Iran: Hard Line Getting Soft

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August 9, 2022: The economy continues to get worse as inflation heads for an annual rate of a hundred percent. In Western countries an inflation rate of ten percent is considered a disaster requiring prompt attention. The Iranian government is distracted by its desire to keep developing nuclear weapons and weakening its enemies, which includes the United States, Israel and most of its Arab neighbors. Meanwhile poverty continues to increase among Iranians and another round of violent anti-government demonstrations is developing. These protests are violently suppressed by the IRGC (Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps) but each round of protests is larger, more determined and moving towards civil war.

Three years ago, the protests resumed but this time resistant to government use of force to clear the streets. It was clear that force no longer worked and now makes matters worse. The government response is to purge the IRGC leadership. That has not worked, mainly because it won’t reduce inflation and the poverty rate.

The question remains about how effective the IRGC can be to prevent an economic crisis from escalating to open revolt. The IRGC has been the point of the spear in Iranian efforts to destroy Israel and has failed to make much progress. These failures did not come cheap and consumed billions of dollars of money that Iranians believe would have been better spent to improve the economy. The Iranian rulers have noticed, more so than their IRGC bodyguards, how harmful government corruption and spending on nuclear and ballistic missile programs is, as well as hiring foreign mercenaries to be foot-soldiers for IRGC campaigns that tend to fail with the IRGC constantly asking for more money to deal with the problem.

Smuggling oil and selling it clandestinely at a huge discount is hailed as a victory, as is resumption of negotiations with the United States and key European nations to lift economic sanctions. There are still those in the West eternally willing to give Iran more last chances. Meanwhile the Americans, Israel and its new Arab allies have grown closer together in cooperating to block Iranian threats.

The IRGC still has a major impact on Iranian diplomacy. This can be seen in how efforts continue to gain cooperation from the Turks, Syrians and Russians in getting Iranian forces close enough to the Israeli border to make attacks possible, but no one is interested. Iranian efforts in Syria and Lebanon are very low-budget and Iranian officers in charge of this have to make do with very little.

The Iran-backed Assads are having a difficult time reestablishing a legitimate government, as opposed to its current status as a barely tolerated and much sanctioned government run by war criminals. The Assads have allies who are trying to work out a deal that legitimizes the Assads and leads to lots of economic aid and investment. There is some but not a lot of progress with this. Israel is quietly working on a peace deal with the Assads by first consulting Russia, Turkey and the Arab nations Israel has diplomatic relations with. If Israel can achieve a consensus on how to offer and deliver the Assads a workable peace deal, Iran could be driven out of Syria. Israel and the Assads have been, since the 1970s, willing to leave each other alone and make mutually acceptable deals. The Assads would often threaten another war with Israel but did not pose as determined a threat as Iran. Because the Assads became allies of and dependent on Iran in the 1980s for protection from chaos in Iraq and Lebanon, they had to at least pretend to support the Iranian obsession with destroying Israel. The Assads knew better but until the Assad police state failed in 2011 and a rebellion got going, the Assads were able to resist Iranian presence and control of Syria.

The UN is also involved in this stealthy peace effort because Iranian interference has blocked the UN effort to create a new constitution for Syria that would assist efforts to end the civil war. The Assads are also hostile to the new constitution which would mean national elections monitored by the UN. The Assads cannot afford to lose control of the government because that would make them vulnerable to arrest and prosecution for war crimes. Accusations continue to pile up against the Assads, who always treated Syrians who opposed them with brutality and terror. So far this year over a hundred Syrians a month get arrested and brutally interrogated, or simply murdered, by the Assad security forces. Yet doing business with Iran can also be fatal for the Assads.

Yemen

This is the cheapest and most effective IRGC foreign operation. Currently the Iran-backed Shia rebels agreed, at the last minute, to renew the ceasefire that expired on August 2nd. The cease fire has been extended another two months. This ceasefire was first agreed to in April and renewed in June for another two months. The UN sponsored peace talks were to consider a six-month extension but the Iran-backed Shia rebels have turned down that proposal, insisting that the ceasefire was not working for them. Iran is not openly participating in the current ceasefire talks but controls what the Shia rebels will agree to. Iran opposed any ceasefire terms that further disrupt Iranian weapons smuggling. Iran wants to continue smuggling in ballistic and cruise missiles, which are brought in broken down, to be assembled under Iranian supervision in Shia territory and then fired at targets in Saudi Arabia and the UAE. The Shia rebels have suffered heavy casualties since 2021 because of failed efforts to gain more territory as well as defending areas they have long occupied.

The April ceasefire was generally adhered to and that could be measured by the reduction (by more than 50 percent) in civilian casualties. This is not usually the case. Past ceasefires were seen as futile because the Shia rebels violated so many of them and, until recently, showed no interest in change, especially since Iran support is crucial to the maintenance of the Shia military efforts.

The current peace talks are different because the Shia and the Yemeni government both agree that allowing Yemen to be a battleground for the Iranian campaign to replace Saudi Arabia as the leader of the Moslem world is not good for Yemen. Then there is the situation in Iran. Yemeni Shia are aware of significant popular opposition in Iran to the Yemen war. The Saudis and UAE were always reluctant participants in the war but could not withdraw as long as Iran was attacking them from Shia rebel-controlled northern Yemen. This encouraged the Yemen government to seriously consider some kind of Shia autonomy and sufficient guarantees that the autonomy would not later be taken away. The problem with the autonomy proposal is that Iran has a veto.

Shia rebels risk an internal civil war if they attempt to defy Iranian orders. These orders are delivered by the Iranian embassy in Sanaa, the rebel occupied Yemen capital. The current Iranian ambassador is a former Quds Force general and many other “diplomats” are veteran Iranian Quds Force officers. Quds Force is a branch of the Iranian IRGC (Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps), a separate military force formed in the 1980s to protect the religious dictatorship that has ruled Iran since the 1980s. The Quds Force is a component of the IRGC that specializes in instigating, supervising, and sustaining foreign rebellions and terror campaigns that might expand Iranian power and keep potential enemies on the defensive.

August 8, 2022: In Austria the negotiations to revive the 2015 JCPOA (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action) treaty ended with a draft agreement that removed some of the economic restrictions. To take effect Iran and all members of the group of six nations (China, France, Russia, Britain, the U.S. and Germany) that negotiated and signed the 2015 treaty must agree. The 0riginal 2015 treaty lifted economic sanctions in return for Iran halting its nuclear weapons program (which Iran insisted it did not have). The treaty was signed in mid-2015 despite doubts about known nuclear research facilities. Since then, there has been mounting evidence that Iran was already working to continue its nuclear weapons research program and is continuing. Officially, Iran insists it has no nuclear weapons program.

August 7, 2022: In Gaza, the Iran-backed Islamic Jihad declared a ceasefire three days after they broke the truce and attacked Israel, launching 1,100 rockets against southern Israel. About 200 of those rockets were defective and either failed to launch or landed in Gaza. The Israeli Iron dome intercepted all but a few of the rockets headed for a populated area. Even before Israel retaliated on the 5th, Gazans had been killed or wounded when the defective rockets landed inside Gaza, Israel kept Gaza under constant aerial surveillance and captured video of the rockets being launched from populated areas, including Mosques, schools and residential buildings. The Israeli air strikes destroyed those structures, after warning (usually by cellphone) civilians to get out. Israel hit 147 Islamic Jihad targets, including key leaders and known tunnels used for storing rockets and Islamic Jihad personnel. There were also raids in the West Bank, to arrest 20 Islamic Jihad members who were seeking to organize attacks on Israel from the West Bank. Islamic declared itself the victim because 46 Gazans were killed and over 360 wounded. Iran and Islamic Jihad demanded that the UN punish Israel for defending itself so vigorously. The Islamic Jihad attack came despite a ceasefire agreement negotiated by the larger Hamas group that rules Gaza. Hamas says it cannot control the smaller Islamic Jihad, but that is because Hamas also receives some economic aid from Iran. The Islamic Jihad leader arrived in Iran on August 4th for discussions with their Iranian backers. Hamas pressed the Islamic Jihad to halt its violence and back a ceasefire. Israel controls access to Gaza for supplies and jobs in Israel for Gazans. All that halted while Israel was under attack.

In Yemen (the rebel occupied capital Sanaa), six Iranian and Lebanese missile technicians as well as at least 30 Shia rebels were killed when an Iranian ballistic missile being prepared for launch exploded.

August 6, 2022: Apparently the Iranian remote sensing satellite that Russia is supposed to launch soon, will initially be used by the Russian military to support operations in Ukraine. Iran later denied this would happen. Remote sensing satellites are designed to monitor agriculture and natural resources but can also be used for border or battlefield surveillance. As part of this arrangement Russia will provide Iran with even more advanced, and expensive, photo satellite tech if the new remote sensing satellite performs as promised.

August 5, 2022: Ukraine reported they had spotted Iranian Shahed 129 UAVs in Ukraine. It was known that Russia had purchased 46 Iranian UAVs but not all were the veteran Shahed 129. In service since 2012, Shahed 129 is similar to the American Predator that entered service in the late 1990s. Shahed 129 has been used for surveillance and attack. Several are known to have been shot down and others were probably lost due to operational accidents. In 2017 a Pakistani fighter shot down a Shahed 129 that was at least three kilometers inside Pakistani airspace. That same year an American F-15 shot down another Iranian Shahed 129 in Syria because it was headed for U.S. supported rebels and was armed. Until 2021 Shahed 129 was the largest UAV Iran developed and built. In April the new Shahed 149 entered service. This UAV is similar to the 4.6-ton American Reaper. Like the 129, the 149 does not have satellite communications and both UAVs must be within 200 kilometers of a ground station. Since 2014 Shahed 129s have been spotted in Syria and Iraq (near Iranian border) doing surveillance. In early 2016 video on Iranian TV showed the Shahed 129 using laser guided air-to ground missiles. Iran did not make a big deal about the UAV lost over Pakistan and quietly told the Pakistanis that there was probably a navigation error by the UAV. Both UAVs are expensive to build, costing over $5 million for the larger 149. Most of the UAVs sold to Russian were apparently smaller models that could be used as cruise missiles. A 129 could be armed with laser guided missiles and sent out to hunt for Ukrainian troop and weapons convoys or the HIMARS vehicles. That would be risky for the 129s because no one has air superiority in Ukraine and Ukraine has excellent aerial surveillance and assistance from NATO surveillance aircraft and surveillance satellites. That has already led to heavy losses by Russian UAVs. Russia never managed to develop anything like the Predator or Reaper.

August 3, 2022: In eastern Syria (Deir Ezzor province) a small force of ISIL attacked a training camp for an Iran-backed militia. RPG rockets were fired into the camp, killing four militiamen and wounding five others. ISIL men got into the camp long enough to steal weapons and ammunition. Fires were set before the Islamic terrorists left the camp. It’s unclear if any Iranian personnel were at the camp.

August 2, 2022: Iran ordered over a hundred Hezbollah gunmen to travel from Lebanon to eastern Syria where an Iran-backed militia training camp was attacked by ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant).

In South America (Argentina) a former Iranian 747 freighter aircraft was grounded by Argentine officials at the request of the United States. The 747 used to belong to Mahan Airlines, which is owned and operated by the IRGC to move weapons and other cargo to trouble sports where Iran is seeking to keep the unrest going. Recently the 747 was transferred to Venezuela, which is in trouble for allowing the IRGC to operate in Venezuela. If the Americans can prove the 747 formerly belonged to Iran, it can be seized.

August 1, 2022: In neighboring Afghanistan, an armed American UAV killed al Qaeda supreme leader Ayman al-Zawahiri, who was operating openly in Kabul. In 2011, when al Qaeda leader and founder Osama bin Laden was killed in his Pakistani hideout by American commandos, Zawahiri took over and continued operating from temporary hideouts on both sides of the Pakistan-Afghan border. His mentor, bin Laden, had obtained sanctuary in a residential compound in a Pakistani military city. After the death of bin Laden the Pakistani military insisted they had no knowledge of where bin Laden and his family were hiding out. No one believed them and the same degree of sanctuary was not offered to Zawahiri. That led Zawahiri to depend on a decade’s old relationship with Iran, which provides some sanctuary for prominent al Qaeda members, but under restrictive terms dictated by Iran. This arrangement gives Iran some leverage in getting al Qaeda to ease up on attacks on Shia Moslems. When the Taliban regained control of Afghanistan in late 2021, Zawahiri felt it was safe for him to move to Kabul and live there with his family. He misjudged the situation. Meanwhile his second-in-command and successor was apparently safe in Iran. This new head of al Qaeda will have to leave Iran and reveal his identity to assume control of al Qaeda.

July 31, 2022: In the east, on the Afghan border, there was another clash between Afghan and Iranian border guards. One Afghan was killed. The incident began when armed Afghans raised an Afghan flag across the border in Iran. The new Taliban government disagrees with Iran on where the border should be. Iran is also angry at the Taliban resuming their attacks on Afghan Shia, something the Taliban said they would not do.

July 26, 2022: Israel confirmed rumors that back in May a Russian controlled S300 air defense system fired a missile at an Israeli fighter headed back to Israeli territory. The missile missed because 0f Israeli counter measures. The Russians quietly reported that it was a misunderstanding and won’t happen again. The Russians don’t like incidents like this, which portray the S-300 as ineffective against Israeli countermeasures. The Israeli aircraft attacked an Iranian base in northwest Syria and completely destroyed it.

July 25, 2022: In Yemen the Shia rebels have increased the number of ceasefire violations as the August 2nd deadline for renewal gets closer. Most of this violence is directed at civilians, with several hundred dead or wounded in the last few weeks because of Shia rebel artillery, sniper and landmines placed near active roads or paths. The Yemenis accuse the UN officials of ignoring or playing down this increase in rebel violence in a desperate effort to get the rebels to renew the ceasefire. To many Yemenis the UN appears to consider placating the rebels and Iran as more important than preventing civilian casualties. UN personnel in Yemen are accused of being intimidated by Iran. Sometimes this intimidation gets personnel when UN officials traveling in rebel-controlled territory are prevented from moving about freely or are physically restrained and have their recording devices and collected evidence of violations seized. Iran officially denies they are in charge but the Iranian embassy in Sanaa is run by known Iranian military officers with a background in supervising Iranian operations in foreign countries like Syria, Lebanon, Gaza and Yemen.

July 22, 2022: In Iraq senior Shia cleric and political leader Muqtada al Sadr is demanding that former prime minister Nouri al-Maliki be prosecuted because of audio recordings of his political views that demonstrate him making deals with anyone, including Iran, to defeat Sadr and his many supporters. If convicted, Maliki faces life in prison or even execution. Sadr has been unrelenting in his anti-corruption campaign, Evidence of corrupt Maliki decisions since he became the first prime minister of post-Saddam Iraq in 2003 led to his being banned from running for prime minister again. Sadr wanted Maliki banned from politics altogether, but court rulings allowed Maliki to remain active and his party alliance was key in blocking the selection of a new prime minister after anti-corruption parties obtained a majority in the 2021 elections. Iraqi courts are less corrupt than many other institutions but can still be influenced by cash or convincing death threats.

Iraqi journalist Ali Fadel, now living in the United States after surviving many efforts to kill him in Iraq, obtained an hour-long audio recording of Maliki discussing his plans to thwart Sadr and his anti-corruption efforts by any means. That includes mobilizing Iran-backed armed groups for what could turn into a civil war. Fadel is releasing the audio recording a minute or two at a time and so far, less than ten minutes have been released. Maliki’s views are no secret because he often expresses them in private to associates or potential allies. Maliki insists the audio recording is a fake but it sounds real and is certainly plausible considering Maliki’s political activities for over a decade. An official judicial investigation of the recordings and their revelations began yesterday. Maliki refuses to cooperate, which may result in an arrest warrant. If and when the full audio is released and available for technical analysis to determine authenticity, it would persuade many Iraqi party leaders to back Sadr and give his coalition enough (a two-thirds majority) votes to select a new prime minister.

July 19, 2022: The recent American presidential visit to the region went better than expected because changes in official U.S. policy towards Iran were very unpopular in Israel and Saudi Arabia and the American leader admitted that the use of military force against the Iranian nuclear weapons program might be necessary. Saudi Arabia did announce that Saudi Arabia would officially open its air space to all commercial air traffic. The Saudis described this decision as not specifically about Israel, but in reality, it is because the Saudis already allowed (since 2020) overflights of Israeli commercial aircraft, but only as far as the UAE (United Arab Emirates). This was a side effect of the UAE officially recognizing Israel in 2020. The Saudis implement pro-Israeli measures in this manner or do it quietly. The Saudis and the UAE have long been allies and the more entrepreneurial UAE often adopts policies the Saudis are initially reluctant to follow but, when the Saudis deem it safe for them, they do follow. During the recent American visit, everyone was polite and no one on either side said anything to make the situation with the Americans worse than it already is

The current U.S. government ignores the fact Iran has been run by a religious dictatorship since the 1980s and is facing more opposition from the Iranian people because of that. The Palestinians were promised a resumption in financial aid ($316 million) and support for a two-state solution. The Palestinian media makes it clear that they want Israel destroyed but that was not mentioned during the discussions with the American president. The Palestinians have lost much of their foreign aid, including that from Arab oil states, because so much of it is used to support terrorist against Israel or is stolen by what passes for government in the West Bank and Gaza. The Saudis also said the two-state solution was needed for the Saudis to make official peace with Israel, even though they understand that a two-state deal is not possible with the current Palestinian leaders in the West Bank and Gaza. The Saudis have a problem because they have been major promoters of anti-Israel rhetoric since the 1940s and find it difficult to openly change course, like most other Arab oil-states have, especially when faced with growing military threats from Iran. For example, the Palestinian government is financed by Iran. The current American government refuses to recognize the Iranian threat for what it is even as Iran openly supports the Russian invasion of Ukraine and is selling its armed UAVs to Russia, which has still not caught up in that category of military equipment.

July 17, 2022: In the north (Lebanon border) Israel downed a Hezbollah quadcopter by using EW (electronic warfare) tools. The downed UAV was a Chinese-made DJI quadcopter being used for surveillance.

In Iran there was a funeral for a senior Iranian naval officer who was described as dying a martyr, which is how Iran describes the deaths of a growing number of Iranian involved with nuclear weapons research or terrorist attacks on Israelis. Iran does not like to discuss these deaths but the funerals must be held although the circumstances of the deaths are often withheld. Iran did not blame Israel for the death so it may have been related to some accident within the Iranian navy.

July 15, 2022: In the south (Damascus) Israeli missiles, fired from the Golan Heights, hit Iranian and Syrian air force targets outside the capital. This was the 17th Israeli attack on Syrian targets so far this year.

July 12, 2022: In Iraq, powerful Shia cleric and political leader Muqtada al Sadr gave up on his eight-month long effort to form a new government and ordered the 73 members of his parliamentary coalition to resign, which they did. The 2021 national election was a defeat for pro-Iran parties and an unexpected victory for the Sadr coalition, which won 73 of 329 seats in parliament. He had momentum and the best chance of forming a majority coalition and forming a government that would make good on his promise to do something about government corruption. Sadr was unable to get enough ethnic or religious coalitions to join him and form a government. Even then, Sadr would have to achieve a two-thirds vote in parliament to elect a new president. This is seen as a win for Iran and corrupt Iraqi politicians. Meanwhile parliament was not idle.

Even without a new government it could pass new laws and last month approved a law making it a capital (death or life in prison) crime to have any contact with Israel or Israelis. This was a win for Iran because 84 percent of parliament voted for it. Iraq never recognized the existence of Israel and a state of war still exists with Israel. The new law caused problems with the West, especially the United States, because Western trade with Iraq often involves Jews with dual (Israeli and their home country) passports. Other Arab oil states have not only recognized the existence of Israel, but established diplomatic, economic and military relationships. One reason for this is Iran, which has been calling for the destruction of Israel since the 1980s. Before that, Iran followed its ancient practice of tolerating all religions. In 1979, when Iranian religious leaders played a major role in overthrowing the monarchy, it became fashionable to oppose everything (including religious tolerance) that the monarchy supported. This was not popular with many Iranians who realized that one reason for Iran being the traditional local superpower was religious tolerance. Islamic conservatives consider that heresy and that was another custom that was not an Iranian tradition. At the same time, anti-Semitism was becoming less of a factor in Christian and Moslem majority countries. The new Iraqi law is seen as a win for Iran and a defeat for Iraq because in practice the new law makes Iraq less able to cooperate with Arab and Western nations it depends on economically, diplomatically and militarily. Many Iraqis, particularly Kurds, openly opposed the new law and still do. Iran may not be very good at creating progress but the religious dictatorship there has been very successful at causing disasters and decline for the Iranian people. The new Iraqi law does not become official until it is ratified by the president of Iraq. Since 2018 that has been Barham Salih, a veteran Kurdish politician. Salih got the job by obtaining the support of most members of parliament. He was seen as a practical choice, someone who would moderate the sometimes-radical laws that get passed mainly for show because parliament knows that Salih will not confirm it and take the heat for members of parliament who silently agree with him.

July 11, 2022: Iran has offered to supply Russia with UAVs of various types and capabilities. Iran is one of the few countries that support the Russian invasion of Ukraine and has already sent the Russians some weapons via the landlocked Caspian Sea, which borders Russia and Iran. The UAVs are expensive and the economic sanctions on Iran and cash flow problems have already limited foreign military operations Iran supports, especially those against Israel in Syria, Lebanon and Gaza.

July 6, 2022: In southern Syria (Quneitra province), an armed Israeli UAV used a missile to kill the Lebanese commander of Hezbollah forces in Quneitra. Since the 1980s the Lebanese Hezbollah Shia militia has been supported financially and with weapons by Iran. After 2011 Iran ordered Hezbollah forces into Syria to protect the Shia Assad government and later to take control of the Syrian side of the Israeli border and work with Iranian troops to launch attacks on Israel. This attack was part of an Israeli effort to prevent Iranian forces from operating close to the Israeli border gaining support from the border population in the border provinces of Quneitra, Daraa and Suwayda. Total population of these provinces in 2011 was 1.4 million but only about 20 percent of that was on or near the border. After the 2011 Civil War began much of the Sunni population fled. How much remains on the border is unclear but is apparently at least 100,000. Only Queenetta and Daraa border Israel. Israel has occupied most of Queenetta province since the 1967 War and the Israeli controlled area is mostly the Golan Heights. This is the high ground overlooking northern Israel and the Syrians made a major and ultimately failed effort in the 1973 War to retake Golan. Control of the Daraa border with Israel was sought by Iranian forces but Russian and Syrian troops blocked many of the Iranian efforts and are now pushing away Iranian-backed forces already there.

July 2, 2022: In Syria (the west coast), outside the port of Tartus, a missile, apparently from Israel, hit a target described as an Iranian (surface to air) system that recently arrived by ship. Iran suffered heavy losses when weapons were transported by truck via Syria. Some systems are too heavy for air transports and ships are the only option. Syria will sometimes attack these at sea before they reach Syria. Today’s attack also wounded two civilians. This was the 16th Israeli airstrike in Syria so far in 2022.

 

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