Sunday Telegraph: Nowhere is the West’s inability to grasp the realities of Middle Eastern politics more obvious than in its self-deceiving attitude to the most powerful and menacing regime of all, the theocratic dictatorship that rules over Iran.
Nowhere is our inability to grasp the realities of Middle-Eastern politics more obvious than in our self-deceiving attitude towards the theocracy in Iran
The Sunday Telegraph
By Christopher Booker
Yet again the Western world gazes baffled and powerless at the ever more tragic mess unfolding across the Middle East. The wishful-thinking euphoria that greeted the “Arab Spring” two years ago seems a million miles away as Egypt plunges into bloody chaos; an even greater catastrophe continues to engulf Syria; violence returns to Lebanon with a huge bomb attack on Assad’s Hizbollah allies; thousands die in the sectarian strife that is the West’s legacy to “liberated” Iraq; and yet more “peace talks” brokered by the US between Israel and the Palestinians look more forlorn than ever.
Yet nowhere is the West’s inability to grasp the realities of Middle Eastern politics more obvious than in its self-deceiving attitude to the most powerful and menacing regime of all, the theocratic dictatorship that rules over Iran. Quite apart from its ruthless oppression of its own people, the Tehran regime has a finger in pretty well every nasty pie in the region – as chief backer of the Assad regime in Syria and Palestinian terror groups such as Hizbollah; as the shadowy presence behind the corrupt al-Maliki regime in Iraq; and even supposedly as an ally of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt.
Yet again, recently we saw the West’s endless gullibility over Iran in the response of politicians and media to the election as president of Hassan Rouhani, hailed as a “moderate” and a “reformer” who might open the door to better relations between Iran and the West, not least over the ever-vexed issue of Iran’s ambition to become a nuclear power.
What so many in the West seem unable to grasp is that Rouhani, like his predecessor Ahmadinejad, is just a creature of the real power in Iran, centred in the country’s “Supreme Leader”, the Ayatollah Khamenei. Rouhani may have been one of eight candidates (out of an original 800) allowed to stand in a horrendously rigged election by the Supreme Leader, but for more than 20 years he has been a key apparatchik of the regime, serving at the heart of its military, security and intelligence system.
As far back as the 1980s Rouhani was deputy commander-in-chief of Iran’s armed forces, before serving for 16 years as secretary of its Supreme National Security Council. In 1999 he led the ruthless suppression of a major student uprising, in obedience, as he said, to a “revolutionary order to crush mercilessly and monumentally any move of these dissidents”. Between 2003 and 2005 he led those famous and futile nuclear negotiations, boasting (as was revealed by The Sunday Telegraph in 2006) of how he had fooled the West by “taking advantage of talks with Britain, Germany and France to forge ahead with the secret atomic programme”. No sooner was he elected in June than he made clear that there is no way Iran will halt its nuclear programme.
He has equally made clear that Iran will continue to give every support to Assad’s murderous efforts to stamp out the Syrian uprising. His new defence minister, Hossein Dehghan, was a founder member of the Revolutionary Guard, Iran’s equivalent of the Soviet KGB, responsible through its Qods Force for spreading terror across the Middle East, and he was one of those responsible in 1979 for the US embassy siege and the seizure of 44 hostages. His justice minister Mostafa Pourmohammadi played a key role in the 1980s in the massacre of 30,000 political prisoners, most of them members of the People’s Mujahideen of Iran, part of the country’s largest dissident movement, the National Council for Resistance in Iran (NCRI).
Since Rouhani’s election, thousands more Iranians have been imprisoned and scores hanged, many publicly, as a warning to any other potential dissidents. Yet this is the man we are told is a “moderate” and a “reformer”. As the head of the NCRI, Mrs Maryam Rajavi, in June, told a rally of 100,000 Iranian exiles in Paris that their country cannot be described as moving towards “moderation” until its people have been given freedom of speech and the right to form political parties, all political prisoners are freed, it stops its “war-mongering meddling in Syria and Iraq” and abandons its wish to become a nuclear power. But the mullahs cannot allow any of this to happen, she went on, because it would bring their downfall. So the most dangerous and evil regime in the Middle East floats on, spreading terror at home and abroad, but misrepresented in the West as a “moderate” new government with which we can hope to do business – not least over those plans to acquire its own nuclear weapons, about which Rouhani has already deceived us once and doubtless has every intention of continuing to do so.