Everything I can see tells me that, one way or another, this is going to be the year of Iran. Yet everything I know tells me not to expect the expected, for it is a big world and there are so many other potential sources of surprise. Nevertheless, we can work only with what is visible, whether we are journalists or statesmen; ever watchful for things visible but unnoticed.
Western media are for all practical purposes banished from Iran, which may in fact be an advantage, for while the news coming out of the country is not getting the attention it deserves, it is nevertheless coming unsifted through the belief systems of western reporters. We (I am western myself, and struggling against the same myopia) tend to simplify a conflict in the manner of an old western movie—“white hats” versus “black hats”—and then try to keep score on the analogy of football. I would not entirely condemn this approach, it does allow a certain understanding, but the problems begin when the black and white hats get confused in the usual mud-laden field of greys.
In the case of Iran we have two “games” going, both remarkably mucky. In the first, Iran is an international player, almost certainly the leading state sponsor of Islamist terrorism worldwide, and the leading supplier to all factions willing to target our soldiers and their allies in Afghanistan and Iraq. The Iranian regime is the principal patron of both Hezbollah in Lebanon, and Hamas in Gaza, and the proud developer of a nuclear weapons and missile delivery program that may give it the ability to repeat Hitler’s accomplishment, by annihilating about six million people in Israel.
It should go without saying that any representative government of Israel will be looking for a way to destroy those nuclear facilities, and men of goodwill everywhere should be looking for ways to help them. That Iran already has missiles that put much of Europe and Asia in range, provides us with an additional motive.
That whole issue is coming to a head. Recent revelations about, for instance, nuclear facilities buried in a mountain near Qom, and many other indications, suggest the Iranian nuclear program is far ahead of what western intelligence agencies want to believe. Iran is close to announcing itself as a nuclear military power, and I wouldn’t be surprised if that happens this year.
In the second “game,” Iran is in domestic chaos, with huge and increasingly violent public opposition not merely to the controlling faction within the ruling elite, but to the entire system of theocratic governance that was imposed on the country after the fall of the Shah in 1979.
Our attention—including, from what I can see, the attention of western intelligence agencies—is diverted by the “Green Movement” under the semi-formal leadership of the two crookedly-defeated candidates from last June’s presidential election, Mirhossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi. They are figureheads, who began as stalking horses for the regime itself. In reality, a much larger and more effective underground leadership is emerging, that has evolved since the failed uprising of 1999.
As I hinted above, don’t listen to western “analysts” except those who speak Persian and have direct experience in the field. Listen instead to what the Iranian opposition itself is telling the world outside Iran. A continuously smouldering revolutionary fire is burning under the surface in that country, which bursts into quite visible flames wherever and whenever the regime stops pumping water.
And again, I would not be in the least surprised if the regime collapsed in the course of this calendar year. It is mortally injured, and this is only a question of time. So either way—“Iran gets nuclear weapons,” or, “The ayatollahs fall”—it would seem that Iran must top the headlines, and if not this year, next.
Since the fall of the Berlin Wall, we have become accustomed to expecting very frightening foreign threats, including that of some potential nuclear holocaust, to go away of their own volition. We have no idea how much luck and grace was involved in the peaceful dissolution of the Soviet empire.
It might seem that the Iranian revolution is good news, for even with nuclear weapons, an Iran not under the rule of heretical, visionary, Shia-Islamist men of dubious sanity, would not be such a threat. For the question is not nuclear weapons, per se; we’ve survived more than two generations with plenty of nuclear weapons in the world. The question is rather, whose hands are on the triggers?
Two games playing, and the resolution of either will be world-historical news. But what if instead it goes to “game three”?
What happens if the crazed Iranian regime realizes it is falling, believes its own apocalyptic rhetoric, and resolves not to go down without, say, taking Israel with it?