Iran’s Minister of Intelligence of the Islamic Republic, Mohammad Alavi, made a rather strange analogy in his recent interview:
“[Supreme Leader Ali] Khamenei issued a fatwa (religious decree) in February 2010 stating that acquiring atomic bomb for Iran was considered a sin and the Islamic Republic would not pursue it. But if a cat is pushed to a corner, it may behave differently than if it was free. If Iran is pushed in that direction (production of a nuclear bomb), then Iran cannot be blamed for,” said Alavi (Iran’s Channel 2 TV, February 8, 2021).
Alavi likened the regime to a cat trapped in a corner. This analogy is a good indication of the situation in which the regime finds itself. Considering the volatile state of the Iranian regime, especially in recent months, one could be certain that these revelations could not have been expressed with Iran’s supreme leader’s permission. It is believed that Khamenei, via the intelligence minister, wants to put the International Atomic Energy Agency in a quandary and to convince them to revive the 2015 nuclear agreement. This quandary is just a wish for Iran’s supreme leader and will never materialize.
Speaking on the anniversary of the Islamic Revolution in Iran, Javad Zarif, Iran’s Foreign Minister, warned the United States that with the new government in Washington, there is an opportunity to try a new approach towards Iran. Still, the present circumstances are not going to last long.
Zarif’s deputy, Abbas Araghchi, reiterated that if sanctions were not lifted before Feb. 21, 2021, Iran would have no choice but to suspend the implementation of nuclear protocols. “If nothing happens before Feb. 21, 2021, and the sanctions are not lifted before that date, we have no choice but to implement the decisions of our government. So we will stop implementing the nuclear protocols, which means that the number of inspections by the IAEA will be decreased, and there would be fewer IAEA inspectors,” said Araqchi.
Why is Iran so persistent on so many fronts?
The geopolitics of the region has changed entirely since 2015. Iran’s influence in Lebanon and Iraq has been widely questioned and challenged. Regime forces in Syria have been bombed by Israel at least 500 times. Russia is pressuring Iran to reduce its influence and footprint in Syria further. Israel’s agreements with the UAE and other Arab countries are a new front against Iran. The Islamic Republic has gone through two uprisings since 2015, in 2017 and 2019. In February 2019’s mass uprising, the Khamenei’s regime survived by opening fire at mass demonstrations, killing at least 1,500 people.
Ghasem Soleimani, the second person in the regime’s hierarchy of power and the central figure in its regional influence, was killed in January 2020 in Baghdad. Considering all the above reasons, Western countries are unwilling to revive the 2015 nuclear agreement without discussing Iran’s ballistic missile capabilities and its export of terrorism to the neighboring countries. Of course, Iran’s worsening state of human rights could be also be included in the final agreement (if any).
In an interview with China’s CJT network, Araqchi, Iran’s Deputy Foreign Minister, rejected U.S. President Joe Biden’s inclination to include Iran’s missile program and other regional issues in possible negotiations with the Islamic Republic of Iran. He mentioned that matters of discussion must consist of restrictions on Iran’s peaceful nuclear program and the lifting of sanctions. In a meeting with the commanders of the army’s air force and air defense, Khamenei said: “The Islamic Republic’s firm policy regarding the nuclear agreement is lifting all sanctions by the United States and its verification by Iran. Only then will Iran return to its obligations penned in the nuclear deal.” In the past, Khamenei had repeatedly reiterated that Iran could do without the nuclear agreement.
On the contrary, Iran is in dire need of the revival of the nuclear agreement. Opposition to the nuclear agreement or exhibiting indifference towards it by different Iran authorities is intended to show a strong façade to the regime’s loyalists and nothing more. On many occasions, Javad Zarif has admitted that he does not determine Iran’s foreign policies. Moreover, according to Iranian law, Iran’s Minister of Intelligence is appointed by Khamenei, so it is naive to think that either Zarif or Alavi have made such revelations without Khamenei’s approval. All signs indicate that Khamenei is indeed eager to return to the 2015 nuclear agreement.
Will Khamenei sign a possible 2021 nuclear agreement?
The two uprisings of 2017 and 2019 and the increasing dismay of Iran’s oppressed people have chased Iran’s Supreme Leader into a corner, like a cat trapped in a dead-end alley seeking any refuge or escape. The oppressed people of Iran are on the move and are not planning to stop.
Some observers close to the regime’s intelligence circles think that the regime had expected massive uprisings in the summer of 2021, perhaps one that would have brought this regime to the end of its life. The arrival of COVID-19 to Iran, and the high number of casualties provided the regime with some temporary breathing room. However, recent hasty executions (34 executions per month) and installing various patrols and guards throughout the country indicate that the regime is alert and watchful, hoping to prolong its existence.
Khamenei in fact is cornered by the imminent uprisings and an array of sanctions.
The Iranian regime’s existence has always been based on two pillars: internal repression and the export of terrorism. Terrorism and war have been a cover-up for gross human rights abuses at home and a justification for suppressing the people’s economic and social expectations.
A possible 2021 agreement could have advantages for Iran, temporarily. The regime will be forced to abandon one of its pillars of survival, the export of terrorism. The regime will lose its equilibrium and balance and speed towards its collapse and overthrown in this scenario. Looking back at the parliamentary elections of 2020 in Iran, most of the candidates not affiliated with Khamenei were disqualified and banned from being elected. Khamenei had tried to bring the parliament under his absolute control and was somehow successful. If Iran enters a possible 2021 nuclear agreement, it seems the so-called reformists may benefit from it politically, and it could be considered an act of defeat for Khamenei.
This situation could be a critical crack in its tight grip on people’s will and will result in massive uprisings, the one that Khamenei’s regime will not survive.
If Khamenei refuses any possible 2021 nuclear deal and lets the stream of sanctions and economic collapse continue, sooner than later, the beginning of a nationwide uprising will be ignited, one that Khamenei could not survive, too.
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