Suddenly Turkey is an enemy and allied with Israel. This is not good for Iran. The war in Syria, in particular the recent Russian intervention was very unpopular in Turkey. This was good for Israel because Turkey, long a foe of Russia was not happy with Russian troops fighting right on the Turkish border, Thus by December 2015 the Turks were discussing the resumption of diplomatic relations with Israel. Since 2002 the Islamic government of Turkey has been battling Turkish secularists and trying to improve relations with other Islamic countries (including ancient rival Iran). This new policy meant adopting an anti-Israel attitude after decades of close relations with the Jewish state. In 2010 Turkish politicians backed themselves into a corner by supporting the Turkish radical group (IHH) that organized a convoy of ships that tried to break the Gaza blockade. Nine Turkish members of pro-Terrorist Islamic charity IHH were killed when they attacked Israeli commandos landing on one of the ships. Despite video evidence that the nine Turks attacked the Israeli commandos with metal pipes and knives, the nine are considered martyrs in Turkey and the Islamic politicians who run the government cut diplomatic (and many other) relations with Israel because Israel would not take the blame for the deaths of the nine Turks. Israel refused to do this, because it is politically impossible to take the blame when so many Israelis blame the Turks for supporting the Gaza flotilla, which was trying to open supply lines for Hamas, an organization openly dedicated to the destruction of Israel. The major problem for the Islamic Turkish leaders was that many Turks did not back IHH and blame Israel. Five years of strained relations because of all this was finally ended because the Turks found they have a real enemy next door in Syria and can no longer afford to maintain the illusion that Israel is a problem. The Islamic terrorists that these Islamic Turkish politicians thought they would deal with proved to be uncontrollable and a growing political liability. The final straw was Russian troops moving into Syria in September and the growing threat ISIL (al Qaeda in Iraq and the Levant) and other Islamic terrorist groups were for Turkey. More Turks were becoming hostile to this “Islamic” and pro-Arab political policy.
Currently this this means the Turks are actively opposing Russia and Iran. This is unlikely to turn into war. The Iranians and Turks, after centuries of fighting made peace in 1639 and that agreement has held, more or less, ever since. But Turkey needs some insurance in case Iran gets nuclear weapons. The only local option, again, is Israel.
Then there is the growing friction between Russia and Iran. The Russian demand that they control military strategy in Syria angered Iran to the point that hundreds of Iranian advisors, trainers and commandos are being withdrawn from Syria. Another reason for the pullout is the rising Iranian casualties among these forces. While Russia is providing lots of air support Iran has since 2012 provided over 20,000 fanatic Shia mercenary fighters that have helped keep the government forces from being overwhelmed and destroyed. The Iranians are not willing to compromise on their support for the Assads and trust the Russians less because the Russians do not see the survival of the Assads as essential. Some (or all) of the Iranian personnel withdrawn were apparently shifted to Western Iraqis drive ISIL out of the area. Iran backed Iraqi Shia militias have played a major role in fighting ISIL in Iraq and Iran considers Iraq, with its Shia majority, as an ally. But nearly all Iraqis (including all the Shia) are Arab (the rest are Kurds and several other minorities) and are not big fans of Iran.
Iran denied the reports that it was withdrawing its forces, and there was some truth to this because most of the Iranian forces being reduced are Iranian mercenaries (Afghan, Pakistani and Arab Shia recruited, armed, paid and led by Iranians). The Iranian trainers and military advisors are all remaining in the region and recent casualties have been replaced. The mercenaries are more expensive and take more casualties. Unlike the Iranians killed or wounded, there is much less media attention paid to the mercenary deaths. But these cost Iran a lot of cash, because to keep the mercenaries motivated Iran has to pay, as promised, a large amount of cash to the families of the dead mercs. At the moment cash is in short supply. Russia is as broke as Iran because of low oil prices and sanctions. The mercs aren’t being disbanded, but they are being reduced. The Russian-Iranian effort in Syria is succeeding because everyone is willing to cooperate, after a fashion, against ISIL (al Qaeda in Iraq and the Levant). Over a hundred Iranians have died in Syria since Russia entered the fighting in October (and enabled the Assads to go on the offensive) and more than five times as many Iranian mercenaries.
Iran expects to have more cash in 2016 as it meets conditions of the July treaty and sanctions are lifted. To that end Iran is shipping all the highly (weapons grade) enriched uranium to Russia in exchange for less enriched (power plant grade) enriched uranium. Russia and Iran are also setting up closer banking relationships and arranging to use their own currencies for mutual trade, rather than dollars or euros. Iran is picking up a lot of the export (to Russia) business made available by all the sanctions and now the bad relations between Russia and Turkey is providing even more business with Russia. It’s easy to trade with Russia because both nations have ports on the Caspian Sea and within this inland sea (the only outside eater access is via a Russian canal) no one is going to inspect Russian or Iranian ships for contraband. Russia and Iran can also trade via railroad with the cooperation of Azerbaijan. Russia recently announced that deliveries of the S-300 anti-aircraft systems would be made via the Caspian. Some supporting equipment has already been flown in or came by sea as non-military equipment.
A Russian aircraft manufacturer (Tupelov) is arranging to have an Iranian firm build the Tu-204 airliner under license. In 2007 Russia sold Iran five Tu-204 airliners. The 210 passenger, two engine, 230 ton aircraft is one of the new generation of post-Cold War transports developed in Russia. The first one was produced in 1990 and sales have been slow. Only 76 have been built and a third of those are waiting for buyers. It's been difficult to get export orders because of the competition from Boeing and Airbus. But export or licensed production deals are very important for keeping Russian civil aviation companies in business. Deliveries of the Tu-204s to Iran have been delayed by sanctions but Iran can get a production license once sanctions are lifted. This is not the first Iranian effort to build Russian airliners under license. In 2008 Iran arranged to build the smaller An-140 under license. This did not work out well. In 2014 Iran ordered all of its An-140s grounded because another one crashed killing 39 people. The 19 ton An-140 is a twin turboprop aircraft designed in Ukraine and usually built in Russia. Since introduced in 2007 it has been used mainly as a civilian aircraft (it can carry 52 passengers). The An-140s sold for about half the price of a similar Western aircraft. That economy came at a cost, as six of the 40 An-140s delivered by 2014 had crashed. Three of those were An-140s built under license in Iran. Iran suspects there are not only problems with the basic design of the An-140 but also with how they were built in Iran. The Tupelov deal is supposed to fix all that.
The lifting of the sanctions in 2016, if Iran meets all the treaty conditions, will not dramatically change economic conditions in Iran. International economists believe that if all goes according to plan GDP growth will be less than one percent in 2016. The big problem is not sanctions but the continued low oil prices. At the end of 2015 oil had declined over 70 percent since 2013. This is all the work of Saudi Arabia and Iran has to put up with it, for now. Most Iranians despise Arabs and see Saudi Arabia as foolish for angering its powerful neighbors. But the Arabs are, with much justification, afraid of Iran. To deal with that the Arab oil states have spent several hundred billion on new weapons recently and maintained market discipline to make the oil price decline work. As a bonus the low oil prices also hurt Russia, which is an ally of Iran and still hated for the Afghanistan war of the 1980s. The Arabs cannot keep it up forever as they are living off their cash reserves. Iran believes that within a few years the Arabs will have to let oil prices rise and by then, or soon after, Iran will have nukes and be in a position to teach the Arabs a lesson.
Iran is suffering a rare defeat in Yemen. The UN hosted peace talks brought no peace and both sides continue fighting. Nevertheless this conflict appears to be ending without addressing the corruption and bad government that have made the nation a bloody mess. The rebels are losing and Iran is doing all it can (without much success) to get another ceasefire. Saudi Arabia has its lobbyists in the West working overtime to deal with Iranian supported accusations that the Saudi led Arab coalition air attacks in Yemen have killed so many civilians (more than 3,000) this year. The Iranians are working this angle as much as they can, along with accusations (mostly false) that Arab forces and their tribal allies are interfering with foreign aid efforts to desperately hungry or sick Yemeni civilians. Iran has been less successful defending the Shia rebels from all sorts of misbehavior accusations. When there is a war between Shia and Sunni things tend to get ugly. It is no secret that Arabs tend to be brutal when fighting each other and regularly treat civilians badly. The Saudis and other Arab states prefer to keep this out of Western media while continuing to operate as they always have. Western governments, although not most Western media, are cooperating as best they can regarding Yemen and looking the other way.
December 21, 2015: Israeli intelligence believes that over 30 percent of Hezbollah’s 20,000 trained fighters have been killed or wounded in Syria so far. Hezbollah is there at the request of Iran, which helped create Hezbollah (to protect the Shia minority in Lebanon) in the 1980s and continued sustaining the group with cash, weapons, technical assistance and intense hatred of Israel. The heavy losses in Syria were unpopular with Lebanese Shia and Hezbollah pulled most of its forces back to the Lebanon border and concentrated on keeping Islamic terrorists out of Lebanon. Iran took a huge popularity hit in Lebanon by forcing Hezbollah to enter the Syrian war in defense of the Assad government, which is hated by most Lebanese as well as most Syrians.
December 20, 2015: In part to deal with the situation in Yemen Saudi Arabia announced that it has organized an anti-terrorist organization composed of 34 Moslem nations including Bahrain, Bangladesh, Benin, Chad, Comoros, Cote d’Ivoire, Djibouti, Egypt, Gabon, Guinea, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Maldives, Mali, Malaysia, Morocco, Mauritania, Niger, Nigeria, Qatar, the Palestinians, Pakistan, Senegal, Sudan, Sierra Leone, Somalia, Togo, Tunisia, Turkey, the UAE (United Arab Emirates), and Yemen. The nation with the largest number of Moslems, India, was apparently not invited to join. All the current members are largely Sunni. Some nations are not welcome, like Iran, Syria and Iraq. This is because the Sunni Gulf States (led by Saudi Arabia) are at war with Iran, which considers Syria and Iraq allies. Pakistan has not announced exactly what it would do as part of this new coalition but did make it clear it will not take part in any operations against Iran or Syria.
December 19, 2015: In Damascus an Israeli missile killed a Hezbollah commander, Samir Kuntar. The next day four rockets were fired into northern Israel from Lebanon but did no damage. Israeli artillery responded. Kuntar was notorious in Israel where he was released from prison in 2008 as part of the swap that got Hezbollah to return the bodies of two Israeli soldiers killed in Lebanon. Kuntar was in prison for a 1979 terrorist attack in Israel that left a policeman and two civilians (one of them a small child) dead. Kuntar was hailed as a hero when he returned to Lebanon in 2008 and he later joined Hezbollah. Kuntar was a rare Druze who became an Islamic terrorist. Thus he was seen as valuable to Hezbollah and the Assads for his ability to attract Druze support. However Israel is believed to have gone after Kuntar because he was suspected of working directly with Iran, not Hezbollah, to organize terror attacks inside Israel. For this reason a major revenge attack by Hezbollah is not expected. Many Syrian Sunni Arabs openly (via the Internet) thanked Israel for killing Kuntar who, as an agent of Iran, was seen as a threat to Sunnis as well as Israelis. Israel may have gained the needed information on exactly where Kuntar was from Sunni Arab rebels in Syria. Israel is on speaking terms with some of these groups, mainly to help keep the peace along the border. One rebel group (the FSA) took credit for killing Kuntar. It is also believed that Israel used an air or ground launched missile to get Kuntar in order to avoid possible trouble with the S-400 anti-aircraft missile system Russia is believed to have operational in Syria.
December 18, 2015: Off the Somali coast two Iranian fishermen were killed when their boat was attacked by Somali pirates. The Iranians were armed and fought back and repulsed the pirates. Currently two other Iranian fishing boats and their crews are being held by the Somali pirates. Iran advises its ocean going fishing boats to stay away from Somalia. These slow moving ocean-going fishing trawlers cannot out-run the pirates in speedboats. These "freezer trawlers" are up to 100 meters (310 feet) long and have facilities on board to store hundreds of tons of frozen fish. These ships normally stay at sea months at a time and have crews of 15-30. The pirates don't get as large a ransom for fishing ships as they do for larger cargo and tanker ships but for the last few years these trawlers and slow coastal freighters are all the pirates can get. The Iranian ships are coastal freezer trawlers, which are often old and worth less than half a million dollars each.
December 15, 2015: On the Gaza border a roadside bomb failed to harm Israeli soldiers who were passing by while patrolling the security fence. A Shia Islamic terrorist group (Al Sabirin) claimed responsibility. Hamas provides sanctuary for Al Sabirin because it is an Iran backed group that is dedicated to carrying out attacks against Israel. Hamas provides support in order to continue receiving cash and other aid from Iran. Al Sabirin was founded in 2013 and sought to recruit 400 men but has not been able to obtain even half that. The problem is that few Palestinians are Shia and not many are willing to convert for a job as a Shia Islamic terrorist. Iran has cut most aid to Gaza because Hamas supports the fight against the Assad government in Syria. This is necessary because most of the foreign aid Hamas does get is from Sunni Arab oil states. When Hamas gets too much pressure from Egypt or Israel about Al Sabirin violence some of the Shia terrorists will be arrested, and within a week, once things have quieted down, released.
December 10, 2015: In Syria the Iranian officer commanding the Afghan brigade was killed in combat. This brigade is composed of Afghan Shia recruited by Iran to fight in Syria.
For the first time Israel is opening an officially recognized trade office in a Persian Gulf country. The UAE (United Arab Emirates) will host the office in Abu Dhabi. The Gulf Arabs are growing bolder in admitting their diplomatic, intelligence and economic relationships with Israel. In part this is because “the enemy of my enemy is my friend.” Israel is the official “worst enemy” of Iran which most Arab Gulf states regard as their most dangerous foe officially or unofficially. Since the late 1940s Israel has officially been the enemy of all Arab states because Israel defeated the Arabs in several wars as far larger Arab armies tried to destroy Israel and drive all Jews out of the region. Part of this campaign led to the creation of the “Palestinian people” in the 1960s and repeated assurances that the greatly outnumbered Israelis would eventually succumb to Arab might. That never happened and the Palestinians became notable only for their corruption and continued incompetence in dealing with Israel or each other. The Arab Gulf states, long the major financial supporters of the Palestinians, grew impatient with Palestinian failures, especially the inability to even form a united government. At the same time these wealthy Arab oil states were in need of a strong local ally. Israel has, for decades, offered to join a defensive alliance against Iran. In the 1990s unofficial (and very secret, to avoid popular Arab backlash) cooperation began. This grew as enthusiasm for the Palestinians declined.
December 8, 2015: In the southeast three policemen were killed and several more wounded by a roadside bomb. Two days earlier police had found and disabled a large (21 kg/46 pounds) bomb in the same area (near the Pakistani border). Both bombs apparently belonged to Baluchi Sunni rebels who operate in the area.