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The Great Troublemaker: Reflections on the Iranian Question - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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In his first major foreign policy speech, France’s new President Nicolas Sarkozy singled out Iran as the centre of what could become the biggest crisis on the international scene.

What Sarkozy did not do, however, was to try to find out why this could be the case.

Like most other political leaders and analysts, Sarkozy singled out Tehran’s nuclear programme as the cause of the looming crisis.

That, however, is both too much and not enough. It is too much because it assumes that the very fact of a country acquiring a nuclear arsenal- supposing that Iran is really doing that- is enough to transform it into a troublemaker. However, we know that at least eight countries already have nuclear weapons and no fewer than 20 others have the technical and sci3entific base needed to produce them whenever they so wished. Thus, the simple fact of Iran going nuclear should not be a cause for concern .It is in that context that Sarkozy’s analysis is not enough. For, he does not pose the real question that is: what kind of Iran might end up with nuclear weapons?

Therese Delpech, a leading French researcher and expert in nuclear weapons, poses the question in her new book.

In a sense, this book is a sequel to Delpech’s essay “Iran and the Bomb” published in French and English last year. In that book, Delpech examined the international response to the Islamic Republic’s violations of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty that triggered the conflict with the International Atomic Energy Agency and thence the United Nations.

In this new book, Delpech tackled the more complex issue of the motivations of the current leadership in Tehran. Why did the “Supreme Guide” Ali Khamenehi adopt President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s more radical stance? And why is Ahmadinejad prepared to risk sanctions or even war to maintain the Islamic Republic’s nuclear ambitions on course?

The common view in the West is that President Ahmadinejad is a hothead novice suffering from an acute degree of hubris and thus acting irrationally.

Deplech shows that, far from being irrational, Ahmadinejad plays a cool power game designed to exploit opportunities offered to the Islamic Republic by divisions among Western powers, disarray among Arab states, and the general weakness of state structures in the region.

Delpech writes: ” Contrary to most countries that try to oppose its projects, Iran has a precise idea of what it wants: becoming the major power in the Middle East of the 21st century. Tehran’s regime, emerging from the hart of the most hard-line Iranian conservatives is banking on a major regional upheaval that transcends traditional distinctions between Persian and Arab or between Shiite and Sunni.”

Deplech continues: “To extend its influence and its powers of coercion, Tehran accords a major role to nuclear arms. But the Iranian presence also extends underground, {affecting} all zones of crisis in the region from Iraq and Lebanon to Central Asia and the Caucasus.”

Thus, Delpech portrays the Islamic Republic as an opportunistic power trying to extend its hegemony over weaker neighbours.

That, however, is no more than a partial account of the situation.

History has witnessed many opportunistic powers that have been accommodated within the existing balances of power. The trouble with the Islamic Republic is that it does not want just a place at the high table. It rejects the high table and the banquet beyond it. It dos not seek to make a deal with other powers; its aim is to impose its will on others. As an ideological power, the Islamic Republic could not be wooed with such traditional inducements as access to resources and markets, favourable trade terms, security arrangements, and even influence and prestige. It knows that unless it makes the region like itself it will have to end up looking like the region. And that would mean the death of the Khomeinist ideology.

In fact, without the Khomeinist ideology, Iran is the natural “regional superpower” thanks to its population, history, natural resources, markets and cultural potential. The root cause of the current crisis, as Delpech shows, is that under its present leadership Iran wants to dictate rather than lead.

President Bill Clinton realised that fact when he offered Tehran a “Grand Bargain” under which the US and the Islamic Republic would, in effect, divide the Middle East into zones of influence in the context of a mini-Yalta style accord. At the last moment, Tehran refused the deal because Khamenehi and his support base, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), saw that it could lead opening up Iran to global trends that would, in time, destroy Khomeinism as it destroyed Stalinism and Maosim.

By all accounts, the Islamic Republic is the odd-man out in the region. Almost all nations in the Middle East, Central Asia an Caucasus are at various stages of integration into the global system dominated by the United States and its European and Japanese allies. Almost all are allies of the US and most even host various levels of American military presence. Even such supposedly anti-American regime as that of the Baath in Syria hosts a US Embassy plus an FBI office and, no doubt, a CIA presence. Many countries in the region, including seven Arab states have established ties with the North Atlantic Treaty Organiation (NATO) while Turkey is a full-member of the alliance.

All regional countries, including those that once pretended to be Socialist, have adopted the new global ideology of free-markets capitalism.

The only exception to all that is the Islamic Republic that, according to President Ahmadinejad, has developed an alternative world vision that it intends to propagate throughout the world.

Delpech is pessimistic about the outcome of the current showdown between the Islamic Republic and the United Nations. The present leadership in Tehran will not stop unless it is stopped. And that could only mean war.

Amir Taheri

Amir Taheri

Amir Taheri was the executive editor-in-chief of the daily Kayhan in Iran from 1972 to 1979. He has worked at or written for innumerable publications, published eleven books, and has been a columnist for Asharq Al-Awsat since 1987. Mr. Taheri has won several prizes for his journalism, and in 2012 was named International Journalist of the Year by the British Society of Editors and the Foreign Press Association in the annual British Media Awards.

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