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ANALYSIS: Lashing out under pressure, Iran hurtles towards the brink

Michael Flanagan

Published: Updated:

In an effort to force the government of the United States to not impose sanctions in November, Iran has filed a suit before the International Court of Justice (the ICJ also known as the World Court) to enjoin the action.

The United States views the suit as “meritless.”

The base of the claim is that the United States and Iran signed a “Treaty of Amity” in 1955 which Iran would like to now use to stop any aggressive action by the Unites States against Iran, ever. Meritless does not begin to describe the Iranian position.

Matters brought under the auspices of the Treaty of Amity have been before the ICJ before. In 1980, the US went before the ICJ to hold Iran responsible for the 1979-80 hostage crisis. The ICJ found in the United States’ favor but Iran ignored the ruling.

Later in 2003, Iran used the Treaty to attack the United States. Adjudicating the US attacks on Iranian oil platforms and retaliatory attacks on US shipping, the ICJ ruled that the Treaty of Amity was in force even though it was signed by the Shah of Iran and not the current government, but that the US and Iranian claims based on that treaty were not valid.

Iran is at The Hague to force the United States not to impose sanctions. Iran desperately needs a sanction-free economic climate for the foreseeable future in order to shore-up its collapsing economy. The US sanctions are increasingly seen as likely being decisive against the Iranian economy and, consequently against the power of the ruling Mullahs.

In the past, sanctions were little more than a financial irritant; often going on for decades with little positive outcomes. The sanctions the United States will be imposing in November will very possible be different and could trigger the collapse of the very fragile Iranian economy.

Iran is beginning to lash out under the pressure of an uncertain future. Iran has announced that the Arabian Gulf is a wholly owned body of water by Iran and that the American 5th fleet (all but permanently stationed there) should go. This is a clear threat to the Straits of Hormuz and the free traffic of oil from many States in the Gulf, not just Iran.

The United States has rejected this claim and is committed to the free passage of the Gulf by all shipping.

Additionally, the Rouhani government in Tehran is under incredible pressure. The Labor and Economy Ministers have been impeached by the lawmakers in Parliament and Rouhani himself has been called to testify. Parliament is scapegoating Rouhani for the never-ending corruption, very high unemployment and, recently, the ongoing collapse of the Iranian currency.

Protests continue through the country and even longtime faithful conservative portion of the electorate is turning on the government. This follows the liberals who earlier this year turned on Rouhani first. It was they who put Rouhani in power based on his (so far un-kept) promises of reforms and his general failure to manage Iranian foreign policy successfully. It is they who now are leading the charge against him.

This all comes in a year marking the thirtieth anniversary of the mullahs executing thirty-thousand dissidents and political prisoners in Iran in 1988. The anniversary is an international flash-point for dissidents abroad.

The Iranian government has suppressed information about the massacre for decades. The location of the graves of these Iranian heroes is a secret, the actual list of the dead is suppressed, to inquire about them in any way is an actual crime and to make speeches about the dead is forbidden.

International organizations like Amnesty International are now calling for investigations and punishment of the criminals as the facts are becoming more widely known. Suppression of horrific acts like this cannot hold forever however brutal the repression. Sadly for the Mullahs, the fabric of this story is coming unraveled at a time least favorable for the regime.

Iran is at the brink and we should all be looking for a way to manage the collapse when it comes.