Thursday, March 23, 2006

The View from Tehran and other news briefs

Ilan Berman, American Foreign Policy Council: Iran Democracy Monitor No. 4
Iranian strategists appear to be taking an increasingly optimistic view of their country's geopolitical situation and regional influence. At a military planning conference in mid-March, Yahya Rahim Safavi, commander of Iran's elite Pasdaran, told policymakers that, with the United States bogged down in Iraq and Afghanistan, Iran is poised to become the natural inheritor of the Persian Gulf. According to Safavi, America's "defeat" in Iraq and Afghanistan is attributable to the "pure Islamic ideology" its opponents. Moreover, the biggest beneficiary of U.S. failures over the past four years might just be the Pasdaran, which according to Safavi has now become "the most influential military power in the Middle East" and "a powerful entity in the region." (Tehran Siyasat-e Ruz, March 16, 2006) READ MORE


Iran has emerged as a top focus of the revamped National Security Strategy of the United States of America. "We may face no greater challenge from a single country than from Iran," the policy brief, which was released publicly by the Bush White House on March 16th, outlines. Of most immediate concern to U.S. policymakers are Iran's runaway nuclear ambitions. The policy paper warns that current diplomatic efforts underway by the United States and its allies to curb Iran's atomic efforts "must succeed if confrontation is to be avoided."

But, the white paper makes clear, America's concerns regarding Iran extend far beyond the nuclear issue. "The Iranian regime sponsors terrorism; threatens Israel; seeks to thwart Middle East peace; disrupts democracy in Iraq; and denies the aspirations of its people for freedom," the brief charges. "The nuclear issue and our other concerns can ultimately be resolved only if the Iranian regime makes the strategic decision to change these policies, open up its political system, and afford freedom to its people. This is the ultimate goal of U.S. policy." (White House, March 16, 2006)


As the international crisis over Iran's nuclear ambitions continues to deepen, signs of strain are beginning to show within the Islamic Republic's political system. In its annual message marking Norooz, the Persian New Year, the Islamic Republic's Reformist Party, Jebheye Mosharekat, has warned that the current nuclear stand-off with the international community could be detrimental to Iranian independence and sovereignty. "Now that East and West have common interests, access to nuclear technology for Iran is not possible unless by peaceful means," the statement says. "Because Iranian officials have chosen an aggressive foreign policy agenda, the U.S. has fulfilled the old dream of uniting the world against the Islamic regime." In response, the party has proffered an alternative foreign policy - one that includes a cessation of nuclear activities, renewed dialogue with the international community on the nuclear issue, and an abandonment of factionalism within the Iranian regime. (, March 18, 2006)


Faced with growing international pressure, the Iranian regime has renewed its emphasis on a familiar foreign policy tool. In early March, Iranian officials hosted the leaders of an array of Shi'ite militant groups in Tehran. The list of "dignitaries" received by the Islamic Republic reportedly included firebrand Iraqi cleric Moqtada al-Sadr and Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, Secretary General of Lebanon's Hezbollah militia.

At the same time, Tehran is also believed to be employing the services of another terror player. Hezbollah mastermind Imad Mughniyeh, one of the world's most wanted men, is believed to have traveled with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to Damascus, Syria in January 2006 - and to have facilitated a one-day meeting there between Ahmadinejad and top leaders of Hezbollah, the Palestinian Islamic Jihad and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command. (Tehran Rooz, March 16, 2006; London Jane's Intelligence Review, March 17, 2006)