Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Killing Two Hawks with One Stone

Nazila Fathi has an interesting - and timely - piece in today's New York Times about the increasingly strained relationship between Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. The article suggests that A-Jad could be on the outs with Khamenei, which would almost certainly prove fatal for his political future (with March's elections looming and his popularity already on the wane). Of note in Fathi's piece is the effect that the recently released US National Intelligence Estimate had on the hawks' position in Iran (note the similarities to the US counterpart):

There are numerous possible reasons for Mr. Ahmadinejad’s loss of support, but analysts here all point to one overriding factor: the United States National Intelligence Estimate last month, which said Iran had suspended its nuclear weapons program in 2003 in response to international pressure. The intelligence estimate sharply reduced the threat of a military strike against Iran, allowing the Iranian authorities to focus on domestic issues, with important parliamentary elections looming in March.

“Now that Iran is not under the threat of a military attack, all contradictions within the establishment are surfacing,” said Saeed Leylaz, an economic and political analyst. “The biggest mistake that Americans have constantly made toward Iran was adopting radical approaches which provided the ground for radicals in the country to take control.” [...]

Liberal commentators, here and abroad, have long argued that hard-line policies in the West only strengthen hard-line politicians in Iran, and conversely that lowering the threat level enhances the position of moderates. With conservative politicians who supported Mr. Ahmadinejad in 2005 increasingly turning into his fiercest critics, and with Ayatollah Khamenei saying recently that Iran’s lack of contacts with the United States “does not mean that we will not have relations indefinitely,” the pundits would seem, for now, to be on the right track.

Unless something could be done to untrack that momentum. The diminishing fortunes of the respective Iranian and American hawkish sets does certainly add an interesting backstory to the recent showdown in the Strait of Hormuz - as discussed yesterday on this site. There is a definite possibility that one or more groups was/is trying to, once again, ratchet up tensions in order to reassert relevance and influence.

Today brings word that the US military is claiming that it has - and will soon release - audio and video of the incident. If actual events unfolded as described by Pentagon spokesmen in recent days, then it would militate in favor of interpreting the incident as a ploy by Iranian hardliners trying to reclaim the public's support heading into the impending elections. Such footage wouldn't necessarily provide dispositive proof, but it would certainly lend credence to that read of events.

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