How the US helped hand Iran to hardliners

Massoumeh Torfeh

With the election of Raisi, Tehran has entered a new phase, more intense in its efforts to abolish dissent and under complete control of revolutionary powers.

With Ebrahim Raisi as the new president in Iran, the hardliners have consolidated their control of every centre of authority, elected and unelected. For Iran’s leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and the powerful Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corp (IRGC), the unity of the establishment was the top priority at this precarious juncture in which they face deep economic stagnation and increasing social unrest.

The new president is a thoroughbred. Raisi dedicated his career from the start to upholding the nascent regime against internal opposition. He spent his twenties in Iran’s revolutionary judiciary allegedly involved in ordering the execution of those who “betrayed the revolution”. He has spoken with pride about his record saying he defended the country against “terrorists”. His alleged role in the notorious “Death Commission” of 1988 and in the brutal crackdown of Iran’s Green Movement in 2009 as well as the nationwide protests of 2019 are all well-documented. 

Former President Hassan Rouhani was also a thoroughbred, leading Iran’s Supreme National Security Council for over fifteen years and serving in all power centres. But he had far broader education and experience and, crucially, was the architect of a detente with the West which might have brought Iran out of isolation.

Yet two American presidents thwarted Rouhani’s attempts. The first was George W Bush whose famous “Axis of Evil” speech dashed Rouhani’s plans for entering talks with the US after September 2001 when Iran was helping American forces enter Afghanistan.

At the time the reform leader, Mohammad Khatami, was the president, advocating for the “dialogue of civilisations”. But Bush’s speech weakened the fledgling reformists movement.

The second was Donald Trump, who in 2018 opted out of Rouhani’s hard-gained nuclear deal (JCPOA). The move, coupled with devastating oil and banking sanctions, ruined Iran’s economy and led to resentment towards Rouhani, shutting the door on moderates in Iran.

“Congratulations to Donald Trump and the anti-Iran deal crowd who knowingly helped usher in a new era of hardline ultra-conservative leadership in Tehran,” tweeted Senator Chris Murphy.

And if that was not enough, Joe Biden’s slow move on returning to the JCPOA, handed the decision on Vienna talks to the hardliners.

With Raisi at the helm the totalitarian theocracy in Iran has entered a new phase, more extreme and intense in its efforts to abolish all dissent. 

His presidency will have a ‘Hezbollahi’ flavour – a strict interpretation of Islam and fiercely loyal to the Supreme Leader who is considered sacred. In his inaugural speech on August 5, he stressed his devotion to the Second Phase of the Revolution as defined by Ayatollah Khamenei in 2019, and ironically, his vice president, Mohammad Mokhber, is the head of the Headquarter for Executing the Orders of Khamenei.

Iran’s local elections also produced a sworn Hezbollahi as mayor for Tehran. Alireza Zakani, like Raisi, believes in nurturing a new generation of Hezbollahi youth defending a strong revolutionary Iran. Hezbollahis in Iran are in fact the cornerstone of the Second Phase and look to ruling Muslim populations around the world.

Zakani has controversially called Tehran the “Umm al Qura” of Islam, or the mother of all cities, a term usually reserved for Mecca, the holiest city for Muslims.

Raisi’s proposed foreign minister, Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, also fits in well. He is very close to the IRGC, and as the deputy foreign minister in Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s hardline cabinet, he gained valuable experience in talks with top Arab officials in the Middle East. Yet, he describes Hassan Nasrallah of the Lebanese Hezbollah as having an “especially elevated place amongst our friends in the region.”  

The former foreign minister, Javad Zarif sacked Amir-Abdollahian for reporting more to the IRGC than to the foreign ministry.

Whereas Zarif’s leaked interview revealed tensions between the foreign ministry and the IRGC, team Raisi and Amir-Abdollahian will not hesitate to support IRGC policies. 

In the Middle East they will be fiercely anti-Israeli, advocating for American troops to leave the region. They will offer more financial support to the Palestinians and the Lebanese Hezbollah as well as Hashd al Shaabi (Popular Mobilisation Units) in Iraq. 

“The capacities for the dissolution of the Zionist regime are available at present,” said the IRGC commander, General Hossein Salami, in his meeting on Saturday with the Lebanese Hezbollah deputy chief, Sheikh Naim Qassem.

On relations with the West,  Raisi has said nothing so far other than reiterating his support for any “diplomatic proposal” for the removal of all sanctions. He has held a telephone conversation with French President Emmanuel Macron to that end and welcomed “closer ties” with France.

With Iran’s economy crushed by a combination of American sanctions and internal mismanagement, with heightened resentment towards the regime and a president with an abysmal human rights record, we can only have dire predictions about what the future holds for Iran’s domestic and foreign policy.

Leave a Comment