Iran: The Big Ransom


September 5, 2023: Iranian negotiators achieved another victory over the Americans by obtaining $16 billion for the release of five hostages and promises to reduce their nuclear weapons deliveries. Israeli officials are appalled at the continued gullibility of the Americans when dealing with Iran. There are a number of pro-Iran/anti-Israel officials in the American government that make these deals possible and explain away all the Iranian broken promises about the Iranian nuclear weapons program. While the Americans back economic sanctions on Iran, they also allow $16 billion deals like this to undermine the sanctions.

Iran continues to be a threat to neighboring Iraq. There are many reasons for this, some of them quite ancient. For example, Iranians are largely members of the Shia branch of Islam. Only about ten percent of Moslems are Shia. Iranians are also ethnically different then their many Arab neighbors. The Iranians, or Persians, are Indo-Europeans who migrated from Central Asia to the Persian Gulf area thousands of years ago and have been dominating or fighting the indigenous Semites (mainly Arabs) ever since. Being Shia gives the Iranians one more reason to fight their Arab neighbors.

An example of this is the efforts by Iran to gain control of Iraq, which has a large Shia Arab minority. Iran is losing influence inside Iraq. This is mainly because Iran is ruled by a Shia religious dictatorship that condones aggressive interference in neighboring countries. Iraq has long been the main recipient of this meddling. Iran seeks more economic and political influence in Iraq. This is made easier by Iraq’s internal problems from rampant corruption. Historically, what is now known as Iraq was seen as the most corrupt region in the Middle East, if not the world.

According to international surveys of corruption, Iraq is not the most corrupt country in the world. For the last 30 years Transparency International has monitored corruption worldwide and reported their findings annually. The corruption is measured on a 1 (most corrupt) to 100 (not corrupt) scale. The nations with the worst score are currently Syria (score of 14), South Sudan (12) and Somalia (12). The least corrupt nations are currently Denmark and New Zealand, each with a score of 88. Iraq does better than you would expect with a corruption score of 23 in 2022, up from 21 in 2020, 20 in 2019, 17 in 2017-18 and 16 in 2013.

Iraq’s reduction in corruption played a part in convincing a growing number of formerly pro-Iran Iraqis to change their minds about backing Iran. The current Iranian government has been an economic, diplomatic and military disaster for everyone in the area, not just Iranians. Few Iraqis want to emulate Iran and this now includes Iraqi members of pro-Iran militias. Initially Iran encouraged and maintained pro-Iran attitudes in Iraq by supplying Iraqi militiamen with weapons and regular cash payments. Growing economic problems inside Iran has reduced the money available to pay the Iraqi militiamen enough to keep them loyal to Iran. The longer the Iraqi militiamen went unpaid, the less willing they were to serve Iranian interests. Iraqis were also put off by the brutality Iran used to suppress the “hijab protests'' that began nearly a year ago and only began to diminish earlier this year because so many women were simply not wearing hijabs to cover their hair. There were too many of these women for the Iranian government to arrest or otherwise punish. The Iranian government has not given up on enforcing the use of hijabs and is seeking ways to force women to comply. A proposed new law would criminalize failure of women to wear hijabs but the government is unsure what impact trying to enforce such a law would have. Most women and many men oppose the hijab restrictions and consider these laws another reason to overthrow the religious dictatorship that has misruled Iran for decades.

Most Iranians are angry about continued economic problems and increased economic sanctions imposed on Iran because of its support for Russia in the Ukraine War and continued heavy spending to support Iranian sponsored violence in Syria and Iraq. Most of the Iranian troublemaking is in Syria. The situation in Iraq is more difficult for Iran because the obvious targets are the American troops still in Iraq and foreigners in general. Iraqis appreciate the American presence because it is mainly about going after Islamic terrorists and Iran-sponsored violence. Another important difference is that Iraq is undergoing reconstruction. There are no economic sanctions on Iraq and the increasing oil revenue is being spent on projects inside the country. This provides jobs and other benefits for Iraqis. Iranian-sponsored violence disrupts this oil-fueled economic growth and that interference is not appreciated.

In Iraq (Baghdad), Iranian influence was often provided by pro-Iran armed militias that were on the Iraqi government payroll. This happened because a post-2014 deal put all PMF (Popular Mobilization Force) militias on the army payroll. Iran had played a major role in creating the PMF and organizing the first militias using armed Iraqis already loyal to Iran. The PMF was crucial in 2014 in defeating the ISIL invasion from Syria. ISIL occupied a third of Iraq and was closing in on Baghdad when the PMF militias stopped them and played a role in driving ISIL out of Iraq by 2016. As a reward for their service the PMFs were regularly paid by the government. This was done by putting the PMF brigades on the army payroll and technically under the control of senior army commanders. That was fine in theory but did not work in practice. The PMF units took the payroll cash but refused to obey army commands or requests. Each year the PMF units demanded more money from the government. This cash came out of the army budget. In 2023 the PMF wanted nearly $3 billion. The PMF claims that this is what it requires to support about 200,000 PMF members and that number increases each year. The PMF leadership additionally contends that many of its members will resort to violence if not paid.

These Iran-backed groups include prominent militias such as Kataib Hizbullah, Asaib Ahl al Haqq, and Haraka Hizbullah al Nujaba, as well as a number of new groups spawned from the big three. All of these groups portray themselves as the Muqawama (resistance) against the United States and other foreigners active inside Iraq.

Since the clerics took over in 1979 Iran has been perpetually at war, first with Iraq for nine bloody years and since then with Israel, America and anyone the clerics felt was a problem (including “troublesome” expatriate Iranians). For three decades the “war” against Israel and America (the two “Great Satans' ') has been largely one-sided but increasingly expensive as the Iranian defeats piled up. It didn’t take long for many Iranians to figure out that this war against former allies was not really a war but rather an excuse for the clerics to spend a lot of money on an army of Islamic terrorists whose main job was to protect the ruling clerics from the Iranian people. The clerics thought they could control popular dissent by maintaining a militia of religiously minded volunteers who could earn some extra cash (and other favors) by bullying (or beating) anyone who openly opposed the religious dictatorship. These government approved thugs were a common feature of dictatorships (Nazis and communists both used them). By the 1990s the government had organized street gangs, composed of young men who are Islamic conservatives, paid to break up pro-reform demonstrations by force and attack any groups that openly oppose the government for whatever reason. There has always been the risk that a series of street brawls could escalate and lead to another mass revolution like the one in 1979. So far that has been avoided but more and more of the young men who were prime candidates to join these gangs have changed sides. Once more there are protests and even attacks on local religious leaders in towns and cities that do not have a lot of religious conservatives, or a local Islamic conservative militia unit. The militia had a name; the Basj, which provided the manpower for pro-government street gangs since the 1990s, when popular protests against the dictatorship became more common and threatening. The Basj is actually part of the IRGC (Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps) whose main job is to protect the religious rulers from any internal threat (including from the national police or regular armed forces). Although the Basj officially has 11 million members, the number that the government could depend has been declining. A few years ago, it was several hundred thousand but now it is less than 100,000 and falling. Basj have families and feel the economic decline like everyone else.

For most Iranians the most obvious is the rapidly increasing prices for imported goods. The real, the Iranian currency, continues to rapidly lose its value versus the dollar, so much so that the real is no longer used for major transactions. Instead, the older toman is used. Toman was what Iranian currency was called for a long time, until 1925. Many Iranians still use the term and now the toman is essential because each toman is worth 10,000 reals. While most Iranians still used reals for daily transactions, for major purchases the toman is more practical. While you could buy a dollar for 70 reals in 1978, the revolution that began in 1979 caused economic disruptions that continue. This led to the reintroduction of the toman, because each was worth 10,000 reals. The impact of this was most visible in the number of reals it cost to buy a dollar. By 2020 you needed over a quarter million reals to buy a dollar. It was easier to express that as 26 tomans to buy a dollar. Currently it costs nearly 50 toman. Strenuous efforts by the government were only able to reduce that from 55 to 50 tomans. The government has not been able to reduce that rate. The government spent a lot of dollars trying to reduce the exchange and failed. A decade ago, a dollar could be had for 3.2 toman, currently it's closer to 50 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. The combination of growing economic problems and popular resistance to the government has produced ominous signs of government collapse. A growing number of the senior clerics are acknowledging this, and not just among themselves.

September 4, 2023: In central Iran (Isfahan) Russia flew in several Yak-130 jet trainers to the Shahid Babaei air base. The Yak-130 can also be used as combat aircraft. The Yak-130 is capable of performing many of the tricky maneuvers of Russia's top fighters like the Su-27/30, MiG-29 and many modern Western fighters. It can also perform as a light bomber. The nine ton Yak-130 has a max speed of 1,000 kilometers an hour and a flight lifetime of 10,000 hours in the air. The pilot instructor and trainee sit one behind the other, and two engines make it a safer aircraft to fly. The Yak-130 can carry an external load of three tons (of bombs, missiles or fuel tanks). Max range, on internal fuel, is 2,000 kilometers. Russia is selling the aircraft to foreign customers for about $15 million. In 2005 Russia decided to standardize on the Yak-130 jet trainer, and production began in 2010. So far, nearly 200 have been built and most have gone to export customers. The Russian military planned to buy up to 72. So far, exports have been made to Algeria, Bangladesh, Belarus, Laos, Myanmar and Iran.

September 3, 2023: In neighboring Iraq, Iran-backed militias fought with Kurds in the north (Kirkuk). Iran wants to prevent the autonomous Iraqi Kurds from gaining control of Kirkuk. There are two separate armed Kurd factions defending the Kurdish north and the factions are often rivals. This limits the Kurdish ability to halt Iranian operations in Iraq.

September 2, 2023: The IRGC claims to have seized another tanker in the Persian Gulf, but won’t release any data on which country the ship belonged to.

September 1, 2023: In Lebanon (Beirut) Iranian officials met with Lebanese and Hezbollah leaders about supplying these groups with more weapons and UAVs to be used against Israel as well as opponents in Lebanon and Syria. Israel regularly locates and uses air strikes to attack Iranian weapons moved into Syria and Lebanon. Iran also wants to arm Palestinian militias in the West Bank so they can take on Israeli forces.

August 31, 2023: An economist at an Iranian university reported that a third of Iranians are living in absolute poverty and desperate. The government will not admit it is that bad, even though the economic situation keeps getting worse. While the government admits to an inflation rate of about 50 percent. Most Iranians consider that unrealistic because many Iranians keep track of prices and know that many food items have doubled in price over the last year. The real inflation rate is closer to 60 percent and rising. Most Iranians no longer trust the government when it comes to improving the economy. That means many Iranians seek to obtain dollars for their savings and major purposes. The dollar is far more stable than the Iranian rial. The declining value of the rial and increase in prices is a major factor in the growing poverty rate. 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 year later the poverty rate is over 50 percent and many of them are desperate.

August 29, 2023: The government sought to reduce anger over economic problems by releasing false data. This included claims that unemployment and inflation rates were half of what they actually are as well as how many Iranians are leaving the country. Currently, the overall unemployment is 10 percent but among young Iranians it is more than double that. Same with inflation, which is about 100 percent, not the 30 percent the government claims. The average Iranian encounters the rapidly increasing prices of goods daily, as well as the growing number of young men and women unable to find work. All this leads to the most educated and capable young Iranians to leave the country. These Iranians know a second and sometimes third language and this makes it easier to get a job outside Iran. There are nearly five million expatriate Iranians living outside the country, mainly the West. These Iranians are active on the Internet and operate Farsi (Iranian) language media that can reach Iran via the Internet or satellite broadcasts. The well-organized and active expatriate community makes it easier to Iranians to leave Iran and start new lives elsewhere. This is one trend the government fears the most. The expatriate Iranians are one of the greatest threats to the religious dictatorship, so much so that government statistics on the population loss are kept secret.

August 28, 2023: In eastern Syria (Deir Ezzor province) the U.S. backed largely Kurdish SDF (Syrian Democratic Forces) are fighting local tribes, Islamic terrorists and some Iran-backed militias. Iran considers the SDF a major obstacle to achieving their goals in Syria. This includes driving the Americans out and keeping the Assad government in power.

In northern Syria (Aleppo) an Israeli airstrike damaged airport facilities and halted flight activities for at least two days as repairs were made. Attacks on commercial airports are seen as a way to halt or slow down Iranian use of commercial air transports to deliver high-tech weapons to Syria. These airstrikes are delivered by Israeli warplanes operating off the coast and firing high-speed air-to-ground missiles at the airports.

August 27, 2023: In neighboring Afghanistan, the IEA (Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan) government imposes more and more lifestyle restrictions similar to those they enforced in the 1990s and, in some cases, more severe than in the past. The most recent restriction was to ban women from visiting national parks because too many of the women reveal their faces. This is something the lifestyle regulators do not approve of. This attitude toward women is similar to what the religious dictatorship in Iran seeks to impose on women. The big issue in Iran is women refusing to cover their hair with a hijab (scarf). The governments in both Iran and Afghanistan are losing support among women, which is not a good thing if you want to run a country without creating more problems. Iran is increasingly desperate to force women to conform and wear the hijab, which has been mandatory since 1983. The women are defiant, so the government is now closing businesses that have women employees or customers who refuse to wear hijabs.

August 18, 2023: The government reports that at least 10,000 Afghan refugees are arriving in Iran each day. There are nearly ten million Afghan refugees in Iran and about 18 percent have some military or combat experience. The Afghan refugees take care of each other and new arrivals, providing assistance to find work and advising them what not to do in order to avoid problems with their Iranian hosts. The refugees fled Afghanistan to get away from the violence, lack of jobs and IEA persecution. Many move on from Iran to other nations in the region while those who can afford it head for Europe or North America.

August 13, 2023: In southern Syria (near Damascus) an Israeli airstrike was carried out against Iranian (Hezbollah) targets. No casualties were reported. Large fires could be seen and explosions heard for several hours. These attacks are a regular occurrence because Iran continues to try and get enough missiles into Syria so they can launch regular missile attacks on Israel. Such attacks must involve lots of missiles to get past the Israeli missile defenses and so far these Israeli air strikes on Iranian missile shipments have delayed the Iranian attacks. Today's Israeli airstrike was the 22nd so far this year.

August 12, 2023: In southern Syria (near Damascus) an explosion destroyed a Hezbollah weapons warehouse outside the city. There was no air strike and no obvious indications of what caused the explosion. Similar explosions have occurred recently, which also leave Iran-backed Syrian warehouse guards. Similar explosions have taken place in Iranian warehouses further from cities like Damascus or Aleppo.

August 11, 2023: In Israel (Ben Gurion airport) an Iranian Jew was sent back to Iran after he admitted that Iranian intelligence only allowed him out of Iran to visit family in Israel if he agreed to collect some information and make a report when he returned to Iran. Israeli airport screening is unique in that it is more thorough but less time consuming than in other nations. Israel keeps track of known or suspected hostile foreigners who might try to enter the country.

August 10, 2023: For over a year, Ukrainian urban areas or military facilities have been under attack by Russian UAVs (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles) used as cruise missiles. The concept was demonstrated by Russian ally Iran using the Iranian Shahed-136. Russia was impressed and since early 2022 used hundreds of Shahed-136s to attack Ukraine. Russia was so impressed that they built a factory to build Shahed-136s in Russia under license. Iran assisted in setting up the factory, which began operations in early 2023. Shahed-136 is relatively crude but effective and inexpensive. If a target had any air defenses, Shahed-136s tend to be detected and shot down. Russia still used them because Shahed-136 is cheap and often effective. Shahed-136 is a delta wing airborne cruise missile that weighs 200 kg (440 pounds) and armed with a warhead weighing 30 to 50 kg, most of which is explosives. That’s not a lot because most cruise missiles carry warheads weighing half a ton or more. The Shahed-136 warhead will damage, not destroy, most structures it hits. Shahed-136 is launched using a rocket motor that gets it into the air and then detaches and falls away. To be effective Shahed-136 is launched in swarms, which was the case with most attacks. Shahed-136 is propeller driven using a noisy gasoline engine. Aptly described as low (altitude), slow and loud, Shahed-136 is easy to detect and shoot down. Even before building their Shahed-136 factory Russia obtained over two thousand Shahed-136s from Iran and launched 400 of them against Ukrainian targets. Most were detected and shot down, even if launched at night or just before dawn. The noisy Shahed-136 engine serves as a useful wakeup call. For example, the Ukrainian capital is only 380 kilometers from the Russian border.

August 7, 2023: In southern Syria (near Damascus) an Israeli airstrike hit an Iranian base, causing damage while killing four soldiers and wounding four others. Iran is seeking to establish missile assembly and manufacturing facilities in Syria but is having a difficult time avoiding detection and attacks by Israel.

August 3, 2023: In southern Syria (near Damascus) an Israeli airstrike hit Hezbollah targets. The warehouses containing Iranian munitions exploded and lit up the night sky. Four Syrian soldiers were killed and four wounded. Two members of an Iran-backed militia were also killed. This was the 21st Israeli airstrike in Syria this year.

August 2, 2023: Iran continues to cause problems in Yemen. This has widespread problems. In the south (Abyan province) al Qaeda Islamic terrorists killed five soldiers and wounded four more. The troops belonged to the Southern Transitional Council, or SCT, which represents the Sunni tribes in the south who have long backed dividing Yemen into the Sunni south and largely Shia north. For a long time, the northern Shia have fought to maintain some autonomy. In 2015 that escalated into a civil war as the Iranian-supported Shia captured the capital Sanaa and much territory south of the capital. Within a year this brought in an Arab coalition (Saudi Arabia and the UAE) that supported the Yemeni government and national unity. That halted the rebel advance but did little to end the civil war. The Saudis and UAE had different goals in Yemen. The Saudis wanted to keep their southwestern border with Yemen peaceful while the UAE was more interested in new economic opportunities in the more prosperous south. The UAE provides financial and other aid to the southern separatists while the Saudis are more concerned about Shia violence against southwestern Saudi Arabia. Iran considers its influence in Yemen as something it can use to negotiate deals with the Saudis and UAE.

August 1, 2023: Few nations supported the 2022 Russian Ukraine invasion. While Ukraine received nearly $100 billion in delivered or pledged aid, Russia received very little. Only Iran and North Korea provided some support for Russia. North Korea supplied artillery ammunition and weapons while Iran did the same, only in larger quantities. North Korea wanted food and Russia sent it by rail. Iran wanted military technology, especially some Su-35 fighters and technical details on manufacturing key components of the jet as well as decades of Russian tech support. Russia turned down this deal because they knew Iran wanted to build Su-35s and needed lots of specialized information to do that. Instead, Russia offered Western weapons and munitions that they had access to in Ukraine. If the Iranian’s wanted to reverse-engineer more Western weapons, Russia could supply them with the needed examples. This was something Iran could work with because since the 1980s, Iran has not been able to buy Western weapons. Iran would pay for intact or largely intact examples of Western weapons. These Iran could reverse-engineer and build locally. Iran has the engineers and production infrastructure to do this as well as decades of experience.

July 30, 2023: In southern Lebanon, the Iranian presence is an increasing problem. The Iran-backed Hezbollah militia has been more active on the Israeli border, demanding that Israelis leave some border areas. Hezbollah threatens to use force if the Israelis don’t comply. This could start another war between Hezbollah and Israel. Lebanon does not want that because another war would be Israeli artillery and airstrikes against Hezbollah forces on or near the border. This would endanger Lebanese civilians living near the border.

July 29, 2023: Ukrainian artillerymen have been using Iranian made shells and unguided rockets captured from the Russians. Many of these munitions were manufactured recently (2023) or in the last year. Iran has been providing Russia with as many munitions as the Russians can pay for. North Korea has also been providing Russia with rockets and shells but these are often the oldest ones in the North Korean inventory. It’s preferable to sell these munitions, some of them 30 years old, before they become too dangerous to use. Although these shells and rockets will still work, many of them do so unreliably. That means many of these shells and rockets no longer are as accurate or able to reach their maximum range or even detonate when they hit the ground. Ukrainian EOD (Explosive Ordnance Disposal) teams are kept busy dealing with all these unexploded munitions in the combat zone as well as in towns and cities where the unexploded munitions are a threat to civilians.

July 27, 2023: Iran is the cause of currency problems in Iraq and that means efforts to stabilize the value of the Iraqi dinar have been unsuccessful. Currently it costs about 1.500 dinars to buy a dollar. Since late 2022 the dinar has been losing value against the dollar because of public panic over corrupt government officials illegally providing Iran and other sanctioned nations dollars. From 2010 to late 2022 the exchange rate for the Iraqi currency (dinar) has hovered around 1,200 dinars to buy one dollar. Then an American effort to halt the illegal moving of dollars to Iran and Syria increased that by more than 20 percent. With dollars more expensive in dinars, imported goods in Iraq become more expensive. The government blamed the Americans but the root cause was corruption in the Iraqi banking system. Many government officials profit from this, but blaming Westerners for mistakes by local officials is a long-standing custom. The new currency curbs leave Iran with fewer dollars and less capability to interfere in Iraqi affairs. After a few months of this, the Iraqi government apologized to the United States and cooperated in shutting down the illegal dollar transfers. The joint announcement by Iraqi and American treasury officials was enough to stabilize the dinar versus dollar situation.

July 26, 2023: Iran is responsible for many problems inside Iraq. One of them is landmines. Shepherds and sheep along the Iranian border continue to be killed or injured when they encounter a landmine. These mines were planted over the decades in an Iraqi effort to keep Iranian troops out of Iraq. Up north the Kurds have identified over 3,000 minefields on the Iran border and marked them as well as distributing maps showing the location of the minefields. Not all the minefields have been identified and shepherds are warned to be careful using some areas for the animals to graze. It’s usually a grazing sheep that sets off a mine and causes the rest of the sheep and the shepherd to flee and report the incident. An earlier UN effort to count the number of landmines and other unexploded munitions still present in Iraq concluded that there are apparently 50 million of these items, most of them unexploded or unfired munitions as well as bombs and explosive traps created and left behind more recently by ISIL in northern and western Iraq. Efforts to remove these items only are not sufficient to clear the dangerous items any time soon. Only 30,000 to 40,000 are removed each year. A large number of these explosive items are found along the Iranian border where the 1980s Iran-Iraq war was fought.

July 18, 2023: In southern Syria (near Damascus) an Israeli airstrike was carried out against Iranian (Hezbollah) targets. One Syrian militiaman and two Iranians were killed. Fires could be seen and explosions heard for several hours. This was the 20th Israeli airstrike in Syria this year.




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