Storming of the British Embassy in Tehran will only damage the regime

By Emanuele Ottolenghi, December 1, 2011
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Iran's Supreme Leader Khamenei

Iran's Supreme Leader Khamenei

Two weeks after a huge explosion at a military base outside Tehran killed the Revolutionary Guards' top missile expert alongside 20 others, this week another explosion rocked Isfahan, the seat of a uranium conversion facility.

There is no confirmation that the facility was indeed the site of the explosion - although some media reports have indicated this was the case. Regardless, both explosions were too powerful to make the regime's initial explanations (an ammunition explosion in the first case) plausible.

If this is the West's covert war against Iran's nuclear drive, it is going to shake the regime at its foundations, since such blows to Iran's clandestine missile and nuclear programmes would be the result of deep penetration of the regime's most secretive activities by foreign intelligence services.

As if this were not enough, Iran now finds itself pitched into an unprecedented double crisis - open factional infighting inside the regime and international diplomatic isolation. The former - a power struggle largely pitting the conservative camp, the Supreme Leader and the Revolutionary Guards against the sitting president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his entourage - is less about the country's direction in its foreign policy and more about who controls the levers of political, military and economic power. The latter - a rapid escalation against Iran's neighbours and the West which culminated in the storming of the British Embassy in Tehran earlier this week - is a self-inflicted wound that may serve the more militant camp inside the regime.

The regime's rhetoric has escalated in the past few weeks with bellicose threats not only against Israel, on account of the ongoing, very public, debate in Jerusalem about the viability and desirability of a military strike against Iran's nuclear facilities, but also against the United States, Turkey, Europe and, of course, Britain.

In Iran, Great Britain has always been viewed as the power behind all conspiracies. Agitating against Britain is a popular sport - but the regime must have calculated that concocting a crisis might stir popular nationalist sentiment and deflect from internal strife, economic hardships brought by mismanagement and the impact of international sanctions.

After threatening massive military action against Israel, the United States and even the Turkey- based Nato antimissile shield, Iran ramped up rhetoric by passing a parliamentary resolution calling for the drastic downgrading of relations with Britain. The already tense climate was made tenser by chants of "death to England" inside Iran's parliament as the resolution was approved. From there, it took little for a mob to show up at the British Embassy, breach its gates and trash its premises.

Iran is not a place where rioters can "spontaneously" take over an embassy with the police quietly standing by. This was a crisis concocted by the regime. It will now reap the whirlwinds of its self-inflicted storm.

Emanuele Ottolenghi is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defence of Democracies

    Last updated: 12:10pm, December 1 2011