ישראל נאמן | Lectures, Articles, Tours: Israel | Mideast onTarget | Elliot Chodoff & Yisrael Ne'eman | Iran Holds the Key to the Middle East 20.2.11

Iran Holds the Key to the Middle East

 20 February 2011

By Yisarel Ne'eman

Two months ago no one could have imagined the ousting of Presidents Ben Ali of Tunisia and Hosni Mubarak of Egypt. To many the Middle East seems to be a tectonic plate shifting in unpredictable directions. At the moment there are hopes in both Tunisia and Egypt of moves towards a democratic system. Yet it is not known how many favor a true democratic system where parties win power in one election and then relinquish it upon losing the next. In a true democracy the people are loyal to the system and their country more than they are to any specific political party whether it be left, right, religious or secular. All this remains to be seen.

Demonstrations and riots have erupted almost everywhere – Algeria and Libya in North Africa with Morocco said to be on the way, Yemen, Jordan, even Syria and the Persian Gulf kingdom of Bahrain. Pres. Ahmadinejad and Ayatollah Khomenei's Islamic council were gloating upon the fall of the Tunisian and Egyptian regimes, both close allies of the United States. Yet taking a page from the Egyptians and Tunisians discontented Iranians took to the streets in an attempt to topple the Shiite Khomenist regime.

In each case the situation is somewhat different yet there is one common denominator at the outset of the challenge to those in power – that being the initial response. Although there were deaths, neither the Egyptian nor Tunisian governments could allow for a large scale slaughter by their security forces. Certainly Bahrain, Morocco and Jordan are in the same boat because like the other two they are aligned with the West and particularly the US, where those in power would lose favor with their democratic patrons should they put down "the people" with such harsh measures. In itself such a move could oust them from office. The Iranian regime knows no such limitations and fully agrees with Libyan leader Muammar Qaddaffi's "zero sum game" approach demanding full defeat of opposition forces, whether democratic or not.

Although there appears to be an uprising, there is very little reporting from Iran. The Iranians will deal with any challenges as they have since June 2009 – threaten and then use massive violence, not only by the police but by the basij militia force made up of young men fiercely loyal to the Islamist regime. Closing down social networks and arresting their leaders would not only disrupt but deter further protests. The Iranian regime is also not one detached from the people, it has its power base among the more rural less educated and draws strength from the lower middle and lower classes. They continue to enjoy the support of the bazari (merchant) middle class. The regime and its supporters are at odds with the educated secular urban populations, viewing them as a deadly enemy and consequently cannot be considered "detached" from the populace. There is a large difference between being detached from the people and being in conflict with certain sections of the population.

Quietly Iran is expanding into eastern Iraq asserting its influence over the Shiites as the Americans disengage. This involves the best agricultural lands and major oil producing regions in the country. In Lebanon Iran is on the verge of solidifying power through Hassan Nasrallah and the Hezbollah. The fundamentalist Shiite Hezbollah threatens violence and uses it whenever necessary and although a minority in the Lebanese political landscape they know that to gain and retain power one must use all the force necessary. They have even attained Christian and Druze allies through threats and the exercise of force. To add fuel to the fire the demonstrations in Bahrain are by the majority Shiites against their own Sunni monarchy. Iran could not have hoped for more of a bonanza as America's allies are shaken in the Middle East while simultaneously Shiism is on the offensive against the Sunni regimes. Following a well thought out imperial policy with certain possibly unplanned bonuses rolling in, the Iranian regime can be expected to have little time or patience for those who demand secularism and democracy.

More than anywhere else, everyone should be looking towards Iran. Radical Shiism is doing its best to penetrate the Sunni Muslim world either through low level combat and threat of attack as evidenced in Iraq and Lebanon, or through supporting civil unrest in Bahrain – not for democracy as said to be demanded by the demonstrators but for expanding hegemony or through a direct alliance as is evidenced with Hamas in the Gaza Strip. Adopting certain cultural and theological roots from the ancient Persian religion of Zoroastrianism many see the world as a continual battle between good and evil. These are absolutes with little room for debate or compromise. Challenges to Khomenist power are categorized as originating from the evil secular West led by the Europeans, Americans and Zionists. This is a zero sum game where Khomenism must triumph whatever the cost.

The Iranians can be expected to use much more force accompanied by mass arrests, continual torture and executions to repress any challenges to their regime. They need not worry about Western criticism while enjoying a true power base among much of the populace.

The talk of reforms, democracy and individual human rights is very significant in the Middle East today and particularly as it affects the Arab world. Many are discussing the potential rise of the Muslim Brotherhood, not an event to be dismissed or downplayed, however present Middle Eastern security is predicated much more on what initiatives are taken by the Shiite rulers in Tehran. Like it or not Iran is the major player in the region. Their first step will be to eliminate any internal challenges. To do this as swiftly and efficiently as possible the regime must invoke massive sustained violence. Should the Tehran regime fully crush the opposition the Arab Muslim Middle East will be looking at something very different than internal debate and disturbances over democratic values.