Wednesday, September 19, 2007

IRAN: State of Denial by Politicians; State of Readiness by the Military

French foreign minister Bernard Kouchner warned that the world should be prepared for war over Iran’s nuclear program. The French premier, Francois Fillon, expressing a shared belief among world statesmen, called the tensions with Iran “extreme.” Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad reacted to the news by saying that he does not take seriously the warning from the French. Earlier in the month, Ahmadinejad had announced that his “mathematical calculations” have convinced him that it would be impossible for the US to attack Iran (Please see the posting here on 3 September). The supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, went a step further and declared during last Friday’s Prayer that the US has already lost the war against Iran.

The reactions from Iran’s military and the Islamic Revolution Guards Corp (IRGC) were the opposite. In response to the French warning, the IRGC announced that it will hit enemy targets within 2,000 kilometers by its Shahab-3 missiles if attacked. A group linked to the guards reported that IRGC has aimed six-hundred Shahab-3 missiles at US military installations in the region and at Israeli targets. The deputy commander of the Islamic Republic of Iran Air Force (IRIAF) also boasted that Iran plans retaliatory air strikes on Israel if attacked. The Iranian defense minister, an IRGC general, said Iran is ready to give various responses to any attack.

The political leadership in Iran has fatefully and continuously told its citizens that an attack on Iran by the US and its allies is impossible and will not happen. They have offered a wide range of reasoning, including the belief that the US is too much bogged down in Iraq, that the US is genuinely afraid of Iran’s response to such attack, that the international pressure and internal political considerations would not allow President Bush to give the go ahead, and last but not least, Ahmadinejad’s mathematical calculus.

At its face, this might seem a tactical move by the leadership to alleviate any fears of attack on the part of population. But this could be a risky move. The leadership needs the popular support if it has any chance of confronting the US. Leaving them in a state of denial on the possibility of any military confrontation in the future, however remote, runs against the Islamic Republic’s own tendency to mobilize the population over foreign enemies and possibilities of war.

The consistency in Khamenei and Ahmadinejad denials of a military confrontation with the US had been compared in the past by this analyst to a “Saddam Syndrome.” They, however, have gone a step further. They are not saying that they would defeat any aggression against Iran; they are saying the chance of a confrontation is zero, period. It seems as though that they have reached their certainty through some form of Estekhareh (asking questions of God and finding the answer in Quran).

The reaction from the military and the revolutionary guards is indeed the opposite. IRGC generals have made numerous interviews in the past few days with Iranian news agencies and leading newspapers warning of a possible attack by the US and Israel. Certain amount of exaggeration and self-aggrandizement notwithstanding, IRGC statements tell a story of real apprehension. It is as though they are telling the people not to listen to the politicians and be prepared for war.

The difference in approach between the political leadership and IRGC might also manifest a more fundamental development in the Iranian politics. The IRGC, already the strongest armed organization in the country and one of the biggest direct players in the Iranian economy, might be vying for political leadership as well in case of an emergency triggered by a military attack on Iran.

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