It’s always a challenge to check on information having to do with Iran, and the latest round of rumors and this information has confirmed the rule. There were stories that the supreme leader, Ali Khamenei, had been rushed to the hospital, while the other major figure in the regime, general Qassem Suleimani, had recovered from his battlefield injuries and had met with his co-conspirator Vladimir Putin in Moscow.
Wrong, wrong, and wrong again. Khamenei’s health is awful, but no worse than usual. He has trouble breathing, and the smog in Tehran has been particularly nasty of late. So they carted him off to his mountain retreat where the air is more to his liking. But his condition is, as usual, “grave but not serious.”
General Suleimani, on the other hand, remains hospitalized. He’s had at least one big transfusion, and his prognosis is not great. Iranians in a position to know such things tell me he may not survive. So all those stories about meetings with Russia’s president are made up, and the pictures of the two of them talking are either old or manufactured. Meanwhile, the Iranians have appointed a new commander for the Syrian theater, where their casualties continue to be high. There was an especially fanciful “news” story according to which the regime was pulling out its primary military forces, those from the Revolutionary Guards Corps.
Wrong and wrong again. Hezbollah fighters have been reduced, but not those of the Revolutionary Guards and Basij. They continue to fight and die. Last week, Iranian, Russian, Syrian and Iraqi leaders met in Baghdad to discuss the situation on the Syrian battlefield (not great!). I do not know what came of the conversations, but hope to have some information by the middle of this week. Despite their poor performance on the battlefield, the Iranians are apparently still on schedule to receive the long-promised Russian anti-aircraft missiles in relatively short order. And the Russians announced they would start work on the first of two new nuclear reactors in Iran.
It isn’t immediately obvious just how the Iranians intend to pay for all of this, along with the billions of dollars’ worth of weapons they are reputed to have ordered from the Kremlin. Yes, the flow of something north of $100 billion in “sanctions relief” will probably begin shortly, but the government debt to Iranian banks is upwards of $150 billion, all the banks are bankrupt, and with oil prices where they are, the regime’s traditional major source of income is more likely to prove a source of even greater indebtedness. Taxes on imports might provide a trickle of cash to the national bank ($3 or $4 billion a year from American cigarettes, for example). But you may have noticed that American cigarettes are on the forbidden list. That way the Revolutionary Guards can smuggle them and take the profits for themselves.
That’s the way the system works. They can ruin anything. Iran on paper is a great place, it’s got location, resources, a large educated population, a long commercial history and no serious regional threat. But Iran on solid earth is a mess. The only thing they do well, if that’s the right way to describe it, is kill their own people.
One of these days the people will have had enough of this failed regime.