August 27, 2014: The Iranian government continues to criticize the United States for not doing enough to fight ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) . In the past Iran had condemned U.S. bombing missions against Sunni Islamic terrorists in Iraq, but now they want more of it. Iran would also like to see the Americans bomb ISIL in Syria and thus ease the ISIL pressure on pro-Iranian Syrian dictator Basher Assad. Sunni rebels in Syria, most of them non-ISIL, have been fighting Assad since 2011 but all this year these rebels have been fighting ISIL as well. ISIL and the other rebels cannot agree on a lot of things and ISIL began trying to settle the issue by force in late 2013. The Iranians appear to believe that the U.S. air strikes and all the military aid (from Iran, the U.S. and seven other NATO nations) going to the Iraqi Kurds, plus a new government in Iraq, will be able to deal with ISIL in Iraq.
Iran has been very active in supporting the Shia Arab government in Iraq against ISIL, but not very public about it. This is because many of the things that ISIL is hated for (restrictions on women and on what people drink and do for entertainment) are the same things that have long been enforced in Iran. It is possible for Iran to condemn the ISIL tendency to slaughter lots of people just for being different (not Islamic or not Islamic enough) but they are reluctant to go into much detail, as least in the media. Iran would like ISIL to just go away, permanently and with great violence if necessary. Meanwhile Iran has other religious problem in Iraq. Although Iran has considerable influence over the Iraqi government, the same cannot be said for the Shia clergy in Iraq. While the Iranian Shia clergy have long believed in clerical control of the government, the Iraqi Shia clergy have not. This dispute became public in 2013 as Iranian Shia clergy issued fatwas (religious rulings) calling on Shia men to volunteer to fight for the pro-Iranian (and minority Shia) government in Syria (where the Sunni majority have been rebelling since 2011). The Iraqi Shia clergy were not nearly as united or enthusiastic about that sort of thing. The basic truth in the region is that ethnicity (Arab versus Iranian) is stronger than religion (Shia versus Sunni). One of the few things Saudi Arabia and Iran can agree on is that ISIL must be destroyed. Both Saudi Arabia and Iran are already quietly tending to that common goal. Without getting too chummy the U.S. and Iran have been trying to work out some rules for each other’s use of UAVs now operating over Iraq. Iranian UAVs have been seen flying over Iraq since late June, apparently with the approval of the Iraqi government (and quiet assent of the Americans, who already had F-16s and UAVs over Iraq). Between the U.S. and Iran there are often fifty or more UAV sorties over Iraq on some days. While Iraq is a big place, the UAVs from each country will often be seeking pictures of the same area at the same time. There have been no UAV collisions and few sightings by each other’s UAVs. Apparently the two nations have quietly agreed to leave each others UAVs to go about their business of supporting the Iraqi government in its fight against advancing ISIL Islamic terrorists. It’s unclear if there has been any sharing of information.
The current war between Hamas and Israel as, like the two previous conflicts, brought out a lot of pro-Arab (if not pro-Hamas) hackers to attack Israeli Internet operations. This time around the attacks, while low level (defacing websites and trying to shut down sites with DDOS attacks) were more intense. Most were from Moslems far from the Palestinian territories who had acquired some hacking skills. While the Moslem nations have lower percentages of Internet users and Internet experts, that is slowly improving every year. More worrisome to Israel is the apparent growing of Cyber War operations in Iran. All this increased hacking against Israeli targets is no surprise and it has been developing since September 11, 2001. Israel also now accuses Iran of using Cyber War operations to aid all Moslem anti-Israel groups. This support does not include high grade stuff, which only Iranian hackers are allowed to handle, but training and hacker software that many eager Moslem amateurs were not aware of or felt capable of using.
The Iranian government is upset about the refusal of women to respond to calls to have more children. In response it recently enacted laws that prohibit many forms of contraception and make it illegal for doctors and other medical experts to provide contraceptive services for women. The government also wants fewer women in universities and is trying to persuade women to have more children as an alternative to education. That is not working either. The government also wants fewer urban reform activists. Many of these are university students and more than half are women. Decades of living under a religious dictatorship has produced rising unemployment and less optimism among most Iranians. That has led to a plunging birth rate. The government is ignoring its role in all these problems, mainly because the ruling clerics see themselves as on a Mission From God and beyond criticism. That has not helped solve a major long-term problem; the declining birthrate. Since the beginning of the 21st century the birthrate has rapidly declined and is now below the replacement rate. The population is 75 million (double what it was when the Shia clerics took over in the 1980s) and most Iranians are under 35. Too many younger Iranians are unemployed and unhappy with the government. The clerics encouraged births during the 1980s war with Iraq, but now most (over 70 percent) Iranians live in cities where it’s impossible to support a family if you don’t have a job. Younger Iranians don’t want to have kids while the country is ruled by a corrupt and inefficient religious dictatorship. Few of these young Iranians want to return the countryside and subsistence farming. Alarmed at the sharp slowdown in the population growth rate over the last decade, the government is trying to eliminate birth control and is offering cash bonuses for new babies. The government wants to double the current population, to 150 million so that Iran will be a stronger military power. That does not seem likely to happen.
As if the government didn’t have enough problems with the sanctions, ISIL, disobedient women and the economy there is also a continuing drought. If heavy rains do not arrive by the end of the year about a third of the population will be facing severe water supply problems.
August 26, 2014: The commander of the Quds Force (similar to the U.S. Special Forces, but which specializes in supporting Islamic terrorists not fighting them) has been fired and replaced by his deputy. The ousted commander was expected to do what needed to be done to get pro-Iranian Iraqi prime minister Maliki a third term. But Maliki was widely believed responsible for the current ISIL crises and the collapse of the Iraqi security forces. He has been replaced on August 11 by a man (Haider Al Abadi) more acceptable to anti-Maliki Iraqis and, worst of all for Iran, the United States. Iran had already sent hundreds of advisors and some senior members of the Quds Force to Iraq to assist the large embassy staff. Quds was long responsible for developing a pro-Iran attitude in Iraq but because of the general Arab mistrust of Iranians that Quds effort has not worked as well as was expected. A new head of Quds is not likely to change that much.
The autonomous Kurds in northern Iraq openly thanked Iran for being the first country to supply them with weapons and equipment to battle ISIL. The U.S. had been sending the Kurds such gear but it had been done via the Iraqi government and for months that government was holding up those shipments as part of a dispute with the Kurds over who controlled oil fields in Kurdish territory. The U.S. eventually began direct shipments to the Kurds as did Germany and six other NATO nations that had long supported the northern Iraq Kurds.
August 25, 2014: Today was the deadline to answer a list of questions from IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) about the Iranian nuclear program. The government refused to answer all the questions and is apparently playing hardball with the IAEA. The government has been telling Iranians that tactics like this will defeat the sanctions, but that has not happened yet. The next sanctions negotiations deadline is in November.
August 24, 2014: The Iranian government said an Israeli UAV had been shot down near a nuclear research facility. Video of the wreckage was broadcast and there were no indications (markings or shape of the wreckage) that the downed aircraft was definitely Israeli. Iran then claimed that it was a Hermes 800 UAV, but was quickly forced to acknowledge that this model of the Israeli built Hermes did not have the range to reach Iran from Israel. It was then claimed that the Hermes 800 was launched from somewhere else that was closer to Iran (implying it was an Arab Gulf state that hosted American warplanes). All this appears to be another Iranian Information War operation that blew up in their faces over the next few days. If you are going to lie, do it right.
Iran also announced that, in retaliation for the Israeli UAV violation of Iranian air space Iran would now arm Palestinians in the West Bank as well as provide training. Iran has been trying to do this for years, without much success. Apparently the decision has been made to be more aggressive about it. Iran has already declared that Hamas has won the current war with Israel. Hamas likes to get support from Iran but most Hamas members (and most Palestinians) see Iran as an enemy of the Arabs.
The Iranian government also announced a new Ghadir anti-ship missile (with a range of 100 kilometers) and several new UAVs. Such announcements are common but many Iranians note that few of these new weapons developed and manufactured in Iran ever make it into regular use by the Iranian military. Also announced were denials that any Iranian troops were fighting in Iraq, despite growing evidence that this was happening and there were hundreds, if not several thousand, Iranian troops operating in Iraq. Many of these may not be fighting, but they are in Iraq.
August 23, 2014: The Iranian government would not allow UN IAEA inspectors to visit a military base outside Tehran. IAEA was told that they had visited the base before 2005 and found nothing and that there was no need to inspect it again. The IAEA is really suspicious now.
August 22, 2014: Several hundred Iranian troops crossed the border to assist Iraqi Kurds in halting the advance of ISIL forces. This Iranian force did not immediately attack but unexpectedly pulled back towards the Iranian border. There appears to be some disagreement in the Iranian leadership about what exactly is to be done to aid Iraq against ISIL. Iran later denied that this troop movement had occurred, but there appear to have been plenty of witnesses on the Iraqi side of the border.
August 21, 2014: The Iranian government said it was willing to do more to assist in eliminating ISIL in Iraq but only if some of the economic sanctions on Iran are lifted. When pressed by the UN Iran later backed off from this demand. Apparently there is some disagreement in the Iranian leadership about how to handle the ISIL situation and the continuing damage the sanctions are causing.
August 16, 2014: The Iranian government has ordered all its An-74 transports grounded. Some of these have been involved in accidents in the past. The An-74 is a 19 ton, twin engine military transport made in Russia. This grounding order is a result of the recent grounding of An-140s. The main cause of these crashes are the economic sanctions which have produced a shortage of aircraft replacement parts. Rather than ground a lot of aircraft the government allowed a bad maintenance situation to develop. That resulted in a sloppy attitude towards aircraft safety. In some cases nearly two percent of large aircraft (especially transports) have been lost in one year. That is an incredibly bad safety record. As recently as the 1980s Iranian civil aviation was one of the safest in the world. The clerics running the country as a religious dictatorship blame the aviation disasters on the United States and Israel. Secret agents and all that. Some Iranians believe that, but by now most do not.
August 14, 2014: The Iranian government confirmed that the economy had shrunk by two percent in the last year, although many Iranians believe that number is too optimistic. The government is predicting growth in the economy during the next year, of one or two percent.
August 13, 2014: Iran’s supreme leader (a senior cleric) said that despite the cooperation with America in defending Iraq from ISIL there would be no direct talks with the United States.
August 11, 2014: Iran ordered all of its An-140 aircraft grounded because another one of them crashed yesterday killing 39 people (another nine survived). The 19 ton An-140 is a twin turboprop aircraft designed in Ukraine and usually built in Russia. Since introduced in 2007 it has been used mainly as a civilian aircraft (it can carry 52 passengers). The An-140s sold to Russia are modified for military use. The civilian version sells for about $9 million each, but the militarized version (sturdier landing gear, more electronics, configured to carry five tons of cargo) increases the price to about $12 million. This is about half the price of a similar Western aircraft. That economy comes at a cost, as six of the 40 An-140s delivered so far have crashed. However, three of those were An-140s built under license in Iran. Thus Iran suspects there are not only problems with the basic design of the An-140 but also with how they were built in Iran.