Paranoia Takes Hold of Tehran
One of the major consequences of Iran's recently disclosed nuclear facility in Qom is the review and possible revamp of Iran's counter-intelligence policies and activities. The fact that foreign intelligence agencies, including that of the U.S. and the UK, knew about this plant shows that they have failed in doing their primary job. The Iranian government must no doubt be worried about other sites becoming compromised as well, and will likely make moves to protect them more effectively. Therefore, important questions will need to be asked about how the site was compromised and how this can be avoided in the future.
The other impact from the recent affair will be managing paranoia amongst Iran's senior decision makers. Any decisions assumed to be made under strict confidentiality will likely lead to second-guessing and uncertainty. How much more do the Americans and the British know? This question will loom over every internal decision made by the regime going forward.
The recent exposure could not have come at a worse time. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's recent trip to the UN did not receive the same rave reviews from the Iranian press as in past years. Some even criticized it. Daryush Ghanbari, a member of the Followers of the Imam Khomeini faction in the parliament went so far as to suggest that it would have been better if President Ahmadinejad had stayed home.
Meanwhile, things got so bad during Ahmadinejad's speech that Iranian state TV was forced into making compromises in its broadcast in order to obfuscate the empty seats and walkout. It is very possible that some of the protestors from these countries had previously promised the Iranian delegation that they would not walk out. To Iran's reformists, this is yet another sign that Iran's foreign policy under Ahmadinejad is falling even further.
The negative response to Ahmadinejad's UN trip is likely to make Iran's decision makers worried, and rightly so. The current situation will make it easier for the West to isolate Iran. Despite this, Iran's decision makers are also likely to be searching for new ways to remedy the situation. It is very likely that under the current circumstances, strengthened relations with allies such as Venezuela, Syria, along with groups such as Hamas and Hezbollah, will be their priority. Meanwhile, Iran is likely to increase its efforts to court countries from the Nonaligned Movement. Should the Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva's promised trip to Tehran materialize, it will serve to allay some of the concerns in Tehran.
Recent events are also likely to raise the level of concern about a possible attack against Iran's military installations. Iran's recent missile tests are an indication of Tehran's concerns. The symbolism of this date —which happens to be on Yom Kippur, the same day when Arab armies launched an invasion against Israel in 1973 —shows that Iran wants to send a message to Israel, as Iranian decision makers seem concerned about the possibility of recent developments emboldening those in Jerusalem who have been calling for unilateral military action.
In reality, the recent missile tests —coupled with the recent exposure over the nuclear site in Qom —are likely to reduce the chances of an Israeli attack. On the one hand, by testing these missiles, Iran has helped those who want to portray it as an element of instability in the region. This will help to isolate it further, especially amongst Persian Gulf states. The recent exposure has been a vindication for Israel's position over the years that Iran is not being honest about its nuclear activities and installations. Now that this has been confirmed, it is likely to result in greater inclusion of Israel in P5+1's decision making. As a result, the more Israel is included in this process, the less likely it is that it will act unilaterally. For now, Iran's leaders should worry about President Obama's increasing capability and clout. Ignoring this could cause further isolation and embolden U.S. Iran hawks. Negotiations are a chance for Iran and the U.S. to avoid this worst case scenario.