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Watch out for an Iranian backlash

Considering how Iran's domestic shake-up caught everyone off guard, Western states should be prepared for what the regime might do next.

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As hopes run high that Iran's political upheaval will ultimately lead to positive changes in the regime, a word of caution for the West: When Middle Eastern powers feel trapped, they tend to swing blindly at outside states.

The Arab world has been focusing much attention on Israel and its conflict with the Palestinians in an effort to redirect their domestic populations' collective attention away from their own trouble. The Iranian government seems to be following this tactic.

Even as President Obama goes to lengths to indicate that the US is not behind Iran's upheaval, the Iranian regime has cautioned Americans to stay out of its affairs. This has increased the tension, and further muted the chances of successful nuclear negotiations with the US and Europe.

If internal pressure remains, and Iran's current leadership led by Ayatollah Khamenei feels further threatened, it has the power to make things turn ugly fast.

Iran might decide to ratchet up the tension with Britain, knowing that the UK is limited in responding. In March 2007, Iranians captured 15 British sailors at gunpoint and held them for nearly two weeks, claiming they had "invaded" Iranian waters.

In both that instance and the recent arrests of British embassy employees, Britain warned of serious consequences for Iranian intimidation, but backed down once its personnel were released.

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