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Iran: Little Room for Maneuver

Tehran - back in the limelight? Photo: Mohammadali f./flickr

Although the rest of the Middle East is now rightly in the spotlight, Iran, with a simmering opposition movement and a highly controversial nuclear program (the focal point in regional diplomacy prior to the ‘Jasmine revolutions’) will no doubt return to the forefront of regional affairs very soon. However, the diplomatic equation in the conflict between Iran and the West may be changing, and contrary to the sometimes hysterical warnings of some commentators in the West and the bellicose rhetoric of Iran’s president, Tehran is in a corner. Below some points to keep in mind when analyzing the situation:

  • What country, more precisely what regime, currently faces an existential threat and finds itself surrounded by the world’s most powerful fighting force on three of four borders (principally Afghanistan and the Persian Gulf, but also Iraq): nuclear-armed Israel or Iran?
  • How much of this all is a securitization game? Prime Minister Netanyahu and especially Israel’s political right keep the focus on the country’s purported ‘insecurity’ and off the West Bank; President Ahmadinejad, in turn, exploits the external threat to consolidate support back home and divert attention from his lousy track record in actually governing Iran.
  • If Iran decides to weaponize, will it not first withdraw from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT)? The 1980 Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties and the NPT, which the US and Iran have both signed and ratified, respectively, demand it. Although this instance could very well prove the exception to the rule, Iran is not North Korea. Iran maintains relations and accords with many other states in the international system, all of which count on it to uphold some modicum of predictability. It is likely to do so despite its belligerent rhetoric. » More