Iran: Iran February 2024


February 21, 2024: On February 14th saboteurs destroyed portions of a natural gas pipeline in western Iran, causing a large fire that continued burning until the pipeline could be safely shut down. At the same time Iran demanded that the UN order Britain and the United States to halt their air strikes on the Shia Houthi rebels in northern Yemen who are attacking Red Sea shipping. The Houthi do not attack ships that are Iranian or Chinese. The Houti attacks are having an impact, with transits through the Suez Canal down 40 percent since late 2023 to early 2024.

Iran called for more nations to boycott Israeli goods while ordering government officials to make a major effort to detect and eliminate Israeli goods that care currently getting into Iran. Iran has been trying for years to block the import of Israeli goods but has been unsuccessful because importers delete or hide identifying marks revealing Israeli origin.

Iran had a bad year in 2023 and 2024 appears to be a continuation of that. The most recent disaster was the Hamas attack on Israel, which means the end of one of Iran’s major paramilitary assets. The Israeli military is one of the best in the world and did not expect Hamas to self-destruct like this, killing as many Israelis as it could with the very predictable (except by Hamas) result of Israel counterattacking to destroy Hamas and fully reoccupy Gaza. Hamas almost certainly expected only a limited Israeli counterattack ending in the usual ceasefire.

Iran might have encouraged Hamas to do this to disrupt the recent alliance between Israel and the Gulf oil states against. The Hamas attack was a major intelligence failure for Israel and the Arab neighbors realize that this was an Iranian intelligence victory. If Iran could do this again, it would most likely be used against one the Arab states that oppose the expansion of Iranian influence in the region. Expending Hamas, if that was Iran’s intention, to accomplish this attack on Israel reminds Arab states that it could happen to them. Iran is a common enemy or threat to Israel, Arabs, and Turks. Surviving Hamas members were surprised to discover that Iran had not ordered Hamas to attack. It was Hamas leaders that approved the attack and many of them died during the subsequent fighting.

The elimination of Hamas will be another side-effect of the long, since 1979, Iranian efforts to destroy Israel and America which Iran called the two Great Satan’s and has been largely one-sided but increasingly expensive as the Iranian defeats piled up. It didn’t take long for many Iranians to figure out that this war against former allies was not really a war but rather an excuse for the clerics to spend a lot of money on an army of Islamic terrorists whose main job was to protect the ruling clerics from the Iranian people. The clerics thought they could control popular dissent by maintaining a militia of religiously minded volunteers who could earn some extra cash and other favors by bullying or beating anyone who openly opposed the religious dictatorship.

Such government approved thugs were a common feature of dictatorships; both Nazis and communists used them. By the 1990s Iran’s mullah government had organized street gangs, composed of young men who are Islamic conservatives, paid to break up pro-reform demonstrations by force and attack any groups that openly oppose the government for whatever reason. There has always been the risk that a series of street brawls could escalate and lead to another mass revolution like the one in 1979. So far that has been avoided but more and more of the young men who were prime candidates to join these gangs have changed sides.

Once more there are protests and even attacks on local religious leaders in towns and cities that do not have a lot of religious conservatives, or a local Islamic conservative militia unit. The militia had a name; the Basj, which provided the manpower for pro-government street gangs since the 1990s, when popular protests the dictatorship became more common and threatening. The Basj is actually part of the IRGC or Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, whose main job is to protect the religious rulers from any internal threat, including from the national police or regular armed forces. Although the Basj officially has 11 million members, the number that the government could depend on has been declining. A few years ago, it was several hundred thousand but now it is less than 100,000 and falling. Basj members have families and feel the economic decline like everyone else.

The IRGC also decided to aid Hamas, a militant Palestinian Sunni group that appeared in the 1980s and took control of Gaza after the Israelis left in 2007. Hamas always had one primary goal: the destruction of Israel. Since the United States was a steadfast supporter of Israel, the Americans would have to be eliminated as well. Few believed Hamas would choose self-destruction and try to act on their goals of destroying Israel. At the same time, Hamas eventually became dependent on Iranian financial support, which enabled Hamas to buy a lot of support and some loyalty in Gaza.

The Sunni Palestinians in Gaza were not happy about being dependent on Iranian cash. The rest of the Arab population was not happy with Hamas becoming subservient to Iran, which was at war with all Arab governments, plus Israel and the United States. Arabs see Iran as a potential threat and a perpetual nuisance. Subsidizing and then expending Hamas was seen as typical Iranian behavior with allies and against enemies. The large number of Israelis Hamas killed pleased Iran, even as it horrified most of the world.

With Hamas now weakened from combat losses, attention is turning to Hezbollah, an earlier and larger Iranian creation in Lebanon which is composed of Shia Muslims. Hezbollah is also, like Sunni Hamas, seen as a ruthless Iranian tool that is capable of anything. As Hamas attacked Israel it called on Hezbollah to join in. Hezbollah declined. Hezbollah has always been more cautious and rational than Hamas. Hezbollah continues to concentrate on its own survival. This definitely does not include another war with Israel. Hezbollah always saw Hamas as an erratic and undependable ally and the feeling was mutual. With Hamas gone, Hezbollah continues to concentrate on preserving its power in Lebanon.

Israel and Hezbollah fought a five-week war in 2006 that could have meant the end of Hezbollah were it not for an UN effort to arrange a truce and then a peace deal. Hezbollah is very aware that Israel can destroy its armed forces whereupon its Sunni Arab and Christian neighbors will drive all the Lebanese Shia into Syria. This is why Hezbollah is basically ignoring the demands of Iran and Hamas to join in attacking Israel. Hamas has a death wish, Hezbollah does not. While both Hamas and Hezbollah receive financial support from Iran, Hezbollah is pretty much ignoring Iranian calls to attack Israel, particularly in not launching the 100,000 missiles and rockets Hezbollah has stored in southern Lebanon as well as a growing number of armed UAVs. Hezbollah knows that it will be destroyed if it makes a significant attack on Israel, and that Iran doesn’t care about that as long as some Israelis get killed. Iran appears willing to continue subsidizing Hezbollah as a threat to Israel, but it is possible that it might not insist on another suicidal attack given that it would result in an enormous political disaster from the ethnic cleansing of Lebanese Shia, with Iran doing nothing about the cleansing for lack of means. All this fighting by forces belonging to various religious factions has destroyed the Lebanese government as well as the Lebanese military. Since World War 2, Lebanon has survived on cooperation and compromise. This system is unstable and often fails, as it recently did when Iran tried to use pro-Iran militias to attack Israel. That did not work, and Lebanon has neither the resources nor any eagerness to improve the situation.




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