May 9, 2012: Sanctions are slowing down Iranian arms shipments to allies like Hamas, Hezbollah, and Syria but not stopping them. The Israeli efforts to halt shipments to Gaza (for Hamas and other Islamic terror groups) have been the most effective but not completely successful. The major leak here is the corruption in Egypt and the many smuggling gangs that can sneak stuff into Gaza. Attempts to make large deliveries by sea are generally thwarted but Iran keeps trying. Seaborne shipments to Shia rebels in Yemen, the Assads in Syria, as well as Hezbollah in Lebanon are more likely to succeed, despite many ships being intercepted. Iran continues to back the Syrian dictatorship in the face of a popular uprising. Iranian security specialists are providing the Syrians with effective advice (how to track down and capture or kill rebel leaders as well as how to play the UN and Western media).
The new oil industry sanctions are forcing Iran to take Chinese currency (Yuan) in payment for oil shipped to China. This is not a major problem as Iran buys a lot from China. But there is a small loss in value if some of the yuan has to be converted to dollars or euros. Worse, China is demanding major discounts in return for continued oil purchases. Since most shipping companies will no longer carry Iranian oil, Chinese firms are getting that business and charging more to haul the oil. Iran is not only receiving less for its oil but the sanctions are cutting sales, and the loss may amount to 10-20 percent of what it was last year. Combined this could cut oil revenue. Some 80 percent of Iranian exports are oil, which brings in over $100 billion a year and essentially keeps the religious dictatorship in power (via subsidies to supporters). A loss of oil revenue is the most dangerous blow possible to the current dictatorship in Iran. There is even some talk in Iran of halting the nuclear weapons effort, to provide more cash to maintain popular support for the dictatorship. This would be humiliating, but given a choice between that and a major popular uprising, the nukes might get put on hold for a while. Then again, there are a lot of shady characters in the region ready to try all sorts of illegal ploys to get Iranian oil sold, for a fee of course. The sanctions are costing Iran, the question is how much the cost will be.
President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has been largely shut down as an effective opponent to the corrupt clerics who have the ultimate power in the country. Recent elections eliminated most of Ahmadinejad's reform-minded allies in parliament. The senior clerics have veto power over anyone wanting to run for parliament (and veto power over any laws passed). Over the last year anyone believed to be pro- Ahmadinejad was not allowed to run for parliament. Ahmadinejad allies were run out of all areas of government. There's still a lot of popular anger at the corruption and mismanagement of the senior clerics but the clerics have their own army (the Revolutionary Guard) and control the secret police and courts. Moreover, half of government employees belong to the Basij
(the reservist organization of the Revolutionary Guard). This was no accident.
Since the late 1990s, the Basij has been establishing units in schools, for children of all ages. Using games, toys, and popular children's activities the kids are indoctrinated into Basij ideology (radical Islam, including the joys of being a suicide bomber). The Basij recruiters have found that their best prospects are from poor or broken families (including orphans). This was the Nazi and Soviet experience. The Romanian communist government did best at this, with their secret police (the Securitati) forming much feared units of these orphans. Recruits were selected young and raised to be remorseless and savage operatives. Called "young wolves" these operatives could be depended on to do anything for the cause. Iran is always looking for plain clothes agents, who can terrorize reform minded students and civilians in general. In the last few years more and more of these Basij operatives, now adults, have been leading the fight against reform minded Iranians, or overseas, as agents of Quds. Since Basij is largely a part-time operation many members have a full time government job. All this helps keep the growing number of unhappy Iranians in line.
The recent release of documents captured in Osama bin Laden's hideout last year revealed what had long been suspected, al Qaeda and Iran did not get along, despite having a common enemy (the West). Al Qaeda is a radical Sunni organization that considers Shia Moslems heretics (nearly all Iranians are Shia), Iran has long provided sanctuary for al Qaeda but kept them under house arrest and observation. Iran made it no secret that they wanted bin Laden dead because al Qaeda had slaughtered over 100,000 Shia in the last two decades. In that period most of al Qaeda's victims had been Moslems, most of them Shia.
Over the last few years Iran got itself involved in a public feud with al Qaeda. It began four years ago when Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad publically claimed that the September 11, 2001, attacks were a ploy by Israel or the CIA, to justify a war on Islam. A few days later an al Qaeda leader, Ayman al Zawahri, rushed out an audio tape denouncing the Iranians for casting doubt on the fact that al Qaeda had planned and carried out those attacks. Although Shia Iran and Sunni al Qaeda occasionally cooperate, they are, in fact, bitter enemies. The bin Laden documents make this clear.
In the last two weeks the computer networks at Iran's largest oil export terminal underwent a severe hacker attack. This resulted in a lot of data being stolen or erased and forced the network administrator to cut the terminal PCs off from the Internet until the mess could be cleaned up. More recently Iran declared that it knew where the attacks were coming from and was preparing to launch counterattacks via the Internet.
May 1, 2012: The U.S. Treasury Department has been ordered to publicly identify anyone breaking the sanctions on Iran and Syria and ban them from using the American financial system (including overseas). Since the U.S. financial system is such a large component of the international financial system, this order creates major headaches for any company or country targeted.
April 28, 2012: The police have launched a new crackdown on women not dressed properly (according to how police interpret Islamic law). This is unpopular but it allows the police to assert their power and terrorize people, especially women.
April 27, 2012: The general commanding the Iranian Aerospace Force claimed that if the U.S. were allowed to place anti-missile systems in Turkey the result would be Turkish children becoming sick and deformed. General Amir Ali Hajizadeh, when pressed for evidence to back this up, changed the subject.
April 24, 2012: In the northwest four soldiers were killed and eight wounded when they were ambushed by Kurdish (PEJAK) separatists.
April 22, 2012: The Lebanese government says it will not automatically attack Israel if Israel attacks Iran but will fight back if Israel attacks Lebanon. That includes responding to a Hezbollah attack on Israel. Hezbollah is financed by Iran and has declared it will attack Israel if Israel bombs Iranian nuclear weapons facilities.