Iran: Toxic Priorities

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July 18, 2023: Iran is losing influence inside Iraq. This is mainly because Iran is ruled by a religious dictatorship that condones aggressive interference in neighboring countries. Iraq has long been the main recipient of this meddling. Iran has long sought more economic and political influence in Iraq. This is made easier by Iraq’s internal problems from corruption. Historically what is now known as Iraq was seen as the most corrupt region in the Middle East, if not the world. Despite that, a growing number of formerly pro-Iran Iraqis have changed their minds. The current Iranian government has been an economic, diplomatic and military disaster for Iran. Few Iraqis want to emulate Iran and this now includes Iraqi members of pro-Iran militias. To encourage and maintain these pro-Iran attitudes, the Iranians supplied militiamen with weapons and regular cash payments. Growing economic problems inside Iran has reduced the money needed to keep those Iraqi militiamen loyal so they aren’t. Iraqis were also put off by the brutality Iran used to suppress the “hijab protests” that began nearly a year ago and only began to diminish earlier this year. Iranians are angry about continued economic problems and increased economic sanctions imposed on Iran because of its support for Russia in the Ukraine War and continued heavy spending to support Iranian violence in Syria and Iraq. Most of the Iranian troublemaking is in Syria. The situation in Iraq is more difficult for Iran because the obvious targets are the American troops still in Iraq and foreigners in general. Iraqis appreciate the American presence because it is mainly about going after Islamic terrorists and Iran-sponsored violence. Another important difference is that Iraq is undergoing reconstruction. There are no economic sanctions om Iraq and the oil revenue is being spent on projects inside the country. This provides jobs and other benefits for Iraqis. Iranian-sponsored violence is not appreciated.

Protecting Shipping

In the Persian Gulf, the United States is sending F-16 and F-35 fighters to join the F-22s and A-10s already there. These aircraft respond to new Iranian attempts to seize commercial ships in the Gulf and outside the entrance to the Gulf. area. Iran considers these seizures as compensation for the economic sanctions imposed on Iran. Earlier in 2023 (April in May) Iran succeeded in seizing two ships. Since then, the United States has reinforced its naval and air forces in the Persian Gulf and adjacent Gulf of Oman. This has prevented any more seizures but has not stopped Iranian attempts using their ships or helicopters to hand armed men on the tanker deck. Smuggling ships are still liable to seizure by the Iranians because these ships cannot make a distress call without risking seizure by their rescuers. The smuggling ships tend to be private operations by criminal organizations. Iranian forces have been going after commercial ships more since 2021. In 2023 the seizure attempts often involved violence or a realistic threat of violence. The Iranians have escalated like this before and Western nations have learned to respond quickly and shoot back. Jet warplanes are the quickest way to respond and the Iranian air force has nothing to deal with this. Russia was supposed to send 30 or more Su-35 fighters to Iran in payment for weapons and munitions Iran has sent to Russian forces in Ukraine. It is unclear why Russia has not delivered the Su-35s yet. Iran is one of Russia’s few allies and they would use the Su-35s in the Gulf.

Iran has supplied Russia with more and more military equipment, weapons and munitions for use in Ukraine. These sales have included Iranian-made Mohajer-6 UAVs (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles). Since 2021 Iran has been offering Mohajer-6 to potential export customers seeking a reasonably priced armed UAV. Mohajer-6 is similar to older Israeli Heron UAVs but equipped to carry four small laser-guided missiles or smart (GPS guided) bombs. The Mohajer line of UAVs first appeared in the 1990s and were crude by comparison with Western, especially Israeli and American, UAVs. Iran could not find foreign customers willing to buy these early models but they were accepted and used by foreigners that received Iranian weapons to be used against Israel or other enemies of Iran. Mohajer-6 was different and Iran sought to present this UAV as a cheaper alternative to Chinese armed-UAVS. Iran also continues to deplete its artillery ammunition inventory in order to supply Russia. The latest deal involves 14,000 152mm shells for D20 towed howitzers, 10,000 high-explosive shells for T-72 tank guns as well as two replacement barrels for the T-72 tank and two replacement barrels for the 122mm D30 towed howitzers. These guns and ammo are sold to Russia, and not at a discount. Russia needs more artillery and shells for its big guns. Iran is one of the few foreign suppliers available to Russia.

July 17, 2023: The corruption by the clerics who run, or just support, the government has grown as the economic problems most Iranians must endure have increased. The clergy are more blatant with their corrupt practices. This is made possible by putting clergy in charge of many economic activities and charitable organizations. Clergy now often do their stealing openly and without apology. The religious dictatorship still has the support of its IRGC (Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps). Ayatollah Khamenei, is the senior cleric on the Guardians Council that is the final authority in the government. Twelve senior clerics on the council have ruled Iran since the 1980s. Tenure on the council is for life. Iran is also a democracy, but the Guardians Council decides who can, or cannot, run for office. The elected officials run the government and pass laws that regulate the government and economy. The IRGC was created to protect the Guardians Council from internal and external threats. Earlier in 2023 the council met with IRGC commanders to discuss accusations of mismanagement in the government, the poor state of the economy and growing shortages of cash for the IRGC to operate and support foreign operations. The IRGC saw corruption as the main reason for the poor state of the economy and growing discontent among Iranians.

Weeks after this meeting there were calls for a national referendum on whether to maintain the Islamic Republic and the Guardians Council dictatorship. An alternative solution would be the Guardians Council agreeing to adopt a new constitution that would satisfy enough Iranians to avoid a civil war. Many Iranian leaders believe that an uprising is possible if the religious dictatorship does nothing or tries to suppress this movement with violence. That kind of suppression is not as convincing as in the past and members of the religious establishment and some IRGC leaders openly express concern that an uprising was possible and whoever wins, Iran loses. So far, a majority of the Guardians Council opposes any concessions. IRGC leaders are also less eager to oppose any concessions. Many IRGC leaders are closer to the protests and have a better sense of how angry Iranians are and how far most Iranians are willing to go. The IRGC is not large enough to take on most Iranians and many individual IRGC men are not willing to slaughter a lot of fellow Iranians to keep corrupt religious and IRGC leaders in power. The senior IRGC commanders are more belligerent in their support of whatever the Guardians Council wants and threaten those who openly oppose the Guardians Council with violent retribution.

July 16, 2023: In the north (Gilan province) the lifestyle police tried to enforce a new, stricter hijab law by arresting three women who were out in public without the mandatory hijab hair covering. A crowd promptly formed and prevented the arrests. Most Iranians are not intimidated by the brutality their government used to suppress the “hijab protests” that began in September 2022 and only began to diminish earlier this year, largely because the government had jailed thousands of protestors and executed a few. Iranians are angry about continued economic problems and increased economic sanctions imposed on Iran because of its support for Russia in the Ukraine War and continued heavy spending to support Iranian violence in Syria and Iraq. Most of the Iranian troublemaking is in Syria while some of it is at home where the government (a religious dictatorship) puts a priority on forcing women to cover their hair in public. The government revived the use of the lifestyle (or “morality”) police today and that did not provide the reaction the government hoped for. Iranians are increasingly hostile towards and resistant to government intimidation efforts.

July 15, 2023: The economic situation keeps getting worse. While the government admits to an inflation rate of about 50 percent. Most Iranians consider that unrealistic because many Iranians keep track of prices and know that many food items have doubled in price over the last year. The real inflation rate is closer to 60 percent and rising. Most Iranians no longer trust the government when it comes to improving the economy. That means many Iranians seek to obtain dollars for their savings and major purposes. The dollar is far more stable than the Iranian rial. The declining value of the rial and increase in prices is a major factor in the growing poverty rate. At the start of 2022 more than half the population was visibly living below the poverty line, even though the official poverty rate was about 40 percent. A year later the poverty rate is over 50 percent. Another visible sign of economic distress is the decline in value for the local currency versus the dollar and the subsequent overall inflation. The situation has gotten a lot worse in the last few years. For example, in 2019 it cost 120,000 rials to buy a dollar. That led to a new currency, the toman, which meant the exchange rate was 12 toman to the dollar. The toman was what some Iranian currency was called for a long time, until 1925. The revival of the toman was necessary because people needed too many rials to purchase basic goods. Many Iranians still use the term. The exchange rate has recently gotten a lot worse. In 2020 you need over 26 tomans to buy a dollar. Currently it costs 55 toman and despite strenuous efforts the government cannot reduce that rate and keep it low. The government spent a lot of dollars trying to reduce the exchange and seemed to succeed in November but the Americans increased restrictions on dollars headed for Iran and the Iranian efforts could not handle that. A decade ago, a dollar could be had for 3.2 toman, currently it's closer to 12 toman. The current foreign exchange crisis is largely due to exporters of non-oil goods keeping about half the money they receive in banks outside the country. That was in response to government efforts to enforce a fixed exchange rate that made life worse for businesses and consumers. Avoiding that is a good business decision because that money is safer from government corruption if it is kept in foreign banks. Many Iranians with jobs prefer to keep their savings in dollars, even if that is illegal and local banks cannot be used. Because of their corruption and economic incompetence, the religious dictatorship feels more threatened by their subjects than by any external threat.

July 14, 2023: Iran has agreed to create electricity transmission networks built through Azerbaijan to Russia. This link enables Russia and Iran to export surplus electricity to each other. Peak consumption for Russia occurs in the winter, while peak consumption for Iran occurs in the summer.

July 12, 2023: Israel accused Iran of attempting to carry out an attack on the Israeli embassy in Baku, the Azerbaijan capital. For years Iran has been attempting to arrange attacks on Israeli embassies worldwide, but particularly in the region. It wasn’t until last year that Iranian neighbor Azerbaijan finally decided to open an embassy in Israel. This came after three decades of economic and military cooperation, mainly against Iran. Azerbaijan is an oil-rich Moslem majority nation that was, until 1991, part of the Soviet Union. Azerbaijan has purchased several billion dollars’ worth of weapons from Israel since independence.

July 10, 2023: Russia agreed with its Arab Gulf State allies that the UAE is justified in disputing ownership of three islands in the Persian Gulf that are currently occupied by Iran. Russia is currently seeking to maintain good relations with Iran and the Arab Gulf states. Openly choosing sides in the three islands dispute proved to be a mistake. For over fifty years Iran has defended its possession of three disputed islands in the Persian Gulf. The United Arab Emirates (UAE) persists in disputing possession of three islands (Greater Tunb, Lesser Tunb and Abu Musa), which Iran seized by force in 1971, and refuses to give back. Iran ignores the fact that Arabs live on the islands and would rather be ruled by Arabs. A few percent of Iranians are Arabs and they are not treated well. This annoys Arabs in general, but also makes it clear that Iran does not fear Arabs and continues to strive for domination of the Moslem world. This, most Arabs see as blasphemous because Iran is run by Shia clerics, a Moslem sect considered heretical by many Sunnis. Some 80 percent of Moslems are Sunni, and the Arabs running Saudi Arabia are extremely Sunni. By making some provocative statements about the disputed islands, a media storm is generated in the Arab world, blocking out discussion of anything else Iran is doing, for a while anyway. Basing more patrol boats on the disputed islands provides more targets in the event of a war over the islands. The Arab states on the west coast of the Gulf have been able to build up a much stronger air force that Iran possesses, but Arabs still fear Iran because the Iranians have been beating Arabs in battle for thousands of years. Reputation and track record does count for something.

July 11, 2023: In southeast Asia (Indonesia) an Iranian supertanker was seized by the Indonesian navy after the Iranian ship had earlier been spotted transferring portions of the oil cargo to foreign tankers who were buying the Iranian oil cheap and combining it with oil from other nations to prevent the Iranian oil from being identified by its unique chemical signature. These transfers have to take place at sea and local navies and coast guards will usually seize the tankers involved. These transfers often leave behind some spilled oil that is bad for the local fishing boats as well as fouling beaches.

July 8, 2023: Iran executed two Afghan men by hanging. The two were convicted of participating in the 2022 attack on a Shia shrine in the city of Shiraz in southern Iran. The attack killed 13 pilgrims and wounded over 40 more. Police quickly captured the two Afghan attackers alive.

In the southeast, near the Pakistan border, three gunmen and a suicide bomber attacked a police station. All the attackers were killed as well as two policemen.

July 5, 2023: Iran has increased its illegal oil exports by offering a 37 percent discount to steady customers. If you’re willing to deal with the hassles of obtaining smuggled oil, you can save $30 a barrel. This recent strategy has worked with Iranian oil exports rising to 1.6 million BPD (barrels per day). This is way up over the 250,000 BPD Iran was able to move in the first two years of oil export sanctions. The United States imposed the sanctions in 2018 and was initially successful at enforcing them. Iran also adapted and currently exports record (since 2018) quantities of oil. This victory is going to be costly for OPEC (Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries). This cartel is currently dominated by Russia and Saudi Arabia, the two largest producers. After Russia invaded Ukraine in early 2022, they were hit with a long, and growing list of economic sanctions. In early 2023 oil exports were added to the list. The delay was to allow major customers in Europe to find other sources for their oil and natural gas needs. Most of these nations are supplying military and other support to Ukraine. Iran is one of the new nations supporting Russia. Both Russia and Iran are now smuggling a lot of oil past sanctions.

July 6, 2023: The UAV (drone) production facility Iran agreed to help Russia build inside Russia has been completed and is producing UAVs. The new factory is on the Volga River, some 900 kilometers east of Moscow. This location was selected because it is close to the ship canal that connects Russia and Iran. Russia is currently upgrading the canal connection. Growing trade with Iran led Russia to start bringing in dredging equipment for a major, and overdue, dredging of the heavily used Volga-Don Canal that enables ships to get from the Caspian Sea to the Black Sea. Because of the war in Ukraine and Iran supplying weapons and equipment to Russia, canal traffic was up 15 percent in 2022 over the previous year and will be even higher in 2023. Since 1952, a 101 kilometers long canal, linking the Don and Volga rivers, gave the Caspian Sea access to the Black Sea and the world's oceans. However, the largest ships that can use the canal cannot displace more than 5,000 tons and be no more than 140 meters (434 feet) long, 17 meters (52 feet) wide, and have a draft of no more than 3.5 meters (10.8 feet). Normally the canal moves over 12 million tons of cargo a year. About half of that is oil or oil products. In 2021 Russia agreed to allow Iran to use the Volga-Don Canal so that Iranian ships can reach the Black Sea from the landlocked Caspian Sea. This is the first time Russia has ever given a foreign nation free access to the canal. Russia and Iran are now using each other’s Caspian Sea ports heavily for trade and getting Iranian weapons and weapons components to Russia. This includes Iranian UAV components for the Russian UAV factory. Both nations have agreed to establish a joint-shipbuilding operation in the Caspian Sea and cooperate in dredging the canal, something that has not been done since 1991. The prolonged lack of dredging has made portions of the canal shallower and forced ships to carry less cargo. The 13 locks on the canal connect the Volga River, the longest in Russia that empties into the Caspian, and the Don River which empties into the Sea of Azov, which is connected to the Black Sea via the Kerch Strait. The Caspian is the world's largest lake and it is huge, at 371,000 square kilometers (about the same size as Poland). It is about a thousand kilometers long and 430 kilometers wide. It's saline but is only about a third as salty as ocean water. The Caspian has a 7,000-kilometer-long coastline, with the largest chunk (1,900 kilometers) belonging to Kazakhstan. A current drought in the region has reduced canal traffic become of the locks don’t have sufficient water supplies to operate the canal locks at full capacity. That drought is most severe in Iran, which is another reason for Iranians to protest the inability of their government to address a problem that previous governments were able to handle.

July 2, 2023: In central Syria (Homs) an Israeli airstrike against Iranian targets in Syria, One Iranian was killed and four others wounded. These men were near the warehouses that the Israelis concentrated on. The warehouses contained something explosive because as the warehouses caught fire and burned, items inside continued to explode for hours. One of the Iranians killed was an IRGC general who was a weapons expert. Syrian air defense units from Homs to the Israeli borders opened fire on the incoming Israeli missiles. Israel uses high-speed air-to-surface launched from Israeli aircraft across the border in Israel, Lebanon or Jordan. One of those Syrian anti-aircraft missiles missed a target and crossed the Israeli border and exploded in the air. This caused no damage or casualties on the ground. Israeli air defense units located where the S-200 missile that crossed the border came from and attacked the launch site. This is the 19th Israeli airstrike this year against Iranian targets in Syria.

June 29, 2023: Israeli media released reports of Israeli and Iranian operations in the Island of Cyprus. Israel believed Iranian operatives were planning to kill an Israeli businessman in Cyprus. Israel found out about this operation because of a recent Mossad operation inside Iran that found, seized and got a planner of the Cyprus attack out of Iran.

June 28, 2023: The Ukraine War has caused most NATO nations, including the United States, to concentrate on what is going on in Ukraine, often at the expense of commitments elsewhere. This is particularly important in the Persian Gulf, which contains nearly half the world's known oil reserves and produces 30 percent of oil exports. The importance of this oil to the world led in 2019 to the formation of the IMSC (International Maritime Security Construct), a military coalition of nations currently or planning to take part in patrolling the Gulf and its approaches with warships and maritime patrol aircraft and discourage attacks on ships, Then, as now, the primary threat was Iran. The commanders of IMSC have so far been British. Before the UAE (United Arab Emirates) left IMSC in April, members were; Albania, Bahrain, Britain, Estonia, Lithuania, Romania, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, United States and Seychelles. Australia was a member but left in late 2020. The UAE has long been the most active Gulf nation when it came to dealing with Iranian aggression. This extended to Yemen, where an Iran-backed civil war between the Shia and Sunni Yemenis has raged since 2014. The UAE intervention played a major role in forcing Iran to admit it was behind the Shia uprising and smuggling weapons to them. Forces now part of IMSC have long been looking for smugglers and armed outlaws in the Persian Gulf. While there have been a few Islamic terrorist attacks, the major trouble maker has been Iran. The Shia religious dictatorship that has ruled Iran since the 1980s believes Iran should control what it goes on in the Gulf, especially when it comes to oil and natural gas exports.

June 27, 2023: In Yemen, Iranian influence on the Shia rebels is fading and many rebel factions call for some kind of peace deal and an end to a civil war that the rebels were losing. The war continues in part because this factionalism among the rebels is something that the government and Saudis are unable to address.

June 21, 2023: Russia and Israel are both major developers of systems that disrupt satellite navigation systems like GPS or the Russian GLONASS. Both nations use their jamming and anti-jamming tech against each other because Russia maintains a naval base and airbase on the Syrian coast while Israel is constantly under attacks by Iranian UAVs and missiles launched from Syria. Israeli missiles regularly hit Iranian targets in Syria and Russia uses its GPS jamming systems to disrupt these attacks. Israel has responded with new tech installed in the missile guidance systems that reduces or eliminates the effectiveness of the jamming. This GPS jamming and counter-jamming competition has been going on for over a decade and became particularly intense when Russian forces arrived in Syria. Before that Russia had provided their ally Syria with these jamming weapons while Israel and the United States cooperated in developing new jamming tech.:

June 17, 2023: In the west (Kurdistan province) IRGC forces clashed with armed Kurds. The IRGC lost one man killed while the Kurds got away without suffering obvious casualties. Iranian forces have long been active in this area and sometimes use artillery at suspected Kurdish forces. This sometimes leads to civilian casualties which increases the Kurdish animosity against the Iranian government.

June 15, 2023: Israeli airstrikes against targets near Damascus resulted in the destruction of many imported Iranian weapons and munitions as well wounding several Iran-backed Syrian militiamen. This was the 18th Israeli operation inside Syria so far this year. Fourteen have been airstrikes while four were carried out by Israeli troops crossing into Syria. Most of this activity has to do with the increased presence of Iran-backed militants near the Israeli border. Iran has long been obsessed with carrying out attacks inside Israel.

June 12, 2023: Syrians blame outsiders for the length and severity of the 12- year-long civil war. Iran and Russia came to the aid of the Syrian government while Israel continued to attack Iranian forces in Syria, and Turkish forces crossed the border to deal with Islamic terrorists threatening Turkey and Syrian Kurds control most of the northern border with Turkey. In the northwest there is Idlib province, which remains under the control of Islamic terrorists who don’t belong to ISIL. For years the Assads made deals with Islamic terror groups that controlled areas throughout Syria for them to move to Idlib rather than fight to the death with the Assad troops. The Assads did this to maintain morale among their own troops, who had been fighting for years and were liable to desert rather than face a death-match with Islamic terrorists. For the last few years there has been fighting in Idlib involving the Islamic terrorists attacked by Assad, Turkish and Kurdish forces, with air support from Russia and Turkey. The fighting is slow, methodical and relentless in killing Islamic terrorists and shrinking the terrorist controlled area. Although there are fewer than a thousand American military personnel in Syria, they are constantly attacked by Iran-backed militias and harassed by Russian warplanes. The Iranian violence has been going on for a long time but the harassment of American aircraft by Russian fighters is recent. Both countries long had an agreement to avoid such interference by each other’s aircraft. Both nations were using their warplanes mainly to seek out and attack ISIL forces. Apparently in response to Western economic sanctions on Russia because of the Ukraine War, the Russian fighters are now engaging in dangerous maneuvers around American aircraft.

June 9, 2023: Iranian efforts in Syria are paying off. So far this year the remaining ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) factions in eastern Syria have carried out at least 72 attacks, which left 46 people dead, including ISIL members. This pattern of violence also reveals another side effect of the war; the lack of unity in Syria. The Assad government controls most of the south, including Damascus, the capital and Syria’s small Mediterranean coast. These areas are the most prosperous and pro-Assad. Russian and Iranian intervention made it possible for Assad to gain and maintain control over these areas. The sparsely populated east is controlled by ISIL and SDF and American forces. In the north, along the Turkish border, Turkish and SDF forces.

June 8, 2023: In the east, across the border in Afghanistan, the IEA (Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan) government assembled old Russian tanks and troops on the Iranian border for “training exercises.” This was a show-of-force in an unsettled dispute with Iran over water. Iran accuses Afghanistan of restricting the flow of water sent to Iran from a river in Helmand province. This violates a 1973 treaty. There is a severe drought in Iran and Afghanistan that makes water sources worth fighting for.

 

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