Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Will Iran Respond to Rising Internal Opposition with External Aggression? an Expansionist Iran Is the Bitter Legacy of Its Revolution

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Will Iran Respond to Rising Internal Opposition with External Aggression? an Expansionist Iran Is the Bitter Legacy of Its Revolution

Article excerpt

Will Iran Respond to Rising Internal Opposition with External Aggression? An Expansionist Iran Is the Bitter Legacy of Its Revolution

By Dr. Joseph A. Kechichian

It has been 16 years since the Revolution, seven years since the end of the Iran-Iraq war, and six years since Ayatollah Khomeini's death. In that time nothing seems to have changed, yet nothing is what it used to be in Iran. Revolutionary Guards continue to monitor public (and not so public) social behavior even as opposition to their tactics is on the rise. More and more Iranians are looking West, where they see less "Satan" and more consumer goods.

Khomeini's death in 1989 cast a shadow over the Revolution. Now its supporters, including President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, face the unpleasant realities of Iran's economic difficulties. But Rafsanjani knows that if he argues for moderation, he risks sharing the downfall of other "moderates" who thought that the Revolution could accommodate change and modification.

At present, it is the economy more than the Revolution that preoccupies most Iranians. Iran's bazaari community (the merchant class that turned against the shah in the late 1970s) no longer tolerates Tehran's centralized economic policies. Among factors eroding Iran's once-prosperous economy are inflation, a three-tiered exchange rate for the riyal, the rampant favoritism and corruption that inflation and artificial exchange rates create, a creeping foreign debt now estimated at more than $30 billion, and mediocre standards for industrial production.

Petroleum revenues estimated at $20 billion in 1993 are not large enough to meet the country's growing needs. Iran's population, which was approximately 55 million in 1994, continues to grow at an alarming 3.6 to 3.8 percent rate, placing a heavy burden on an economy whose GNP has fallen by more than 40 percent since 1979.

Despite this legacy of problems, when voters cast their ballots in June 1993 they reelected President Rafsanjani to a second four-year term.

Now, however, two government courses of action suggest that to distract attention from problems at home, Rafsanjani may be seeking a foreign confrontation or diversions. First is the re-equipment and reorganization of the military. Iran's half-million strong army of 1979 was considerably enlarged during the war with Iraq. Despite the one million casualties it caused, that war, by most accounts, provided the armed forces with valuable experience. The availability of substantial quantities of weapons from the former Soviet republics now permits Iran to replenish its military stocks at very reasonable prices.

A second Iranian effort also deeply concerns its neighbors. Iran's export of its version of Islamic revolution is perceived as a destabilizing influence by all regimes in the region, which also fear Iraq's secular Ba'thism. However, they see Iranian influence in Lebanon's disintegration, the forces undermining Palestinian-Israeli rapprochement, and manifestations of conflict between Islam and the West. There also is evidence that Iran is influencing events in the Sudan and in other African countries.

Do these manifestations indicate a calculated Iranian policy, reached after thorough deliberations, or do they reflect little more than opportunistic attempts to line up negotiating assets to "trade" in a campaign to become a major regional power? …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.