Nerves are fraying in Tehran as initial glee over Arab spring upheavals turns to alarm. Iran welcomed the fall of its old enemy, Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak. But the uprising now threatening its key Arab ally, the Syrian regime of Bashar Al-Assad, is a different matter altogether. Worse still, the thought that the region’s revolutionary mood may inspire Iran’s own much-bludgeoned green opposition to rise again inspires real fear.
Snap judgments in Washington and Jerusalem that Iran would be a main beneficiary of the collapse of the old Arab order now look wide of the mark. Infighting within the regime is matched by, and linked to, rising strategic uncertainty abroad. For these and other reasons, such as the gathering impact of nuclear-related sanctions, the era of cocky Iranian international defiance may be drawing to a close.
Amid the Middle East maelstrom, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei – Tehran’s terrible twins – suddenly look off balance, vulnerable, and at odds.
Khamenei tried initially to hijack the Arab liberation movements in the name of Iran’s illiberal theocratic brand, shamelessly sidestepping the brutal suppression of Iran’s own democratic revolt in 2009. “What I firmly announce is that a new movement, with the grace of God, has started in the region,” he said in his Persian new year message in March. “This widespread awakening of nations, which is directed towards Islamic goals, will definitely become victorio… >>>