November 26, 2012: Turkey has admitted that the huge (over six billion dollars worth so far this year) increase in gold exports to Iran is the result of Iran accepting gold instead of dollars for gas and oil exported to Turkey. The July sanctions not only prohibit buying Iranian oil but also sending dollars to Iran. This gold deal is one of many measures Iran is offering to trading partners to enable Iran to keep exporting and importing. It’s not enough. Steel imports are down over 20 percent this year, as are other construction materials. Even getting out of Iran gets more expensive, with prices of air flights out of the country raised 90 percent because the government stopped subsidizing the cost of aircraft fuel (which must be imported). While the growing sanctions have interfered with Iran getting what it wants and raised the price, the Iranians have been resourceful and willing to pay whatever it costs. Iran believes that once it has nuclear weapons it can intimidate other nations, especially neighbors, into helping Iran more to get around all these sanctions.
Iran has increased oil exports to China, Japan, and South Korea. These are traditional customers for Iranian oil and have been granted some extra time to find other suppliers. Iran is trying to hold on to these customers by finding other ways (than using dollars) to pay for the oil and offering lower prices for the crude. This sort of thing violates the new sanctions but China is expected to ignore international censure and make oil deals with Iran if the price is right. The new sanctions came into force in July, and for August and September oil shipments fell from 2.6 million barrels a day to one million a day. But last month the aggressive efforts to arrange illegal sales have increased shipments to 1.3 million barrels a day.
There are growing problems with internal unrest, and it’s not all about lifestyle rules and unemployment. About half the Iranian population are non-Iranian (an Indo-European group). That is not always a problem. A quarter of Iranians are Turks (Azeris) but they are Shia and prominent in the religious leadership (that actually rules Iran). The Kurds (ten percent of the population) are another matter because, although they are also Indo-European, they are Sunni and have come under increasing persecution for that since the Shia religious dictatorship took control of the country in the 1980s. Iranians became Shia over a thousand years ago and retained those beliefs despite constant pressure from the Arab-led Sunni majority. This was seen as an Iranian effort to be unique in the Moslem world and provide a basis for Iranians, not the Arabs, being leaders of the Islamic world. Until a century ago, the Turks had thwarted this effort, and since then Western powers, seeking to maintain peace in the Persian Gulf (for the benefit of the oil trade), have contained Iranian expansion plans. Most Iranians consider Iran deserving of more power and respect than it actually receives from the rest of the world. Having nuclear weapons is seen as an important part of a remedy for this lack of respect. Iranian aggression is a combination of ethnic and religious pride and memories of lost power and glory. It’s an old story in human history, here played out using Islamic terrorism and the threat of nuclear weapons to make people pay attention.
Over the last few months the government has declared war on Iranians using Facebook. Several Iranians have been arrested for illegal activities on Facebook (posting material the government did not like) and one of those arrested died in jail. That incident led to an unprecedented order from a judge for an investigation of the circumstances of the death. Facebook is very popular in Iran and the judicial system (run by the Islamic clerics who rule Iran) is not. Many lawyers and judges agree that the judicial system is often misused by clergy to persecute innocent Iranians.
Iran has protested NATO nations sending Patriot missile batteries to Turkey, to help guard the Syrian border from Syrian warplanes that have made threatening moves against NATO member Turkey. Iran wants to save its long-time ally, the Assad family, which has ruled Syria since the 1960s. While Iran has kept its support (cash and security equipment and advisors) low key, the rebels are aware of it and post-Assad Syria will be very anti-Iran.
Israel has leaked reports that its spy satellites have spotted an Iranian ship being loaded with long-range missiles of the kind (Fajr 3 and 5) recently used by Hamas against Israel. Ships like this usually go to Sudan, where the Fajr missile components are unloaded and smuggled into Egypt (past corrupt police) and into Gaza. There the Fajr rockets are reassembled. Israel has been more aggressive in attacking the smuggling and this particular leak is seen as a warning that Israel will now go after the Iranian ship and sink it before it can deliver its cargo.
November 25, 2012: The president of Lebanon sent a letter to the president of Iran, complaining about Iran recently launching a UAV from Lebanese territory and sending it into Israel without informing the Lebanese government beforehand. This was a brave act for a Lebanese politician. Last month a
bomb went off in a Christian neighborhood in the Lebanese capital, killing a senior security official (and seven others) who was openly anti-Syria (as well as anti-Assad and anti-Iran). This killing angered many Lebanese who are still bitter about decades of Syrian interference in Lebanese affairs. Hezbollah has long used non-Shia allies, as well as Syrian agents, to carry out attacks on political rivals. Iran is believed to have approved the attack, as they do any major Hezbollah operation. Iranian media blamed Israel and the U.S. for the attack, which is a normal reaction in Iran (which blames Israel and the United States for the rebellion in Syria). Most Iranians consider it their right (and responsibility), as the regional superpower to interfere in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, and anywhere else in the area. What Iranians do not like is their government spending a lot of money on these operations. The billions spent to prop up Hezbollah in Lebanon and the Assad dictatorship in Syria is not popular at all.
The head of Hezbollah promised to open fire on Israel if Lebanon was attacked and declared the recent eight days of rocket attacks by Hamas against Israel a great victory. Five Israelis were killed although most Hezbollah rockets were intercepted before they could hit inhabited areas. Over a thousand smart bombs and missiles were used against Hamas personnel and weapons facilities in Gaza, killing 160 Palestinians (most of them Hamas members) and destroying most of the Hamas rocket stockpile. Israel has said it would attack Lebanon if Hezbollah attacked Israel. In response to that, Lebanese troops and police constantly search for, and halt, any efforts by non-Hezbollah terrorist groups to launch rockets into Israel. Hezbollah fears that the non-Shia Lebanese politicians (particularly the Christians, who are over 40 percent of the population) are secretly in touch with Israel and will work with Israel if Hezbollah again launches rockets against Israel.
November 23, 2012: The government lifted a recent ban on imports of cars, cell phones, and computers. Luxury automobiles are still banned.
November 21, 2012: In New Delhi, India an Iranian researcher, visiting for an academic conference, was arrested and questioned after being seen twice trying to take many photos of the Israeli embassy.
The head of the Revolutionary Guard admitted that Iran has supplied Hamas with long range missile technology. When Hamas began firing long range missiles at Israel on the 15th, Iran denied that these came from Iran. But then Hamas openly thanked Iran for the Fajr 3 and Fajr 5 missiles. These have a range of 43 and 70 kilometers respectively and were smuggled into Gaza as small components and then reassembled with the assistance of Iranian technical advisors. This was all widely known but Iran sought to officially deny it, until now. For three decades Iran has been a major sponsor and supporter of Islamic terrorism but has always tried to maintain the illusion that it is actually opposed to Islamic terrorism. While Iran often has a difficult time denying it exports weapons to Islamic terror groups (like Hamas), it has been more successful in keeping quiet the extent to which it finances Islamic terror groups. But inside Iran the fact that over a billion dollars in cash is given to foreign terrorist groups each year is a hot topic. Many Iranians are poor, and they don’t like these handouts to foreigners.
November 20, 2012: Iran’s supreme leader (senior cleric Ayatollah Ali Khamenei) ordered parliament to halt its plans to question president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad about the economic crises resulting from the new international sanctions. Such an interrogation is unprecedented and Khamenei apparently believed that it might generate information that could harm Iran.
November 18, 2012: Iran hosted a conference to try and achieve peace in Syria. There were no representatives from the Syrian rebels in attendance, so the conference was just another effort to prop up the Assad dictatorship.
November 16, 2012: The UN IAEA
(International Atomic Energy Agency) reported Iran had increased production of enriched uranium by 23 percent from August to November 10th. IAEA believes the enrichment is for power plant grade uranium but might include further enrichment for nuclear weapons.
Natural uranium is only about one percent fissile (explosive) material. It must be enriched to 20-40 percent to be used in a nuclear power
plant and up to 85 percent for nuclear weapons. You can still build a low-power nuclear weapon with uranium enriched to lower levels (down to 20-30 percent). Iran denied that it was producing weapons grade uranium and claimed that the IAEA team has found traces of uranium that was accidentally enriched just a bit too much. IAEA believes Iran is deliberately enriching uranium to weapons grade levels and trying to hide this. IAEA believes the new sanctions are not slowing down Iranian work on nuclear weapons and that Iran is in the process of greatly increasing its enrichment efforts.
November 14, 2012: The government announced a successful test of the new Shalamche anti-aircraft missile. This is the latest development in the Iranian effort to use rebuilt American HAWK anti-aircraft missile systems. The first of these Iranian systems entered service two years ago. HAWK has been in service for half a century and Iran received them in the 1970s. Although the U.S. stopped using HAWK in the 1990s, many other nations still do, providing Iranian smugglers ample opportunities to obtain parts and tech for the Iranian version.