In late August the foreign minister appeared on a TV show and accused other nations of imposing sanctions because Iranians have chosen a different way to live and run their affairs (foreign and domestic). This led to a quick and widespread response on Iranian language Internet media, all pointing out that Iranians did not choose because they could not choose and that was what all the current protests were about. Incidents like this are embarrassing for the government, especially in how they show that no progress is being made in persuading Iranians to stop protesting. On the August 29th the elected officials were ordered (by the Supreme Leader) to come up with a solution to the economic problems and to do it fast. Earlier the elected president admitted that Iranians had “lost faith in the Islamic republic” (which is actually a religious dictatorship.)
The hardliners, especially the IRGC (Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps), emphasizes (by holding more large-scale IRGC training exercises) the need to be ready to suppress the protests with force. Meanwhile, the government run by politicians (who the senior clerics allowed to run for office) are trying to avoid the use of force. This bizarre situation has to be put in context. The Iranian government is basically a religious dictatorship that seized control in the 1980s and has just barely coped with declining popularity. The government has many factions, some much more radical than the majority. Eventually, the loss of oil income (after the 2013 price drop and now the renewed sanctions) could screw things up enough to trigger a popular rebellion. That could get very nasty as the government has an army of religious fanatics (the IRGC) to deal with such unrest. IRGC is more than just the "royal guard" of the Iranian dictatorship. Originally founded to do the clerics dirty work, and keep an eye on the Iranian armed forces, and population in general, the IRGC has grown to become a state-within-a-state. The IRGC not only has 150,000 armed members, it also controls billions of dollars’ worth of businesses inside Iran, and runs numerous terrorist operations outside the country.
The IRGC, or at least large parts of it, can be depended on to follow orders and slaughter rebellious civilians. The ruling clerics are determined to avoid losing power like the East European communist dictatorships did in 1989. The clerics have made sure most Iranians know this and what the price of rebellion would be. But the clerics must now deal with another ancient problem in Iran, disloyalty among the “guardians” of the rulers. Who guards the guards? In Iran, no one and that is now a very real problem for the general public as well as the unelected senior clerics who rule in the name of God but only with the support of the IRGC. At the moment the senior clerics believe only a small minority of the IRGC are a danger. But that could change because the “dangerous” faction has been growing in numbers and boldness. Attempts to purge the IRGC of these dangerous people have failed. The IRGC protects its own, so far. That attitude is beginning to change as 2018 grinds on. By mid-year, it was common knowledge that a growing number of police and IRGC commanders were quitting or fleeing the country with their families to avoid having to order killing protestors. Iranians know that their history is full of civil wars. But so far none have involved democrats versus religious fanatics. The unknown is scarier than knowing your own history.
While Iran officially blames the United States for most of its problems (something most Iranians do not agree with) the Iranian leaders make the situation worse by refusing to have the leaders of both nations meet to try and find some way out of the dispute. The American president has twice offered to meet with his Iranian counterpart, with no preconditions. The Iranian Supreme Leader refuses to allow it and says negotiations with the U.S. are forbidden. This is also unpopular with most Iranians.
In the parliament members are urging the government to prepare some kind of emergency food system for the poorest Iranians (many of whom are joining the continuing street protests). The government imposed food rationing during the 1980s Iraq war although something that extreme is apparently not necessary now. But some kind of help for those unemployed with no resources is needed. The MPs (members of parliament) may be a select group (only candidates approved by the religions dictatorship may participate in elections) they do tend to keep in touch with their constituents and provide the government a realistic assessment of how Iranians are feeling. Right now they appear to be frightened (about their government) and angry (at their government).
There was a major problem five years ago with the exchange rate (how many local rials it cost to buy a dollar). In 2013 the shortage of foreign currency caused the government to eliminate the low “official” exchange rate for dollars (12,260 rials per dollar) and replace with a higher one (24,779 rials) that was still below the market rate (33,000) and the enforcement of the official exchange rate grew less frequent. Then as now, that sort of thing hurts some critical government programs, like health care (which must import most medical supplies and pay for it in dollars). It is much worse now, with the dollar costing 150,000 rials on the black market. At the start of 2018, it cost 45,000 rials to buy a dollar. That rose to 110,000 rials in late July, recovered a bit (to 90,000 rials) in August but so far in September has been sharply moving in the wrong direction and the government seems unable to deal with it, mainly because of the return of economic sanctions. That gas forced changes in spending patterns. Before the current crisis, the defense budget has skyrocketed to $15 billion in 2017. While that is one of the lowest defense budgets in the region it more than triples when you add money spent on supporting foreign wars (Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Lebanon, Gaza and many smaller operations worldwide).
No other nation in the regions spends that much on foreign wars. The fact that Iran keeps spending more on defense and foreign wars is no secret to most Iranians and a primary reason for the continuing protests. Iranians have noticed that spending that directly impacts the lives of ordinary Iranians has gone down and that gets worse as the rial gets weaker. So far the government has responded by ordering the spending of some $20 billion on needed items for the average Iranian (medicine and child care items). While the government admitted that some of the economic problems were caused by mismanagement and other internal issues (the term “corruption” is avoided in official announcements) most of the blame is being put on the United States for reviving sanctions and thus waging economic war against Iran. Blame is also put on Israel (along with the U.S.) for controlling the world media and causing all manner of false stories regarding the bad shape the Iranian economy is in. The government has a problem here because the growing protests are all about not trusting the government, corruption and mismanagement.
Oil exports are already falling and were as low as 1.7 million BPD (barrels per day) in August. The lifting of sanctions in early 2016 has been good to Iran. In 2016 oil exports increased to two million BPD, a level not seen since 2012. Overall oil production increased to 3.8 million BPD. Exports in general quickly doubled over 2015 levels. The government is making plans to soon achieve annual GDP growth of eight percent. That has all been canceled once the U.S. announced (in May) the revival of sanctions. At that point, oil production was 4.5 million BPD and it is now falling because regular oil customers are reducing orders. Even China and India, two major customers who said they would defy the sanctions, have cut orders because sanctions will increase shipping costs and also increase the risk of Iran going to war. Sanctions mean the cost of insurance rises and fewer shipping companies are willing to provide tankers to move sanctioned oil. Something the religious dictatorship don’t like to dwell on is that before they took over after the 1979 revolution oil production was over 6 million BPD and closing in on seven million. The clerics have mismanaged the economy for over thirty years now and that is one reason they can no longer blame foreigners for all the problems.
Rejected In Syria
In Syria no Iranian mercenaries are apparently being used in the final battle of the civil war; to take back Idlib province from the rebels. Turkey insisted on no Iranian involvement. Russia and Syria persuaded Iran to accept this. The presidents of Iran, Russia and Turkey are meeting today in Iran to decide what their common strategy will be in Syria and Syrian troops assemble in the northwest to retake Idlib province from the last major force of rebels left in Syria. Not publicized are discussions on how the three countries will operate in Syria once the civil war is officially over. That will happen once Idlib is back under Syrian government control.
Russia warned that the rebels are preparing to use chemical weapons while the United States pointed out that the available evidence indicates that the Syrian Assad forces are more likely to use chemical weapons. The Americans threaten swift retribution of Syria uses chemical weapons again. So far the Syrian Army has moved over 2,000 armored vehicles (visible from the air) to the Idlib border. Russia and Syria will provide air support for the Idlib offensive and Turkey will maintain control of its border. Iran repeated its determination to keep military forces in Syria despite Israeli refusal to accept that and willingness to keep bombing Iranian facilities. So far Iran has not been able to prevent these air strikes and Israeli officials agree (with commercially available satellite photos and eyewitness reports from Syria) that Iranian military activity has decreased considerably since July. This reduction in activity is apparently linked with unrest back in Iran as well as Iranian success at concealing some aspects of their buildup.
Russia is backing away from Iran in general because Iran is becoming more of a liability than an asset. Working closely with Iran in Syria was mainly about the 2015 treaty that lifted most sanctions on Iran and enabled Russia to do a lot more business in Iran. That did not work out as the corruption inside Iran delayed a lot of the expected new business and the Arab oil states pointed out that anyone who was really close to Iran would be getting a lot less business from the Arab states in general and the Arab oil states (which controlled more oil than Iran) in particular. Then the Americans pulled out of the 2015 agreement earlier this year and are restoring many of the sanctions. European nations are finding that the U.S. revival of sanctions makes it impossible for many European firms to do business in Iran. Then there is the continued Iranian threats to attack Israel, especially from newly established bases in Syria. Israel has made it clear it will not allow those bases to remain and has warned Russia to stand aside when Israeli airstrikes hit the Iranians in Syria. Now Russia, the Americans and Israel have agreed to cooperate in getting Iran out of Syria. Turkey and Iraq would also prefer this. Until recently there were few press releases or other official announcements about this but you can see the plan unfolding as Iran finds itself abandoned in Syria and under growing attack. Russia has long-term interests in the Middle East and opportunities in Syria because of deals already made with the Assad government. Russia has been on good terms with Israel for a long time and sees that as more important than anything Iran has to offer.
Russia made it clear for over a year that it sides with Israel when it comes to Syria and a long-term peace deal. Despite that Israel has concluded that Russian pressure will not persuade Iran to back off on their efforts to increase Iranian controlled military forces in Syria and then launch attacks on Israel. But Russia will cooperate with Israel and has an open channel with Iranian military leaders. This means the Russians can explain, in terms the Iranians might better understand and accept, what their military position is versus Israel. That explains the recent Iranian withdrawal of its mercenary and special operations forces from the Israeli border. As a practical matter, this means Iran withdrew the easily identifiable troops and resolved to work on new techniques to better disguise its forces so they can get near the Israeli border. Iran takes advantage of the fact that Russian aircraft handle most of the aerial and electronic reconnaissance for the pro-government forces. The Russians can show what their high-res and multispectral photos of Iranian troops revealed and add what their electronic eavesdropping picked. All the Russians will say about the Israelis is that the Israelis are even better at this stuff. How much better the Russians won’t say. In part that’s because they are not sure and Russia does not want to anger Israel, which has been on good terms with Russia far longer than Iran.
The Assads note that in neighboring Lebanon the recent national elections returned Christian billionaire Saad Hariri to his post as prime minister. Despite that Hariri has limited power as prime minister because Iran backed Hezbollah dominates the government to the point where they not only have a veto over anything the majority (which does not support Hezbollah) wants but can also push through nearly any new laws they (or Iran) wants. Most Lebanese do not want another civil war (like the devastating 1975-90 one) and Hezbollah and Iran take full advantage of that. The Assads fear they will end of like Lebanon if Iran is allowed to build a Syrian branch of Hezbollah. Putting that in perspective Hariri recently commented that he would rather deal with the Russians (about local matters) than the Assads.
Israel has warned that it will not allow a Syrian Hezbollah to be created and will attack Iranian forces in Lebanon, Syria and Iraq to prevent that. This is especially true as Iran seeks to establish their shorter range ballistic missiles in these three countries and threaten Saudi Arabia as well as Israel with them.
Iraq Slips Away
The current Iraqi enthusiasm for battling corruption is hurting Iranian efforts to expand its influence inside Iraq. That’s because pro-Iran groups in Iraq have long justified outlaw behavior in order to serve their mentor Iran. This has led to Iraqi army commanders being more aggressive in dealing with Iran backed PMF (Peoples Mobilization Forces) units. Most of the PMF units were formed in late 2014 to fight ISIL. Since then the PMF has been put on the government payroll, despite the fact that nearly half of them are also supported by Iranian cash and equipment. Since the government began paying PMF militiamen the PMF became part of the defense forces. Technically the army can order PMF units around but until recently the Iran-backed PMF would often ignore those orders. In some cases, PMF commanders would threaten army officers. Given the results of the recent elections (pro-Iran parties did poorly) and the growing popular unrest in Iran attitudes have changed. Iraqi army officers are not just ordering pro-Iran PMF units to back off but using force to make the PMF comply. So far this has not gone much beyond armed confrontations (which often work) and arresting (“kidnapping” according to pro-Iran Iraqis) PMF men who disobey army orders. Apparently, the anti-Iran election results have led to pro-Iran PMF commanders being advised (by Iran) to play nice with the army and back off. This is seen as temporary as there is no sign that pro-Iran PMF groups will cease to take orders from Iran. Iraqis believe the pro-Iran PMF units are backing off as part of an Iranian effort to persuade Iraq to oppose the renewed American economic sanctions on Iran. Iraqi leaders were under a lot of political pressure from Iran to ignore the American sanctions, if only because complying would hurt the Iraqi economy. That pressure caused some hesitation by Iraqi leaders until they realized that most Iraqis preferred the Americans to the Iranians. After all, when Iraq asked the Americans to leave in 2011 they did. Iranians are not very cooperative in that respect and for centuries have been trying to get its way in what is now Iraq.
Iraqi anti-government demonstrators were always angry at Iran. In part, this was because of the Iranian backed militias in Iraq, whose leaders often speak of imposing a religious dictatorship in Iraq and generally ignored all the corruption. Protestors in Shia majority Basra are also criticizing Iran for halting electricity exports in early July. Iran cut the electricity because corrupt Iraqi officials had not paid for much of it. Moreover, there was an electricity shortage developing in Iran. It was necessary for Iraq to import electricity because for a long time (the Saddam era) there were not many electric power plants in Basra because it was a Shia majority area and Shia were starved for resources during the Saddam era (when the Sunni Arab minority ruled). But after Saddam was overthrown in 2003 and Shia politicians gained power, corruption prevented the construction of power plants. Iran thought cutting the power, especially since they had a good reason, would increase the anger against the Iraqi government. But the protestors saw through the Iranian intentions and added that to the long list of reasons why Iraqi Shia do not like Iran. After a few weeks, Iran restored the electricity exports.
The Fraying Yemen Connection
An American warship stopped a small boat in the Gulf of Aden on August 28th and found it was carrying a thousand AK-47s and the three men operating the boat were heading for one of the small islands off the Yemeni coast near the Red Sea port of Hodeida where local fishing boats smuggle the weapons, in small batches, to coastal villages still controlled by the rebels. The naval patrol off Yemen has to contend with hundreds of small craft operating near them each day, more that can be searched. But enough have been detected and caught since 2015 to make it clear that this smuggling route was still active. In reaction to the latest interception, the Saudis increased their naval patrols near these islands and searched more fishing boats. If nothing else that causes the fishermen to dump their illegal weapons cargo overboard before the boarding party reached them. Some boats refused to be searched and are fired on. This form of smuggling is more important as the government forces move closer to driving the rebels out of Hodeida and making it possible for all cargoes to be thoroughly searched. That will cut off the supply of Iranian ballistic missile components, which have, over the last two years, allowed more than two hundred of these short range ballistic missiles to be assembled in northern Yemen and eventually fired into Saudi Arabia.
One very under-reported Iranian contribution to the Shia rebel effort is an effective media manipulation effort. Not as massive or well-equipped as the ones created by China and Russia (the main practitioners of this) but the Iranians do pretty well spinning news of events in Yemen to favor, as much as possible, the Shia rebels. The Iranians know what appeals to mass media, especially in the West, and what does not. Thus anytime a coalition airstrike kills civilians (or rebels who can be described as such) the Iranians see that pictures and stories are supplied to news media worldwide. Coverage of the nasty things the Shia rebels do to hostile civilians in areas they control is not reported because no journalists are allowed in rebel areas. Thus it is only later that it becomes known that the rebels were using civilians as human shields or letting them use a road the rebels know is constantly watched and most vehicles seen on it are hit with an air strike. The “hit anything that moves” policy can isolate a rebel force under attack and make the rebels easier to defeat.
The Iranians will also send out stories of rebel controlled civilians going hungry when that can be blamed on the coalition, the Yemeni government or the West. Another technique is to make false claims of damage from Shia ballistic missile or UAV attacks on Saudi or UAE targets. These claims are eventually found to be false but Spin Masters know that if you can get some traction with the initial story that is what most people will remember. Truth isn’t what counts here but supplying what editors are seeking at the moment.
Of late the Iranian spin machine has been having problems, mainly back in Iran. Iranians, in general, have noted that the overseas wars their government is waging, especially in Syria and Yemen, were more evidence of many lies Iranians were told about the state of Iranian military technology. In Syria, there were no Iranian warplanes or anti-aircraft systems. All the aerial successes were carried out by modern Russian jet fighters operated by the Russian Air Force. There were some Iranian UAVs in action but all they seemed to do when used against the Israelis is promptly get shot down. Meanwhile, the Israeli Air Force regularly bombed Iranian bases. In Yemen Arab pilots in modern warplanes were using smart bombs to regularly hit the Iran-backed Shia rebels. Worse, over a hundred Iran made ballistic missiles had been fired into Saudi Arabia and all were shot down by the Arabas using American Patriot air defense systems. These criticisms are causing more Iranians to doubt any government news coming out of Syria and Iran and Western media pick up that popular criticism in Iran and make life miserable for Iranian Spin Masters,
China is obtaining a larger economic presence in Iran by helping Iran deal with the return of sanctions. The economic problems in Iran are partly the result of the Americans resuming most of the sanctions in November, which includes bans on buying Iranian oil. Already Iran is offering discounts to its customers to entice them to defy the Americans. China will seek, and pro-American Asian nations will get exemptions The United States announced this decision in March and that set off a financial panic in Iran, which was already suffering from massive government corruption and decades of mismanagement of the economy.
September 6, 2018: The Iran backed Shia rebels in Yemen refused to show up for UN sponsored peace talks in Switzerland until the Arab coalition supporting the Yemen government meet rebel demands for more free access to the rebel controlled Sanaa airport. That would enable Iran to smuggle in more weapons via air. Iran really doesn’t care if peace is achieved in Yemen because Yemen is the least expensive foreign war the IRGC supports and it enables Iran to fire ballistic missiles at Saudi Arabia and get away with it.
September 5, 2018: In Yemen, another Iranian ballistic missile was fired into Saudi Arabia by rebels. As with more than a hundred Iranian rockets and ballistic missiles, it was intercepted by a Saudi air defense system. In this case, the interception took place over a residential area and 23 civilians were wounded by falling debris. That debris will be collected and added to the growing body of evidence that Iran was supplying the rebels with components that are assembled in rebel controlled territory with the help of Iranian and Lebanese (Hezbollah) experts.
September 4, 2018: Israel revealed that since 2017 they had carried out more than 200 attacks (usually from the air) against Iranian forces in Syria. Many of these attacks were not made public by anyone, especially those against convoys or troop positions in the countryside. Israel released this data to emphasize that it will fight to prevent Iran from establishing a Syrian version of Hezbollah. The Israelis believe that Iran is using thousands of its foreign mercenaries (mainly Afghans but also Iraqis and other Arabs.
September 3, 2018: The United States warned Russia, Syria and Iran not to attack Idlib province, the last rebel held area in Syria. This warning was mainly meant for Syria and its use of chemical weapons. Russia is mainly there to provide air support for the Syrians to attack. Russia is also trying to intimidate the Americans. Iran is sitting this one out and while Turkey supports clearing the Islamic terrorists out of Idlib the Turks are just going to defend their border against the expected million or more refugees fleeing the fighting. Turkey won’t let them in. France also protested the offensive and also threatened to retaliate militarily. In the last two years, the U.S. has twice bombed Syrian forces in retaliation for Syrians using chemical weapons and threatens to do so again if the Syrians use chemical weapons in Idlib. Syria apparently plans to do so in order to reduce casualties among their own troops.
September 1, 2018: In eastern Syria (Homs province) an Iranian military convoy was hit by an airstrike. This killed four Syrians, one Iranian and three foreign mercenaries. At least eleven people were wounded. The airstrike may have occurred because the convoy was too close to the American special operations base of Tanf, on the Syrian side of the Iraqi border near the Jordan border. The American forces there reported they had been fired on by unknown forces but there was no damage and they did not return fire. So it remains a mystery whose warplanes did the deed. The Americans have some support from Sunni tribes in Syria and Iraq and that is mainly to keep informed on what is going on in the area around Tanf. Iran has assisted (with its mercenaries) Assad forces in trying to eliminate the Tanf base but these efforts have failed. The Americans have too much airpower and too much aerial and ground surveillance around Tanf. The U.S. has declared a “free-fire” zone that means any Assad/Iranian forces getting within 30 kilometers of Tanf are automatically attacked. Iranian and Assad forces rarely test this free-fire zone. They know it works. While no one took credit for the airstrike it is now believed to be Israeli, but the Israelis often try to hide their involvement.
August 31, 2018: In the southeast (the border of Pakistani Baluchistan) IRGC troops clashed with Iranian Sunni separatists who were based in Pakistan and returning to Iran to carry out an attack. Four of the separatists were killed and three wounded while survivors fled back into Pakistan. The IRGC force suffered one wounded.
August 28, 2018: In eastern Syria (Deir Ezzor province) Iranian mercenaries have been fighting with Syrian Army (Assad) troops for control of the Al Bukamal crossing into Iraq and the fighting has been going on, sporadically, for weeks. Apparently, there is a dispute between the Assads and Iran over who will control border crossings for routes that are part of the Iran to the Mediterranean land route. This route is essential to supporting any Iranian military expansion in Syria and Lebanon.
August 27, 2018: Israel released satellite photos showing a new ballistic missile assembly facility being built in Syria on the Mediterranean coast at Baniyas. The new facility is similar in layout to existing missile assembly plants in Iran. The one in Syria appears to be about six months from completion. These assembly plants would use Iran made components to produced solid fuel ballistic missiles including the Zolfaghar (700 kilometer range), the Fateh 110 which can be launched from trucks that carry them and have a range of 300 kilometers. There are also truck mounted Zelzal-3s with a range of up to 250 kilometers. All three of these can reach Saudi Arabian and Israeli targets from Iraq and Syria. The need for Israel to keep an eye on these assembly facilities in Syria and Lebanon also led to the discovery of how Iran was coping with the Israeli airstrikes on shipments of missile components and assembly equipment. The IRGC was using two B-747 freighter air aircraft they acquired in early 2017 when the IRGC revived a bankrupt Iranian air freight company. At first, it was thought this was simply another example of the IRGC taking over more of the Iranian economy. But by studying how the two 747s were used Israel concluded that these air transports were being used to move military equipment. One clue was the fact that so many flights tried to stay as far away from Israeli airspace as possible even if it meant greatly increasing the cost of the flights.
The Iranian IRGC commander said his forces controlled the Persian Gulf and the Strait of Hormuz. American officials denied Iran had such control and that if they tried to assert such control they would fail.
August 26, 2018: Syria and Iran signed a military cooperation deal. Details were not revealed although there was talk of Iran assisting in reconstruction efforts. That will be difficult considering the economic crises back in Iran and the growing popular protests against expensive overseas efforts Syria.
The Iranian parliament removed the finance minister (for not protecting the economy from the impact of renewed sanctions) and is looking for a new one. That will be difficult because there are no easy solutions to these problems, which are largely caused by external forces (the sanctions) and the most effective internal solutions would involve curbing corruption (mainly among the IRGC commanders, the clerical leadership and their families) and mismanagement by the senior clerics.
August 25, 2018: In the northwest (Kurdistan province) a Kurdish smuggler was killed by a landmine and three other Kurds were wounded. The smugglers were carrying goods into northern Iraq (the autonomous Kurdish provinces).
August 21, 2018: Iran announced a new, locally designed and manufactured Kowsar jet fighter. It looked a lot like the one of the 40 0r so operational F-5 fighters Iran has but with a new paint job and some structural modifications. Iran has been doing this sort of thing for over a decade these new Iranian jet fighters appears to be a make-work project for unemployed engineers. The new aircraft is usually based on rearranging parts on an old U.S. made F-5 (which was roughly equivalent to a 1950s era MiG-21). The new fighter, like so many other Iranian weapons projects, is more for PR than for improving military power. It is believed these announcements are made largely to boost morale inside Iran. That has lost its effectiveness because many of the detailed critiques of these new aircraft are posted in Iranian language websites.
August 19, 2018: An American official confirmed that the United States, Israel and Russia agreed that Iran must not be allowed to establish a permanent military presence in Syria. Apparently, the Syrian government agrees with this as there have been some recent clashes between Assad forces and Iranian mercenaries.
Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei replaced the commander of the air force. That is the fifth senior military commander replaced in the last year, all apparently related to a late 2017 study of Iranian vulnerabilities to air attack. The study was published in an Iranian military journal so that everyone could see and this would generate useful suggestions for solutions. The list of vulnerabilities was basically a list of all the weapons, from ballistic missiles to smart bombs and specialized bombs (like the ones that short out electrical transmission lines) that the United States and Israel have. Many of these advanced weapons have been obtained by the Arab Gulf states and since 2015 the Arabs have been proving in Yemen that they really have learned how to use them. That includes the Arab Patriot anti-missile systems which have intercepted over a hundred Iranian made ballistic missiles fired from Yemen into Saudi Arabia. The Supreme Leader has noticed the problem and been demanding that senior commanders come up with solutions. That has apparently not been happening and as long as more senior commanders get replaced it will indicate continued failure.
August 14, 2018: The renewed American sanctions on Iran will hurt Afghans working in Iran but will not interfere with the new trade route from Afghanistan, via Iran to the port of Chabahar. The Americans make exceptions for these sanctions and in this case, Pakistan is seen as a larger threat to Afghanistan than Iran. Most of the truck traffic that used to go through Pakistan to the port of Karachi is now using the new route via Iran to Chabahar (built by India and Iran mainly for traffic to Afghanistan and Central Asia). At least $5 billion worth of trade to and from Afghanistan will use Chabahar each year. Pakistan is the big loser here, especially since they had recently increased higher traffic on Afghan goods moving through Karachi. This India will take over management of the port, which further ensures that the Americans won’t shut it down. In addition, since mid-January Pakistan has closed the main border crossings to Afghan traffic entering Pakistan. Yet Pakistani goods are allowed into Afghanistan and now the Afghans are considering blocking that and depending on trade links via Iran and Central Asia. This is an undeclared trade war by Pakistan. The main reason is growing trade with India and switching from Karachi to Chabahar for Afghan imports and exports.
Pakistan is willing to discuss improved relations with Iran but in the meantime, Pakistan already has considerable financial and military ties with Saudi Arabia. While many Pakistanis would prefer improving relations with Iran and India and backing away from Saudi Arabia (seen as a close ally of the United States) the reality is that Iran is broke, run by an unstable religious dictatorship facing growing internal unrest and at war with the Sunni Arab world. While Iran and Pakistan share a short land border the Iranians have a long history of hostility towards whoever was running what is now Pakistan. Iran is in a bad position and Pakistan is willing to consider offers from Iran. Meanwhile, Iran and India have developed mutually profitable relations that neither nations want to upset.