Iran: Losing And Surviving

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August 11, 2020: Since August 1 st there has been a spreading strike by oil and gas industry workers over months of unpaid salaries and other abuses industry employees have been suffering. The nationwide strike movement grew out of smaller strikes that had been going for over a month in a few locations. Disgruntled workers got in touch with each other and organized a nationwide strike effort. So far about 10,000 workers are involved in twelve provinces. The trigger for all this strike activity was the July 28 th heat stroke death of a worker at the Mahshahr petrochemical operation.

Losing Lebanon

The August 4th 1.1 kiloton explosion in the Hezbollah controlled port of Beirut has triggered another round of anti-Hezbollah and anti-Iran demonstrations in Lebanon. The national government has resigned. Hezbollah is denying any responsibility for the explosion even though Hezbollah has boasted of controlling the port area for years. Everyone blames government incompetence for allowing 2,700 tons of ammonium nitrate explosives to be stored in an abandoned cargo ship or locked up warehouse for seven years. The dangerous cargo was no secret and local media reported on the port officials’ warnings of the danger and years of demands that the explosives be removed from the port. A French-led relief coalition has pledged a quarter of a billion dollars in relief money. The Arab oil states have also stepped up. Iran and Syria, who have dominated Lebanese politics since the 1980s, are broke and offering some relief supplies, condolences and blaming it all on Israel and America. Iran accuses the French and Arab relief efforts as an attempt to destroy Hezbollah and Iranian influence in Lebanon. Unfortunately for Iran, most Lebanese appear to agree with that objective.

Surviving In Syria

Iran is becoming increasingly aggressive and desperate in Syria. Iran needs a win against Israel and all it is getting in Syria is an endless string of defeats. Because of the “death to Israel” obsession Iran is destroying its alliance with Turkey and Russia. Yet Iran is not the only one with an Israel obsession.

Turkey would prefer that Iran go home. Many Iranians and Syrians openly agree with Russia and Turkey on this point. The Iranian government responds with “Israeli airstrikes are killing people in Syria.” Syrians note that most of the dead are Iranians or mercenaries (usually Arab) on the Iranian payroll. The Iranian government deliberately keeps as few Iranians as possible in Syrian bases likely to be hit. Iranians getting killed in Syria, even if they are IRGC (Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps) Iranians, is very unpopular back in Iran.

Syrians just don’t like all these Syrians who are working as mercenaries for Iran or Turkey and getting killed by whoever. Similar situation with Russia and Turkey. Both nations keep as few of their own troops in Syria as possible. Russia and Turkey both have the majority of voters back home hostile to their soldiers getting killed in Syria. Russia uses a lot of Russian military contractors whose deaths are less of an issue in Russia. The Turks, as they have done for centuries, use Arab mercenaries to fight other Arabs. There are lots of Turkish troops in Syria providing support, and ensuring that Turkish mercs do what they are paid for.

Iran wants a more “Islamic” government in Syria, which has long been a secular dictatorship led by the Shia Assad clan. The Assads always hated Islamic movements, be they Moslem Brotherhood or anything else with “Islamic” attached to it. Israel sees this Islamic angle as the key reason why so many Moslem states are so unstable and close to another revolution or civil war. There is no easy solution to this “Islamic” problem and more Moslem majority states are at least admitting the problem exists and trying to do something about it. That takes time and is prone to creating more violence.

There are other sources of disagreement. Turkey, Iran and Syria are angry at Russia over the poor performance of Russian air defense systems. The Syrians frequently claim to have intercepted Israeli air-launched, often from inside Lebanon or Israel, missiles but the reality is that few of the Israeli missiles fail to hit their targets. Commercial satellite photos are available to determine damage and there is always a lot of it. Iran and Syria complain that the formidable Russian air defense system in Syria is not used to stop the Israelis. The Russians don’t want a fight with the Israelis, if only because the Israelis might publicly demonstrate the ineffectiveness of Russian air defense systems. These systems are a major export item for Russia and the Israelis could reduce those export sales with demonstrations of how Israelis get past the Russian air defenses. Iran offered to provide Syria with Iranian made air defense systems. That was not appreciated because the Iranian systems are seen as old tech and more propaganda than performance.

Iran also has problems at home it blames on Israel. In the last few months Iran has experienced over a dozen mysterious explosions, fires and expensive equipment failures at facilities related to Iranian nuclear and missile research and development. One July incident involved a particularly violent explosion at a facility related to the Iranian nuclear weapons program. Officially, Iran considers these explosions accidents, unofficially it is believed the Israelis, perhaps with the Americans, are carrying out more major cyber-attacks on Iranian nuclear weapons efforts. Iran believes this is the Israeli response to the growing number of unsuccessful Iranian hacker attacks on Israel since early 2019. Iran claims some of these hack attacks are succeeding but without any visible result. That means no success at all that Iran can claim in the media. Israel admits that the Iranians have been poking around in Israeli civilian networks but has little to show (in the mass media) for it.

The situation becomes more ominous as Iranian officials escalate their threatening gestures against Israel. This puts Iran in an embarrassing situation because the reality is that Iran does not have the capability to launch an effective attack of any kind on Israel. They can carry out attacks that will likely fail and undermine Iranian credibility throughout the region as well as inside Iran. In addition to all the Iranian bases and facilities in Syria hit with airstrikes over the last few years, the Israeli military recently revealed that in 2017 Israel had detected and thwarted a major Iranian effort to hack into the Israeli domestic warning system. In the last year alone Israeli Cyber War defense efforts have thwarted 130 Iranian Internet based attacks on Israel. There have been bombs going off in some of Iranian facilities, indicating Israeli agents were able to gain access and plant explosives. This is particularly disturbing for Iranian leaders because it indicates that Israel is able to recruit agents inside Iran. That’s what happens when a lot of young Iranians are openly angry at their own government.

Now the Iranian nuclear weapons program is literally blowing up and the Iranian government appears as hapless as ever. Even the most loyal fans of the Iranian religious dictatorship are dismayed because, if Allah is on the side of their leaders, how can the Israelis manage to carry out attack after attack.

Iraq Irritations

Iran still has enough loyal (to Iran) Iraqi militias to be a threat to the Iraqi government. Most Iraqi politicians and voters want less Iranian influence. Iran wants fewer foreign troops in Iraq. That is a point of contention because Iraqis realize the foreign troops offer some assurance that Western and Arab states would actively assist Iraq if Iran sought to take control via a civil war or invasion. Civil war is the more likely option, but only in an emergency, such as Iraq appearing to succeed in disbanding all the pro-Iran militias.

Iran has ordered its associates in Iraq to try terror, as in kidnapping and assassination, to extract cooperation from Iraqi officials. Iran also ordered its militiamen to fire on protestors who were protesting corruption or Iran. In response to that the Iraqi prime minister officially announced that the security forces had orders to not shoot at protestors but to use force against anyone who is harming protestors. Iran was not mentioned but this announcement made it clear that anyone shooting at protestors was working for Iran. Same with the growing number of kidnappings and assassinations. Some of these are the work of ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) but a growing number are carried out by pro-Iran Iraqis. If the victim has been speaking out against Iran and the perpetrator wasn’t an Islamic terrorist then Iran was probably responsible.

The reduced support for Iran within the Iran-backed Iraqi PMF militias crippled the Iranian attack plan against American forces in Iraq. This effort began in October and has included over 40 attacks so far. Few of these efforts did any damage and caused even fewer casualties. General Soleimani was trying to fix that when the American got to him in January. Iran expected the death of Soleimani would trigger more anti-American anger among Iraqis. Didn’t happen. Most Iraqis saw Soleimani as more of a threat than the Americans. Iran was next door and forever threatening. The Americans were far away and had left once before, in 2011, and had to be asked to return in 2014 to deal with the ISIL invasion. The Americans are again eager to leave, the Iranians are not. Most Iranians want less money spent on subverting Iraq and more spent on building the Iranian economy and raising the standard of living. That is not a priority with the IRGC (Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps) and its Quds Force that specializes in destabilizing other countries, like Iraq, Syria and Lebanon.

August 10, 2020: In eastern Syria (Deir Ezzor province) an airstrike, apparently Israeli, killed 14 Iranians and Iranian mercenaries, some of them from Iraq.

President Rouhani has been unable to explain to parliament, the ruling Council of Guardians or the public why the situation in Iran is so bad and regularly getting worse. In desperation, and partly out of habit, Rouhani is increasingly relying on conspiracy theories, as in unnamed “enemies of Iran”. That used to mean just America and Israel but invoking those two doesn’t work anymore. Details of who the enemies are is ignored and the unidentified “them” are accused of causing all the problems. This does not work, as all those demonstrators throughout the country are calling the government and its Islamic terrorist fixation a failure and a burden Iran cannot endure.

The worst leadership failure is t he “Council of Guardians.” This is the small group of self-selected senior clerics who have the final authority in Iran. Each of the twelve guardians is an elderly Shia cleric who appears, on the surface, as a wise and caring holy man. The reality is that the “Guardians” preside over a corrupt and incompetent bureaucracy. That is the cause of growing hatred of the religious government and the failure to effectively deal with the outbreak of covid19 earlier in the year. The failure cost the Guardians several members because those most prone to die from covid19 are elderly. Most Iranians are not elderly and have developed a practical sense of what covid19 does and would prefer to put the economy first.

So far, the covid19 coronavirus has officially killed over 18,000 Iranians, mainly the elderly or those already ill with something else. Unofficially the death toll is over 90,000 and some Iranian medical statistics experts believe it is over 300,000. The Guardians initially denied the virus would hurt Moslems and would only threaten non-Moslems. Then elderly clerics began to die in large numbers and soon Iran was suffering more covid19 deaths per capital than most anyone else. By early June Iran had already suffered over 8,000 confirmed covid19 deaths. That came out to and a hundred deaths per million population. The Iranian deaths per million are officially 221, which is more than double the global average of 95 and higher than nearly 90 percent of the word’s nations. While most other nations are now experiencing a reduction in covid19 deaths, the opposite is true for Iran, which is considered the epicenter of covid19 infections in the region and the source of infection for most of its neighbors.

August 9, 2020: France hosted an international donor meeting to coordinate aid for Lebanon in the aftermath of the Beirut explosion. The Arab Gulf states were invited, along with the United States, China and Russia. Iran was not invited. The International Support Group for Lebanon (United Nations, France, Germany, Italy, Russia, China, U.S., Britain, European Union and the Arab League) will be represented. This conference raised over $250 million.

An Iranian newspaper published an interview with epidemiologist (medical statistician) Mohammadreza Mahboubfar, a former member of the national coronavirus taskforce who said the actual covid19 death toll in Iran was up to 20 times more than the official government number. Within 24 hours the government shut down the newspaper for publishing misinformation and said that Mahboubfar was not a member of the coronavirus taskforce but would not say he had never been a member. Government health officials have said that their covid19 death count only includes those with covid19 who died in a hospital or anywhere else of what appeared to be covid19. Only a small number of Iranians have been tested for the virus and then rarely more than once. The government has come under growing criticism for mishandling the covid19 epidemic. Early on the senior clergy insisted covid19 would not harm devout Moslems and would devastate infidels (non-Moslems). That policy quickly fell apart as hundreds of senior clergy came down with covid19 and died. Recently a senior government official admitted that nearly a quarter of all Iranians had been exposed to covid19. Mishandling of the covid19 crisis became a major cause of the continued (since 2018) anti-government protests.

August 8, 2020: Iran refuses to pay for the Ukrainian 737 they shot down in January because the aircraft was insured by a European insurance company, not an Iranian one. It was unclear if Iran was also refusing to deal with lawsuits from families of those who died in the 737. Back o n January 12th Iran admitted that their air defense forces, controlled by the IRGC, had shot down the Ukrainian 737 airliner on January 8th. At first Iran insisted it was an accident but soon became uncooperative about the accident investigation. They did let in Ukrainian investigators but refused to release the black box to anyone. The Ukrainian investigators quickly realized the 737 had been shot down by a missile, which very obviously struck right beneath the cockpit. This killed the pilots and explained why there was no distress call from the aircraft. The Ukrainians also found fragments of the missile but did not tell the Iranians, which at the point might gotten them expelled from the country. Meanwhile the Americans had satellite video showing the airliner exploding after the missile hit, as well as evidence of two air defense missiles being launched nearby at the same time. The U.S. quietly passed that video on to Canada, Ukraine and several other countries and used the informal diplomatic link to Iran (via Switzerland) to let the Iranians know the video existed and was real. About the same time Ukraine let Iran know that its accident investigators had transmitted back to Ukraine photos of the wreckage proving that the 737 was shot down by a Russian Tor missile, which Iran was known to use. Given all the proof that was available outside of Iran, the Iranians announced that the airliner was indeed shot down by Iranian air defense missiles. At that point confessing to what actually happened became the best move, but the Iranians also blamed the Americans for defending themselves against Iranian terrorism and killing their senior terrorism commander Soleimani.

August 7, 2020: In Lebanon there were nationwide demonstrations against the government, Iran and Hezbollah for the recent Beirut explosion and the years of corrupt and incompetent government. Iran and Hezbollah were blamed for the inability of the government to function and that was largely true. Hezbollah was never strong enough to gain control of the government but it was strong enough to paralyze the national government and exercise a veto over any government decision. Iranian support made Hezbollah strong enough to withstand pressure from the government and the majority of Lebanese to back off. In the last year Iran has been forced to cut financial support for Hezbollah by about half and that has caused morale problems within Hezbollah.

August 6, 2020: In northwest Yemen a Saudi jet fighter shot down a Shia rebel UAV, apparently carrying explosives and headed for Saudi Arabia. The Iranian UAV was apparently programmed to fly offshore in an effort to avoid Saudi air defenses. These defenses have been upgraded over the last few months to include radars and other sensors that can detect low and slow flying UAVs. The Saudis have not revealed where they got these new UAV detection systems but it is known that Israel, the world leader in developing such systems, offered to help out, openly or otherwise. Otherwise Yemen is still a stalemate.

August 4, 2020: In Lebanon, a massive explosion obliterated the port area of Beirut. Buildings were damaged and windows blown out more than five kilometers from the explosions. Over 150 died and nearly 6,000 were wounded, mostly by the flying glass. Israel immediately denied any involvement, followed by Hezbollah, which has been accused of storing rockets and other Iranian munitions in the port area. The cause of the huge explosion, which created a mushroom cloud from water and dust, was apparently caused by large quantities of explosive materials stored in the port area. The cause was a fire in a warehouse full of fireworks that spread to an adjacent warehouse holding 2,700 tons of ammonium nitrate formulated for use as explosives in mining operations. Under the right conditions such a quantity of ammonium nitrate could explode with the force of a 1.2 kiloton nuclear explosion. There is no radiation but the blast effect was enormous. There was a similar blast in Texas during World War II when a shipload of the same quantity of nitrates caught fire and exploded. The Beirut nitrates were taken off a Russian cargo ship in 2014 and placed in a port warehouse. The Russian cargo ship was on its way to Africa when it developed mechanical problems can entered the port during 2013 to make repairs. While there the shipping company that owned the ship went bankrupt and abandoned the ship, crew and cargo. The Lebanese government could never decide what to do with the dangerous cargo and welded shut the doors of the warehouse to prevent theft.

Further east, on the Syrian border Israeli warplanes, UAVs and armed helicopters attacked Syrian Army positions being used to observe Israeli troops in the Golan Heights. These airstrikes were largely in retaliation for Syrian or Iranian efforts on the 2nd to get men across the border to plant bomb. Israeli intel later reported that this attack had been ordered by Iran.

Much further east, near the Iraq border an Israeli airstrike hit several Iranian targets next to the Al Bukamal crossing into Iraq. Fifteen Iranian mercenaries were killed. Since late April Israel has carried out twenty or more airstrikes in Syria. Nearly half the attacks were in Deir Ezzor province, where the Al Bukamal crossing is, as well as other Israeli targets further away from the Iraq border. The rest of the airstrikes were all over southern Syria, wherever Iranian forces were operating.

In Iran, a fire in an industrial zone outside the capital consumed three warehouses containing recently manufactured goods. This was news because at first it was feared it was another attack on Iranian nuclear and missile programs.

August 3, 2020: During July Iranian oil exports fell to 101,000 BPD (barrels per day). Because of that overall production fell to 1.9 million BPD, mostly for internal use. Without sanctions Iran ships 2.5 million BPD and produces up to 3.7 million BPD. For the first seven months of 2020 exports have averaged 223,000 BPD. Iran has had to produce oil it cannot sell or use to avoid shutting down many oil fields. That has led to Iran storing over 120 million barrels ashore and on tankers offshore. There is no more room to store unsold oil and Iran has to start shutting down oil production facilities, which is expensive to do and even more expensive to restart. Worse, it puts a lot of Iranians out of work.

There have been conflicting expert estimates about how much oil Iran is getting past the sanctions. Most estimates put the January exports at about half a million BPD while the high-end estimates are a million BPD. The reality turned out to be on the low side. Since late 2019 the decline in Iranian oil sales has been spectacular. Oil shipments were, in early 2018, 2.4 million BPD but that fell to 1.5 million BPD in November 2019 and a million BPD or less in early 2019. This decline is not disputed. What is less clear is how successful Iranian smuggling efforts have been. In any event the current situation is worse than it was before the sanctions were lifted in 2015. That is because the Americans have adapted to past oil embargo scams and Iran and its outlaw customers have not yet managed to adapt. The lifting of sanctions in early 2016 has been good to Iran. In 2016 oil exports increased to two million BPD, a level not seen since 2012. Overall oil production increased to 3.8 million BPD. Exports in general quickly doubled over 2015 levels. The government made plans to quickly achieve annual GDP growth of eight percent. That was all cancelled once the U.S. announced (in May 2017) the revival of sanctions. At that point oil production was 4.5 million BPD but it rapidly declined because regular oil customers reduced or cancelled orders. Most Iranian oil was exported and now that export income is rapidly disappearing. Even China and India, two major customers who said they would defy the sanctions, have cut orders because sanctions increase shipping costs and also increase the risk of Iran going to war. Sanctions mean the cost of insurance rises and fewer shipping companies are willing to provide tankers that move sanctioned oil. The latest problem is the January coronavirus outbreak in China the disrupted economic activity in many parts of China. The reduced the need for oil and China already has several large tankers stuck off their coast waiting for permission to unload. Until that is done, the pol producer does not get paid.

Something the religious dictatorship don’t like to dwell on is that before they took over after the 1979 revolution oil production was over 6 million BPD and closing in on seven million. The clerics have mismanaged the economy for over thirty years now and that is one reason they can no longer blame foreigners for all the problems.

August 2, 2020: China and Russia, Iran’s major trading partners, revealed that their banks can no longer do business with Iran. This makes it much more difficult to export anything to Iran as it now much be done on a barter basis or via illegal, and risky, banking channels. This revelation was no surprise because Iran had finally been returned to the FATF (Financial Action Task Force) black list. Iran had been moved to less restrictive Grey List in 2016 because of the 2015 sanctions treaty and assurances that Iran would provide proof that it was no longer supporting terrorism and other misbehavior. The only other nations on the blacklist is North Korea and, recently, Pakistan.

Since the February return to the blacklist more and more foreign banks cut ties with Iran to comply with the FATF action. Banks that do not comply risk expulsion from the world network of banks and losing access to that network. Iran could have avoided the blacklist but chose not to. In 2018 the FATF agreed to give Iran more time to prove that it was no longer engaged in illegal financial activities that aid Islamic terrorism. Iran failed to comply.

August 1, 2020: In southern Syria, near the Israeli Golan Heights a Russia-backed Syrian militia has been taking control of the Syrian side of the border. Called the “Huran Army”, the militia contains many former rebels who are hostile to Iranian influence in Syria but willing to cooperate with the Assads.

July 29, 2020: In eastern Syria (Deir Ezzor province) Iran backed Iraqi Katab Hezbollah have been seen operating 20 kilometers from the Iraq border. The Iraqi government forbids Iraqi militias from operating in Syria without government permission. Iran is increasingly flaunting this rule.

In the southwest, in the Strait of Hormuz near the major Iranian naval base of Bandar Abbas, the recently rebuilt two-thirds replica of an American Nimitz class aircraft carrier was sunk during a two-day live fire training exercise. An actual Nimitz class carrier is over 300 meters long. The smaller barge-like replica was built in 2013-15 and badly damaged, but not sunk during 2015 exercises. The target barge was built using the materials technology used to build the many Iranian off-shore oil platforms. In short there was a shell with a metal lattice underneath. Parts of the outer shell could burn but basically the target barge was built to survive a lot of hit from missiles and bombs, remain afloat and be towed back to port. In early 2020 the Nimitz barge was repaired for another such exercise. This time it sank and it is unclear if that was intentional. The wreck went down in shallow (14 meters/45 feet) of water and is visible during low tide. Currents and tides are moving the wreck towards the Bandar Abbas harbor entrance. The Strait of Hormuz is the entrance to the Persian Gulf and only about 40 kilometers wide at its narrowest point. The target barge wreck has to be tracked and ships transiting the strait have to be constantly informed about wreck location so ships can stay at least a kilometer away from it.

Iran published high-definition satellite photos the American base in Qatar. These photos were taken by the Iranian Nour-1 satellite, which was launched in April. Commercial satellite photos of the American base have been available for years but with Nour Iran can get such photos anytime they want. Nour-1 is small (6U cubesat type) and similar to some of the early model Israeli Ofek photo satellites.

July 28, 2020: Since May Israel has carried out at least ten airstrikes against Iranian targets in Syria. In addition to large quantities of weapons and munitions destroyed, at least sixty Iranian or local mercenary personnel have died. Iran is building a new mercenary force by hiring Syrians rather than bringing in Shia Afghans or Shia from other nations. The Afghans were good fighters but there was a limited supply of Afghan Shia willing to serve as Iranian mercs in faraway Syria. A growing number would not renew their contracts and returned to Afghanistan or Iran, where mercenary service also earned a residency permit. Iran is short of cash and the local mercs are cheaper, especially given the bad shape the economy is in and the dire poverty many Syrians live with. There are over 10,000 of these Syrian mercs and most are based on or near the Israeli or Jordanian borders. Many Syrians see the Iranians and their Syrian mercs as another foreign occupation force. Syrians are tired of war while the Iranians want more of it, against Israel. That is not popular because attacking Israel generally fails but always brings very effective counterattacks. Moreover a lot of Syrians living along the Israel border befitted from the medical aid Israel provided for badly injured Syrians. S ince 2011 Israel has provided medical treatment to several thousand badly injured Syrian civilians and rebels. This was done at a few border crossings where a field hospital was set up nearby and Syrians were told they could bring badly wounded kin or people they would vouch for to the crossing where Israelis doctors would examine them at the border, admit those who did need care and first try to treat the patient at the field hospital. If that was not possible the patient was sent to a hospital in Israel where specialists could provide the needed care. Family were notified of the progress and when to be at the border to pick up their mended friend or family member. Via this program Israel established contacts on the Syrian side as well as receiving a steady supply of what the chatter was on the Syrian side of the border. Israel has many Arab speaking medical personnel and has no problem treating Arab speaking patients. This medical program earned Israel a lot of good will on the Syrian side of the border. The care was free and there were no strings attached other than no Islamic terrorists were welcome, and these would be arrested if identified as such. There were a few such cases and that was not seen by the Syrians as a bad thing. Same attitude towards the Iranians and their mercs, who are seen as a danger to nearby civilians and an enemy of Syria.

July 27, 2020: In southeast Lebanon the Israeli border security system detected a group of armed men crossing the border near the disputed Shebaa Farms (occupied by Israel but claimed by both Lebanon and Syria). Israeli rapid reaction forces drove up and spotted the intruders and opened fire. The men ran back into Lebanon. Hezbollah denied the incident occurred and said they had nothing to do with it. The Israelis have video from their border surveillance system, which they are willing to release, and other electronic evidence, which they are not willing to release. Israel regularly taps into Hezbollah communications, despite frequent Iranian efforts to upgrade the security of Hezbollah comms. It was revealed that a Hezbollah attack was expected, somewhere on the Lebanon border, to coincide with the Moslem religious celebration of Eid al Adha.

In southern Afghanistan an Afghan Air Force UH-60 medevac helicopter was shot down by the Taliban using the Iranian clone of the American TOW ATGM (anti-tank guided missiles). The Iranian TOWs have been used frequently in Syria.

July 26, 2020: Iran and Turkey are cooperating in an effort to get Kurdish separatists out of northern Iraq. The current Turkish campaign began in June 16 and is still active, more so than any previous campaign against PKK activity in northern Iraq. Turkey has established about 30 temporary bases on the Iraqi side of the border indicating that Turkish ground forces, which have already advanced as far as 40 kilometers inside Iraq, will be in Iraq for a while.

The Turks consider the current operation a continuation of a smaller cross border offensive that began at the end of May. Turkish warplanes, armed UAVs and artillery hit over 700 targets in a combat zone extending from border areas of Dohuk province (on the Syrian border) to Hakurk, the mountainous region where the borders of Iraq, Turkey and Iran meet. There were also airstrikes against a refugee camp outside Erbil, the capital of the autonomous Kurdish north. Iran cooperated in this operation by attacking PKK and local Iranian Kurd separatists found inside Iran opposite the Iraqi Hakurk region.

The Iraqi Kurds asked the PKK to get out of Iraq. For a long time, the Iraqi Kurds had tolerated the PKK presence with the understanding that the PKK would not be violent inside Iraq and would stay away from Iraqi Arab and Kurd population centers. Over the last decade the PKK has increasingly violated that understanding and the Turkish attacks have become more frequent and intense. Iraqi Kurds will not go to war with the Turkish Kurds but now the PKK accuses Iraqi Kurds of supplying the Turks with information about where PKK camps are. There is no proof of that but more damage is done to the PKK-Iraqi Kurd relationship.

July 22, 2020: In southern Iraq a pro-Iran militia took credit for an attack on a convoy transporting equipment from Kuwait to an American base near Baghdad. Two roadside bombs were used but the explosions only damaged some trucks.

Israeli police revealed that an investigation that began in April had led to the arrest of ten Palestinians who were recruited by a Iran-backed Syrian militia and Hezbollah in Lebanon. There were actually two separate groups operating in the West Bank and their main goal was to kidnap an Israeli soldier and hold him for ransom. That would consist of freeing a lot of imprisoned Palestinian terrorists.

July 20, 2020: Turkey banned all commercial flights between Iran and Afghanistan until the covid19 danger recedes.

July 16, 2020: American media revealed that the U.S. president had secretly given the CIA permission to take more aggressive action against hacker groups that have been responsible for attacks on the United States. This seems to explain a number of unexplained incidents were hacker groups had identities of members revealed or their operations sabotaged or disrupted. The CIA, NSA and Department of Defense had long been asking for this authority. Granting it to the CIA allowed the CIA to bring in NSA and Department of Defense experts for joint operations. Russian hackers have been responsible for a lot of the successful hacking operations inside the United States. Chinese, North Korean and Iranian hackers have also been active and they are also on the CIA target list.

Off the north coast of Somalia warships from Japan, South Korea and Spain took part in two days of naval exercises. The ships are part of the anti-piracy patrol. Pirate activity is way down and some nations have their anti-piracy ships spend of their time watching the coast of nearby Yemen (where some pirates have been operating) and the entrance to the Red Sea and the Persian Gulf, where there has been a lot of arms smuggling (to Shia rebels in northwest Yemen) by Iran.

 

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