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An Ill Wind Can Be Good

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Sanctions, a failing economy and coronavirus may cause Iran to change its involvement in Syria

Tony Walker writes;

Iran’s emergence as a hot zone for the coronavirus further complicates that country’s relationships with its neighbours at a time when its economy is sliding deeper into recession.

US President Donald Trump’s “maximum pressure” campaign on Iran by tightening economic sanctions coincides with a spreading health crisis that will test a hardline leadership.

Iranian confidence in its rulers is stretched in any case – there has been persistent unrest in which violent clashes with the authorities over economic hardship have resulted in dozens of deaths.

Battered by a sanctions regime, a deepening economic retrenchment and now a health emergency, Iran’s leaders will feel they are more than usually beleaguered.

Coming on top of America’s assassination of Iran’s military commander, Major General Qassim Suleimani, in early January, these are precarious moments for the Iranian leadership.

Now the question is whether an overstretched Iran will feel obliged to pull back from its expensive involvement in Syria and its support for allies in Lebanon, Yemen and elsewhere in a troubled region.

In other words, will its leadership, under considerable pressure at home, stage a retreat, or even decide it is in its interests to seek some sort of accommodation with a US administration that is bent on tightening the screws? US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo last week imposed additional curbs on travel by figures close to Iran’s rulers.

The alternative is for Tehran to withdraw into its shell while it rides out economic and other pressures. Given the parlous state of Iran’s economy, this will be easier said than done.

In all of this, the survival of an embattled regime in power since the overthrow of the shah in 1979 will be paramount.

Whether that prompts a rethink of Iran’s refusal to negotiate a replacement nuclear deal without sanctions being lifted first remains to be seen.

These options will be canvassed behind the scenes in arguments between moderates close to Iran’s president, Hassan Rouhani, and hardline elements aligned with Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei.

As things stand, it appears the hardliners have secured the upper hand.

Iran’s parliamentary elections last week made this clear. Hardliners achieved a near clean sweep after the powerful Guardians Council excluded thousands of moderate candidates from the race.

Appointed by Khamenei, the council vets suitable candidates for elections.

Dozens of moderate members of parliament were denied the opportunity to recontest.

Ali Vaez, director of the Iran Project at the International Crisis Group, said:

This is 2004-2005 all over again: a shift of the centre of Iranian politics to the right, harbingered by a major victory by the hardliners in low-turnout parliamentary elections, followed by a takeover of the presidency by the hardliners.

This is potentially bad news for President Rouhani, who had sought an accommodation with the US and its allies after signing a deal in 2015 in which Iran agreed to freeze its nuclear weapons program.

Iran will have presidential elections next year.

Trump took the US out of the nuclear deal in 2018. As a consequence, Tehran has been edging away from commitments made under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) to halt its enrichment processes.

Complicating all of this is the coronavirus epidemic in a country where health services are already stretched.

By mid-week, Iran had reported 95 cases, but this almost certainly significantly understates the situation. The country is believed to have suffered the most deaths from the virus outside China.

Iran’s efforts to curb the contagion are vastly hampered by the fact that it is a destination for millions of Shia pilgrims annually from surrounding countries. These include Afghanistan, Pakistan and the Gulf states.

The holy city of Qom has become a hotbed of the virus. Multiple deaths have been reported there.

Symbolic of Tehran’s challenges in getting the coronavirus under control is the case of its deputy health minister.

Earlier this week, Iraj Harirchi had denied the authorities were covering up the scale of the outbreak. He later self-reported he was suffering from the disease.

This will have done little to engender confidence in the government’s ability to contain the disease or provide a credible accounting of its spread in a country of 80 million.

Adding to concerns region-wide is that Iran is believed to be the source of infections that have emerged among its neighbours, including Afghanistan, Bahrain, Iraq, Kuwait and Oman.

All these countries have now imposed restrictions on travel to and from the Islamic Republic. Dubai, a transit hub and home to the airlines Emirates and Etihad, has suspended all passenger and cargo flights to Iran for a week as a “precautionary measure”.

Curbs on travel will have a further dampening effect on Iran’s economy. It’s already reeling from tough sanctions, which include wide-ranging restrictions on the country’s oil exports, its economic lifeblood.

In October, the International Monetary Fund reported Iran’s economy would contract by 9.5% in 2019. This was the worst year for Iran since 1984, at the height of the Iran-Iraq war.

In 2019, the only countries to do worse, according to the IMF, were Libya, in the grip of a civil war, which suffered a 19% contraction, and Venezuela, which shrank 35%.

The IMF and World Bank had predicted incremental growth, if that, for Iran in 2020. In view of coronavirus concerns, marginal growth now seems highly unllkely.

Iran is also stricken by skyrocketing rates of inflation. The IMF put the figure for 2019 at 35.7%. The Statistical Centre for Iran assessed the number higher at nearly 50%.

Food and fuel costs have gone through the roof. This has been the main cause of the civil unrest that continues to beset the regime. With US-sponsored sanctions in place and now a health crisis bedevilling the country, there is little relief in sight.

What is clear is Iran is facing its most challenging moment since 1988 and the end of its war with Iraq in which an estimated 500,000 Iranians were killed. War costs bled the economy dry.

In some ways, the latest situation may be more challenging for the regime given that Iranians were unified in a war effort. That unity is now a distant memory.

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6 COMMENTS

  1. It’s in the nuclear armed rogue state that is in ongoing breach of international law and common decency – Israel.

    Let’s hope Israel is decimated too.

    BTW that war you mentioned was a USA backed Saddam by proxy for Israel. Same deal with Libya Syria Egypt and Iraq. None were civil wars. All were radical groups armed by the USA on behalf of Israel.

    Apologists for this deserve death.

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  2. My goodness that was a well written article and a great read, thanks Ed

    I think the point about all the pilgrims is very pertinent and having this huge constant inflow will cause considerable problems. Especially so in Qom. There’s a delicious irony that one of the holiest cities in a despicable violent intolerant religion should be a major infection point for COVID-19. After being a major infection point for fucking people’s minds, finally the chickens are coming home to roost.

    But just like their religious infection – which is bad enough – these people will now also spread a physical virus when they return to their countries. Bummer.

    We can feel very secure and positive here knowing that we live in a thriving democracy where political corruption is absent, we have a wise well respected leader and the will of the people is paramount and….

    .

    .

    oh wait….

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    • Hillary’s emails confirmed the obvious. The destruction of Syria was a proxy war for Israel by Obama.

      Not some wacky conspiracy. Just a fact.

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  3. Let he without sin cast the first stone.

    I dont know who Tony Walker is and there is no source.

    He refers to the IMF and World bank like they are a good thing.
    They are tools of globalisation.
    Personally, I don’t like globalisation.
    I have no faith in IMF or World Bank.

    Now a bit of History.
    Not the Ardern version of NZ History but real geo politics.

    USA propped up the exploitative Batista in Cuba and this was in part driven by the anti-communist agenda of the era.
    Batista was a bad bastard allowing USA organised crime (a mix of criminal enterprises run mainly by Jewish and Italian thugs who ran gambling, drugs, prostitution) .
    He was overthrown and thereafter Castro had to be bad (like the current narrative of Orange Man bad) as the US could not exploit Cuba as it had.

    The USA was behind the insertion and protection of Ferdinand Marcos in the Philippines and allowed him to exploit the population and pocket the obscene amount of $5 to 10 Billion – in 1986 dollars when he was finally ejected.
    Same with Indonesia. USA (via the CIA) installed the brutal Suharto for more than 30 years.
    The USA has interfered in almost every country in Central and South America.
    It has done the same in the Caribbean (even further exploiting the poor wretches on Haiti again in 2010 under Clinton/Obummer murderous regime)

    In 1953 the filthy CIA was involved in the Iran coup that installed the Shah as supreme ruler.
    In 1979 the people said fuck off, enough.
    The USA has never taken that well as they were shown up and could not even rescue their own embassy staff.
    The drunk wife-abuser Ben Afleck’s version of this in Argo is complete bollocks. The yanks will not know this.
    I have no sympathy for the embassy staff depite the make over and feelgood stories.
    They were illegal manipulative occupiers in another country.
    The Shah situation was kind of like the Vichy Govt in France in the 1940s.

    Shah baby got chucked out.
    The yanks look bad. Oh fuck, not again!
    They froze billion in funds in USA banks because they were hurty and looked bad.
    This time they were really pissed off because only a few years before they were run out of Vietnam by a bunch of little fellas in black pajamas toting WW2 guns (and some vastly superior to M16s AK47s)
    This time they reacted nastily.

    Iran is its own country.
    It is friends with Russia. So what.
    When Cuba had USA’s friend Batista at the helm life was pretty shit for the locals.
    Castro may have not been so flash but he was their own bastard.

    Most of you have slowly learnt ‘history’ via the MSM
    It is time you throw off the shackles and look at real facts and real history.

    The dreaded al Qaeda was set up initially by the USA as ‘the list’ of approved people to supply arms to to fight the Russians in the 1980s.

    Kea is mostly correct in his opening comment.
    These ‘wars’ were USA manipulation games.
    Mubarak in Egypt was another ally of the USA.
    Until he was not.

    Saddam Hussein was a friend of the USA ..until he was not
    He fought the war against Iran ….against the people who had embarrassed USA.
    How convenient.
    Saddam used chemicals on the local people.
    Well, what the hell was Agent Orange and Napalm on the citizens on Vietnam. South Vietnam,
    The people they were rescuing?
    Huh. They were chemical weapons. 20 million tons of Agent Orange and related.
    More bombs on a teeny strip of land than all WW2.

    Never take a geo-politic story at face value.
    Find out who is telling the story and what their intent may be.
    That is why sources are important.

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