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Iran: Same tricks

Saudi Gazette Editorial

New political leaders, especially those arriving at a period of political or economic difficulty are often greeted with excessive enthusiasm. The arrival of Hassan Rohani as Iran’s new president is no exception. At his inauguration on Sunday, the man who is continually being billed as “the surprise” victor in the presidential elections seven weeks ago, promised that Iran would seek regional “peace and stability” and would itself be a “haven of stability.”

He went on to speak of “détente” and entering into a dialog with the international community. While emphasizing that Iran would not “kneel down” in the face of threats, he accepted that the US-led international economic sanctions were having a significant impact. This is a very different tone to the aggressive bluster of his predecessor Mahmoud Amadinejad. It would seem on the face of it that Rohani wishes that his country will start talking seriously with the International Atomic Energy Agency and permit proper inspections of its “civilian” nuclear fuel enrichment program.

Yet Rohani’s emollient words need to be examined far more closely. What do “peace and stability” mean when Iran is actively backing the murderous Assad regime? What do they mean, bearing in mind that Tehran has unleashed its loyal Hezbollah militias in support of Assad’s failing forces, and in so doing seriously threatens the peace and stability in Lebanon? Do they mean this deadly meddling to cease? Moreover will Iranian agents stop seeking to stir up unrest in neighboring Gulf states? Will Tehran permit and even encourage Iraq to pursue its own pluralist destiny in which all Iraqi communities are fairly represented? Will it persuade its client politicians in Baghdad that the continued and deepening divisions in the country, can only lead to the regional instability that the new Iranian president has said that he so deplores?

In his speech on Sunday, Rohani gave a big clue as to his new negotiating strategy with the outside world. He said: “Mutual transparency is key for opening doors of confidence.” By this he means that if Iran is to come clean over its “civilian” nuclear program, Israel should be made to do the same. He knows that IAEA inspections would establish beyond any doubt that Israel, with Washington’s connivance and assistance, has long had nuclear weapons. If Tehran’s own nuclear efforts are also found to be military, then the Iranians will offer the quid pro quo of mutual disarmament.

Rohani, or rather the people around Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who wield the real power, are clearly working on two calculations. The first is that by making Israel’s nuclear arsenal pivotal to its own transparency, Tehran will force Arab countries to support it and perhaps soften their hostility. The second is that it is unthinkable that Israel will submit itself for IAEA inspection, or that Washington will oblige it to.

Thus Tehran will argue that sanctions ought equally to be applied to Israel or if Washington refuses this, the crippling sanctions being imposed on its own economy, should be brought to an end. The inevitable stand-off will give the Iranians breathing space to continue with their destabilizing and disruptive policies in the region, sustaining Assad, bankrolling Hezbollah and undermining political cohesion in Iraq. Thus the sensible way to view the arrival of Hassan Rohani as Iranian president is that Tehran is up to the same old tricks, but with a different conjurer.

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