Iran: Spin This


December 7,2008: While the population, largely unhappy with three decades of religious dictatorship, is not rebellious, it is becoming a lot more unruly. The lifestyle police continue to struggle against women dressing provocatively (that is, by modest Western standards), illegal (locally made) alcohol consumption, people who do not pray,  and Internet users who say what they think. The women, drinkers, impious and bloggers are being arrested, in selective cases, to try and intimidate everyone else. But it isn't working, and never has. The people become bolder and more unruly.

Iran is attempting to censor what the 21 million Iranian web users can access. Using China as a model, Iran is importing special software and training "Internet Police" to make it all work. Iran is particularly incensed with bloggers, and has accused some of them of being spies. Iran is particularly angry about Iranian bloggers that point out the reality of the armed forces, and the incompetence of civil servants. The military is generally a sham, with poor equipment, training and leadership. This is very contrary to the government propaganda, which regularly announces new weapons (which are never actually seen in action) and military exercises (which are mainly propaganda events, with little training value.)

Meanwhile, Iran tries to use the media, both at home and internationally, to push its warped view of reality. Internally, this is ignored by the majority of the 70 million Iranians. But a significant minority (20-30 percent of the population) does eat it up, and provides essential support for the dictatorship. Externally, IRNA (Iran Republic News Agency) is largely a joke, providing fodder for speculation about what the Iranian spin masters are trying to do.

This year, there has been marked increase in announcements of new high tech weapon systems. The systems described are usually mockups, prototypes or imaginary. Iran does produce weapons that work, but these are simple things like rifles, mortars, unguided rockets and some licensed stuff (missiles, rockets) from China and North Korea. Iran has scientists and engineers, but not many (the religious dictatorship is not kind to anything modern, and most Iranian professionals have fled to the West). A lot of these Iranian "new weapons" appear to use students, and recent graduates, for the technical work. Lots of inspiration, but little that can be built and function reliably. The best Iranian technical talent are working on ballistic missiles and nuclear weapons. Both of these projects are using lots of technology imported from China and North Korea.

While Iran makes a lot of noise about the need for Israel to be destroyed, Israeli intelligence officials (from the Mossad, and other agencies) have successfully conducted a global media and information campaign to make it clear that Iran was trying to build nuclear weapons, and where the components and technology was coming from (especially Western firms that were helping out illegally). All this may not stop Iran from building a nuclear weapon, but it is certainly delaying it considerably. This gives Iran yet another reason to dislike Israel.

Pretty much out of sight, a most crucial war is being fought to cripple the Iranian smuggling operation that supplies their weapons programs, especially nuclear weapons. For the last five years, the U.S. has been systematically cutting Iran off from the international banking system. This has forced Iran to engage in more illegal access to banking services. This puts Iran's money at risk, as funds can be seized when illegal transactions are detected. Iran has also used the banking system to support terrorist operations (currently for Hamas in Gaza, Hezbollah in Lebanon and several groups in places like Somalia, Iraq and Afghanistan), and this makes Iranian bankers even more vulnerable.

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has recently remarked that the country could survive if the price of oil went below $10 a barrel. Now, as expected, he has admitted that the country is in big trouble with the price of oil under $40 (down from over $140 earlier this year.)  Government officials have earlier said that if the price of oil fell below $60 a barrel (which it has) and stays there (which it may, at least until the current recession is over), the nation will not be able to finance foreign trade (which is already having problems with increasingly effective U.S. moves to deny Iran access to the international banking system), or even the Iranian economy itself. The latter problem is largely self-inflicted, as president Ahmadinejad desperately borrows money to placate his few (heavily armed and fanatical) followers (about 20 percent of the population). The rest of the population has been in recession for years, and is getting increasingly angry over Ahmadinejad's mismanagement. Some 80 percent of Iran's exports are oil. Ahmadinejad is being openly blamed for squandering oil revenue when the price of oil was high. This created high inflation (nearly 30 percent) and unemployment (over 20 percent). Now, the falling price of oil will make things worse.

In the north, fighting with Kurdish separatists continues. In addition to patrols, the Revolutionary Guards regularly use artillery to hit locations believed occupied by armed Kurds. Sometimes the shells land across the border in Iraq, and most of the casualties are civilians. A similar war goes on in the southeast, where Baluchi tribesmen battle border police, regular police and revolutionary guards who try to keep smugglers from moving heroin, opium and consumer goods across the border from Pakistan. So far this month, over three dozen Baluchi have been killed, and in the last month, Iranian security officials have arrested nearly a thousand Baluchis. Armed Baluchi groups base themselves across the border in Pakistan (which refuses to crack down on this). The Baluchi separatists have recently enraged Iranians by killing 16 Iranian policemen, who were captured last June, and held to try and obtain the release of jailed Baluchis. The Iranians refused.

November 30, 2008: The government has tried and condemned to death three Sunni college students, for the bombing of a Shia mosque last April. This is part of the long (centuries) term battle with Baluchi tribesmen in the southeast. The Baluchi (similar to the Pushtun tribes to the north) are Sunni, and thus have ethnic and religious reasons to be hostile to the Shia Iranians.

November 18, 2008: The navy has opened its fourth naval base in the Persian Gulf, near the port town of Asalouya. This base is opposite the U.S. naval base in Bahrain, and about 400 kilometers west of the Straits of Hormuz. The Iranian navy is a ramshackle affair, hobbled by poor administration, three decades of arms embargos and the need to make themselves look stronger than they really are. The navy has three Russian Kilo class subs (plus five smaller ones built in Iran or bought from North Korea), six large surface ships (four frigates and two corvettes), 40 missile boats and over 300 smaller patrol boats (usually armed with a couple of guys carrying assault rifles and RPGs).  


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