Don’t count your chickens until they are clearly out of the nest! The first round of talks to inhibit Iran’s nuclear intentions was highly encouraging. However, that’s only step one. During my time in Israel, I found considerable concern about what the Iranians will actually do. These reservations appear to be confirmed by recent statements by Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
Last week, Khamenei unveiled a new strategy aimed at resisting international sanctions. Dubbed “resistence economy,” the idea is to encourage new technologies within Iran. Observers suggest this idea has been developed in case there is a breakdown in the negotiations.
The Supreme Leader’s position is, perhaps, more complex than generally recognized. Significant turmoil exits within Iran with three camps represent combating ideologies. Nuclear activists maintain that Iran’s rights to develop technology should remain uninhibited. They oppose any compromise. Nuclear detractors want to stop the current nuclear enrichment. While they are probably the least substantial group, they remain a factor. Nuclear centrists believe their nuclear program is only one of many issues that must be considered. The current president Hassan Rouhani came out of this group. Because he was elected by significant numbers, Rouhani represents a new and major force in the current government. The push and pull of these groups presents a major problem for Khamenei.
While sympathetic to both activists and centrists, the Supreme Leader is caught in the center. His “resistance economy” may be hedging his bets with both groups should the forthcoming negotiations fall apart. This unresolved dynamic reflects a struggle within Iran that is more complex than generally reported. Certainly, merchants on the street have felt the sanctions more significantly than anyone else. It doesn’t take an in-depth reading of the country to recognize that the government has real problems keeping this element under control. The suppressed rebellion several years ago reflected their economic problems.
Khamenei maintains control far more by consensus than by decree. If he goes too far, he will not be able to keep the lid on the unseen but persistent boiling difficulties. One remaining factor is the Revolutionary Guard, a considerable right-wing force that supports nuclear nuclear armament. Some observers fear the Guard might attempt to undercut President Rouhani and kill a long-term credible deal. Should that happen, Iran would retreat into increased belligerence and isolation.
Would Iran really opt for such a retreat? The answer lies not in what is rational, but what is emotional. And therein is the greatest danger. You can count on the fact that Israel will not allow the development of a Bomb. Shouldn’t that fact halt irrational thinking? “Should” isn’t the issue. The reality is that religiously motivated idealism has never been halted by logic. Let us hope this element does not gain the ascendancy.