Standing Down as Iran's Power Struggle Unfolds
A strike on Iran, however limited, would push the current internal power struggle to a premature end that would not be in the US' best interests - that is the message, whether intentional or not, of the recent "intelligence leak" that has provided the Obama Administration with justification for standing down with regard to Iran.
Earlier this week, the media had a field day with "intelligence leaks" suggesting that there is no imminent threat of Iran achieving nuclear weapons capabilities, apparently with the concurrence of Israel's Mossad.
There are two things to be avoided in this discourse, the first being the obvious reality that intelligence is used to support policy decisions and "leaks" are one tool through which this is accomplished.
Also less important is the discussion on Iran's nuclear weapons program, which can be largely summed up by noting that civil nuclear programs can enrich uranium which can be used for nuclear weapons and that Iran can decide at any moment to pursue this path. It is an unknown that has been used to push public opinion in a number of directions.
Interestingly, the public (media) can so easily accept "intelligence leaks" that accuse Iran of developing nuclear weapons but cannot accept a "leak" to the opposite because of an ingrained fixation on themes that are Cold War-ish in nature.
This is not about nuclear weapons. It is about containing Iran on a number of levels.
On a foreign policy level, the bloody window of opportunity to ensure that Syria will no longer be a part of Iran's efforts to create a Shi'ite triangle of influence against Saudi-led Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) interests in the region will do much to contain Iran.
On another level, though, foremost to containing Iran is understanding the internal struggle for power, when to harness the momentum and when to step back, recognizing how external actions could play out.
Despite his loud rhetoric, Washington should not be too quick to desire the final demise of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, whose demise for now seems nonetheless imminent. Presently, the situation in Iran is ideal for Washington: Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei is in a stronger position than ever before, but that power comes at the price of responsibility and he must move with extreme caution in order to cement power ahead of presidential elections in 2013, where he hopes to see the final defeat of Ahmadinejad.
The 2 March parliamentaryelections in Iran cemented what well-placed informants inside Tehran working for Jellyfish Operations told Oilprice.com last summer: that plans were in the works to remove Ahmadinejad from power and that if politics did not do the trick, more nefarious means would be used. The first indication, they said, would be for Ahmadinejad to lose his grip over the oil ministry - a development that happened soon afterwards, gradually chipping away at hispower base ahead of parliamentary elections.
On 2 March, Khamenei managed to secure a solid majority for his conservative circle - a circle that largely controls the country's foreign policy direction and its nuclear program. It is a majority that will shut out problematic reformist voices and continue to reduce the chances of opposition conservatives, including Ahmadinejad's own support base, to realize a comeback.
The Supreme Leader's power is not yet solidified, and there are circles of conservatives whose direction of support remains elusive, and for this reason, he must tread carefully, and so must the US and Israel.
The next decisive political event will be presidential elections in June 2013, by which date Khamenei will have had to ensure that all his ducks are in a row for the final demise of his rivals. Particularly, though not solely, Khamenei will seek to further chip away at Ahmadinejad's power, and external influences could help him achieve that. Specifically, an attack on Iran, while Ahmadinejad is still president would do wonders to that end. A limited attack on Iran during Ahmadinejad's tenure that targeted only its nuclear facilities, which would be most likely, could be absorbed and used as additional political ammunition for the Supreme Leader.
Importantly, Khamenei has other ducks to line up as well, and his new power means that his decisions and the consequences of those decisions will fall on his own shoulders and determine the allegiance of conservative circles whose support has not yet been decided - anargument laid out most astutely by Omid Memarian writing for opendemocracy.net.
For now, the US and Israel would do best to proceed with an equal amount of caution and avoid adding any velocity to Ahmadinejad's demise. No one wants to see Khamenei's conservatives solidify unrivaled power.
By Jen Alic of Oilprice.com