US Could Change Iranian Regime without a Single Shot, Expert Says

By Julie Stahl | July 7, 2008 | 8:13 PM EDT

Jerusalem ( - The coalition victory in Iraq has caused Iran to watch its criticism of American leaders because it is afraid that it could come under U.S. pressures in the war against terrorism, an Iranian affairs expert said here on Tuesday.

Iran's former president, Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, was quoted earlier this week as saying that the issue of a resumption of ties between Iran and the United States could be put to a referendum.

Washington severed ties with Tehran after militants stormed the U.S. Embassy there and took staff members hostage as part of the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

The official Iranian news agency, IRNA, quoted Rafsanjani from an interview in the Rahbord (Strategy) quarterly as saying that the issue of Iranian-U.S. relations could be resolved through a referendum after the parliament and Supreme Leader Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei approve it.

The reports raised speculation that Iran was trying to avoid a confrontation with the U.S. following the decisive coalition victory in Iraq.

This past year, President Bush named Iran, along with Iraq and North Korea, as part of what he called the "axis of evil" - countries that are developing weapons of mass destruction and supporting terrorism.

Iranian affairs expert Menashe Amir said that Rafsanjani's office later denied the report and said he had been misquoted, but Amir believes that Tehran is nevertheless taking a low profile since the sweeping allied victory in Iraq.

"I have the feeling, since the victory in Baghdad, they are playing down and being very careful about [verbally] attacking U.S. [officials]," said Amir, who himself is from Iran and heads the Persian language news service of Israel Radio.

Because of the quick victory in Iraq, the Iranian leadership is afraid and is being very careful about any statements. Now, Syria is very seriously threatened in American rhetoric, and Tehran knows that it must take President Bush seriously, he added.

Bush warned Syria this weekend that it must cooperate with the U.S. and its coalition partners not to harbor any Iraqi officials and charged that Syria had chemical weapons.

Secretary of State Colin Powell said that the U.S. was looking into "possible measures of a diplomatic, economic or other nature" against Syria.

The U.S. could conquer Iran without a single shot, Amir said. The Iranian situation is "very ripe" for a regime change, he said.

If the Americans do the same in Iran as they did in Iraq - wage a months-long psychological war against Saddam - the Iranian regime "may collapse without a single shot," Amir said.

An expert on Shiite Islam, Dr. Meir Litvak from Tel Aviv University said he believes that Iran sees both positive and negative outcomes for itself as a result of the war.

Iran is not happy with the fact that it is now surrounded by the U.S. in Afghanistan, Turkey, Azerbaijan and now Iraq, Litvak said.

However, Iran is trying to play up to the international community by opening its nuclear facilities for inspection in order to "deprive the U.S. of any excuse" to attack, Litvak said.

But on the other hand, Iraq is looking to increase its influence among the Shiite Muslims in Iraq, he said.

Although the Shiite population is a natural ally for Iran, it is also concerned that the city of Najaf, where the founder of Shiite Islam is buried, will once again become a main religious and scholarly center and be in competition with Iran. Iran would hope to keep that in check by becoming involved, he said.

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