27 Sep 2009

Iran and the West, new escalation

The situation with Iran is changing and growing more complex before our very eyes.A confluence of events happened in the last few days and the situation must be reassessed accordingly.

First, United States President Barack Obama has announced the cancellation of plans by the previous administration to install a missile defence system in eastern Europe with the cooperation of Poland and the Czech Republic. Concurrently, Russia seems to have shifted its stance towards Iran, as can be gleamed from President Dmitri Medvedev’s statement to the UN General Assembly. Russia now seems to be in favour of sanctions against Iran, although Medvedev said that sanctions rarely meet their desired goals.

Given that these two events represent shifts in the policy of these two administrations, it is easy to imagine that they are part of a deal struck between the two presidents.

With respect to Iran, any hopes that the government might have been humbled by the ongoing unrest and crisis ensuing from the election controversy seem to have been crushed by recent statements renewing Iran’s rhetoric against Israel and the West.

Very recently, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad stated that Iran was not an enemy, but rather an opportunity for the US. Not long after, he used the occasion of Al Quds day to once again question the holocaust while Tehran’s streets were filled with opposition protesters contesting the government’s legitimacy.

Any hope the international community was entertaining that its investment in Iran’s divisions would produce concessions was idealistic from the start, but the recent events certainly prove that Iran is not backing down and these actions do not bode well for its future.

In addition, the most recent statement by Iran’s director of nuclear programme states that the country has added new centrifuges so that it can enhance its ability to enrich uranium. Despite the fact that Iran has disclosed a new reactor in Qom – as is required by the regulations of the IAEA – there is still an inherent lack of trust in the international community. It would seem, then, that the problem Iran now faces is not a matter of regulations and transparency, but the international community’s concern with its nuclear capabilities.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu recently made a trip to Moscow, and Tel Aviv did everything it could to keep it a secret. Initially it was said that Netanyahu was visiting secret defence sites in Israel, but it soon came to light that he had travelled to Moscow. Analysts are now speculating that Netanyahu’s trip aimed to quietly but directly address suspected shipments of missiles from Russia to Iran.

If so, this throws a new spin on Obama’s and Medvedev’s recent actions; Israel’s intervention may have caught Russia red handed in illicit arms deals going directly to Iran. Regardless, it is clear that the Israeli government is using all its diplomatic strength to influence the international community to commit to tougher action against Iran.

It is likely that the change of tone on Russia’s part is partly due to Israeli pressure. This change represents a huge shift in the balance power, which is now tipping against Iran.

All these things are happening on the eve of a meeting between Iran and the five permanent members in the UN and Germany, which will take place early next week. Despite reconciliation overtures made by Obama, Iran’s leadership is continuing down a path of confrontation.

If the United States and Russia continue their movements towards disarmament, this will increase pressure on Iran to stand by its statements calling for universal application of the Non-Proliferation Treaty. This increased and coordinated pressure is likely to enrage Iran further, as history has shown Ahmadinejad doesn’t like feeling he is being singled out.

This escalation will lead to new Security Council sanctions, most likely in the form of petroleum and financial sanctions.

Although diplomatic options will remain open to Iran, the sanctions to come are the first step of a broader and harsher international approach to Iran. If Ahamdinejad’s administration sees countries that were once neutral or allies switch over and join the pressure against it, he will likely react in a hostile manner, and that’s exactly what the situation doesn’t need.

Jordan Times, 28 September 2009

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