November 29, 2013:
Iran now has a deal with the UN and the West to end the sanctions. But it’s a preliminary deal which both provides Iran some financial relief (up to $10 billion in additional income) and six months to both prove it can be relied on to keep its word and to work out the details of a permanent deal. If the negotiations succeed, Iran would be freed from the harsh 2012 sanctions that cut its oil income by more than half and created much economic hardship within Iran. The income loss also made it more difficult for Iran to support its undeclared war against the rest of the world. This support has been particularly expensive in Syria, where Iran must spend over a billion dollars a month to keep the Assad government and the Lebanese Hezbollah militia alive. If Iran can continue this support long enough, the Assads have a chance of defeating the rebels, or at least keeping the Assad government going in part of Syria and Hezbollah secure in Lebanon.
In return for this economic relief Iran agrees to halt enrichment of uranium above 3.5 percent level required for power plant fuel and to dilute its supply of 20 percent (and anything above 5 percent) enriched uranium down to below 5 percent. Iran will dismantle most of its 18,000 centrifuges (which are used to enrich uranium) and allow UN inspectors access to all nuclear facilities. Finally, Iran will halt work on its nuclear reactor (at Arak) designed to produce plutonium (which, like enriched uranium, can be used for nuclear weapons). Already Iranian officials are waffling on just how much work will be halted at Arakr, and it remains to be seen if Iran will try to deceive nuclear inspectors. It’s going to be an interesting six months because many Iranian conservatives openly talk of using this deal as a means to deceive the UN and the West into lifting the oil sales and other economic sanctions. But many of the sanctions are for non-nuclear Iranian misbehavior.
While the Iranians
are making like they are
willing to give ground on their nuclear weapons program, Iran is still a brutal police state that has become more violent in the last few years, and there has been no easing up on the brutal treatment of those who oppose the religious dictatorship.
Iran is still a major supporter of international terrorism and subversion, and that’s something the Iranians are even more reluctant to halt.
Everyone involved with the current nuclear negotiations remembers the 1990s nuclear disarmament deal with North Korea that was sabotaged by the North Koreans who managed to continue work on a plutonium reactor while halting uranium enrichment. North Korea eventually admitted, and even boasted, of the scam and eventually built nuclear weapons. These are not very effective nukes and North Korea is still being pressured to halt their nuclear weapon development work. North Korea continues refusing to do that. For a decade now Iran has been making deals to halt nuclear fuel enrichment and then backing away from actual implementation. That’s how Iran ended up under more and more sanctions over the years. There is a lot of skepticism that the current deal will be more of the same.
There are already reports from Iranian opposition groups that there are secret Iranian nuclear facilities. Western and Israeli intel agencies also have their lists of suspected nuclear sites. In the next six months a lot of those suspect sites will be checked out.
One must also remember that nuclear weapons are very popular with the Iranian public. Most Iranians are still resentful of how diminished Iranian power and influence has become in the last century. Iran has long been the regional superpower, keeping Romans, Turks, and the West in general out of Iran, if not the surrounding area. Many Iranians still yearn for regional domination.
The Arab states quietly accepted the Iran nuclear peace deal. The Arabs appreciate a reduction in tensions and the less belligerent attitude by Iran. But at the same time the Arabs fear that this deal does not change the long term goals of Iran, which includes taking control of Arabia and the Moslem holy places there. Iranian conservatives are still talking about this and Arabs have always considered Iran a long-term threat because that is what Iran has been for thousands of years. The oil wealth only became large scale in the 1970s, with the establishment of OPEC (the oil cartel that could maintain higher prices). At that point Iran (then ruled by a secular monarch) began talking about controlling all the oil in the region. That attitude survived the 1979 revolution that put a religious dictatorship in place. Arabs wish the shah (Iranian emperor) were back in power because the West was much more effective at controlling a secular Iran. Now it’s about money and religion and the Arabs have a bad feeling about this.
Israel is even less optimistic about this deal with Iran. Israel believes that Iran already has sufficient enriched uranium for five bombs and is still working on the electro-mechanical aspects of a nuclear weapon. While the basic technology for nukes is well known, actually implementing it is a difficult engineering task. North Korea has had, and continues to have, problems with this. Israel points out that Iranian leaders have openly discussed using their nukes against Israel. This sounds insane, but when the leaders of a religious dictatorship openly discuss stuff like this you have to pay attention. Israel pays closer attention than anyone else because they are the only country Iranians have discussed nuking. That is not going to happen anytime soon because first Iran has to successfully test a workable design and then spend a few years tweaking that design so it is small enough and sufficiently robust to work in the warhead of a missile. Iran would need over a dozen working warheads and launch all of them at once at Israel because Israel has a working anti-missile defense system. An Iranian nuke can only get through if there are a lot of them fired at once. Of course the Israelis also have nukes and have promised to use them against Iran if such an attack is attempted. Many nations don’t believe the senior Iranian leadership would actually try such a nuclear attack. But if you are the intended target you tend to take the threat more seriously than nations who are not.
Iraq responded enthusiastically to the news of the Iranian agreement. Iraq does not want a more unstable neighbor to the east. Even without that, Iraq has growing problems with Iran. Despite its own cash flow problems at home, Iran continues to supply crucial support for the Assad government and those efforts are succeeding. Iran expects Iraq to, at the very least, not get in the way. Iran has not put a lot of Iranians into Syria, but there is a constant supply of cash (in the form of dollars and euros), very effective military, security and other advisors, and some equipment and weapons. The cash and personnel tend to arrive by air on several night flights a week from Iran. These flights cross Iraq, which tries to pretend they don’t exist but American radars can spot these flights. American complaints to Iraq about this continue to have no effect. There is still a lot of trade between Iran and Iraq and some of the trucks from Iran continue all the way to Syria. This is a dangerous route because western Iraq (Anbar province) is largely Sunni and full of Islamic terrorists. The government has nearly 30,000 police and soldiers in Anbar and thousands of men in pro-government militias. This is keeping al Qaeda from taking over Anbar and the violence there is increasing. Many local Sunnis are supporting the government, if only to reduce the violence and economic disruption. Iraq wants Iran to defeat the Sunni rebels in Iran and wants it done sooner rather than later. Iraq can be expected to help Iran anyway it can in the coming six months.
Despite the agreement on Iranian nuclear weapons, the Syrian rebels refuse to attend peace talks.
That’s because easing the sanctions against Iran means the Iranians can continue to supply the Assad government with cash and mercenaries and further delay rebel victory. The Assads now believe they can win and that victory will come in 2014. With the help of Russia and Iran the Assads have been successful in depicting the rebellion as an effort by al Qaeda to establish a new base in Syria. That scares the West. While this al Qaeda threat is real, the Islamic terrorist groups are a small part of the rebel force and often more disruptive than helpful to the rebel cause. The Assads see the rebel lack of unity and coordination as an opportunity to put down the rebellion. To this end the government is deliberately making life miserable for pro-rebel civilians (the majority of Syrians) and has succeeded in driving most of them out of the country or their homes or cutting their living standards considerably. The UN estimates that over 9 million Syrians (40 percent of the population) are in need of food and other aid. A third of these people are still in their homes but cut off from food and other supplies. This is largely the result of a deliberate Assad strategy of cutting pro-rebel populations off from supplies. The goal is to make continued rule by the Assads preferable to supporting the rebels. Lately the government has been making progress, aided by a foreign army of Shia fanatics organized (and paid for) by Iran and continued supplies of weapons from Russia. Iran also provides a lot of cash to keep the pro-Assad civilians living much better than the pro-rebel civilians. This sends a message, which more and more pro-rebel civilians are noticing. Turkey has got the message and is now urging the rebels to talk terms because, between the rebel lack of unity and all the Iranian aid, prospects are bleak for the rebels.
November 26, 2013: A Swiss oilfield services company (Weatherford International) will pay a $100 million fine for violating sanctions against Iran, Sudan, and Cuba. The company will also allow more intense auditing of its business in the future to prevent any repeat violations of the sanctions. All three countries are willing to pay extra for oil services companies willing to violate the sanctions.
November 24, 2013: Iran and the UN agreed to an interim nuclear disarmament deal.
November 20, 2013: The Iraqi al Mukhtar Army militia, a pro-Iran group, fired six mortar shells into Saudi Arabia, a few hundred meters from a major Saudi oil field. An al Mukhtar Army leader said this was a warning to Saudi Arabia, which is believed to be supporting Sunni Islamic terrorist groups in Syria and Lebanon. This particular warning comes two days after a Sunni terror group set off a bomb near the Iranian embassy in Lebanon.
November 18, 2013: In Lebanon local al Qaeda Islamic terrorists set off two bombs near the Iranian embassy killing at least 23 people and wounding many more.
One of the dead was an Iranian diplomat.
While the bombers did not get into the compound they blew out the façade of the main building. Iran accused Israel for making the attack happen
but a local group (the Abdullah Azzam Brigades), affiliated with al Qaeda, later took credit