Iran in the grip of the extremist camp will assuredly increase aid to Hezbollah and bolster relations with Hamas and other terrorist groups in Gaza. It will not cease striving for a nuclear bomb, even in the presence of a strict oversight regime.
The head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Rafael Grossi, is a brave man. In an interview with the Financial Times published on Wednesday, he said what none of his predecessors have dared say: A country that enriches uranium to 60% purity is a country striving toward a nuclear weapon.
His comments make finding a smoking gun unnecessary. Grossi’s conclusion regarding Iran’s intentions resonates more and is far more credible than Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s alleged religious decree, which no one has ever seen, whereby Iran is not pursuing an atomic bomb.
The only ray of light emanating from Grossi’s remarks was that the situation is still reversible and that the enrichment restrictions imposed by the 2015 nuclear deal can be reinstated, alongside the reimplementation of a robust oversight regime.
Indeed, backtracking Iran in terms of its enrichment activities and redeploying nuclear inspectors are some of the issues currently being discussed by Iran and world powers in Vienna. Gaps still remain, but both sides are expressing optimism and believe a deal will soon be reached. As a gesture, the Iranians even agreed to extend by a month international oversight of their nuclear facilities, “until after the Iranian presidential election next month.”
Iran’s consent to extend the oversight until after the election is not coincidental, and can also be seen as an indication of Khamenei’s desire to “drag feet” and take his time before signing a new nuclear deal with the global powers prior to the June 18 election. The reason: Khamenei doesn’t want the credit for a new nuclear deal, which would lift several of the heavier sanctions imposed on Iran, to go to current President Hassan Rouhani of the moderate and reformist camp, rather to the next president, Ebrahim Raisi, his close confidante and a member of the regime’s conservative faction.
Khamenei is doing all in his power to ensure Raisi is elected, including disqualifying most of the moderate candidates in advance. If Raisi, who is currently Iran’s chief justice, is elected, the entire hard-line camp will get a boost. The removal of sanctions under Raisi’s watch, Khamenei believes, will also diminish the prospect of a popular uprising by the millions of Iranians who have fallen beneath the poverty line due to the sanctions and government corruption.
Israel, naturally, views things differently and conveyed as much to US Secretary of State Antony Blinken during his recent visit. The extreme hardliners in Iran already control the parliament, justice system, and of course the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and military. The election of a hard-line president, who is also tabbed as Khamenei’s successor, will give this camp full control of Iran and stymie the more moderate and liberal factions.
Iran in the grip of the extremist camp will assuredly increase aid to Hezbollah and bolster relations with Hamas and other terrorist groups in Gaza. It will not cease striving for a nuclear bomb, even in the presence of strict oversight. Even Grossi concedes that “it’s impossible” to erase the technological knowledge the Iranians have accrued over the past two years. Even he doubts the feasibility of “putting the genie back in the bottle.”