The rhetoric of the Iranian political and military elite has become much tougher; Tehran has been flexing its military muscle over the same issue, and has ostentatiously turned down the IAEA and UN Security Council proposals to return to the negotiating table in order to resolve the problem; and finally, the Iranian Navy captured 15 British sailors before the Security Council adopted its latest resolution on tougher sanctions against Tehran.
Many experts believe that Tehran unequivocally declared its claims to regional leadership after Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was elected president in the summer of 2005. More than a year ago, he demanded that the world community recognize Iran as a "regional superpower." Positioning itself like this, Tehran placed its bets primarily on nuclear technologies, strong anti-Israeli rhetoric, and Arab support throughout the Middle East.
Tehran did not conceal its intention to reduce American prestige in Arab eyes, if not to oust the United States from the region altogether. It was convinced that the U.S. had gotten stuck in Iraq and Afghanistan, and would not bother about Iran. This was an ideal chance to portray the Big Satan as a miserable paper tiger.
Tehran, however, has clearly overestimated its potential. Its anti-Israeli and anti-American rhetoric has failed to win the unreserved support from Arabs on which it counted. The U.S. has suddenly come up with a new strategy for the region that will no longer tolerate Iran's meddling in the affairs of its neighbors. Tehran cannot fail to see that the U.S. may use Iran's notorious nuclear dossier as a very good excuse for implementing the number-one goal of its strategy, all the more so as Washington is already planning to deploy four or five carrier-based attack groups in the Persian Gulf. This weighty argument should prompt Tehran to look for ways to back down, but how can it find them without ruining its image as a "regional superpower"?
Clearly, Iran has every reason to become a regional power, and the world would welcome this if only Tehran did not hit its neighbors' sore spots. Iran has every right to develop civilian nuclear power, and nobody is encroaching on that. But Tehran claims that the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) is based on the presumption of innocence, but in reality it is the other way around. Experts believe that the NPT is based on the assumption that nuclear weapons are bound to be developed if all of their components are there. This premise is based on a simple truth - man is weak, but the temptation is great. The world is not sure that Iran will resist this temptation because it has failed to explain properly to the IAEA why it wants to develop its own nuclear technologies.
Iran is a master of political maneuvering. Many experts have quoted the recent seizure of the Royal Navy personnel as an example. In its usual manner, Tehran has availed itself of an opportunity to escalate tensions. But this time, its maneuver has failed. For the first time ever, the Security Council has unanimously voted for tougher sanctions against Tehran. Maybe this will compel Iran to think whether it should rush into war.
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