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Iran’s vulnerabilities are not confined to external military threats. The Sunni-Muslim minorities rebelling against the oppressive Shiite theocracy have exacted a heavy toll on Iran’s Revolutionary Guards. The Kurdish rebels in the northwest, the Baluchis in the southeast, and the Ahwazi-Arabs of Khuzestan in the southwest continue to fight the regime, and should the Iranian regime divert its forces from these areas, the attacks on the regime would increase to critical proportions. In addition to the pressure on the regime from the Sunni minorities who seek to bring it down and achieve either autonomy or independence, escalated war and chaos would encourage a civil uprising against the regime among ethnic Persians. In the 1980s, Saddam’s attack on Iran fostered general solidarity with the regime. Today, however, the situation is different in that the Islamic revolution has lost the support of the public in Iran. Millions marched against Ahmadinejad and the stealing of the last election by his regime. The young people of Iran despise the regime, and are becoming increasingly anti-religious according to Caspian Makan, an Iranian film director, journalist and dissident. These same people identify with the more liberal and democratic Green Revolution, and are waiting in the wings for the right moment to take action. The Iranian regime is fully cognizant of this.
Tehran has two formidable surrogates whose forces can be used against Israel: Hezbollah and Hamas, but should either of them seriously endanger Israel’s population, Iran is aware that Israel is capable of completely destroying these two entities. And, both Hamas and Hezbollah have their own interests to protect. While Hezbollah controls the Lebanese government, a massive attack on Israel would most certainly bring about its destruction. Similarly, Hamas seeks first and foremost its self-preservation. The Iranian regime is also fully aware of the fact that Israeli retaliation against an Iranian attack would spell the end for the Islamic revolution.
It is for these reasons that Iran is willing to engage in brinkmanship but not in a war with Israel. Its nuclear efforts are meant to immunize it from a military attack and U.S. and Israeli superiority, and its bluster hides its weakness. To paraphrase the words of the Chinese military philosopher Sun Tzu in his book “The Art of War,” written back in the 4th Century BCE, what matters most in a war is not how many fighters you have or how well equipped they are, but rather what your opponents think you have. If they think you are weak and vulnerable they will surely attack, but if they consider you strong or unpredictable, they would refrain from attacking you. Iran has well absorbed Sun Tzu’s teachings.
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