How Iranian nuclear scientist's assassination will affect Tehran's strategy
In Iran's eyes, the assassination of another Iranian nuclear scientist is proof that the West's carrot-and-stick policy has become solely punitive – giving Tehran little reason to compromise.
(Page 2 of 2)
So Ayatollah Ali Khamenei issued a warning that Iran would “answer threats with threats.”Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
“Iran is not a nation to sit still and just observe threats from fragile materialistic powers which are being eaten by worms from inside,” Khamenei told military college students in Tehran on Nov. 10. “Iran will respond with full force to any aggression or even threats in a way that will demolish the aggressors from within.”
Since then, Khamenei has stayed true to his promise. When the US and Israel staged or announced military exercises in the neighborhood, so did Iran, unveiling new rocket and missile capabilities.
When the Obama administration said it would target Iran’s central bank and oil flows with fresh sanctions, some Iranian officials warned they would respond by closing the Straight of Hormuz – the most important single chokepoint for global oil supplies. (Senior Iranian military officers later backtracked.)
And as the US, Israel, and the European Union (EU) stepped up the pressure and sanctions began to bite, Iran repeated that its goal was producing peaceful energy – not bombs – and then enhanced its efforts earlier this month, when it not only began enriching uranium at a new, deeply buried facility, but produced its first prototype fuel rod.
“[Khamenei] has made very clear that he’s not going to back down,” says Farideh Farhi of the University of Hawaii. In recent days Iran’s sacred “guide” stated that Iran was engaged in a crucial battle, comparing it to those of centuries ago when Muslims fought nonbelievers.
She says hard-line Iranian leaders are operating on the basis of dangerous assumptions.
“Threatening to close Hormuz may sound insane, but attacking Iran by the United States or Israelis is even more insane, so they operate on the presumption that this will not happen,” says Ms. Farhi, who has closely followed Iranian politics for decades. Other assumptions: that Iran can withstand any attack; that the US is weak; and that the economically weak EU is also politically weak.
The Obama administration has also held to its own premise that Iranians don’t give in to pressure unless it is a lot of pressure. The US has “operated under that assumption without realizing that we have reached a point where the policy of sticks and carrots has become only a policy of sticks,” says Farhi. “There is absolutely no incentive for Khamenei to do anything else. At this point, what do they get out of compromise?”
That is the question Iran’s leaders will be asking themselves ahead of fresh global nuclear talks – the first in a year – expected soon in Turkey.
“There is a danger: You can actually talk war into happening,” says Ehteshami, coauthor of “Iran and the Rise of its Neoconservatives.”
This year is full of uncertainties that are shaping the agenda, he says. Iran’s March parliamentary election – the first since the 2009 presidential election that sparked mass protests, has been described by some as the “most important” since the 1979 Islamic revolution.
And in the US presidential election, where being tough on Iran is a no-lose policy, Republican candidates are openly talking of war.
“It is how these have come together in such an unfortunate fashion,” says Ehteshami, “that makes the situation very volatile and dangerous.”
IN PICTURES: Iran's military might
Get daily or weekly updates from CSMonitor.com delivered to your inbox. Sign up today.