We have now seen over a week of spectacular newsworthy items come out of Iran since their election. The conflict is within Iran, but Americans are mostly interested because of America's on-going conflict with Iran. One of many questions is why the conflicts have been occurring at all. Here's what I think it happening.
The Iranian conflict demonstrates very clearly that conflicts between nations are almost always conflicts between the powerful and wealthy elites of those nations, not between the peoples of those nations. Conflicts within nations are similarly largely between the leaders of one group and the leaders of the opposing groups.
The leaders in some cases owe their power to a vocal minority of ideologues who they represent, so they cater to that minority. The leaders generally fear losing their social positions and wealth, so they demagogue the masses and point to powerful "enemies" in other countries or other groups or to powerless minorities to whom the leaders attribute great and sinister power. This conflict permits them to maintain their social position and the wealth that normally accompanies it.
Wealth and power are effectively synonymous. The wealthy generally select those in power, and the powerful individuals can use their position and power to gain wealth. The biggest difference between those two groups is their methods of manipulating society, one group by buying people to do what they want and the other by using the necessary hierarchy of government to enforce rules on others. Both are focused on protecting great wealth, either because they have it or because they have been selected to protect it. Here's how that wealth-protection works to select politicians in a democracy or industrialized nation.
The wealthy, very often people who have inherited their wealth, use money to provide a crucial element of support to politicians who support them and help protect their wealth. They also hire others to establish a philosophy that legitimizes the government. In America that is primarily political conservative ideology or the "Free Market" myth. The conservative ideology here is designed to protect wealth and redistribute it away from the middle and lower classes. That's the reason why repeal of the inheritance tax is such an issue with Republicans and conservatives, as are efforts to lower tax rates on the wealthy and allow them to avoid regulation or even disclosure. In Iran a militant and mutant form of Shiite Islam performs much the same function. The main purposes of the ideology are to motivate individuals to achieve the goals of protecting wealth and power and to differentiate between those group members are belong to one group or nation or another and thus are superior to their assigned opponents.
as an example, the Republican Party leaders are largely those who have the favor of wealthy donors, if they aren't wealthy themselves. We can see that from Norm Coleman's investigation for bribery in Minnesota and from the existence of "wingnut welfare" which protects the political careers of favored politicians when they are out of office. Over a long period of time, every politician hits rough patches, and that's when the money can really help. Those politicians who do not have wealth of their own or wealthy backers are forced out of political careers sooner or later because of the inherent uncertainty of such careers.
Internationally conflicts in the last century (at least) _ have all been based on the effects of international trade, primarily oil. These conflicts are primarily of interest to the wealthy in the various nations, particularly since the most reliable and lucrative businesses tend to be those where someone causes the government to give them customers. Government power gives the wealthy members of a powerful oligarchy the ability to redirect trade and profits to themselves. In the Middle East this has led to their oligarchs allying themselves to international oil companies and repressing their respective peoples to support their own incomes and local power.
The real key, though, is that the international conflicts come from the local powerful elites who disagree sharply with the powerful elites of other nations, and then demagogue their people to fight other national groups. We invaded Iraq because Saddam was unwilling to submit to the oil companies - and yet those oil companies (competing with each other and protecting their prior investments) kept him in power by giving him the money that belonged to Iraq. Here in the U.S. we have recently watched the way the Oil Companies and Business interests - through the Bush administration - demagogued Americans into an unnecessary war. (And much of our mass media, as usual, was very much involved in the demagoguery. It's the owners that do that, not the reporters. In fact, the editors have to cater to the owners to keep their careers.)
Powerful religious leaders are even more dependent on wealthy donors. To keep their positions, they also have to cater to protecting the wealth of the wealthy families. As an example, the American evangelicals in the American South in the early 1800's were largely anti-slavery. But the wealthy planters supported those Preachers who supported their wealth and taught that God, through the Bible said that African slaves were not fully human. That religious attitude lasted in the Southern Baptist Church until they finally apologized for teaching that the Bible supported slavery in the 1990's. Organized western religion is ideologically-based (they call it doctrine) and any Preacher who can argue that the Bible supports what the wealthy want the masses to believe will get a church, good donations and a long career as a Preacher. Every hierarchy is subject to such manipulation by the wealthy simply because wealth creates lives and careers.
The result of all this is that the wealthy families maintain their wealth by getting their nominees into positions of power, and those nominees owe their positions largely to those wealthy families. So together they make up the dominant groups of power brokers. To maintain that power, they create enemies, real or make believe, and demagogue the masses to fight them. It's best if the leaders can egg those enemies into attacking the nation because that mobilizes the followers to consolidate power in the hands of a few hardliners who can easily convince others that they are the only ones who can defend us all against those enemies. Not all intergroup or international conflicts are manipulated this way, but the tendency is always there.
Once in a while we get to see behind the charade of group dynamics and see the real people on the ground who have been demagogued. That's what we are currently seeing in Iran with the protests. But even that is an internal battle for power between elite groups in Iran.