Ahmadinejad makes a call to arms
By Kaveh L Afrasiabi
Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad's statement this week that "they have
decided to attack at least two countries in the region in the next three
months", has sparked intense debate in Iran. Even some hardline supporters of
the president, such as the conservative daily Kayhan, have taken issue with his
statement by discounting the possibility of another US invasion at a time when
the Afghanistan war is going badly for Washington and Iraq remains highly
While the United States may have its hands full with two wars, the same cannot
be said about Israel, especially if backed by
regional states concerned about the prospect of a possible Iranian nuclear
Domestically, Ahmadinejad's statement in a press interview represents a
political gamble that may make it easier for him to show flexibility on the
nuclear question, as a conflict-prevention move, in light of Iran's stated
preparedness for talks without preconditions come this autumn.
Iranian people are not in a fighting mood and the country can hardly stomach
the multiple ills of another war, with some southern sections of the country
still in post-reconstruction infancy some 23 years after the gunfire between
Iran and Iraq stopped.
This was vividly demonstrated in Ahmadinejad's recent trip to the southern city
of Khoramshahr, whose inhabitants gave him an earful about the lack of adequate
reconstruction of the city, which fell into the hands of Saddam Hussein's army
before it was liberated at exorbitant human cost.
Any attack on Iran's nuclear installations, many of which are close to urban
centers, is bound to cause serious collateral damage and would doubtless awaken
the sleeping giant of Iranian patriotism. In fact, by raising the prospect of
the imminent launch of war by Iran's enemies, Ahmadinejad may have been
calculating to stir such emotion. At the same time, it is clear the deafening
sound of an imminent war against Iran has unleashed new national security
worries in Iran that affect the national psychic and discourse.
A political gamble by a president who a mere three years ago openly denied that
the nuclear issue represented any crisis whatsoever, his statement is
simultaneously a call for national mobilization, in preparation for confronting
the military muscles of a Western superpower and its Israeli ally. This in turn
is cultivating ties in the Persian Gulf to the detriment of Iran's interests.
Still, with foreign priorities taking the upper hand, Ahmadinejad's warning of
a coming war on two fronts, widely interpreted as Iran and Lebanon, is bound to
(a) shore up support in the Arab and Muslim streets and (b) raise the
possibility of more aggressive Iranian behavior in the region meant to
underscore a pre-emptive Iranian response to the winds of war.
The wealth of US military secrets leaked on the Internet paint Iran as having a
highly subversive role in Afghanistan, second only to Pakistan. Whether or not
the documents are genuine or fabrications, they nonetheless present a unique
opportunity to revisit Iran's Afghanistan policy in connection with the
sanctions and a low-intensity war waged against Iran through such groups as
Jundallah, which continues to pose a military risk despite the recent hanging
of its arrested leader, Abdulmalik Rigi. Prior to his execution, Rigi provided
fresh insights on the US's and Israel's support for the group.
A problem with the US approach is that it overlooks Iran's ability to strike
back with low-intensity warfare in both Afghanistan and Iraq. The WikiLeaks
documents on Iran depict precisely such a scenario that, conceivably, could get
worse depending on the evolution of the nuclear crisis. That is, the
allegations of Iranian training and logistical support for the Taliban inside
Iranian territory could be true and only the beginning of a serious turnaround
from a general policy of self-restraint.
"Iran will not let itself become another Iraq scenario in slow motion," says a
Tehran University political science professor, referring to the long period of
economic sanctions that preceded the US's invasion in March 2003.
In that scenario, economic warfare that substantially weakened the central
government in Baghdad preceded the invasion. Similarly, if Western governments
have their way, the same fate may be awaiting Iran - except that the Iranians
have learnt from the Iraq war and are intent on doing everything humanly
possible to keep an invasion at bay.
Kaveh L Afrasiabi, PhD, is the author of After Khomeini: New
Directions in Iran's Foreign Policy (Westview Press) . For his Wikipedia entry,
click here. His
Reading In Iran Foreign Policy After September 11 (BookSurge Publishing
, October 23, 2008) is now available.