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Hobson’s choice for Iran

Pressured at home and abroad, the Iranian regime’s scope for action is severely limited.


The headquarters of the Medieval Moslem sect known as the “Assassins” (from the hashish they ingested before going forth to murder) was at the top of a mountain in what is now Iran, with a secondary base in what is now Syria. The Assassins withstood numerous attacks for a century and a half until they were literally obliterated by the Mongols in the thirteenth century. The leader of the Assassins was popularly denominated “The Old Man of the Mountain,” and Osama bin Laden would have been an appropriate modern successor to that title.

Al Qaida, ISIS, Hamas, Hezbollah, Islamic Jihad and their like are worthy successors to the Assassins. Unlike their predecessors they have a state sponsor–Iran. The ayatollahs, however, are in serious trouble for the first time since the eruption of public discontent following the fraudulent reelection of Ahmadinejad in 2009. In quick order the US destroyed the Syrian chemical warfare installations, an Iranian drone in Israeli air space was shot down; the US withdrew from the infamous “deal” (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action) and reinstated the pre-deal sanctions; Israel revealed a half ton of secret Iranian nuclear records stolen from their hiding place by the Mossad; Iranian rockets fired at Israel in response were all intercepted or fell in Syrian territory; in retaliation, Israel attacked and destroyed numerous Iranian bases and other assets in Syria; the US approved the attack and said that in case of war it would unconditionally and effectively support Israel; after a visit by Prime Minister Netanyahu to Moscow President Putin of Russia declared himself neutral as to the Israeli attack and promised not to send S-300 anti-aircraft missile systems to Syria.

On the domestic front, the Iranian currency is collapsing; inflation is rising to hyper-levels; drought continues to scourge large swathes of the country; unemployment, especially among the young, continues to increase; demonstrations, which began in January, continue in dozens of Iranian cities, and open rebellion continues in Baluchistan, Arabistan and Kurdistan, which together represent about a quarter of the population.

In the face of all this, the Iranian government is confronted with a depressing array of choices:

It can attack Israel. If it does so, Israel will massively retaliate, destroying Iran’s physical infrastructure and perhaps also its nuclear facilities.

It can order Hezbollah and the Shiite militias operating in Syria to attack Israel from Lebanon and Syria. The Israeli response would be massive and devastating. Saudi Arabia and the UAE might well take advantage of the chaos to send agents iinto Arabistan to stir up trouble. They might also invade Qatar and overthrow the regime there.

It can do nothing, other than verbally, in which case it will be shamed before its own people and before its Sunni enemies. Reimposed sanctions will make a bad economic situation even worse and in the case of increased public and ethnic unrest much of the Revolutionary Guard is off fighting in Syria and thus not available for domestic repression, or to confront the possibility of an army-led coup d’etat.

Hobson’s choice indeed. There is really only one choice and that is to do nothing much and hope for the best. Foreign Minister Zarif going off to beg the Europeans not to abandon the deal or reapply sanctions is the result of that. The modern-day assassin sects may shortly lose their state sponsor, either because of regime change or because of regime pull-back from exposed positions.

German companies have already taken note and begun the process of withdrawing from deals commenced following the “deal”. Others will follow as suppliers and investors assess the ongoing situation. Recently a mummy was discovered in excavations which is believed to be that of the founder of the Pahlavi dynasty, which was ended by the Khomeini coup of 1979. Is it a portent of things to come?

This article was originally published by Globes