Iran has become the most active and successful warmonger in the Middle East. Iranian efforts are keeping violence levels high in Lebanon, Israel, Syria, Egypt, Gaza, Yemen and elsewhere. This is all part of the Iranian Master Plan to become the leading Islamic state Iranian on the planet. Most of the potential followers want nothing to do with this plan, but Iran keeps at it, creating more problems and dead bodies along the way. Many of these efforts are not working out very well.
Efforts to establish a presence in Gaza and Egypt have gone badly. Between 2012 and 2013 when the Moslem Brotherhood was in control of Egypt (or at least the government) Iran was able to rebuild diplomatic and commercial relations with Egypt. But Shia Iran and the Indo-European Iranians were fundamentally hated by most of the Arab population of Sunni Egypt. The Moslem Brotherhood government was taken down by the army and popular demand in mid-2013. That meant Gaza (full of Sunni Palestinians) and Hamas (an Islamic radical group that was originally a Moslem Brotherhood faction) were blockaded by the new anti-Iran Egyptian government. Hamas was forced to split with Iran over Syria. Hamas could not persuade many Palestinians to oppose the Sunni rebels in Syria. So Iran cut off support. But some smaller Islamic terrorist groups in Gaza, more radical ones that are rivals to Hamas, continue to support Iran.
There have been over 80 rocket attacks from Gaza since March 12th compared to 11 for all of 2013. This is largely due to Islamic terrorist group Islamic Jihad (an Iran backed terror group that is a Hamas rival in Gaza) threatening armed rebellion against Hamas because of perceived treason by Hamas against Islam. Meanwhile Islamic Jihad continues to take aid, and instructions, from Iran. Islamic Jihad takes credit for most of these rocket attacks. This aggression got Islamic Jihad criticized by the UN, which is usually condemning Israel for defending itself. The consensus is that Islamic Jihad is trying to goad Israel into attacking Gaza again. Such an attack would force Hamas to try to defend Gaza which would cause heavy Hamas casualties and make it easier for Islamic Jihad to oust Hamas by force. Many in Hamas see this as an effort by Iran to weaken Hamas, because Hamas began openly supporting the Syrian rebels in late 2013 and Iran was not pleased. That cost Hamas over a million dollars a month in Iranian cash and caused a lot of dissent within Hamas. Some Hamas men have gone to Syria to fight against the rebels and Hamas is trying to work out some kind of deal that would allow them to maintain support from both Iran and the Sunni Arab oil states that support the Syrian rebels. That would be quite a feat, but for an organization that believes it will eventually destroy Israel, nothing is impossible. Hamas is also facing more pressure in Gaza from moderates who are angry over the economic problems and Hamas attempts to impose Islamic conservative lifestyle rules. Hamas sees these moderates as potential traitors and probably allies with pro-Fatah groups. Meanwhile Israel has become so concerned about the continued activity of Islamic terrorists inside Gaza that senior Israeli military leaders are openly calling for Israel to resume control of Gaza. That would involve a lot of combat and there’s not a lot of support for going that far, at least not yet.
The biggest Syrian accomplishment has been the bloodbath in Syria. Three years of war have killed nearly 150,000 Syrians (about 80 percent men, the rest women and children), wounded over 600,000, drove over three million Syrian refugees into Lebanon, Turkey, Jordan and elsewhere plus more than twice as many Syrian refugees within Syria. The war has trashed the economy. Since 2011 the Syrian GDP has gone from $60 billion to $34 billion and is still shrinking. Much of the economy is no longer working, either because of facilities being destroyed or the workers have fled. Imports and exports are crippled because of the fighting. Unemployment is about 50 percent and what remains of a functioning economy is largely in government controlled areas. The government and its suppliers Russia and Iran see eventual government victory although it may take years. There is growing confidence among Assad backers that foreign intervention is less and less likely and that the best thing the Assads have going for them are the Islamic terrorist groups who fight for (and increasingly against) the rebels. While the war could continue into the next decade, the Assads are willing to inflict that much suffering on Syria to remain in power. Iran has contributed billions of dollars and sent in several thousand advisors and specialists to organize a force of fanatic foreign mercenaries (largely from the Lebanese Hezbollah militia and from Iraqi Shia militias) who match the ferocity of the Sunni Islamic terror groups that are the fiercest fighters on the rebel side. Iran also helped organize militias among pro-Assad civilians and these defensive forces tie down nearby rebels.
The inability of the rebels to unite, coordinate their operations and back off on the atrocities has made much foreign aid impossible. Western nations saw what happened in Libya in 2011 when NATO provided air support and after the quick rebel victory the rebels could not unite and form a government. The Libyan rebels are still fighting each other there and tolerating Islamic terrorist groups. Syria looks to be more of the same and the West does not want to support it. To Iran, this is all an opportunity that cannot be passed up.
Then there is Russia, Ukraine and the Crimea. Most of the world condemns Russian aggression against Ukraine and the seizure of Ukrainian territory (Crimea). The UN charter forbids such actions, as does a treaty Russia signed in 1994 promising Ukraine that Russia would never seize any Ukrainian territory. This solemn promise was in return for Ukraine giving up the Soviet nuclear weapons in its territory. The agreement that broke up the Soviet Union in 1991 stipulated that Russia and the 14 new countries created (by the half of the Soviet population leaving the empire for independence) would keep whatever Soviet weapons and other state assets were on their territory. That was simple and straightforward but it left Ukraine with over 2,000 nuclear weapons plus 176 ICBMs, 44 heavy bombers and over a thousand nuclear weapon equipped cruise missiles used by the heavy bombers. Ukraine could have been a major nuclear power but it gave it all up for guarantees to its territory from NATO and Russia plus a lot of cash (including the expense of removing the nukes and related equipment). Violating, in such a blatant fashion, an international treaty is a major hit to Russian credibility. Another problem with violating the 1994 treaty is the message it sends to states like Iran. The message is that if you really want to keep invaders out you need nukes. Iranians believe the negotiations to limit Iranian nuclear research and development are an effort to block Iran from getting nuclear weapons. Most Iranians see nukes as a necessity for maintaining Iranian dominance in the region. Iran has been the regional superpower for thousands of years. Once you get a taste of superpower status, it’s a hard thing to put behind you.
Meanwhile Iran also shows itself a skilled diplomatic operators. For example, since 2012 Western intelligence services detected that at least three of the 13 high-ranking al Qaeda officials who had fled to Iran after the Taliban lost control of Afghanistan in late 2001, had left their sanctuary in Iran. One of them returned to what he thought was sanctuary in his native Libya and was seized by American commandoes in a 2013 raid. The others are showing up, briefly, in places where al Qaeda is operating but otherwise act like they are on the run. That is prudent, because the United States would very much like to capture or kill these guys. While not imprisoned while in Iran, the al Qaeda men were not allowed to move freely and most appeared to have been under house arrest. The 2011 raid in Pakistan that killed Osama bin Laden also captured lots of documents that shed some light on what happened to al Qaeda after they were chased out of Afghanistan in 2001. In 2012 some of those documents were released that revealed what had long been suspected, al Qaeda and Iran did not get along, despite having a common enemy (the West). Al Qaeda is a radical Sunni organization that considers Shia Moslems heretics (nearly all Iranians are Shia). Iran has long provided sanctuary for al Qaeda but kept all or most of them under house arrest and observation. Iran made no secret of their desire to see bin Laden killed because al Qaeda had slaughtered over 100,000 Shia in the last two decades. In that period most of al Qaeda's victims had been Moslems, most of them Shia. But at the same time Iran appreciated the successful attacks al Qaeda made (or sponsored) in the West. This is something Iraq wanted but was reluctant to do itself as it feared Western retaliation.
Despite the sanctuary for al Qaeda leaders, Iranian leaders continued to be openly hostile to al Qaeda. For example, starting in 2008 Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad publically claimed that the September 11, 2001, attacks were a ploy by Israel or the CIA, to justify a war on Islam. Shortly after that assertion was first made public an al Qaeda leader, Ayman al Zawahri, rushed out an audio tape denouncing the Iranians for casting doubt about the fact that al Qaeda had planned and carried out those attacks. Although Shia Iran and Sunni al Qaeda occasionally cooperate, they are, in fact, bitter enemies. The bin Laden documents make this clear.
Normally the Shia avoid al Qaeda, which officially considers Shia heretics that should be converted (to the Sunni form of Islam) or killed if they refuse. But Iran has taken the position that “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” and provided sanctuary for al Qaeda leaders and encourages it allies to work, when possible, with Sunni terrorists like al Qaeda. The strategy is not popular with a lot of Iranians, although the Iranian government openly approved of the fact that senior al Qaeda leadership (including those outside Iran) had, since at least 2006, advised their subordinates to not kill Shia women and children. That advice has been frequently ignored but Iran has continued to work with al Qaeda when it suited Iranian interests.
One reason for this “support” of al Qaeda is that it aids in Iranian efforts to exploit and benefit from divisions within the Arab world. Currently Iraq, with its Shia majority, is willing to help Iran in many ways and this causes Sunni Arab states, especially Saudi Arabia, to accuse Iraq of betraying its Arab heritage. The Saudis also have a problem with Qatar, which backs the pro-Iran Moslem Brotherhood of Egypt. The powerful Shia Hezbollah militia in Lebanon keeps Lebanon from fully supporting the Sunni rebels of Syria and their battle to remove the Shia government there.
Meanwhile, the sanctions continue to destroy the Iranian economy. Iran recently revealed that it now has to import all its refined fuels (kerosene, gasoline and the like) because the sanctions have prevented proper maintenance (and access to spare parts) for Iranian refineries. The government assured Iranians that suppliers of refined products had been found. But if the sanctions continue those suppliers will come under considerable diplomatic and legal pressure to back off.
The government has managed to stabilize inflation. Prices are up 23 percent compared to a year ago versus 29 percent in January and even higher rates in 2013. This change is largely the result of the peace negotiations easing the sense of panic among Iranian consumers and encouraging them to be optimistic. That ended the hoarding and other behavior that fueled inflation. But the peace talks are not proceeding as well as the government asserts and if the sanctions are tightened, as many in the West expect, the inflation will return.
Many Iranians expect inflation to return in April as the government cuts subsidies. Iran spends a third of its $300 billion GDP on subsidies for gasoline, natural gas, electricity and food. Paying for these subsidies restricts what the government can do, but getting rid of these subsidies angers most of the population. Eliminating the subsidies would give the government more flexibility in rewarding its supporters. Without the subsidies electricity will cost 25 percent more and water 20 percent more. The rules for who is eligible for welfare payments have also been changed and a lot of people will not get as much (or any at all) cash each month from the government. There could be violence because of the subsidy cuts. All this is necessary to balance the budget. Oil accounts for 80 percent of exports (the source of foreign currency to buy foreign goods) and half the government budget. Before the new sanctions Iran allowed imports to climb from $39.1 billion to over $60 billion since 2006 in order to keep unrest (against the corrupt religious dictatorship) down.
Some Iranian diplomatic efforts have been less successful. Thus attempts to persuade the Syrian Kurds to back the Syrian government have failed. Iranian Kurds have been kept quiet with promises of better relations with Iraqi Kurds but most Iranian Kurds still feel like they are living under occupation in Iran and very much threatened by the Assad government in Syria.
March 30, 2014: In the Strait of Hormuz there were two incidents of speedboats full of armed men approaching merchant ships passing through. In one incidents, when the speedboats appeared to come from the Oman side, the men opened fire but the ship was able to get away. In the second incident the speedboats came from the Iranian side and the men appeared to be wearing uniforms but did not open fire. No one took credit for either of these incidents and pirates are suspected.
March 28, 2014: The government again demanded that Pakistan do something about the five Iranian border guards kidnapped on February 6th and held in Pakistan. Pakistan insists it is doing all it can and that the five men are not being held in Pakistan. The Islamic terrorists claiming to hold the guards insist that one of the Iranians has been executed. Iran believes that the five Iranian border police are held just across the border in Pakistan (Baluchistan). There are Baluchi tribes on both sides of the border. The religious dictatorship in Iran is hostile to Sunnis and the Iranian Baluchis do not like this at all. During the last few years the Iranian Baluchi rebels have become bolder and more successful in their attacks on Iranian security forces. Iran has responded by executing more captured Baluchi rebels and that has resulted in even more Baluchi violence. Iran demanded that the Pakistani government find the five Iranian border guards fast or Iran would send its own troops into Pakistan to free the captive border guards. These threats have been intensifying since early March. On March 1st In Pakistan a senior army general announced (without providing much detail) that five Iranian border guards who were kidnapped inside Iran and moved into Pakistan on February 7th had been released. This was a false claim.
March 23, 2014: Baluchi Islamic terrorists in Pakistan said they had killed one of the five Iranian border guards they are holding in Pakistan.
March 21, 2014: The U.S. is very upset that another Israeli official criticized American policy in the region. In this case it was the Israeli Defense Minister who criticized American policy towards the Iranian nuclear weapons program and the Ukraine as “weak.” This reflects the attitude of many Israelis who, as the target of many Iranian threats and within range of Iranian missiles, are more alarmed at Iranian nuclear ambitions than those safely ensconced in North America. The U.S. wants the Israeli Defense Minister to apologize and get with the American party line.
March 13, 2014: Russia has agreed to build two more 1,000 MW nuclear power plants next to the first (and only Iranian one) at Bushehr.