Iran op-ed
Source Jim Devine
Date 06/08/25/10:50

[this article makes sense as a description of the Iranian government,
from what I've read.]

August 24, 2006/New York TIMES.
Op-Ed Contributor
Sweating Out the Truth in Iran

Tehran, Iran

WORKING as a journalist in Iran embodies the definition of insanity:
doing the same thing over and over again without getting any results.
That's how I felt at the height of the conflict in Lebanon, when I
asked officials about Iran's relations with Hezbollah, bearing in mind
that posing such questions can be a futile, dangerous and sometimes
even lethal exercise.

How was Iran helping Hezbollah? Did Iran really start the war to
divert attention from its uranium enrichment program (which it vowed
this week to continue)? Was Iran, as Hezbollah's ally, if not patron,
willing to put its money where its mouth was and enter the conflict?

Questions, questions. Of course no one answered.

So as a good Iranian, I indulged in fantasy. Fantasizing has become
something of a national sport here. Our president, Mahmoud
Ahmadinejad, predicted that the national soccer team would finish
third or fourth in the World Cup. He also thinks we can become a
nuclear powerhouse, even though we have a hard time manufacturing
safety matches or making light bulbs with life expectancies of more
than two weeks. By the way, the soccer team didn't make it out of the
first round.

The setting of my dream was a sauna, where I questioned an imaginary
official for five minutes (alas, even our dreams have boundaries
here). Why a sauna? For some reason, Iranian officials love going to
saunas. Some of the most important decisions in our recent history
have been made in saunas. I'm serious.

I politely approach the high-ranking official and give him the
impression that he is actually as important as he thinks he is. A
bearded man in his early 50's, he usually wears a navy-blue suit and a
collarless white shirt buttoned to the neck. (You can imagine how he
would look in a sauna yourself. Hint: lots of hair). He is friendly
and polite at first, but then his munificent smile turns to an
agitated frown.

Q. How do you support the Lebanese resistance?

A. The Israeli regime has shown it has no concern for human rights and
international law. It kills infants and pregnant women.

Q. How do you support the Lebanese resistance?

A. Americans have double standards. There is one for Israel and
another one for the rest of the world. If it were not for America,
Israel would never dare to kill innocent Lebanese citizens with such

Q. How do you support the Lebanese resistance?

A. I just answered you.

Q. No. You didn't. You just repeated the slogans I heard people were
chanting in the Palestine Square demonstration yesterday morning and
at Friday prayers two days before that. How does Iran support
Hezbollah? Financially? Militarily? Spiritually? How?

The official gets annoyed and looks to his bodyguards to take him
away. He wipes the sweat off his face, adjusts his towel and leaves.

It is a silly fantasy, I admit. But the Iranian regime has reached a
crossroads in its relationship with the rest of the world, and no one
in the government is willing to give the public a straight answer.

There is a vague logic in the absurdity of the events here. But the
people in the government tend not to share the obscure reasons behind
their decisions with the public during crises. Officials usually leave
it to pundits to interpret the government's behavior as they wish
(they must enjoy the French film critics who divine philosophical
gesticulations in Iranian films in which absolutely nothing happens).

Using Hezbollah as a threat has always helped Iran in its negotiations
with the West. Iran would like to keep it that way. Helping Hezbollah
overtly, however, would lead to a direct confrontation with Israel and
the United States, while officially staying out of Lebanese affairs
means betraying revolutionary ideals the regime pretends to hold dear
to its heart. For the moment, Iran is sticking to bombastic rhetoric
while doing nothing, to the chagrin of many of its hard-line

Iran helped create Hezbollah in the early 1980's, it is Hezbollah's
most vocal supporter, and before the war it sent the group millions of
dollars of cash, medicine, arms and of course posters of Ayatollahs
Ruhollah Khomeini and Ali Khamenei, which accompanied every aid
package and arms shipment.

Does this Iranian aid make Hezbollah Iran's puppet? From all evidence,
Hezbollah, to a great extent, makes decisions independently of Iran.
Hezbollah is an indigenous Lebanese armed resistance group that owes
its popularity to Israeli atrocities, biased American policies and
corrupt Lebanese politicians. When the United States and Israel try to
portray Hezbollah as an Iranian proxy, they are pointing the finger in
the wrong direction.

But Iran definitely uses the threat of its influence over Hezbollah to
further its objectives. And its prime objective is the survival of the
Islamic regime at any price. The clerics and non-clerics (they are now
mostly non-clerics) in power in Iran are not the old revolutionary
zealots the Americans tend to imagine. They are pragmatic men who have
enjoyed the fruits of power for 27 years and don't want to lose them.
In the aftermath of Sept. 11, Iranian statesmen were so scared of
American retaliation that for the first time since the revolution, no
one chanted "Death to America" in Iran for 10 days.

The regime's rhetoric about the United States and Israel is a remnant
of the time when seizing embassies and staging revolutions were in
vogue. But now the Islamic Republic has one of the world's younger
populations. Most young Iranians I know don't care for their fathers'
ideals. They prefer the better things in life, like plasma TV's on
which to watch Britney Spears and the exiled Iranian pop diva Googoosh
on illegal satellite channels. (No, Mr. Cheney, they don't want the
United States to invade their country.) The government spends much of
its $60 billion in annual oil revenue to import goods and keep its
youth happy.

The paradoxes of the regime have exposed its hypocrisies. On one hand,
the fiery slogans are the raison d'ętre of the Islamic Republic, and
on the other, acting openly on those slogans would spell its demise.
The most expedient thing to do has been nothing, while continuing to

Up until the start of the war in Lebanon, that was just fine. Iran
benefited from a series of victories without doing much. First the
Americans got rid of the Taliban, Iran's enemy to the east. Then the
Americans got rid of Iran's archenemy to the west, Saddam Hussein.
Finally, with Americans mired in both countries, the price of oil went
through the roof, and Iran started enriching uranium again, knowing
that the West could do nothing. The regime was intoxicated with oil
money and regional influence.

But the war in Lebanon has made it impossible for the Islamic Republic
to enjoy the same calm. Hezbollah has become a liability for Iran.
Weakened, it now needs Iran's petrodollars and rockets to regain its
strength. At the same time, Israel and the United States are
scrutinizing the transfer of arms and money from Iran to Hezbollah
more closely than ever. The next shipment of arms from Iran to
Hezbollah may result in direct confrontation with Israel and the
United States.

The bearded men in the saunas must be sweating more than usual, even
though in public they toast Hezbollah's "victory" with glasses of
pomegranate juice. The Islamic Republic is coming to the point where
it has to choose: destroy itself by repeating the same old slogans, or
come up with new definitions for itself, its friends and foes.

Maziar Bahari is a journalist and documentary film maker.

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