By Arab News
There are currently four spokes to the wheel that Iran is turning to ratchet up tension in the region.
By refusing to permit inspectors from the UN’s nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency examine the key military nuclear site at Parchin, south of Tehran, the Iranian government has once again kicked sand in the face of the international community.
When the IAEA team arrived in the country this week, at Iran’s invitation, it seemed that at last Tehran’s claim that its nuclear program is for civilian purposes only could be fully tested.
But not a bit of it. Once again the IAEA people became bogged down, with two days of frustrating meetings at which it quickly became apparent the Iranians were not about to accede to UN demands. So once again the inspectors packed their bags and left, with Iran’s obligations under the Non-Proliferation Treaty to which it is a party, unverified.
The second spoke is the movement of two warships, the missile frigate Alvand and replenishment ship Kharg through the Suez canal and into the eastern Mediterranean. Leaving Egyptian waters, the vessels headed straight to Syria, where it is suspected they offloaded further armaments for the Bashar Assad regime. That their presence was an attempt to project Iranian naval power beyond the Gulf became clear when Tehran issued its warning last Tuesday that it might mount a pre-emptive strike on its enemies if it felt itself in danger.
This third spoke to its brinkmanship wheel is tactical bluster as far as the isolated Alvand is concerned, but has been very real in terms of the joint force exercises carried out by Iran in the Gulf. The threat to block the Strait of Hormuz has to be taken seriously by all neighboring countries.
The final spoke on the dangerous wheel is the cutting off of oil supplies to France and the UK, in advance of the implementation of the EU’s decision to boycott Iranian oil. The cut-off is not of itself serious — Iran sold the French and British relatively small amounts of crude.
But it will have political and propaganda resonance where the Iranian regime most needs it, on its very own streets.
There are clear signs that the Iranian opposition Green Movement, which protested the rigged presidential election and was crushed so ruthlessly a year ago, has replaced its arrested leaders and is planning to return to the streets. What will be concerning the Iranian government is that this time, it will not just be politically-savvy, largely middle-class demonstrators protesting, but even more ordinary Iranians, with no political ax to grind, who will join in because of economic despair.
The Iranian economy is in a state of collapse, with rising joblessness and inflation and declining incomes and expectations. Corruption is rampant with the government’s quasi-military militias deeply involved in all levels of the economy.
It is an axiom of history that when a government is in trouble at home, it looks for trouble abroad. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is therefore pursuing a classic political course, but one which has always carried considerable risks. Most Iranians would far more prefer to have work and a decent standard of living than that their country possess a nuclear weapon. They are angry and disappointed that the high promise of the revolution almost 33 years ago has failed to be delivered, and that they live today under a regime that is every bit as oppressive as that of the Shah they overthrew.
Yet Ahmadinejad knows that the one thing that would unite Iranians behind his crumbling government, the one element that could restore his weakening control of the political process, would be an outside attack on something Iranian. Whether it was an Iranian warship or warplane or even the suspect Parchin military nuclear site itself does not matter. Iranians are a proud people. Such an attack would reunite them in anger and few would be likely to admit that it was the suicidal maneuverings of their own government that had provoked this assault.