Ex-shah’s nonentity son

Twenty years after the Bush-Blair invasion of Iraq, this catastrophe is still a potent factor in the politics of Iran. And yet, as Yassamine Mather reports, there are still those exiles who hanker after a repeat

Recent news from Iran regarding ‘regime change from above’ has been about the visit of the son of the ex-shah, Reza Pahlavi, to Yad Vashem in Israel to mark holocaust remembrance day and meet with government officials.

Following the announcement of the visit, Israeli intelligence minister Gila Gamliel said: “We’re taking the first step toward rebuilding ties between our peoples.” Although Pahlavi has made a number of trips to European capitals in recent months, where he has tried to present himself as the best candidate for US-style regime-change options, this was the first time a government hosted a visit. But that was hardly surprising, given cold war between Iran’s Islamic Republic and the Zionist state in Israel.

Contrary to Pahlavi’s expectations, the trip did not go down well, even with his own supporters. Most Iranians are opposed to their government: some of them - no doubt influenced by relentless western propaganda - might even resent the Islamic Republic’s pro-Palestinian rhetoric. However, they are aware of the injustice of the occupation, and they know about the Nakba - Israel’s ethnic cleansing of Palestine from their homeland in 1948 - as well as its dispossession of Palestinian property, its destruction of Palestinian towns and villages, and its efforts to erase the existence of the Palestinians as a people with collective rights.

Following the normalisation of Iran-Saudi relations earlier this year, Pahlavi is desperate for funds and any support he can get. However, after weeks of mass demonstrations against the current far-right Israeli government, newspapers such as Ha’aretz are reminding us how the ultra-religious wing of the government is imitating the kind of religious policies and interference in people’s lives associated with the Islamic Republic. Of course, the clerics in Iran came to power back in 1979 and to propose rules such as the segregation of buses in the second decade of the 21st century, albeit in orthodox areas of Israel, is viewed as incredibly backward. So I am not sure what Pahlavi wants to prove. Does he feel able to support a religious state, so long as it is not Iran? Maybe he still resents the Pahlavi dynasty being sent into exile, when it was deposed by the Allies in 1942.

Actually, the Israeli media did not pay much attention to the trip - as has been the case with many of his other visitations to various capital cities. According to Yossi Alfer, a former senior analyst of Iran in the Israeli intelligence service, Mossad, speaking on Israeli TV, “Reza Pahlavi’s trip was not important news at all and it was an item that was mentioned in the middle of the bulletin.” He believes that Pahlavi “will never be able to become the leader of a coup or revolution in Iran”.

What, then, were his demands in Jerusalem? His supporters have made it clear what they want: foreign military intervention, mainly because sanctions are not working, and - as we predicted they would right from the start - they actually strengthen the regime. No doubt the current Israeli government is desperate for some kind of foreign intervention to divert attention from its internal problems. It is not considering a land invasion, but the bombing of Iran’s nuclear sites, supported by the US and its allies, remains on Jerusalem’s agenda - in other words, the escalation of the current cold war into a hot war. Those, including the current Israeli government, considering such an option should be reminded of the outcome of the Iraq war - and this time the ensuing catastrophe would be even worse. That is partly because, unlike Iraq under Saddam Hussein, Iran does have weapons of mass destruction - and will not hesitate to use them against a foreign enemy.

As for the Iranian people, they are well aware of the likely consequences of war and attempts at regime change. Although they do not like their own government, they know about the plight of the Palestinians and the regional consequences of US wars - not to mention the west’s one-sided policies (including turning a blind eye to the nuclear-weapons possessed by Israel).

They know about the plight of the Iraqi people and how they feel about the US invasion of 2003. After all, Iranians have close connections to Iraqis and that is not just because of the long border between the two countries, but the fact that the majority of the population in both countries are Shia Muslim. Both host large numbers of visiting ‘pilgrims’ from each other: in Iraq, Karbala and Najaf are major destinations for Iranians, while Mashhad and Ghom, in Iran, host large numbers of Iraqis. Indeed some families have members on both sides of the border, so they are well aware of the disaster that is now Iraq - 20 years after George Bush and Tony Blair launched the invasion to ‘bring democracy’ to the country.

A recent Gallup poll recording the views of Iraqis and conducted close to the 20th anniversary of the invasion, which took place on March 19 2003, certainly makes sad reading. It reveals that, while 60% of Iraqis say the situation in the country has worsened since the US-led invasion, only 29% of those participating in the survey believe that the goal was to topple Saddam Hussein’s regime. Other reasons, such as serving the interests of US defence contractors, fighting terrorism and bringing democracy to Iraq are mentioned, but they were less popular responses.

When it comes to the future US military presence in the country, Iraqis are divided. It should be noted that the number of US military personnel in Iraq has dropped considerably from a peak of 170,000 in 2007 to just 2,500 now. Those living in the southern part of Iraq would prefer an immediate US withdrawal, while respondents in the northern part, including the Iraqi Kurdistan region, believe some level of US presence is “necessary”. A total of 47% wanted an immediate US withdrawal.

In addition, 75% of Iraqi Shiites who responded to the poll consider the entry of US coalition forces was bad. They support Russia as a political and security ally, and this is probably in line with their allegiance to Iran’s Islamic Republic. While 39% want better economic relations with China, 27% favour economic ties with the US and 13% support trade with Russia and Turkey, only 8% think there is any benefit in further economic ties with Iran.

It is interesting that 20 years after the invasion of Iraq - an event that even moderate BBC commentators, such as John Simpson and Jeremy Bowen, regularly refer to as a ‘catastrophe’ - there are still idiots amongst Iranian exiles, not to mention Israeli and US politicians, who consider such options. But, of course, since the ‘international community’ not only failed to punish criminals such as Bush and Blair, but largely supported their actions, it is not surprising that we are facing the threat of another ‘war’ in the Middle East.