In the past years, the Iranian regime has been dealing with an endless series of international and domestic issues that are occurring following the 2015 nuclear deal it forged with world powers. Crises emanating from international sanctions and political isolation and the re-emergence of domestic unrests have created a rift within the regime.
With negotiations being raised over Iran’s ballistic missile program and its regional meddling, the regime’s internal crises are becoming exacerbated. Despite the supposed show of power by the Revolutionary Guards and military incursions in other countries, Tehran has no other choice but to retrace its steps and give in to the demands of the international community if faced with a firm policy.
The government of Hassan Rouhani is still trying to negotiate to preserve the nuclear deal, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), while at the same time pretending to be standing up against the international community. State-controlled media outlet Aria quoted foreign minister Javad Zarif as saying: “We will not renegotiate the JCPOA and are looking after practical steps by the European Union in its support.”
Meanwhile, there are signs that Iran’s counterparts are raising their expectations of Tehran’s cooperation. The French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian spoke about Iran’s interference in conflicts in the Middle East and its ballistic missile program at a conference during a trip to Saudi Arabia, saying, “Iran’s role and the different areas where this country operates worries us. I am thinking in particular of Iran’s interventions in regional crises, this hegemonic temptation and I’m thinking of its ballistic program.”
In response, Bahram Qassemi, the spokesman for Iran’s foreign ministry, defensively said on November 30, “The European countries that took part in the nuclear talks are aware of Iran’s transparency in implementing its policies. These allegations are shameful lies that are being repeated and have nothing to do with the affairs of other countries. We do not meddle in other countries, especially Lebanon.”
Iranian authorities are warning that any sort of negotiations will lead to other “JCPOAs,” meaning that Iran will eventually have to back down from its other critical practices, such as its terrorist intervention in neighboring countries and its brutal human rights violations at home.
Media with ties to Iran’s supreme leader are attacking Rouhani as playing the enemies card and causing a rift inside the regime by vouching for negotiations over Iran’s ballistic missiles and regional influence.
Meanwhile, Ali Khamenei, the supreme leader and the man who has final say on all matters of state, has maintained a hands-off approach on the entire issue. On the one hand, he is letting his cronies make vitriolic attacks against Rouhani’s policies, while on the other, he is giving his tacit approval to Rouhani, as he did during the JCPOA negotiations. Khamenei’s real fear is social instability and protests.
One of the effects of increased international pressure on the Iranian regime is the escalation of social and political protests inside the country. This is one of the worst nightmares of Khamenei and his cohorts, who still have fresh memories of the 2009 uprisings that nearly wrested power out of their control.
About two weeks ago, the regime’s Interior Minister admitted that some 150 acts of protests take place in the country every day.
A nationwide protest movement has been going on for one year and growing, by people whose assets have been plundered by government-backed financial institutes. These protests have on numerous occasions turned into political protests against the regime in its entirety.
The regime’s leaders explicitly say Syria, Iraq, and Yemen are the regime’s strategic depth and if they wrap up and leave those countries they would risk being overthrown.
On Wednesday, 6 December 2017, on the initiative of the Friends of a Free Iran intergroup at the European Parliament, Maryam Rajavi, the President-elect of the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), said, “The regime has already exhausted its strategic resources. Economically, they are on the verge of bankruptcy. Socially, they have become ever more isolated.
“The solution is showing firmness, not giving concessions. The EU has unfortunately abandoned its values in order to promote trade with the mullahs. It has turned a blind eye on the gross violations of human rights in Iran.” She added.
A concerted and firm effort to counter Iran’s destructive meddling in the region and its ballistic missile program will the biggest contribution to peace both inside Iran and across the region. Washington and the Arab World have taken some positive steps in this regard. It is past time that the European Union follows suit and adopts a firm policy.
Shahriar Kia is an Iranian dissident and a political analyst writing about Iran and the Middle East.