While the fourth set of UN sanctions on Iran reduced the hopes of Iranian reform activists that the international community would take into consideration the conditions of post-Election Iran, the return to prominence of the new military discourse in both United States and Israel will destroy all Iranian civil society’s hopes for resisting the fundamentalist regime.
Against the UN sanctions, Iran’s insistence in enriching uranium and ignoring UN concerns have apparently forced some western countries to shift their approach from a diplomatic to a military footing. Both Admiral Michael Mullen, chairman of the US joint chiefs of staff, and John Bolton, former US ambassador to the United Nations, have warned Iran this week that the Islamic regime is faced with military action. While Bolton states “Israel is running out of time to stop an Iranian nuclear power plant” he encourages both US officials and Israel to solve the problem militarily before it is too late.
Although military attack had always been a talked-up option during Bush’s term, Obama’s administration has emphasized that they are not eager to take this path. On the other hand, however, since last year’s presidential election, the Islamic regime has behaved in derision of UN concerns more clearly than ever.
Despite the fact that during Ahmadinejad’s first term Iran suffered three sets of sanctions which imposed a huge cost on society, since last year’s controversial election a strange perspective has emerged in some sectors of the government. Apparently these officials consider the military threat as a solution to state’s interior crisis. In other words, both opposition leaders and human rights activists suggest that the government conceives this military discourse as a potential tool for maintaining their power and that is why it forces all opponents to silence. In response, Mir Hossein Mousavi, the opposition leader, announced last month that the government is keen to keep Iran in such a dangerous situation.
Meanwhile, as many experts assert, UN sanctions on Iran have empowered the Revolutionary Guard. By putting the country in a military situation the Revolutionary Guards have been given the best justification for their ever-increasing manipulation of all socio-economic sectors. Again, that is why Mehdi Karroubi, the other opposition leader, accuses top rank generals of seeking their own benefits against this background, claiming that “The state is no longer Islamic republic but is a military dictatorship”.
Reviewing the Islamic state’s responses to the world’s demands during the last six months sheds light on these circumstances. Iran’s persistence in its nuclear ambitions has reached a new level since last year election. When the Islamic regime declared that the Bushehr reactor sets were operational, Israel and USA revealed their deepest concerns and ratcheted up the military discourse. Just last month Iran demonstrates its military language in reaction to the same discourse by the west. On 18 August Iran declared that the Bushehr reactor is ready to run. On 20 August the Revolutionary Guards launched a new type of military missile called Gheyam, and the day after Ahmadinejad stated that “Our response to any military action against Iran will consider the whole world”.
Who would benefit from such a situation more than those who are in power – especially when they are faced with a legitimacy crisis? This is the main reason that some decision makers in the Islamic regime clearly refer to such circumstances, and the war discourse that accompanies them, as a ‘divine gift’.
Just over a year after the controversial election in Iran there is huge popular anger towards the government. Based on a poll by the Iranian Students' News Agency in July 2010 that was leaked accidentally, 76.7 percent of Iranians are against Ahmadinejad’s government. Also, despite the fact that street demonstrations have been wiped out by brutal suppression by the Islamic regime, 65.2 percent of people believe that their protests and anger have been shifted from the site of streets to other realms of social life. In other words, the results suggest that although the regime forces society to silence, this is the calm before the storm.
Militarised government discourse is nothing new to most Iranians. A year after the Islamic Revolution in 1979, the Iraqi army invaded the south of Iran; consequently, all different perspectives among Iranian elites about the nature of the new system became extinguished and therefore clerics found this situation a unique chance for manipulating all sectors of Iranian socio-political life. That is why the war as a ‘divine gift’ became the main expression in Iran’s war propaganda during the first decade of Revolution. Even Ayatollah Khomeini, the founder of revolution, said of the Iran-Iraq war: “this war is a merciful gift of God’s”. After more than twenty years, it seems that military discourse is returning to the centre of the government’s language.
Ahmadinejad himself and his cabinet members have announced that they want to return to the first decade of Revolution’s atmosphere in order to revive Islamic values. Top ranking generals in the Revolutionary Guards mentioned several times that ‘divine war’ is a unique phenomenon through which redemption is achievable.
Such rhetoric at a time of interior crisis supplies the Islamic regime of Iran with justifications to suppress civil disobedience in the name of self-defence against a foreign military threat. That is precisely why Ahmadinejad and the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, constantly employ military discourse and refuse the UN’s demands to halt their uranium enrichment program. Regardless of UN intentions, sanctions punish Iranian society and ordinary people suffer far more than officials. For the Iranian government and its allies, the costs of sanctions are outweighed by the benefits of a continuing climate of confrontation with the western world.