Iran: Losing Control

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July 13, 2021: The United States has resumed its criticism of Iran-backed Yemeni Shia rebels after the rebel’s refusal to negotiate until restrictions on smuggling and control of food aid in the north were removed. This announcement came two weeks after an American announcement that they were changing their negotiating strategy in Yemen by recognizing the Shia rebels as a legitimate rebel movement rather than a terrorist organization and tool of Iranian foreign policy. While the rebels hailed the American policy change, this did not halt rebel activities that were clearly done for the benefit of Iran. This included increased use of naval mines and remotely controlled bomb-boats directed towards commercial traffic in the Red Sea.

In late 2020 a Quds (the foreign terrorist support arm of the IRGC) Force general was sent to Yemen to be the Iranian ambassador there. The new Iranian “ambassador” came to Yemen mainly to supervise Iranian support for combat operations and take a more direct role in running Shia rebel operations. That meant keeping the rebels under Iranian control no matter what. Quds felt so confident that they bluntly rejected UN and American offers for ceasefire talks and instead increased the number of offensive operations. For more than a month after the Quds general took over in Yemen, Quds force officers outside Yemen boasted to foreign journalists about what the Quds Force was up to in Yemen. The Iranian senior clerics, who have the final say in what Iranian policy is, realized that openly discussing the direct Iranian control of rebel operations was a mistake. Quds was ordered to leave media interviews and Internet announcements to the government. What the Iranian leaders could not do was order the IRGC to shut down their operation in Yemen, or Syria or Iraq.

Iran took more direct control over the Yemen Shia rebels in order to use this control as part of the negotiations to end economic sanctions on Iran. If Iran pulled out of Yemen the Shia tribal forces would be defeated, as they have many times before. Quds force commanders are reluctant to give up gains made in Yemen and may have been told that they could revive support for the Yemeni Shia after the economic sanctions on Iran are lifted. Because of these sanctions Quds force saw its budget cut by half since 2017, forcing major reductions in Quds activities in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon. Yemen was always the least expensive Quds operation and did not suffer noticeable aid cuts. Yemen was the only IRGC (Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps) operation that was able to attack arch-enemy Saudi Arabia directly and that counted for something. The IRGC was created in the 1980s to keep the new religious dictatorship and suppress, with violence if threats did not work, local opposition to the new government. The IRGC has become increasingly assertive in backing radical solutions to problems and that has created a growing number of nationalist clerics, including some eligible to be one of the twelve senior Shia clerics who run the Guardian Council. The senior clerics have become divided into mutually antagonistic factions. The “moderates” are those who want to put Iran’s interests first and concentrate on the economy and reducing the poverty that is visibly turning more Iranians against their government, Islam and all the foreign wars the radicals have dragged Iran into. These “realists” are also nationalists and often called “moderates” by foreigners. The IRGC believes force is the key to Iranian power and all Iranians must support that.

Syria

Iran is finding its Shia allies in Syria (the Assad clan) and Lebanon (Hezbollah) less cooperative since the 2017 cuts in financial aid. This was the result of renewed American economic sanctions, something Iran has, so far, been unable to reverse. This came after several years of huge spending in Syria to save the Assads from a massive rebellion against decades of brutal rule. The 2015 treaty with the U.S. and European states lifted decades of economic sanctions and the financial windfall enabled Iran to pour billions into helping the Assads survive the rebellion which, in 2015, was on the verge of winning. Saving the Assads required hiring over 50,000 Shia men as mercenaries. Most of these came from Lebanon and Afghanistan. Iran has been supporting the Shia Hezbollah militia there since the 1980s. Despite Iranian orders to threaten and antagonize Israel, not start a war, Hezbollah did so in 2006 and saw billions worth of past Iranian aid go up in smoke. Iran paid to repair most of the damage, including bringing in thousands of new rockets and other weapons as well as more cash to expand the Hezbollah full time and part-time force of militiamen and bureaucrats. Heavy Hezbollah casualties in Syria were unpopular in Lebanon, among Shia and non-Shia alike. Now Hezbollah spends more time placating Lebanese than Iranians.

In Syria it’s even worse, with Assad restricting Iranian access to many parts of the country. Iran is still allowed to operate along the Israeli border and Iranian weapons convoys are not blocked. There have been fewer of those convoys because of increasingly accurate Israel airstrikes on these shipments, making the Syrian route a lot more expensive. Iran is trying to shift this smuggling to the longer and potentially more dangerous sea route.

July 11, 2021: Iran quickly protested a rally by the NCRI (National Council of Resistance of Iran) in Germany today. NCRI began as an Iranian secular (Marxist) group formed in 1965 to oppose the monarchy and later the religious dictatorship that replaced the monarchy in 1979. NCRI previously called itself the PMOI (People's Mujahideen Organization of Iran) or the Mujahideen Khalq. The PMOI fled to Iraq in 1986 when Saddam Hussein offered sanctuary to let over 3,400 Khlaq members and their families live at Camp Ashraf, near the Iranian border. The Khalq was disarmed by U.S. forces in 2003. America and Iraq refused Iranian demands to arrest and return most members of the Khalq to Iran for prosecution for terror attacks Khlaq made in Iran while working from their Iraqi base. After 2003 there were several raids on Camp Ashraf and in 2012 most residents were moved to the more secure “Camp Liberty” near the Baghdad airport. There have been over a thousand Khalq deaths since 20o3 because of attacks by pro-Iran Iraqi Shia militias. The U.S. and the UN long sought countries willing to take PLOI members as political refugees. PMOI members were dedicated leftist terrorists and no one was eager to accept them. The PMOI reformed itself into the NCRI and did so convincingly that by 2012 the UN and United States had removed NCRI from their list of international terrorists.

The rally today was attended by European and American officials who spoke in support of the NCRI to replace the current Iranian government with a democracy. The recently elected Iranian president Ibrahim Raisi, an infamous mass-murderer and recognized war-criminal, into office. Raisi was particularly brutal against the PMOI during the 1980s when as a senior judge, he sentenced hundreds of them to death. While the PMOI reformed itself, the Shia religious dictatorship was not so flexible and will kill as many Iranians as it takes to stay in power, or trigger another revolution. Raisi was not the choice of the Iranian people, but the religious dictatorship who decided who can run for any government office. This time around anyone with any hint of reform was barred from running for a seat in parliament or the presidency. The election of Raisi turned many European nations against Iran and efforts to lift the economic sanctions, including the ones revived by the previous American government in 2017. At the rally the European officials mentioned current EU (European Union) efforts to impose sanctions on members of the new government in Iran, especially president Raisi.

July 10, 2021: In east ern Syria (Deir Ezzor province) a pro-Iran militia fired unguided rockets at an SDF (Syrian Kurdish militia) base that hosted foreign troops, mainly Americans). The rockets caused no damage or casualties but did demonstrate the continued Iranian efforts to inflict some damage on the United States and Israel.

July 9, 2021: In the capital (Tehran) there was an unexplained explosion in or near a government warehouse. This came at the end of the day in which there was a nationwide hacker campaign against the passenger railroad service in which false “official” emails announcing train cancellations or delays. The government reported chaos among users of the railroad and a very public embarrassment for the government.

In central Syria ( Homs province ) a senior IRGC officer died when he encountered a landmine planted by Islamic terrorists. IRGC personnel are training advising and controlling pro-Iran militias in the area, where Islamic terrorism is still a threat that even Iran cannot ignore.

July 8, 2021: In the Persian Gulf an Iranian UAV came within a few hundred meters of an American aircraft carrier before turning away. This was the second time in a week that Iran had done this and it is feared that this may be the prelude to an explosive laden UAV trying to hit the carrier.

In Belgium a fake terrorist threat against airport security, spotted by Israeli security personnel who provide additional security for flights to the Middle East, was believed to be an Iranian test of Israeli security. Israelis are often on these flights and there was an Islamic terrorist bombing of this airport in 2016 that was later discovered to be aimed at Jewish passengers.

July 7, 2021: In western Afghanistan, the leader of one of the pro-Iran Taliban factions boasted of the support he was receiving from Iran. This includes IRGC trainers and advisors assisting Afghan Taliban on the Afghan side of the Iranian border. Iran also provides weapons and training in Iran for some of the Afghans. Several Taliban factions cooperate with Iran in return for access to Iran for supplies. These factions only control about five percent of Taliban manpower but these are not the only anti-Pakistan Taliban faction. There are many more but these other factions go along with the main Taliban leadership while waiting for an opportunity to openly side with the openly -pro-Iran factions or some other Taliban leader free of Pakistani control. All these dissidents account for about a third of Taliban strength. A smaller number of Taliban were so fed up with the drug gang connection and Pakistani dominance that they joined ISIL. For most Taliban the drug money is too good, or simply essential for survival, to ignore. Even some ISIL factions will extort drug smugglers for needed cash rather than just blocking the movement of exportable heroin.

July 6, 2021: In the northwest, across the border in autonomous Kurdish Iraq, rockets were fired at the Erbil (Kurdish capital) airport complex. This facility is heavily guarded but unguided 107mm rockets have a max range of ten to twelve kilometers and the American C-RAM rocket defense is short range and there mainly to defend the Patriot anti-ballistic missile battery. The airport has a heavily patrolled eight kilometers security zone around it to make rocket and mortar attacks more difficult, or at least much less accurate. A similar attack was made two days earlier.

July 5, 2021: Outside the capital (Tehran) there was another unexplained fire at a government warehouse.

June 28, 2021: A former (1997-2005) Iranian Minister of Intelligence gave an interview to an Iranian website in which he revealed that Israel did indeed have a growing number of Iranians acting as agents or informants as a form of protest against the IRGC and the religious dictatorship that has m misruled the country since the 1980s. The former minister believed that because of this support for Israeli operations inside Iran more senior officials are at risk of attack. As recent attacks have demonstrated, the Israelis are careful planners who take their time to carry out difficult attacks flawlessly. In contrast the IRGC is embarrassingly unable to strike back. As a result of the interview the government has been more vigilant and effective detecting and suppressing similar incidents.

Because of the Israeli activity in Iran, a growing number of Iranians are supporting Israel, some of them openly. Before the religious dictatorship took over in the 1980s, Iran and Israel had been on good terms since 1950, when Iran was one of the first Middle Eastern countries to officially recognize Israel. Given the dismal track record of the Iranian religious dictatorship, the good old days are looking better and better. Iran demonstrators have been saying this in public, which was one reason the IRGC was ordered to use lethal force to suppress the demonstrations. This works for a while then the demonstrations return.

June 27, 2021: In Syria and Iraq the United States carried out three airstrikes against Iran-backed militias. These airstrikes were in retaliation for recent Iranian attacks on American forces in Iraq.

June 26, 2021: The government is promoting Iranian pilgrims visiting a Shia shrine in Jordan, the western neighbor of Iraq that also has a border, and peace treaty, with Israel. Jordan welcomed this and confirmed that Jordan was safe for Iranian pilgrims, who had long stayed away from the Shia shrine because of threats from local Sunni groups who consider Shia shrines heresy. Jordan also has a short coastline on the Red Sea and Iran did not interfere with an Iraqi project to build an oil pipeline into Jordan so that the oil has a shorter sea voyage to European customers. The shrine could attract over half a million Iranian pilgrims a year, in addition to visits by Shia from other countries like Iraq and Kuwait. The transit fees for the oil pipeline and pilgrim spending are a major boost to the economy but puts a lot of Iranians near the Israeli and West Bank border.

June 24, 2021: Iran is losing ground in its efforts to keep up with increased defense spending worldwide in response to threats from China, Iran and North Korea. Two nations, the United States and China, account for more than half of global defense spending. The U.S. is still in the lead, accounting for 39 percent of global defense spending while China accounts for 13 percent. Some major spenders did spend less in 2020, including Saudi Arabia (-10 percent), Turkey (-5), Iran (-3) and Pakistan (-2.8). These declines were caused by severe economic problems. Saudi Arabia has to devote more money to maintaining living standards since world oil prices fell sharply after 2013 and have not recovered to 2013 levels. Saudi Arabia is still the biggest spender in the region, spending $57.5 billion in 2020 compared to Israel ($21.7 billion), Turkey (17.7), Iran (15.8) and Pakistan (10.4). Global defense spending in 2020 increased 2.6 percent, to $1.96 trillion. This occurred despite the covid19 global recession. Covid19 can be cured with newly developed vaccines. The threats from China, Iran and North Korea are less resistant to a quick cure.

June 23, 2021: Outside Tehran a UAV apparently launched an attack on a centrifuge manufacturing at Karaj, 20 kilometers west of Tehran. The government said it had foiled the attack but a week later commercial satellite photos showed that the attack was successful.

June 22, 2021: The U.S. seized 35 Iranian news sites owned and operated by the IRGC. All these sites used an American hosting service, because the U.S. hosting services are the most efficient and resistant to hacker disruption. Because Hezbollah and the IRGC are internationally recognized terror organizations their assets, once located, can be seized. This American move was in response to the rigged (as they traditionally are) presidential election in Iran that put Ibrahim Raisi into office.

Elevating Raisi into such a public position is another example of how desperate Iran is to make clear to opponents in Iran, Iraq and elsewhere what they are up against. Raisi takes office on August 3rd and is a known hard-liner who soon made it clear that after he took power Iran would not negotiate until the 2017 sanctions were first lifted. Nations seeking to negotiate a new peace deal with Iran soon discovered that Raisi had the support of the religious dictatorship in Iran as well as the IRGC.

June 18, 2021: The U.S. announced it was moving eight of its Patriot air-defense batteries from the Middle East. These batteries are currently stationed in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Iraq and were sent from the United States to reinforce defenses against Iranian missile threats. The U.S. is withdrawing its Patriot batteries as part of a plan to pull nearly all U.S. troops from the Middle East. The new government in the U.S. is also trying to negotiate a resumption of the 2015 treaty that lifted economic sanctions on Iran in return for assurances that Iran would halt its nuclear weapons program and reduce its threats to other countries in the region. Iran cheated and as the evidence piled up the previous U.S. government revived the sanctions in 2017. Recent Iranian actions indicate that they are unrepentant and not worth the effort to lift sanctions.

June 17, 2021: In southern Syria (Quneitra province) locals are attacking Syrian and Iranian forces operating near the Israeli border. There have been three attacks so far this month.

June 15, 2021: In Iraq (Baghdad) security forces detected and shot down two Iranian UAVs, one of them loaded with explosives and apparently on an attack mission. Iran trucks in the UAVs broken down and in crates identified as commercial cargo. The regular use of these UAVs by pro-Iran PMF units is yet another reason why the Iraqi government wants to put these PMF units out of business.

June 13, 2021: In Baghdad some pro-Iranian PMF units held a small rehearsal for the larger parade commemorating the anniversary of the founding of the PMF. The government has been successful at prohibiting the larger parade but the rehearsal was an opportunity to show off recently received Iranian weapons, including UAVs that can be armed.

In northern Iraq (Aleppo province) Iranian mercenaries and trucks full of Iranian weapons, including guided and unguided rockets set up a camp near the Euphrates River and the Syrian border. Iran has about 25,000 mercenaries in Syria and most of them are still in the east (Deir Ezzor province) and Iran is seeking to safely move more of them to new bases in northern and southern Syria.

June 12, 2021: The U.S. offered cash rewards of up to $3 million for useful information on planned or past attacks on Americans in Iraq. This is mainly directed at Iran-backed PMF units, which have been responsible for most of the attacks on Americans and Iraqis since 2014. These reward programs are successful even though most of the details of successes have to be kept secret to protect the informants and their families. Since the 1990s the U.S. has improved this rewards program with new ways to get the news of the rewards to the people best able to act on it, as well as developing ways to get informants and their kin out of harm’s way. It’s much easier to make the program work in Iraq, where a lot of Iraqis support American efforts to eliminate foreign, especially Iranian, threats to Iraq.

June 11, 2021: Former Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad claimed that one reason for several recent successful Israeli attacks inside Iran were because a senior Iranian counterintelligence official was found to be working for Israel. Counterintelligence deals with detecting enemy spies and preventing enemy attacks inside Iran. Ahmadinejad claims the Iranian government kept this discovery secret because it would be embarrassing to admit a top counterintelligence official was working for the enemy. No details were given about who the official was or what happened to him. Israel usually has exit plans ready to get a burned (exposed) Iranian agent out of the country quickly. Details are usually considered secrets, whether they work or not. The official Israeli response to Ahmadinejad’s claim was to dismiss it as delusional. Ahmadinejad has a history of embracing conspiracy theories.

June 10, 2021: In Iraq (Baghdad) three armed (with explosives) UAVs were used to attack an American base outside the airport. There were no casualties and the attack was apparently carried out by pro-Iran PMF militias.

In central Iraq (Saladin, or Salahuddin, Province) Iran-backed Iraqi militia fired three rockets at the Balad Air Base, causing no casualties. Balad is one of the few Iraqi bases that hosts the few American troops still in Iraq.

 

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