Analysis: Beginning of the end for the ayatollahs?

Analysis Beginning of t

In mid-June, about a week after the presidential election in Iran and at the height of the protests on Teheran's streets, Mossad chief Meir Dagan appeared before the Knesset's Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee and predicted that the riots would not escalate into a revolution. In the short term, Dagan was right. The protests that began after Mahmoud Ahmadinejad stole the election from Mir Hossein Mousavi did not immediately topple the 30-year-old Islamic regime. But months later, there are those in Israel's defense establishment who believe that Dagan was way off the mark and that the protests that began in June and reignited last week are all part of a process that will ultimately spell the end for the ayatollahs. On Monday, Defense Minister Ehud Barak appeared before the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, and like Dagan, he also spoke about the demonstrations. He, however, learned a lesson from the Mossad chief and refused to predict any outcomes. Instead, Barak used the opportunity to criticize the world, which he said "is not doing enough." Compared to June, world leaders are now doing much more. For starters, they are denouncing the Islamic regime's violent response to the protests. The White House strongly condemned the "violent and unjust suppression" of civilians in Iran, and British Foreign Secretary David Miliband hailed the "great courage" of the opposition. In June, the condemnations and declarations of support were not so quick to come. When the demonstrations first began, US President Barack Obama said that while he was "troubled" by the regime's violent crackdown, "We respect Iranian sovereignty and want to avoid the United States being the issue inside of Iran." This time around, there was no respect. This likely has to do with the frustration in the US and Europe with Teheran's rejection of the generous offers made by the six world powers in their dialogue with Iran in October. Instead of accepting the offer to outsource their enrichment of uranium, the Iranians announced plans to build new nuclear facilities - not exactly the response Obama was hoping for. Israel is, of course, closely following the riots in Iran. Some officials in the defense establishment believe that this is proof of what a few have said over the years - that investing in Iranian opposition groups would do more for stopping the nuclear program than any diplomatic effort. Others believe that either way, the nuclear program will likely not be affected. "This is a clash between radicals and ultra-radicals," one veteran observer of Iran said on Monday. "This is not about accepting Israel or the US but about obtaining more freedom, spurred on by the death of Grand Ayatollah Montazeri and the beginning of a 40-day-period of mourning known as Ashura." While the regime is still far from falling, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps is understood to be under immense pressure due to the riots. On Monday, in a rare comment on domestic issues, Brig.-Gen. Masoud Jazayeri, deputy head of the Iranian military, slammed the protesters and tried to downplay their significance. At the same time, though, the Revolutionary Guards declared a state of emergency. According to one senior Israeli official, this demonstrates genuine concern with the riots and what they could potentially lead to. The Revolutionary Guards is also believed to have a lot to lose. Not just a military force, the corps is the largest commercial enterprise in Iran. The loss of a political power would also mean the loss of billions of dollars.