Iran: The Enemy Within Returns

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May 24, 2022: Impacts of the Russian invasion of Ukraine are being felt in Iran. Massive use of Russian long-range missiles, to make up for a lack of air superiority, has done substantial damage to Ukrainian cities. Iran has been producing more ballistic missiles that could overwhelm Saudi and UAE (United Arab Emirates) ABM (anti-ballistic-missile) defenses and cause substantial damage to Arab oil production and shipments. Retaliation by superior Arab air forces would do the same to Iranian oil production, which is currently hampered, but not completely halted, by sanctions. Iranian long-range missiles that can reach Israel are less numerous and Israel has a chance of avoiding major damage to their cities and economy.

Carrying out such a missile attack would be economic suicide for Iran, which is again suffering from widespread protests against the religious dictatorship that has wrecked the economy before economic sanctions became a factor. The current demonstrations began three weeks ago and the government sought to stop them by just arresting protest leaders, rather than using IRGC (Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps) gunfire to kill protesters until the protests stopped. The government has made lethal responses to demonstrations before and, while those temporarily halted public protests, they increased the number of Iranians determined to overthrow the religious leaders who promised democracy after a popular uprising overthrew the monarchy in 1979. The current protests have become so numerous, and often spontaneous, that the government is banning live audiences for popular sporting events that are also broadcast live on TV. The protestors are not only demanding an end to the inflation and frequent increases in food prices, but also the religious dictatorship. Apparently senior religious leaders fear that using force this time might trigger a major nationwide uprising to overthrow the government. The secret IRGC opinion surveys show that anti-government sentiment has been climbing for years and the number of “unstable (very angry) Iranians” has reached dangerous levels.

That unpopularity was before and especially after the temporary rule by Iranian religious leaders became permanent in the 1980s. Since then, Iran’s religious leaders have demonstrated they are more oppressive and corrupt than the monarchy and caused record levels of poverty among the population, including more religious cities and provinces that long-provided the armed and ruthless supporters who keep the population in line and staff the IRGC.

The religious rulers long believed that their efforts to obtain nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles would make them more popular. It turned out that approach failed in part because the defunct monarchy was looking into this before the revolution and most Iranians support having such weapons because for thousands of years Iran/Persia was a regional superpower.

Iranian rulers are accustomed to remaining in power any way they can. Compared to the religious dictatorship, the monarchy was more reasonable when it came to foreign relations and fostering prosperity for Iranians. The current generation of protestors were born after the monarchy was replaced by the current government and are not swayed by claims that life will be worse without the religious dictatorship. A functioning democracy is preferred but old-timers remember the monarchy and admit life was better back then.

At the start of 2022 more than half the population was visibly living below the poverty line, even though the official poverty rate was about 40 percent. A very visible sign of the economic decline has been the decline in value for the local currency versus the dollar and the subsequent overall inflation. The situation has gotten a lot worse in the last few years. For example, in 2019 it cost 120,000 rials to buy a dollar. That led to a new currency, the toman, which meant the exchange rate was 12 toman to the dollar. The toman was what some Iranian currency was called for a long time, until 1925. The revival of the toman was necessary because people needed too many rials to purchase basic goods. Many Iranians still use the term. The exchange rate has since gotten worse. By 2020 you needed over 26 toman to buy a dollar. Currently it costs 42 toman. A decade ago, a dollar could be had for 3.2 toman. The current foreign exchange crisis is largely due to exporters of non-oil goods keeping about half the money they receive in banks outside the country. That was in response to government efforts to enforce a fixed exchange rate that made life worse for businesses and consumers. Avoiding that is a good business decision because that money is safer from government corruption if it is kept in foreign banks. Many Iranians with jobs prefer to keep their savings in dollars, even if that is illegal and local banks cannot be used. Because of their corruption and economic incompetence, the religious dictatorship feels more threatened by their subjects than by any external threat.

External Threats

The many nations threatened, by Iranian words (propaganda) or deeds (terrorism) are wary of American proposals to reduce sanctions against Iran, especially those involving nuclear weapons development and the use of the IRGC to support wars and terrorism outside of Iran. There are also growing economic problems and violence on the Afghan border.

In Afghanistan the new IEA (Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan) has not worked out as Pakistan expected, with growing violence inside Afghanistan becoming a major problem for Pakistan and Iran. Iran is angry at the new Afghan government because of increased attacks on Afghan Shia. Iran threatens to support an armed Afghan Shia resistance manned by the thousands of Afghan Shia who served as mercenaries in Syria. Some still do, because the Shia Afghan mercs were the best fighters and demanded higher pay than Arab mercenaries. These armed Shia fighters would work with their 1990s Northern Alliance allies, which has reassembled as the NRF (National Resistance Front) and is planning new operations. That alone may be more than the new IEA government can handle. Some of the NRF leaders are sons of successful Northern Alliance commanders. Iran threatens to provide more support to the NRF than they gave the Northern Alliance.

Currently IEA security forces are confronting Pakistani special operations forces entering eastern and southern provinces to capture or kill TTP (Pakistani Taliban) leaders. The Pakistani troops are supported by artillery and air strikes that often kill Afghan civilians. In the east Iran is moving armor units to the border to confront Afghans guarding heroin smugglers traveling into Iran. The drug smugglers have been a problem for over two decades and long-ago turned the Afghan/Iran border into a combat zone. Since the IEA took power, the violence here has escalated. Throughout Afghanistan there are outbreaks of activity by armed Shia militias and their 1990s Northern Alliance allies, the NRF.

Then there are the problems with Saudi Arabia and the UAE. In Yemen more key UN members agree that the Shia rebels and their Iranian backers were intent on maintaining control of northwest Yemen so the rebels could use Iranian cruise and ballistic missiles, as well as armed UAVs, for attacks on Saudi Arabia. Evidence, often authenticated by UN inspection teams, showed that Iranian-made weapons were being used for more and more attacks against Saudi Arabia and the UAE, as well as inside Yemen. The Iranian weapons were assembled and launched from rebel held areas in northwest Yemen. That is why the rebels protested the recent increased naval patrols in the Red Sea and especially coastal areas still controlled by rebels.

May 22, 2022: In Tehran, Israeli assassins killed IRGC colonel Hassan Sayyad Khodaei, who was responsible for recruiting locals in foreign countries to carry out attacks on Israelis there. His work was detected over a decade ago when he set up an attack in India that wounded an Israeli diplomat and his wife. Khodaei rarely wore his uniform and maintained a low profile, even while he was in Iran. For that reason, he was not assigned a security detail inside Iran. IRGC announced that they would take revenge for the death of Khodaei.

May 18, 2022: In Syria the Assads are now willing and able to fight to subdue the Idlib Islamic terrorists, the Kurds, and ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant). Iran is backing the Assads as part of their efforts to establish a military presence on the Israeli border and replace Russian and Arab influence over Assad. The Russians have long tried to play peacemaker to preserve their relationships with the Assads, other Arab states and even Israel. The Islamic terrorist rebels in Idlib would prefer to be anywhere but Syria, No one wants them. The Kurds are willing to make peace with the Assads in return for an autonomy deal similar to what the Iraqi Kurds have had for over two decades. The Assads are willing to make a deal but Turkey and Iran oppose that because of problems with their own Kurds. The war in Ukraine has forced Russia to withdraw much of its military forces from Syria and the distraction of fighting a losing war in Ukraine had made Syria a much lower priority.

May 13, 2022: In northwestern Syria (Hama province) an Israeli air-strike against Iranian targets left five dead and seven wounded. Most of the casualties belonged to Iran-backed militias or the Syrian army. These men are used to guard Iranian facilities in Syria. One civilian was killed and another wounded. Many of the Iranian SAM (surface to air) and anti-ship missiles and other weapons destroyed are headed for Hezbollah in Lebanon, for use against Israel. Another target of these airstrikes was the underground Syrian chemical weapons research center at Masyaf. Israel has been monitoring and occasionally attacking Masyaf for years. Since 2017 Iran has been actively assisting Syria in expanding the Masyaf operation, resuming the manufacture of chemical weapons and moving more of that to underground bunkers that are resistant to airstrikes. The recent attacks destroyed all the entrances to the underground facilities and apparently collapsed some or all of the underground spaces. Israel makes it clear that such attacks will continue as long as Syria and its patron Iran try to attack Israel and openly call for the destruction of Israel.

It was later revealed that the defense of Masyaf included at least one S300 Russian air defense missile being fired at the Israeli aircraft. The S300 missile was ineffective. The Russians noted this in Ukraine, despite the fact that Ukrainians, with some help from NATO nations, turned the S300 into an effective weapon against Russian aircraft. Syrians and Iranians noted this as well.

May 11, 2022: In southern Syria (Quneitra province) an Israeli airstrike and artillery fire hit Iranian forces preparing to fire on Israel. When Iran-backed forces move too close to the Israeli border they are attacked.

May 8, 2022: Syrian leader Bashar Assad made an unannounced visit to Iran, apparently to negotiate how Syria and Iran would take over Russian bases, and some Russian equipment left behind. Most Russian ground forces in Syria are returning to Russia because of the war in Ukraine, which the Russian are losing. These Russian troops consist of special operations forces, military advisers and tech support personnel who help maintain Russian weapons used by Syria. The departing Russian troops are first moved to a Russian controlled airbase near the Mediterranean coast and then flown back to Russia. Some of the abandoned bases were transferred to Iranian control and used by Iran-backed militias, including Lebanese Hezbollah. Iran is one of the few countries that support the Russian invasion of Ukraine and has even sent the Russians some weapons via the Caspian Sea, which borders Russia and Iran. The Assad visit was announced after he left Iran to return to Syria.

The Assads are more cooperative when it comes to foreign aid, which is largely supplied by everyone, including oil-rich Gulf Arabs. Russia and Iran have become less able to match foreign aid to Syria supplied by Arab oil states because Russia and Iran are suffering from heavy economic sanctions for their support of terrorism and attacks on neighbors. The Assads keep their Russian and Iranian allies informed of their aid arrangements with countries that see Russian and Iran as enemies. Yet the Assads cannot abandon Iran completely because Iran still has a lot of IRGC personnel and local mercenaries inside Syria. If the Assads are perceived as a threat to Iranian operations inside Syria, Iran has the means to remove the Assads from power. This would be a costly operation for Iran and Syria but there are other factions in Syria willing to replace the Assads.

May 6, 2022: Another round of nationwide protests began and demanded effective action to halt the growing poverty.

May 3, 2022: Israeli media and an Iranian opposition group revealed that Israeli Mossad and Shin Bet (domestic intelligence) personnel had gone to Iran last year. There they seized and questioned Mansour Rasouli, a member of Quds Force Unit 840, which carries out assassinations overseas. Rasouli admitted that he had been assigned to arrange the assassination of an Israeli diplomat in Turkey, an American general officer stationed in Germany and a journalist in France. The IRGC was providing him with $150,000 to plan the killings and another million dollars if all three subjects were killed. Rasouli planned to hire contract killers via his contacts in drug smuggling gangs.

Audio, and later video, of key portions of the interrogation were leaked. Rasouli confessed because his interrogators already knew a lot about the plot. He was released and the Israeli interrogators left Iran. Rasouli and his IRGC superiors called off the assassinations because they knew the interrogation had been recorded, the targets had been alerted, and had received additional security. There was an understanding that, if Iran backed off on these killings, the Israelis would remain silent about the interrogation. Why this evidence was leaked now may have something to do with the Israeli opposition to American willingness to revive the 2015 sanctions treaty, but also a modification of the terms to make it easier for Iran to develop nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles. Billions of dollars in frozen accounts would be returned to Iran and, if the Americans went ahead with taking the Iranian IRGC and its Quds Force off the list of known terrorists, there would be a lot more violence in the Middle East. Iran saw the 2015 treaty suspended by the Americans in 2018 because of Iranian cheating. Then came the 2020 American presidential elections, which put into power a new president seemingly determined to change American policies towards Iran and ignore Arab Oil states complaints about Iranian threats and attacks on them. This has driven many Gulf oil states into an economic alliance with Russia to drive up the price of oil. This policy makes it easier for Iran to smuggle more of its heavily discounted oil to customers. That plan survived the recent Russian invasion of Ukraine and even more economic sanctions. Opposition from the Arabs and American voters is having an impact and the revival of the 2015 treaty may not happen. Otherwise, Israel has made it clear it will carry out attacks on Iranian targets key to nuclear and ballistic missile development and production. The Arab Oil States will cooperate, and continue refusing to increase production to lower world oil prices.

Meanwhile Hamas, the Iran-backed Islamic terror group that runs Gaza complains that Turkey has expelled dozens of Hamas members in the last few months. These expulsions are part of the Turkish effort to repair their relations with Israel.

May 2, 2022: Arab states are willing to revive diplomatic and economic relationships with Syria, but only if the Assads break their ties with Iran. That is very risky for the Assads. The Assads want to avoid that until they have solid links with Arab countries and Israel. The Arabs are willing but the Israelis are already at war with the Iranians in Syria and are no longer interested in establishing diplomatic relations with Syria. That means Syria remains a battlefield for Islamic terrorists and Israeli, Turkish, Russian, Iranian, Syrian, and American forces fighting each other in a constantly changing web of alliances. For Syria peace will have to wait, possibly for a long time.

April 30, 2022: Turkish president Erdogan visited Saudi Arabia to announce an end to the diplomatic standoff between the two countries. Erdogan was intent on reviving trade and economic cooperation. Turkey is particularly interested in attracting more investment from Saudi Arabia. Erdogan indicated he also discussed “regional stability” issues with the Saudis. That can mean many things, but to the Saudis it means Iran’s threat in the Persian Gulf, potential nuclear threat and support for the Shia rebels in Yemen who used Iranian missiles to attack Saudi Arabia and the UAE.

April 27, 2022: In southern Syria (Damascus) another Israeli air strike against Iranian targets left nine were killed and eight wounded, all the casualties belonged to Iran-backed militias or the Syrian army. These men are used to guard Iranian facilities in Syria. This was the tenth Israeli airstrike in Syria during 2022.

April 26, 2022: Iraq hosted Saudi Arabian and Iranian officials holding their fifth round of negotiations in an effort to resume diplomatic relations. These talks were suspended seven months ago. Iraq along with Israel, Saudi Arabia and the other Arab Gulf Oil states are angry with the Americans because the U.S. is not only offering Iran a revival of the 2015 sanctions treaty, but also a modification of the terms to make it easier for Iran to develop nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles. While those talks are currently stalled, the U.S. quietly agreed to allow South Korea to release several billion dollars to Iran while Britain released half a billion to Iran for a payment dispute from the 1970s.

Because of this new American attitude, Israel has carried out several major attacks on the Iranian nuclear weapons program. Some earlier attacks were in cooperation with the United States but the most recent ones were done with only the help of Iranians who also oppose the nuclear weapons and the current Iranian religious dictatorship. Israel makes it clear it will launch a major air and missile strike against the Iranian nuclear program if Iran gets close to creating a working nuclear weapon. Israel’s new allies among the Arab Persian Gulf oil states will cooperate with such an attack, as they are already being hit by Iranian missiles, cruise missiles and guided rockets.

Israel has had locally developed nuclear weapons since 1970 and portrays these weapons as the ultimate deterrent to any serious effort to destroy Israel. The Israeli nukes can be delivered several ways. This first method was aircraft-delivered gravity bombs and later air-to ground missiles. Then came ballistic missiles plus cruise missiles that can be launched via torpedo tubes from a submerged Israeli sub. Israel never acknowledged it has nukes and continues to maintain them and several delivery systems. This has deterred everyone except Iran, which since the 1980s has been ruled by a religious dictatorship that was obsessed with destroying Israel.

April 25, 2022: The 2020 American elections put into power a new president seemingly determined to change American policies towards Iran and ignore Arab Oil states complaints about Iranian threats and attacks on them. This has driven many Gulf oil states into an economic alliance with Russia to drive up the price of oil. This policy makes it easier for Iran to smuggle more of its heavily discounted oil to customers. That plan survived the recent Russian invasion of Ukraine and even more economic sanctions. Iran has been one of the most enthusiastic supporters of the Russian war in Ukraine.

April 24, 2022: In northwest Iraq (Muthanna province) Iran-backed militia attacked an American supply convoy with a roadside bomb. There were no injuries and the convoy continued. These convoy attacks are increasingly frequent but rarely use a powerful enough or effectively placed bomb to do any real damage. This reflects the loss of competent bomb makers by most terror groups in Iraq because of increased counter-terrorism efforts.

April 17, 2022: Off the Yemen coast the United States began using its new anti-smuggling task force known as CTF (Combined Task Force) 153 to patrol the Gulf of Aden and Red Sea. The objective is to detect and intercept Iranian weapons, particularly components for ballistic and cruise missiles as well as guided rockets. Some of these shipments are still getting through because the missile and rocket attacks on Saudi Arabia and the UAE continue, but at a lower frequency because increased efforts by the three existing CTFs (150, 151 and 152.)

 

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