Iran has always denied that it intervenes in the affairs of other countries or that it arms violent organizations in other states. It always demands proof when accusations are cast against it in this regard.
Last week, General Hossein Hamedani, a top commander of the Revolutionary Guards said that his country supplies weapons to “liberation armies,” in the Middle East. “Not only are our armed forces self-sufficient; liberation armies of the region get part of their weapons from us,” he said. And when the body of the Revolutionary Guards speaks, it means that a vital part of the Iranian leadership is speaking. One of the candidates running for Iranian presidency will depend on the Revolutionary Guards and the Iranian intelligence services to win the presidential race as both bodies await the signal of the Supreme Guide of the Islamic Revolution Ayatollah Ali Khamanei. But what if the Supreme Guide endorsed a moderate candidate?
In Iran today, it is common practice that important positions are given to figures from the Revolutionary Guards. It is “The regime’s university that graduates those who excel at protecting that regime, therefore, Mohammed Ali Najafi and Mohammed Reda Aref’s chances [at running for presidency] are limited. Both of them lack backgrounds in security [forces] and the Revolutionary Guards. They both might support presidential candidate Mohammed Baqer Qalibaf (the mayor of Tehran) over the incumbent President of Iran Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
But are there any moderates in Iran?
Iranian Professor Hossein Askari from George Washington University said, “There is a widespread misconception in the West and the Arab world about Iran; [in these parts of the world] people believe that Iranians are ideologues and extremists and they believe this as a result of what they see on the surface. The ideology in Iran is the way it is as a reaction.”
For example, explains Askari, former Iranian president Hashemi Rafsanjani is considered a pragmatic individual, and the strongest and most important figure after Khamanei, “and it is not true that these two are in disagreement with one another; on the contrary, they are very close to each other and coordinate with one another…the conservatives in Iran are conservatives because they have been pushed into a corner.”
Because of his popularity, away from Khamanei’s support, Rafsanjani can be pragmatic. In Iran, he is believed to have the ability to protect economic interests; but he is not a candidate and nor is former president Mohammed Khatami. Rather, both will endorse Qalibaf.
There were news reports this week that current president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was suffering from exhaustion and this comes as no surprise. In the same way that the financial crisis in America will hinder the election of Republican John McCain [in the US presidential elections], the drop in oil prices might pose a problem for Ahmadinejad and hinder his re-election.
Professor Askari explained, “If McCain is elected as president in the United States then the next president of Iran will be Ahmadinejad and the confrontation will intensify. In this case, the countries of the Gulf must decide on how they will face Iran.”
“The West supported the Iran-Iraq war that was funded by Gulf states. Iran overcame this period and doesn’t make mention of Gulf funding of the war but if we are faced with a new confrontation then there will be a new regional war and it will be disastrous,” added Askari. He stated that we should learn from history because when states are faced with internal problems this turns into war and could ignite global conflicts. “If I have problems with somebody, I would sit down with that person [to solve them]. Iran will not accept any preconditions and the West cannot call for negotiations with Iran and set preconditions upon it at the same time. Dialogue means talking and listening.
In the case that Senator Barack Obama is elected, the next Iranian president will not be provocative but could be sold to the Americans as a rational and logical figure. He will be a conservative but more moderate than Ahmadinejad. Qalibaf is the most prominent [candidate] followed by Mohammed Nahavandian, Iran’s Head of Chamber of Commerce, Industries and Mines.
Nahavandian is very close to Majlis [parliament] Speaker Ali Larijani and fell out with Ahmadinejad immediately after Larijani resigned from his position as national security advisor in October 2007. If he confirms his nomination, there is no doubt that he will be supported by Larijani.
Ali Larijani announced recently that he would not run in the presidential race and this was expected. He was [an unsuccessful] candidate in the 2005 presidential race and then was appointed national security advisor, a post that he occupied until he fell out with Ahmadinejad. Larijani comes from a family of Imams and has the trust of Khamanei and is favoured amongst the hardliners. He was recently appointed Majlis [parliament] speaker, which is a powerful position in itself and to gain this position, a relative and companion of the Supreme Guide, Gholam-Ali Haddad Adel had to be removed [from this post]. Perhaps he was chosen for this position because he does not want to be president of the republic. Moreover, it is not in his interest to appear as if he is hopping from one position to another as he still a member of the Revolutionary Guards and he has become a moderate amongst the conservatives.
As for Qalibaf, who cannot be categorised as a reformist, he has never acted in a way that indicates that he is against the West. He runs Tehran and is concerned with the infrastructure, water and electricity even though he has not been able to supply the city with electricity the whole time and Tehran has suffered considerably from electricity shortages. However, the conservatives respect him and he can be considered semi-conservative. But with the US raid on the Syrian-Iraqi border in mind, is it possible that Iran could be subjected to some kind of attack as well?
Professor Askari completely ruled out this idea. He said, “Iran is under no threat militarily. There is no real plan for war on Iran in what remains of George W. Bush’s term as America has economic problems. There are already two costly wars; one in Iraq and one in Afghanistan, and America has problems in its banking system and it will have a serious financial deficit. If it begins a third war its problems will increase drastically.” Askari added, “Iran is approximately three times bigger than Iraq or more, and its population is double that of Iraq and it could carry out operations against Western interests not only in Lebanon but in a number of other countries as well. Therefore, I do not believe that the West wants to launch a war against Iran.”
With the next US administration, the scale of American military presence in the Middle East might decrease but it will not disappear altogether regardless of who will be the next American president. Askari highlighted that Iran has not launched raids against any other state for 200 years: “It is does not look for war but the Iranians want their country to be a key player in the Middle East and considering Iran’s history, it is one of the most important countries in the region and does not want to be isolated.”
There is a reciprocated grievance between the West and Iran in the Middle East. Each side accuses the other of considering and treating the other as a second-class citizen and Iran believes that America interferes in the region much more than Britain did. Iran, with its hope that the American military presence in the Middle East will diminish, is also hoping for a regional agreement and wants economic coordination and cooperation with regional states because this is it what it needs.
But Iran’s dealings with the region are not reassuring of the Islamic Republic’s intentions; rather they provoke fear and rejection of Iran’s orientations and ambitions. Professor Askari said, “The Middle East’s problem is that countries are fighting one another by proxy and the two most important fields now are Lebanon and Afghanistan. If America is expanding its military presence then Iran wants to find a way to confront America.” He asked, “What does Iran want from Lebanon? It wants to win over its sympathisers, particularly the Shia in Lebanon. I know that there are some Lebanese who do not like Iran but Iran wants to protect itself and it sees Lebanon, by virtue of its large Shia population, as a potential ally.” He added, “In the Iraq-Iran war, Syria was Iran’s only ally and I don’t think Iran wants to be in that position again, i.e. isolated from the rest of the region. There is a Shia population in Lebanon and those ruling Iraq today are closely linked to Tehran.”
At the end of the day, in Professor Askari’s opinion, the priority of the next US administration will be the problem of the US economy, and the issues of the Middle East will affect this because they are draining its wealth. Accordingly, Iran should realise that its looming problem is also economic related and that it is not immune as some of its politicians believe.
Finally, Askari said, “Iran delayed making important economic decisions because oil prices were high. Now these prices have dropped and Iran must quickly change its policies. It could have done so gradually over the past few years. If Obama wins [the US presidential elections], Ahmadinejad will not be the next president of Iran but rather, another [figure] will be accepted by the world and the Arabs.”