This defiance marks a change. Until recently, Iran had absorbed economic pressure from abroad. It had remained silent in the face of covert operations aimed at slowing the progress of its nuclear program, brushing off the destructive Stuxnet computer worm, apparently a joint U.S.-Israeli project. But the government has been embarrassed and unnerved by multiple assassinations of its scientists and by suspicious explosions at its military facilities. One blast killed the general charged with developing Iran’s missile program. The attacks have shaken the country’s security forces.
The ruling clerics are also worried about the impact of economic sanctions, which have greatly reduced Iran’s access to global financial markets, created shortages of imported items, and increased inflation and unemployment. The rial has fallen to its lowest point against the dollar, and capital is fleeing the country at an alarming rate. The government has been forced to scrap numerous infrastructure projects, especially in the oil- and-gas sector.
These hardships have caused popular discontent. The next set of sanctions may bring street protests. Iran’s rulers fear a repeat of the demonstrations of 2009. They now see the U.S. policy on Iran — of toughening sanctions and also, at the United Nations, addressing Iran’s human-rights record and support for terrorism — as one aimed at regime change.
That makes attaining nuclear weapons of critical importan… >>>