The ambiguity of the relationship between Tehran and the West continues to create wave after wave of insecurity. For all intents and purposes, the signing of the JCPoA between Iran and the P5+1, was meant to herald a new paradigm which would not only end Tehran’s isolation vis-à-vis the West but actually place Tehran on the same side of its former “enemies”.
The post-JCPoA reality is strikingly different than the positive wording and the smiling handshakes of its co-signers. What followed the inking of the deal is a continuous ping-pong of accusations and counter-accusations from all sides and every step towards the normalization of the relationship between Tehran and the world is followed by a counter-step in the opposite direction.
Tehran has to decide, once and for all, if it wants to be accepted by the world as a country with the potential to become a trusted trading partner and a destination for world tourism and investments, or to continue its efforts to export its revolution and by doing so, continue to meddle in other countries’ affairs. In other words, Tehran has to choose between being a part of the current world order or to continue to strive to create a new world order based on the Islamic Revolution or as Henry Kissinger aptly put it: Iran has to choose “whether it’s a nation or a cause”.
Steps and Counter-Steps
- October 7th 2015: Following the signing of the JCPoA, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei made a point of congratulating President Hassan Rouhani on a great job of de-isolating Iran but immediately added a ban on any talks or negotiations with “the Great Satan” USA, a major player in the signing of the JCPoA. Why? The fear of infiltration and the dilution of the ideals of the Islamic Revolution.
- October 12th 2015: Following the signing of the JCPoA, Iran test fired long-range missiles capable of carrying nuclear war heads destined for Israel which, although not in contradiction with the JCPoA but, was in direct contradiction of UNSC resolution 2231 (2015). Why? The fear of seeming weakened by the JCPoA in the eyes of Iran’s allies and enemies.
- November 6th 2015: Following the implementation of the JCPoA, Tehran began a massive crackdown against journalist and artists who seemed too liberal or too critical of the regime – within weeks, dozens of journalists and dozens of artists were rounded up and imprisoned on charges which reflect the nature of the arrests: “propaganda against the state”, “insulting the sacred”, “assembly and collusion against national security”. “infiltration”, “spying” etc… Why? The fear of internal criticism and the dilution of the ideals of the Islamic Revolution.
- December 14th 2015: Following the signing of the lifting of sanctions, President Hassan Rouhani officially opened the doors of Iran’s economy to the world but within days, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei made a point of banning over 227 US brands and businesses from Iran. Why? The fear of infiltration and the dilution of the ideals of the Islamic Revolution.
- January 4th 2016: Following Tehran’s call for Muslim unity to deal effectively with a world dominated by the superpowers and the West, the regional and sectarian conflict between Iran and Saudi Arabia based on accusations of meddling and proxy wars threatens to pit Muslims against Muslims in the region and in the world. Why? The fear of weakening the ideal of Exporting the Revolution.
- March 9th: Following Iran’s elections for parliament and the Assembly of Experts in which moderates and reformists gained significant power over the ruling hardline/conservative parties, Tehran once again tested long-range missiles, this time with the words “Israel Must Be Wiped Out” written in Hebrew on the missiles. Why? The fear of losing part of its raison d’etre and its Islamic Revolutionary ideals by not threatening Israel.
Believing Words or Actions
Last Thursday, Khamenei shared his dissatisfaction regarding the fact that the 120 plus trade delegations landing in Iran over the past two years have not yielded “anything tangible”. Obviously, these trade delegations are torn between the hopes of striking gold in Iran’s economy and between the fears of a regional conflict or a return of sanctions which could wipe out their investments. He then added something which sounded rather prophetic: “Promises on paper have no value”. And therein lies the problem with Tehran.
Tehran, on paper, has huge potential for strong business and political relationships with countries around the world but Tehran in action continues to support Islamic Extremism at a time when Islamic Extremism is causing Westerners to shudder from fear. Tehran’s willingness to sign the JCPoA and the subsequent inking of numerous MoU’s with tens of countries are in stark contrast with its destabilizing actions in the region and the world.
At the same time, Western states, and specially the US, has to decide whether they want to deal with Iran if it continues its flippy-floppy strategy with the world. The missile tests are just such an example: Iran tested its missiles twice since signing the JCPoA and the US/UNSC did absolutely nothing about it for fear of destroying the achievements of the JCPoA itself. What makes matters worse is that Washington is as wishy-washy as Tehran is flippy-floppy: following the last missile tests, US Secretary of State John Kerry claimed that he had communicated to Iranian FM Javad Zarif about the US’s “concern” and within hours, Tehran published a claim that no such communication had ever taken place.
Tehran’s involvement in the civil war in Syria is a prime example of the contradictions between its words and its actions: Tehran sometimes says that it has troops in Syria and then denies that it has, that its pulling out its troops and then that it isn’t. Tehran continuously calls loudly on the West to not get involved in the Syrian civil war and then applauds Russia’s efforts on Assad’s side. Tehran maintains that only a political solution can solve Syria’s civil war but then manages its own troops as well as Hezbollah’s. It’s confusing and that’s how Tehran likes it.
The key learning from all of this is simple: As long as Tehran talks of peace but walks towards war, there can never be a normalization of relations between Tehran and the West and Rouhani has to choose whether he plans to build a better future for Iranians by maintaining its Islamic Revolutionary past or by joining the global community and distancing itself from revolutionary notions such as Exporting the Revolution.