Iran: Has-Been Trying To Make A Comeback

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December 5, 2019: The religious dictatorship feels beset on all sides by enemies. In this case, this is a reality, not paranoia. While the government has been able to crush large scale demonstrations quickly, this brutality comes with a long-term cost. In other words, most Iranians hate their government. It’s not just the brutal suppression of public protests, but the inability to deliver basic government services.

The “Council of Guardians” has the final authority in Iran and is composed of elderly Shia clerics who appear, on the surface, to be wise and caring holy men. The reality is that the “Guardians” preside over a corrupt and incompetent bureaucracy. That is the cause of the growing hatred of the religious government. The secret police monitor public opinion, via informant reports about attitudes on the street as well as Internet chatter. Government efforts to blame economic problems on Israeli sabotage and American sanctions were not working. The blame was on the religious government and the refusal of the religious leaders to change has not only turned most Iranians against the government but increasingly willing to go to violently protest their dire situation. That the IRGC (Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps) boasts of its ability to mobilize fanatic and violence-prone defenders of the government, persuades more Iranians that violence is the only answer to their problems. While the IRGC is losing supporters as well, there are still enough left to terrorize much of the population.

What the IRGC does not have are any victories outside Iraq to boast about and justify the large share of the government budget and economic activity it  receives. Inside Iran, the IRGC are seen as greedy and dishonest thugs pretending to defend Islam and Iran. They are not defending Islam but are suppressing any criticism of the corruption and inability to justify all the money spent on foreign wars. This is a painful truth that is repeated daily via news reports of more anti-Iran protests in nations the IRGC says it controls. Public protests in Iraq and Lebanon are growing in intensity and in both nations pro-Iran prime ministers have been forced to resign. In Yemen, Syria and Gaza there are growing numbers of locals who would rather be fighting Iran than befriending them. The IRGC “war on Israel” has never been much of a success and during the last few years has been a string of very public defeats for the IRGC and Iran.

Friends in Europe

One victory has been the economic support of the EU (European Union), which disagrees with the United States' decision to revive sanctions against Iran. These sanctions have worked and the EU response was INSTEX (Instrument in Support of Trade Exchanges). This is a financial system designed to get around American economic sanctions. INSTEX is a barter system that enables INSTEX members to pay Iran for oil or other exports via barter.

In November six more EU nations (Belgium, Denmark, Finland, the Netherlands, Norway, and Sweden) agreed to participate alongside founding members France, Germany, and Britain. The EU believes it has succeeded in establishing INSTEX. In mid-2019 a test transaction was successfully completed. But by the end of 2019 INSTEX had not yet been used to pay for any trade between EU members and Iran. Moreover, INSTEX members say they will only use this payment method for humanitarian goods that will benefit the Iranian people and not the government. Meanwhile, Russia and China have established their own barter systems with Iran.

The Americans have been able to block such schemes from weakening the impact of sanctions. 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. Iran praises its European “allies:” but also announces that it is accelerating their nuclear fuel production, including the ability to produce weapons-grade nuclear material.

Victory Over Iranians

Iranians who remembered the 2009 and 2017 protests were shocked at how brutal the IRGC was in suppressing the latest protests. Even the IRGC admitted the protests that began on November 15th were nationwide (29 out of 31 provinces) and many involved several hundred thousand people. In response, thousands of armed IRGC enforcers were called out and told they had a license to kill. The scariest of these enforcers were the Basij, a reserve force of true believers whose main talent is street violence. Some of them were armed and ordered to shoot any civilians who seemed to be encouraging, organizing or leading the demonstrators. The Basij were told it was better to wound than to kill because that would remove many demonstrators from the scene as they hustled to get the wounded troublemaker some medical care. For killing the IRGC has brought in snipers and spotters who identified likely leaders and killed them. To further terrorize protestors the IRGC used its files of “usual suspects” (anyone ever believed to be anti-government) and staged midnight or pre-dawn raids on homes to arrest these suspects for questioning. That was a scary prospect because people taken away at night by the IRGC for questioning are often never seen again, at least not alive.

Initially, the violence had the opposite effect and the protestors turned violent. This manifested itself in attacks on the IRGC people seeking to terrorize the crowds as well as attacks on banks. While the banks were largely privately owned they did a lot of the economic dirty work for the government and, because of that, the banks were seen as part of the government corruption and mismanagement. Nationwide at least 700 banks were set on fire along with more than a hundred government buildings. The banks were not guarded while many government buildings are.

The government is trying to suppress the publication of any details of those killed during the suppression efforts. But with the Internet back on after a week, those details are flooding into social media and all manner of Internet-based communications. It appears that over 200 died in the capital (Tehran) alone the national total may be as high as a thousand or more. Arrests are harder to count because many of those arrested were released but told they would be arrested again, perhaps “permanently” if they discussed their recent arrest and interrogation.

Iraq

General Soleimani, head of the IRGC Quds Force is in Iraq, along with senior Hezbollah commander Mohammad Kawtharani, who is helping pro-Iran Iraqi militias create an Iraqi Hezbollah, are working together to persuade key Iraqi factions to back a pro-Iran politician to replace Adil Abdul Mahdi, who was a compromise candidate when he became Iraqi prime minister in October 2018. Mahdi has worked with Iran in the past but as prime minister was considered wary of Iranian influence and intentions. In an effort to gain more public support he sought to move government offices outside the Green Zone and directly address corruption issues. Mahdi had to deal with an increasingly nationalist and anti-Iran parliament. This reflected growing public anger at Iranian meddling.

Overall Iran considered the elevation of Mahdi as a defeat and that proved to be the case when Mahdi was unable to deal with the recent anti-corruption and anti-Iran protests. Soleimani and Kawtharani are hustling to find enough Iraqi leaders who are pro-Iran or for hire to back a new, even more, pro-Iran prime minister. The task is proving difficult as is finding willing and effective allies. A major problem is that Iran is seen as weak and beset on all sides by enemies who oppose Iran and do so for good reason. Decades of dirty deeds and trying to be a badass have not made Iran very popular or feared in the region. Iran is seen as its own worst enemy and prone to actions that harm other nations. Wars against Saudi Arabia, America and Israel are seen as particularly foolish because these three nations are the three most powerful in the region. Iran should be more powerful than Saudi Arabia, as it was before the 1979 revolution. But since the humiliating stalemate ending of the 1980s war with Iraq, Iran has been regarded as a has-been trying to make a comeback. For the Quds Force and Hezbollah commanders, this is a matter of life and death because if the Iranian government is overthrown it will be over the dead bodies of guys like Soleimani and Kawtharani.

The Iraq anti-corruption demonstrations have, since October 1st, left nearly 400 dead and over 18,000 injured. The protest is not just about corruption but also the Iranian efforts to control Iraq and exploit the rampant Iraqi corruption to do so. Protestors consider the current government crippled by politicians who are pro-Iran or have been bribed to do what Iran wants. Both the Iraqi and Iranian governments were caught by surprise at the size, ferocity and persistence of the protests. This eventually included the most senior Iraqi Shia clerics backing the protestors, which was a major embarrassment for the senior Iranian Shia clerics, who have been running Iran since the 1980s and had hoped to persuade their Iraqi colleagues to adopt the same system. The Iraqi Shia clerics considered the idea after the Sunni dictatorship and Saddam Hussein was overthrown in 2003, but gradually realized that this form of religious dictatorship wasn’t working in Iran and was definitely not going to work in Iraq. The Iraqi Shia clerics tried to explain to their Iranian peers that Iraqi Shia were eager to worship together with other Shia, including Iranians, but were generally opposed to Iranian politics or political control. A growing number of Iranian clergy understand and accept that. But the Shia clergy who still control the Iranian government refuses to accept that reality, despite the fact that a growing number of Iranians are out in the streets protesting the religious dictatorship running Iran into the ground.

While the current unrest in Iraq is mainly about corruption, there is also an anti-Iran undertone. The Iranians have taken advantage of many corrupt government officials in Iraq. In fact, Iranian “advisors” rely on corrupt Iraqi officials to survive and thrive. For this reason, one thing the rioters and the government could agree on was how important it was to retain American troops in Iraq. This would discourage Iran from trying to take over the government by force. Iran already has a lot of influence in the Iraqi government. For example at the end of October the head of the Iranian Quds Force, general Soleimani flew to Baghdad and presided over a meeting of senior Iraqi officials on how to deal with the growing violence. Soleimani was there to show Iraqi officials how Iran had suppressed similar mass protests in Iran.

Soleimani did not reveal any details to the media. That would have been interesting because the situation in Iran is quite different. For example, Iraq is a democracy while Iran is a religious dictatorship pretending to be a democracy. Moreover, Iran has a “royal guard” force in the IRGC, which Quds is a part of. While Quds specializes in disrupting or controlling foreign governments, most of the IRGC personnel exist to prevent the Iranian armed forces or the Iranian people from overthrowing the religious dictatorship. Iraq is a democracy and there is nothing similar to the IRGC. If there were, such a force would be very unpopular because it would remind many Iraqi Shia of the Saddam Hussein era Republican Guard. This was a carefully recruited and well-paid force of Sunni Arab troops whose primary job was to keep the majority (80 percent who are not Sunni Arab) from taking control. Quds has been trying to create an Iraqi IRGC in the form of pro-Iran PMF (Popular Mobilization Force) militias. That has backfired as many Iraqis in the Iran-backed PMF brigades have changed their minds about supporting Iran. A growing number of Iraqis are convinced that most of the protestors killed were murdered by Iranians or pro-Iranian PMF members. Time and again the killings are carried out either by snipers (which Quds is a big fan of) or groups of uniformed masked gunmen firing on protestors. PMF members wear military uniforms while the masks and killing demonstrators are a Quds thing.

Iraqi elections and opinion polls document how Iran is losing support in Iraq and the Iranians are desperate to turn that around and will do dangerous things as part of that effort. Iraqi government efforts to stop the verbal threats to American facilities and forces as well as the actual violence are hampered by the fact that while a shrinking minority of Iraqis support Iran, those supporters still occupy key political and security force jobs. This is why the army was accused of opening fire on protestors although most Iraqis believe the shooters were pro-Iran PMF, who also wear army uniforms.

The entire PMF is seen as another form of corruption and that was confirmed when the 2019 military budget was announced and showed a quarter of the budget was going to the PMF, which is supposed to be part of the army but still answers to the Interior Minister rather than the Defense Ministry. Iran also “owns” many Iraqi politicians. This loyalty is obtained via bribes, threats and a shrinking element of belief in the value of Iran having a lot of control over Iraqi affairs.

Iran and the Quds Force faces a similar problem in Lebanon. There, Hezbollah enjoys the allegiance of fewer and fewer Lebanese. The core Hezbollah support is the Shia minority (normally about a third of the population) and some political allies in the form of Christian factions. Thanks to the influx of so many Syrian Sunni Arabs since 2011, the Sunnis in Lebanon are no longer dwarfed by the Shia numbers. The violence Iran brought to Syria and support of the hated (by most Lebanese) Assad dictatorship created record levels of anti-Hezbollah and anti-Iran attitudes. That is demonstrated weekly by large and loud anti-Iran demonstrations. General Soleimani has been spending a lot of time in Lebanon as well. There he confers mainly with Hezbollah leaders because most Lebanese politicians want nothing to do with Quds or Iran.

Soleimani tends to offer the same advice in both Lebanon and Iraq; if persuasion or threats don’t work, anonymously open fire and keep shooting, especially at known or suspected leaders, until the unrest subsides. That often works in a police state, which Iran is, but not so much in democracies, which Iraq and Lebanon are. You can see why Iran opposes true democracy. Iran has a democracy but there is a group of senior clerics who can veto anything the Iranian parliament tries to do and even block “unsuitable” Iranians seeking to run for office.

Yemen

There has been a major reduction in fighting since October as both sides talk about the possibility of a ceasefire and peace deal. No real progress there. Meanwhile, the Shia rebels have been attacking Red Sea shipping. This is part of an Iranian effort to retaliate for economic sanctions on Iran. While coalition airstrikes are down about 80 percent since October this is changing because of the rebel threat to Red Sea shipping.

After Iranian UAVs attacked Saudi oil facilities in September, the Saudis have sought to negotiate some kind of long-term ceasefire in Yemen. Since they are dealing with Iran they are wary of how such an agreement is worded and implemented. This is because Iranian support has enabled the Shia rebels to survive four years of Arab coalition efforts to defeat them and end the Shia rebellion. UN pressure to make peace ignored the fact that restoring Shia autonomy (lost in the 1960s) in the north would make it possible for Iran to continue supplying the Shia tribes with weapons that can be used to attack Saudi Arabia or, according to Israeli leaders, Israel. The rebels still control a hundred kilometers of Red Sea coast and are now using that to threaten all shipping passing by headed for Saudi, Egyptian, Jordanian and Israeli ports as well as the Suez Canal. Traffic going south is headed for the Gulf of Aden and anywhere in the world. The Saudis do not trust Iran and will not accept Iranian weapons and “advisors” on their southwestern border as well as the Red Sea coast. The Red Sea commercial traffic moves over a billion dollars’ worth of raw materials and finished goods each month. This traffic is of vital economic importance to the Arab Gulf states, Israel, Egypt and Jordan. With access to the Red Sea coast, Iran can threaten all of it and let the Shia rebels take the credit (and blame).

The rebels currently provide Iran with access to the Saudi border and for the Saudis that is unacceptable, given the fact 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”. The Saudis suddenly feel more sympathy for Israel and the years of Iran-financed violence on Israel’s southern border where Gaza-based Hamas exists mainly to try and destroy Israel.

Afghanistan

The growing popular unrest in neighboring Iran had reduced Iranian support for some tribal and Taliban factions in western Afghanistan. That support (with guns, money and sanctuaries) has been going on for decades. Actually this has been a factor in local politics for centuries. That is why one of the “national” languages of Afghanistan is Dari, a variant of Farsi (or Persian, the main language in Iran). Currently, Iran is broke and there is growing popular unrest against the religious dictatorship that has run the country since the 1980s. While the supplies of cash and weapons have largely disappeared some Taliban factions still maintain bases in eastern Iran and have access to local medical facilities and markets.

Gaza

In late November the Gaza-based and Iran-backed Islamic Jihad Islamic terror group declared the latest round of fighting with Israel over after having achieved its purpose. Exactly what the purpose was is hard to see. Islamic Jihad lost its leader to an Israeli airstrike, used a lot of its rockets against Israel, caused some damage but did not kill any Israelis. Islamic Jihad also lost a lot of rockets before they could be fired because of airstrikes against rocket storage sites and rocket building workshops. Islamic did show off some of its new (to Gaza) rocket designs they obtained from Iran. These Badr 3 unguided rockets have a longer range (40 kilometers) and larger warheads (250 kg/550 pounds). Israeli voters have seen the immense damage these inaccurate rockets can do and are putting more pressure on the government to destroy the stockpiles in Gaza. That is difficult to do because most of these rockets are deliberately stored in residential neighborhoods or in schools and hospitals.

Syria and Lebanon

Israel has become more aggressive against what Iran is doing in Syria to prepare for major attacks on Israel. At the same time, Iran and Russia are backing Syrian forces coming to the aid of the Kurds. Russia needs to remain on good terms with Israel despite the fact the Russian allies (or “partners”) in Syria (Turkey, Iran and the Assads) all want Israel destroyed. Israel will continue to attack any Iranian moves towards Israel, especially the Israeli border and those attacks have recently become more intense.

Iran was surprised by the Americans withdrawing their troops from Syria and leaving the Kurds without American air support and the presence of U.S. troops. That was not entirely true as the Americans are keeping some troops, and air support, to protect the Kurdish-run oil fields in eastern Syria. The Americans moved their withdrawing troops to the Iraq border. The Iranians have more than Turkey and Israel to worry about. The Syrian effort is costing Iran a lot of money, which they cannot afford. This has led to a major reduction in Iranian mercenary forces in Syria and the Quds and IRGC forces there are mainly concerned with carrying out an attack on Israel. The humiliation of constant defeats in the form of Israeli airstrikes and loss of Iranian lives has enraged the Iranians. But it has not empowered them to do any better. So far Iran has tolerated the losses and continues to pour resources into permanently establishing itself in Syria. Iran is determined to finally achieve a victory over Israel using the growing presence it has in Syria but is encountering resistance from Russia, Syria, Turkey, Iraq and most NATO nations. Now there is the Turkish invasion that has made the Iranians a potential battlefield opponent of the Turks. Iran made it clear it was not willing to do much about halting the invading Turks. Over the last four centuries, Iran has fought the Turks many times and usually lost. The same pattern with Israel and over the last two centuries Russia has also been a difficult foe. Back in Iran most Iranians are more willing to recognize what a bad place Syria is for Iran. Since 2017 there have been more and more public protests about that, and other shortcomings of the Iranian government.

December 4, 2019: In eastern Syria (Deir Ezzor province) there was apparently another Israeli airstrike against Iranian weapons being stored near the Al Bukamal crossing into Iraq. This border crossing is vital for the Iran-to-Mediterranean land route. This road is essential to supporting any Iranian military expansion in Syria and Lebanon. Israel has bombed it before and will apparently continue doing so. That is what will also happen to the new military base Iran is building here on the Syrian side of the border. The base is nearly complete despite several Israeli airstrikes. At that point, the Israeli airstrikes usually intensify in an effort to obliterate the completed base.

American Internet security experts believe Iranian hackers have developed a new malware version of the software they had earlier used to delete all data from hard drives of the Saudi Aramco oil company. This new malware, called ZeroCleare, was apparently used against Saudi targets again but with less success because the Saudis improved their Internet security after the last attack. Iran was not the first to do this sort of thing. Back in 2012 Iranian PCs were hit by several different computer virus attacks that destroyed data and entire hard drives. There were at least two major attacks in 2012. Although aimed at government computers, a lot of home PCs were hit as well. These two attacks are thought to be from small groups of Israeli hackers, acting alone to strike back at Iran. Iran is also under constant attack by professional hackers from America and Israel. The latest Iranian attack was apparently carried out by a group called APT34, which was responsible for an earlier version of this software called OilRig and now the new ZeroCleare.

December 3, 2019: The parliament approved a $37 billion 2020 budget. That is one third less than the 2019 budget. In mid-2019 the government would put together the 2020 budget without including oil income. The economic situation has been made worse by more than two weeks of protests against the government and the economic crises. Over 400 protestors have died so far as the IRGC forces deployed against many of the protests have orders to shoot to kill if the protestors will not disperse. Over 7,000 protestors have been arrested and some were killed or tortured later. Instead, more of the protestors are armed and shoot back. Senior Shia religious scholars are pointing out, in media interviews, that it is permissible to literally crucify protestors or cut them to pieces. That apparently has not happened yet, in part because that would probably result in more anti-Islam activity by the protestors. Other Shia clerics call for “Islamic mercy” once the protests stop. The clergy are apparently trying both carrot and stick in a search for something that will halt the violent protests. The IRGC considers the protests suppressed but that is not entirely true and the government fears the protests will return soon.

December 2, 2019: A senior government official gave a speech to Iranian exporters about the current situation and admitted the obvious; that the latest sanctions were the strictest Iran had ever faced and that the government was doing everything possible to ease the impact. The official assured the audience that relief was on the way but would not reveal specifics.

November 30, 2019: The commander of the IRGC Quds Force, general Soleimani, flew to Iraq and presided over a meeting of senior Iraqi officials on how to deal with the growing violence and the recent resignation of the pro-Iran prime minister. Soleimani had been in Iraq a month ago to “advise” but that did not seem to have the desired impact.

Reza Pahlavi, the former crown prince of Iran now living in the United States, called on Iranians to begin working on a transitional government. He calls for a true democracy, a government by and for the people. Most Iranians are openly calling for that and a few even call for a return of the monarchy. The crown prince, unlike his father, does not back a return to monarchy. He was an 18 year-old fighter pilot trainee in the United States when his father was overthrown. The crown prince was old enough to understand what had happened in Iran during and after the revolution that sent the royal family into exile. The crown prince has become a major promoter of overthrowing the religious dictatorship that has ruled Iran since the 1980s. He is regularly denounced by the clerics who run Iran but has never been a direct threat to those clerics. The crown prince is a practicing Shia Moslem who has made the haj (pilgrimage) to Mecca. The crown prince recognizes that most Iranians alive today never experienced life under the Iranian monarchy and, at best, romanticize it. The crown prince does not believe the monarchy has a serious chance of returning to power. A constitutional monarchy is seen as a possibility, with the shah as the head of state with no legal power over the government. That would be a dangerous job because replacing the current religious dictatorship would leave behind a minority of diehard believers in the “Islamic Republic of Iran” and would be particularly hostile to any return of the royal family to Iran, even as private citizens. The crown prince has no brothers and he married an Egyptian and has three daughters. So he is the last of the line and knows it. Reports that many of the current protestors are calling for a return of the monarchy is not taken seriously by the crown prince or democrats in Iran. Protesters call for the restoration of the monarchy because nothing irritates the religious dictatorship more than Iranians seeking a return of the monarchy. The Shia clerics led a revolution that enabled them to oust the monarchy in 1979 and then take over the government in the 1980s. The current generation of Iranians has no actual experience living under the monarchy but it is clear from photos, videos and whispered confirmation from their elders that life was better under the monarchy even though there was still corruption, favoritism and secret police. In short, the shah (emperor) was never as oppressive as the current religious dictatorship. It is telling that the overseas Iranians, whose numbers have grown enormously since the 1980s, are organizing to support another revolution and many of the exiled aristocracies are involved. The exiles back a democratic Iran. For the current rulers of Iran, democracy is the greatest and most realistic threat of all.

November 27, 2019: An American destroyer halted and searched a dhow in the Indian Ocean (near Oman and Iran) because an ID check had shown it to be “stateless.” That indicated smuggling and a search of the cargo revealed a large quantity of key components for Iranian cruise missiles (both land-attack and anti-ship) as well as anti-aircraft and anti-tank missiles. The cargo was apparently headed for Yemen, where final delivery would probably be made by fishing boats carrying cargoes of weapons rather than recently caught fish. There are so many of these fishing boats off the Red Sea coast of Yemen that not all can be searched and the smuggler boats seek to appear less suspicious than the actual fishing boats. Iran pays what it takes to get this smuggling done and there are plenty of skilled smugglers in Yemen looking for work, no questions asked. Such cargoes used to be sent to Gaza on a regular basis but the Israeli-Egyptian blockade is tighter than ever and it is difficult to even get individuals or suitcases of cash into Gaza.

In southern Iraq (the Shia shrine city Najaf), protestors seized and burned down the Iranian consulate. The anti-Iran Shia protestors called the consulate a center for terrorism and Iranian efforts to dominate Iraq. That was no secret in Najaf and the surprising thing is Iran was not able to muster enough pro-Iran Iraqis to defend the consulate. By early December three Iranian consulates in Iraq were seized and burned down by protestors.

November 25, 2019: The government shut restored Internet access that had been largely shut down since the 17th.

November 24, 2019: The government has asked Russia for a $2 billion loan for construction projects. Back in Russia promised $5 billion in loans but that money was slow in arriving because of the bad economic situation in Russia. Despite that Russia is in better economic shape than Iran.

November 23, 2019: In southern Iraq (Basra province), a major border crossing with Iran was reopened to travelers after being closed for a week by Iran. Commercial truck traffic was still allowed, but individuals just traveling between the two countries was banned. Iran did not give a reason for the one week closure.

November 21, 2019: The number of Afghans returning from Iran has accelerated this year because of the growing poverty and public protests in Iran. So far this year nearly 400,000 have returned. About 60 percent of those returning were illegal migrants in Iran. Another 50,000 returned from Turkey and Pakistan. Over a million Afghans returned in 2018, mainly from Pakistan. This year Iran is the most frequently fled from exile for Afghans. Iran has always been a more hostile host for Afghan refugees than Pakistan because there are twice as many Pushtuns in Pakistan than in Afghanistan and Pushtuns are the largest minority (about 40 percent) in Afghanistan. Iran is a much less familiar place for Afghans and the Iranians constantly remind Afghans of that.

November 19, 2019: In southern Syria, four rockets were fired at Israel and intercepted by Israeli Iron Dome. This rocket attack was believed to be the work of Iran. In response, over the next 24 hours dozens of airstrikes were carried out against Iranian and Syrian military targets in Syria, all within 80 kilometers of the Israeli border. In addition to substantial material damage, at least 24 people were killed, most of them apparently Iranians. Four civilians were wounded but most of the casualties were Iranian or Iranian allies. The main targets were Quds force and IRGC bases as well as Syrian air defense systems and military bases in general. Anything connected with the Iranian effort to attack Israel was more likely to be hit. Some or all of the civilian casualties were the result of Syrian air defense missiles hitting the ground. In several cases, missiles failed to launch properly and fell, intact, into residential areas.

Once the attacks were over the Israeli Defense Minister warned Iranian leaders in Syria and Iran that they were not immune to attack. The implication was that if Iran continued militarizing Syria for attacks on Israel, the conflict would get more personal for the Iranian leadership, who would be considered prime targets. Iranian leaders have already recognized this danger and adopted more security measures to make it more difficult for any form of assassination to take place.

November 18, 2019: Leaked Iranian intelligence files from 2014-15 detailed how much Iran had infiltrated the Iraqi government and Security forces. Names were named, both Iraqi and Iranian. Many of the names, especially the Iranian IRGC commanders and religious leaders, are still around and still actively interfering inside Iraq. This was inflammatory material in Iran and Iraq, as both countries are undergoing nationwide protests against corruption and the misbehavior of the IRGC and Iran’s religious dictatorship. For a lot of Iraqis and Iranians, the leaked documents just confirmed what was already suspected, but that both Iranian and Iraqi governments denied.

November 17, 2019: Russia criticized the Israeli airstrikes in Syria but that was it. Russia is an ally of Syria and Iran but has made it clear it is not willing to go to war with Israel in support of that alliance. Russia does not want to discuss the ineffectiveness of the Russian made air defense systems Syria uses. Israel has launched hundreds of airstrikes against Syrian and Iranian targets in Syria over the last few years and the Syrian Air Defenses have not been able to shoot down any Israeli warplanes. One Israeli F-16 did get damaged and crash-landed in Israel but that was more about pilot error than effective air defenses.

November 16, 2019: In Gaza, multiple Israeli airstrikes hit Islamic terrorist targets. This was in response to two rockets fired at Israel hours earlier. Israel eavesdropped on a phone conversation between the new Islamic Jihad leader and his Hamas counterpart. The Hamas leader offered condolences for the loss of the Islamic Jihad leader to an Israeli airstrike and pledged Hamas' cooperation in retaliating against Israel. Despite this, the latest airstrikes avoided hitting Hamas and concentrated on Islamic Jihad. In general, Hamas was standing aside this time and leaving Islamic Jihad on its own. Islamic Jihad is m0re hated in Gaza and Egypt because it is more destructive, less reliable and working for Iran. Both Israel and Egypt see Iran as the enemy and Hamas goes along with that if only because most Gazans are also anti-Iran.

November 15, 2019: The government began shutting down Internet access and it took several days to complete the shutdown. Actually the shutdown was never complete and some Iranians were able to reach the world wide web. During the weeklong shutdown, the government sought to persuade Iranians to use the “Iran Only” intranet that had been established as a potential replacement to the worldwide Internet. Iranians were not interested in the intranet, which is similar to what exists in North Korea and what China is trying to create inside China.

In Gaza, Hamas and Islamic Jihad leaders are feuding because Hamas leaders had not immediately offered condolences to Islamic Jihad over the recent death of their leader via an Israeli missile. Islamic Jihad expected more support from Hamas, which normally sees Islamic Jihad as an annoying and much smaller rival. Hamas is particularly critical of Islamic Jihad becoming dependent on Iran. Hamas and Islamic Jihad have worked out an arrangement that keeps Hamas from going to war with Islamic Jihad and seeking to destroy it, as it did successfully when an ISIL affiliate sought to establish itself in Gaza. This “arrangement” includes Hamas controlling many of the Islamic Jihad rocket stockpiles and various other restrictions. These to not prevent Islamic Jihad from independently attacking Israel but does limit the extent of such attacks. Iran ordered Islamic Jihad to agree to these restrictions because the Iranians understood that Hamas could if they felt they had to, destroy Islamic Jihad.

Israel pointed out that they did not promise to halt attacks on Islamic Jihad leaders when the current ceasefire was negotiated (with the help of Egypt). Islamic Jihad leaders had demanded an end to Israeli attacks on Islamic terrorist leaders and Israel refused. But somehow Islamic Jihad negotiators believed otherwise, or perhaps they feared repercussions if they agreed to a ceasefire without getting assurances that “targeted killings” would cease.

In Iraq Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, the most senior Iraqi Shia cleric announced his support of the demonstrators and their goals of eliminating corruption, especially in the government. In effect, Sistani was also supporting the very anti-Iran attitudes of the protestors.

November 12, 2019: In the south (Gaza), an Israeli airstrike killed the Islamic Jihad leader in Gaza. Islamic Jihad is backed by Iran and kept operational in Gaza with Iranian cash and equipment smuggled in. Islamic Jihad has its external headquarters in Syria, as many Islamic terror groups have for decades. An hour later there were more Israeli airstrikes against Islamic Jihad leaders and facilities in Syria (Damascus). Syria reported that its air defense systems fired on a “hostile target” to no effect. Islamic Jihad in Gaza retaliated by firing over 400 rockets at Israel. Some Hamas and smaller Islamic terror groups may have fired a few rockets as well. Most of the rockets were intercepted or hit uninhabited areas. No Israeli were killed but 58 were wounded or injured. Israel responded to that with dozens or airstrikes against Islamic Jihad targets in Gaza. This came as a surprise to Islamic Jihad because many of the targets hits were believed hidden from the Israelis. Many Islamic Jihad facilities and weapons storage sites are in residential areas to discourage Israeli airstrikes. In situations like this, the airstrikes take place anyway, using guided missiles and smart bombs to minimize civilian casualties.

As an example of that, it was later revealed that Israeli forces had managed to get a small helicopter type UAV to enter the home of the Islamic Jihad leader before launching the guided missile that went through the same window to kill the target and his wife.

November 7, 2019: Britain lowered its security risk level for British ships entering the Persian Gulf. Britain has had warships escorting British tankers and freighters entering the Persian Gulf and several other nations, including the United States, have helped with that effort. This seems to have led Iran to ease off on its seaborne threats, for the moment.

November 4, 2019: Syrian officials signed a deal with the Iranian government that will allow the Iranians to take the lead in rebuilding the Syrian electrical power system. This includes power plants and distribution networks.

October 31, 2019: Because of the violence between Iran and Saudi Arabia China is no longer as pro-Iran as it used to be. This is all about oil imports. China is the largest importer of oil in the world and remained an ally of Iran despite American sanctions on Iran. Then Iran attacked Saudi oil facilities in September that interrupted shipments to Asian customers. This also sent oil prices up momentarily. China eventually retaliated by canceling a $5 billion natural gas development deal that Iran was depending on. Iran offended China and had to pay. Some American businesses got the same harsh retribution when they tolerated support for the Hong Kong protestors. Iran has put a priority on restoring good relations with China but the Chinese are not making it easy. Iran will have to do something novel to win back Chinese support.

The United States revealed that it estimates Iran has spent $16 billion since 2012 to supply Shia mercenaries for the Assad forces. Iranian spending on these mercenaries has declined sharply since 2017 when economic sanctions on Iran were revived and anti-government protests broke out in Iran. In the last year, there have been major anti-Iran protests in Iraq and Lebanon.

 

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