Inside Iran the main concerns are the economy and how the government has mismanaged it. In the last year there have been a growing number of anti-government protests. Most are by Iranians suffering economically and the increasingly obvious government corruption. The government response has been to set up a special anti-corruption court and trying obvious cases of corruption, but only non-government corruption. The most flagrant and hated corruption is found among the families of the senior clergy (who run the country) and the IRGC (Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps) which protects the ruling clerics from the wrath of the Iranian people. Despite that the anti-corruption court is finding and prosecuting some major offenders. Over thirty have been sentenced to long prison terms and so far at least three have been executed.
Despite the highly publicized anti-corruption effort the number of Iranians living in poverty (barely making it) has more than doubled (to about twenty percent) in the last year. In addition most Iranians have suffered reduced income and living standards. The government has lost over half its normal revenue sources in the last year, a fact that appeared briefly on government web sites before being removed without comment. The 2019 government budget is supposed to be $47 billion but that is seen as optimistic if only because the Iranian currency has lost half its value (against the dollar, the benchmark for buying imported necessities). While the military boasts of its $7 billion military budget (compared to $20 billion for Israel, $7.2 billion for Iraq, $8 billion for Pakistan, $15 billion for the UAE and $30 billion for Saudi Arabia), a year ago the military was expecting to get $10 billion.
Here’s where mismanagement comes in. The government admits that only about a third of the defense budget goes to improving Iranian defenses the rest goes to secret projects, like supporting wars in Syria and Yemen as well as forces in Iraq and Lebanon. It is obvious that the Iranian military gets little money because the navy is practically non-existent and the air force is an antique show. Despite all the smuggling and improvisation Iran is stuck with the oldest, least capable fleet of warplanes in the Middle East. Iran currently has about two hundred fighters and fighter-bombers that are flyable but most of these are good for only about one sortie a day. All of these ancient aircraft are subject to breakdowns that can keep them on the ground for days or weeks. The chronic shortage of spare parts limits the number of hours the aircraft can be flown. This means pilots lack good flying skills. The poor maintenance and untrained pilots leads to more accidents. Iran has about fifty modern fighters capable of flying and fighting. Half of these are American F-14s from the 1970s. Although frequently refurbished none have been upgraded much although Iran claims two F-14s have received some modern equipment. Iran has about 30 flyable MiG-29s, all built in the late 1980s and none have received the upgrades most other MiG-29s of that period have received.
The lifting of most sanctions in 2015 did not change the situation much and in 2018 the Americans revived their sanctions because more evidence of Iran cheating on the 2015 agreement were uncovered. No wonder Iran has put so much effort into building ballistic missiles and, eventually, nuclear weapons. In many ways building these weapons is simpler than buying and maintaining modern combat aircraft. Nukes and ballistic missiles require less maintenance because they are used only once. But you can show off the warplanes regularly and that still counts for something. While Iran publicizes the ballistic missile program, it denies the nuclear program despite the fact that Israel publishes huge quantities of Iranian data on the project which does not show up in the government budget. If you were to guess where the money comes from, look at the lack of detail in the military budget and obvious lack of spending on new equipment (or even maintaining and operating the old gear).
Over the years a growing number of military veterans, now living in poverty or getting close to it, have discussed the issue and concluded that the money was not reaching them when they were in uniform. Meanwhile neighboring Pakistan, which has long had defense budgets similar in size to Iran, a fleet of modern warships, and air force of modern aircraft, a well-equipped army, ballistic missiles and nuclear weapons. To a growing number of Iranians it does not add up. A growing number of senior government officials realize what the people are mad about and secretly agree with the math. But the hardliners and most senior clergy refuse to change because they are on a Mission From God and facts don’t matter.
For most Iranians the economic facts matter very much. The lower oil revenue and sanctions in general plus the continuing government mismanagement make such a loss in revenue plausible. Unemployment (20 percent) and inflation (0ver 40 percent) rates are increasing and this is something the average Iranian can see right before them. The unemployment rates vary across the country with some areas suffering from over 50 percent unemployment. That news gets around. In the last year the costs of basic goods have gone up by about 25 percent while average incomes have declined. The growing number of poor and economically struggling Iranians now includes a lot more of the religious dictatorships core supporters (the families of IRGC members and junior clergy).
Some groups are not suffering and that is getting more unwanted (by the non-suffering) attention. In early December someone put a recent photo on the Internet that showed Ahmad Khomeini, the great-grandson of Ayatollah Khomeini (the founder of the Iranian religious dictatorship) wearing expensive Western clothes and in the company of a female polo player. Ahmad Khomeini insisted the photo was stolen from a friend and uploaded to embarrass his father, Hassan Khomeini, one of the fifteen grandsons of the Ayatollah who had become too reformist for the ruling Guardians Council and was barred from running for election to the Assembly of Experts, which elected new Guardians Council members to replace those who have died. Hassan Khomeini is like his grandfather and lives simply but his children, like many of the descendants of the Ayatollah, exploit their family connection to get rich via corrupt practices. Ahmad Khomeini is now being called a luxury agazadeh, a derisive term for members of senior cleric families. This corruption is no secret but wealthy clerical families make an effort to not flaunt it, especially when the economy is doing poorly and most Iranians are suffering. This problem became more acute by the late 1990s. By then Iran’s economy had become similar to that of medieval Europe. Back then, the Roman Catholic Church owned about a third of the real estate in Europe, the result of centuries of donations to various church institutions. Thousands of churches shrines and monasteries had endowments (usually land, and serfs obliged to work it). This wealth could not be taxed, and eventually greedy kings, or needy parliaments, seized the church lands, so that today the Roman Catholic Church is a very minor factor in the European economy. No so in Iran, where by 2008 over 70,000 mosques, shrines and religious schools owned more than a third of the economy, paid no taxes, and even had their own army (the IRGC). But there’s one big difference between medieval Europe and contemporary Iran. About a thousand years ago, to prevent clergy from passing church property on to their children, the Roman Catholic clergy were forbidden, henceforth, to marry. This was never imposed on Moslem clergy and in Iran, the families of clergy have a monopoly on jobs, and business decisions, within the religious portion of the economy. All those assets are there to serve, first and foremost, the clergy and their families. This has not gone unnoticed. Before the shah was overthrown in 1979, the religious assets were much smaller, and were supervised by government officials. The clergy did not like this at all, and that supervision was quick to disappear once the monarchy was gone. Another post-Shah change was that, rather than wait for pious Iranians to donate property to religious institutions, the clergy seized the assets of wealthy “enemies of the state” and turned the goodies over to religious institutions. The clergy try to portray themselves as pious stewards of these assets. But the truth is less savory, and is not invisible. All that PR and propaganda just enrages the population more. A growing number members of these wealthy clerical families are trying to reform the system before there is yet another civil war (Iranians have been noted for that for thousands of years) that will rip the country apart and probably leave Iranians worse off than they are now. These reformers believe that the violence could be triggered by something like photos of a luxury agazadeh enjoying the company of immodest women and polo ponies.
It should be no surprise that many of the current protestors are calling for a return of the monarchy. In part that is because nothing irritates the religious dictatorship than calling for a return of the monarchy. The Shia clerics led a revolution that enabled them to oust the monarchy in 1979 and then take over the government in the 1980s. The current generation of Iranians has no actual experience living under the monarchy but it is clear from photos, videos and whispered confirmation from their elders that life was better under the monarchy even though there was still corruption, favoritism and secret police. In short the shah (emperor) was never as crazy as the current religious dictatorship. It is telling that the overseas Iranians (whose numbers have grown enormously since the 1980s) are organizing to support another revolution and many of the exiled aristocracy are involved, including the children of the last shah.
The U.S. Department of Defense recently revealed that it had found (via its many contacts with the Afghan government) that it had become common for Afghan officials to be bribed by Iran to support Iranian interests. Most of the bribes are in support of Iranian economic interests. But there are also bribes regarding support for the Taliban, not to overthrow the Afghan government, but to help in the fight against ISIL and protection of the Afghan minority. This last point is important because most of the Afghan refugees still in Iran are Shia and over 20,000 have volunteered to serve as Iranian mercenaries in Syria. Iran does not support the Afghan drug gangs that provide the main financial support for the Taliban and the Iranian border with Afghanistan has been a battle zone for years as Iranian border forces shoot to kill when they encounter Afghan drug smugglers (who often shoot back and fight their way through.)
These bribes have also allowed Iran to maintain official contacts with the Taliban and participate in peace talks with the Afghan Taliban. Iranian ally Qatar hosts a Taliban headquarters where the Taliban can, in effect, meet with anyone to discuss anything. Recent Russian sponsored Afghan peace talks attracted delegations from Russia, India, Iran, China, Pakistan and five former Soviet republics in Central Asia as well as non-government groups from Afghanistan and some Americans as observers. Technically the Taliban cannot be in Russia because Russia recognizes the international designation of the Taliban as a terrorist organization. Nevertheless the Taliban insisted they would make peace only if all foreign troops left and there were international guarantees to keep the Americans from returning or aiding Afghans fighting the Taliban.
Since 2017 over a thousand Taliban have received training in Iran, along with weapons, in return for some cooperation. This sort of foreign meddling is unpopular in Afghanistan where such interference by neighbors, especially Pakistan and Iran, is an ancient and always unwelcome problem. But Iran and Pakistan both interfere and Iranians and Indians have doing so for thousands of years and see no reason why they should not continue doing so in the 21st century. For Iran it’s mainly about trying to protect their fellow Shia from attack. Some 15 percent of Afghans are Shia and are a particular target for Sunni Islamic terrorists like ISIL. The Taliban and al Qaeda are less likely to attack Shia because both organizations sometimes discreetly rely on Iran for sanctuary and other support. Most of the Afghan Shia are Hazara, who are ten percent of the population and the descendants of the hated Mongols who conducted several invasions of Afghanistan during the 13th and 14th centuries. These Mongol attacks destroyed more of the country and its population than any other conquerors. In addition to bad memories the Mongols left behind Mongol warriors who settled down and marries local women. For centuries Hazara have suffered a lot of discrimination and actual violence in Afghanistan. But Iran is seen as an ally (at least against Pakistan) by most Afghans and Iran is mostly Shia and sees itself as the defender of all Shia.
Source » strategypage