The Non-Aligned Movement summit in Tehran is a celebration that is only of real value to the Iranian government, which believes that it must improve its image in front of the international community, and most importantly in the eyes of its own citizens who have witnessed three years of continuous damage to the reputations of their president, their Supreme Guide and their political forces. This is something that is unprecedented since the 1979 Islamic revolution. It is commonly believed that Ahmadinejad fraudulently won the presidential elections, whilst the Iranian regime exposed its brutal nature in its dealings with peaceful protests, along with its dealing with regime opponents such as Mir Hussein Mousavi. Lately, the Iranian people have watched Tehran support the Syrian regime whose brutality, crimes and massacres have filled our screens. Whilst today, the government’s nuclear project is strongly hampering ordinary citizen’s ability to buy bread or fuel, even though they ultimately will not benefit from this project.
Despite the fact that the Non-Aligned Movement has been without value for decades, it is facing an important window during which it can reassure the [Iranian] citizens who are concerned about the sanctions, the talk of war and possible strikes by the West and Israel.
The Iranian citizens have reached the point of maturity – not to mention boredom – where they no longer care about the issues that the regime is raising abroad and which compromise Tehran’s ability to fund its own citizens. The Iranian government is financing a confrontation with the West and Israel, whilst also supporting Hezbollah and the Iraqi forces loyal to it. Whilst today, when the government has adopted austerity measures at home, it is lavishly funding the al-Assad regime, which is on the verge of collapse. There is no exaggeration or cynicism in the news that the government has issued directives to the official media to avoid broadcasting images of lavish state feasts and celebrations where large quantities of food are served, as Tehran is well aware that the state of internal frustration with the government has perhaps reached breaking point.
Here, it is natural for one to ask: Why does the Iranian leadership want to continue these battles? Please note that the term “leadership” here is obscure. In the past, the Supreme Guide represented the final authority, whilst certain presidential “partners” – such as former Iranian President Hashemi Rafsanjani – decided the country’s policies and worked out the details of daily life. Today, we are aware that the Supreme Guide remains in place; however he no longer enjoys absolute authority. The Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corp [IRGC] has expanded and become a major player in the decision-making process. President Ahmadinejad has also lost much of his power. He has been publicly humiliated on several occasions, and has been forced to appoint some ministers he did not approve of, whilst also being prevented from appointing some of his own supporters to ministerial positions. Despite Ahmadinejad’s numerous threats, and even after he temporarily stopped taking part in government decision-making, the situation has remained the same.
The question that must be asked here is: Why do these figures — the Supreme Guide, the president and the IRGC officers – want to take the path of confrontation with the international community? Why does Iran continue to carry out costly regional projects in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Sudan, Yemen and Afghanistan? What do the Iranians want from such projects which only serve to empty the country’s coffers and place it in a state of confrontation with stronger states? Even if we believed in the hypothesis that Iran’s military nuclear project – despite its cost – represented an insurance policy for the regime against any future threats, why is Tehran pursuing confrontation with other countries in the region?
The only justification is that we are faced with a form of “old school” leadership, which believes in clash of cultures and regimes, despite the fact that the end of the Cold War has proven the fallacy of such theories. Competition today is economic, scientific and cultural. As for military confrontation, this will only benefit arms dealers. Everything that the Americans and Russians fought for over the past 40 years seems absurd today. Countries such as Vietnam, Cuba, China, the United States and Russia now enjoy comprehensive and peaceful relations. However in Tehran, just as in some Arab states, there are leaders who still live according to the old realities, holding fast to conspiracy theories and the belief that military and security gains constitute the ultimate victory. However a country like South Korea can threaten major markets thanks to its technology, making far greater gains than North Korea – which like Iran – is spending all of its revenue on military projects and failed policies.
If the Iranian leadership had given up its political and military ambitions, they might have built the strongest country in the region. They might also have been able to impose their regional presence without paying a single dollar to Hezbollah, al-Assad or the Huthi rebels in Yemen. No doubt the Iranians will one day come to this realization, but perhaps after it is too late, as occurred to Saddam Hussein in Iraq, and as is happening to al-Assad today.