The West has targeted Iran with a series of international sanctions because of its refusal to halt its uranium enrichment program. In the latest phase of sanctions this summer, the European Union stopped importing Iranian oil (the country’s main source of revenue). It is difficult to gauge how much of the economic malaise can be attributed to the sanctions, and how much to government mismanagement, which is rampant. The rial dropped by 17 percent earlier this month after the government mysteriously stopped the flow of foreign currency to importers — even though the government still has over $100 billion in its reserves.

To Ebadi, it seems as though the Iranian authorities are intentionally trying to provoke a war by making inflammatory remarks. Last month, President Ahmadinejad, who has earned a reputation for his harsh anti-Israeli statements, called for the creation of a new Middle East freed from any trace of Americans or Zionists. (He previously caused an outrage by saying that “Israel must be wiped off the map,” a line first used by Ayatollah Khomeini in the early 1980s.) Earlier this year Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei described Israel as a regional “cancerous tumor” that “should be cut off, while Ahmadinejad went on to call the existence of Israel an “insult against humanity. “The remarks seemed even more provocative ahead of a trip to Iran by United Nation Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon.

“It appears that they want to say that ‘we are not afraid of a war, and in fact we welcome it,'” said Ebadi. “Iranian society is moving along a democratic and secular path — and a war can reverse it. I have no doubt that the people will eventually prevail, but a military crisis will upend the calculus.”