Surviving against all the odds
Why are the leaders of the Islamic Republic still looking so confident? The answer lies in the dismal failures of the global hegemon, argues Yassamine Mather
The ceremonies marking the inauguration of the new Iranian president, Ebrahim Raisi, could not have come at a worse time for the country’s rulers.
Despite Raisi’s repeated reassurances that he would like a return to nuclear negotiations, he has problems inside the country convincing some of his more conservative supporters on this. He has yet to name officially his foreign minister - rumoured to be former deputy foreign minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian - and speculation about opposition to this appointment is delaying the process.
During his inauguration speech Raisi declared his commitment to “diplomacy and constructive and extensive engagement with the world”, since relations with regional neighbours are said to be at the top of his list of priorities: “I extend a hand of friendship and brotherhood to all countries, especially those in the region.”
Of course, Raisi was critical of his predecessor, Hassan Rouhani, and his handling of various crises, and focused his election campaign on the longstanding issues of corruption and inefficiency. However, given the fact that this corruption is systemic - it is embedded in every corner of the religious state - no-one believes he will achieve much on this front.
Meanwhile the devaluation of the currency and spiralling inflation are making life terribly difficult for most Iranians. In addition, water shortages are ongoing and, although the government has managed to suppress the protests for the time being, no-one expects the issue to go away. In addition Covid-19 is taking its toll - the daily death toll reached 588 on August 9. There are reports of hospital bed shortages in many cities, including the capital, Tehran. Yet there have been mass gatherings marking the death of Imam Hussein (the third Shia imam, who died fighting the Sunnis more than a thousand years ago), as if there was no pandemic!
According to the John Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore, Iran is among the 10 countries in the world with the highest per capita death toll from Covid and only 3.3% of the population have been vaccinated. Many blame supreme leader Ali Khamenei’s banning of western vaccines for the worsening situation. Iran has rejected Pfizer and AstraZeneca, using instead vaccines originating in Russia, China and more recently Cuba.
If all this was not bad enough, there was last month’s drone attack on the Israeli-operated Mercer Street tanker, en route to the United Arab Emirates from Tanzania. The attack, which killed the ship’s Romanian captain and a British security guard, is alleged to have been launched by Iran or one of its proxies (or perhaps by forces wanting to create more problems for Tehran).
On August 10 US secretary of state Antony Blinken, speaking at a virtual UN Security Council session on maritime security, said: “We are confident that Iran conducted this unjustified attack, which is part of a pattern of attacks and other provocative behaviour.” According to US Central Command, components of the drones examined by US navy explosives experts were “nearly identical” to previously recovered Iranian models. Chemical tests revealed a nitrate-based explosive was used in the attack, “indicating the equipment had been rigged to cause injury and destruction”.1
Apparently “all evidence” suggests that Iran was behind the strike and the new Israeli government is threatening retaliation and calling for sanctions against Iran to be stepped up. But Iran denies any involvement. In a one-hour phone call with French president Emmanuel Macron on August 9, Raisi is reported to have said that his country is “very serious about providing security and preserving deterrence in the Persian Gulf and the Sea of Oman”.
Of course, there are good reasons why Iran’s reactionary rulers may nevertheless feel confident: this is the very time we are witnessing the humiliating consequences of the US withdrawal from Afghanistan. We all remember the tears of both Laura Bush and Cherie Blair for Afghan women in 2001 and how important it was to save them from the Taliban. But here we are 20 years later, and town and after town, district after district is falling back under Taliban control. The world superpower was forced to flee Bagram airbase in the middle of the night! All this is not so much about Taliban resilience as the inability of the global hegemon to maintain control of lands it occupied in Afghanistan and later Iraq in retaliation to the 9/11 attack in 2001. Of course, the world knows that the real culprits were not Afghanistan or Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, but US ally Saudi Arabia. No wonder families of 9/11 victims have this week told Joe Biden not to attend memorial events, unless he declassifies files about the attacks. Nearly 1,800 people have signed a letter calling on him to release documents that they believe implicate officials from Saudi Arabia in the plot.
Over the last two decades there have been dozens of seminars and conferences on the need for ‘state building’ and the ‘reconstruction of civil society’ in Afghanistan, but all to no avail: the country is facing further death and destruction under a Taliban regime. Yet, despite everything that has happened in Afghanistan, there are still opposition Iranian exile groups (even some claiming to be on the left) who call for the US to increase current sanctions against Iran and speed up ‘regime change from above’. Some even call on the new Israeli government to ‘add to the pressure’ by acting against Iran.
Only idiots who want to actually make the Islamic Republic of Iran popular can make such statements calling for ‘regime change’ led by the US, Israel and Saudi Arabia. Why don’t they look and learn from what is happening in Afghanistan?!
It is no wonder then that, despite the odds, Iran’s president and his reactionary allies actually seem confident.