IRAN'S lashing out at the West over the book ``Satanic Verses'' underlines that it is still in the midst of a violent and unpredictable revolution that will make it hard for the West or the Soviet Union to build stable ties with Iran, US specialists say. Ayatollah Khomeini still sees himself as defender of the faith and wants to proselytize his version of pure Islam in the face of immense economic costs, says Gulf specialist James Placke.
``Many people with a pro-Iran tilt would like to pretend that this revolution will become the middle-class revolution which they had wanted to replace the Shah,'' says Anthony Cordesman, a Washington specialist on the Gulf region. ``But this isn't that revolution.''
``Who knows where this will go next?'' Mr. Cordesman asks. ``Historically, observers of revolutions have been notoriously wrong. Here we have a dying autocrat who has had his divinely inspired war end in defeat. His future reputation will undeniably be downgraded. He is surrounded by survivors faced with a deeply flawed view of religion and economics, which can't cope with reality. Eventually, that leadership will have to change its ideology or it will go,'' he predicts.
In the interim, Cordesman, Mr. Placke, and others foresee a tumultuous period in Iran where bursts of pragmatism are interrupted by minor international adventurism and bouts of infighting. Thousands of real or imagined opponents recently have been executed, while leaders squabble over how to rebuild a shattered economy and war machine.
Cordesman says one of the biggest flaws of Iran's revolution is that it never figured out a concept of economic development. Iran expert Shaul Bakhash says Tehran's leadership has not figured out how to absorb soldiers into civilian life. Nor has it come up with a strategy for getting back to the unfulfilled promises of economic development and a better life for the poorer classes.
Cordesman estimates economic mismanagement and the war with Iraq have cost Iran more than $300 billion in direct costs and lost opportunities. Placke adds that Iran's big moneymaker, the oil industry, is in serious need of Western technical assistance to restore and maintain production.
In the last six months of the war with Iraq, Cordesman says, Iran lost 40 to 60 percent of its major weapons holdings. Iranian estimates reportedly put the military rebuilding cost at $15 billion to 25 billion.
``Iran can't conceive of starting the war again for five years or so, and only at tremendous costs,'' a well-placed US specialist suggests. ``So far, Tehran has not made any breakthrough on a major arms system. Reports of a possible Chinese aircraft sale have not materialized.''
``Logic suggests that Tehran is terrified that if hostilities resume, it would be outgunned,'' Mr. Bakhash says.
He says Tehran is frustrated that the West has not helped push the negotiations with Iraq or condemned Iraq forcefully for its use of chemical arms against Iran. This, Bakhash says, is probably a factor behind Iran's interest in an arms deal with Moscow.