May 2, 2023:
Popular protests against hijab restrictions and the worsening economy continue in many cities. This has been going on for nearly a year. When protests are suppressed or simply decline in one city they appear in another. Retirees are usually involved because their pensions have not been increased to deal with the inflation. These pensions are often the only source of income for the retired. There are also problems with some provincial governors. These men are appointed and expected to maintain order in their province. Now some of the governors are siding with the protesters.
Since September 2022 protests have occurred in over 300 towns and cities. Nearly 600 protesters have been killed and many more injured. Police have arrested at least about 20,000 protesters but released most of them quickly because the security forces don’t have the manpower to deal with all the protests. Police are asking for a budget increase so they can hire enough new police to double their numbers. That is not happening because the government is broke and cutting spending. The IRGC called on more of their Basij unpaid volunteers to attack protesters. This is not as effective as it used to be. There are often more protesters than Basij and the IRGC men find themselves on the defensive. Recently there have been more attacks on IRGC facilities, some of them burned down. A growing number of Basij members are joining the protests. The growing economic problems are also contributing to the continued protests and calls for a new government. Even IRGC leaders fear a civil war if something is not done about the economy, the restrictive dress codes and visible corruption by families of senior religious and IRGC officials.
In the last week there have been two apparent attacks on senior clerics, one of them fatal. While one was later found to be accidental, there have been more protests and threats against the senior clergy who run the government. The government has responded with increasingly violent attacks on protesters and steadfast refusal to deal with economic or political problems. Popular calls for a national referendum on these problems are rejected by the government.
The government response to calls for corruption to be reduced resulted in some action. Not enough, because the government arrested a few notorious corrupt officials and merchants and this had no impact on the rampant, and economically disastrous corruption. The IRGC got involved and took control of some corrupt enterprises. This did little to help the situation because the IRGC is the source of many economic problems because they own so many enterprises that are not profitable. The only way to stop the economic protests is to fix the economy. The government will not or cannot do that because of government policies that trigger more economic sanctions. Same situation with the hijab protests; rather than eliminate mandatory hijab rules, the government uses more violence to enforce them as well as introducing more restrictions on women.
May 1, 2023: It was recently revealed that Alireza Akbari, who had British and Iranian citizenship, was indeed spying for Britain from 2004 until 2019. Akbari was a former Iranian Deputy Defense Minister (1998-2003) and before that an IRGC commander during the 1980s war with Iraq. Akbari lost confidence in the Iranian government and its efforts to conceal its nuclear weapons program and in 2005 began supplying information to MI6 (British foreign intelligence) on the Iranian nuclear program. Iran arrested Akbari in 2009 but later released him. Akbari was arrested again in 2019 and interrogated, sometimes brutally, for months to try and find out who his Iranian sources were. Apparently he never revealed any of his Iranian sources. He was finally executed by hanging in January 2023. Before his 2019 arrest he obtained enormous quantities of information on the Iranian nuclear program, including the location of secret underground facilities and the names of over a hundred key personnel. Some of the nuclear facilities were destroyed with the assistance of Iranians opposed to the nuclear program. Several key nuclear scientists were also assassinated. In 2008 a British intelligence official went to Israel and told Israel that Britain had had an agent (or mole) inside the Iranian government who was supplying them with detailed and accurate information about the Iranian nuclear weapons program. The Iranian government knew that there were Iranians who worked for foreign intelligence agencies and provided information about the Iranian military, government and nuclear weapons program but had little success in arresting any of them. Some of these operatives became known to the government but tended to flee Iran before they could be arrested. Akbari had many friends and contacts in the Iranian government and military and was generally above suspicion because of his long years of military and government service in Iran. Akbari and his family denied he had any connection with espionage activities.
April 30, 2023: Iran and Pakistan share borders with each other and Afghanistan. Iran and Pakistan have prosperous and peaceful relationships, but have problems with the new government in Afghanistan. Pakistan was the first nation to officially recognize the new (2021) IEA (Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan) IEA government in Afghanistan. There are still disagreements between the two countries and the resumption of diplomatic relations makes it easier to discuss possible solutions to disputes. Currently the only countries willing to trade with Afghanistan are Iran, China, Russia and Pakistan. Since IEA took over in 2021, Afghanistan has been a much more difficult country to do business in. Iran recognized the IEA and exchanged ambassadors in March 2023. Inside Afghanistan the economic and security situations are chaotic. It is in the interests of Iran and Pakistan to try and remedy this.
April 29, 2023:
In central Syria (Homs province) an Israeli airstrike hit an airport Iran has been using to fly in weapons for Hezbollah and the new Lebanese branch of the Gaza-based Hamas..
Iran is seen as a major factor in recent Hamas boasting of its preparations for another war with Israel. Hamas believes that if they can inflict enough damage on Israel by killing or capturing soldiers and civilians they can prompt Moslem and Western countries to pressure Israel to allow more access to Gaza and send more aid. Hamas also hopes that Israel bombs and ground forces do enough damage inside Gaza to allow Hamas to get away with portraying itself as a victim and again persuading other nations to help. This will be difficult because the Arab donors no longer trust Hamas (or Fatah either) and are put off by the recent Iranian announcement that it was still subsidizing Hamas, which has run Gaza and its 1.5 million Palestinians since 2005. Iran supported Hamas early on. There were recently more rumors that Iran had stopped supporting Hamas. Iran had decreased its support, in large part because of Western sanctions for Iranian support of terrorism and lower oil prices, but never cut off Hamas completely. Although Sunni Hamas sometimes persecutes Shia, Iran supports energetic Hamas efforts to attack Israel. Hamas also supports Islamic terrorists active in Egypt, which turned Egypt completely against Hamas and helped put Egypt firmly into the anti-Iran Sunni coalition. The Iran link makes Hamas an enemy as far as most Sunni Moslem nations are concerned. Hamas has made a lot of bad decisions since 2005 and the Iran link is seen as one of the worst. In response to Arab states who have cut aid to Gaza and the West Bank, Palestinian leaders have quietly told the reluctant Arab donors that if they do not increase aid there will be violent Palestinian protests (in Gaza, West Bank and Jerusalem) against the Arab donors as well as Israel. These Arab donors (mainly Gulf oil states like Saudi Arabia, UAE and Kuwait) have lost patience with the Palestinians and not only cut donor aid, which was being stolen or misused by corrupt Palestinian leaders, but also openly allied themselves with Israel against Iran. The Arab world still technically backs the Palestinians and their effort to destroy Israel but has lost confidence in the Palestinians.
April 28, 2023: There are currently over fifty firms suffering strikes by workers protesting the government unwillingness or inability to deal with the rising inflation (now nearly 50 percent) by increasing wages. The government refuses to raise the minimum wage enough so that workers can survive.
April 27, 2023: In the north (Mazandaran province) Ayatollah Abbas Ali Soleimani, a close associate of supreme leader Khamenei, was shot dead in a bank. The IRGC and local police investigated the shooting and determined that the killing was because of mistaken identity. The shooter mistook the victim for someone he was feuding with and sought to kill.
In the Gulf of Oman, an Iranian helicopter carrying commandos was used to seize another tanker and move it to Iranian coastal waters. This is the sixth tanker Iran has detained since 2019. The latest one turned out to belong to a Chinese leasing company, managed by a Turkish firm and manned by an Indian crew. Since China, Turkey and India are among the few nations friendly towards Iran, these connections may get the tanker released sooner. The tanker was carrying a load of Kuwaiti oil to the United States (Houston). Iran always attributes these seizures to some regulation the tanker violated. Iran does not mention the economic sanctions that make it illegal for Iran to sell its oil. The United States supplies most of the enforcement efforts and this involves intercepting at sea tankers smuggling Iranian oil and seizing the oil. The American proof usually consists of aerial or satellite photos of the offending tanker at an Iranian port to take on a load of Iranian oil. The origins of oil can be determined by an analysis of the oil. There are minute differences in the composition of oil that make source identification possible. Iran still manages to smuggle a lot of oil to willing (because of lower prices) buyers. The seizures and lower prices cost Iran nearly half its pre-sanctions oil income. Currently Iran earns about $3 billion a month from oil export sales. That’s not enough to support the government budget or the economy. This does reduce the amount spent on their nuclear weapons program. To help with that Iran provides weapons to Russia for its Ukraine War. Russia is under heavier sanctions than Iran an pays for these weapons via barter. Russia is supplying Iran with modern warplanes (three dozen Su-35s) along with support equipment and technical assistance. Russia has sent Iran some other high-tech weapons in payment for the weapons and other military equipment.
April 26, 2023: Ukraine has proposed imposing its own sanctions on Iran for its support of Russian attacks and supplying Russia with weapons, including 300,000 artillery shells. The sanctions include a ban on any money transfers to Iran for investment, trade or anything else. Ukrainian firms or individuals could not supply Iran with new technologies. There would be a ban on Ukrainians using digital means to transfer money to Iran. The National Bank of Ukraine is banned from using any international payment system operated by Iranian citizens. Any trade with Iran would be banned and transit Iranian airlines or other modes of transport could no longer pass over or through Ukraine.
April 25, 2023: In Turkey, defense ministers from Iran, Russia, Syria and Turkey met to discuss ways to improve relations between Turkey and the Iran-backed Assad government in Syria. Russia also seeks to resolve problems it is having in Syria with Turkey and Iran. These discussions also discussed the withdrawal of Iranian and Turkish forces from Syria and economic aid to rebuild the shattered Syrian economy. Another meeting is planned for May and held in Russia.
Back in Iran the IRGC declared it will resume arresting and punishing women who refuse to wear a hijab to cover their hair. Ten days ago, the IRGC warned that women had ten days to decide. The IRGC fears that many women will resist the use of force and there are not enough prisons to hold a lot of women refusing to cover their hair. Husbands, brothers and boyfriends tend to back the women. This could turn another IRGC hijab crackdown into a popular uprising.
April 24, 2023: The United States imposed sanctions on four Iranian police and military commanders responsible for using violence to suppress popular protests over forcing women to wear a hijab. One of the sanctioned men was in charge of efforts to ban Iranian Internet users from supporting the protests or reporting on forcing criticism of the crackdown.
April 23, 2023: In the southeast (Kerman province) a woman died when police attacked a demonstration protesting enforcement of the mandatory hijab (head covering for women) rule.
In eastern Syria (Deir Ezzor province) Iran brought in over 600 soldiers and their equipment over several days using commercial buses.
April 22, 2023: Israel treats Iran as a major threat, especially because of the Iranian presence in Syria, although Iran’s nuclear program is starting to rival that danger. 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 Iranians must oust their religious dictatorship which has been in power for 45 years, and has refused to shut down operations in Syria despite years of growing popular protests that it costs too much.
April 19, 2023: Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei refused to hold popular referendums to settle disputes over domestic and foreign policies. This was seen as a way to reduce the continuing protests over enforcement of laws requiring women to cover their hair with a hijab as well as expensive aid for foreign conflicts that Iran is involved in (like Syria and Yemen). Khamenei also refuses to allow free elections. Currently the government must approve all candidates in elections for parliament or any other office.
April 18, 2023: Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei gave a speech to Basij (pro-government) university students but interrupted by calls for the government to listen to popular complaints rather than depending on Basij to go out and physically attack protesters. More Basij were agreeing with the protesters.
April 6, 2023: In southern Lebanon an Iran-backed Palestinian faction fired 30 unguided rockets into Israel. The Iron Dome defense system intercepted 15 of the 34 rockets that were headed for populated areas while the others landed in uninhabited territory. Iran sponsors Hamas in Gaza and smuggles in rockets and rocket components. Iran control Hezbollah in Lebanon has recruited local Palestinians to form an anti-Israel group and use Iranian-made rockets provided by Hezbollah to attack Israel. Hezbollah does not want to do this itself because Israel would retaliate against the many Hezbollah facilities in Lebanon. Israel retaliated for this rocket barrage with artillery fire against Iranian or pro-Iranian group targets near the border. For years Iran has threatened to unleash massive simultaneous rocket barrages from Gaza and Lebanon but was dissuaded by Israeli retaliation, which would include ground invasion and enormous damage on Hamas and Hezbollah facilities. Worse, the Lebanese government would become more hostile to the Hezbollah presence in Lebanon and the many anti-Hamas Palestinians in Gaza threaten to do the same. The Lebanese do not complain openly because that would lead to more strife inside Lebanon.