Shortly after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu repeated his warnings before the United Nations that Iran is close to making a nuclear bomb, another top Israeli official urged the U.N. to support any opposition movement within Iran that seeks to topple the Tehran government.
Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman also asserted that tough economic sanctions against Iran could precipitate the kind of revolt witnessed over the past year and a half across the Arab world.
Lieberman told the Haaretz newspaper of Israel that, based on government intelligence and the eyewitness accounts of Russian businessman who have visited Iran, the extent of economic hardship within the Islamic Republic could foment an uprising similar to the revolution seen in Egypt.
"In my view, there's going to be an Iranian-style Tahrir revolution," Lieberman said, referring to the square in Cairo that served as a nucleus of protests that ultimately ousted Hosni Mubarak from power.
"If you held a referendum – the nuclear program or quality of life – 70 to 80 percent would choose the second option. It's not that they're opposed to the nuclear program, but they aren't willing to pay these crazy prices.”
Lieberman also referred to the massive demonstrations in 2009 in which thousands of Iranians took to the streets to dispute the election results that gave Mahmoud Ahmadinejad another term as president.
"The opposition demonstrations that took place in Iran in June 2009 will come back in even greater force," Lieberman said.
"The situation in Iran and the feelings of the man on the street is one of economic catastrophe. There's a shortage of basic goods, a rise in crime, and people are trying to flee the country, sending money abroad."
He added: "Last time, the West didn't expect it and was confused. This time, it could lead to the fall of the regime. Israel must not interfere."
Lieberman’s assertions were supported by another cabinet member, Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz, who declared that Iran’s economy is "on the verge of collapse," adding that with up to $50 billion in oil revenues having vanished, "the Iranians are in great economic difficulties.”
An official at Israeli foreign ministry also told Haaretz: "There are indications that the average citizen is actually blaming the Iranian leadership for the situation and not the West, which has imposed the sanctions. Basic necessities like chicken, bread, meat and electricity have gone up sharply in price."
However, the Israeli foreign minister’s comments – that is, endorsing continued sanctions against Iran -- would appear to contradict the relentlessly hawkish tone adopted by his boss, Netanyahu, who has urged military strikes on Iranian nuclear sites.
According to the Daily Telegraph newspaper, an official linked to Netanyahu said of Lieberman’s comments: "All Israelis hope that a more moderate government will come to power in Iran. But it would be very dangerous to wait for regime change when the current regime is so brutal in its suppression of opposition. Iran's nuclear clock is ticking much faster than any popular efforts to bring about a democratic Iran."
The sanctions against Iran have clearly hurt it financially. On Saturday, the country’s currency, the rial, fell to an all-time low against the U.S. dollar. Since June 2011, the rail’s value has been cut in half.
Palash has worked as a business journalist for 21 years in New York.