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    Middle East
     Nov 15, 2011

Iran reels from twin blows
By Kaveh L Afrasiabi

TEHRAN - Deadly explosions at a military base about 60 kilometers southwest of Tehran, coinciding with the suspicious death of the son of a former commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) in Dubai in the United Arab Emirates, have triggered speculation in Iran on whether or not these are connected to recent United States threats to resort to extrajudicial executions of IRGC leaders.

General Hasan Moghaddam, a key figure in Iran's missile program, was killed alongside 16 IRGC members on Saturday at a military site. The Guards said the accident occurred while military personnel were transporting munitions.

The IRGC praised Moghaddam, saying it would not forget his

"effective role in the development of the country's defense ... and his efforts in launching and organizing the Guards' artillery and missile units," the linchpin of the country's conventional deterrence, according to the semi-official Fars news agency.

Simultaneously, Ahmad Rezai, the young son of Mohsen Rezai, commander of the IRGC guards during the Iran-Iraq war of the 1908s, currently the secretary of the Expediency Council and a presidential contender, has been found dead at a hotel in Dubai under "suspicious circumstances", according to official reports.

"If the dirty hands of foreign powers are found in any of these incidents, then the government will come under popular pressure to avenge the death of those martyrs," said a Tehran University political scientist who spoke to the author on the condition of anonymity.

Already, in response to US threats of assassinations, an IRGC general, Amir Ali Hajizadeh, has vowed to go after US personnel in the region if the US acted on its threats.

Depending on the outcome of Iran's investigation of the two incidents, the chances are we are on the verge of a nasty new phase in US-Iran relations that could easily aggravate the region's instability.

Another worrying development for Iran is the recent spike in attacks on Iranian pilgrims to Iraq, principally by road-side bombs targeting bus passengers, such as the one on Sunday that injured 13 Iranians in the Kadhmiyah area of north Baghdad.

There is no shortage of analysis in Iran that connects these seemingly disparate incidents as parts of a systematic effort to destabilize Iran one way or another.

Although the IRGC members were killed some 60 kilometers from Tehran, the powerful explosions rocked the capital, thus adding to the popular anxiety stemming from recent Israeli threats of military action against the country over its nuclear program.

According to the daily Jame Jam, "The first thing that this explosion created in public opinion is the threats of the past few days, an issue that is on people's mind in the streets these days."

Iran is struggling to maintain a state of normalcy instead of emergency, vividly reflected in the bustling urban life in Tehran, Isfahan, Meshed, Tabriz, Shiraz and other cities and towns across the country led by a youthful population that increasingly feels under siege by outside powers.

According to a Tehran political analyst at a Tehran think-tank, "Iran's enemies are now engaged in full-scale psychological warfare that hurts Iran's economy, just as recent Israeli threats caused a minor panic in Iran's stock market as well as a declining rial [currency] value against the US dollar."

In other words, Iran is under the gun of economic warfare that is pushed partly through the threat of hard power by the US and Israel.

How long this can continue without triggering a major economic crisis is an important issue that relates to the country's nuclear diplomacy, in light of the latest report by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) that accuses Iran of certain proliferation-related activities, a charge flatly denied by Iran.

But, while the IAEA report has failed to ignite new momentum for further sanctions against Iran, in light of a report from Russia casting into doubt aspects of the report pertaining to a Russian scientist, the combined weight of powerful jabs thrown at Iran in the form of blunt military threats, covert action and the like may force Iran to adopt a new military doctrine, one that shifts from the present purely defensive posture to a more aggressive offensive one.

"Tehran has exercised a great deal of self-restraint so far but if the enemies continue with their multiple aggressions then there is little doubt in my mind that we will see a brand new military strategy that relies on flexing muscles and is not limited to simply reacting to contingencies introduced by Iran's enemies," says the Tehran professor.

With respect to the death of the young Rezai in Dubai, should the investigation conclude that it was due to foul play, this would have a disproportionate impact in angering Iranians seeking revenge against the perpetrators.

There is strong suspicion of Israel's Mossad, which was behind the assassination of a Hamas leader in Dubai recently, with some analysts speculating that Israel's intention is to radicalize Iran and undermining moderate voices such as those of Mohsen Rezai, who is a strong advocate of economic decentralization.

By going after his son and causing "collateral damage", the perpetrators' intention may have been to steer the IRGC toward a more confrontational approach that would, in turn, add to the country's economic woes due to potential capital flight, scaring away foreign investment, etc.

Still, one cannot rule out the possibility of a freak coincidence of the blasts and Rezai's untimely death and the likelihood of a pure accident at the military base alone suggests that the above-mentioned thickening speculation may be a tissue of the war environment that Iran is subjected to nowadays.

That climate has now deteriorated and there is every expectation on the part of many Tehran analysts of even more ominous developments.

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. He is author of Reading In Iran Foreign Policy After September 11 (BookSurge Publishing , October 23, 2008) and his latest book, Looking for rights at Harvard, is now available.

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