Iran is on edge and quite clearly so are its destiny deciders. And it is a mark of its President Hassan Rouhani’s confusion in the face of public disturbances and rallies, falling currency, economic pressures, anger of the middle class, questioning by MPs in the parliament, sacking of his Economy Minister and fading prospects of a way out of the second round of US sanctions due on November 4 that a complete policy paralysis in the government is quite evident.
This last week has indeed been quite hectic for Rouhani and Iran, with its officials running about in all directions to bring about a semblance of sanity to the nation’s profile and find some succour and cash.
Thus, it has knocked on the doors of the International Court of Justice in The Hague to seek the suspension of US sanctions, calling them “naked economic aggression” and claiming that the US economic pincers were damaging the Iranian economy and threatening the citizens’ welfare. It’s the same court which had declared the hostage-taking of American diplomats in Iran in 1980 as illegal, prompting Tehran to thumb its nose at it.
Trump’s determination to ensure Iran never makes a nuclear bomb has made many German companies back off – Siemens, Daimler, and some railway and telecom companies for example. French energy multinational Total has scrapped a billion-dollar project.
A measly 18 million-euro aid package from the European Union in the face of a seething Trump has hardly helped and not surprisingly Rouhani had to directly call up the Emir of its new friend Qatar to beg for some 2022 World Cup-related infrastructure projects. He even begged French President Emmanuel Macron to persuade at least the European signatories to the deal junked by Trump to act and somehow preserve it. All he got in return was some nebulous promises.
The question is, when there is so much corruption and mismanagement, so little cash in hand, such dismal level of its currency, such bleak economic prospects and a beeline of foreign firms heading for the exit, why is Iran splurging on propping up extremist outfits and creating mischief in the region?
It’s defence minister has met Syrian President Bashar Al Assad to help the latter expand its military arsenal even as the US National Security Adviser was asking it to remove its forces from Syria, it has supplied 25 Sukhoi jets to Iraq, it is funding and supplying missiles to the Houthi rebels in Yemen, it is threatening to block the Strait of Hormuz and spending vast sums to underwrite Hizbollah and other proxy outfits across the Middle East to stoke the fires of discord and mayhem even as it begs Qatar for petty contracts.
Iranian leaders alone can come up with such mischievous schemes in the face of an almost daily decline in the value of their country’s currency and the rising din created by a frustrated populace. But the mullahs and the ayatollahs are the prisoners of their own image. They have to incur all those expenses and continue to maintain the façade of being the lords of the region from Israel to Hormuz [the development of nuclear capability is part of that agenda] more so since their bête noire Trump is determined to hold them accountable for their misdemeanours.
It all boils down to Khamenei the Supreme Leader’s ego. And it is this ego which might gradually lead to a scenario which the Shah of Iran faced exactly 40 years ago.