While the Iranian leadership is publicly exhibiting strength in the face of increasing sanctions, behind the scenes some cracks are appearing within the regime.

Tehran is struggling to deal with the consequences of new sanctions that were implemented on Saturday against Iran’s banking, shipping, and industrial sectors. The sanctions were originally passed back in October, but did not go into effect until Saturday.

On Sunday, Iranian Press TV reported that Iranian Industry, Mines and Trade Minister Mehdi Ghazanfari responded to the sanctions saying: “sanctions have caused an economic advantage for the production sector, and we should use this opportunity in the best way.”

But in an article published in The National Interest by Ray Takeyh, of the Council on Foreign Relations, Takeyh argues, “an intense debate is gripping the Islamic Republic’s corridors of power.”

He goes on to claim that the dissent not only comes from the more moderate reformers, but also now from right-wing circles.

He quotes the head of the Basij militia, Gen. Muhammad Reza Naqdi, as saying that “if the United States behaves properly we can negotiate with it.”

This came after a similar statement made in November by Mohsen Rezai, the former head of the Revolutionary Guards.

Takeyh goes on to conclude that years of sanctions are “beginning to bear fruit” and that this pressure is opening up an avenue for a possible deal.

However, it is also possible that such speculation is part of a continued pattern of Iranian diplomatic delaying tactics that are buying the Islamic Republic time to get closer to attaining nuclear weapons.

In line with this strategy, or possibly concurring with Takeyh’s opinion, the right-wing Iranian publication, Jomhuri-ye Eslami, stated that continued negotiations were a “positive step that should be continued.”

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Professor Ze’ev Maghen, head of the department of Middle East studies at Bar-Ilan University, believes the Iranians are just playing games with Western powers.

“All supposed indicators of an increased willingness on the part of the Iranian leadership to palaver with the West regarding the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program must be taken with a Dead Sea’s worth of salt,” said Maghen.

“It takes only about a quarter of a decade of historical perspective to understand that the Iranians always play this game: They intransigently thumb their noses at America and at the international sanctions and provoke the Western powers to the very brink of action, and then in the 11th hour, when the hammer is about to fall, they make a small, barely visible gesture towards accommodation...and the West goes wild with optimism and hope, and ratchets down the threat.

“Then the Iranians enter into a short-lived “dialogue” which (as planned) never leads anywhere. This happens again and again, and the Western penchant for naïve enthusiasm seemingly never wanes. And all the while the Iranian centrifuges are spinning.”

But as usual, mixed messages continue to come out of Iran as President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad defiantly stated on Sunday, as quoted by the Kuwaiti Arab Times, “They thought Iran’s economy would break down, but it did not. Iran is engaged in a smart economic war with the enemy.”

The Western backed Arab Gulf states latest response to the Iran threat came Monday, as Al-sharq Al-awsat reported that the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) will hold a two-day summit that will focus on Iran security issues.

Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud Al Faisal criticized Iran in the lead up to the conference stating, “Iran is using the circumstances to interfere in Arab internal affairs and we would have understood their stand if it is for the good, unfortunately it is spreading division.”

All of this comes after a senior Iranian commander said earlier in December that Israel is Iran’s “longest-range target.”

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has presented himself as the strong security candidate in the upcoming elections in January, stating on Saturday that Iran will be the central issue of his government if he is reelected.

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