Iran’s leaders want an end to sanctions and a nuclear deal. So does the United States and Western European allies. Even Arabic countries and most Israeli citizens would like a less bellicose Iranian nuclear program, one focused more on nuclear energy than weapons. And a deal on Iran’s nuclear program appears to have been reached.
But one pro-terrorism group in Iran hopes to threaten these new close ties between Iran and the West. Their efforts have fooled hardliners in Israel and America into thinking that all of Iran hates the West. Will this group’s activity succeed? It will if we increase sanctions on Iran.
During George W. Bush’s administration, our government adopted what’s known in political science as the individual level of analysis. We assumed that every enemy or would-be enemy was run by one man. Decapitate that one man, and the enemy falls, according to this dictum. And we paid the price in Iraq, where our political leaders nearly lost the war our military eventually won, thanks to this inept view.
Now we know that Iraq was more complex than a one-person dictatorship. There were religious factions that opposed each other, triggering a civil war instead of a welcome mat for American soldiers. North Korea is a party dictatorship and military hierarchy, which we would have to tangle with even if Kim Jong Un and his entire family was assassinated.
Iran is even more complex than the other two countries targeted in Bush’s “Axis of Evil.” The country has even more checks and balances and separation of power than even the United States, which is a pioneer of both policies. During the era of Prime Minister Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, this secular socialist leader even tried to make a power play to control all institutions – even the religious ones – and failed.
Now Hassan Rouhani, “the diplomatic mullah,” a former nuclear negotiator and opponent of Ahmadinejad, was overwhelmingly elected in a crowded field of the former president’s cronies. He’s the one pushing for a nuclear deal and closer ties with the West. And unlike the last time a reformer was elected (Mohammed Khatami), Rouhani’s got the backing of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khameni, the top religious leader who spoke out against nuclear weapons. That’s because he saw how Ahmadinejad’s reckless policies hurt Iran and strengthened sanctions and the international community’s support against the nuclear program.
But not all in Iran are pleased with this new government tilt toward the United States and the West. The Iranian Revolutionary Guard – of which Ahmadinejad was a member – organized protests against the old American Embassy on the anniversary of the hostage taking back in 1979. They – the IRG – hope to launch attacks on Israel and America, possibly through allies like Hezbollah – a Lebanese terrorist group suspected of killing Jewish tourists in Bulgaria. That’s because reform would threaten their transnational criminal enterprises which sprouted after American sanctions began.
American and Israeli hardliners have correctly highlighted these Iranian Revolutionary Guard activities, but have mistakenly attributed them to the Iranian government, and not understood these actions as those of a rogue actor, designed to undermine the new friendly regime. That’s why pushing for additional sanctions would only play into the hands of the terrorism supporting group in Iran.
John A. Tures is a professor of political science at LaGrange College.