Iran: Image Control

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February 17, 2008: Russia has delivered 120 tons of nuclear material for Iranian nuclear power plants. This fuel will power the first plant (producing 1,000 megawatts), which goes online this Summer. Construction on a second plan, producing 360 megawatts, has begun. Despite this, Iran has obtained and implemented a more efficient centrifuge design for producing nuclear material for nuclear weapons. This has alarmed even Russia, which has long defended Iran's claim that they are only producing nuclear fuel for power plants, not for nuclear weapons.

Sanctions have blocked the importation of equipment needed to build refineries, so most gasoline has to be imported. Gasoline rationing, which began last May, has cut sharply into the $5 billion a year the government had to pay for imported gasoline (which is sold at highly subsidized prices). This has forced many of the 7 million Iranian automobile owners to get some of their fuel from the black market, where the price is ten times higher (about $4 a gallon) compared to the subsidized, and rationed, price. This is very unpopular. So are the continuing activities of the lifestyle police, although in many parts of the country, widespread public hostility (often in the form of spontaneously forming angry mobs) have forced the lifestyle police to back off, and stay out of many neighborhoods.

Iran has opened a satellite launching center, and televised the launch of one of its larger ballistic missiles, in a test of their satellite launching capabilities. There will be two more test launches before the first attempt to put a satellite into orbit. Each rocket costs $5-10 million (depending on how the accountants allocate expenses). Iran plans to put three satellites up over the next two years. Given the rockets that Iran has, they could put satellites weighing a few hundred pounds into a low orbit (160-2,000 kilometers up). With technical help from China and Russia, Iran could build crude (by current standards) communications or photo satellites. This would provide about the same class coverage as Google Earth, but on a more timely basis. Iran could also build electronic reconnaissance satellites, but it is unlikely that Russia or China would share the technology needed to build these birds. So Iran's space program appears to be largely for propaganda purposes.

The head of Iran's Central Bank boasted that Arab banks in Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates have assisted Iran in avoiding American efforts to block Iranian access to the international banking system. Iran needs this access to maintain its smuggling effort, to bring in weapons and industrial equipment that various sanctions prevent them getting legally. The U.S. has been very active in going after Iranian offshore banking activities. This has even included secret meetings between U.S. and Iran banking officials. Despite what the Iranian banking officials say, the American banking sanctions have hurt.

The Guardian Council (the highest power in the country) continues to examine those who wish to run for parliament, and barring those they feel are unworthy. Reform-minded candidates rarely bother to apply anymore, and most of those who are rejected (about a third of the applicants) are cut because of criminal backgrounds or bad reputation in general. These are people who are willing to play along with the clerical dictatorship, but want to get in on the corrupt practices, and make some money.

Iranian support for Islamic terrorists in Iraq and Afghanistan appear to be declining. There is a dispute within the Iranian government over the wisdom of supporting Islamic terrorists, especially Sunni Arab groups like al Qaeda and the Taliban, just because they attack American troops. This strategy has backfired, because these terrorists kill mostly civilians, and often target Shia Moslems. Iran presents itself as the defender of Shia Islam, and this support for Sunni Moslem terror groups has become bad for the Iranian image.

 

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