Everything has changed

Posted: June 22nd, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: In the News | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off

UPDATE: I’m going on a vacation, so I probably won’t be posting for the next 10 days or so.

cross-psoted with FPW.

Let’s admit it – there is almost no reliable news as to what is actually happening in Iran. The pictures from the last couple of days don’t show the mass demonstrations of the first few days following the presidential elections. It seems that the number of protesters dropped from hundreds of thousands to just thousands and even hundreds. If this is so, it could be a bad sign for the reformist camp. On the other hand, the political heat is still on: Friday’s warnings from he supreme leader Ali Khamenei not only failed to calm the streets, but seemed to toughen the position of the reformist leaders – Mousavi, Karubi, and above all, Rafsanjani. Again, most of the political drama is probably happening backstage, so we can’t know anything for sure.

Western leaders – probably under public pressure – are starting to take a more committed stand on the reformists’ side. Germany’s Angela Merkel took a firm position in support of the opposition, but the UK government and the American administration still chose their words very carefully. As I wrote before, too-overt support statements could end up doing do more harm than good, but on the other hand, when Iranians are calling “death to the dictator”, the careful language of president Obama seems somewhat out of sync with his inspiring speech in Cairo.

One thing is very clear right now – the Iranian “Islamic revolution” model has suffered a tremendous blow. Even if the Iranian leadership can sort the mess without sharing power with the reformists (something which doesn’t seem very likely now), it is clear that the system as a whole doesn’t enjoy the legitimacy that everyone though it did. The Iranian leadership will have to be a lot more careful from now on, and concentrate on internal stability. It is not sure how much effort it will put on exporting the revolution, and on supporting Hamas and Hizbullah.

This doesn’t mean that the Middle East will become more stable. On the contrary. Desperate leaders can be drawn to desperate acts, and a weak regime might be more dangerous than a strong one, as anyone watching the behavior of North Korea can surmise. But the new situation does create opportunities, both in Lebanon and in the Palestinian Territories.

In Lebanon, Hizbullah has already accepted electoral defeat. With the right support from the US, and the right pressure applied on Syria, there is a good chance of stabilizing the country even further, and even taking some steps toward solving the most difficult problem: how to get Hizbullah to surrender its weapons to the Lebanese army and become an ordinary – though powerful – political party.

With Hamas things are more complicated, and there is no hope of the organization giving away its arms or his power in Gaza. Diplomatic pressure won’t do what the IDF couldn’t during “Operation Cast Lead.” The Israeli government will probably prefer to continue isolating the Gaza strip while negotiating with the Palestinian Authority (which controls the West Bank), but this is a dangerous game: when Hamas understands that the diplomatic game started without it, it will go back to firing rockets and sending suicide attacks from its remaining cells in the West Bank. This will kill the diplomatic process, just as it did in the Oslo days.

I believe the Hamas can’t be ignored, as it represents an important part of Palestinian society. Now, that Iranian influence might weaken, there is a better chance of getting a power sharing agreement between the PLO and Hamas that will open the way for a renewal of the peace talks. The talks betwwen the two Palestinian organizations have already started in Egypt, but my guess is that nothing will happen before we get a better idea of the way things have tuned in Iran.

Altogether, In less than six months, incredible changes have happened in the Middle East. Historic elections took place in Lebanon; there was a change of leadership in Israel; a new American president has completely transformed the US policy in the region; and finally, Iran, the most enigmatic regime in the region, has reached it’s most important crossroads since the Islamic revolution some thirty years ago.

And as they say, this is not even the end of the beginning.

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