February 15, 2012: The war between reformer (and strident anti-Semite) president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and ultimate political power (and senior cleric) Ayatollah Ali Khamenei continues. Khamenei represents the old-guard clerics, who are corrupt, but monopolize the top of the religious hierarchy, which has the ultimate veto power over any government action. Khamenei could just have Ahmadinejad arrested and executed but apparently fears this would cause too much internal tumult, or even a civil war. Ahmadinejad cannot directly attack Khamenei, but Ahmadinejad's anti-corruption efforts would eventually take down many Khamenei allies and make Khamenei look bad. This would give the small number of reform minded senior clerics a shot at replacing Khamenei. Thus this background struggle is a real death-match. The next round takes place next month, when presidential elections are held. Khamenei has tried to rig the elections so pro-reform candidates lose. But that may not work. Even many Islamic radicals want to punish the corrupt clerics who dominate politics and the economy.
Iran is using its good diplomatic relations with Kurds in northern Iraq to deal with the Iranian Kurdish separatists who find sanctuary in northern Iraq. For decades Iran secretly aided Iraqi Kurdish separatists. This established hundreds of close relationships between Iranian intelligence and special operations officers and their Iraqi Kurd counterparts. While the Iraqi Kurds favor their Iranian Kurd counterparts, they also realize that good relations with Iran can help if the autonomous Kurds of northern Iraq get in trouble with the Iraqi government or the Turks.
This adroit Iranian diplomacy has led Iraq and Turkey to help defeat the increasing economic sanctions directed at Iran. This cooperation also makes a lot of Turks and Iraqis rich and brings jobs and prosperity to border areas. Cash often trumps even the most energetic and righteous diplomacy. Iran has openly vowed to strike back at nations that support these sanctions and aid those who oppose the sanctions.
In Thailand, police revealed that they believe a third Iranian was involved in recent terrorist activity in the Thai capital. The third Iranian is believed to have escaped to Malaysia, where Islamic radicals can find sanctuary if they behave.
Western hackers recently obtained, and distributed, email of senior Syrian officials. One of the revelations was that Iran has given Syria over a billion dollars in the last year, to help the pro-Iran dictatorship there survive a growing number of economic sanctions and domestic disruptions to the economy. Iran has also provided internal security and terrorism experts (the Quds Force) to assist Syria in putting down the year-long rebellion. This aid has apparently been critical in keeping the Assad dictatorship going. Despite the Iranian aid the Assads are seen as doomed and many wealthy Assad supporters are now moving their families, and wealth, out of Syria. If the Assads were to lose control of Syria it would be a great defeat for Iran but there are limits to what Iran can do to keep the hated (especially in Syria) Assads in power.
February 14, 2012: In Thailand, a house in the capital exploded, apparently after the three Iranians inside made an error while building a bomb. The three Iranians fled but two were captured and are being interrogated. The three men had rented the house for several months.
In India, police believe yesterday's attack on Israeli diplomats was carried out by Iranians. This is very bad news for Iran because India has, despite sanctions, remained a major customer for Iranian oil. India is also very sensitive when it comes to terrorism (because Pakistan has sponsored Islamic terrorists attacking India for decades). Iran has cultivated good relations with India by cooperating with Indian efforts to protect it from Islamic terrorists.
The constant media fascination with a possible Israeli or American air raid on Iranian nuclear facilities generally ignores the fact that Iran could rebuild any destroyed facilities and the attack would make the repressive clerical dictatorship wildly popular. Most Iranians oppose their government but back having nuclear weapons. The only way to deal with the danger of Iranian nukes is to get rid of the current government.
February 13, 2012: In Georgia and India terrorists, believed to be Iranian, attempted to kill Israelis with bombs that motorcyclists attached to cars via magnets. The attacks failed to kill anyone. These attacks were believed to be an Iranian attempt to get back at Israel for similar attacks against Iranian nuclear weapons specialists, which have killed several people. Israel and Iran both deny ordering these attacks.
February 12, 2012: The government accused neighboring Azerbaijan of aiding Israel in carrying out intelligence and assassination operations inside Iran. There is hostility between Iran and Azerbaijan, despite the fact that a quarter of Iranians are ethnic Azeris. While many senior officials in the Iranian government are Azeris, relations in the mainly Azeri northwest are often unpleasant for Iran. Two years ago Azerbaijan conducted a quiet prisoner swap with Iran by releasing a dozen or more Iranians (and possibly two Lebanese) jailed for attempting to blow up the Israeli embassy. Iran released an Azeri scientist jailed for espionage and two Azeri diplomats jailed for drug smuggling.
February 9, 2012: Most of Iran's 30 million email users lost access to the outside world. Iranian internet providers said it was not because of anything they had done. Later, the Iranian government denied any role in the outage as well. Email access was restored on the 13th, and no one in the government or the Internet access companies would explain why. It was believed that this was a test of the government capability to shut down email access to the outside world.
The navy announced that two more Iranian built miniature subs had joined the fleet. These tiny subs carry a pair of torpedoes and could threaten foreign warships.
February 6, 2012: The government continues its attacks on dissident media. Journalists, including bloggers, are sentenced to long prison terms. Recently, police began arresting kin of journalists working outside the country (for BBC). Such use of pressure on families is an ancient tactic in this part of the world. It often works.
February 5, 2012: The U.S. has invoked even more stringent economic sanctions on Iran. At this point, the U.S. is making it more difficult for banks to illegally help the Iranians conduct foreign trade operations. This makes it difficult for Iran to sell its oil and import things. This is causing shortages of basic items in Iran and demonstrations by Iranians demanding that their government do something about it. Nevertheless, Iran can survive sanctions. The damage hits the general population most severely. The ruling elite suffer very little.
February 4, 2012: Israel issued a public warning to Israelis traveling abroad to be wary because of the danger of Iranian terror attacks. Israeli intelligence detected Iranian preparations for such attacks but apparently not details of any specific attacks.
February 3, 2012: Another small (50 kg/110 pound) Iranian satellite was launched by an Iranian ballistic missile modified to carry a satellite instead of a warhead. This is the third time Iran has done this since 2009. These satellites are academic research efforts, not commercial grade spacecraft.