If nuclear deal fails, we can kiss Iran’s moderates goodbye

Should Iran and the West fail to come to an agreement, the battle will no longer be between the right and left, but rather between democratic forces and totalitarian ones.

By Ahmad Rafat

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani. (World Economic Forum)
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani. (World Economic Forum)

There is no doubt that the negotiators, whom these days are working to achieve a comprehensive deal on Iran’s nuclear plan, do not want to drive a stake through these talks. Even France, which has been playing “bad cop” to the U.S.’s “good cop” in these meetings, is interested in reaching an agreement. It seems that the only country that stands nothing to gain is Russia (which protects the interests of Iran), although for reasons that extend beyond the scope of this article, it cannot publicly express its reservations regarding the deal.

A number of questions on this issue have arisen, and each one deserves its own analysis: should a comprehensive agreement be reached, what will be the consequences? Should talks fail, what will be the fallout? What are the pros and cons of each of these scenarios?

The answers to these questions greatly depend on the geographical origin and political outlook of the person answering, and in practice may vary greatly. The response of an Iranian who opposes the Islamic Republic will be inherently different than that of someone from Tehran’s political echelon. The same can be said about a Russian diplomat whose response will likely be the exact opposite than that of an American diplomat. And we must take into account, of course, that the response of an Democratic American diplomat will be different than that of a Republican.

I write this only to clarify that the following analysis is the work of a journalist whose opinion differs from that of the Islamic Republic and who has worked for many years on issues of human rights, and thus analyzes the aforementioned questions from this angle.

The historical significance of a comprehensive agreement, which will put an end to the perpetual crisis surrounding Iran’s nuclear plan, is clear to all. But will this deal—if it is indeed signed, and more importantly if it does not turn into shreds within a few months time—truly solve the international community vis-a-vis the Islamic Republic? What about the countries in the region? Or most of all: the citizens of Iran themselves? There is no doubt that the answer to these questions are negative.

The Iranian authorities have stated time and again that the deal cannot and need not set the stage for normalizing relations with the United States—”the Great Satan.” Due to the capacities of civil society both within and outside the country, the Iranian regime knows well that normalizing relations with the United States, and the international community more generally, could lead to a major crisis inside Iran.

The only incentive that has led Iran to sit at the negotiating table and hold direct talks with the U.S. is the desire to put an end to the sanctions that have paralyzed the economy. It would be a mistake to assume that the architects of the talks were President Rouhani or his foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif. The talks with the U.S. began months before Rouhani was elected president, during the rule of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, by order of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and with the mediation of Oman’s Sultan Qaboos bin Said al Said.

U.S. Secretary of State Kerry, U.S. Energy Secretary Moniz Stand With Iranian Foreign Minister Zarif and Vice President of Iran for Atomic Energy Salehi Before Meeting in Switzerland, March 16, 2015. (State Dept. photo)
U.S. Secretary of State Kerry, U.S. Energy Secretary Moniz Stand With Iranian Foreign Minister Zarif and Vice President of Iran for Atomic Energy Salehi Before Meeting in Switzerland, March 16, 2015. (State Dept. photo)

But the most important question of all is the following: if, by removing sanctions, Iran is able to get hold of its confiscated oil dollars, will it continue to play by the rules of the game as laid out in the agreement?

And another important question: will this deal bring about any changes in the Islamic Republic’s regional policies?

There is no doubt that Iran’s nuclear plan is crucial in the context of its insidious, regional policies. Even today, when Iran has yet to develop a bomb, the West cannot properly deal with the Islamic Republic’s hegemonic proclivities in the region. In fact, Iran has a central role in every one of the region’s many crises. From Iraq to Syria, from Gaza to Yemen, from Afghanistan to Lebanon, Iran is omnipresent. That isn’t to say that other countries in the region, such as Israel, Qatar or Saudi Arabia do not play a decisive role themselves.

Will Iran’s government, which uses its depleted budget to provide billions in loans to Syria, sends weapons to Yemen and provides Hamas with missiles (through Hezbollah), cease its wasteful adventurousness after receiving its oil money? Without a doubt, the answer to this question is negative.

We are speaking about a regime in which certain regions, such as the Baluchestan district—which according to government sources has a poverty rate of 70 percent—recently provided Venezuela—a country on an entirely different continent—$3 billion in aid. Will the Islamic Republic lessen its influence on Latin America—the backyard of the United States—after the nuclear deal is signed? The answer to this question is also negative.

Read: Why the Lausanne deal protects both Israel and Iran

As a human rights activist, I cannot ignore the history of the Islamic Republic, which includes one of the most tragic and dark periods in the modern history of Iran. When the founder of the Islamic Republic, Ruhollah Khomeini, was resigned to accept the UN Security Council’s truce that put an end to the eight-year Iran-Iraq War, he executed nearly 5,000 opponents of the regime who at the time were serving their sentences in prison. Every time the Iranian regime has had to soften its foreign policy, it has in turn increased the pressure on its internal dissidents. There is no reason to assume that things will be different this time around, meaning that the opponents of the Islamic Republic will have to pay the price for Iran’s compromise vis-a-vis the international community.

This policy has many reasons behind it. One of the main ones is the desire to create an atmosphere of fear inside the country, so that opponents don’t get the impression that external concessions will also mean internal concessions.

Now let us analyze the possibility that the talks fail and no deal is reached. In this case, there is no doubt that parts of the regime—specifically the ones who are considered “moderates” or “reformists”—will have to leave political arena and place the reins in the hands of the fundamentalists and the extremists. This scenario is far more dangerous than the first: Iran’s pyromania-style foreign policy will only deepen, internal repression will grow, and the role of Russia and China in entrenching the crisis vis-a-vis the West will become clearer. It would be safe to assume that the Iranian regime will become Russia’s main ally and form a new bloc against the West and the United States.

Russia is undoubtedly hoping to re-create a bi-polar geopolitical reality. Should the talks fail, Iran will become Putin’s natural ally—one that can garner support in the Muslim world. This time, it won’t be a battle between right and left, but rather democratic forces against totalitarian ones.

Ahmad Rafat is a journalist and Iranian television producer. He lives outside of Iran. This article was first published in Hebrew on Local Call. Read it here.

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