Would Mahmoud Ahmadinejad be willing to start the war with Israel?

And what about his relationship with Ayatollah Khamenei. President Ahmadinejad began his second term in office.

Questions:

1. Except of the presidential elections which points in the political career of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad are crucial in your opinion and why?

2. How would you describe his relationship with the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei? Do their political and religious views differ and how?

3. Imagine Iran has resources to attack Israel. Would he be really willing to consider it and to push it through the Iranian system of governance or many of his controversial speeches in the past were just unhelpful rhetoric?

Answers:

Jalil Roshandel, Associate Professor, Director of Security Studie, East Carolina University

1. I believe Ahmadijejad has a real crucial political career in front of him. On the domestic level, huge amount of resentment has emerged as a result of mishandling a controversial presidential election. The supreme leader has stepped out of his fairness and impartiality and took stance to support Ahmadineja, and more importantly has given a green light to shoot at people. Over 350 people have been reported as dead (killed). This cannot be easily forgotten. People are deeply agitated and will respond and revolt as soon as there is slightest pretext.

Economy, is another major challenge. It has been proven that Ahmadinejad has been dishonest about Iran’s economical problems. Inflation is much higher than what is believed to be. Money laundering and embezzlement of national wealth and corruption are just some of the challenges he has to confront. On domestic front this list can go on and on and on to include freedom of press, women and minority freedoms, constitutional and academic rights etc.

On the other hand, the reformist Green movement in Iran is not a small incident that may disappear easily and cannot be suppressed by force. Not only Ahmadinejad, also the supreme leader Ayatollah Khamenei have to face it, because the process has a destructive nature and the success of the movement can eliminate both of them.

On the regional, level Ahmadinejad has to face very fragile circumstances. Iran’s neighbours, Iraq and Afghanistan are undergoing significant social changes that can have direct implications for Iran. At a minimum and despite the influence and dependencies the two neighbours may have toward Iran, the presence of the US troops in those countries as well as a host of other Persian Gulf or Central Asian countries makes Iran pretty vulnerable.

2. The two men’s relation can be best described as two servants in service of each other’s interest. Khaemnei’s absolute power has been contested by a group of high ranking Ayatollah’s as we have seen during this past 6-7 weeks after the presidential election. His legitimacy to stay in power as the supreme has been challenged. Likewise Ahmadinejad’s position as the president of the republic has been questioned and because the two were involved in plotting against peoples will and rigged in the election the result is even more dependency of the two on each other. In this interaction the intelligence, the force of order and the security establishment of the country should be recognized as a definitive, but not unlimited factor. The two men do not share the same religious views, but Ahmadinejad has learned that in order to have Khamenei’s support he has to pretend he is a big time ‘follower’ of him and has recently claimed that their relation is like a “father and son”! While for Ayatollah khamenei things are different. He had to support Ahmadinejad in order to save his absolute power. However this proved to be a wrong calculation because people in the streets are shouting “Death to the Dictator!” Yes, he remained in power, but unlike the past two decades now he is hated by a majority of population.

3. Ahmadinejad will do anything to stay in power including a war with Israel. Under some circumstances that might even meet the supreme leader’s approval. Any attack by the US or Israel against the Islamic Republic of Iran is a big “saviour” of the regime because that will put the extremists at a stronger position to suppress the domestic opposition on the pretexts that the enemy is outside our borders! So, despite the fact that Ahmadinejad’s anti Israel and anti Holocaust slogans were originally all rhetorical; to see him resorting to attack Israel would be a desperate motion to create an artificial condition inside the country for further suppression of the opposition and the Green Democratic Movement, a desperate measure to save the regime.

Gunes Murat Tezcur, Assistant Professor, Political Science Department, Loyola University Chicago

1. I think Ahmedinejad’s participation in war efforts against Iraq in the 1980s and tenure as an administrator in Western provinces of Iran in the 1980s and 1990s were crucial for his career. He seems to establish critical networks with military and security elite during that time. These experiences were also highly influential in shaping his world view.

2. There are obviously some differences between Rahbar Khamenei and President Ahmedinejad regarding style and policy. At the same time, one should not exaggerate these differences. Ahmedinejad rarely if ever directly challenges the authority of Rahbar, and the latter generally endorses his policies. I don’t think whatever differences they have would create any significant fissure between them.

3. I strongly think that the Iranian regime, in spite of its ideological rhetoric and repressive nature, is NOT a life-and-death threat to any other regime in the region. In fact, Iranian regime is more threat to its own citizens than any other group given the current political turmoil. It is extremely unthinkable that Iran would militarily attack Israel even if President Ahmedinejad denies the legitimacy of Israel. Iran has neither the resources nor the willingness to initiate open hostilities against Israel. However, Ahmedinejad’s inflammatory rhetoric clearly hurts Iranian national interests as it further isolates the country in the international arena.

Jason Brownlee, Assistant Professor, Department of Government, The University of Texas at Austin

1. Ahmadinejad, like all of Iran’s prior presidents who sought re-election (Khamenei, Rafsanjani, Khatami) won a second term. If he completes his second term he will stand as one of the top elites in the Islamic Republic and one of the most influential non-clerics.

2. There is a potential for rivalry because Ahmadinejad has a national popular base, demonstrated twice (in 2005 and 2009), whereas Khamenei’s position is further removed from the people. At the present though, Ahmadinejad is playing the role of a loyal subordinate. His position within the top ruling elite is not strong and he would be isolated and ineffectual if he lost the favor of the Leader.

3. I do not think Iran currently has the capability to launch a strike against Israel and I do not see any of the leadership contemplating such an attack. Historically, the leadership of the Islamic Republic has pursued a very pragmatic foreign policy. Recall that Iraq, not Iran, began the Iran-Iraq War. The rhetoric coming from Ahmadinejad and, less so, from Khamenei is primarily intended for a domestic audience. It is nationalistic rather than militaristic.

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