Iran in 2013: What to expect?

I know that we do not have a crystal ball but what would you describe as the most likely scenario related to Iran in 2013: A war or the situation will basically stay the same with more sanctions and some negotiations? Or perhaps you see any signs that could lead to some kind of positive breakthrough?

Jalil RoshandelAssociate Professor, Director of Security Studie, East Carolina University

Iranians are superstitious about the number 13. The New Year in Iran (based on solar calendar) starts with almost two weeks of holidays and celebrations ending on the 13th day that people leave closed spaces to go out to the nature and spend time outside on the prairie and the nature. Behind this great outdoor celebration there is a superstitious view, kind of panic about the 13th day of the New Year that they feel should be better if they don’t stay under a roof. So there is already a fear of calamity in the year 2013 that the Iranian regime feels it has to escape. However the Iranian calendar does not start on January the 1st and it starts on around March 20th and the coming year is not a year with a combination of 13, it is 1392 (solar calculation of the years Muhammad the prophet left Mecca to Medina).

I know this is irrelevant to your question, but I wanted to convey what an Iranian may think behind his head about 2013 without talking about it.

2012 ended with reconfirmation of President Obama’s position as the president of the United States. The Israeli election is just three weeks away with the possibility of an ultra-right parliament while the labor party has decided to stay in opposition.

Shortly after Israel decides about the configuration of its new government and the Prime Minister, Iran will go for a new presidential election (June 14, 2013).

The past four years for Iran was a period of both internal and international Cold War.

The last presidential election in 2009 created huge amount of resentments and since then there are hundreds of people still in jails,

Human right has been severely violated and opposition has been under continuous suppression,

Economic hardship mixed with corruption at the highest level of management has ruined the country’s economy and killed the hopes for a better life among the youth,

Unemployment, particularly among the young university graduates,

Hardship as a result of sanctions,

The deepening gap between poor and wealthy,

Resentments from all the above and many more is just waiting to surge and a new election will provide that opportunity.

Recent rumors about the possibility of a major change in the system to substitute elected president by a parliamentary system in which the president will be elected by the parliament members is one of the ways the regime in Tehran is considering to minimize the risks. They are also considering creation of a quasi-reformist or a controllable reformist trend to complete in the election. Problem is Iran does not need a reformist president, because president has no authority of his own. He will be unable to bring moderation if he does not have the support of the strong clerical leadership and the Supreme Leader; Iran needs a reformist Supreme Leader!

Without such a change from within Iran should expect no support from inside while the outside environment is also rapidly changing in many ways:

Increased sanctions imposed by US and EU,

Increased threat of war on Iranian nuclear program,

Hostile relations with many Middle Eastern countries including Saudi Arabia,

Under this circumstance the only leverages Iran can count on is:

To use its relation with Syria, Hezbollah and Hamas as a leverage and its relation with veto right holders of the UN like Russia, and China as a backup.

Can all this prevent a war? May be, but at what cost?

Can Iran afford it? No.

2013 is the year of big exam and the only way to walk out of the existing quagmire would be to negotiate with EU and US and not just waste time to negotiate on the terms of negotiation -that Iran has been doing so far.

That is why I say and emphasize that Iran does not need a reformist President, but a reformist Supreme Leader. If that transformation happens between now and the end of the spring season then there will be a bloodless Iranian Spring, a breakthrough and reconciliation.

 Barbara SlavinSenior Fellow, The Atlantic Council

I do not forsee a war with Iran in 2013. President Obama does not want one and neither, I believe, do the Israelis who are much more preoccupied with events closer to home (Gaza, Egypt, Syria etc.) I am hopeful that the US will make a concerted new effort to reach a negotiated resolution of the nuclear dispute but unsure whether Iran — i.e. Supreme Leader Khamenei — will accept. The key will be bilateral negotiations on the sidelines of the P5+1 or privately in another venue. Russia can help by persuading Iran to negotiate seriously.

We may have to wait until a new Iranian president takes office next summer for any real progress. In the meantime, the sanctions will remain and will continue to degrade the Iranian economy. There is almost zero pressure in the US at the current time for military action as long as Iran does not take really provocative steps — i.e. actually starting to build a bomb — which I consider very unlikely. So despite all the talk (see Dennis Ross!) about 2013 being a ‘year of decision’ on Iran, it is likely to be more of the same and perhaps less nerve wracking than 2012.

Michael RubinResident Scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, Senior Lecturer at the Naval Postgraduate School’s Center for Civil-Military Relations

I actually believe that Obama’s cabinet nominations–if they are confirmed–will make war more likely. The problem won’t be the intention of the Washington or Jerusalem: Rather, the problem will be that the Iranians will see Obama’s cabinet as weak and resistant to fighting no matter what the provocation. Remember: The Korean War began six months after the Truman administration signaled it did not consider the Korean peninsula within the U.S. defensive perimeter. When Jimmy Carter launched his campaign, he made a number of statements about drawing back the military. Harold Brown–his Defense Secretary–brought Carter back to reality. Neither Kerry nor Hagel have that experience, however. The Iranians will grow bold over the next year. The question is whether they will be so overconfident as to cross a red line that they believe–falsely–to be ephemeral.

When the Iranians believe they are strong, there is absolutely zero chance for a positive breakthrough.

James Goode, Professor of History, Grand Valley State University

Overall, as we enter 2013, I am not very optimistic concerning US-Iran relations. I doubt very much that bilateral ties will improve in the coming months. The new Obama administration seems to have more important subjects in mind, and short of an Iranian capitulation, which is unlikely, Iran and the United States will remain far apart. Sadly, there are few Americans in important positions today, who have any personal experience of Iran. It is quite easy to believe what you hear or read when there are few countervailing accounts. According to a recent survey, Iran comes at the top of the list of countries that Americans dislike. This dismays an “Iranosaurus” such as myself. Even more unsettling was a recent comment by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in response to the question, “what is the greatest danger in the world today?” Without a moment’s hesitation, she replied, “Iran.” Not North Korea, not Yemen, not Pakistan, not Syria. Thus, you can understand my pessimistic response to your question.

Alireza Nader, International Affairs Analyst, RAND Corporation

Anything is possible, of course, but much depends on the outcome of future negotiations between Iran and the p5+1. If Iran makes concessions, then the calls for military action will decrease. If not, the United States will face increased pressure to take military action. Israel may act unilaterally, but my sense is that Israeli leaders are hesitant in acting alone. There are also serious political constraints regarding US military action. So it is possible to see the same situation in 2013 as previous years, but with a heightened state of tensions.

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