Could the mullahs fall?

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Last week’s riots over gasoline rationing in Iran are the latest sign of the Islamist regime’s political weakness and vulnerability to economic pressure. Despite the fact that Iran is one of the world’s largest crude-oil exporters, gasoline is rationed thanks to a lack of refinery space and massive subsidies for consumers stimulate demand and create shortages. Last month, the Iranian Majlis (Parliament) voted to increase the price of gasoline from approximately 26 cents per gallon to 64 cents per gallon, but that was vetoed by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and the government on Wednesday imposed rationing and attempted to fix the price at 34 cents per gallon (while on the black market, gasoline is selling at nearly $3.00 per gallon in some parts of the country).

The government has ordered the local media not to report on the unrest caused by rationing, but the orders are being widely ignored, as newspapers and bloggers report that gas stations are being set afire and that drivers are forced to wait in lines that are several miles long in order to purchase gas. The police chief in Tehran said that 17 gas stations in the capital were damaged (12 set afire) and that rioters broke windows in cars and bank buildings. Two years ago, Mr. Ahmadinejad was elected president after running for office on a populist platform — one based on improving the quality of life by building or subsidizing public improvements (i.e., building new schools, or public parks or making it possible for new factories and jobs to relocate to one or another town). But he has failed to deliver on these promises.

Today, Iranians face double-digit unemployment, and increasing difficulty attracting foreign investment — the latter due in part to international economic sanctions pushed by Washington. Inflation is more than 22 percent, and things are unlikely to get better anytime soon. Instead of helping the average Iranian, Mr. Ahmadinejad funnels hundreds of millions of dollars per year to help non-Iranian terrorist organizations including Hezbollah, Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad and Iraqi Shi’ite and Sunni jihadists.

An Iranian businessman interviewed in London last week told journalist Kenneth Timmerman that he sees parallels between the rising unrest in Iran today and the final years of the Shah, who was toppled in 1979 in the Iranian Revolution led by the Ayatollah Khomeini, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s predecessor as supreme leader. “During the late 1970s, he reminded me, the Iranian economy, flush with cash from high oil prices, was beset by high inflation, just as it is now. The shah’s answer was to find a few businessmen who had raised prices and throw them in jail,” Mr. Timmerman writes at FrontPageMagazine.com. As the economic situation deteriorates, the Islamist regime has begun to scapegoat businessmen, including Shahram Jazayeri, who Iranian intelligence agents kidnapped from Oman in March. He had fled Iran Feb. 21, after being sentenced to 14 years in prison on “corruption” charges. To the Iranian mullahs, Mr. Jazayeri is a very dangerous man, because he said earlier this year that he had documents implicating relatives of Mr. Khamenei in corruption. After his recapture, Mr. Jazayeri was tortured in the notorious Evin prison in Tehran.

Right now, President Bush and the rest of the civilized world are in a race against time: Unless the regime falls, it will likely obtain nuclear weapons. The only way to stop that short of war is to use sanctions and other forms of economic pressure to give the regime a final push. According to Mr. Timmerman, the British government is proposing a U.N. Security Council resolution that would bar Iranian ships from landing at foreign ports and transiting international waters, a move that would cut off approximately 40 percent of Iran’s daily oil exports in the short run. This is the kind of project the international community must embrace, because if economic pressure does not work, the only alternatives left will be 1) military action, or 2) acquiescing to the unthinkable: allowing the sociopathic mullahs in Tehran to obtain nuclear weapons.

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