Iran cannot afford to contribute large sums for reconstruction in Syria, but is allowing Iranian entrepreneurs to build factories and other commercial operations in Syria. Some of these commercial activities will be, as is the case inside Iran, partly owned or controlled by the IRGC (Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps). Iran is determined to finally achieve a victory over Israel using the growing control it has in Syria.
Israel sees the situation differently and is concerned about the Iranians in Syria doing something desperate and stupid. Over the last year, the IRGC has suffered multiple defeats, usually delivered by Israel or the Americans. Many of these embarrassments have occurred in Syria, where Israel finds and destroys IRGC projects will great regularity. Many Iranians do not see this as an Iranian defeat but just another reason why the IRGC is hated by most Iranians. Blame is most often directed at the IRGC and the Islamic dictatorship that has ruled (and mismanaged) Iran since the 1980s. Iranians see corrupt IRGC men and Shia clergy in general as responsible for their current economic and diplomatic woes. The IRGC is not seen as the protector of the Iranian people but rather the source of growing violence against Iranians who protest the proliferating poverty. The IRGC is accused, by Iranians and the rest of the world, of trying to taunt someone, preferably the United States or Israel, into attacking Iran itself. That would make the IRGC more popular inside Iran. Many Iranians are not so sure. Meanwhile, the Americans concentrate their sanctions on Iranian leaders, including senior IRGC commanders, which is a popular move among most Iranians.
Israel has not only become an active ally of most Arabian Arab states but many Iranian leaders believe joint Israeli and Arab military operations are already taking place. An example of this is the belief, inside Iran, that an Israeli F-35 escaped detection by Iranian military and commercial aviation radars earlier in 2019 to take high-resolution photos over Iranian cities and key military facilities. Senior Iranian air defense commanders lost their jobs over this in late May. The Israelis never claimed to have done this, although such silence is normal. If Israel did this it either meant the F-35 used a Saudi airbase to refuel or the Saudis allowed the F-35 and an Israeli aerial tanker free passage through Saudi air space. In early July the Israeli leader remarked that Israeli warplanes can operate anywhere in the Middle East. This connects with the Iranian suspicions that the Israelis really were sending in F-35s to confirm the effectiveness of the stealth and to confirm that Israeli warplanes could carry out a devastating air assault on Iran, despite all the air defenses Iran has amassed and recently upgraded. Whether or not this overflight actually happened, the damage has been done to the IRGC, whose main job is preventing foreign operations like this inside Iran.
The Saudis carry on with efforts to defeat the Shia rebels despite UN pressure to make a peace deal the Shia rebels would currently accept. Such a deal would restore the Shia autonomy in the north and make it possible for Iran to continue supplying the Shia tribes with weapons that can be used to attack Saudi Arabia. To the Saudis that is unacceptable given that the Iranians are openly calling for the overthrow of the Saudi government, and Iran taking over as the “protector of the two Most Holy Islamic cities of Mecca and Medina”. Most Moslems do not want Iran in charge of Mecca and Medina. The Iranians are Shia Moslems and Shia comprise only about ten percent of all Moslems. The Saudis are largely Sunni, a version of Islam about 80 percent of Moslems belong to. Moreover, the Iranians are not Arabs. Rather the Iranians are Indo-European and for many Moslems that is a big deal because Islam was founded by Arabs and the Moslem scriptures (the Koran) are written in Arabic. The Saudis go to great lengths to prevent the Shia provinces in northwest Yemen from becoming an Iran base area. Meanwhile, the Iranians have convinced many of the Shia Yemenis that getting their autonomy back should be non-negotiable because without that autonomy the Yemeni Shia will be vulnerable to retaliation from all the other Yemeni groups the Shia rebels have harmed during the four years of civil war.
The Yemeni government had complained that, before the rebels were forced to withdraw from these ports, UN personnel supervising the aid shipments were unable to inspect suspicious cargoes which, the government points out, obviously contained major weapons shipments. How else do you explain the appearance of nearly a hundred Iranian long-range missiles used in attacks on Saudi Arabia? Most of these missiles were shot down by Saudi missile defense systems and there were plenty of missile fragments left to analyze and conclusively prove what model of Iranian missile they were. The UN agreed with that and condemned Iran. There have been no more Iranian missiles smuggled in since the ports were shut down by government forces surrounding with ground forces and a naval blockade, in late 2018.
Iran was pleased to see Pakistan recently pledge to cease further involvement with Afghan “internal conflicts.” Most everyone else in the region did not believe Pakistan. Iranians, Indians and Afghans do generally agree that Pakistan has no interest in abandoning its use of certain Islamic terror groups (like the Taliban) to put pressure on neighbors. This is considered a problem for everyone, especially the Afghans. Worse, few people in the region (especially Afghans and Iranians) expect the Taliban to agree to a ban on Taliban controlled Afghanistan again becoming a sanctuary for Islamic terrorists. Many Afghans are wondering why the Americans are even negotiating with the Taliban, who have long demonstrated that they cannot be trusted. Iranians are particularly wary of this as they see the Taliban as inherently anti-Iranian. Iran also has issues with the Afghan drug gangs, who continue to produce, with Pakistani cooperation, all that heroin, opium and hashish. Much of it gets out of Afghanistan via Iran and that has turned the Iran/Afghan border into an increasingly bloody battle zone.
The U.S. now considers Pakistan a problem in the war against terrorism rather than a reliable partner. India and Afghanistan share that view as do a growing number of UN members. At the same time, Iran needs to maintain good relations with Pakistan, the only Moslem nation with nuclear weapons.
August 5, 2019: Iran has agreed to increase cash payments to Hamas to $30 million a month in return for data on the location of Israeli missile storage sites. Iran apparently wants that data to program the many GPS guided rockets and ballistic missiles it has aimed at Israel. Many of the rockets are in Lebanon and some are in Gaza. Iran wants to have a chance to destroy some of the missile stockpiles for Israeli anti-aircraft systems. Currently, Iran is not supplying Hamas with regular cash contributions. Iranian ally Qatar is supplying $10 million a month to Hamas and that is only getting in because Egypt and Israel allow it. Smuggling cash into Gaza is not easy but it can be done. Some of it will get through.
Britain announced that it would join with the U.S. to provide warships to escort shipping into and through the Persian Gulf. Earlier South Korea also agreed to contribute a destroyer to participate in the effort.
In Yemen, the Saudi air force shot down another explosives equipped Shia rebel UAV headed for a target in Saudi Arabia. Iran backed Shia rebels still receive some weapons from Iran. The ballistic missiles are too difficult to smuggle in now but the small UAVs are another matter.
August 4, 2019: IRGC speedboats were involved in seizing another small tanker in the Persian Gulf. This Iraqi tanker was accused of smuggling Iranian fuel (sold very cheaply in Iran) to Arab countries where the fuel sold for a lot more. This fuel smuggling has been going on for a long time without any Iranian efforts to seize tankers. That has changed now as Iran seeks to portray itself as the policeman for the Persian Gulf. In effect Iran is reviving an old claim that the Persian Gulf belongs to Iran, but only if Iran can assert that control. Iran announced that it is now in charge of dealing with all “maritime offenses” in the Persian Gulf. Desperate times sometimes call for outrageous measures.
In central Syria (Homs province), there were several large explosions at an ammo storage area in the Shayrat Airbase. Syria said it was an accident, which left 31 soldiers and Shia militiamen dead because they were removing older and defective shells for disposal. Shayrat Airbase is also used to store Iranian missiles and other weapons headed for Hezbollah in Lebanon. The U.S. attacked the base in 2017 because it was believed to be where chemical weapons were stored.
August 1, 2019: The government has decided to issue new currency that will deal with the enormous inflation and the bad reputation the rial has acquired. Currently, it costs 120,000 rials to buy a dollar. The new currency, the toman, will make that 12 toman to the dollar. The toman was what some Iranian currency was called for a long time, until 1925. Many Iranians still use the term. At the end of 2018, the government managed to reverse, for the moment, the decline in the value of Iranian currency against foreign currencies. Using a combination of Central Bank spending more dollars to support the rial and the police driving a lot of black-market currency exchange operations out of business, or suspending activities until the crackdown subsides, the exchange rate has returned to what it was at the end of July (105,000 rials per dollar). The collapse of the rial was caused by inflation rising faster than expected. The inflation rate of nearly 40 percent is mainly the result of shortages of essential items, like medicines and consumer items in general. Food is getting more expensive. The shortages and rising prices are mainly because the rial has lost so much of its value compared to the American dollar. In late November one dollar cost 120,000 rials on the black market versus the official (government) rate of 42,000 rials. Foreign currency market analysts believed the official rate is about half what the real rate is and that more extreme rates are more about so many Iranians participating in currency speculation than anything else. That explains the peak of the speculation in October when it briefly hit 190,000 rials per dollar. The government does not have enough dollars to meet demand and increasingly the black market rate is all anyone has access to. Because of that, the speculation driven peaks don’t last but they do contribute to the general uneasiness about the economic future. Iran is now trying to ban the use of dollars inside Iran. Changing the currency is expensive but most Iranians appreciate it because the low value of the rial meant that people were carrying around a lot of paper currency just to handles daily transactions.
In Yemen, the Iran-backed Shia rebels claim to have used an Iranian ballistic missile and UAVs to attack a military ceremony in the port city of Aden, which is the temporary capital of Yemen. The Shia rebels have held the traditional capital since 2015. Whether the attacks used suicide bombers or long-range weapons over 30 people were killed.
July 31, 2019: The United States announced sanctions on Javad Zarif, the Iranian Foreign Minister, who the Americans accuse of being a terrorism enabler. The personal sanctions won’t have much impact on Zarif’s foreign travels because as long as he has diplomatic immunity he can’t be touched. Iran is less respectful of diplomatic immunity but that’s one of the many misdeeds the country is in trouble for.
July 30, 2019: The EU (European Union) has persisted in trying to get their INSTEX (Instrument in Support of Trade Exchanges) financial system, designed to get around American economic sanctions and allow payment in hard currency to Iran for oil, working. The EU believes they have succeeded, sort of. Recently a test transaction was successfully completed. The Americans have been able to block such schemes and the Europeans, unlike the Chinese, were willing to persist and take on the United States despite the Americans have been remarkably effective at blocking such systems. The EU, mainly Germany, Britain and France, persisted and is now seeking to put a real transaction through. The Europeans are responding to Iranian threats to resume nuclear weapons development unless the Europeans either find a way around the resumed (by the U.S.) sanctions. EU efforts to get the Americans to back down on at least some of the sanctions have failed and INSTEX is their Plan B. Many European leaders are trying but a growing number of European voters are turning against these pro-Iran policies. The EU financial experts have been working on INSTEX since January 2019. If INSTEX does work for Germany, Britain and France, China has said it would be willing to join the INSTEX system.
July 29, 2019: The government announced a new law that would make it a crime for Iranian women to send pictures to social media of themselves without a head covering. Those convicted could spend 1-10 years in prison.
July 28, 2019: In northern Iraq (Saladin Province, some 200 kilometers north of Baghdad), Iranian PMF complained of their base being attacked by an unidentified aircraft. There were several casualties and damage was done to the base, which is believed to be a storage facility for Iranian ballistic missiles. Israel was blamed for the attack. The bombed base is 80 kilometers from the Iran border and this is the second time this month it has been hit. Israel will not comment on these attacks although retired Israeli military leaders believe that Iraqi bases used by Iran for moving modern weapons to Syria and Lebanon are now legitimate targets and capable of being hit. Israeli warplanes now have long-range air-to-ground missiles so these attacks could be launched from Israeli warplanes flying over eastern Syria. Speculation is that Israeli F-35I aircraft are being used and Israel is fine with such rumors because it makes the F-35I seem even more formidable. If the F-35I flew into Iraq (as some witnesses of the attacks claim) it would have required aerial refueling. That’s because to operate in full stealth mode the F-35 cannot be carrying any external attachments, like fuel tanks. Some bombs can be carried internally but without external fuel tanks aerial refueling is required to reach Iraq and return.
July 26, 2019: In Nigeria, the Federal High Court banned IMN
(Islamic Movement in Nigeria) and declared it a violent organization. IMN is a Shia group that has recently been conducting violent demonstrations to protest what they see as unjust government persecution and imprisonment of their leader since 2015. Several of the recent demonstrations have been violent and over twenty demonstrators have died in the last week. Until recently there has not been much violent activity from the Shia. That changed with the recent protests. Back in late 2015 and into 2016 the security forces cracked down hard on IMN and the group became a lot less violent for nearly three years. There are about seven million Shia in Nigeria and since the 1980s a growing number of them have joined IMN, a group founded and quietly supported by Iran (IRGC). While relations between Shia and Sunni Moslems have generally been good in Nigeria, local Sunni radical groups like Boko Haram practice the anti-Shia attitudes so common in Sunni terror groups like al Qaeda and the Taliban. IMN always proclaimed itself a peaceful group that welcomed all Moslems but over the years it has become all Shia and a lot more militant, but not as much as your average Islamic terror group. Most Nigerian Shia are not interested in supporting a Shia Boko Haram but given the Iranian influence on some IMN leaders there may develop another radical and violent IMN faction. The court ban can be appealed and Nigerian Shia are likely to appeal.
In southwest Pakistan, near where the Iranian, Afghan and Pakistani borders meet, Pakistani border troops found an Iranian UAV. They brought to their base and sought to find out who was using it. The UAV had no national markings, as Iranian military UAVs normally do.
July 24, 2019: In eastern Syria (Daraa province), an Israeli airstrike hit an Iranian base shared with the Syrian Army. It was later revealed that six Iranians and three Syrian military personnel were killed.
In southern Iran, there was another test of the Shahab 3 ballistic missile, which has been in service for about two decades. This test sent the missile about 1,100 kilometers and the warhead landed somewhere east of Tehran. Shahab 3 is basically 1960s technology with the addition of GPS guidance. Russian and North Korean missile technology has been obtained to make these missiles work. This has resulted in missile designs that apparently will function properly about 80 percent of the time, and deliver a warhead of about one ton, to a range of at least 1,000 kilometers, to within a hundred meters of where it was aimed. By current standards, this is a pretty effective weapon.
In Singapore, police seized another Chinese liquid natural gas tanker, the second such seizure in three days. A German bank ordered the seizure because the Chinese owner of the tankers was in violation of the loan agreement (the tankers were collateral) because the tankers were being used to smuggle Iranian natural gas.
July 23, 2019: Iran publically reassured Iraq that tankers and other ships working for Iraq would not be interfered with by Iranian forces that are seizing or threatening British tankers.
July 21, 2019: In Syria (Damascus), a car bomb killed Mashur Zidan, a senior Hezbollah commander working with pro-Assad Hezbollah forces in Syria. Hezbollah blamed this attack on Israel because Israel had recently killed another Hezbollah commander (using a missile-armed UAV) who was an associate of Zidan. Airspace over Damascus is too dangerous for Israeli UAVs but arranging for a car bomb is something Mossad (the Israeli CIA) has done before. Hezbollah commanders like Zidan are openly complaining about how much damage the sanctions on Iran have done to Hezbollah. In the last few months, the cash received from Iran to maintain Hezbollah has been reduced by half. Despite, or because of, the reduced Iranian aid, Hezbollah has declared that an attack on Iran by anyone will trigger a Hezbollah attack on Israel.
July 19, 2019: In the Strait of Hormuz (the entrance to the Persian Gulf) Iranian armed speedboats and a helicopter carrying commandos, seized a small British tanker and moved it to an Iranian port. A British frigate was behind the tanker and warned the Iranians to back off but the helicopter was an unexpected element and it allowed Iranian troops to rappel down ropes onto the tanker and take control before the frigate could open fire. Another British operated tanker was boarded by Iranian troops and issued a warning about a “violation.” The British only have one warship in the Persian Gulf for such escorts and in July that warship had 85 “interactions” with Iranian military vessels. These were usually IRGC armed speedboats and many times the British threatened the Iranians to back off, which they usually did.
In northern Iraq (Saladin Province, some 200 kilometers north of Baghdad), Iranian PMF complained of their base being attacked by an unidentified aircraft, possibly a UAV. The bombed base is 80 kilometers from the Iran border. It was later revealed that a senior IRGC Quds Force commander was killed in the raid.
July 18, 2019: In the Strait of Hormuz an American amphibious ships downed at least one of two Iranian UAVs that approached the U.S. vessel. An electronic device was used to disrupt the control signal of the UAV. One UAV down was confirmed while the second one that came along an hour after the first, was not confirmed.
The U.S. announced sanctions on several Iraqis, including several accused of corruption and two for leading Iran backed PMF militias. The sanctions on individuals are often just an annoyance although for those who are corrupt the personal sanctions can be expensive
Pakistan agreed to abide by a decision of the International Court of Justice which, yesterday, agreed with India that Pakistan had violated international law (the 1963 Vienna Convention) in the way it treated Kulbhushan Jadhav, a former Indian naval officer. Pakistan accused Jadhav, who left the navy in 2001 and founded a business in Iran, of still being in the navy and operating as an intelligence agent based in Iran. Pakistan alleged that Jadhav operated an intelligence operation in southwest Pakistan (Baluchistan) and provided support for Baluchi separatists who continue to attack Pakistani security forces. Pakistan has long claimed, without much in the way of proof, that India was supporting violence inside Pakistan. India accused Pakistan of kidnapping Jadhav from Iran in 2016 and bringing him to Baluchistan where he was arrested and accused of espionage and terrorism. A Pakistani court found Jadhav guilty in 2017 and sentenced him to death. The execution has not been carried out yet. The international court ruled that Pakistan violated international agreements that give foreigners accused of crimes “consular access” to someone from their embassy. Pakistan conducted the prosecution and trial of Jadhav with what appeared to be fabricated evidence. Even many Pakistanis doubted the credibility of the case. The fact that Pakistan refused Jadhav access to any Indian (or non-Pakistani) officials was, to India and many other foreign observers of Pakistani behavior in Baluchistan, another Pakistani effort to blame India for the growing separatist violence in Baluchistan. Iran agreed with India that the Pakistani case seemed contrived and the international court agreed. Of the 16 judges hearing the case, 15 ruled against Pakistani. The one dissenting opinion came from a former Pakistani chief justice. The international court is composed of senior judges from many countries.