Iran’s trial balloon

Ayatollah Khamenei advisor Ali Akbar Velayati

In his recent interview with AP, Ayatollah Khamenei’s top foreign policy adviser Ali Akbar Velayati stated that Iran will be changing its tone and language with  the West. He also went on to say that:

“Tehran will never again suspend its nuclear activities.”

In my opinion, this is just a trial balloon by the Iranian government, in order to see what kind of a reaction it would receive from the West.

Reality is likely to be very different. The Iranian leadership tries very hard to put on a tough image. This is understandable. No one wants to start negotiations looking like the weaker party. This explains why Velayati also stated:

“If you have a country, like Iran, with 15 neighbors, you can’t impose effective sanctions. We could find solutions to make these sanctions useless”.

Despite a major PR effort by the regime to say that “Iran does not give in to pressure”, with Iran’s economy in deeper trouble every day, the West should be ready for compromises from Iran. The days of just the P5+1 offering compromises like the last round of talks in Almaty while Iran stands still are over.

The Iranian regime is rational and calculating. It knows its limits, which is why it continues to convert its stockpile of 20% enriched uranium to oxide. This is a positive gesture as this process puts parts of its enriched uranium temporarily beyond use for making a bomb.

Another Conference in Iran?

While the debate continues about whether the latest Non Aligned Movement conference in Iran was a success or not, another international conference has been taking place in Iran.

One which hardly anyone noticed.

Entitled “International Conference and Festival of Islamic Resistance “, this latest conference which took place in the Esfahan had more than 600 representatives from 11 countries, including Syria, Lebanon, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Tunisia. Hamas and Islamic Jihad were also present.

According to Ali Akbar Velayati, one of the goals of the conference is to explain the link between “Islamic awakening and Islamic resistance while concentrating on the Palestine issue”.

Velayati added “as Imam Khomeini said, what is important in this region is the question of occupation of Palestine”, and that: “The occupation of Palestine was one of the most serious challenges to the Islamic world, and that “it is the duty of all Muslims … to help the Palestinians to liberate Palestine.”

By hosting this conference the Iranian regime had two goals: one was to endorse its message that the Arab Spring was actually an Islamic awakening. This is in line to the regime’s message to the people of Iran that the Arabs were actually following the Iranian example of 1979.

The other was to try to make Iran relevant in the Palestinian question.

It’s unlikely that Iran will succeed. Hamas is distancing itself from Iran. Senior Hamas official are  openly stating these days that relations with Iran have worsened because of Iran’s support for Assad..

At the same time Iran has an even lesser chance to improve relations with PLO. They two have not had good relations since the 1980s.

Hamas would strike at Israel in case of an Israeli strike against Iran? Very unlikely.

Peace with the Palestinians would bring “Iran on Israel’s doorstep”? as some Israeli commentators have suggested is even more unlikely. The Khamenei regime has got enough problems keeping its foothold in Syria, nevermind opening a new one in the West Bank.

Iran’s influence in the Palestinian question is mostly confined to its relations with the Islamic Jihad movement. Enough to validate some security concerns, albeit limited ones, but in no way sufficient to impede peace between Israel and the PLO (at the very least).

The fact that Iran’s latest conference was hardly registered on the radar screens of the international press is a good indication of the tough battle the regime faces in order to make itself relevant in the Palestine question again.