Two weeks ago, veteran opposition politician Hossein Mousavi was supported by hundreds of fellow reformers, journalists, and like-minded politicians who all signed an open letter expressing support for Mousavi and his calls for fundamental changes in how Iran is governed. Mousavi has adopted a revolutionary, or counter-revolutionary attitude as far as the religious government sees it. Mousavi is calling for a referendum on whether to maintain the Islamic Republic (Guardians Council dictatorship). If that fails, Mousavi suggests the Guardians Council agree to adopt a new constitution that would satisfy enough Iranians to avoid a civil war. Mousavi and his supporters agree that an uprising is possible if the religious dictatorship does nothing or tries to suppress this movement with violence. That kind of threat is not as convincing as in the past and members of the religious establishment and some IRGC leaders openly express concern that an uprising is possible and whoever wins, Iran loses. Meanwhile inflation continues to make more basic needs unaffordable for many Iranians. The government can’t deal with this and is seeking help from China. A government delegation is in China trying to make deals with China that will stabilize the Iranian economy. The Chinese do not give anything away and are aware of the political instability in Iran. The Chinese are unsure of who will be running Iran in the near future and are unwilling to offend the current or any future government. In other words, the Chinese prefer to wait rather than choose the wrong side right now. The Chinese understand that the current Iranian opposition leader Hossein Mousavi knows what he is talking about because he has been a prominent reformer for over two decades. Mousavi lost the 2009 presidential election because of fraud by the hardliners. Mousavi represented most Iranians looking for a change. By most counts, this is a majority of the population. But within this group, there is no agreement on exactly what changes should be made. Meanwhile, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who won the rigged election was having problems with Guardians Council head Ali Khamenei. This was largely a war of words and conflicting orders. The clerical mafia that, for so long, ran the country, was publicly split in 2009. This was a first. Senior clerics were openly arguing, and the leaders of the military and the IRGC (the special military formed to protect the Guardians Council) were split as well. Ahmadinejad was forced to fire most of his recently selected 21 government ministers, and appoint new ones more satisfactory to Khamenei. All this pushing and shoving between Ahmadinejad and Khamenei only made the reformers stronger, and bolder. But not enough in 2009. By 2023 the reformers were much stronger and assertive. A surprising number of people in the government agreed that there had to be reform, at least enough to avoid a ruinous civil war. Iran is in big economic, military and diplomatic trouble, all caused by the policies of the Guardians Council and IRGC. For many Iranians this is history repeating itself. In 1979 the monarchy refused to enact reforms and was overthrown by a popular revolution. That was followed by a decade of war with Iraq, which had the support of the Arab oil states and even Russia. Most Western countries were hoping both sides would lose and to a certain extent that’s what happened. Now the Arab oil states are allied with Israel and most of the West to block any further aggression by Iran and its religious leadership. Most Iranians agree and understand that before the 1979 revolution Iran got along with the Arabs, Israel, the West and the rest of the world. It’s not just nostalgia that propels Iranian calls for reform, but the realization that things can get worse if their current religious dictatorship remains in power.
The Reasons Why
Since 2022 Iran has found itself with more enemies and fewer resources. For Iran the most painful example of this is the new Arab allies Israel has acquired. A growing number of Moslem states are establishing diplomatic and trade relations with Israel. After more than a century of increasing anti-Semitism, most of Israel’s Arab neighbors realized that Israel would be a valuable economic, diplomatic and military ally against common enemies like Shia Iran and Islamic terrorism in general. Israel is also the only nation in the region with nukes and reliable ballistic missiles, which are also used to put Israeli spy satellites into orbit. It is also the worst of times because Iran has personnel operating on Israeli borders and an increasingly effective, or at least active, Cyber War effort against Israel.
Palestinian Corruption Exposed
And there is growing dissatisfaction in the West and the Middle East with Palestinian leadership failures and rampant corruption. Palestinians are convinced that Israel has no right to exist and only pretend to negotiate a peace deal because that is useful for obtaining foreign aid. Arabs in general are now telling the Palestinians to take whatever peace deal they can because cash and other aid from Arab nations will continue to disappear unless the Palestinians solve their own problems with corruption and fixation on destroying Israel. Many Palestinians are willing to change but their corrupt leaders are not and use their war on Israel as an excuse to violently suppress any Palestinian opposition to the current suicidal policy.
Special Hate And Persecution For Kurds
The Kurds are a Moslem group similar to the Iranians but never wanted to be subjects of the Iranian state or empire. Many prominent Arab or Iranian military leaders or exceptional government officials are Kurds. These Kurds don’t make a big deal of their Kurdish origins but many competing officials in governments they work for do complain. In Iran these talented Kurds survive in high profile government jobs, even in the IRGC. The advantage of using these talented Kurds is that their families can never establish themselves in Iranian high-society for long periods. These traditions have been changing during the last three decades as Kurds established autonomous regions in northern Iraq, northwest Iran, eastern Turkey and northeast Syria. These four increasingly autonomous Kurdish groups try to make themselves useful to the local government but also pay attention to useful foreign allies, like Western nations and Israel.
The Kurds are the most effective and reliable military forces wherever they are and rarely get an opportunity to establish an independent Kurdistan in the region. During World War I over a century ago, the Kurds were promised independence because of their contributions to defeating the Turks. The Kurds did not get their independence. They aided the allies during World War II, did not expect promises of independence, and were not disappointed. Then the Cold War and the Soviet Union ended by 1991 and the Kurds made another run for an independent Kurdistan that other nations would see as an asset, not a problem. The Kurds chose their friends carefully and their enemies even more carefully. Iran is their primary foe and the Kurds are making the most of that.
Iran Is Easy For Everyone Else to Hate
Iran remains obsessed with destroying Israel and no one else in the region agrees with them on that goal. Iran’s presence in Syria is the current threat, so Israeli efforts to make a peace deal with the Syrian Assad government depend on convincing the Assads that with Israeli help they can survive declaring their independence from Iranian domination. Israel has long recognized this opportunity and in mid-2022 sent Basher Assad an ultimatum that, if he did not cease cooperating with the Iranians (especially the movement and storage of Iranian missiles to Syria), Israeli airstrikes would go after Assad and family members by bombing the many luxury residences (“palaces'') used by the Syrian family in and around Damascus. The Assads had earlier denied this degree of cooperation but this time Israel pointed out it was sharing intel with Saudi Arabia and other Arab allies and that means it is a lot more difficult for Assad to get away with lying to the Israelis. Arab nations and Israel were trying to get the Assads to switch sides and the Assads made a decision to stick with Iran without telling the wealthy Gulf Arab states he was hoping would invest in rebuilding the Syrian economy once the war was finally over. The Israelis did not follow through on their threat and it was believed that the Iranian threat to kill Assad and his family was a more compelling offer.
The Americans Cannot Be Ignored
While Israel and its Gulf Arab allies can agree on supporting the Assads, the United States cannot and continues to oppose any peace deal with the Assads. Israel and the Arabs can afford to quietly ignore the Americans on this. The current American government has managed to damage relations with Arab oil states and that is unlikely to change until the 2024 American presidential elections put a new government in charge. In early 2023 it is unclear what the real situation is between the Assads and their other real or potential allies and not-unfriendly neighbors, as in Russia, Turkey, the Arabs states and Israel. Iran is on good terms with Russia and Turkey but not the Arab states, Israel or Western nations in general. Iran is weakened by internal protests that began in September 2022 and continue. The economic sanctions cause many internal problems and contribute to the unrest..
Most Iranians want to end the “war” with Israel. The Iranian religious dictatorship has an irrational hatred for Israel, the United States and many of its Arab neighbors. The Iranian government is justifiably paranoid about what Israel may be up to when it comes to resolving this deadlock. The Israelis do not release any information about their operations against Iran and there have been some spectacular ones in the last few years. There is growing popular support for Israel inside Iran and that has made it easier for Israel to recruit Iranians to assist them for operations inside Iran. Few would mourn the sudden demise of the Iranian religious dictatorship but that would be difficult to carry out because of the homicidal fanaticism regularly demonstrated by the religious government and their IRGC (Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps) enforcers.
Meanwhile Israel treats Iran as a major threat, especially because of the Iranian presence in Syria. Israel has been at war with Iran in Syria for nearly a decade, during which Israel carried out hundreds of airstrikes and a few commando operations against Iranian operations in Syria. This cost Iran a lot of lives and money, and is one of the things restive Iranians want to halt by pulling Iranian forces out of Syria and Lebanon. But first the Iranians have to shut down the Iranian religious dictatorship, which, as expected, resists efforts to shut down operations in Syria.
Iran controls irregular forces in Syria along with the more organized Hezbollah in Lebanon and the inept Hamas in Gaza. Iran also has short-range ballistic missiles that can reach Israel and continued efforts to get guided rockets and short-range ballistic missiles into Syria and Lebanon. Hundreds of Israeli air strikes have prevented the guided weapons buildup and formidable Israeli BMD (ballistic missiles defense) systems neutralize the use of missiles launched from Iran. So far the defenses have worked. Israel has offered to sell BMD systems to their new Arab allies and help them use whatever BMD systems they obtain to keep the Iranian missiles out.
Several Israeli defense manufacturers are establishing sales offices within their new Arab allies and offering all manner of defensive systems.
Ukraine and Russia
Iran is supplying Russia with cheap cruise missiles and larger models for attacks on Ukrainian infrastructure (power and other utilities) as well as government offices. Russia’s payment to Iran includes 35 modern Russian fighter-bombers for use against Iran’s Arab enemies across the Persian Gulf. The Arabs have more and better Western aircraft, crews and maintenance capabilities. Heavy sanctions imposed on Iran make it difficult to maintain and operate Iran’s new modern aircraft, which were originally going to Egypt.
February 16: Iran announced that it would have to complete major oil industry projects without Chinese investments or Chinese specialists. While China quietly withdrew its participation, Iran had to explain the change, especially since Iran will miss the Chinese money most of all because Iran is very short of cash. A delegation of senior Iranian government officials ended its official visit to China today. The Iranians wanted more cooperation and investment from China and instead were told there would be way less until the political and economic situations in Iran calm down. The growing unrest since last September and Iranian involvement with Russia in the Ukraine war are seen as creating a very risky situation for foreign investors.
February 15, 2023: The United States revealed who the new al Qaeda leader was and where he was hiding. This story begins six months ago when an armed American UAV killed al Qaeda supreme leader Ayman al-Zawahiri, who was operating openly in Kabul, Afghanistan. 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 Saif al-Adel, an Egyptian, was safe in Iran. This new head of al Qaeda will have to leave Iran and promote his new status to assume full control of al Qaeda. That is what kept Zawahiri alive for so long and for the moment the new al Qaeda leader has decided to remain safe, and much less effective, in Iran.
February 13, 2023: The Iranian air force has been showing off its new underground air force base. This one is near the Strait of Hormuz but over a hundred kilometers inland and dug into the north face of a mountain. As impressive as this looks, it is obviously not completed and key passageways are not wide enough to accommodate the 24 Su-35 Russia is supposed to deliver to pay for weapons Iran has already supplied to Russia. This is not the only underground air base. There are several others built just for storing and operating UAVs, especially the ones used as cruise missiles. These have been used a lot in Ukraine by the Russians. These UAVs were low, low and noisy and that enabled the Ukrainians to develop ways to shoot most of them down before they reached their targets. These UAVs are still useful because many other potential victims are not as quick as the Ukrainians at developing novel and effective defensive measures.
February 12, 2023: Examination of the wreckage of crashed Iranian Shahed-131, Shahed 136, and Mohajer-6 cruise missiles in November showed that 82 percent of them had some Western electronic components the Iranian sanctions are supposed to access to. Most of the banned components were manufactured in 2020 and 2021 and some of them improved the existing capabilities of the Iranian UAVs used as one-way cruise missiles. Iran is assisting Russia in setting up a UAV manufacturing plant in Russia and the two heavily sanctioned countries are combining their component smuggling efforts. This cooperation will allow improvements in current weapons and military equipment used by both countries as well enable the development of more capable systems.
February 10, 2023: Iranians continue to feel unwelcome in Iraq and that process will continue until Iran is no longer a threat to Iraqi control of Iraq. Despite problems inside Iran, there are still corrupt Iraqi businessmen and officials who make some money anyway they can. The illegal export of Iraqi currency and U.S. dollars to Iran is one example of the continued cooperation between two countries that are in so many other ways enemies. In these deals both sides come away believing they have gotten the better of the other. Iranians are somewhat more aware of this and have long believed the Iraqis were delusional and easily swindled. That tends to be true, but Iraqis get the best of the Iranians often enough to keep these deals coming.
February 6, 2023: A massive earthquake registering 7.8, on a scale where anything over six is considered major, devastated the Turkish-Syrian border in northeast Syria. Iran ordered its Islamic terrorists support units (Quds Force) in the area to provide any quake relief they are capable of. Some other Islamic terrorist groups did the same. This has long been a major combat zone on the Syrian side of the border. Most of the earthquake damage took place on the Turkish side. Total deaths are expected to exceed 50,000 and the total won't be known until the massive numbers of collapsed structures, especially in residential areas, are searched. The quake brought a halt to combat in Syria and Turkish military operations in the area as well as the food and other aid for the many civilians trapped in the Syrian Idlib province combat zone. This disrupts the operations of Islamic terror groups in the area. Islamic terrorists in other parts of Syria, particularly near the Israeli and Iraqi borders, reduced or suspended operations because of fears they would be subject to more attacks as a result of the temporary neutralization of Islamic terrorist operations in northern Syria. Israel and Iraq have both sent rescue and relief aid to Turkey.
February 4, 2023: The United States agreed to help Iraq stabilize the values of their dinar versus American dollars. Since late 2022 the dinar has been losing value against the dollar because of public panic over corrupt government officials illegally providing Iran and other sanctioned nations dollars. From 2010 to late 2022 the exchange rate for the Iraqi currency (dinar) has hovered around 1,200 dinars to buy one dollar. Then an American effort to halt the illegal moving of dollars to Iran and Syria increased that by more than 20 percent. With dollars more expensive in dinars, imported goods in Iraq become more expensive. The government blamed the Americans but the root cause was corruption in the Iraqi banking system. Many government officials profit from this, but blaming Westerners for mistakes by local officials is a long-standing custom. The new currency curbs leave Iran with fewer dollars and less capability to interfere in Iraqi affairs. After a few months of this, the Iraqi government apologized to the United States and cooperated in shutting down the illegal dollar transfers. The joint announcement by Iraqi and American treasury officials was enough to stabilize the dinar versus dollar situation.
January 29, 2023: In eastern Syria (Deir Ezzor province) unidentified armed UAVs attacked a convoy of trucks that had just left Iraq and were moving towards a nearby base used by Iran-backed militias. Many of these militiamen are from Iraq or Lebanon (Hezbollah). Sometimes the UAVs are American but sometimes they are Israeli, which has UAVs capable of doing this and intelligence assets (photo satellites and local informants) to detect and track such Iranian supply convoys. Iraq doesn’t care who does it as long as the attacks take place on the Syrian side of the border.
January 25, 2023: During 2022 Turkey became a major player in Syria, which previously depended heavily on Iran for assistance. Back in the 1980s Iran became a patron of the Shia minority government of Syria. It was only natural for Iran to come to the aid of the Shia Assad government when most of the Syrian population (Sunnis) went to war with the Assads. In 2015 Russia got involved too as the Assads were its reliable partner in the Middle East. Then there was Israel, which Iran wanted to destroy but the Russians wanted to protect and Turkey was somewhere in the middle. Now Turkish and Russian mercenaries in Syria are fighting each other. Iran has become a major ally of Russia because of the 2022 Russian invasion of Ukraine. Turkey is trying to exploit this, if only because Turkey and Russia have been rivals for centuries. Reviving diplomatic and economic ties with Israel is part of that. Historically, what is going on in Syria is an unnatural act. Russia, Turkey and Iran have centuries of mutual hostility and frequent wars defining their relationship. That made their alliance in Syria unusual and now things are returning to the usual state of mutual hostility and competition. Russia and Turkey want Israel on their side while Iran only wants to destroy Israel.
January 24, 2023: In northern Israel (the Lebanon border) Israeli engineers have, since 2014 built a fortified and electronically monitored border zone along the entire 140-kilometer Lebanese border. In 2020 Israel began installing more seismic sensors as part of a tunnel construction detection system that has already proved its worth on the Gaza border and a few times on the Lebanon border. The new sensor network is being expanded to more of the Lebanese border. In 2018 Israel found and destroyed five Hezbollah tunnels and began work to discourage and reduce, but not stop, Hezbollah tunneling efforts. Compared to Hamas in Gaza, Iran backed Hezbollah had a lot more cash and other resources for tunnel building and experimented with new techniques. Israel assumes that one or more of these tunnels may remain undetected and operational for a while under construction before they are detected. Unlike the Hamas tunnels in Gaza the situation is quite different in the north. For one thing there are 10,000 UN peacekeepers on the Lebanon border as part of the peace deal that ended the 2006 war with Hezbollah. The UN force is supposed to detect and prevent (or at least report) cross border violations of the peace deal. Israel is not blaming the UN force for failing to notice anything about the tunnels but the Israelis expected the UN to pay closer attention to the military buildup Iran is organizing in Lebanon for the express purpose of attacking Israel. Hezbollah is banned from having any forces near the border and responded by building twenty 18 meter (59 feet) high observation towers. Israel did not object because they wanted Hezbollah to get a good look at the Israeli fortified and heavily patrolled border zone. This border control system has prevented Hezbollah, or smugglers, from getting across. Hezbollah could always monitor the construction of the border zone with quad-copers or larger Iranian UAVs. Trying to send some of these UAVs across the border demonstrated that the Israeli air defenses are also formidable along the border.
January 14, 2023: Israeli media found out about a recent secret visit to Israel by an unnamed senior Iranian religious leader who opposes the current religious dictatorship in Iran. The visiting cleric held meetings with senior Israeli officials, including the prime minister. The cleric then returned to Iran with assurances that Israel, including Israeli media, would keep his identity secret.
January 13, 2023: In Yemen, Iran is the major reason the rebels agreed to a ceasefire. A decline in Iranian support due to lack of funds plus unrest at home diverted Iranian attention away from Yemen, The Iranian weapons, cash, advisors and smuggling network supercharged the Shia rebels, enabling them to keep fighting the more numerous and better armed force arrayed against them. Iran has been openly supporting the Shia rebels since 2014 and later admitted that less visible support had been supplied since 2011.
Growing economic sanctions on Iran and eventual Saudi and American success in discovering details of the Iranian smuggling operation finally worked. By 2021 the Shia rebels became more interested in negotiating than fighting. The rebels were losing and were forced into survival mode. They were not giving up, the Yemeni Shia have never done that, but their effort to conquer and rule all of Yemen was suspended. The Iranian situation got much worse after September 2022 when nationwide anti-government protests began and have continued. The Yemeni government accuses the rebels of turning to looting of government facilities in areas they control. For a long time that worked but now it doesn’t because the loss of Iranian financial support put an end to the “understanding” that prevented or limited looting.
Even without being officially renewed, the ceasefire is continuing because neither side wants to risk the heavy casualties a resumption of full-scale fighting would mean. Iran is technically at war with most of the Arab oil states as well as Israel, the United States and anyone else who gets in their way. Given the growing number of countries that oppose Iran or are losing patience with Iranian troublemaking, there is something of a deathwatch attitude towards Iran. At least for the rest of 2023 not much is expected to change in Yemen.
January 7, 2023: Since invading Ukraine nearly a year ago, Russia’s only arms imports come from North Korea (artillery ammo) and Iran (nearly 2,000 cheap Shahed 131/136 cruise missiles). Payment is by barter. North Korea gets badly needed food and oil supplies while Iran receives modern jet fighters and other military tech. Russia depends a lot on its Iranian cruise missiles and North Korea artillery ammo to keep the fighting going. North Korea was able to draw on its stockpiled 152mm ammunition and increased production. This is all that prevents Russian forces from being overwhelmed by superior numbers of Ukrainian 152mm and (NATO supplied) 155mm shells. China has avoided any trade with Russia because of all the sanctions but has quietly increased its trade with North Korea and Iran. China does not give things away but is willing to sell to anyone who can pay. Iran has oil and North Korea has coal and minerals plus whatever its hackers can steal. China allows these hackers to work from China as long as they pay their own way and do not hack Chinese. The North Korean hackers have become quite good at stealing cryptocurrency, which China or Russia will accept as payment.
January 6, 2023: An American warship intercepted another smugglers boat traveling Iran to the Red Sea coast of Yemen controlled by the Shia rebels. This was a dhow (traditional wooden cargo ship) that was found to be carrying 2,116 AK-47 rifles for the Shia rebels in Yemen. This is the third such interception in three months. There is a naval blockade of the Yemen coast and the Americans provide an interception force closer to the Iranian ports the smuggling boats leave from with their hidden cargoes. The Americans appear to have improved their intelligence on how the Iranian smuggling to Yemen operates. Information may also be coming from inside Iran where a lot of Iranians are seeking to overthrow their government and halt expensive overseas operations like the civil war in Yemen. Were it not for Iranian support, the Yemeni rebels would have been defeated long ago. The Iranian aid to the Yemeni rebels is not subtle. There are many Iranians specialists from the IRGC Quds Force in Yemen. These are led by a retired Quds Force general who is the Iranian ambassador to rebel controlled Yemen, which is about a third of the country, including the capital. The rebels are on the defensive because Iranian aid has been sharply reduced in the last year because of the blockade and increased economic sanctions on Iran.