We interrupt this program to ask the supreme war-or-peace question; what game is Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei really playing?
A recurrent theme among the lively Iranian global diaspora is that the Supreme Leader is the perfect US/Israel asset -- as he incarnates Iran (although in many cases less than President Mahmud Ahmadinejad) as "the enemy"; in parallel, the military dictatorship of the mullahtariat in Tehran also needs "the enemy" -- as in the Great Satan and the Zionists -- to justify its monopoly of power.
The ultimate loser, in this case, is true Iranian democracy -- as in the foundation for the country's ability to resist Empire. Especially now, after the immensely dodgy 2009 presidential election and the repression of the Green movement - when even former supporters swear the Islamic Republic turned into neither a "republic" and certainly not "Islamic."
At the same time, informed Iranian -- and Western -- critics of Empire swear that the belligerent Likud-majority government of Israel is in fact the perfect Iran asset. This is because Prime Minister Benjamin "Bibi" Netanyahu and former Moldova bouncer turned Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman's non-stop warmongering has only worked to rally Iranians of all persuasions -- always proudly nationalistic -- behind the regime.
After all, the absolute majority of Iranians feel they are targeted by a heavily weaponized foreign power -- US/Israel, followed in the shade by the Sunni Persian Gulf monarchies of the Gulf Counter-revolution Club, also known as Gulf Cooperation Council. The regime was wily enough to instrumentalize this foreign threat and, at the same time, further smash the Green movement.
Keep your bombs away from me
Parliamentary elections in Iran are less than a week away, on March 3. These are the first elections after the 2009 drama. In The Ayatollahs' Democracy: an Iranian Challenge (Penguin Books), Hooman Majd makes a very strong case detailing how the election was stolen. And that's the key current problem; millions of Iranians don't believe in their Islamic democracy anymore.
Gholam Reza Moghaddam, a cleric and the head of the Majlis (parliament) commission that is conducting an extremely delicate move in the middle of an economic crisis -- to finish government subsidies on basic food items and energy -- recently admitted that the Ahmadinejad government was by all practical purposes bribing the population "to encourage them to vote in the Majlis elections."
Major General Yahya Rahim Safavi -- a senior military adviser to Khamenei and, crucially, former chief of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) -- asked Iranians to "take the elections seriously and by voting in maximum numbers create another epic event." The Supreme Leader believes -- or hopes -- turnout at the "epic event" will be around 60%.
They may be in for a rude shock. Word in Iran is that the election appeal at universities is close to zero. No wonder; Green movement leader Mir Hossein Mousavi has been under house arrest for a full year. According to Kaleme, a website close to Mousavi and his wife, Dr Zahra Rahnavard, a few days ago they were allowed to speak only briefly, by phone, with their three daughters.
Khamenei's attention seems to be concentrated more on the external pressure than the internal dynamic. Once again, on Wednesday, he went public to renew his vow that a nuclear weapon is anti-Islamic. His words should -- but they won't -- be carefully scrutinized in the West:
"We believe that using nuclear weapons is haram and prohibited, and that it is everybody's duty to make efforts to protect humanity against this great disaster. We believe that besides nuclear weapons, other types of weapons of mass destruction such as chemical and biological weapons also pose a serious threat to humanity. The Iranian nation which is itself a victim of chemical weapons feels more than any other nation the danger that is caused by the production and stockpiling of such weapons and is prepared to make use of all its facilities to counter such threats."To see the Supreme Leader's "nuclear" views, warmongers could do worse than consult his website.  Of course, they won't.
What's certain is that the leader seems to be ready to fight for the long haul. Major General (retired) Mohsen Rezai, the secretary general of the Expediency Council, said it in so many words; Western sanctions will go on for at least another five years, and are much tougher than those imposed during the 1980-1988 Iran-Iraq war.
Rezai also said that for 16 years, when Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani and then Mohammad Khatami were presidents, Iran tried to reach some sort of deal with the US; but "because the gap [between the two] was too deep, a compromise was not possible ... We allowed them to inspect Natanz, we reduced the number of centrifuges, we suspended the Isfahan [uranium conversion facility], and our president [Khatami] began the 'dialogue among civilizations'. But [president George W] Bush declared that Iran, Iraq and North Korea constitute the 'axis of evil' and began a confrontation with us." 
A former spokesman for the Iranian nuclear negotiation team, ambassador Hossein Mousavian, brought this confrontational mood up to date -- to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) team's October 2011 visit to Iran, led by deputy director general Herman Nackaerts -- the same Nackaerts who was back in Iran this week.
According to Mousavian, "during the visit, Fereydoon Abbasi-Davani, the head of Iran's Atomic Energy Organization, offered a blank check to the IAEA, granting full transparency, openness to inspections, and cooperation with the IAEA. He also informed Nackaerts of Iran's receptiveness to putting the country's nuclear program under 'full IAEA supervision', including implementing the Additional Protocol [of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty] for five years, provided that sanctions against Iran were lifted."