Iranian angst: Not Israel, but domestic discord (JERUSALEM POST) By ROB L. WAGNER / THE MEDIA LINE 03/22/12)
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Worsening domestic discord – not nuclear ambitions – is pushing Iran
closer to brinkmanship with Israel, while Arab leaders sit on the
sidelines hoping that any containment of Iran does not result in war,
Some analysts observe that Iran’s efforts to develop nuclear energy –
and according to critics, nuclear weapons – barely registers as a
threat to Arab countries. Instead, Iran’s internal strife could prove
Ehsan Ahrari, a Middle East analyst and chief executive officer of
Strategic Paradigms- a defense and foreign affairs consultancy agency
based in Alexandra, Virginia- told The Media Line that Iran’s primary
concern is to shore up the crumbling faith of its people.
“There is a huge rift inside Iran and the government is looking more
vulnerable than ever,” Ahrari said. “It’s not necessarily the
sanctions that are hurting Iran, but the political legitimacy of the
regime that is in tatters.”
A foreign affairs official for the United Arab Emirates (UAE) told
The Media Line that Iran’s nuclear capabilities are vastly overstated
and Iran’s “posturing” has more do to with maintaining its regional
“Iran is more interested in maintaining its influence in Syria and
Iraq, and making a nuisance of itself by promoting insurgency in
Bahrain and among the Shiites in Saudi Arabia,” said the official who
asked not to be identified because he was not authorized to speak.
The 2009 Green Revolution, spearheaded by thousands of middle class
and educated Iranians, badly shook the regime led by President
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Although the Iranian
government violently crushed a burgeoning uprising, it did nothing to
quell the growing dissatisfaction among young people with the
Amnesty International reported last month that Iran executed twice as
many people in 2011 as it did in 2010, during which 253 official
executions were held. The executions “may be a strategy to spread
fear among the population and to deter protests,” the human rights
organization said. Since their 2009 election triumph, Ahmadinejad and
Khamenei have been engaged in a bitter power struggle, dividing the
By exploiting tensions with Israel and the leadership role taken by
US President Barack Obama and the European Union in issuing tough
sanctions, Iran hopes to rally its people behind the government and
strengthen its political leadership, Ahrari said.
Marking the Iranian new year on Tuesday, Khamenei turned to the theme
of defiance in an address to the nation. “If the Iranian nation
resorts to its determination, awareness and planning it will overcome
challenges that the enemy has provided,” said Khamenei, who has the
final say on all matter of state. If Iran’s domestic economy
flourishes, the country’s enemies would lose hope and
their “plotting” would come to an end.
Ahrari said that despite Obama’s talk of combining sanctions with
diplomacy, the US president is not laying out a complete game plan.
“We have not seen Obama’s real colors in dealing with Iran,” Ahrari
said. “And we probably won’t see it until his second term if he wins
it. He is playing his cards closely.”
Whether the sanctions against Iran are really working remains
uncertain. Obama tightened them in December and the EU followed with
a ban on Iranian oil imports. Washington hopes the sanctions’ ripple
effect will weaken Iranian consumer confidence and further alienate
the population from its leaders.
The latest blow came last week when the international banking
clearing house SWIFT cut off Iranian banks’ access to its funds-
transfer system. Excluding Iran from SWIFT, which serves nearly
10,000 banking organizations, forces Iranian businesses to go outside
the country to pay suppliers. The move makes it tougher for Iranian
businesses to get suppliers to import goods and may result in
shortages and higher prices of foreign goods.
Earlier this week, Iran’s central bank eased its strict foreign
exchange policy, allowing money traders there to sell dollars for
rials at the unofficial market rate, rather than the artificially
fixed official rate. While the move should ease pressure on the
currency, which has lost half its value against the dollar in the
past year, it risks setting off capital flight, economists say.
The banking sanctions, coupled with a European ban on Iranian oil
imports by the summer, puts greater pressure on the Iranian
government, which is already dealing with massive budget deficits and
a 40 percent inflation rate, to cope with domestic discontent.
Meanwhile, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) reported
last month it has yet to gain access to Iran’s Parchin site, which is
where Iranian scientists allegedly have conducted high-explosive
research that could be used to develop nuclear weapons. Israeli
Defense Minister Ehud Barak told the Knesset Foreign Affairs and
Defense Committee on Monday that international opinion has “evolved”
as countries recognize Iran’s behavior is destabilizing the Middle
East. The Jerusalem Post reported that Barak referred to the
international community realizing that Iran’s nuclear weapons program
is reaching the so-called “zone of immunity,” after which enough of
Iran’s nuclear facilities have been moved so far underground that
they are protected from Israeli bombing.
Ahrari is skeptical. He noted that Arab leaders want Iran contained,
but not war.
“The international community is not evolving,” he said. “Look at the
Gulf. Is Israel really willing to go to the extreme of bombing Iran?
I’m not sure the Arab autocrats are willing to go that far. With the
Arab Awakening, they know their days are numbered. The Arabs will
play it moderately and not promote war.”
The UAE foreign affairs specialist said Arab countries would never
endorse an Israeli attack. “It has nothing to do with Arab animosity
against Israel and everything to do with a war that will kill
thousands and leave economies in ruin,” he said. (© 1995-2011, The
Jerusalem Post 03/22/12)
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