Last Updated: Sat Oct 20, 2012 07:40 am (KSA) 04:40 am (GMT)

Nasrallah and yesterday’s hymn sheet

Amir Taheri

Is Hassan Nasrallah a “Zionist agent”?

Normally, the answer should be: God, forbid!

And, yet, this was the charge leveled against him last week by, Deputy Commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) General Jamaleddin Abroumand.

The general was commenting on reports about the penetration of an unknown drone into Israel’s air space. Seizing every opportunity to praise his paymasters in Tehran, Nasrallah had rushed to his TV studio to claim that the drone had been made in Iran and sent to Lebanon as part of a strategy to keep Israel under pressure.

The general did not mention Nasrallah by name; but his remarks included big hints about the intended target.

“Those who link the drone incident to Iran are carrying out Israel’s psychological war against the Islamic Republic,” Abroumand said.

Since no one, not even Israel, had linked the drone to Iran, it was obvious that the general was referring to Nasrallah.

The drone incident had come just days after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had announced early elections in which fear of “a nuclear-armed Iran” would be the main theme of his campaign.

Concern about Israel’s safety is also a consideration with a segment of the Jewish electorate in the United States. That concern could change enough votes in some swing states, notably Florida and Ohio, to threaten President Barack Obama’s re-election hopes.

Tehran, however, regards Obama as the lesser of two evils and is determined to do nothing to sabotage his re-election.

Obama has already given the Islamic Republic four more years in which to pursue its nuclear ambitions. When Obama entered the White House Iran had around 400 centrifuges enriching uranium up to 3.5 per cent. Now it has 12,000 enriching up to 20 per cent. The consensus in Tehran is that if Obama gets four more years, Iran would have enough time to develop a full nuclear cycle and impose it as fait accompli.

At the other end of the spectrum, Tehran does not want Netanyahu to win the next Israeli election.

To achieve those two objectives Tehran has been trying to cool things down on a number of issues.

It has agreed to a new round of talks on the nuclear issue, helping Obama claim that his goal of a negotiated settlement may still be attainable.

“We have every hope of achieving results very quickly,” the European Union’s foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said on Sunday. (She is in charge of negotiations with Iran on the nuclear issue.)

Tehran has also toned down its support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, at least verbally. On Monday, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad implicitly rejected al-Assad’s boast about beating the opposition into submission.

“The solution to the problem in Syria is not to allow anyone to impose his views on the nation,” Ahmadinejad said. “The people of Syria must express their will in genuinely free elections.”

An even more telling sign of Tehran’s intention to cool things down to help Obama and hinder Netanyahu came in a speech by “Supreme Guide” Ali Khamenei in Bojnurd, northeast Iran.

“What the Zionists say is not significant enough to merit an answer,” Khamenei said, clearly hoping to cool down talk of Israeli pre-emptive attacks.

Hopes of impacting the American and Israeli elections are not the sole reason for Tehran’s change of hymn sheet.

Khamenei and Ahmadinejad have been rattled by the recent run on the Iranian currency, the rial, which has pushed the economy to the edge of the precipice. While the economic crisis has many reasons, including mismanagement and hastily introduced reforms, there is no doubt that talk of war has been a factor in people’s rush to buy dollars.

Before the recent run on the rial, bellicose talk had been the flavor of the day in Tehran. Men wearing military caps or white or black turbans would appear on TV to promise imminent wars that would wipe Israel off the map, bring America to its knees and conquer the world for the “Supreme Guide”.

General Hossein Salami could claim that the IRGC was poised to destroy the US military machine in the Middle East. “We are not impressed by their hardware,” the general said. “To us, all that is rusty iron.”

General Hassan Firouzabadi, Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces, had to appear on TV to call for an end to “all that talk of war.”

Historians know that many wars start with loose talk, often prompted by hyperbolic optimism. It is when victory appears to be within reach at a low cost that the signal is given for war.

Thus, in referring to “the Zionist psychological war against the Islamic Republic”, General Abroumand was echoing General Firouzabadi.

A master of hyperbole, Nasrallah praised the wayward drone as if it were a flying miracle of science, technology and Khomeinism. Perhaps he did not know that more than 40 countries produce and/or use drones, according to the Institute for Strategic Studies. In fact, Nasrallah could buy a simpler and cheaper version of the drone from the Hamleys toy store in London and propel it with remote control over the Shabaa Farms.

It is possible that Nasrallah was not aware of the change of tune in Tehran. His Iranian controllers must have forgotten to inform him that they now wanted to cool things down because talk of war could harm Obama and help Netanyahu. In other words, the puppet was singing from yesterday’s hymn sheet.

(This article was published in Asharq Alawsat online on Oct. 19, 2012.)

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