Iran’s threats and conspiracy theories

The cut-off of Iranian imports, if enforced, would greatly stiffen US efforts to cripple the Tehran regime’s expansionist ambitions in the Middle East.
Sunday 08/07/2018
Iran's President Hassan Rouhani attends a news conference at the Chancellery in Vienna, on July 4. (Reuters)
Iran's President Hassan Rouhani attends a news conference at the Chancellery in Vienna, on July 4. (Reuters)

As pressure mounts on Iran at home and abroad, the Tehran regime shows little inclination to face up to the reason its problems are multiplying. Instead it is ratcheting up the bellicose rhetoric and threatening its neighbours and the rest of the international community.

This extraordinary behaviour seems to be a premeditated game of brinksmanship. By intimidating the rest of the world and fuelling fears of military confrontation, Tehran is hoping its demands will be met.

So, at the very time he was engaging in last-ditch talks in Europe to prevent his country’s total isolation, Iranian President Hassan Rohani was also issuing brazen threats. He suggested that, if his country is unable to export oil, no one else will. He hinted that Tehran could disrupt international maritime traffic by blocking the Strait of Hormuz if the United States manages to impose a global boycott of Iranian oil exports. The supposedly moderate leader was cheered by Iran’s hawks.

Applauding Rohani’s “firm stance” against the United States, Mohammad Ali Jafari, commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, said his forces were ready to carry out Rohani’s threats.

“We are hopeful that this plan expressed by our president will be implemented if needed… We will make the enemy understand that either all can use the Strait of Hormuz or no one,” said Jafari.

By making such threats, the Iranians are raising international tensions. They know that any such foolhardy move could cause a global showdown over freedom of maritime navigation.

The United States says it will do what needs to be done to keep international channels of commerce open. As a spokesman for the US military’s Central Command said: “The US and its partners provide and promote security and stability in the region. Together, we stand ready to ensure the freedom of navigation and the free flow of commerce wherever international law allows.”

The row is fuelling global concern. Chinese Assistant Foreign Minister Chen Xiaodong chided Iran and said it should be conscious of the need to be “a good neighbour… especially as it is a country on the Gulf.”

During his European tour, Rohani warned that Tehran could stop cooperating with the United Nations on nuclear inspections. He hinted at the possibility Iran would resume nuclear enrichment. His confrontational stance has caused dismay among European interlocutors. “They must stop permanently threatening to break their commitments to the nuclear deal,” French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian told RTL radio.

Issuing threats, however, seems to be part of a well-thought strategy for Tehran. It seems almost to be an official narrative. How else to explain the warning by Interior Minister Abdolreza Rahmani Fazli to Europe? “If we (Iran) close our eyes for 24 hours, 1 million refugees will go towards Europe through our Western borders” as well as some 5,000 tonnes of narcotics, he ominously declared.

When they are not issuing threats, Iran’s rulers seem to be looking for conspiracy theories as a way out of disparate quandaries. Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif described the alleged plot to bomb a Paris meeting of the National Council of Resistance of Iran as a “false flag ploy.” The case is under investigation by Belgian, French and German authorities but Zarif claimed the arrest of an Iranian diplomat based in Vienna and the detention in Belgium of two individuals of Iranian origin were meant to overshadow Rohani’s European tour.

Somewhat the same paranoia was evident in the allegation by the head of Iran’s Civil Defence Organisation that water shortages were caused by foreigners. Brigadier-General Gholam Reza Jalali said Iran’s water crisis was a consequence of “cloud theft” by “Israel and another country in the region.” They were deploying “joint teams,” he said, “which work to ensure clouds entering Iranian skies are unable to release rain.” The problem, Jalali added, extended to the “theft” of snow.

Histrionics and hysterical threats cannot hide the truth nor change the gravity of Iran’s economic and social pressures. These can only get worse once US sanctions start to bite. Yet, there is little recognition by Tehran to cease its misguided policies at home and abroad.

Paranoid theories and belligerent threats will not satisfy discontented Iranians at home nor convince the international community that Iran could be a peaceable, reliable and worthy partner.