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A New Disciple for Nechaev - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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“When you find yourself in a corner, provoke the adversary to change the situation.”

This piece of advice comes from Nechaev, the 19th century anarchist and ideological father of several generations of European anarchists and provocateurs.

His advice has been heeded by many politicians and activists who, with no credible program to offer, tried to hide their ideological nakedness behind a fig leaf of provocation.

The so-called developing world, including our own region has also seen a number of provocateurs, almost always ending in disaster.

There was Jamal Abdul-Nasser who provoked a war that he knew he could not win. We had General Yahya Khan of Pakistan who dragged his country into a war with India, knowing that the result would be tragic for his side. The Ugandan despot Idi Amin provoked a war with Tanzania just as the Khmer Rouge tyrants triggered a military conflict with Vietnam, both knowing full well that they were committing political suicide. The Serbian tin-pot despot Slobodan Milosevic proved equally suicidal when he refused to understand that Europe, indeed the world as a whole, had become a different place. Moe recently, we had the monster of Iraq, Saddam Hussein, who dug his own grave with a policy of deliberate provocation.

It now seems that Nechaev may have acquired an Iranian disciple in the person of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. From the start of his presidency less than five years ago, Ahmadinejad decided to dig himself a hole by scrapping an agreement that his predecessor Muhammad Khatami had reached with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) regarding a temporary suspension of Iran’s programme for enriching low-grade uranium. Iran did not, and still does not, need such uranium. Most Iranian experts agree that spending vast sums of money and provoking conflict with the outside world to acquire a stockpile of enriched uranium makes no sense unless the regime’s ultimate aim is to build an arsenal of nuclear weapons.

Thus the Khomeinist regime’s latest decision to scrap the latest talks with the IAEA and start producing a stockpile of higher grade enriched uranium, up to 20 per cent, is nothing but a deliberate provocation. Having dug a hole for himself and the country, Ahmadinejad has decided to continue digging even deeper.

The latest provocation means that the United Nations’ Security Council must ignore five of its own resolutions all passed unanimously, and surrender to Mr. Ahmadinejad or to meet Tehran’s challenge with stronger measures that could ultimately lead to military action.

Tehran’s latest move has drawn negative responses even from Russia and China, the only two of the permanent members of the Security Council that had so far tried to placate the Islamic Republic through diplomatic moves.

Tehran may have also lost the opportunity offered it by the advent of barrack Hussein Obama as President of the United States. Obama was the only high rank American politician prepared to bend backwards to accommodate the Khomeinist regime. Today, even he cannot continue peddling the illusion of a settlement with the Khomeinists without risking a Jimmy Carter-style fate. Thirty years ago, Carter ensured his own political destruction by trying to woo the Humanists right to the end. It is not certain that Obama would deliberately repeat that tragic-comic experience.

Ahmadinejad’s claim that Iran needs the 20-per cent enriched uranium for peaceful domestic does not stand to close examination. Iran’s only atomic plant is the 43-year old reactor at Amirabad in Tehran. Built by the Americans, the “safe lifespan” of the reactor ended in 2003. Gholam-Reza Aghazadeh, then head of the Iranian Atomic Energy Agency announced that the plant would be decommissioned by 2006, three years later than its “safe life-span”.

Ahmadinejad decided to keep the reactor going until the end of this year, although many Iranian experts warn that it may break down in an accident and cause a catastrophe in the heart of the nation’s capital.

In any case, the reactor has enough fuel for another four years. Thus, Iran does not need higher-grade uranium for that purpose.

Even supposing that Tehran decides to keep the dying reactor going for a few more years, the uranium being enriched at Natanz would still be useless for Amirabad. Iran does not have the technology and the industrial base needed to transform the enriched uranium into fuel rods. Te uranium enriched in Iran would still have to be shipped to one of the seven countries that could transform it into the needed fuel rods.

There is one more curious fact. Tehran has decided to enrich twice as much uranium up to 20 per cent as the Amirabad plant needs, at the rate of five kilograms a month.

Ahmadinejad’s decision to reassert his reputation as a professional provocateur may have two other reasons unrelated to the nuclear issue itself.

First, he may have moved to pull the carpet from under the feet of those within the regime who have been trying desperately to negotiate a compromise with the IAEA by accepting the Russian-sponsored idea of exchanging Iran’s low-grade uranium for higher grade material from Russia and France. Such a compromise would have defused the situation and silenced those who call for tougher sanctions or even military action against the Islamic Republic. In fact, at a Conference in Germany, Ahmadinejad’s own Minister of Foreign Affairs, the hapless Manuchehr Mottaki had announced Iran’s acceptance of the Russian formula less than 48 hours before being overruled by his boss in Tehran.

A second and more sinister reason for Ahmadinejad’s provocative move may be related to his growing isolation within the Iranian political scene.

Starting this week and continuing until the Iranian New Year on 21March, the opposition intends to keep the pressure on by street demonstrations, workers’ strikes and efforts to persuade the regime’s coercive forces to change sides.

By provoking a more intense conflict with the outside world, Ahmadinejad may be hoping to provoke Iranian nationalistic sentiments and divert from the current domestic political crisis. If that is the case, Ahmadinejad has made yet another political miscalculation. The Iranians are not naive enough to abandon their democratic aspirations in the name of national unity behind a policy that could only lead to disaster for their country.

Rightly or wrongly and in my opinion the letter rather than the former, Ahmadinejad has lost the confidence of the Iranian people. He has dug himself two holes deep enough to bury a dozen political careers. The trouble is that he keeps digging.

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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