Can a regime like the one in Tehran be brought to its senses with bombs, as many of the hawks in the West believe? And will the population resist its own leadership?
It is indisputable that the Pasdaran, the regime's most important pillar, will pay a high price. The current sanctions are already aimed primarily at the Revolutionary Guards. International travel bans have been imposed on their leaders, the trade embargo is directed against their businesses, in particular, and the oil embargo has drastically reduced their revenues from the oil business. In the event of a military strike, most of the victims would come from their ranks, because Pasdaran troops protect the nuclear facilities that would be targeted.
Upon closer inspection, however, the Pasdaran officers benefit from any escalation. Each additional tightening of the sanctions leads to a booming black market and boosts smuggling activities, thereby strengthening the shadow economy -- which some Pasdaran leaders control even more than legal commerce.
Even high casualties would probably not convince the loyal servants of the regime to give in. In fact, the opposite is more likely. They would declare each of their dead to be a martyr. And with each martyr that the organization can boast, its standing within the population will only increase.
The president would probably also benefit from a military attack. Granted, he would be the clear loser in the internal conflict among the various power centers, because he has previously claimed that the West would accept Iran's uranium enrichment. Each round of sanctions by the UN Security Council was a bitter blow to the president. An attack would be tantamount to a political disaster. But Ahmadinejad's rivals, including parliamentary speaker Larijani and, most of all, Revolutionary Leader Khamenei, were also skeptical of the international community's resolve not to back down.
Not Seeking Armed Conflict
An attack would silence all criticism, and the fight against Israel and its allies would force the entire population to close ranks. The Green Movement would hardly dare to object, and even the turf wars between Khamenei and Ahmadinejad would be forgotten.
With the first Israeli bomb, the revolutionary leader would rise up from the depths of everyday political life into which the president has pulled him. Suddenly he would become the master of war and peace.
And then Khamenei would undoubtedly have an excuse to instruct his experts to build the nuclear bomb.
Nevertheless, those who know Khamenei and his closest advisers well believe that the revolutionary leader does not seek armed conflict, notwithstanding all the belligerent rhetoric. There is talk in Tehran that Khamenei is placing his bets on the period after Ahmadinejad's term as president ends, at which point a president acceptable to Khamenei will clean up the mess left behind by the zealots.
Experts also believe that a resolution of the nuclear conflict could be possible with a future president who enjoys the confidence of the revolutionary leader. If the international community were to recognize Iran's right to enrich uranium, the leadership in Tehran would allegedly be willing to accept "maximum transparency and confidence-building measures." Then all options would indeed be on the table -- in a peaceful sense, that is.
But given the most recent escalations, it is questionable whether Israel will give the leadership in Tehran that much time. This is why the meeting in Washington will be so important. Much will depend on whether Obama and Netanyahu are able to build trust in one another.
Netanyahu sees Obama as a spineless "peacenik" who would shy away from an attack and would ultimately allow Iran to build the atom bomb, just as Pakistan and North Korea have already done. Obama, for his part, sees Netanyahu as a liar and a deceiver who is trying to blackmail him by threatening to launch an attack before the US presidential election in November. In an election year, Obama would have little choice but to support Israel, or at least not to stand in its way.
It is a balancing act for Obama. On the one hand, he wants to intimidate Iran with the credible threat of a military strike. On the other, he wants to dissuade Netanyahu from going it alone.
To do that, however, he would have to provide the Israelis with an "iron-clad guarantee" that he himself will stop Iran from developing a nuclear weapon -- as long as he is still in a position to do so, says Amos Jadlin, who was head of Israeli military intelligence until the end of 2010. This means that Obama would have to clearly define the point at which the United States would attack Iran. Will he do that?
Not even former Republican President George W. Bush agreed to support Netanyahu's predecessor when Israel attacked the Syrian reactor in 2007. In fact, he advised Israel against it.
The outcome? Israel destroyed the Syrian nuclear facility a few weeks later.
REPORTED BY DIETER BEDNARZ, ERICH FOLLATH, JULIANE VON MITTELSTAEDT AND HOLGER STARK
Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan
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