Saturday, April 07, 2007

Ahmedinejad's gamble

Opinion is divided over whether or not the Iranians, and specifically Pres. Ahmedinejad, gained from the sudden and unexpected release of the 15 British naval servicemen.
Many commentators see it as a positive gain for Iran, showing its magnanimous and humane side, and emphasizing the humanitarian aspect of Islam. It can also be seen as a gain for the British and in particular Tony Blair, who claims he made no deals and combined forceful diplomacy with lack of confrontation. But, this focuses on the superficial and PR aspects of the release of the captives.
On the other hand, many commentators point out that there are two major forces within Iran, battling it out for supremacy. There are the leading clerical extremists controlling the Revolutionary Guards, who are virulently anti-Western and anti-Israel, and Pres. Ahmedinejad himself, who was chosen by them as the candidate for President. So far he has not disappointed them in terms of his strong denunciations of Israel and America are concerned. These were the people talking about a trial of the British hostages.
But, on the other side are the so-called "moderates," Hatami, Rafsanjani, many members of the Parliament (Majlis) and many students. They see Ahmedinejad's actions, including the taking of the hostages in the first place, as foreign adventurism that is putting Iran and its economy in jeopardy. It was their pressure on the supreme Ayatollah, Khamenei, that apparently won out.
Ahmedinejad was forced to climb down, release the hostages and act nice. Even though his rhetoric was the usual anti-Western cant, he was forced to reverse himself. So this is considered a big defeat for Ahmedinejad and the forces of extremism within Iran. Some experts have stated that this is the beginning of the end for Ahmedinejad. In the face of British and American threats he was forced to cave in. They particularly point out that Europe is the main trading partner of Iran, and EU and UN support for Britain was growing. To avoid complete isolation and economic meltdown, Ahmedinejad had to admit defeat, although he covered it in a clever PR effort.
Now he has one more year or so to rule. We will see if his kind of anti-Western brinkmanship will survive his term in office.


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