People often read read news, my son once pointed out, because they want to know what will happen, not what has happened. They want the Daily Prophet.
Sorry, we don’t have any more clue of what will happen in Iran than anyone else does. Will there be a crackdown? Will Mousavi win, and be a Gorbachev? For heaven’s sake, the last thing Gorbachev expected to be was Gorbachev.
Nonetheless, when smoke is coming out of the largest house on the block, it’s sure to affect the neighbors. What effect, of course, depends on the final act of the drama in Iran. Here are some estimations:
In the worst case, of a violent crackdown with hundreds or thousands of protesters killed, says Amatzia Baram, a historian of the Middle East at Haifa University, the Iranian regime would follow up by trying to present “an impeccable radical record … an Islamist record” to its public. That would mean more involvement in Iraq, more agitation among the Shi’ite minorities in the Gulf states, more support for Hezbollah and Hamas. On the other hand, Baram says, any compromise to end the protest would bring “a slow mellowing of the regime, power-sharing with liberals and so forth”– but only in a slow process taking years.
The relationship with Hezbollah, says one Lebanese political scientist who spoke with me, transcends which president is in power in Tehran; it’s basic to the regime. For that reason, Hezbollah was unconcerned about who won the Iranian election — but must find the post-election instability “discomfiting.”
At present, Lebanon’s parties have agreed to quietly put aside the explosive issue of disarming Hezbollah, which now plays a double role as party and independent armed force. But events to the east could change that. Another Lebanese expert, at Beirut’s American University, says that “if you want to know what will happen in Lebanon,” watch Tehran. Iranians, he explains, are tired of the regime’s lavish expenditures on Hizballah while they remain poor. If Iranians are “turning away from the rightwing Islamic revolution,” Hezbollah will be orphaned. That would allow “the stabilization and pacification of Lebanon,” he says.
A compromise in Tehran will have a more subtle but important impact on Israel. Mousavi, like Ahmadinejad, is committed to Iran’s nuclear program. But Ahmadinejad’s Holocaust-denying rhetoric has been critical in creating the sense of existential fear in Israel. Any compromise in Iran would make it more difficult for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to continue shifting attention from the Israeli-Palestinian issue to Iran.
In fact, the shift from the Iranian focus may already be underway, as a result not of the post-election chaos but of a clear message from the Obama administration that a military strike – by Israel or the U.S. – isn’t in the cards. As I noted in my American Prospect column this week,
Mossad chief Meir Dagan told a Knesset committee on Tuesday that Iran would have its first nuclear bomb in 2014 — pushing back previous Israeli predictions. But Dagan was actually using a new benchmark, says Litvak. In the past, Israeli officials have spoken of the “point of no return,” the stage after which it would be impossible to prevent an Iranian bomb. The following day, the former chief of Israeli Military Intelligence, Aharon Zeevi-Farkash, said in an Army Radio interview that Israel isn’t the primary target of an Iranian bomb.
…few noticed this week when Israel’s intelligence service publicly stated that it thinks Iran could have a deployable nuclear weapon in 2014 — an assessment almost identical to that of the much-maligned 2007 U.S. National Intelligence Estimate on Iran’s nuclear program.
Actually, if Netanyahu has to decide that Iran isn’t Nazi Germany, I’m sure he’ll suggest an alternative Nazi Germany quickly enough. The enemy about to destroy us is essential not only to his ideology but to his emotional makeup.
An earlier version of this post appeared at the American Prospect’s TAPPED blog.