Change in Iran will have to come from the inside
Since it officially became an Islamic republic in 1979, Iran has consistently tried to expand its horizons and enlarge its influence. As one observer pointed out, Iran is the only country with expansionism as a founding tenet in its constitution.
Indeed, Iran or its proxies control parts of Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Yemen as well the Gaza Strip. There is an added value to having a say in Gaza as it gives the Iranians access to Egypt and Israel’s back door.
In the event of renewed hostilities between the Lebanese Hezbollah and the Israelis on Israel’s northern border, the Iranians can open a second front on Israel’s southern border and, as it has proven in the past couple of months, the Iranians could reactivate the Golan front, which has been dormant since the cessation of hostilities in October 1973.
Iran has achieved these successes through its proxy militias and gaggles of politicians sympathetic to Tehran’s cause, either as a result of sharing similar political or religious beliefs or by having the same appreciation for the US greenback and having no qualms in selling their hearts, minds and votes to the mullahs.
Additionally, Tehran controls and finances terror cells in the Gulf and has established alliances with narco-traffickers throughout Latin America and West and North Africa through its proxy militias, namely, Hezbollah.
Tehran pursues its ambitions abroad while domestic issues spawn periodic protests over the cost of bread, young people struggle to find decent employment and many Iranians struggle to voice their desire for change against the strict social rules imposed by the ayatollahs.
The unilateral decision by US President Donald Trump to withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal between Tehran and the United States, the UK, France, Germany, Russia and China may hurt Iran economically. Sanctions will prevent Iran from opening its doors to US and European goods and services. Its oil exports will be limited.
Iranian companies, such as its national airline, were into renewing their ageing fleets. Companies such as Airbus Industries and the French oil giant Total would need special dispensation from the United States to proceed with business deals in Iran. Getting that permission is not a given.
The sanctions put a stop to all that.
Even if the nuclear deal was far from perfect, it offered a starting point. Trump, however, seemed to be at least partly driven by this deep desire to undo anything former President Barack Obama may have accomplished. Trump’s scrubbing the deal set the clocks back to zero.
Some analysts explain Trump’s views on the nuclear deal as giving Iran a temporary deferral of nuclear activity while allowing Tehran to continue its policy of expansion and support of proxy and terrorist groups.
A sustained campaign to weaken Iran economically, politically and militarily is unlikely to lead to regime change and military action against Iran is unrealistic at best. While there is no question that sanctions hurt, they are not fatal. An example is the results of the Syrian Accountability Act, enacted by the United States in 2003, on the Assad regime.
Imposing the strictest of sanctions, as the United States said it will do, only works if they are supported by all the Europeans as well as the Russians and Chinese.
For Iran to alter its repressive policies at home and put an end to its expansionism abroad, changes need to come from inside the country, not outside. The danger in imposing sanctions is that they can be used by the government as a rallying point to build further anti-Western sentiments.
On the other hand, new sanctions could trim Tehran’s expansionist wings and keep it off balance.