Opinion: Playing with fire in Iran | World| Breakings news and perspectives from around the globe | DW | 30.11.2011
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Opinion: Playing with fire in Iran

The attack on the British embassy in Tehran could spark a dramatic escalation of the already strained ties to Iran. DW's Sybille Golte comments that this could have dangerous repercussions.

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It was astonishing to see: loud protests on the streets of Tehran - alongside practically lethargic heavily armed security forces. Then the run on the British embassy - and the police just stood by and watched.

The world has seen otherwise. During the mass demonstrations following Iran's presidential elections in 2009, security forces used brutal force against protesters from the opposition Green movement. Thousands were arrested; every gathering of more than 10 people was dispersed. Many opposition supporters are still locked up in Tehran's notorious Evin prison.

Sybille Golte

Sybille Golte heads Deutsche Welle's Asia Department

So people are taking to the streets once again, but this time, it's under a different omen. The alleged students chanted slogans, which fit precisely into the concept of the controversial president. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is in a long-standing grueling power struggle with the country's clergy. He is deftly using the international criticism of his nuclear policies and the tough sanctions which will be imposed shortly to gain domestic ground.

Nuclear policy is one of the few topics on which many Iranians still stand by their president. Domestically, Ahmadinejad's position could be strengthened by spectacular actions, like the run on the British embassy.

That would be a dangerous game. The last report by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) showed that Iran had at least attempted to get its hands on nuclear weapons. Since then, the situation is precarious. Israel is threatening with military strikes against Iranian nuclear facilities. It's already now inevitable that international sanctions will be intensified.

President Ahmadinejad is exhibiting exactly the kind of behavior he is notorious for: he is threatening with retaliation, uttering polemics against the West and sending signals of diffuse and little concessions towards the IAEA.

When Iran's foreign minister now announces that action will be taken against the demonstrators, it's not very credible. The parliament in Tehran had just decided to downgrade relations to Britain. Now, London is pulling out its diplomatic staff itself.

It's a fatal symbol! Is diplomacy in the nuclear conflict with Iran exhausted? And what comes next? Does Ahmadinejad still have his supporters under control or are the tougher sanctions going to lead to more embassies being attacked?

Reports of explosions in the vicinity of Iranian nuclear facilities in the past week are also calling for attention, for example in Isfahan on Monday. Discussions are openly taking place in Israel's media whether the country's own secret service is behind the mysterious attacks.

If that's the case, the conflict with Iran's nuclear policy has left the negotiation phase. The attack on the British embassy in Tehran twists the spiral of escalation further - with unforeseeable consequences.

Author: Sybille Golte / sac
Editor: Michael Knigge

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