It was reported on Iranian PressTV that in a meeting with president Rouhani and members of the Iranian administration, Supreme leader Khamenei set the top national priority. According to the reports, Khamenei declared that the internal economic situation is the top priority, mentioning internal plights like unemployment, poverty and social justice. Well said. One could think for a minute that Khamenei’s words reflect policy and reality. Yet, this needs a reality check.
Only recently, the new Iranian defense minister Brigadier General Amir Hatami announced that Iran’s priority is to export weapons and boost the missile program, and in an additional statement pledged that the support to the resistance front will continue. Another priority which costs money.
Furthermore, it was revealed that Iran has increased its payments to the Hezbollah four-fold, from 200 million dollars to 830 million dollars a year. In addition, the Hamas leader in Gaza Strip, Yehya al-Sinwar, revealed recently that Iran is Hamas’s largest backer financially & militarily, providing weapons and money for resistance. Another priority which costs money.
Parallel to that, Iran continues its financial support of the Assad regime (already in January 2017, Iran News Update estimated that Iran had poured billions of dollars into the Syrian effort), recruits Afghan and Pakistani Shiite militias (which according to the Washington Times costs at least a monthly salary of 600 dollars per fighter), arms the Taliban (provides arms and military equipment), supports the Houthis in Yemen and a wide range of other subversive activity. Priorities, which all cost large sums of money.
It would not be outlandish to see a link between the sanctions relief and the recent increase in support to the Hamas, Hezbollah and other militias. Some have noted that the increase has occurred since the lifting of the UN sanctions in January 2016. Some have even raised the question in social media, like the RJC tweet “where did Iran get 830 million dollars to give to Hezbollah”.
But even the over-rated sanctions relief cannot support such a budget deficit, and therefore it should not be surprising that recently Radio Farda asks whether Iran is moving towards financial instability, due to the recent value declines in Iran’s currency (about 12%) and the estimate that by the end of the Iranian fiscal year the country will face a 30 billion dollar deficit. Expert opinions in Radio Farda try affiliate the budget deficits to the drop in oil prices, unfulfilled expectations from the lifting of the sanctions and the internal unproductivity, corruption and waste. All overlook the extensive external military expenses.
So we finally return to the question of the real Iranian priorities. If Khamenei really means what he says about “top priority”, he would slash national spending, especially on external military escapades. That doesn’t happen. In fact, its increasing. So either Khamenei does not mean what he says, or he has lost control and everyone can clearly see that he is still in “supreme” control of Iran.