When will Iran become a normal state?
So, Hassan Rohani won the presidential election in Iran. Will that change Iran’s behaviour? Nothing will change since the presidency in Iran is a mere façade while the centre of power is elsewhere.
Still, we can see in Rohani’s victory over his ultra-conservative opponent a real desire by the Iranian population to get rid of a regime dominated by the religious establishment. It apparently believes that Iran can dominate the region by resorting to three strategies: Stir up sectarian hate; start sectarian strife in Arab societies where sectarian militias already exist; and take advantage of US gullibility most of the time.
Gullibility is perhaps not the appropriate term for a classical US policy in which the entire region is kept in constant fear of the Iranian threat. This threat is real to a large extent and can be seen in Iran’s implication in the crises in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen. Iranian officials arrogantly boast about being in control of four Arab capitals and about the Iranian presence in the Mediterranean Sea.
By all accounts, Rohani failed in his first term as president. His only achievement was striking a nuclear deal with the five world powers plus one in the summer of 2015. In reality, it was more of a deal with Barack Obama’s United States than with the international community. The deal gave Iran a free hand in the region. The Obama administration closed its eyes on the direct involvement of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps in atrocities against the Syrian people.
While Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and his team were exchanging smiles and jokes with former US Secretary of State John Kerry, Iranian extremists led by Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei were the real winners of the situation. Rohani, who had been elected in 2013 on promises to improve conditions for Iranians once international sanctions against Iran were lifted, failed to deliver on these promises.
The Obama administration used different excuses to pump money into the Iranian regime but nothing has changed fundamentally, except perhaps that Iranians are aware of the true nature of their government. They have realised that the regime in place is incapable of solving their problems and even more incapable of turning Iran into a normal state within its region.
Facts are eloquent. Statistics show that poverty is on the rise in Iran. In other words, the current regime in Iran has nothing to offer Iranians and the region but hollow slogans, sectarian animosity, misery and ignorance in a technologically advanced world. The world has taken giant leaps forward but Iran has remained prisoner of oil and gas prices.
It is this failure to catch up with the rest of the world that made Iranians hedge their bets for the second time on a loser called Hassan Rohani. He is incapable of travelling to Iran’s neighbours and the world at large on a mission to reverse Iran’s aggressive regional policies and promote mutual benefits.
For four decades following the shah’s overthrow, none of the promises made by the founder of the Islamic Republic of Iran, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, has seen the light of day. Iran has failed to diversify its economy despite its diversified resources. During the latest elections, Iranians had to choose between bad and worse.
Nothing will change in Iran until Khamenei is no more. In the meantime, it is possible to detect the beginning of a regression in Iran’s role in the region. This regression is due mainly to two factors. First, the Arab regimes are more than ever aware of Iran’s expansionist plans and are reacting. Second, and despite US President Donald Trump’s idiosyncrasies, his administration knows that playing the Iranian threat card has achieved its goals and it is now time for more serious policies. They know that it is time to reverse the huge imbalance of power created in the region since George W. Bush had offered Iraq to Iran on a silver platter in 2003.
The Arab regimes have perfectly understood the Iranian challenge. They cleverly avoided the trap set by Iran when it tried to appropriate the Palestinian cause. With or without Rohani as president, the question remains: When will Iran become a normal state?