Originally published in Canadian Jewish News
by Andy Levy-Ajzenkopf
In a web exclusive, Iranian ex-pat Reza Akhlaghi, a senior writer and editor specializing in the Middle East with the New York-based Foreign Policy Association, tells The CJN how Iranians feel about peace with Israel, the West’s sanctions on their country and Tehran’s quest for nuclear weapons.
“Don’t paint all Iranians with the same brush”, that’s the message to the Israeli and Jewish communities of Canada from one well-informed Toronto-based Iranian ex-pat.
Reza Akhlaghi, Editor and Senior Blogger for the Foreign Policy Association (FPA), tells The CJN how everyday Iranians feel about Israel, the West’s sanctions on their country and Tehran’s quest for nuclear power.
CJN: As someone connected to the current Iranian zeitgeist, what do you think is the mood among Iranians regarding their nuclear program?
Akhlaghi: On the nuclear issue, it’s fair to say that the vast majority of Iranians are in favour of a nuclear program, though it is very hard to know how many are in favour of producing a bomb. Iranians also take a pragmatic view on this issue; many fear that Iran may soon run out of oil and gas resources.
There are two aspects to the current mood in Iran, economic and political. Economically, the sanctions have started to seriously bite. Iran’s national currency has lost over 40 per cent of its value, and many commodities are being hoarded by people in case of further deterioration of the economy and/or a military confrontation with the West. Plus, there is high unemployment, and crime and prostitution rates are up.
On the political scene, there is despair and a sense of disappointment with the regime, though it still has supporters among the lower social classes and, in particular, in certain rural areas. Most Iranians, including those who benefit from government subsidies, are well aware of their government’s incompetence in managing the economy and raising their living standards. But it’s important to note that many Iranians feel baffled by the intensity of the sanctions by the West since they first and foremost hurt ordinary Iranians more than anything else. They are not sure if the West cares about their wellbeing.
CJN: What is the status of the Green Movement (when protesters demanded the removal of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad after the 2009 Iranian presidential election)? Can it rise again?
Akhlaghi: The Green Movement was severely suppressed, and the suppression methods were quite effective. The movement also lacked an effective and visionary leadership, which confounded its problems. I don’t think it can rise again unless the rivalries within the regime break into the open and give the masses a unique opportunity to create political chaos capable of leading to meaningful change.
CJN: How do Iranians in Canada and abroad view the hypothetical possibility of an attack by Israel on their country’s nuclear facilities?
Akhlaghi: They are almost universally opposed to military attacks against their homeland. As much as they dislike the Islamic regime, they have a strong sense of nationalism, and this sense of nationalism also includes great support for a peaceful nuclear program. They also believe, generally speaking, that there is no way Israel could pull off a successful attack on its own, which would make a war between Iran, Israel and the U.S. inevitable.
They are also opposed to the expenditure of Iranian money in places like Gaza and Lebanon. Most Iranians feel a sense of indignation at the government’s expenditure of Iranian resources and money spent on the Arab-Israeli conflict.
However, even if the Iranian government was an ally of Israel’s and was spending money on helping Israel, the Iranian people would have the very same feelings.
People are thinking, “Our poverty rates are going up. Why should we spend money on the Palestinians or their fight with the Israelis?” That’s a thought commonly shared across all strata of Iranian society.
CJN: How prevalent is antisemitism in modern day Iran or among Canadian-Iranians?
Akhlaghi: I haven’t seen or witnessed antisemitic feelings in particular. But among ordinary Iranians, you do see an increased anti-Israel feeling because of the threats Israel has made towards the country.
But this feeling hasn’t turned into [widespread] antisemitism at all.
That being said, Iranians are very news- and tech-savvy people. They have access to outside sources of news via Internet and radio,and there are many Persian broadcasts that come over from western and Israeli radio stations as well.
However, most Iranians I have heard from think that Israel is intentionally trying to drag the U.S. into a war with Iran, which they believe would turn into a mainly U.S.-Iranian conflict.
But with regard to Israel, it’s important to remember that deep down in Iranian political culture, the existence of Israel is beneficial to Iran because if you take Israel “off the map,” to borrow a phrase from Ahmadinejad, then most likely, Iran will be faced with a potentially united Sunni Arab world against a Persian Shiite state.
For this strategic purpose, the existence of Israel is a blessing for Iran.
CJN: Are international economic sanctions having a deterrent effect on Iran’s plans for nuclear capacity?
Akhlaghi: They are, indeed, having an effect in the sense that Iran is finding it extremely difficult to have access to suppliers and technology. This is not just in the nuclear area. Many companies avoid Iranian opportunities for fear of being targeted by western governments, which can also hurt their brands. But don’t forget that Iran has domestic nuclear capabilities as well, which cannot be contained by the outside world and sanctions.
CJN: In your opinion, what is the best tactic for the rest of the world vis-a-vis the current Iranian regime?
Akhlaghi: An effective measure that can put significant pressure on Iranian authorities and their inner circles is to freeze their assets in foreign banks. They have billions of dollars in international banks stashed in private bank accounts. Since they have full control over key sectors of the Iranian economy, their financial interests vitally matter to them. However, it takes serious determination. The freezing of their assets worldwide including here in Canada coupled with tough negotiations, in my opinion, can have significant impact on their political and security calculations.
CJN: What do you think will happen internally in Iran once Ahmadinejad is out of office?
Akhlaghi: Let’s not fool ourselves. Ahmadinajed is not the real decision-maker in Iran. It’s (Ayatollah Ali) Khameini.
Ahmadinejad’s second and final term in office is up in less than a year and he won’t be able to run again.
Most people outside Iran aren’t aware that even though Iran is a messy, crazy Islamic state, it’s not crazy in one sense: political decision-making is fairly distributed among different centres of power. This is a not a Saddam Hussein situation, or North Korea. Even Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei is not in a position to unilaterally declare war. Even he has many influential advisors, who are mostly western-educated, and they disagree with each other on many policies.
While Iran is a theocratic authoritarian state, it has it’s own unique characteristics. The decision-making is fairly dispersed.
Reza Akhlaghi was born in Tehran and now lives in Toronto.
– See more at: http://www.cjnews.com/international/ex-pat-iranian-says-most-iranians-want-peace#sthash.ZtSCzDf9.dpuf