Iran’s Election—Sort Of
Iran is getting a new president. Ebrahim Raisi, a conservative hardliner hand picked by the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, will ascend to the presidency in six weeks as Hassan Rouhani, a more moderate leader, steps aside having had to withstand the onslaught that was Donald Trump’s treatment of Iran. Trump ripped up the 2015 Obama nuclear deal and squeezed the life out of the Iranian economy with sanctions he thought would get the Iranians to the negotiating table and force them into a better deal. It didn’t work.
The Biden White House would like a deal and the articles in The New York Times on June 20 suggest that the new hardliner may be the key to getting one soon. The deal gets made if the old president will get blamed for capitulation by the hardliners and the in-coming one will get the credit if the U.S. lifts sanctions and the Iranian public feels the benefits. A large percentage of that public did not vote this time as they felt the fix was in and it was. Not only was Raisi favored by the Supreme Leader and his clerics, he may well be the next Supreme Leader himself.
All this must be making the Biden White House gleeful for if circumstances get them a deal with Iran that locks out the nuclear option for a future Iran, that would please the State Department whose current leadership cut the 2015 deal under Obama in the first place. It will not make the Israelis happy as they don’t trust the Iranians as far as they can throw them and I believe the Israelis are right. No one creates more mischief in the Middle East than Iran—in Syria, Lebanon, Yemen and Gaza by backing the local Arab militias in those places.
This may well be one of those places where Trump had it absolutely right. While it is sad that the Iranian people have to bear the brunt of the American sanctions on their country, it is they who tolerate the theocracy that has been in place since 1979 and has made Iran a pariah not only in the west but among the Sunni states of the Gulf.
It’s not too late to turn the screws a little tighter on the Iranians as the Israelis propose. The only real solution to the Iranian problem is a new democratic government in that Shia-plagued country. As long as the people of Iran wish to tolerate a government led by mullahs, the west ought to make them pay for their stubbornness.
Iran is an advanced and educated country the best and brightest of whose citizens left a long time ago—mostly for the west. It is also the main troublemaker in that part of the world and a Russian ally. I am not sure there is much purpose of doing business with the Iranian theocratic regime. It is pledged to the destruction of Israel and works hard every day through Hamas and Hezbollah to do just that. The Israelis view Iran as an existential threat and so should the United States. I don’t think reanimating the nuclear deal is a great idea unless it is airtight and Iran can never get a nuclear weapon and will subject itself to true inspections. Without every safeguard in place, no deal.
The Israelis have this one right and Biden does not. I am not at all sure rejuvenating the Obama deal is a good idea. We may be better off with the Trump BATNA—sanctions and cyber war at the centrifuge level. Iran cannot be allowed to get a nuclear weapon and my guess is that Israel will do everything to make sure they don’t get one.