Middle East

An Ambitious Iran

Mahmood Ahmadinejad, Iran’s new president, waves to supporters

Mahmood Ahmadinejad, Iran’s new president, waves to supporters after a ceremony in Tehran to install him as successor to outgoing president Mohamad Khatami. (Photo: Atta Kenare / AFP-Getty Images)

The growing sense of frustration and hopelessness among the people of the Middle East combined with the Bush administration’s policy toward Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Iran and the Lebanese Hezbollah has produced complex feelings regarding the role of the United States in the region at large. Moreover, with the Guardian Council of Mullahs and an ultra-conservative president in control of Iran, the resumption of economic and political relations with the United States is less favorable than some would have expected.

The reformists failed to reform the political system through the ballot box, thus the conservatives will continue to do what they started right after they toppled the Shah in 1979: acquire and develop weapons of mass destruction, limit the civil liberties of their people and oppose the United States’ and the European Union’s call to end their nuclear operations.

From the mullahs’ point of view, the United States is an aggressor whose aim is to protect Israel or the “little devil” as they call it, to use their wealth (oil) and to replace their government with pro-United States puppets.

The fact that United States accused Iran of coordinating a terror network in Iraq, Lebanon and Afghanistan worsened the bitter exchange of veiled threats between Iranian and American officials.

Prince Turki bin Faisal al-Saud, the head of the Saudi Secret Services, now acting as the Saudi ambassador to the United States, once promoted Osama bin Laden and the Taliban in an attempt to create a counterweight to the Shia tribes in Afghanistan that were strongly financed by Iran. Bin Laden, however, later turned against his Saudi masters because he saw the stationing of United States troops on the soil of two of the holy shrines of Islam — Medina and Mecca — as a capitulation on the part of the Saudi monarchy to United States imperialism, and cited it as one reason among others. When the Americans toppled the Taliban’s savage rule in Afghanistan, the Saudis joined the United States in its hunt for bin Laden.

Nonetheless, to this day Afghanistan remains an unstable country and an arena for the clashing interests of external powers. In this murky context, Iran regained its position as a major player within the country.

With the Shias in power in Iraq, the Iranians can be only content. But even so, Iran is still stirring up the waters. The Iranian religious clerics plan has two stages:

1) Fund the guerrilla attacks in order to weaken coalition forces fighting in Iraq.

2) Transform Iraq into an Islamic republic or at the very least, given the societal and sectarian composition of Iraq, ensure that the Shias of Iraq remain heavily influenced by Iran’s mullahs.

Although President Bush has not mention this in his latest speeches on Iraq, the fact of the matter is that the Shia majority coalition that won the elections is trying to set down the Constitution of an Islamic republic where responsibility for marriage, divorce, and inheritance will move from civil courts to religious courts. Besides the obvious implication that Sharia law and democracy do not get along, women’s rights will be reduced to almost zero. Women need civic rights that no mullah can withdraw. The Iraqi reformers should lobby strong and hard for the recognition of each and every human being rights as opposed to Sharia law claim that women are less than men.

Some have said that this might be the first step in creating one large Islamic country made of Iraq and Iran. But there are cultural, economic and more importantly humane factors to reject the idea. However, there is no need to have one large Islamic country — for the time being. It is enough to have a government in Iraq obeying the mullahs’ agenda for the region.

Some days ago, Iranian Defense Minister Ali Shamkhani reiterated his country’s readiness to confront and absorb any military attack by foreign forces, especially the United States and Israel. He revealed the existence of plans for confronting all eventualities and ruled out the likelihood of Washington attacking his country: “It is drowning in the Iraq river, and the drowning person cannot move from the river to swim in the sea.” Shamkhani stressed that Tehran has finished the process of manufacturing the solid fuel used for propelling long-range ballistic missiles, pointing out that this process was not new for Iran.

On the possibility of a missile attack by the United States or Israel, without embarking on a direct battle, and what Tehran’s response would be, Shamkhani said his country “has specific and certain plans for responding to such kind of attacks. You will see what the response will be the day they do so.”

Reaching Lebanon Through Hezbollah

Besides its attempt to be a key player in Iraq, another reason for holding Iran responsible for regional instability, is its support of Hezbollah. Since Hezbollah’s beginnings, Iran has been a major financial and ideological supporter.

Elias Bejani, a respected Lebanese political analyst said that “Hezbollah is not a Lebanese group in its aims, financing, ideology and decision making process. It is an Iranian army in Lebanon with full Iranian control.”

The Islamic Republic News Agency recently reported President-elect Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as saying that the Lebanese Hezbollah is a symbol of the pure thought of Islam at the forefront of the Islamic world. Ahmadinejad made the remark in a meeting with the leader of Hezbollah, Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, who made an official visit to Tehran. “Success, victories and progress of this popular and faithful force in the political, cultural, social and military domains of Lebanon are results of purity and reliance on God’s will, which should be preserved and institutionalized as the main factor in the fight against enemies of Islam,” President Ahmadinejad declared.

Ahmadinejad further described the organization: “… an intelligent force lies in the hearts of Muslims worldwide. The Islamic world − particularly the Iranian nation − is following up with keen interest and sensitivity the developments in Lebanon as well as Hezbollah’s role.”

Nasrallah, for his part, called his visit to Iran a chance to convey the congratulatory message of the Lebanese nation to the president on his election and briefed Ahmadinejad on Hezbollah’s role as a resistance against Israel and its attempt to take over the Arabs lands.

The United States considers Hezbollah a terrorist organization and administration officials have said that they would not meet with any of its representatives, even those representing Lebanon in its new government.

Backed by the majority of the new Lebanese government, Hezbollah has rejected the call for disarmament, stating that United Nations Resolution 1559 does not apply because Hezbollah is a “resistance movement,” not an armed militia. Hezbollah also threatened numerous times to fight anyone who tried to disarm it.

The leader of the oppositionist Free Patriotic Movement, Michel Aoun, was quoted by the Lebanese daily Al Safir as stating: “There cannot be a centralized state and another army parallel to [that] of this state.”

With regard to why Hezbollah wants to remain armed, he said: “My reading from the party’s rhetoric is that it wants to continue its struggle against Israel. But if most Arab countries are moving towards signing peace deals, we will be confronted with the issue once again.”

Former Lebanese Ambassador Abdullah Bou Habib, in a meeting with Aoun, commented on Nasrallah’s trip to Iran: “It was a visit to an ally. The conditions in the area are leading to change. It is our duty to walk hand-in-hand with Sayyed Nasrallah for the good of Lebanon.”

European Union Effort Failed

The European Union — that is, France, Germany and the United Kingdom — presented a proposal to the Iranian Foreign Ministry called the Framework for a Long Term Agreement. Through this agreement they were basically proposing incentives to Iran, which could develop a civilian nuclear program, but not atomic warheads. As many expected, the Iranians rejected the proposal.

Javad Zarif, Iran’s ambassador to the United Nations said, “Maybe the Europeans are willing to sell out their own rights at a cheap price, but Iran is not.” He further called the proposal “absurd, demeaning and self-congratulatory.”

White House spokesman Scott McClellan said the “next step” would be to refer the matter to the United Nations Security Council, which will likely recommend economic sanctions.

The only problem is that Iran has never responded well to threats, especially to those coming from the United States.