Iran's Shaky Foundations

Current U.S. 5th Fleet exercises designed to ensure freedom of navigation in the Persian Gulf and Red Sea are a welcome sight.

The Islamic Republic of Iran has spent years extending its claims across the Middle East, the Persian Gulf, and the Red Sea. It has sponsored wars and militias in Iraq, Syria, Yemen plus terror organizations in Lebanon and the Gaza Strip, along with farther-flung activities in Africa and South America. That, plus its huffing and puffing, have made the mullahs look ten feet tall.

  • Iran claims to have designed and built a new jet fighter plane.
  • It  claims security control of the Persian Gulf and Strait of Hormuz and threatens to block oil exports from other countries if Iran is constrained by sanctions. Iran has ordered the U.S. Navy out of the Gulf.
  • It announced a military pact with Syria that it claims will give it access to all of Syrian territory.

But the regime is on shaky ground.

  • The “jet fighter plane” in the Iranian video is a 1950s-era American F-5F.
  • The United States Navy is in, and will remain in, the Gulf, and, in fact, the last Iranian harassment of U.S. Navy ships was in mid-2017, after the Navy received orders to respond to unsafe Iranian activity around American ships.
  • The military pact appears mainly a way for Iran to try to recoup its multibillion-dollar losses in Syria by claiming contracts for reconstruction when the war ends. It isn’t clear who the Iranians think will actually pay for reconstruction.
  • And, pact or no pact, Israel is maintaining red lines preventing an Iranian military buildup. Israel has acknowledged some 200 raids into Syria.

Internally, the country faces social and religious rebellion, drought and water mismanagement, and economic instability. This is partially related to the government’s exorbitant expenditures on revolution and terror abroad; it is also related to the increased ability of the Iranian people to know what is outside their borders.

All of this makes the Islamic Republic more, not less, dangerous.

The Iranian government understood it would receive a windfall from the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA -- the “Iran deal”). It received billions in cash, plus Western investment as sanctions were lifted. But more money simply meant more for weapons and a Shiite mercenary army in Syria; more for Hezb'allah and Hamas; more for the Shiite militias in Iraq; more agents plotting terror in Europe and the U.S. 

Now the cash is gone, and the promise of Western investment is going. Facing the re-imposition of sanctions by the U.S. administration, Total, Maersk, Peugeot, GE, Honeywell, Boeing, Lukoil, Reliance, Dover, and Siemens -- among others --  have left or announced they will leave. The expenses, however, remain. Syria costs $15-20 billion annually, more than Iran’s budget deficit of $9.3 billion last year. Prof. Steve Hanke of Johns Hopkins University measured Iran’s annual inflation rate in late August at 191 percent and rising.

Iran is, in fact, a poor and angry country. And a dry one.

Iran faces a terrible combination of drought and water mismanagement. An Atlantic Council report noted that over 90% of Iran’s water is used in agriculture but “the sector’s efficiency rate was 35%” while the global efficiency rate is 75%. The problem is exacerbated by irrigating during the day and the failure of the government to repair water infrastructure. There are reports of cities without water or taps that run brown. Iranian authorities admitted that at least 13 people were injured in water protests in Khorramshahr.

Technology could help, but Iran can’t/won’t use the best water technology out there -- Israel’s. On the contrary -- the Iranian government blamed Israel for stealing Iran's rain. But the people know what’s up. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s YouTube video announcing a Farsi language website to help Iranians learn from Israeli water technology is a whopping success. More than 100,000 Iranians joined the Israeli government’s Telegram account in the first 24 hours.

The willingness of the Iranian people to go to an Israeli site is evidence of the widening divide between the government and the people. “Not for Gaza, not for Syria; my life only for Iran,” is a chant at anti-government demonstrations. “Death to Hamas; death to Hezb’allah,” is another. On September 11, 2018, hundreds -- or more -- Iranians marched with candles to commemorate the American losses.

Next door, Iraqi Shiites in the southern provinces have been demonstrating against their government for a lack of jobs and services, and against the Iranian presence in their country. They may all be Shiites, but Iraqis are Arab and Iranians are Persian, and a level of historic animosity may be coming to the surface.

Iran’s response has been ever more repression. Minorities, particularly Christians, have suffered, but three Kurdish activists were executed this week, despite pleas from Amnesty International and the UN. Prominent human-rights activist Nasrin Sotoudeh sits in the infamous Evin Prison. Twenty-nine women arrested for removing their headscarves have received sentences between two and 20 years, but more are doing it every week. Women have been arrested for dancing as well. Threats don’t appear to have stopped the individual acts of rebellion that accompany larger-scale taxi, truck driver, port worker, farmer, and other protests.

Wild animals become more dangerous as their situation deteriorates. Countries do as well.

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