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.
On June 21, I posted a blog on the possibilities of a new wind blowing in Iran and considered possible interpretations of the presidential election of cleric Hassan Rowhani. I noted that his election as a moderate signaled a rebuke to the council of mullahs who actually run the country.
One of the factors in the Obama administration’s posture toward Iran has been the conviction that the young people in the country might eventually overthrow the ruling class and the ultraconservatives that have held power in the country. An example of what could create rebellion is one of the harsh social realities in this Muslim dominated society. Reported by French-Iranian journalists Freidoure Sohesbjanil’s book La Femme Lapidee, this actual experience was made into the international award winning movie The Stoning of Soraya M. The powerful story reveals the Muslim custom of stoning a woman to death for adultery. In this true and factual story, Soraya is falsely accused by her husband so he can pursue another woman. She is hauled onto a mount of dirt and stoned by the men of the village (including her two sons). The scene burns into one’s mind the ugly tragedies that can follow in a religion controlled society.
Rouhani’s election is hopeful, but the race reflects how restrictive the Iranian society remains. Out of the 700 individuals that applied to run for the office of president, Supreme Leader Khamenei rejected 99% of them. The only person’s allowed to run had to reflect Ayatollah Khamenei’s view of politics and his interpretation of Islam. Rouhani barely squeaked through.
Hassan Rouhani is a former nuclear negotiator and is firmly entrenched inside the Iranian systems. While the Iranian people elected him partial because of his platform calling for improved relationships with the West, Rouhani still maintains a dangerous position on Iran’s nuclear program. It is known that Rouhani pushed negotiations with the West as a tactic to buy time for Iran to advance its nuclear program. He has encouraged the development of a nuclear weapon. He said in a 2006 speech that while negotiating with the Europeans, “we were installing equipment at the Isfahan site.”
The ultimate control of Iran’s nuclear policy is under the thumb of Supreme Leader Khamenei who has shown no signs of slowing the process down. His history demonstrates that he has repeatedly proposed talks only to buy time for the development of The Bomb.
The Iranians also elected Rouhani because of their hopes that improved conditions with the West would lead to the lessening of sanctions that have been highly painful for the society. However, the dreams of a better day must be based on the recognition that the West won’t bend until Iran suspends it’s pursuit of nuclear weapons. While the West can be hopeful that Rouhani is a step-forward, Westerns governments must be realist. Everyday that goes by without a halt in the pursuit of nuclear weaponry is another step toward a frightening disaster.
Surely, Rouhani understands that delay by the West only plays into their hands.