Iran and aggressive behavior of the Iranian government at home and throughout the region will spark another round of violent anti-government protests calling for an end to the religious dictatorship that has misruled Iran since the 1980s. The large-scale protests declined after 2019 because of covid19, which hit Iran hardest of all because the Iranian religious dictatorship mismanaged it badly, initially insisting that Iranians were immune and would only harm Iran’s enemies. The government also continues to mismanage a major drought. When Israel offered to help with their world-class water management technology, the Iranian government refused while many Iranians scrawled pro-Israel graffiti on walls or pro-government posters.
January 5, 2022: In Syria the ruling Assad clan has been making visible, and some less public, moves to demonstrate their efforts to curb Iranian activity in Syria. There is a lot of that in Syria and not all of it has anything to do with the Assads. Despite being a recipient of Iranian military and financial support since the 1980s, the Assads have come to see Iran as an occupying military forces. Since Iran does not, and never did, share details of all its operations in Syria with the Assad government, the 1980s alliance has come undone because the Iranians always did as they pleased in Syria and the Assads were expected to accept that. The Assads are now attempting the difficult, and often fatal, act of leaving a partnership with Iran.
One of the problems the Assads have to deal with is that many parts of Syria now controlled by the Syrian government are not obeying the Assads. In these cases, local security is handled by Iran-backed militias, who answer to Iran first and the Assads second, if at all. Israeli forces help with local security on the Syrian side of the Israeli border. Russian backed militias help with some areas in eastern Syria and Turkish backed militias do the same in the northwest. In the northeast most local security is provided by the Kurdish led (and American supported) SDF. In practical terms the Assads preside over most of pre-war Syria but local security is often not Assad controlled. The Assads do provide local security in the most densely populated areas, including Damascus and the Mediterranean provinces. As a result, the Assads do control most of the remaining pre-war population.
January 4, 2022: In eastern Syria (Deir Ezzor province) the U.S. led coalition carried out several airstrikes against suspected rocket launching sites near the American Green Village base. This base east of the Euphrates River keeps Russian and Syrian forces away from the Omar Oilfield, which is controlled by the Kurd-led SDF forces. Pro-Iran militias are a threat as well because Iran is still seeking revenge for a growing list of setbacks blamed on the Americans, Israel or both. Israelis are even harder to reach but there are plenty of Americans around.
December 30, 2021: Iran conducted another test of its 87-ton, three-stage solid fuel Simorgh SLV (Satellite Launch Vehicle). The test failed with none of the three satellites entering orbit. The last stage did appear to reach the altitude required for satellite deployment. There have been five, or six, test launches of Simorgh and none were able to achieve orbit. The first test was declared a success because it was only meant to see if Simorgh could successfully reach a lower (sub orbital) altitude. Early versions of Simorgh used liquid-fuel rockets but over the years more and more solid fuel stages were added until it was completely solid fuel and similar to the American Minuteman ICBM of the 1960s. A solid fuel Simorgh is seen as a solid fuel ICBM that could reach the United States. In 2009 Iran successfully tested its first
ballistic missile with a solid fuel rocket motor that could reach Israel. Up until then Iran's missiles that could reach Israel all used liquid fuel, which meant it took hours to get the missiles ready for use. Solid fuel missiles can be ready for action in minutes. This is a big deal, as Israeli satellites and spies can detect liquid fuel rockets being readied for action. No so for solid fuel missiles. Israel has anti-missile missile systems, which work better if they have some advance warning of an enemy launch.
December 28, 2021: In coastal Syria an Israeli airstrike hit a target very close to Russian forces. The target was a storage area in the port of Latakia. Israeli airstrikes in this area used to be rare because Russia uses the port for bringing in cargo. This is the second Israeli airstrike here in December and Israel said that it would attack Iranian weapons shipments wherever they were found. Two Syrian soldiers were killed and there was a fire and secondary explosions in a cargo container storage area. It was later revealed that Israel had alerted Russia shortly before the attack to confirm that no Russian in the target area. Russian air defenses did not act against the Israeli strike, which annoyed the Syrians and Iranians for different reasons. Iran was angry because the target was ballistic missiles for Hezbollah. Syria was annoyed because Syrian port storage facilities were damaged. Russia reminded the Syrians that the Israelis were going after any Iranian target seen as a threat to Israel. This was the 27th Israeli airstrike against targets in Syria in the last year. Most of those targets involved Iranian personnel or bases.
These attacks are another example of how Israeli, Russian and American airstrikes in Syria appear to be coordinated. The Americans are even more secretive about their airstrikes in Syria than Israel but each month there are three or four airstrikes by unidentified aircraft or UAVs in eastern Syria (Deir Ezzor province) against Iranian weapons storage sites outside Al Bukamal City, which is on the Euphrates River and as well as the Bukamal border crossing into Iraq. Israel and the U.S. use the same type of aircraft (F-15s) for these attacks and the attacks involving UAVs are not Israeli because the Israelis don’t use armed UAVs, which is an American specialty. In the rest of Syria similar strikes on Iranian targets are Israeli. The U.S. and Israel have a strong military, economic, and diplomatic relationship and often quietly cooperate in areas of mutual interest. The Russians are apparently part of the airstrike coordination in Deir Ezzor province where most of the airstrikes against ISIL targets are Russian, but some are not and are often claimed by the United States.
December 25, 2021: In Israel the Knesset (parliament) approved an additional $2.4 billion for the 2022 defense budget, increasing 2022 defense spending to $22 billion. The additional spending was for classified projects. These are believed to be related to preparations for an attack on Iranian nuclear weapons sites. This threat, and a general upgrade of the IDF (Israel Defense Force) has kept the annual defense budget over $20 billion since 2017. Because the Israeli economy continued to grow during the covis19 years, the military spending as a percentage of GDP also kept falling towards five percent. In contrast, Iranian defense spending was 2.3 percent of GDP in 2021 while the United States was 3.7 percent, Britain was 2.2 percent, France 2.1 percent, Russia 4.3 percent, Saudi Arabia 8.4 percent, Israel 5.6 percent, India 2.9 percent, South Korea 2.8 percent, Australia 2.1 percent and China somewhere between two and three percent. Global defense spending is about two trillion dollars and 2.4 percent of global GDP. The Iranian defense spending is much closer to Israel’s if you take into account the money spent on Iranian military operations in places like Syria, Lebanon, Yemen and Iraq. This is what angers most Iranians, along most other nations in the region and around the world.
Covid19 and sanctions have Iran
losing ground in its efforts to keep up with increased defense spending everywhere else. Some major spenders spent less in 2020, including Saudi Arabia (-10 percent), Turkey (-5), Iran (-3) and Pakistan (-2.8). These declines were caused by severe economic problems. Saudi Arabia has to devote more money to maintaining living standards since world oil prices fell sharply after 2013 and have not recovered to 2013 levels. Saudi Arabia is still the biggest spender in the region, spending $57.5 billion. Turkey spent $17.7 billion, Iran $15.8 billion and Pakistan $10.4 billion. Global defense spending in 2020 increased 2.6 percent, to $1.96 trillion. This occurred despite the covid19 global recession. Israel handled covid19 much more effectively than Iran, meaning the GDP grew more slowly but still grew, in contrast to many other countries in the region.
December 24, 2021: In southern Iraq (Najaf province) the provincial governor was forced to resign because of failure to deal with corruption. The provincial capital is
the Shia shrine city of Najaf. The Shia population of the province, and especially in the capital, have long demonstrated their dislike of Sunnis, especially Iraq Sunnis and Iranians, even though Iran is the largest Shia majority nation in the world. The militant Najaf Shia have managed to drive most Iraqi Sunnis out of the province. In 2019 Najaf protestors seized and burned down the Iranian consulate. The anti-Iran Shia protestors called the consulate a center for terrorism and Iranian efforts to dominate Iraq. That was no secret in Najaf and the surprising thing is Iran was not able to muster enough pro-Iran Iraqis to defend the consulate. That is apparently no longer the case as Iranian influence has declined further.
Najaf is one of the areas powerful Shia cleric Muqtada al Sadr regards as threatened by Iran as well government corruption. Sadr demands that all militias be disarmed and disbanded. This demand was aimed at Iran, which has used the militias to create a legal Iran-backed armed force in Iraq. Calls for disbanding these militias have been gaining a lot more support since 2017. The recent elections mean an even more anti-Iran government and sensing what that would mean for militias in general, most militias have announced plans to disband. Disarming is another matter. Despite that, Sadr efforts to clean up some of the corruption in Najaf province have succeeded,
December 21, 2021: In southern Iraq (Babel province) a roadside bomb was used to attack an American supply convoy from Kuwait. There was another such bombing in the south, near Basra, in which one truck was damaged but there were no casualties. These attacks are attributed to pro-Iran groups trying to inflict some damage on the Americans as well as get all American troops out of the country. Most Iraqis want some Americans to stick around, if only because it frightens and annoys the Iranians and ISIL
December 18, 2021: The Iranian ambassador to Yemen was flown back to Iran, where he died within a week from covid19. The Shia rebels had to get permission from the Arab coalition for this and managed to do so by revealing that the ambassador had caused many rebel faction leaders to criticize Iran for sending an experienced military man to Yemen, where he demanded that the rebels continue offensive operations despite the high casualties incurred and lack of progress to justify the losses. The Saudis agreed, after the rebels promised to not accept another Iranian diplomat. In response Iran appointed the senior military advisor in Yemen to become the new ambassador.
In late 2020 the recently deceased Iranian ambassador in Yemen arrived and made clear that, as a former Quds Force general, he was in Yemen more as a Quds Force commander than a diplomat. This ambassador didn’t make many requests, but he did issue a lot of orders and this caused growing opposition to Iran among the leaders of many rebel factions. After this ambassador returned to Iran, offensive operations in Yemen became less persistent and some Shia forces retreated.
December 15, 2021: Commercial satellite photos revealed that ten days ago an Iranian frigate, the Talayieh, rolled over in a partially flooded drydock while under construction in the Persian Gulf Bandar Abbas ship yard. It is unclear what the cause of this mishap was or how much damage was done. The Talayieh is the fifth of seven planned Moudge (Mowj) class frigates to be built and appears, from the shape of its superstructure and earlier comments by Iranians, that it is an improved version of the Moudge with electronic intelligence collection capabilities.
Five months earlier the fourth Moudge, the Dena, entered service. Dena is described by Iran as a Light Frigate. By international standards these ships are heavily armed and haphazardly equipped corvettes. Iran plans to put seven into service and three more are under construction with uncertain service dates because of the difficulty in finding the needed warship components. Talayieh, before the recent mishap, was supposed to enter service in 2022. Now that will probably be delayed until 2023, or later, depending on what repairs or modifications must be made.