The Iranian Paradox
By Yisrael Ne'eman
Supposedly Iran is going up in flames as demonstrators call for the overthrow of Supreme Islamic Council leader Ayatollah Khamenei and President Ahmedinejad in the latest round of continuing disturbances sparked by the fraudulent June 2009 elections. This time a coincidence of events, the death of opposition cleric Ayatollah Montazeri and the advent of the Ashura holiday brought mourners and demonstrators out into the streets of Iran's main cities in violent protest against the government. Putting everyone into a martyrdom mood was the Ashura commemoration of the death of Hussein (who according to Shiites was in line to lead the Muslim faithful) in the Battle of Karbala (680 CE) at the hands of the Caliph Yazid. This led to the Sunni - Shiite split and is "celebrated" by processions where blood is drawn from one's forehead to symbolize the massacre of Hussein's followers.
Many westerners have been expecting the Iranian regime to collapse over the years. In Israel certain Iran "experts" made this claim on and off for over two decades. One must recall that Iran is no longer solely an Islamic Republic but a hybrid Islamic/military dictatorship. The military, Revolutionary Guards and the Basij security forces are loyal to the regime, benefiting financially from their status as state guardians. The question is whether they are alienated by Khamenei and Ahmedinejad and what responses they would consider. For instance should there be a coup against the very top leadership in the name of reform without damaging the existing power structure the religious, political and military elite would remain intact and there will be very little change.
Closer to Israel the Hamas officially celebrated its "victory" over "the Zionists" in last year's "Cast Lead" conflict despite the lack of reconstruction in Gaza. North of the border Hamas officials were consulting with Hezbollah leaders in Beirut when a bomb killed two Hamas members in the Dakhia neighborhood headquarters of Hezbollah Sec. Gen. Hassan Nasrallah. It is not clear who was the target of the assassination attempt. Hezbollah continues to be a state within the Lebanese State, outgunning that nation's army.
The Iranian demonstrations may very well be speeding up the clock towards a confrontation with Israel. Should the Khomenei/Ahmedinajad regime feel threatened enough they will need an outside enemy. Hamas needs to keep things calm until the prisoner exchange for Gilad Shalit is completed but afterwards the continuing questions of reconstruction and what gains were achieved as a result of last year's conflict will continue to surface. A further Hamas worry is the wall/barrier (dug tens of meters deep) being erected on the Egyptian side of Rafiah in an effort to cut off Hamas contraband smuggling. The true Egyptian (and Israeli) objective is to strangle the Islamist regime. In Lebanon Hezbollah is a minority in the government and cannot expand its influence without at least a partial military option, whether directed towards internal pro-Western factions or against Israel. Hezbollah needs constant conflict to prove they are a player to be feared.
The more fluid the situation in Iran, the more unstable the whole Middle East becomes. All three Islamist players are heavily armed and very dependent on their security forces to retain their power. Should the Iranian regime feel itself weakened there may be a decision to "use it or lose it" against Israel, the West, the Arab Persian Gulf oil producing regimes such as Saudi Arabia and Kuwait or any mix of the above in an effort to consolidate support while doing as much damage as possible. Because of their dependency on Tehran and their own internal struggles both Hamas and Hezbollah can be expected to see themselves as fully committed to any Iranian timetable presented. Financially and as allies they are tied to Iran and have little choice.
Paradoxically, the ultimate deadline for an Iranian move against Israel may be set by the level of success of the "reformist" street demonstrations nation wide and not by the pace of Ahmedinejad's nuclear arms development program.