Ominous signs in Iran under siege
By Kaveh L Afrasiabi
Iran is increasingly under siege. From cyber-attacks on its nuclear
infrastructure to biting economic and financial sanctions, to overt support for
(armed) opposition groups, to a military build-up of neighbors, it appears that
outside powers are making a concerted effort at regime change in the Islamic
If unchecked, this will likely yield growing regional tensions instead of
dialogue that reduces them. For all practical purposes, United States President
Barack Obama's "Iran engagement" policy has turned into a subversive engagement
with pro-democracy and opposition groups, tantamount to a new level of
interference in Iran's internal affairs under the veneer of democracy and human
By all accounts, in the aftermath of President Mahmud
Ahmadinejad's controversial speech at the United Nations last week eliciting
harsh Western responses, the prospects for dialogue appear to have diminished,
replaced by a new, and ominous, qualitative turn for the worse in the
tumultuous US-Iran relations. This in addition to the new "human rights
sanctions" imposed by the US government on a number of Iranian officials, as
well as the new drumbeats of war by various US pundits. (See
New Iran sanctions as war chorus rises Asia Times Online, October 1,
Adding new teeth to the harsh jaws of Iran sanctions, the US government has
just announced that four major oil companies are quitting Iran, which, if true,
represents a major blow to the ailing energy sector. It has been forced to shut
down several major projects, such as in Assaluyeh, which is bound to
reverberate throughout the oil-based economy in the near future. United States
Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg said on Thursday that Royal Dutch
Shell, based in Britain and the Netherlands; France's Total; Eni of Italy; and
the Norway-based Statoil had committed to no further investments in Iran.
Coinciding with Tehran's announcement of a new delay in launching the Bushehr
power plant, widely attributed to the cyber-attack that Tehran say originate
from the US and or Israel, these represent serious setbacks for Iran that the
country can ill-afford.
Simultaneously, neither the US nor its Western allies involved in nuclear
negotiation with Iran have displayed any genuine interest in moving forward
with a new round of negotiation, despite the conciliatory gestures of
Ahmadinejad during his New York visit. There, he repeatedly expressed optimism
on new dialogue and even went as far as declaring Tehran's readiness to halt
the 20% uranium enrichment (for the Tehran reactor) if a proposed nuclear swap
deal was accepted by the Vienna Group, consisting of US, Russia, France and the
International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).
According to some Iran experts, Ahmadinejad's 9/11 accusations hurled at the US
government during his UN General Assembly speech served to put Iran on the
offensive in light of all the variegated attacks on Iran, which had put Tehran
"on the defensive". It has also served the president's domestic considerations,
given the solid support by the majority of Iran's parliament (Majlis), many of
whom had been vocally critical of the president prior to his New York visit.
But, as an untimely trade-off between internal gains versus external loss, it
is unclear whether the 9/11 remarks will have a lasting negative impression on
Obama, who lambasted the speech in an interview with the Persian program of the
BBC. That would be unfortunate, given the fact that while in New York
Ahmadinejad revealed the existence of a new letter to Obama, this while
praising the US government for the first time as "an influential world power".
None of those conciliatory gestures seems to matter the least nowadays to
Washington, still angry at Ahmadinejad's audacity in raising the touchy issue
of 9/11. This despite the fact that other world leaders such as Venezuela's
President Hugo Chavez have long been making the same allegations of US
government complicity in the 9/11 tragedies, with some help from various US
Ironically, compared to the light reactions in the US media to Chavez's
allegations, Ahmadinejad has been the recipient of the harshest responses, with
a Fox news reporter interviewing him asking him how dare he makes such "stupid
and nutty claims?"
One of his key advisers, who spoke with the author on the condition of
anonymity, maintains that Ahmadinejad's "communicative rationality" is his ace,
which disarms his US media critics who "actually expose their own biases by
their rude behavior".
In light of the concerted US-led campaign of destabilization of Iran, the stage
is now set for more ominous developments on the US-Iran front, given the
proximity of US forces to Iranian (land and maritime) territory; in a word, at
this point no one can rule out future triggers such as in the Persian Gulf,
scene of potential naval flash points between US and Iran.
With the risk scenarios many, and a poisoned climate evaporating the chances
for selective cooperation on regional issues such as Ahmadinejad's offer of
cooperation with the US on Afghanistan, the future of US-Iran relations looks
hopelessly bleak at the moment. A familiar story since the onset of the
anti-Western Islamist regime in Iran however, the new level of hostilities
between the two countries may be followed by a cooling off period caused by the
mere threat of an unwanted spiral toward physical confrontation.
According to a Tehran political analyst, the US and Israel have exploited the
Iranian president's 9/11 comments to deflect attention from Israel's total
disregard for Obama's call for extending the moratorium on Jewish settlements
in the West Bank, which he characterized as an impediment to peace process in
his UN speech.
Instead of focusing on the Israeli non-response and the mad rush for building
thousands of new housing units in the occupied territories, US Secretary of
State Hillary Clinton, who is reportedly granted the discretion of setting the
Iran policy, has been side-tracked, busy issuing punitive measure after measure
on Iran, to the delight of the pro-Israel lobbyists.
Best described as a Iraq war-in-slow-motion, the current impasse with Iran is
rapidly acquiring all the ingredients of a major international crisis
warranting prudent conflict-management by the world community. The European
Union, which is outsourcing its Iran policy to the Obama administration,
requires an urgent wake-up call before it is too late. But then again who in
Europe today can resist the Obama "charm offensive" even though it may be the
Mephistophelean charm of a militarized superpower?