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Iran's nuclear threat: is it real, or a domestic diversion?

By Arash Falasiri - posted Monday, 18 June 2012

Before meeting in Baghdad in May, both Yukiya Amano, Director General of IAEA, and Iranian officials declaredthat they had reached "a new framework for cooperation to remove ambiguities and address IAEA questions". The only solid agreement between Iran and the P5+1 (the UN Security Council permanent members and Germany)is for the continuation of meetings in mid-June in Moscow. Contrary to most analyses, it seems that what is forcing Iran to revise its nuclear policy is its fragile domestic situation rather than the ongoingmilitaryrhetoric by the United States and Israel. Ironically, military tension has always assisted the Islamic regime to apply more suppression on internal dissidence. In other words, the Islamic regime has always used the "possibility" of military threat to spread fear among its respective citizenry and manage its interior issues.

Currently, however, the Iranian regime is dealing with two distinct issues: (i) the political tension between decision makers, and (ii) a plethora of socioeconomic crises that could conclude in national unrest. It is for this reason that Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, decided toshift the world's concerns about Iran to its nuclear program and simultaneouslysuppress domestic opposition.

Contrary to most reports, the clash between Iran's supreme leader and its president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, has become quite transparent in the last thirteen months. This is evident not only in their rhetoric, but also from their growing disagreement on a political level. While in the past few months the supreme leader has attempted to impose his will on the government, recently Ahmadinejad declaredthat his administration will suspend those laws that are not of benefit to his government.


Since the recommencement of nuclear negotiations during mid-April in Istanbul, interior conflict has elevated to a greater level. Last month an editorial articlein the government's official newspaper, IRAN, accused the supreme leader's allies of sending a different message to the West in coverage of the negotiations. Despite the fact that Ahmadinejad's government has been elected and shaped by the Revolutionary Guard and backed by the supreme leader, Khamenei has nonetheless attempted to curtail his influence in both interior and exterior circumstances.

The ongoing tension between decision makers has filtered down into Iranian society. On the one hand, the socio-political situation has spurred resistance from the Iranian people. Iran maintains the highest rate of execution and imprisonment of journalists in the world. As Ahmed Shaheed, the UN human rights advisor, reported, hundreds of Iranians have been sentenced to execution for acts and gestures construed as oppositional. For many, sentencing has taken place without court hearings or access to lawyers. On the other hand, the economic crisis has increased discontent among the people and placed the Islamic state in a critical situation.

The amalgam of middle class socio-political opposition and economic dissatisfaction among the working class has led the supreme leader and his allies to send a new message to the West – this is the major reason for an apparent strategy shift by the regime. Through this shift it seems that the Islamic state is readying itself to both reduce the conflict between top level decision makers and suppress domestic opposition in the name of possible war. The new strategy may also mislead the world in its concerns about Iran's nuclear program, at least for a period of time. Ironically, Khamenei statedin a speech last week that the regime will never trust the West.

While the past five years of UN sanctions on Iran have been more detrimental to Iranian society than the regime itself, new term sanctions by Western countries targeting Iran's oil industryand the international financesystem have put the regime in an even more fragile condition. According to a reportby the central Bank of Iran, a three-fold decrease in the value of the Iranian currency over the last two months has resulted in a 156% increase in the cost of living.

The Iranian Labour News Agency's(ILNA) hasreportedthat more than 80%of workers live below the poverty line. During the last ten months alone, 44,525 workers were dismissedfrom factories and more than 56% of factories declared bankruptcy. Over 1,200 workers' protests have been reported. Human Rights Watch has stated that in 2012, the Iranian working class and its activists face more suppression than ever before. The Islamic parliament has declared that the inflation rate at 40% has reached its greatest height since the Revolution and that the rate of unemployment is nearly 23%. Independent research suggests that these figures are in fact much higher.

The Islamic regime, faced with domestic discontent on a massive scale, may benefit from the resonating Israeli threat by allowing it to overshadow internal conflict. While sending a new and more amicable message to the West of reducing the "actual" military threat, they retain the rhetoric of war in order to take advantage of any effects that the "threat" may have on the people. By keeping the Iranian people under the shadow of war, the regime can sidestep its internal responsibilities for just a little bit longer.

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About the Author

Arash Falasiri is studying philosophy at Sydney University and has been journalist for more than 12 years in Iran. Arash also won the national prize of the best journalist of year in 2001.

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All articles by Arash Falasiri

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