Iran in dire straits

Iran must deal with its own people before it can continue jockeying for geopolitical gain in the region.

Soldiers stand guard under the pictures of Ayatollah Khomeini, the founder of the Islamic Republic, and Iran''s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei in Tehran
A Syrian fallout can only be bad for an Iran that negotiates from a position of weakness due to its lack of internal legitimacy [REUTERS]

A widely circulated cartoon on the internet among Iranians these days depicts the official Iranian press almost entirely ignoring two successive earthquakes in Northwestern province of Azerbaijan while fixated on the events in Syria. 

As the two earthquakes – magnitude 6.4 and 6.3 – hit the northwestern province of Azarbaijan in Iran that resulted in at least 306 people dead and 3,000 people injured, and while the ruling regime is widely condemned for its indifference and/or incompetence to address the matter effectively, there are renewed claims by the Obama administration that the Iranian revolutionary militia (Pasdaran) is aiding and abetting the defunct Assad regime in Syria to stay in power. 

The US and its regional allies are of course in the least position to point the finger at Iran, while the Syrian rebels have just claimed that they have shot down a Syrian fighter jet. The weaponry capable of that kind of operation is not exactly of the sort with which we identify the Arab Spring. The US and its regional allies have joined the ruling Assad regime completely to militarise the terms of democratic uprising in Syria. In the long run they will both lose. The Syrian people will triumph.

The ruling regime in Iran, meanwhile, has every reason to abandon Iranian people to their own devices and worry about the Syrian regime. The magnitude of the earthquake coming its way, should the Syrian regime fall, is way beyond what has hit ordinary Iranians in Azerbaijan. 

Much remains uncertain on the Syrian scene. Russia, China, and Iran remain adamant in their support for the ruling regime – as obviously are Saudi Arabia, its Persian Gulf satellite states and US, EU, and Israel for the heavily militarised opposition. But the breaking down of the ruling regime in Syria in what ever shape that it might assume, will break down the Iran-Syria-Hezbollah alliance, will leave Hezbollah to its own devices in the domestic and regional politics of Lebanon, and give a new meaning to the increased and increasingly crippling economic sanctions and even a potential military strike against Iran.  

The economic and diplomatic pressure on the Islamic republic is mounting aggressively. US President Barack Obama continues to sign into law ever-harsher economic sanction on Iran. During her most recent visit to Israel, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has said that her country will “use all elements of American power” to prevent Iran developing a nuclear weapon. Within minutes of a recent attack on Israeli tourists in Bulgaria, Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu accused Iran of involvement in the carnage. “All the signs lead to Iran,” he said. 

In reaction to these and similar threats, the New York Times reports,some Iranian lawmakers have introduced legislation to disrupt traffic in the Strait of Hormuz, as well as “testing missiles in a desert drill clearly intended as a warning to Israel and the United States”.

The move to close the Strait of Hormuz is a futile and belligerent act that will only result in further escalation of hostilities, reaching the point that Israel and Saudi Arabia (and their allies in the United States) have been openly and covertly pursing for a very long time – a regionally orchestrated, US-led, military strike against Iran. 

The widespread propaganda machinery of the pro-Isareli lobby notwithstanding, everybody around the world knows that the US and its regional allies have no case against Iran and are putting pressures on the Islamic Republic over the nuclear issue first to appease Israel (and nothing ever appeases Israel enough) that does not wish even the illusion of a military parity in the region so it can continue to steal more of Palestine with total impunity, and second to divert attention from the unfolding democratic uprising in the region. In alliance with Saudi Arabia and its Gulf allies, Israel is hell bound to divert these democratic revolts to their own benefits. Neither Israel and nor, a fortiori, Saudi Arabia have the moral or the normative (or the political) wherewithal of dealing with open-ended democratic uprisings in the region. Their picking on Iran is part and parcel of a grander strategy to turn the Arab Spring to their benefits. They will fail. 

Where does the Islamic republic stand in all this? It stands to lose. Why? Because the ruling regime in Iran negotiates from a position of weakness. Why? Because it lacks internal legitimacy, and instead of mobilising a mass social base against this treachery it continues to perpetrate even more treachery against its own people. The US and its allies know this and thus take advantage of it. Instead of negotiating behind closed doors with 5+1 or any other such configuration, shuttling from Istanbul to Baghdad to Moscow to God knows where, the ruling regime in Iran needs to negotiate with their own people – attend to their dire needs, relent to their legitimate civil liberties. Instead of closing down the Strait of Hormuz it needs to open the gates of their notorious prisons and free all political prisoners. 

Leaving Iranians to their own devices to deal with a natural disaster is the clearest sign of how terribly the Islamic Republic miscalculates what is in its own best interests – a cliché behaviour among all tyrannies. Instead of turning to Iranians for legitimacy and trust the ruling regime assumes a weakly warring posture against adversaries that are using it to dismantle a transnational revolutionary uprising. All parties opposing this force of destiny we lovingly call the Arab Spring or the Green Movement will lose. 

Hamid Dabashi is the Hagop Kevorkian Professor of Iranian Studies and Comparative Literature at Columbia University in New York. His most recent book is The Arab Spring: The End of Postcolonialism (Zed 2012).