While the government still talks about destroying Israel and dominating the Sunni Arabs, the ruling clerics are also acknowledging problems closer to home (and the lives of most Iranians) like unemployment, inflation, water shortages, drug addiction and “loose morals.” That last item is not seen as a problem to most Iranians because the “loose morals” is a code word for more restrictions on how Iranians (especially women) dress and entertain themselves. The clergy supported lifestyle restrictions are increasingly unpopular and the clergy are not inclined to compromise much here.
The Arab League is increasing its public criticism of Iranian interference in Arab countries. While Iranian involvement is appreciated when it involves fighting ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) the Arabs are less appreciative when Iran supports Shia rebels in Arab countries that do not have a large ISIL presence (like Bahrain, Lebanon, Kuwait and Yemen). Meanwhile ISIL depicts the July peace treaty between the UN and Iran as further evidence that the West is allied with the hated (and heretical) Shias, led by archenemy Iran, who are determined to conquer or destroy all Sunni Moslems. This is another bizarre aspect to the current situation in the Middle East. The only thing the West, Iran and the Sunni Arab states can agree on is the need to destroy ISIL. Yet ISIL is nothing more than another bunch of self-righteous Sunni “more Islamic than thou” zealots out to defend Islam and kill anyone (including other Moslems) who disagrees with them. Moslems don’t like to dwell on this angle but it is very real and at the center of so much of the turmoil in the Middle East and the Islamic world. Most Moslems support or tolerate Islamic terrorism unless it threatens them personally. That’s why Islamic terror attacks in non-Moslem countries are so popular with Sunnis and Shia alike. It’s also why the war between Shia and Sunni is so bitter and unending. Sunni and Shia disagree on who the “true Moslems” are and that is made more intense by the fact that the leader of the Shia is Iran, a nation of non-Semites who are ethnically related to the hated Hindus (pagans to Moslems) and the West (also largely Indo-European and mainly non Moslem). The make matters worse Arabs have an annoying (to non-Arab Moslems) sense of superiority because the founder of Islam was an Arab and the early scriptures were all written in Arabic. The most dangerous foes if Islam have always been non-Arabs, especially the Indo-Europeans and it has become an article faith in the Middle East that the West is always intent on destroying Islam. These delusions, obsessions plus the ethnic and religious differences still matter a great deal in the Middle East and are what drives most of the violence and the endless feuds and wars. Many Arabs now see themselves threated from the west by the non-Moslem (mostly Ind0-European) nations and from the east by Shia Iran.
The Arab League backed Yemen government (largely still operating from Saudi Arabia) has refused a UN offer to help negotiate a peace deal with the Shia rebels. The Arabs have sent in thousands of ground troops and continue their air campaign against the Shia rebels. The Arabs believe they can defeat the Shia rebels and want no part of any peace deal that would leave the Shia tribes with control of any territory. Earlier in 2015 Iran confirmed that it had been quietly supporting the Shia tribes in Yemen and the Sunni majority of Yemen believe Iran would continue that support if they had the opportunity.
In Iraq the Shia militias, many of them with Iranian advisors, are increasingly being seen as a problem by the new Iraqi government and Iraqis in general. The previous Maliki government had long worked closely with Iran but lost power because Maliki and his allies would not do anything about the corruption that is largely seen as the main reason ISIL made such rapid advances in 2014. Iraqis are discovering, as the anti-corruption efforts now accelerate, that a lot of that corruption, especially in the military, was encouraged, and sometimes paid for, by Iran. This has caused public opinion among the majority Shia Arabs in Iraq to turn against Iran. Another reason for that is the Iran supported (and often armed and paid) Shia militiamen are seen as fanatics and undisciplined who are mainly loyal to Iran. These Shia militiamen are largely motivated by revenge (for years of Islamic terrorist attacks on Shia civilians) and their Iranian advisors encourage that. A growing number of Iraqis see Iran as more of a threat than an ally.
In Lebanon locals who know what Iranians and Iranian soldiers look like report seeing large numbers of Iran IRGC (Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps) soldiers aiding Syrian troops and Hezbollah militiamen to fight Syrian rebels along the Syrian border. These same IRGC fighters are apparently operating elsewhere inside Syria. Some of the rebels fighting along the Lebanese border are ISIL but most appear to be less extreme Islamic terror groups like al Nusra (the major local al Qaeda affiliate). Iran and the Assads have regularly denied that Iranian troops are in Syria but the recent sightings did not bring forth the usual denials. There do not appear to be a lot of IRGC soldiers involved and this IRGC presence is similar to the recent arrival of Russian troops. This is to provide the Assads with help in defending their heartland, a strip of territory starting in the south (around the capital, Damascus) and thence north to the coastal areas. This influx of Russian and Iranian troops appears to be part of the Russo-Iranian effort to get the UN, the Arab states and the West to cooperate in negotiating an end to the Syrian war, or at least to allow the Assads and their key supporters safe passage out and into exile (in Russia or Iran). Such a peace deal could involve partition of Syria, something many Syrians and others in the region oppose. Many Syrians believe Syria has already been partitioned once before. This happened after World War I when France backed the creation of Lebanon (historically part of “Greater Syria”) in order to give the local Arab Christians a nation where they would be the majority. That majority did not last as the Arab Moslems reproduced faster and more Arab Christians migrated to the West. At the moment any peace deal is difficult to arrange, but the worse the ISIL threat gets, the more likely some deal can be achieved.
Meanwhile Russia says it is close to resolving its differences with Iran over old purchase contracts for S-300 anti-aircraft missile systems and agreement on a new deal. Russia also says it will again try to bring S-300 into Syria, where the threat of Israeli air attack against those missiles remains. The U.S. led air coalition is not receptive to S-300s in Syria either, since none of the rebels have an air force, only the Assads do. Those S-300s, and other modern Russian anti-aircraft weapons would only have Arab and NATO aircraft as targets. Russia expects to be the major supplier of weapons to Iran once the sanctions are lifted but first these older disputes over S-300 contracts have to be resolved.
Iran is also active in Gaza (a Palestinian enclave between Israel and Egypt) where a local Sunni Islamic terrorist group (Al Aqsa) survives by finding useful allies wherever it can. Thus a recent video showing al Aqsa terrorists inside what was described as a 3,500 meter long tunnel from Gaza into Israel was part of an appeal for more aid from Iran. Hamas (the Palestinian Sunni Islamic terror group that runs Gaza) pioneered the construction of such tunnels but keeps quiet about that since losing a 50 Day War with Israel in August 2014. Unofficially Hamas is building its own tunnels and also seeks aid from Iran. Apparently Iran will supply such aid to both Hamas and al Aqsa as long as Hamas does not try to wipe out al Aqsa in Gaza. Thus Hamas is under pressure (from Israel and many Hamas supporters in Gaza) to pretend to go after al Aqsa despite the fact that al Aqsa keeps violating the Hamas ceasefire agreement with Israel by continuing to fire rockets into Israel. The Israeli retaliation attacks show that Israel knows what is going on here and these Israeli attacks usually just hit al Aqsa facilities. But recently Hamas targets have been hit as well because this make-believe effort to shut down the misbehaving al Aqsa in Gaza is getting old and Israel is unwilling to continue tolerating it.
September 15, 2015: Three border guards were arrested by Turkish police after chasing smugglers across the border by mistake. This has happened before and will probably be settled without a lot of fuss. On the Pakistani border eight smugglers were killed during a gun battle with IRGC troops. Five of the dead were Pakistanis and all the smugglers were trying to bring in drugs.
Lebanese media report that Iranian Quds Force commander Qassem Soleimani recently made a second visit to Moscow. This comes after Iran and Russia are still insisting that a July 24th visit by Soleimani to Moscow did not happen. During the July trip Soleimani was said to have met with Russian defense officials and after two days . Since 2007 Soleimani has been under numerous sanctions, including ones that are not being lifted by the July 14th deal. Soleimani was not supposed to be able to travel to Russia and Russia knows it. But Russia and Iran deny the visit actually happened, the same way Iran denies that Soleimani has spent time in Iraq supervising the creation and use of pro-Iran Shia militias.
September 14, 2015: In the southwestern province of Khuzestan two clans among the majority Arab population have been fighting and the police have been unable to stop it. There have been over 30 casualties so far. While Arabs comprise only about two percent of the Iranian population most of the oil fields are in Khuzestan. The Arabs there are generally hostile to the ethnic Iranians, who are accused of persecuting and not respecting Arab Iranians.
September 9, 2015: Turkey closed its border with Iran for less than a day. Unspecified security problems were given as the reason.
September 8, 2015: Meanwhile on the Turkish border two IRGC soldiers were killed during another clash with IRGC fighters. Two IRGC soldiers were wounded. Two of the armed Kurds involved were killed and five others captured. The Kurds were believed to belong to the PKK or PJAK, both of them Kurdish separatists, from Turkey and Iran respectively.
September 7, 2015: In the northwest IRGC troops attacked PJAK fighters, killing two of them and wounding two others. There have been several clashes between PJAK and the IRGC in the last two months.
September 4, 2015: In Yemen Iran backed Shia rebels fired a Russian SS-21 ballistic missile at an ammo storage site at an airbase recently captured by pro-government forces. The SS-21 has a half ton high explosive warhead and this detonated much of the stored ammunition causing a series of explosions that caused about 200 casualties among nearby Arab Brigade troops. Several dozen armored vehicles were destroyed or damaged. At least 45 UAE (United Arab Emirate) soldiers were killed along with ten Saudis. The SS-21 has a range of about 70 kilometers and can land within 75 meters of its aiming point. While Iran does not have the SS-21 it does have many larger (and longer range) ballistic missiles aimed at Arab states across the Gulf. The Saudis have used their Patriot SM-3 anti-missile systems to shoot down two Yemeni Scud missiles the Shia rebels fired at Saudi bases. There were no Patriot systems with the Arab Brigade in Yemen and the Arabs thought their bombing campaign had destroyed all the Yemeni SS-21s. In 2011 Yemen had about four SS-21 transporter/launcher vehicles and over a dozen SS-21 (also called OTR-21) missiles. The Shia rebels were known to have captured some of the SS-21 vehicles and missiles. Some Yemeni Army troops with knowledge of the SS-21 operations were also believed serving with the Shia rebels. All this ballistic missile activity in Yemen by pro-Iran Shia rebels makes Arabs more eager to increase their anti-missile capabilities.
September 1, 2015: In Libya the government banned Yemenis, Iranians and Pakistanis from entering the country. Too many people from those countries have been encountered fighting for Islamic terror groups in Libya. The government had earlier banned Sudanese, Bangladeshis, Palestinians and Syrians for the same reasons. This ban does not keep these people out but makes it more difficult for them to get into Libya and move around there freely.
August 27, 2015: On the central Somali coast (Ceel Hur) one of two Iranian fishing boats captured by pirates on March 26th managed to escape with its crew of 19. No one was willing to pay the small ransom demanded and the pirates did not have good security on the two boats.