WikiLeaks Cables Fuel Skepticism Ahmadinejad Faces in Tehran
by ALI CHENAR in Tehran
30 Nov 2010 10:22
Will a wakeup call be heeded?
[ comment ] Iranians love conspiracy theories. They use them to explain almost any unexpected and unusual political event. So it is only natural to ask, "What is behind the WikiLeaks cable dump?" For the average Iranian, it is not conceivable that such an enormous volume of official documents could become accessible so easily, particularly as they divulge the secrets of a superpower. They are scratching their heads, trying to figure out why this information is out there. They wonder if there is a message for Iran in these leaked communications.
For one thing, many Iranians are realizing the seriousness of the threat of military action. The reports of talks about aborting Iran's nuclear ambitions via an attack on her nuclear installations have stunned many. The official cables that have been released do not present the military option as the preference of the United States, but they make clear that it is favored and demanded by its allies in the region. According to these documents, Washington has been hard pressed by certain Arab leaders to do something about Iran.
This picture stands in stark contrast to the image President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has been selling to the Iranian people. He has portrayed Iran as a regional leader loved and supported by its neighbors and the Muslim world at large. To prove that Iran is not isolated, he has sought to expand its relationships with its neighbors all too blindly. He is the highest-ranking Iranian official ever to visit the UAE, which contests Iranian claims to three islands in the Persian Gulf. He is also the first Iranian head of government to publicly announce his readiness to resume political relations with Egypt overnight. Both moves were criticized by various political factions, conservatives in particular, as compromising national prestige and dignity.
The WikiLeaks documents also contradict one of Ahmadinejad's major foreign policy presumptions. For most of his two terms in office, he has assured the Iranian public that the Great Satan and its Western allies can do nothing to harm them. Only a fortnight ago, while visiting Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan, he called NATO's members "political pygmies" whose decisions "do not change a thing in the future of the world." He maintains that Iran has never been in danger of military attack by the United States or its allies. This presumption has evidently encouraged many of his most controversial comments. Now it seems that he was very wrong about a very real threat. Perhaps that is the reason behind his strong denunciation of the WikiLeaks document dump.
This much is certain: Ahmadinejad wasted no time in joining the White House in condemning WikiLeaks. He called the released documents an "organized lie" and a "part of American psychological warfare" against Iran. He emphasized that nothing would or could come between Iran and its neighbors.
However, the Iranian president's dismissal of WikiLeaks can not conceal the fact that it has profoundly undermined the credibility of his foreign policy. Most crucially, its latest document release has confirmed the conviction of those Iranian conservatives who have taken the possibility of a military strike very seriously and recommended caution. Their ranks include such prominent figures as Ali Larijani, Majles (parliament) speaker, and Mohsen Rezaei, former commander-in-chief of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and a contender in the last presidential election. Another very important individual has apparently shared their concerns: Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Rezaei and many others have suggested that the large-scale military exercises of recent years were held on Khamenei's express orders to deter a potential strike. The WikiLeaks release may well strengthen the position of Ahmadinejad's critics within the ranks of the conservative camp significantly.
And perhaps that is the message Iran should be receiving, a reminder of the realities of the region -- ancient rivalries, eternal hostilities, ever-impending calamities. In truth, the character of the Middle East is largely unchanged despite the putatively earthshaking events of the past three decades. Threats must be taken very seriously and caution is invariably a wise policy.
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