Analysis: Iran elections won't affect nuclear drive

Khamenei even more extreme on nuclear issue than Ahmadinejad, experts say.

By OREN KESSLER
March 5, 2012 02:03
3 minute read.
A man looks at a newspaper in Tehran

A man looks at a newspaper in Tehran R 390. (photo credit: Raheb Homavandi/Reuters)

 
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Iran’s latest elections will have a negligible effect on its nuclear drive and foreign policy, analysts said Sunday after candidates close to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei routed rivals affiliated with President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Eliezer Tzafrir – head of the Mossad’s Iran bureau on the eve of the 1979 Islamic Revolution and a former prime ministerial adviser on Mideast affairs – said the results are most significant in the Iranian domestic arena.

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“The elections are relevant only in terms of internal squabbles within the regime,” Tzafrir said.

“Everyone says Khamenei and his cronies are more extreme than Ahmadinejad’s camp. I’m not sure that’s true... Ultimately this regime is made up of zealous, messianic fanatics whose view of the world is one the free, Western world simply isn’t familiar with.”

The Iranian regime is obsessed with the West, he said, Israel and America in particular “as a rotten, failed and impotent civilization that won’t do a thing, and therefore Iran can and must continue on its nuclear path.

“I say this somewhat jokingly, but Ahmadinejad is good for Israel. Why? Because he talks like Hitler, and the world understands the significance of what he’s saying,” he added. “Others in the regime conceal their goal of wiping Israel off the map.”

Tzafrir said most Iranians – around 80 percent, in his estimation – oppose the regime. With the economy in a tailspin and international sanctions mounting, he predicted it is a matter of time before Tehran’s theocratic regime is pushed out of office.

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“Unfortunately, Iran will probably get the bomb before then,” he said.

Prof. David Menashri – president of the Academic Center of Law and Business in Ramat Gan and founding director of Tel Aviv University’s Center for Iranian Studies – said this week’s election results were essentially known ahead of time.

“This contest was waged solely between the current ruling elite,” he said. “It will be very hard for Ahmadinejad to operate over the next year and a half or so that he has left. Nonetheless, he is a man who is full of surprises and doesn’t give up easily.”

Menashri agreed that for all his combative rhetoric, Ahmadinejad is more amenable to compromise with the West than is the supreme leader.

“The force spearheading Iran’s anti-American policy – and its rejection of the US attempt at dialogue after Barack Obama was voted president in 2009 – was first and foremost Khamenei,” he said. “It’s true Ahmadinejad often makes messianic, apocalyptic statements, but it would be easier to reach an understanding even with the Revolutionary Guards than with Khamenei.” He added that since replacing Ruhollah Khomeini as supreme leader, Khameini “has been forced to be holier than the pope, who in this case is Khomeini.”

Fars news agency on Sunday quoted the head of Iran’s army as saying “all options are on the table” in confronting the country’s enemies.

“The armed forces...remind the enemies that they, graced by the Almighty God and backed up by the people’s huge support, are prepared to take all options against ill-wishers, aggressors and intruders,” the agency reported, adding that the army chief “called on Washington and Tel Aviv to abandon warmongering statements against Iran.”

Menashri said there is still time for Israel and the West to pursue nonmilitary means of preventing a nuclear-armed Iran.

“Iran today is a weak country, both vulnerable and isolated. Its economy has been hard hit from sanctions; its currency has been devalued 40 percent in just the last several months,” he said. “The military option is one nobody wants – not Iran, the US or Israel, except maybe a small group of people in each country.”

Still, he said, the parties are acting as though “the world is running toward that option. I fear this rhetoric will lead leaders into a corner.”

Tzafrir said he hopes the Obama administration is genuine in insisting “all options” – including military – are on the table in confronting Tehran’s nuclear program.

“The United States is expected to lead the world, and we can only hope it meets that responsibility,” he said. “But if it does not, there will be no alternative than for Israel itself to strike.”

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