Monday, April 2, 2007
Standoff Within A Standoff Within A Standoff
As Ray Tayekh pointed out in a recent article in Foreign Affairs, Iran's leadership is far from monolithic. What's more, the familiar fault lines between factions of reformers and hardliners are increasingly overshadowed by growing tensions between "the elders of the revolution" and "their more assertive disciples."
Now The Times of London is reporting that not even the Revolutionary Guards, often protrayed as a radical, rogue element of the Iranian regime, is immune from the power struggles:
The fate of the 15 British marines and sailors held in Tehran may depend on the outcome of a power struggle between two of Iran’s top generals, write Uzi Mahnaimi and Marie Colvin.
According to an Iranian military source, the commander of the Revolutionary Guards has called for them to be freed.
Major-General Yahya Rahim Safavi is said to have told the country’s Supreme National Security Council on Friday that the situation was “getting out of control” and urged its members to consider the immediate release of the prisoners to defuse tension in the Gulf.
However, Safavi’s intervention was reportedly denounced by another senior general at a meeting of high-ranking commanders yesterday.
Yadollah Javani, the head of the Revolutionary Guards’ political bureau, was said to have accused him of weakness and “liberal tendencies”. Javani is said to have demanded that the prisoners be put on trial.
These kinds of divisions should come as no surprise, given the political polarization currently on display here in Washington. What's more, they're encouraging inasmuch as they suggest possible lines of approach for engaging Iran.
But they're not only reason for hope. A divided leadership, while offering potential interlocuters for dialogue, also increases the chances of precipitous escalation, as one faction tries to force the hand of its adversaries. The same internal divisions that could lead Iranian extremists to provoke hostilities with the US could lead the Bush administration to pre-empt Congress and public opinion by launching a unilateral strike on Iran's uranium enrichment program.
The significance of the international standoff between Britain and Iran lies in how it impacts the internal standoff within Iran's leadership. Which in turn could influence the broader standoff between Iran and the international community regarding its uranium enrichment program. How the crisis is resolved will tell us alot about what the future holds for the Persian Gulf.