Iran at a Critical Crossroads
Ali Asghar Kazemi
June 23, 2008
Iran’s continuous defiance to halt nuclear enrichment and its implicit rejection of the latest 5+1 incentive package has incited opponents to go for military option. Recent news of Israel’s military preparations to strike Iran’s nuclear sites is indeed a serious source of anxiety for peace and security in the Middle East. Israelis have already shown on other occasions that they don’t hesitate to run such risks when their very survival is at stake. Strikes at Iraq’s nuclear plants long ago and recent demolition of the Syrian nuclear site are vivid examples.
The Islamic regime pretends to be indifferent of threats coming from various directions. But, there is little doubt that sensible politicians are scared like rabbits of eventual strikes. They are questioning the rationale behind so much rigidity on an issue that can hardly be considered as the vital core value of the national interests, in the face of imminent threats which are liable to decide once for all the fate of the Islamic regime. People are caught in a mixed emotion. They are perplexed about their hardship after a new clash which could lead to widespread conflict on the one hand, and the extinction or consolidation of an arrogant and oppressive regime on the other.
What are the plausible consequences of the present crisis? Who should be blamed for crisis escalation? How much we should be vigilant about a new conflict in the region? What would be the outcome of such a military collision? Who would benefit from the consequences of eventual clash at this critical stage? How the crisis should be managed in order to avoid a real confrontation?
There are moments which are quite critical and decisive in the history of a nation. In fact, nations are alike human beings in the sense that they may run into trouble by diseases and curses. They may be infected by authoritarianism, violence, oppression, tyranny, terrorism, war and the likes. The list of viruses and infections that they can catch is quite impressive; they can originate from within and from outside. The impact also may show up in various sectors of the society: economic, social, cultural, security, strategic, etc.
As I have said elsewhere at the beginning of the crisis, Iran’s intransigent attitude vis-à-vis the International community and the UN Security Council may leave the impression that the Islamic government is a bold actor in the international scene, seeking to challenge the rule of the game in world politics. However, this behavior may only please those who have no notion of history and prevailing norms and rules in the fuzzy and chaotic realm of international relations.
Many crises in the past dragged nations into hostilities and bloody conflicts, due to lack of vision of political leaders, overwhelmed by their ideological obsessions, religious beliefs or by mere arrogance and illusion of power. Saddam Hussein is one recent example of this kind that by his foolish defiance against world public opinion and international community dragged Iraq and its people into pointless chaos and bloodshed.
It is not futile to repeat once again that boldness, which may be a virtue in individual performance, becomes a vice to be avoided like pest when the fate of a nation and its overall interests with large scale and enduring impact are at stake. In other words, when the risks of an action or decision only has a limited impact upon one’s interests or yield, bold choices may be a value. But in a wider perspective, political leaders are not allowed to run such risks for a nation.
There are many indications that the overall political system in Iran is not ready to engage in an adventurous and risky situation in which the very existence of the Islamic regime might be jeopardized. Of course, there may be some elements inside the political apparatus that would eventually anticipate some benefits in a limited confrontation with an outside power. But, given that the conservative government lacks the necessary experience and capacity to deal with uncertain situations, most probably it would abstain to test its chances in such a hazardous issue as nuclear matter.
As to the domestic public opinion, it does not seem that the government and especially those in charge of the nuclear policies have been able to convince the public at large and less the educated people on the rationale of the nuclear project, even for peaceful purposes. Therefore, the nation as a whole seems not prepared to accept and wholeheartedly support another hostility and military engagement or to endure severe economic sanctions and limitations.
In other words, the general public really does not consider the issue to be a vital national interest touching their daily life. Moreover, expectations of those who voted for the conservative government are quite different and they would not go along with policies that would push them even further down the bottom of poverty line. Therefore, bold action and behavior is no remedy to the current nuclear crisis and the chances that prudence and rationality will prevail are very high.
With respect to an eventual preemptive strikes either on Iran’s nuclear facilities or other strategic targets such as oil installations on land or offshore, directly by the United States or through Israel, there is little chances that these operations produce the expected outcome. This may only create contradictory results: either awakens Iranian nationalism by consolidating people against foreign invasion, or gives the upper hand to the Islamic regime to further expand its domestic grip.
While it appears that Iran has a weak hand in this dangerous game, it is always possible that due to some miscalculation or lack of vision, hard-liners’ provocative and bold behavior would escalate to a full scale crisis. Indeed, such condition is susceptible to lead ultimately to a real conflict situations that could severely jeopardize Iran’s national interests.
However, an optimistic assessment leads to the conclusions that chances for the Islamic regime in Iran to avoid a confrontation on nuclear issue are high, provided that Iran is not totally barred from pursuing its declared peaceful use of nuclear technology in a faithful and transparent manner. The face saving aspect of an eventual solution is also an important dimension of the crisis management.
Therefore, to avoid the worst to happen, all interested parties shall abstain from any action that could escalate the crisis to a full scale military confrontation and be given a chance to further seek peaceful solution in order to avoid harsh decisions that could destabilize the whole region and the world. In other word, the West should endeavor to engage in a fair non-zero-sum game with a positive outcome in which neither side feels defeated. The Islamic regime also has the duty not to aggravate the situation by provocative actions that could incite opponents to go for military option. /