The government announced that it had defeated an American effort to stir up a "soft revolution" among young and educated Iranians. Victory over American espionage efforts was also publicized. In both cases, the government is openly discussing what everyone knows; U.S. intelligence agencies are assisting pro-Western Iranians. The government has been making more and more arrests of suspected spies and anti-government activists. Considering the extent of the opposition to the government, the majority of these "foreign agents" are apparently not being caught.
The BBS began eight hours of satellite TV programming for Iran on January 14th. A week later, the Iranian government declared the British effort illegal, and said any Iranian viewing, or appearing on the service, or otherwise cooperating with the BBC, would be breaking a law. The BBC service provides about eight hours a day of news and cultural programs, prepared and broadcast by Iranian exiles in Britain. In Iran, the lifestyle police frequently raid homes in affluent neighborhoods, looking for illegal satellite TV equipment, videos and recorded music. But most Iranians avoid the police, and quietly enjoy their forbidden entertainment.
The most destructive influence on Iranian culture is not foreign, but local. Heroin and opium from Afghanistan cause lots of crime, and police admit that 40 percent of police prisoners are in for drug related crimes. Opium has been around for thousands of years, but the more powerful heroin is only about a century old, and highly destructive (because it's expensive, very addictive, and causes many users to drop out of society). Over five percent of Iranian adults are addicts, and the problem gets worse for those with access to oil money. The government does not allow normal entertainment to be sold, so illegal drugs flourish. So far this year, the government has officially executed 35 people, most for drug offensives. Many more are killed in battles between police and Revolutionary Guard units fighting heavily armed drug gangs. The border with Afghanistan, at least in those areas where smugglers like to operate, looks like a war zone.
The 22 day war between Hamas and Israel intensified the animosity between Iran and the Arab world. Egypt and Saudi Arabia united in accusing Iran of supplying and instigating Hamas to make hopeless and self-destructive attacks on Israel. The Arab states believe Hamas is more interested in conquering Arab countries, than in destroying Israel.
The most potent weapon Iran has in Lebanon and Gaza is cash. Large quantities (tens of millions of dollars a month) are smuggled into Gaza and Lebanon. There, the cash is distributed to people who support, or might support, these Islamic radical organizations. The leaders of Hamas and Hezbollah are regularly seen in Iran's capital, conferring with Iranian leaders and receiving their orders (or strongly worded requests). Iran used to make a big deal about giving out this cash, but has gone dark on the subject over the past few years. As economic conditions worse in Iran, the idea of handing out Iranian cash to foreigners has not been popular back home. The economic crises, brought about by the need to support a large number of government employees (whose main qualification is loyalty to the clerics who control the government, and the oil revenue), and the low price for oil, keeps getting worse. The government propagandists keep inventing new stories of victories (like the invention of new, although mythical, weapons) or successful efforts to smash enemies of the state (Iranians jailed for being American spies, drug dealers and rapists executed) to divert peoples attention. But most Iranians are more concerned with getting by economically, than in how to overthrow the government.
In the last three years, the government has arrested 46 women for taking part in collecting a million signatures on a petition seeking legislation that eliminates, or does not impose, discrimination on women. The government finds this kind of activism objectionable and illegal. It's not Islamic.
January 29, 2009: The Iranian cargo ship Egypt searched in the Red Sea, has now been searched in Cyprus, and the government there is under pressure to seize the artillery shells and other weapons as material in violation of UN resolution 1747.
January 19, 2009: At the request of the U.S. Navy, Egypt forced an Iranian ship headed towards the Suez canal, to pull into an Egyptian port and be searched. Weapons were found, but these were artillery shells, not the rockets and explosives believed headed for Hamas in Gaza. Apparently the weapons were intended for Syria or Hezbollah in Lebanon, not Hamas. The ship was released, moved through the canal, and was stopped again in Cyprus. This incident apparently was intended to remind Iran that they can no longer send shiploads of weapons around unmolested. Egypt says it will seize weapons apparently headed for Gaza. Iran has indicated that it wants to provide Hamas with larger (telephone pole size) Fajr rockets, with a range of 50 kilometers. This would put most of Israels population at risk. There is a UN resolution (1747) that prohibits Iran from exporting weapons. The exact wording of the resolution is; " Decides that Iran shall not supply, sell or transfer directly or indirectly from its territory or by its nationals or using its flag vessels or aircraft any arms or related materiel, and that all States shall prohibit the procurement of such items from Iran by their nationals, or using their flag vessels or aircraft, and whether or not originating in the territory of Iran. " The U.S. and Egypt are using 1747 as a license to mess with Iranian efforts to export weapons to its terrorist customers.