Iran Besieged

The Indian Express/02 August 2018 
By Professor Ramin Jahanbegloo 

The clock is ticking against peace in the Middle East. According to reports, the Trump Administration has requested all of Iran’s current oil consumers to eliminate Iranian imports by November 4. This is part of a deliberate policy of escalating tensions with Iran, targeting its economy and supporting Iranian opposition groups — all for the purpose of destabilising the Islamic regime.

On July 22, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo addressed the Iranian-American community in order to garner their support for Donald Trump’s policy of destabilising Iran. It is clear that Trump and his team are obsessed with undoing the acts of the Obama Administration because they have rejected anything that even hints at reaching goals through diplomacy. Also, it is now clear that America is looking for an Iranian “middle man”, as was the case with Ahmed Chalabi in post-Saddam Iraq. Let us not forget that Chalabi was the person who encouraged the US to go to war against Saddam Hussein. It looks like the National Security Advisor John Bolton and his group are backing the MEK (Moujahedin-e Khalq), a politico-military organisation feared by many Iranians and resembling a combination of a cult group and the Peruvian Shining Path. Some American administration officials and Iranian exiles are betting on the return of the Crown Prince Reza, the eldest legitimate son of Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, the Shah of Iran and Farah Pahlavi, who left Iran at the age of 18 during the Iranian Revolution.

The American hawks do not know what they want for Iran beyond the disappearance of the Islamic Republic. This is a page out of the US’s Middle East playbook. If the change is about re-establishing a secular government in Iran, regime-change advocates like Pompeo, who is anything but secular, make for strange allies. Perhaps, more than anything else, the full-throated call to destabilise the Iranian government by the secretary of state is because the Trump Administration is looking for a foreign policy victory before the 2020 presidential election. Moreover, if significant political changes were to occur in Tehran before the elections, that change would most likely be with the Iranian Revolutionary Guards acquiring more extensive powers after a military coup d’etat.

Such a military dictatorship will weaken the moderate line in Iran and it is more in tune with the wishes of its two rivals in the region — Saudi Arabia and Israel. Neither of these two countries wants a moderate regime in Iran. According to senior Israeli Mossad official, Haim Tomer, Israel should promote regime change in Iran because “even if regime change does not succeed… it is better to have the Iranians fighting among themselves”.

The recent warming of relations between Israel and the Gulf countries, first and foremost with Saudi Arabia, opens a whole range of scenarios for regime change in Iran. Militarily, Israel is well-equipped to carry out a strike on Iranian nuclear facilities. If this is the case, Israel would need an American diplomatic umbrella to address various hostile initiatives in the UN Security Council, as well as American-European military assistance to be able to withstand a prolonged conflict with the pro-Iranian Hezbollah. This is not to imply that Israel will carry out a strike in the next few months, but it certainly allows Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to take a more aggressive approach towards Tehran, knowing that the Trump Administration will provide him protection.

It is evident that the Trump Administration is ready to order a strike on Iran. Bolton recently issued instructions for a target list in Iran to be drawn up and the CIA asked its Canadian and British partners to help it identify strike targets in Iran. General Qasem Soleimani, commander of the elite Quds Force has responded to Trump’s threats by vowing to attack oil exports from the region and closing the Strait of Hormoz. These threats are multiplied by additional security measures in Iran against all strikes and demonstrations due to economic pressures. Last week, the rial traded at 130,000 to the US dollar.

This devaluation comes at a trying time for Iran’s leaders. No doubt, rapidly rising prices for meat, medicine and other consumer products will have a bigger impact on ordinary Iranians than the Iran deal and the American reaction to it. As in the case of the protests last December and in January, the centre of interest is the economic management of Iran after the new sanctions come into effect in November. As the clock is ticking against Iran, the regime of the Ayatollahs still has a chance to avoid war by ending the violence against its own people.

The writer is professor-vice dean, Jindal Global University