Wednesday, October 24, 2012

The Middle East's Cold War

Sean Ewart
An American military vessel in an Israel port for a joint training mission.
In June 2013 Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad will step out of the lime light and, most likely, into political exile.

The past few years have seen the relationship between the President and the religious leadership in Iran sour. Most recently, President Ahmadinejad was barred from visiting his former press adviser, Ali Akbar Javanfekr.

Javanfekr is serving 6 months in jail after publishing an article critical of the Islamic law that dominates the nation.

This slight against the President, however, is further evidence of a larger, more important trend with regional, and global, relevance.

Ahmadinejad has fallen into disrepute following several unpopular moves (at least, unpopular to the religious oligarchy that dominates the nation).

Last year Ahmadinejad was called out for briefly taking over the Iranian Oil Ministry.

The President is also taking the blame for the economic downturn in Iran. While nearly everyone agrees that the strict sanctions placed on Iran by the international community have hurt its economy, Ahmadinejad is being singled out for mismanaging the crisis.

What is clear is that Ahmadinejad and the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, have no love for each other. The Supreme Leader is the real power in Iran, controlling the military, the courts, and practically speaking, everything else.

But Ahmadinejad has positioned himself as a “man of the people” and had gained a substantial following when he was elected, with the support of the Supreme Leader, in 2005.

Even now, as his power is slipping, Ahmadinejad is attempting to position himself as a leader in global politics.

None of this is particularly new.

But this political drama is unfolding in the little acknowledged context of the Syrian civil war that has seen Iran and Saudi Arabia, longtime enemies for economic, political, and religious reasons, exchanging blows.

With Saudi Arabia and Iran locked in a proxy war in Syria that threatens to spill over into Jordan, Lebanon, and Turkey, the region looks set to fall into large scale regional warfare.

The United States, already with troops stationed in Jordan, has been undergoing combat training with the Israel Defense Force in advance of theoretical missiles being fired at Israel by Syria, Iran, Gaza, and Lebanon.

Add to this new nuclear tests in Russia, an ally of Iran, and the strains on the regional balance of power are evident. 

There are nations armed with nuclear weapons surrounding the oil rich Middle East, backing different sides in an ongoing conflict, and they stray dangerously close to exposing the rest of the Middle East to the War in Syria. It is a cold war, a standoff.

In the midst of this, Iran is balancing on a razor's edge. While Ahmadinejad is taking the rap for Iran’s economic crisis for the moment, as the economy continues to tank, blame seekers will soon find themselves looking elsewhere.

Nationalism and external pressures go hand in hand and in Iran the conditions are ideal.

Iran is being attacked in Syria by Saudi Arabia and hemmed in by Europe, the United States, and their ally Israel. It is having its economy crushed by sanctions and its quest for nuclear energy (and bombs) is becoming more difficult by the day.

Diplomatic solutions are looking increasingly implausible.

But history has proven time and time again that international partnerships are only forged when common goals are clearly identifiable; there is simply too much to be lost in a war between the various parties involved in the Middle Eastern standoff.

Perhaps the logic of deterrence is our best hope for peace.  

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