We are in the middle of the Dahe Fajr (the “Ten-Day Dawn”) in Iran. On February 1, thirty-one years ago, Ayatollah Khomeini landed at Mehrabad Airport in Tehran. Ten days later, the Shah’s government fell. For these ten days Iran strings its streets with lights and joyfully makes ready to celebrate the founding of the Islamic Republic on February 11, which is this Thursday.
And indeed, everywhere you look, everybody’s getting ready for the holiday:
The Islamic Republic
On February 1, President Ahmadinejad announced that Iran will “deliver a telling blow” to the “arrogant global powers” on the 11th.
Two days later he announced that Iran had successfully launched a satellite-capable rocket into space, prompting concerns that such rockets could carry a nuclear payload. The rocket carried a rat, two turtles, and some worms.
The regime is once again making ambiguous noises about its willingness, or unwillingness, to ship nuclear fuel outside of Iran for processing, hoping to avoid or defer harsher sanctions. In the meantime, Iran’s major European trading partner, Germany, is beginning to pull corporate operations and personnel out of the country, and price controls on basic commodities are about to rise dramatically.
And a major German newspaper, the Süddeutschen Zeitung, reported on Thursday that Iran has developed an atomic bomb with the help of a scientist from the former Soviet Union.
The Green Movement
The Green Movement within Iran is preparing demonstrations for the 11th, carefully orchestrated by dissidents inside and outside the country, and has called on the Army not to take the side of the mullahs against the Iranian people:
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Iran’s Coordination Council of the Reformist Front and the Combatant Clerics Association have called for people to turn out in large numbers, and opposition leader Mehdi Karroubi has urged protesters to “take part in the anniversary rally calmly and firmly… with patience and without verbal and physical violence.”
A moving perspective on this year’s anniversary is Roya Hakakian’s “Persistence of Memory.”
The regime, as a festive gesture, has sentenced another nine protesters to death.
Elsewhere, preparations for the holiday are also underway:
The United States has publicly announced that it has provided Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar and Oman with ballistic missile defenses. BMD-capable, Aegis-equipped warships are on patrol in the Persian Gulf. In addition, the U. S. administration is:
quietly working with Saudi Arabia and other Persian Gulf allies to speed up arms sales and rapidly upgrade defenses for oil terminals and other key infrastructure in a bid to thwart future attacks by Iran, according to former and current U.S. and Middle Eastern government officials.
In Israel, Moshe Yaalon, Minister for Strategic Affairs, stated “The Iranian regime must be told to choose between the bomb and survival. When given the same choice in 2003 the regime chose survival.” The joint U.S.-Israeli military exercises, “Juniper Cobra”, held in late October, included extensive ballistic missile defense components and had a “near-deployment” feel to them.
What Will Happen?
Who knows? The situation has many moving parts and remains fluid. Many key players inside and outside Iran believe that they face an existential threat.
The Iranian government may try to provoke Israel or the U. S. or others into precipitous action, hoping to display, in response, Iran’s peaceful and rational behavior. Perhaps it will graciously release the three American hikers, as it did the British sailors in 2007, as an anniversary present.
The U. S. and its allies need to remain well-prepared, on high alert, and very cool.
What should the media do? Offer visibility and support to Iranians engaged in non-violent protest. Expose the actions, and offshore bank accounts, of individual officials within the Iranian government.
Be careful in framing questions: “What approaches are under consideration for improving the situation with Iran?” opens out to constructive conversation and tactical possibilities. “Will you back down and appease the war-mongers in Iran?” ups the ante and narrows the options. The stakes are already high enough.