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Radiant Future

by Ulrich Ladurner Thursday, Aug. 24, 2006 at 7:35 AM

"At the beginning of the 20th century, Germany was Europe's leading power but we made wrong decisions and experienced a total disaster.." (Joschka Fischer at the Teheran Center, August 2006)


In Iran, confrontational foreign policy is increasingly criticized. However the regime will not be moved

By Ulrich Ladurner

[This article published in: DIE ZEIT, 8/10/2006 is translated from the German on the World Wide Web,]

While Hezbollah militia rockets are fired on Israel and the Israeli army intensifies its attacks on Lebanon, Akbar Mohammedi died last week in the Teheran Evin prison after a long hunger strike. A sinister connection exists between Mohammadi’s death and the war in Lebanon. The louder the war noise in the neighborhood, the more severely the regime in Teheran can strike without taking losses.

Mohammadi sat in custody since 1999. At that time thousands of students took to the streets and demanded more democracy. He had been one of the leaders. A man named Mohammed Chatami held office as president of the land and promised his people more freedom. 1999 was a year of hope for Iran.

Seven years later Mohammadi is dead. In Iraq, a civil war rages, in Afghanistan a guerilla war and in Lebanon a war of bombs and rockets. The holocaust-denier Mahmud Ahmadineschad is Iran’s president and tightens the screws. The human rights organization of Nobel Prize winner Schirin Ebadi was prohibited. 2006 is a dark year for Iran and the region.

The worst thing is that the Iranian leadership does not see it this way. On the contrary, it imagines itself on the right course. The supreme religious leader Ali Chamenei speaks of a “new Middle East with Iran at its center.” The megaphone of the regime, the newpaper Keyhan writes: “The new Middle East is now born amid pain and suffering. America, Europe and Israel must now pay and suffer. […] “ The great self-confidence of a regime resounds; the regime wants to soar to the hegemonial power in the Middle East.

This is certainly not a peculiarity of the Islamic republic of Iran. The secular Shah also saw himself as the decisive power in the Middle East. He spent his oil billions on modern weapons. His neighbors should fear Iran’s military power. The Islamic revolutionaries from Teheran want to dominate the region and “wipe out Israel” in the words of its president. This is also not new. Revolutionary leader Ajatollah Chomeini also promised this. However he could not accomplish this. He had no nuclear bombs.

In the beginning of August 2006 Ali Laridschani, the chief negotiator in nuclear questions, rejected the ultimatum of the US that Iran stop uranium enrichment by August 31. “We will expand nuclear activities where necessary,” Laridschani said. He did not threaten to break off negotiations. All “activities” should occur under the supervision of the International Atomic Energy Authority (IAEA). “We must continue negotiating.”

Despite these seemingly calming words, Iran moves more and more into the center of the storm provoked on September 11, 2001 with every new crisis. The tones become increasingly shrill and the messages more urgent. Former German foreign minister Joschka Fischer gave an address last week at the Teheran Center for Strategic Research. He made a dramatic comparison between Iran and German history. “At the beginning of the 20th century, we were Europe’s leading power but we made wrong decisions and experienced a total disaster. What was our mistake? We yielded to our hegemonial ambitions based on our military power and our prestige. But we underestimated Europe’s anti-hegemonial instincts.” If you strive for hegemony, you and the whole region will be the losers.

This message is understood even within the so-called conservative circles of the regime. Hassan Rohani, who led nuclear negotiations a year ago and certainly is not a reformer, writes in a provocative article: “The time of our revolution was the founding and building of the Islamic state. We cannot go back to the origin of the revolution. This is the root of our differences.” That is a clear criticism of the confrontational foreign policy pursued by Iran since Mahamud Ahmadinedschad’s assumption of office. It explains the conflict within the conservative camp. Some want to export revolution; others want to consolidate the Islamic state. In other words, they want as much peace “outside” as possible to tackle the many problems “inside,” first of all unemployment, inflation and the threatening erosion of power in a population deeply disappointed with its policy. However Ahmadineschad follows the opposite strategy. He seeks as much “unrest” as possible “outside” to enforce his authoritarian programs “inside” and create a scapegoat for his own shortcomings.

The third group that would change Iran into a democracy is oppressed. Whoever is not silenced aggravates the war in Lebanon. Al Charmenei castigates the “evil wolf Zionism” and accuses the “blood-sucking Zionists” of mass crimes. He describes Hezbollah as a shining example of resistance and its head sheik Nasrallah as a “heroic leader.” Any critical remark becomes a political risk in this extremely poisoned and militarized climate. The mouthpiece of the government, the newspaper Keyhan, describes the conflict in Lebanon with barely concealed satisfaction as a “war against democracy.”

The fight over Iran’s future seems to have moved inside the circle of power. The “pragmatists” seem to have grasped that Iran’s poker game in the region could go wrong, as Joschka Fischer said. In a letter, no body less than Haschemi Rafsandschan, for a long time one of the most powerful men in the country, warned young clerics not to “shake the fist” too much because this fist could hit the wrong people. Iran’s own destruction could also be described with this metaphor.

The domestic political conflict essentially determines Iran’s foreign policy, whether the nuclear question, relations to Hezbollah in Lebanon or relations to the West in general. Analysts like Teheran professor of international policy, Hermidas Bavand, think the regime is slowly changing into a military dictatorship. That is not an accident but the product of a concrete development. At the beginning of 2003, there were many voices in Iran that warned against a war in Iraq. The consequence was a far-reaching militarization. Ahmadineschad consistently enforced the system with his own uniformed radicals. What does the region look like? The region is teeming with soldiers, militia and war slaves.

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