By Majid Rafizadeh
December 29, 2017
Supporters of the Iran regime argued that the 2017 re-election of Hassan Rouhani as president, the continuation of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, known commonly as the Iran nuclear deal, the continuing relaxation of sanctions, and increased trade and political rapprochement with the Islamic Republic, would all make Tehran a more constructive and rational regional actor in 2017.
This argument centers on the notion that appeasement of Tehran would empower and embolden Iran’s “moderate” forces. However, concrete evidence and last year’s history of the regime reveals a different story. Let us divide Iran’s actions, behavior and policies in 2017 into three main categories — domestic, regional and international.
Inside Iran, reports from human rights organizations such as Amnesty International are alarming. The Iranian regime heavily suppressed and oppressed any opposition movements, women, human rights defenders and political activists. Ironically, the rule of the “moderates” in the presidential office had the effect of empowering the judiciary, the Basij paramilitary volunteers, the Ministry of Intelligence and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), which together are mainly responsible for domestic oppression.
The Iranian authorities targeted religious minorities such as Christians and Sunnis, and ethnic minorities including the Kurds and Arabs of Khuzestan. The number of executions rose to a world record. Additionally, Iran is still the world’s leading executioner of children.
Regionally speaking, the Iranian regime relied on the use of hard power rather than diplomacy and soft power. The regime expanded its influence in the region through several platforms including the IRGC and its elite branch, the Quds Force, which operates in foreign territories, as well as through funding, arming and supporting various militias and terrorist-designated groups. In Yemen, Iran increased its weaponry and financial assistance to the Houthis, to such a level that the Houthis were able to fire ballistic missiles into Saudi Arabia. In Iraq,
Tehran further empowered the Popular Mobilization Forces, a conglomerate of Shiite militias that serve Tehran’s interests, and made it an integral part of Baghdad’s political system. In Syria, Tehran began publicly boasting about its forces on the ground and its ability to maintain the Assad regime in power.
The revelations in files found in Osama bin Laden’s hiding place in Pakistan and released by the CIA, proving links between Al-Qaeda and Iranian regime, showed that Tehran supports any terrorist group with which it shares common interests.
Tehran’s pursuit of regional domination further radicalized, militarized and intensified tensions and conflicts in the region, for example in Yemen, Iraq, Syria and Lebanon. In addition, it widened the gap between the Arab states and Iran.
On the international stage, and concerning international law, Iran fired more than 12 ballistic missiles, including one targeting another sovereign state, Syria. These were in direct violation of the UN resolution that ratified the nuclear deal, and which “calls upon Iran not to undertake any activity related to ballistic missiles designed to be capable of delivering nuclear weapons, including launches using such ballistic missile technology.”
Tehran exploited the enhanced legitimacy derived from the nuclear agreement and trade agreements with European governments. It showed no sign of being committed to respecting international law; its ballistic missile activities and development program actually increased.
Iran also committed several violations of the nuclear agreement itself. According to German intelligence, it made several attempts to acquire nuclear technology. It surpassed the heavy water limits several times. Tehran did not grant full access to inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency, specifically to the Parchin military site. There are strong indications that Tehran continues its nuclear proliferation in secret locations at Parchin.
Iran’s imprisonment and arrests of foreign citizens continued to rise. The IRGC became more empowered in the Gulf, making dangerous maneuvers and harassing navy ships from other nations. Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei, and its generals continued to preach and ignite anti-Americanism and anti-Western sentiments.
In a nutshell, in 2017 the Iranian regime expanded its influence through hard power and military adventurism. Tehran continued to violate international law, suppress people domestically and inflate tensions in the region. Tehran exploited its enhanced legitimacy to achieve its regional hegemonic ambitions.