Omid Memarian

Thursday, April 05, 2007

This Game Will Have No Winners

Who is in fact the winner of the British sailors’ dispute? How can this question be answered? Over the past few days, many analysts have attempted to review this event from different angles. The struggle between Iran and the West, or at least the US, is slowly taking the shape of a Grand Prize Game. This game has players and spectators, takes place in stages, and each of the contestants have strengths and weaknesses in different areas. One gets ahead of the other, only to be overtaken by him in a different stage of the game. But this game can only have one final winner. With the stance the US has assumed vis a vis Iran, the loser—whether Iran or US—will gain nothing. The difference between this Grand Prize Game and chess is that there can’t be a tie. This game may be analyzed in different ways. It can be evaluated in each stage, or based on the final results. Environmental or outside factors of the game can also be reviewed, each of which can affect the game in its entirety. In this way, the analysts can each take a piece of the facts and base their results around it.
With this opening, what was the message of the British sailors’ saga? Was their freedom a sign of Iranian Government’s generosity? Did it cause the world to see how benevolent the Ahmadinejad government is? Or did it work to strengthen the anti-Iran propaganda which has been in full force over the past months? What are the effects of this crisis in short- and long-term? For Iran, what are the ramifications of the sailors’ statements yesterday, telling of psychological pressures while in custody, threatened to seven years in prison if they didn’t confess to entering Iranian waters? What will be the price Iran will have to pay? Is it still too soon to examine the different dimensions of this event?

In the Grand Prize Game, the West (represented by Britain and US) has been able to facilitate three resolutions against Iran in the United Nations Security Council, encourage Iran’s neighbors to form a united front against Iran, slowly limit Tehran’s economic ties to Western banks and countries, limit Iran’s allies’ maneuverability in Lebanon and Palestine (Hezbollah and Hammas), and to take measures displaying Iran as an enemy of US strategies in the region. To this list we can add more traditional measures of attempting to destabilize Iranian boarder security, support of anti-revolutionary groups’ terrorist activities, support of ethnic and religious minority opposition groups—this effort’s goal is a regime change in Iran--, and so forth. Let’s not forget a buildup of military presence in the Persian Gulf, which with the several US navy ships there is slowly becoming an “American Lake,” and a re-emphasized stance on “all available options against Iran are on the table.” Of course the list does go on.

With the image which has been successfully developed against Iran both in the region and worldwide, Tehran is now facing the international community. Arrests and the subsequent release of the British sailors and their statement in London, has been accompanied with the word “hostages.” In an evening program, CNN copied the style of ABC’s Nightline program during the 1979 American hostage crisis in Iran, counting the days the hostages were held in Iran. Nightline continued that style until “Day 444,” reminding Americans daily of the Iranian Government.

Hostage situations pose a very bitter image to Westerners. Carter’s Deputy of Secretary of Defense said in a recent interview with CNN that prior to this event, Iran had left all the “hostage taking” to its allies such as Lebanon’s Hezbollah, Hammas in Palestine, and Shiite insurgency in Iraq, and now Iran is directly involved, in essence seeking a confrontation with the world. To what end is this statement and similar reasoning made? It serves to convey that Tehran government is itself a hostage taker and a terrorist regime. This same image has been promoted heavily against the Iranian Government over the past few weeks. This is also the same claim by Neoconservative groups who call Tehran a terrorist government. Whether we like it or not, whether we love Ahmadinejad or whether we are objectively reviewing the situation, recent events fuel the fires set by supporters of war in Washington.

Unlike supporters of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s Government, or those who criticize the Government but are concerned about the future of Iran, people in the West don’t watch programs on Iranian Television or Al-Alam Network, so they aren’t bombarded with Iranian Government propaganda; therefore they are not affected by the same. Western media views arrest of the British sailors as a message by Tehran about a preference for a confrontation as opposed to negotiations. Western analysis is founded on the notion that innocent sailors completing a mission inside Iraqi boarders cannot be arrested first, followed by invitations for negotiations, and the eventual release of the sailors called a “gift to British People.” The British sailors said in their press conference that “resistance was not an option. If we were to resist, none of us would have come out alive.”

Issuance of incorrect information by Iranian authorities in the beginning of the affair, coupled with behavior demonstrated over the coming days such as television interviews which angered British public, was an unsuccessful attempt by Tehran to replicate the treatment it has afforded its political and journalist dissidents. Though time and again this policy has proven unsuccessful and an out-of-date measure inside Iran, it was surprising to see that intelligence organizations close to Revolutionary Guard continue to implement this policy. This policy pays no regard to the fact that these prisoners, much like any other prisoner, will eventually be released and upon their release, they will say things which will face a very receptive audience, unlike Iranian Government’s words which have a very sparse audience now. Surprised by the sailors’ story and pressure for their confessions, over the past two days, Western networks have referred to this event as “Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s Political Theatre.”

Arrest of the sailors in disputed Iran/Iraq water boarders was another sign for Iran’s neighbor to remember its previous struggles with Iran several decades ago. A continued dispute over waters around Iran’s southern boarders will lead to renewed age-old differences with Iraq, an issue better left alone at this time. This type of adventurism will also threaten Iran’s shaky friendship with its other neighbors, making them fearful. This will have the exact same impact as Iran’s nuclear program has had on its neighbors.

Iran’s posturing for the West, and making threats about how any harm to Iran might have unforeseen results for the West has both proponents and opponents. Some Ahmadinejad supporters view this as a pre-emptive measure, and believe that this way the US will not dream about attacking Iran.

Opponents of this idea believe that with the determined stance of the West for reining Iran in, such actions only confirm that the Islamic Republic of Iran is a rogue government, and sooner or later it must be toppled. It is noteworthy, for example, to say that over the past two weeks, the word “evil” has been frequently used on different US television network programs. In a recent program on CNN, the topic for which was “End of Time,” war between “good” and “evil” forces was discussed, and unfortunately, Iran was not mentioned in the “good” category.

Other recently-performed analysis can be added to the above. Iran’s willingness to see its hostages released in Iraq, Ahmadinejad’s concerns about Tehran’s loss of control over the crisis and a subsequently forced freedom of the sailors without any tangible gains for Tehran, and Tony Blair’s statements about British soldiers’ casualties in Basra and Iran’s possible involvement in the matter, etc., are among these new analysis.

The game continues, however, and the results are not yet clear. We must wait and see what the next stage of this Grand Prize Game is, and whose side has been strengthened through Iran’s arrest of the 15 British sailors. As events shape and continue, there is another speculation on the horizon and that is that this game will have no winners.


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