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 Ahmadinejad 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 Ahmadinejad 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 Ahmadinejad 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.
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. This commentary is published by Daily News Egypt in collaboration with bitterlemons-international.org.