Tehran: The Decline and Lack of Options

Bechara Nassar Charbel: Tehran: The Decline and Lack of Options

  • 21 June 2010

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad called UN Security Council Resolution 1929 (that imposed a new set of sanctions on his country), “a used handkerchief which should be thrown in the dustbin.” Similarly, the Supreme Leader of Iran, while speaking at the Khomeini death memorial, charged the international community and even two of Iran’s presidential candidates (who were robbed of their votes a year ago) as serving the interest of “arrogant powers” and the Mossad. Still, these statements cannot hide the rapidity and extent of the decline of the Islamic Republic.

The triumphant image that Tehran has been trying to paint in favor of its policies and ideology for over two decades, following the end of the Iraq–Iran war, has begun to wither away as new political realities can no longer be changed or distorted by the raising of fists and shouting of slogans. These realities are not the ballot boxes, which revolutionary forces are used to stuffing with paper. They cannot be covered up by imprisonment, oppression or threat of execution, even if Khamenei reminds the Sons of the Revolution of the executions conducted by Ayatollah Khalkhali, following the victory of the Revolution.

Iran’s media and propaganda machinery—which dominates political life in the country—would definitely launch malicious tirades and twist facts to show that Iranian leadership has emerged victorious from its recent bout with the US Administration and the international community. However, if the measure of victory is that one has not fallen into the abyss, then Ahmadinejad can truly jubilate. In fact, if the basis to determine the outcome of contests is that the opponent was not able to achieve all objectives, then Iran and its proxies could willy-nilly declare a major victory and even distribute sweets in the streets.

However, if politics and battles are to be examined on the basis of standards used by civilized nations, which study the extent of harm and damage to progress, prosperity and peace, then rulers of Iran would have to hide their faces, and renounce their arrogance and contempt for the intelligence of people.

Iran can say that Washington could not impose sanctions it wanted to because of the unease felt by some companies and individuals that would have been adversely affected by the sanctions. Therefore, the Obama Administration could not achieve its goal of banning the import of refined oil into Iran. It was not able to stop Chinese companies from operating in the Islamic Republic, which in a few years could permanently solve the problem of petroleum for that country. However, Washington has succeeded on other counts in this Security Council resolution. Prominent among these is ending the import of technology for its nuclear activities, preventing the delivery of strategic weapons and shelving of the Russian S-300 missile deal. In addition, cooperation is expected on sanctions against the Revolutionary Guard that serve as the spinal cord of the regime, not only at the level of armament and security, but also at the economic and investments levels.

Iran was banking on the inability of the United States to convince China and Russia on imposing sanctions. Tehran believed that the ‘bribe’ of investment would force the US to seek the approval of Moscow and Beijing to punish their neighbor. It based this assumption on its strong and historic ties with Russia and China, who as regional powers would compete with the growing influence of America in this region of the world. It must have been disappointed with Russian and Chinese positions that gradually changed from opposition to sanctions to acceptance and finally to a heated exchange between Ahmadinejad and Medvedev.

Perhaps, a major Iranian disappointment was the rapid collapse of the Iran-Turkey-Brazil agreement signed a few days before the Security Council vote to avert sanctions. The tripartite agreement, which was sponsored by Ankara and was considered a major diplomatic victory for Turkey, was not taken seriously except for a few hours. Tehran’s conviction that this step would grant it additional time and save it from the vote of the Security Council was merely an illusion. The US did not believe that Iran was serious in declaring the present level of its uranium enrichment or its future intentions, nor could Turkey and Brazil muster enough international weight to provide legitimacy to the agreement.

Iran actually looks frustrated, although it still has a number of cards up her sleeve. Iran’s belief that the US would remain bogged down in Iraq were dashed after Obama decided to withdraw US troops by the end of the year. The proposition that Washington would pull out its troops from Afghanistan, however, is still farfetched. The United States is dealing with the Afghanistan situation differently than with Iraq due to a different set of circumstances and as the Pakistan factor gives a new dimension to the affair. Iran is committing fatal mistakes there, like supporting Al-Qaeda and other groups, which are hostile towards Iran. In this respect, Ankara has already warned Tehran of the consequences of continuing with its policy in Afghanistan.

It is obvious that Iran has failed to reveal to the international community of its response to the sanctions. It has not been able to push Hezbollah into action on the southern front of Lebanon despite its military and political influence and its control over making decisions of war and peace on its own. Similarly, Iran does not hold all the cards over Hamas to force it to initiate a new missile war at a time when the Haniyeh government has proved inept at starting reconstruction following Operation Cast Lead 18 months ago, nor  has it been able to treat the wounds that such misadventures have caused. In addition, the Turks have put themselves at the center of events by sending the ‘Freedom Flotilla’ to the shores of Gaza and paid the price with nine deaths that were enough to make the ‘Ottomans’ the role models of ‘Arab Street’ and lifted them many degrees and snatched the spotlight from Tehran. The revolutionary army promised to escort more Freedom Flotilla but later retracted this decision.

We would of course not miss to indicate the internal problems in Iran. The authority of Ahmadinejad is still suspect despite the weakness of the opposition, and the economic situation shows a different image than the picture mooted by the regime, as relations between Supreme Leader and Qom are still witnessing strains that deprive the “Ruling Faqih” the loyalty of many religious references.

Based on this, it was not strange that Ahmadinejad proposed a “return to negotiations” to the international community, although he appended the phrase with “conditions” for face-saving. Iran knows that a new phase has started after the new round of sanctions and the time of military maneuvers and speedboat spectacles is starting to elapse. Ships heading to Iran would be searched and any adventurous action must be taken after careful consideration.

Tehran will not have many options. It will either begin a major military conflict through Hezbollah, which is not an easy matter and involves the danger of a regional war, in which Damascus would not want to be involved. In such a war, Hezbollah cannot face the Israeli war machine and the opposition of the Lebanese people in getting them involved in a regional crisis. On the other hand, Iran could decide to stop its nuclear program, cooperate with the IAEA, and opens its facilities for supervision and inspection, or it would try to gain more time through half-solutions to continue on its course. This would lead it to opening dialog with 5+1 countries and it would try to nullify the 1929 resolution by guaranteeing Russian and Chinese flexibility.

No doubt that the last choice is the nearest to the mentality of the Iranian governors but it is not easy or comfortable because it assumes an Americans and Europeans naivety that is not possible at this time and requires a coherent logic and attitude in Tehran that are not available at this time.