External pressure is creating political discord inside Iran
The recent campaign by the United States and its allies in the Gulf to increase the political, economic and military pressure on the government of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is beginning to show some results. Internal Iranian opposition by rival political factions are threatening Ahmadinejad’s hold on power, as they fear of economic collapse, confrontation with the West and the very existence of the Islamic Republic may be the results of his reckless policy of confrontation with the West.
The U.S. began ratcheting up the pressure on Iran last fall by finally confronting the Iranians over its involvement in the Iraqi insurgency, al Qaeda and with the Shia militias. Iranian agents of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps’ Qods Force were detained in raids in Baghdad and Irbil in late December and early January. In the Baghdad raid, the third in command of the Qods Force was detained, and in both raids, evidence linking the Iranians to al Qaeda, Ansar al-Sunnah, as well as the Sunni insurgency and Shia militias was confiscated. al Qaeda and Ansar al-Sunnah have been responsible for murdering numerous Shia in mass suicide bombings.
To counter the Iranian threat in Iraq and internationally, the United States has issued orders to kill or capture Iranian agents working in Iraq, according to The Washington Post. “The White House has authorized a widening of what is known inside the intelligence community as the “Blue Game Matrix” — a list of approved operations that can be carried out against the Iranian-backed Hezbollah in Lebanon,” reports The Washington Post. “And U.S. officials are preparing international sanctions against Tehran for holding several dozen al Qaeda fighters who fled across the Afghan border in late 2001. They plan more aggressive moves to disrupt Tehran’s funding of the radical Palestinian group Hamas and to undermine Iranian interests among Shiites in western Afghanistan.”
Iran’s involvement in Afghanistan has recently become the focus of news reports. AFP noted Iran’s interference in Afghanistan and efforts to incite violence between Sunni and Shia factions in the western city of Herat. The New York Post noted “at least two pro-Taliban warlords, Mullah Jalaleddin and Haji Akbar, have visited the Iranian city of Mashhad to coordinate future tactics against NATO forces with the Islamic Revolutionary Guard.”
Internationally, the pressure on Iran has increased. The United Nations Security Council, after months of deliberating, finally placed sanctions on Iran’s nuclear program, ordering “all countries to stop supplying Iran with materials and technology that could contribute to its nuclear and missile programs,” as well as freezing assets. The United States Treasury Department Office of Foreign Assets Control designated Bank Sepah, Iran’s fifth largest state run bank, as a “facilitator” in Iran’s nuclear program. The United States has also been working to convince countries to stop investing in Iran’s oil and other critical industries.
Saudi Arabia’s actions with respect to Iran have been particularly of interest, as their influence on the price of oil has a direct impact on Iranian cash flow. “The Saudi oil minister has steadfastly refused calls for a special meeting of OPEC and announced that the nation is going to increase its production, which will send the price down even farther,” reported NBC News. The belief is the Saudis have fired the first salvo in an oil price war with Iran.
The Saudis have directly warned the Iranians to keep out of “Arab’s affairs.” “We speak with Iranian about Arab’s affairs,” said Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Affairs Minister Prince Saud al Faysal. “We think that it is dangerous to interfere into our affairs. Therefore, we express to Iranians our concerns about their influence in the Arab world. It is logical. But when other countries speak to them about our problems, that confer legitimacy to the Iranian interferences in the Arab world. This is why we are not favorable. We hope that Iran will be a good neighbor, that the Iranians will be a part of the solution and not the problem. It is what we repeat to them: you do not interfere with our affairs.”
Internal political pressure against Ahmadinejad have risen since his party lost important elections for the Assembly of Experts and in the municipal councils. There is a real fear Ahmadinejad’s policies are leading to economic collapse and open confrontation with the West. Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s supreme leader, snubbed Ahmadinejad by declining a meeting just one week after his newspaper criticized Ahmadinejad’s aggressive posture on the Iranian nuclear program.
Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri, the one-time successor to Ayatollah Khomenei, the founder of the Islamic Republic, criticized Ahmadinejad’s policies. “It is necessary to act with reason with the enemy and not provoke it. Extremism does not do people any good,” said Montazeri. Hashemi Rafsanjani, the former president who lost to Ahmadinejad in 2005, “believes Iran may have to yield to western demands to suspend uranium enrichment to save the country’s Islamic system from collapse.” Rafsanjani is also the head of a political block seeking to impeach four of Ahmadinejad’s ministers, and possibly Ahmadinejad himself.
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