Iran Has Changed, the World Must Keep Pace with it
Iran Has Changed, the World Must Keep Pace with it
Is the door completely shut to the possibility of reaching regional and international understandings with Iran that would help tame the mullah regime?
One of the latest blows received by those who have an optimistic view on the negotiations with Iran came through the European Parliament’s decision to ask the EU to put the Iranian Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) – including the Quds Force that is entrusted with foreign operations and the Basij forces - on the list of “terrorist organizations”, in addition to banning “any economic or financial activity” with the IRGC, through companies or institutions that may be associated with it.
The importance of this development lies in the fact that Europe has always been, for economic and political reasons, closer to the logic of improving relations with Tehran, to the point of expressing readiness to engage in a political clash with the administration of former US President Donald Trump, after the latter’s exit from the nuclear agreement.
In 2019, the German-British-French trio desperately sought to keep the agreement alive by creating the Special Trade and Finance Instrument (INSTEX) to allow European companies to trade with Iran and protect them from US sanctions. But the mechanism has proven to be ineffective.
The decision of the European Parliament ends or nearly closes a huge gap that remained open in the history of Iranian relations with the West, and dispels or almost dispels many illusions about the possibility of taming Iran and addressing issues and concerns related to its domestic and foreign policies.
What has perhaps accelerated this European shift is the fatal strategic mistake committed by Iran, through its direct involvement in the Russian-Ukrainian war. Tehran is providing Moscow with drones and missiles that bombard Europe, making it part of the direct threat to European security, not only European interests in the Middle East.
Neither the diplomatic and political approach nor sanctions and other forms of pressure succeeded in changing the behavior of the mullah regime.
After the conclusion of the nuclear agreement, Iran increased its destructive behavior in the Middle East; and after its withdrawal from it and the assassination of Qassem Soleimani, the Iranian regime tightened its grip on the state and society, to prepare for a new attack when the opportunity arose.
A comprehensive military solution will certainly bring woes to all countries in the Middle East. Moreover, isolating the Tehran regime will be faced with great obstacles, in light of Iran’s penetration of the social and political fabric of a number of neighboring countries, such as Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Yemen, in addition to its links to militias with multiple sectarian and ideological backgrounds, from Hezbollah to Hamas, al-Qaeda and ISIS, which gives Iran capabilities to employ others to serve its interests and to harm its opponents.
There are no easy answers on the best way to tame Iran, if taming it were possible. Therefore, a number of drafters of political papers on how to deal with the Iranian regime insist on always calling for the adoption of complex approaches and precise, multifaceted strategies, many of which involve betting on internal developments in Iran itself, and benefiting from the complex and delicate political, economic and social dynamics taking place inside the country.
Such calls will naturally flourish today in light of the popular movement that swept Iran since the murder of Mahsa Amini at the hands of the morality police.
More importantly, betting on the Iranian interior is reinforced by major changes that afflicted the Iranian national character after nearly half a century of living under the disastrous consequences of the revolutionary regime.
For example, deep-rooted national feelings among Iranians no longer play the role they once did. Iranians have become more willing to accept external support, rather seeking it in an unprecedented manner in contrast to Iran’s historical political and social experience that was based on a long history of anticolonial culture, and sharp aversion to foreign influence and interference.
In this context, the Iranian people widely welcomed the announcement by SpaceX CEO Elon Musk of the deployment of nearly 100 Starlinks to provide secure internet coverage inside Iran. This shows that the regime’s tendency to blame external factors for the country’s problems has, in the eyes of Iranians, lacked even the slightest degree of credibility.
This is one of the main features that the US administration and Western governments must focus on to overcome the Western complex towards Iran, which is satisfactorily summed up by the intervention to overthrow the government of Mohammad Mossadegh in 1953, and re-instate the Shah.
Today, the Iranians are in a different place… A place where lies the point of convergence between all those who have an interest in ending Iran’s subversive behavior in the world.
True, the Iranian regime is a complex and multifaceted system, but betting on the contradictions of the “democratic”, religious and authoritarian components, hoping for change, while neglecting the current popular dynamics, and disregarding the extent of their separation from the system as a whole, is a grave mistake that was committed in the past, and I am afraid that it is being repeated today. The Iranians will not be the only ones to pay the price.
There is a new Iran that rejects the fantasies that prevailed during the era of former US President Bill Clinton, such as Martin Indyk’s theory of “Dual Containment” for both Iraq and Iran, or the “Dialogue of Civilizations” initiative announced by Clinton during a speech he delivered in 1997. He hoped the initiative would open an official channel of communication between the two countries through intellectuals, academics, and American and Iranian religious leaders, with the aim of alleviating tension.
The administration of President Barack Obama tried to revive this approach, especially in terms of lifting sanctions, without paying fair attention to the changes that occurred in Iranian society and the regime. Then, President Joe Biden returned to it with stubbornness that lacked any real political depth or a complex understanding of the reality of the Iranian role, not only in the Middle East, but in the whole world.
Clinton’s attempts failed for the same reasons that have thwarted Obama and Biden’s efforts. The bottom line is that the hardline opposition in Iran fears that the regime will lose its justification for existence if it loses its revolutionary nature, which always puts it at loggerheads with the status quo forces in the region and in the world.
In order to understand the essence of the Iranian regime and to dispel all illusions about a possible deal with it, it is enough to recall the leaked comments of former Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif about Soleimani’s role, his influence over the nuclear negotiations, the government and foreign policy, and his constant effort to “sacrifice diplomacy for the IRGC’s operations.”
Evidently, it is not easy for governments and states to wait for the system to collapse from within, especially since predicting the possibility of a collapse or its timing is scientifically impossible and politically impractical.
It is unclear whether the current movement will evolve into a comprehensive revolution against the regime, despite its growing radicalism, while no serious cracks appear in its political, security, and institutional structure, despite the many discrepancies that are increasingly surfacing to the public eye.
We are also facing a system that is suffering combined economic collapse caused by a harsh package of sanctions, corruption and declining oil revenues, and drought, as well as the economic repercussions of the Covid-19 pandemic. The system is also witnessing growing popular discontent due to the suppression of protests that are calling for simple individual rights and complaining about the deterioration of living conditions that no one can deny.
The minimum required is keeping pace with the developments in Iran with a new perception that understands the state the regime has reached, and the changes that have taken place in society and its various forces.