While in Israel we are preoccupied with threats and preparations for a possible strike on Iran’s nuclear sites, residents of Tehran, Esfahan, Shiraz and other Iranian cities are already deep into another war – the war for their survival. Phone calls made in recent days by Yedioth Ahronoth to several Iranian citizens revealed a fascinating picture of the enemy state that hides behind the scary rhetoric of the leaders from Tehran.
While top Iranian leaders Ali Khamenei and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad boast that Western sanctions merely make Iran stronger and issue statements claiming Iran’s home front is resilient, the Iranians we spoke with have other news – the situation in the country is terrible.
“You can see it well at markets and shops,” says Razi, the owner of a textile store in Tehran. “People only buy what they really need…I have some friends who only buy the most defective, rotten goods at the market, at the end of the day, in order to save up a few more pennies.”
‘I love Israel’
Razi says he belongs to Iran’s constantly shrinking middle class. He dresses up, speaks and thinks like a Westerner, yet to his great regret lives in Tehran. “I would run away if I could,” he says. “But I have a big family and roots here, and I prefer to hope and believe that sometimes all of this will pass and we’ll again be able to live like human beings.”
In recent weeks, the local currency depreciated dramatically, the prices of goods skyrocketed, and inflation has spun out of control. Meanwhile, the government has minimized fuel subsidies and encourages residents to walk or use public transportation. “We’re eating less meat, whose price went up significantly, and settle for staples. It’s good for our health. Maybe the Americans want all of us to go on a diet,” he quips, bitterly.
When Razi is told of the recent Israeli Facebook campaign under the “We Love Iran” banner, he laughs. “I would do a similar campaign. I love Israel,” he says. “However, I have this slight concern that 10 minutes after my first post goes online, you’ll find me hanging upside down from a city crane.”
Khatem, a real estate professional, says that the Iranian government’s propaganda isn’t working. “They can keep talking about Big Satan and Little Satan, yet aside from the religious fanatics, everyone looks up to the West. We want to be like in America, but wake up into a nightmare every morning.”
“All my relatives are dreaming of running away from here, but stay because of the force of habit,” he says. “The government is corrupt. Everyone knows that. They have no economic problems whatsoever. They keep their money stashed somewhere and know they will always have somewhere to flee to. They are also protected in case of war; they have well-built, durable bomb shelters, unlike the civilians who will eventually be hurt.”
Khatem says that many Western friends and businesspeople he was in touch with severed their ties with him recently, partly because of the sanctions that prevent them from doing business with Iran. “Up until now it was difficult but possible. Yet now, with the new sanctions in place, it appears we’re heading into an impossible and much more difficult period.”
To be on the safe side, Khatem has started to stockpile dollars. Not in the bank, but rather, under his floor tiles. “If, or more accurately, when the situation becomes harder and they nationalize our money from the bank, I’ll take out my dollars, board a plane and seek political asylum in Canada.
‘People are scared’
Iranians believe that anti-government protests will renew in full force after Syria’s Bashar Assad will be toppled. “Once Assad falls, the ground here will start to shake here as well,” says Razi.
“It will give youngsters plenty of incentive and vigor to hit the streets. At this time there are snitches everywhere and taking part in any political activity is strictly forbidden,” he says.
Maria, a 23-year-old student from Shiraz, says she took part in previous protests with relatives. One of them never came back, she says. “Talking is no good; it’s better to shut up,” she says, while describing the grim reality around her. “People are stockpiling food. They are scared. Everyone knows something bad is about to happen.”
‘Sanctions are working’
The 40-year-old Amir lives with his family in Esfahan, not far from one of Iran’s uranium enrichment sites. He realizes that in case of an Israeli strike on the facility, his home may be mistakenly hit by a missile. Still, the shortage of food bothers him more. “I don’t believe that there will be a bombing…but on the other hand, I’m already feeling the shortage of money and food,” he says.
“Under the current state of affairs, the government can’t perform financial transactions. This is serious trouble,” he says. “My wife told me that soon we shall run out of medications as well. We can’t go on like this for long. There are two options: Either the regime renounces the nuke project, or else we’ll have a big war.”
Amir says that Iran is much more similar to Israel than we may think. Many Iranians aspire to be like Americans, and view Jews as true potential partners. “The problem starts and ends at the top, with our leaders,” he says. “I can tell you with certainty, as one who hates the regime and wants it to fall, that the sanctions most certainly work.”
By Yehuda Shohat
Full story originally published by Yedioth Ahronoth