President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is feeling isolated and angry and defensive – and he doesn’t care who knows it.
“Even the most unintelligent people from the political point of view will soon understand that the Annapolis conference was already a failure,” said Ahmadinejad at the end of his cabinet meeting on Wednesday.
Across the board, the Iranian media portrayed the conference as a danger to Iran. Tabnak, which is owned and run by Mohsen Rezai, the former head of Revolutionary Guards, declared that “separating Iran and Syria is the first bullet emanating from Annapolis.”
Syria is indeed clearly the crux of Iran’s unhappiness about the conference. Damascus has been viewed as Teheran’s strongest strategic ally. The Iranian government has been pumping billions into Syria’s economy, and Iranian companies have created thousands of jobs in Syria by opening up factories. Iran has worked hard to ensure that Syria stays in its anti-Israeli camp, because without Syria, Iran could lose its supply lines to its Hezbollah allies in Lebanon. The Iranian government likely believed, after recent reports by foreign press regarding the bombardment of a Syrian nuclear plant by Israel would put Syria firmly in Iran’s anti-Israeli camp once and for all.
The participation of Syria in the Annapolis talks proved them wrong. With Iran becoming concerned about an imminent US attack against its nuclear facilities, seeing Syria respond positively to the US invitation is being viewed as a slap in the face by the Iranians. It seems that there is nothing Iran can do to stop Damascus from flirting openly with Washington in front of the world.
So all they are able to do is to downplay the impact of the conference. Tehran-based Keyhan newspaper, which is run by Hossein Shariatmadari, Ayatollah Khamenei’s advisor, ran a front page story titled “The wrath of the Islamic world against the Annapolis conference”.
With a majority of Middle East governments turning up to Annapolis, conservative Iranian publications such as Keyhan are doing their best to focus on counter-demonstrations against Annapolis in Iran, Lebanon, and Gaza. The Iranian government has gone one step further by throwing their own party – inviting leaders of the Palestinian factions opposed to the Annapolis meeting to Tehran for a meeting set for Dec. 8.
In addition to their concerns about Syria, Iran is obviously worried that Annapolis is also part of a grand US plans to strengthen the anti-Iran alliance with moderate Arab regimes, laying the groundwork to use their territory, if and when an attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities is imminent. The Tehran-based Asr Iran news agency reported a warning from Iran to Arab countries that if they allow their territory to be used in an attack against Iran, Tehran would strike back as “legitimate defense”.
Meanwhile Fars News, a right-wing news agency affiliated with Iran’s judiciary, was the first to break the news about Iran’s declaration that it had developed the Ashura missile, which has a range of 2000 kilometres, an announcement deliberately timed for the day when the Annapolis talks started.
Would Iran be able to turn its anti-Annapolis bluster into action to derail whatever process is started there?
The answer is yes. And it can do so indirectly, through surrogates who have proven successful
Iran supports Hamas, who did not attend the talks.
With its control of Gaza, this militant Palestinian organization can cause significant damage to any plan to introduce peace simply by escalating its ongoing missile attacks on Israel. Iran also wields power in Lebanon. With the Lebanese government currently going through a crisis as it agonizes over choosing a President, Tehran is able to damage Western interests by instructing Hezbollah and its Christian ally Michel Aoun to increase their demands, thus making the task of choosing a president more difficult, adding to the power and security vacuum in Lebanon, which is likely to trigger violence.
Last but not least, there is the question of Iraq: the soft underbelly of US ambitions in the Middle East.
Iran, through its Shiite allies, has the power to wreck the newly established relative calm there. Indeed, at Annapolis, the West and Israel has achieved a victory against Iran by getting so many Arab countries to attend and leaving it symbolically isolated.
The champagne, however, should be kept on ice. Iran is sending the message that it will do everything in its power to make sure the celebrations are short-lived.
Meir Javedanfar is the co-author with Yossi Melman of “The Nuclear Sphinx of Tehran – Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the State of Iran.” He runs Middle East Economic and Political Analysis (Meepas)