The Islamic Republic of Iran is in protection mode; its mere existence depends on protecting its nuclear sites and maintaining Bashar al Assad’s regime in Syria. Now, the possibility that Assad’s regime will fall, together with the intensification of sanctions against Iran that were implemented early this month, have politically and economically isolated the Iranian regime to a point where the only way out is for it to create its own global diversion through military provocation.
Currently, three snowballing events against the backdrop of mounting Western pressure on Iran and failed negotiations at the United Nations Security Council 5+1 talks have, and continue to limit, Iran’s political and economic flexibility, even if the regime’s saber rattling propaganda declares otherwise.
First, sanctions are further crippling the already weak and crumbling Iranian economy. Both the regime and the people of Iran are already feeling the intense economic pressure as the prices of basic goods have skyrocketed and the value of the rial currency has plummeted. Should Iran refuse to stop enriching uranium, additional sanctions will be implemented, as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has publicly stated.
Second, the probable fall of the Assad regime and even its current deterioration are undermining the axis of survival created between the two countries, thereby challenging Iran’s relationship with Hezbollah in Lebanon and its strategic geopolitical status in the region.
And lastly, oil prices continue to decline and Iran’s oil output is at the lowest recorded level in the last 20 years, both Iran and Syria are becoming further weakened both economically and politically. Prospects seem bleak. OPEC projects that global oil demand in 2013 is expected to slow to 800,000 barrels a day from 900,000 barrels a day in 2012.
A regional escalation would be the ideal distraction to take global pressure off Iran’s nuclear agenda and prevent harm to and dissolving of Assad’s regime.
This is the same strategy that the Iranian regime used in 2006 when fear that the International Atomic Energy Agency was going to transfer the country’s nuclear portfolio of violations to the United Nations Security Council led to the kidnapping of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit by Islamic Jihad, with the assistance of Hamas on the Gaza border.
This was then followed by the kidnapping of two Israeli soldiers on the Lebanese border. These events took Iran’s nuclear proliferation program out of the international spotlight in exchange for an intense military standoff between Israel and Iran-backed Hezbollah in Lebanon.
Now, a politically and economically cornered Islamic Republic suffering from the latest implementation of targeted sanctions, a weakening of the Assad regime and further economic deterioration of both Syrian and Iranian regimes, is vying for a similar escalation that is not too far away.
An alternative to provocations that will ultimately and inevitably lead to a large-scale military showdown in the region is for the regime to fold. In its 32 year reign, the Islamic Regime surrendered twice before when it was brought to its knees by foreign entities; once in 1988 when the father of the Islamic Revolution in Iran, Ayatollah Khomeini signed a ceasefire with Saddam Hussein sealing off a long and bloody 8 year Iran-Iraq War, and again in 2003, the Islamic Republic suspended its nuclear program fearing American military presence in neighboring Iraq and Afghanistan at the time.
Iran will opt for conflagration over surrender in the coming months. The pressures are high, yet the circumstances of 1988 and 2003 are absent. More importantly, the Islamic regime in Tehran now boasts the unwavering support and encouragement of Russia.
Russia has openly supported both the Iranian and Syrian regimes at a time when the tension between Iran and the west coincides with a growing strain between the U.S. and Russia. The regimes in Tehran and Damascus enjoy the support of Russia while Russian President Vladmir Putin has positioned himself to use Iran and Syria to strategically advance Russia’s standing vis-à-vis the U.S.
The final element that makes a provocation in the coming weeks even more likely is the significant build-up of U.S. military presence in the Persian Gulf, originally intended to counter Iranian threats to close off of the Strait of Hormuz. Iran responded by firing a test-fire missile exercise, launching the “Grand Prophet 7,” which can reach up to 1300 km, enough to reach Israel and the Gulf states. Tehran’s message to the U.S. is that they will not be undermined or weakened by Western intimidation. Now, with U.S. presence in the Gulf, a global military conflict of catastrophic proportions could come from the slightest brush of an elbow.
We must assume the Iranian regime is sufficiently rational in understanding that whatever damage they could cause to the regional and western front, they will also suffer immensely. Following that premise, one is tempted to believe that their current conduct is only an exercise of extreme brinkmanship strategy, built on the assumption that President Obama, focused on his re-election, and Europe, as its historical record has proven, will back down first.
Lisa Daftari is a journalist and commentator who specializes in counterterrorism, Middle East and Iranian affairs. For more, visit her website: www.LisaDaftari.com.