Kermit the Frog syndrome It’s not easy being green… • Persian, Shiite identity comes at a price – no natural friends • Historically unable to make significant forays into the Arab world • Ethnic and linguistic kin in Afghanistan and Tajikistan – blocked by Sunni Islam, Soviet/Russian power
Iranian History in a Nutshell Imperial Persia 551 BC – 651 CE The Persians during this period time battled the Greeks, Romans, and other great powers. The Persian dominion extended beyond the Iranian plateau to include areas of Central Asia, Southwest Asia, and the Middle East. Iran under the Arabs – The Sassanids (224–651) were the last great Persian dynasty. Constant warring with the Byzantine Empire had weakened it, which allowed the Arab/Islamic caliphate under Umar bin al-Khattab, the second of Muhammad’s successors, began the conquest of the Persian realms. Persians remained firmly under Arab control all throughout the Umayyad and most of the Abbasid period. Rise of the Shia Persians It was not until the rise of the Safavids that the Persians re-emerged as a major power. They had been Islamized centuries earlier, but under the Safavids (1501-1722), the Persians adopted Shia Islam. Iranian monarchy in the modern age It was during the reign of the Qajars (1795-1925) that the Persian Empire underwent its first revolution, the Constitutional Revolution (1905-11) and the country came under the influence of British and Russian Empires. The weakening of the Qajar Dynasty brought to power the Pahlavi. – the father Reza Shah Pahlavi, and his son Mohammad Reza Pahlavi. The Islamic Republic of Iran Shia Islamists led by the cleric Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini ousted Mohammad Reza Pahlavi in the Islamic revolution of 1979, which led to the establishment of the Islamic Republic of Iran. The government since then has been a hybrid between western parliamentary democracy and Shia theocracy.
A History of Foreign Intervention • Greek, Arab, Mongol, Turkic and and Russian invasions • Russo-Iranian wars in early 1800s – Iran loses Georgia and most of north Caucasus region to Russia. In second war that ended in 1828, Iran gave Russia control of present-day Armenia and northern Azerbaijan. • WWII – Operation Countenance – Anglo-Soviet invasion to secure oil and supply routes to USSR; Soviet occupation of Iranian Azerbaijan 1941-46; Soviet support for Azerbaijani and Kurdish separatist movements • 1953 coup d’etat – U.S. and GB engineered coup when Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadegh nationalized the country’s oil industry • Pahlavi period – U.S. becomes Iran’s sugar daddy • Battle of ideologies – Nationalism v. Islam • 1980 – Saddam invades Iran with U.S. support
A move toward unconventional tactics • Basij militia • Hezbollah • Badr Brigades
The Nuclear Issue • Following Iran-Iraq war, Iran accelerates nuclear program • Complete nuclear fuel cycle – uranium enrichment (Natanz) and plutonium (Arak) • How close is Iran to the bomb? Israel says 2007; US estimates 2011, 2015 • Lessons learned: Osirak
The Iraq War – A historical opportunity for Tehran 9/11 + Fall of Saddam = Happy Khamenei
The Value of Iraq • Shiite-dominated government • Iran would become the security guarantor and prevent another Sunni rise • Iran gets access to Iraq’s oil wealth in the south • Strategy: use Shiite proxies throughout region to force the U.S. to negotiate on Iran’s terms (summer war between Israel and Hezbollah, Shiite militant assets in Iraq, select support for Sunni groups) • Nuclear weapons program uncovered in 2002 – develops into negotiating tool for Iraq prize – is it now part of an Iraq deal?
Who’s Who in Tehran Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. He holds the highest religious office and calls the shots in Iran. He has also been an effective mediator between the conservative and reformist camps in the government. Rumor has it that he has terminal cancer and is unlikely to live to see next year. Mahmound Ahmadinejad (AKA A-Dogg), former mayor of Tehran, was elected president for a four-year term in June 2005. Likely installed by Khamenei to bolster the nuclear card. There are growing indications that A-Dogg will soon be removed from the political system, as he has served his purpose and Iran is now in the need of an adroit negotiator. Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani was elected president twice in 1989 and 1993. He now chairs the powerful Expediency Council. He will likely replace Khamenei as Supreme Leader once Khamenei dies. Rafsanjani heads the group of pragmatic conservatives in the government. Ali Larijani is the head of the Supreme National Security Council (SNSC). Larijani doubles as Iran's top negotiator on nuclear issues and Iraq and enjoys close relations with Khamenei, who has final say over all SNSC decisions. Larijani is a natural member of Iran’s ruling elite as the son and son-in-law of ayatollahs.
Oil, Money and Problems…. • Iran has the world's second biggest proven oil reserves after Saudi Arabia and the second biggest gas reserves after Russia • Iran currently uses 1.5 million barrels of oil a day, triple its consumption in 1980, and must import about 170,000 barrels a day of gasoline, which last year cost the government more than $4 billion. • Heavy subsidies, lack of technology, foreign expertise, sanctions
Opposition groups in Iran • About 60 percent of the Iranian population is Persian • Variety of ethnic minorities • Azeri – 18 million; Kurds – 4 million; • Arabs – 3 million; Baluchis – 1.4 million • Mujahideen-e-Khelq
Iranian Demographics Iran's population growth rate dropped from an all-time high of 3.2 percent in 1986 to just 1.2 percent in 2001, one of the fastest drops ever recorded. In reducing its population growth to 1.2 percent, a rate only slightly higher than that of the United States. During decade following Islamic Revolution, birth rates soared Post war-reconstruction – family planning re-introduced