Monday, March 21, 2011

Neither Gadhafi nor West: Iran’s stance on Libyan crisis

The Western air strikes on Libya has created a dilemma situation for Iran’s foreign policy-makers. Unlike some leftist Latin American countries, particularly Venezuela, which publicly sided with Gadhafi’s regime since public riots started in Libya and condemned the protests as the plot of Western imperialist powers, Iran officially embraced the protests movement as reflecting the popular will of the Libyan people. From early on, Iran expressed its solidarity with the Libyan people by calling the popular uprising against the Gadhafi regime as a ‘noble move’ and by referring to the slain protestors as ‘martyrs’. Accordingly, Iranian officials condemned Gadhafi’s violent crackdown on the opposition forces and went as far as denouncing Gadhafi as a ‘lunatic’ .

Iran initially saw the prospect of the Gadhafi regime falling quickly in the face of mounting public protests in Libya and being replaced by a more friendly government. While extending its full verbal support to the Libyan protesters, Iran remained wary of Western intentions towards Libya from early on. The general concern among Iranian officials has been that Western powers, especially the US, may opportunistically use the protection of civilians as a pretext for building military foothold in Libya and influencing political processes in that country with a view to installing a pro-Western puppet regime there . It was in this vein that Iran’s parliament speaker, Ali Larijani, stated that “We warn the Libyan dictator that fighting the will of a nation means moving on a two-edged sword and becoming a scapegoat for the United States' temptations and hegemonic aspirations”.

Along the same lines, a number of high-ranking Iranian military and political officials also warned Western powers from early on against any military action against Libya. Iran’s foreign ministry spokesman, Ramin Mehmanparast, aptly articulated Iran’s concern in a recent press conference by stating that “they Western powers} are pursuing their own interests which are based on dominance over other nations, the establishment of military bases and continuation of colonialism in its modern form". While welcoming the imposition of the no-fly zone on Libya, Iranian officials also voiced their strong opposition to the military strikes by Western powers against Libya with the aim of enforcing the no-fly zone.

However, as it has become clear that the rebel forces are not capable of overcoming the Gadhafi regime by themselves and as Gadhafi has shown to be unrestrained in the use of violence against the protestors, the dilemma poses itself for Iran and a number of other like-minded states as to how to prevent further massacre of civilians at the hands of the Gadhafi regime while preventing the Western powers from being militarily involved in Libya. In an attempt to offer a solution to the existing dilemma facing Iran and some other countries regarding their position on the Libyan crisis, Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, suggested today in a speech on the occasion of Nowruz, that instead of direct military intervention in Libya Western powers should arm the rebel forces to topple the Gadhafi regime themselves. Regardless of how effective such a proposed solution can be in swiftly dealing with the ongoing crisis in Libya, Khamenei’s statement highlights Iran’s anxiety over the prospects of the Libyan popular uprising being hijacked by the Western powers.

It is of course not the first time that Iran has faced a dilemma in its foreign policy towards regional countries. US wars against the Taliban regime and Saddam’s Iraq were the most prominent cases over the past decade in which Iran faced a dilemma situation. In both cases Iran tried to reconcile the dilemma by adopting a critical public posture against the US while aiding the opposition forces in those countries to topple their incumbent regimes . However, unlike the war in Iraq and Afghanistan, the reality is that Iran does not have sufficient resources to effectively influence political developments in North Africa and in large part has to content itself with issuing diplomatic statements on the unfolding events in that region .


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