Iran: The Impression That No One Is In Charge


November 6, 2011: For the last few weeks the government has been doing damage control on a UN IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) report that accuses Iran of having a nuclear weapons program, and providES lots of details. The report is supposed to be made public before the middle of the month. Russia, China and other Iran allies are trying to block release, but without much success. Meanwhile, many details have already been leaked, making it appear that the IAEA had help from more than the few inspectors it is allowed to put inside Iran. The report describes a nuclear weapons research facility outside Tehran, and the use of computer simulation to guide the nuclear weapon design process. IAEA believes Iran now has enough enriched (to weapons grade) uranium for three nuclear weapons, but is still encountering technical problems in producing a workable weapon.

UN investigators don't get much access to Iranian nuclear facilities these days, but the IAEA has a lot of data, and contacts inside Iran, and information (like satellite photos and agent reports) passed on by Western intelligence agencies. Thus IAEA estimates are taken seriously. Iran fears the report will result in stronger economic and military sanctions. While the Iranian military is largely an illusion (because of decades of sanctions), the impact on the economy is a more serious problem. The corrupt religious dictatorship in Iran fears a popular uprising, and what enrages Iranians the most is poverty amidst all the oil wealth. The senior clerics, their families and key associates grab a disproportionate share of the oil money, and do what they want. The Islamic conservatives have a good thing going, but the more Iranians they anger, the closer they come to another revolution. Things like the IAEA report don't help (although building nukes for Iran is popular with most Iranians.)

The Iranians are also concerned about an Israeli air raid early next year. That's because of the IAEA report, and the expiration of a 2008 U.S./Iraq treaty that obliged the United States to keep unauthorized (by Iraq) warplanes out of Iraqi air space. With the withdrawal of American troops at the end of the year, Iraq has no one to protect their air space. The shortest air route between Israel and Iran goes through Iraq.

While Iran's clerical rulers are hailing the American withdrawal from Iraq as an Iranian victory, it isn't. Now it will be obvious how much the Iraqi Shia Arabs dislike the Iranians (who are largely Indo-European or Turkic, and openly disdainful of Arabs in general). And that attitude is reciprocated throughout the Arab world. For example, Bahrain is claiming that Iran is seeking to seize the tiny Arab Gulf state, and most Arabs believe this. Iran would also like to forget that it was the hated United States that removed the hated (especially in Iran) Saddam Hussein and crushed the Iraqi Sunni Arabs that created Saddam. Another Iranian embarrassment is the 2001 overthrow of the Taliban in Afghanistan. The Taliban persecuted Afghan Shia, killing thousands of them, and Iran could do nothing. The U.S. did, and Iran would rather not be reminded of that.

Another defeat for the ruling clerics is the very public collapse of efforts to arrest and punish the well-connected people responsible for a recent $2.6 billion bank fraud. For most Iranians, this was expected, and yet another example of how the corrupt clergy and their cronies loot the country and leave most Iranians poor.

On the lifestyle front, the government has ordered all provinces to establish at least one single-gender hospital for women, and staffed only by women. This is part of an Islamic conservative effort to restrict the activities of women, for their own good.

Not all senior clerics agree with the lifestyle controls, aggressive foreign policy and corruption. While reform minded clerics are a minority, they have many allies among government officials. These reformers often cannot stop their more corrupt colleagues, but they can delay or muddle the efforts of conservatives to implement new policies. This gives foreigners the impression that no one is in charge. That's not the case, but those in charge don't have as much control over the government as they would like.

October 31, 2011: Iran announced that it had established a special military unit (containing a lot of civilian experts) to defend the country against Cyber War attacks. In addition to Stuxnet, Iran has been hit by several other Internet based weapons in the last two years.

October 28, 2011: The Guardian Council (the senior clerics who hold ultimate power in Iran) announced that it would be OK if parliament voted to eliminate the presidency, and switched to a parliamentary form of government (where the party, or parties, that can get the most votes in parliament, can form a government and appoint a prime minister who would have most of the powers the elected president currently has.) The presidency would probably remain, but only as a powerless "head-of-state." This policy is favored because the current president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, is difficult to control, and determined to clean up corruption.

October 27, 2011: The U.S. announced that they are setting up an Internet based "virtual embassy" for Iranians. This would mainly handle visa and other programs that Iranians have always expressed an interest in. Currently, Iranians must go American embassies in Turkey or Arab Gulf States to take care of these matters. The U.S. and Iran have not had diplomatic relations since Iran seized the U.S. embassy, and its staff, in 1979. The Iranian government blocks access to U.S. government web sites, but there are ways to get around that.




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