Iran won’t risk direct intervention

By Meir Javedanfar, September 3, 2013
Ayatollah Khamenei

Ayatollah Khamenei

It did not take long for the conservative news site Tasnim in Tehran to report David Cameron’s Commons defeat. The same article, published the day after the vote, relished the fact that this was the first time since 1782 that any British prime minister failed to win a vote on an issue of peace or war.

The Iranian leadership is likely to interpret the vote as a sign that the UK does not want to enter into another conflict, even one where weapons of mass-destruction have been used. Therefore, if in the future the US wants to launch an attack against Iran’s nuclear installations, the regime would be safe to assume that Britain will stay its hand.

But does this mean that Iran will now decide to make a bomb? Most probably not. As far as the Iranian leadership is concerned, the sanctions currently being imposed by the West, including the UK, are far more dangerous than UK firepower.

Iran takes these sanctions very seriously. For years, UK banks were considered to be among the most popular places for senior Iranian politicians to store their money abroad. In fact, it is believed that one of the reasons why elements within the Iranian regime decided to storm Tehran’s British Embassy on November 29 2011 was because the UK government had decided to block some of these accounts as part of the sanctions.

This was a nasty surprise and a powerful message to Iran’s leaders who had considered themselves and their wealth to be untouchable in British banks. This is one reason why sanctions are considered to be more dangerous than a military attack. The former would harm Iran’s nuclear programme but the sanctions could eventually bankrupt the regime, thus causing its downfall.

Economics are also likely to play a major part in Iran’s decision not to intervene directly to support Assad against a US strike. Iran’s economy is in the doldrums, and becoming involved in a war against the US could exact an unbearable toll on its finances.

A war against the US could also expose its anti-aircraft systems, which Iran desperately needs to protect its all-important nuclear installations. Without them, Iran would become badly exposed militarily. Assad may be important but, to Ayatollah Khamenei, protection of Iran’s nuclear programme and, even more so, its finances are worth more.

Meir Javedanfar is an Iranian-born, Israeli Middle East commentator.

Last updated: 3:45pm, September 3 2013