For many Western pundits, the demonstrations against the Iranian regime on Sunday signalled the beginning of another revolution. This was Iran’s “Berlin Wall moment”, The Times enthused; the start of a “bloody endgame”.
Long-time observers noted that it took more than a year to unseat the Shah after demonstrations began in January 1978, and that the current regime seems determined to retain its grip on power through extreme violence, mass arrests and even rape. While the regime is clearly in deep domestic trouble, it could take months and even years to resolve.
But what if it did collapse tomorrow? How excited should we be?
Clearly, a new regime, which might separate mosque and state, be far more open to the West and be far more focused on domestic affairs, would be a positive development.
But there is no guarantee that a victory for the Green Revolution would mean the end of the Iranian confrontation with the West, particularly over its nuclear programme.
Mr Moussavi, the opposition’s figurehead, was an early supporter of Iran’s nuclear programme and has staunchly defended it (insisting it was only for civilian use), even in recent months. He continues to insist that he supports the framework of an Islamic state — and was in the 1980s approved by its leaders as prime minister — and has called Israel a “cancerous tumour”.
The second most prominent opposition leader, Mehdi Karroubi, warned America just last week not to exploit the regime’s weakness to strike a deal to stop the nuclear programme — which he, too, insisted was peaceful.
“Nuclear science and achieving peaceful nuclear technology is a right reserved for all Nuclear Proliferation Treaty members,” he said. “We ask Western governments not to use this internal situation as a bargaining chip with the present Iranian government to reach agreements which would undermine the rights of the Iranian people.”
It is widely accepted that a majority of Iranians are similarly in favour of developing the bomb (although a September survey by worldpublicopinion.org showed it was a substantial minority, at 40 per cent). The world cannot deny Iran, the claim goes, as long as America and Israel have their own nuclear weapons.
Iranians do seem to be increasingly willing to reject any and all policies identified with Ahmadinejad. But it would be naïve — and reckless — to count on them ditching their nuclear plans if and when they ditch their despots.