The United States assumed change of regime would mean change of policies.
A GCC perspective
Despite Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki's remarks that a final deal over Iran's nuclear program is close to being finalized, Iran instead upped the ante when President Mahmoud Ahmedinezhad instructed the country's atomic energy organization to enrich its uranium stockpile to 20 percent.
Tehran is thus pushing the international community to rally behind the severe consequences that US President Barrack Obama threatened in his State of the Union speech along with the "crippling sanctions" that US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has been threatening since last summer. This in turn is pushing the region once again into a spiral of uncertainty as GCC states enter another anxious cycle oscillating between imminent war and more sanctions accompanied by Iran's bellicose rhetoric and war games, all upping the ante in the Gulf region.
This could precipitate a nuclear arms race in the GCC region, or at least a further upsizing of military expenditure that this year is projected to top $63 billion. In total, GCC states' military and security expenditures account for 60 percent of the total military spending in the Middle East. This, along with the latest Iranian defiance over its nuclear program and the beefing up of American ballistic missile defense systems--Aegis missile-3 (SM-3) and Patriot PAC-3 to four small GCC states, denounced by Iran in patronizing comments--certainly will not help stability in the region and undoubtedly will add more anxiety and concern. There is a danger that this will erode the fragile balance of terror that has dominated the Gulf security scene.
What complicates the Iranian issue is the country's domestic implosion due to the political, security and social strife that has wracked Iran since last June's disputed presidential election in which Ahmedinezhad secured a highly disputed second term in office. What ensued, and is still unfolding, is considered a most threatening challenge to Iranian theocracy, even as Iran celebrates its thirty-first year since the revolution.
These developments and challenges will no doubt leave indelible marks on Iran's future and will shape the direction of the Iranian revolution and its relations with its own people as well as its neighbors for years to come. Furthermore, they have already eroded Iran's soft power and much acclaimed democratic practices in the eyes of millions of Arabs who are now disillusioned about the country.
In spite of the latest Iranian meddling in Gulf and Arab affairs, as represented by the support, logistical and otherwise, to the Howthie insurgency in Yemen, collectively and individually GCC states continue to maintain cordial and friendly relations with Iran. There are mutual high profile visits by heads of states, reassuring comments by GCC states about the peaceful intention of Iran's nuclear program, a refusal by the GCC countries to countenance harsher sanctions against Iran as well as a concerted diplomatic effort to assure Iran that the GCC states individually and collectively won't be launch pads for any military strike against Iran.
It is ironic, that while Iran continues to represent an existential security threat to all GCC states--because of its nuclear program, its hegemonic tendencies and grandiose plans--the GCC states continue to lack a coherent and well thought out strategy in dealing with Iran. This lack of a strategy has not worked in the past and won't work in the future to nudge Iran toward a more accommodating posture vis-a-vis its GCC neighbors. Further, it has not allayed Iran's fears, and Tehran keeps threatening to target GCC states and American bases in the region, shut down the strategic straits of Harmuz and inflict damage against sensitive instillations such as oil terminals and refineries, water desalination plants and electricity grids.
The GCC states have few options in dealing with the Iranian issue. But one of them is not to pursue politics as usual by continuing to shy away from voicing any concern about the danger of Iran's nuclear program and meddling in GCC and Arab affairs. It is high time that the GCC states formulate a unified, coherent strategy. What are we waiting for? It is time to change course in order to deal with Iran.
Unfortunately, given the current circumstances, not much can be expected to come out of the GCC states regarding the explosive Iranian situation in the near future.- Published 11/2/10 © bitterlemons-international.org
Professor Abdullah Alshayji is chairman of the Political Science Department at Kuwait University.
Power jostling can only lead to disaster
How many revolutions can one generation manage?
With poetic precision, angry demonstrators are challenging Iran's aging revolutionaries. Paradoxically, many are their own children, disillusioned by Khomeinism and the system of the supreme guardian.
Revolutions devour their own children. The Islamic Republic spat out its ideological offspring once in the bloody score-settling immediately after Khomeini's return to Iran and once again since the summer, when it instructed its security forces to kill, torture and sexually abuse rebellious youths, many of whom are the sons of khodis (insiders).
On February 11, thousands of Green protesters were violently suppressed when they sought to march alongside a government-sanctioned demonstration marking the thirty-first anniversary of the revolution. Hijacking a pro-regime protest to publicly condemn the Islamic Republic was until recently unthinkable. It suggests that a sea change in mentality is sweeping society.
Is it too late for the current ruling system to defuse it?
The current incumbents of Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi's vacated palaces have demonstrated that rather than learning from history, they repeat it. They smear their opponents with the same accusations leveled by the Shah against his own challengers: they present the protesters as an unrepresentative minority backed by foreign powers, call in the military to quell them, and summon regime loyalists for counter-rallies designed to underscore support for the status quo.
Iran's unprecedented political crisis is transforming the core of the Islamic Republic beyond recognition. Its possible collapse and the absence of a coherent opposition conjure up a nightmare scenario of conflicting agendas fragmenting the country: disparate Khomeinist Leftists struggling with returning exiles, communists, Marxists, religious nationalists, members of the MKO, royalists and ethnic secessionists all grappling with each other in a power vacuum stretching across a country the size of western Europe and hemmed in by warzones on its eastern and western flanks.
Alternatively, were the Green movement to be quashed, the militarization of political life started by President Mahmoud Ahmadinezhad when he appointed former Revolutionary Guardsmen to ministries, ambassadorships and provincial governorships will accelerate. The supreme leader's once-absolute authority will continue eroding until the position becomes honorary.
Much like the Turkic warrior castes that swept down from Central Asia from the tenth century on, first to defend the Abbasid Empire as mercenaries but eventually amassing power and spawning a dynasty, so may the supreme leadership become as irrelevant as the caliph. Valuable for the religious legitimacy vested in him as the defender of Islam, the lineage was retained to lend the state religious credibility.
Already, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei lacks the religious authority of his predecessor and founder of the Islamic Republic, Ruhollah Khomeini. He seeks to retain a measure of control over the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps through his son Mojtaba Khamenei, the product of a clerical-military environment. But the flood of current IRGC commanders suddenly making very public political statements tells another story.
Last summer, Ahmadinezhad flexed new muscles when he targeted then-Minister of Intelligence Mohsen Ejheii, a Khamenei loyalist, and criticized his handling of the crisis. After the minister resigned in protest, Ahmadinezhad appointed a stalwart to the same position with no prior experience in intelligence affairs. Along with forced resignations and the emergence of an IRGC-administered parallel intelligence body, the current ministry is reportedly a shell of its former self and packed with Revolutionary Guard veterans.
So these are two equally unappetizing visions of the future: a military dictatorship backed by China and Russia floating as an outpost of their influence in the twilight of a brief American empire, or a Hobbesian free-for-all in a country under dismemberment.
And amid the chaos, electricity blackouts, flourishing crime and insecurity, how much value will the reacquired ability of Iranian women to issue from their homes without a headscarf have?
Alternatively, the people of a country where one violent revolution gave rise to eight years of war and horrific human rights abuses may decide to push for gradual change and internal reform. The question then becomes, how prepared is the Islamic Republic to cede substantial change?
The events since this summer's elections are an eloquent reminder of what happens when the opportunity of reforming to the general benefit of society is passed up in favor of squabbling and power jostling.- Published 11/2/10 © bitterlemons-international.org
Iason Athanasiadis is an Istanbul-based writer and photographer who lived in Iran from 2004 to 2007.
The unfolding revolution will eventually come to a head
Though Iran's elections last June were fraught with irregularity and pitted the conservative leadership in the country headed by Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei against reformists led by Mir Hossein Mousavi, they have also set the tone for the future course of the nation, both domestically and externally.
The spiritual leader of Iran, Khamenei openly sided with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinezhad and remained steadfast in this support even though Mousavi and his supporters, including former chairman of the Iranian parliament Mehdi Karroubi, openly called the elections rigged.
Hundreds of thousands of pro-reform Iranians took to the streets once Ahmedinezhad was declared the victor: scores were killed by state police and thousands were arrested. It was as close to a revolution as you could come. Recently some of those detained were hurriedly tried and sentenced to death. Some of them have already been executed.
This is therefore an unfolding revolution. It has yet to come to fruition but it bears all the hallmarks of being deeply rooted. For this reason, enemies of the reformists have consistently alleged that the reform movement is in cahoots with the West. This conspiracy theory rests on the premise that the US and its allies, including Israel, are determined to weaken Iran and deny it a nuclear capability that might threaten the security and stability of the region.
Indeed, Iranian officials are fully aware that western powers are concerned about recent pronouncements by Ahmadinezhad serving notice to other Middle Eastern capitals that no regional conflict, including the Arab-Israel conflict, could ever be resolved without the consent and cooperation of Tehran. Iranian warnings to Saudi Arabia not to "meddle" in the affairs of Yemen were another ominous signal that Iran, under its current leadership, aims to extend its hegemony over the entire region. Iran already has strong leverage with Hizballah in southern Lebanon and strong influence on Syria and Gaza. Recently the country has been trying to build bridges with Turkey, another major power in the area.
Against this backdrop, the conspiracy theory suggests that western countries have long concluded that armed conflict with Iran could easily get out of hand and that therefore another strategy to contain Iran is needed. Western powers, therefore, have come to the conclusion that instead of waging a war against Iran, they must seek to change the regime from within. Ending the Iranian dictatorship and its strict theocracy would mean the end of Iran's military nuclear program.
The tug of war between the hardliners in Iran and the reformists, however, is poised to continue for some time yet. Obviously, though, the wind of change has already swept through the Iranian landscape and there is no turning back. Sooner or later, the rigid and ultra-conservative Iranian regime will have to change, as all revolutions do. Khamenei is also ageing and his years in active political life are limited. The recent announcement by Washington that it will deploy "defensive" missiles in four Arab Gulf countries, Qatar included, is meant to apply additional pressure on Iran's current leadership.
Iran has a long history of succumbing to external pressure only to renege when the pressure subsides. The current Iranian leadership contends that time is on its side and believes that as long as it can succeed in avoiding an open confrontation with its foes, it will come out ahead. Still, the current leadership should not underestimate the impact of economic and financial sanctions on its ability to confront both internal and external enemies. With Moscow now closing ranks with Washington, London, Paris and Berlin on the standoff with Tehran, Beijing remains the only major capital that has not yet totally committed itself to the US-orchestrated strategy vis-a-vis the country.
The heat on Iran can therefore be expected to increase in the foreseeable future, both from within and without. Nevertheless, as Iran approaches the 31st anniversary of the Islamic revolution that toppled the late Shah, Iran's current regime remains defiant. A few days ago, Tehran announced that it would begin on this occasion to produce 20 percent enriched nuclear fuel. There is only one explanation for such a defiant mood: the government does not believe that a war against it is a viable option for the US. Tehran is also aware that an attack against it would require a UN Security Council resolution. Given that Beijing and Moscow would not necessarily vote in favor of any such resolution, the resolve of the Iranian leadership to defy Washington and the West remains
Nevertheless, the internal and external standoffs over the future course of Iran can be expected to come to a climax sooner rather than later. For now, though, the odds are evenly divided on whether that will entail the country becoming more cooperative with the international community.- Published 11/2/10 © bitterlemons-international.org
Waleed Sadi is a former Jordanian ambassador to Turkey and the UN and other international organizations in Geneva. He is currently a columnist for the Jordan Times and Al Rai newspapers.
Regimes change but national interests remain the same
Judith S. Yaphe
It is February 2011. Barack Hussein Obama is beginning the third year of his first term as president of the United States. Mir Hossein Mousavi has begun the second year of his first term as president of Iran. American, European and UN negotiators have just concluded their eighty-fifth meeting with Iran's chief nuclear negotiator, who is a personal representative of ailing Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and a senior officer of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.
Iran rejected a proposal offered in the eighty-fourth meeting regarding unannounced, unfettered IAEA inspections of all declared nuclear facilities and suspected sites, including ten sites under construction along the northern coast of the Persian Gulf. The euphoria with which Washington and European capitals welcomed regime change in Iran last year has been replaced by a resumption of western determination to negotiate a roll-back of Iran's nuclear weapons programs and its advanced long-range missile delivery systems. Iran continues to reject any efforts by foreign powers to dictate or proscribe its strategic plans for national security and power projection. Who said that negotiating with "Anyone-but-Ahmadinezhad" would be easy?
Sounds crazy? Not really. The events surrounding the regime's mishandling of the June 2009 presidential election and the brutal repression that followed revealed a dark picture of Iranian-style democracy. The position of the supreme leader was weaker and the role of the IRGC stronger than had been assumed. Less hard-line conservatives in the Majlis were locked in a discreet power struggle with harder-line conservatives. Clerics in Qom and mid-level officers in the IRGC and the regular military were rumored to be split over treatment of students, intellectuals and ordinary citizens caught protesting.
To many outside Iran, the country appeared to be repeating the pattern of escalating violence that presaged the 1979 revolution. Those inside Iran seemed uncertain of the consequences of their actions but they and those witnessing the street protests posted on Twitter and YouTube were convinced that the regime, the clerics and the Islamic Republic would be swept away in a tide of reform. Revolution was not seen as inevitable and change, when it came, would hopefully be clear and contained.
President Mahmoud Ahmadinezhad was indeed swept away and limits were placed on the power and tenure of the supreme leader. Yet the Islamic Republic, the clerics and their values survived. For Washington, the changes in leadership and new restraints on power seemed to be a revolution. Did the smart people in the US government and the think tanks get Iran wrong again? The appearance of change in the country's leadership was seen as replacing the old recalcitrant, ideologically-oriented regime with a more flexible and pragmatic set of leaders who would respond to reason and the exercise of soft power. Instead the hard-line Ahmadinezhad, who was not a cleric, was replaced by a member of the revolutionary circle around the late Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, a religious and conservative man claiming descent from the family of Prophet Muhammad who had served as prime minister in the 1980s.
The United States assumed that a change of regime would mean a change in policies. Washington immediately recognized the legitimacy of the new government and the Islamic Republic but held fast to its demand that Iran roll back its plans for new nuclear power plants and production of highly enriched uranium. It also expected Iran to end its efforts to obstruct resumption of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations and end support to extremist proxies in Iraq, Lebanon and the Gulf. Again, wrong.
National interests do not change when regimes change. The Islamic Republic loves to remind the West, especially Washington, that Iran first planned to become a nuclear power under Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, who was always interested in any weapon he could buy. Those who assume that replacing Ahmadinezhad with more-reform minded leaders on the theory of "Anyone-but-Ahmadinezhad" will be disappointed.
However Ahmadinezhad is replaced, Iranian national interests and security strategies will remain the same. Many of those who professed reformist goals under President Mohammad Khatami talked about economic reform and more social freedoms but retained their hard-line views on security policy, export of the revolution and expansion of Iranian power. Two examples suffice: the radical students who seized the American Embassy in Tehran in 1979 but became professed reformists in the 1990s; and Ali Akbar Mohtashamipour, Iran's ambassador to Syria in the 1980s who helped create Hizballah in Lebanon and encouraged its terrorist operations. He was elected to the Majlis, declared himself a reformist in the 1990s, and wanted the controversial 2009 election re-run.
Plus ca change....- Published 11/2/10 © bitterlemons-international.org
Judith Yaphe is distinguished research fellow for the Middle East at the Institute for National Strategic Studies at National Defense University in Washington. The opinions expressed here are hers and do not reflect the views of the university, the US government or any government agency. The events described in this piece are the product of her imagination.