There's a battle going on between Khamenei and Biden
Biden is determined to return to the (to him) halcyon days of Obama's Iran deal — an illegal treaty by which Obama gave Iran money and access to nuclear weapons. The real tragedy of Biden's goal is that, thanks to Trump's relentless pressure, Iran is on the ropes, and Biden has the upper hand — he just doesn't know this or, worse, doesn't want to know it.
In Iran and the Middle East, when Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei, emerges in public, people say he only speaks evil and issues threats. On Monday, February 22, after Iran and the IAEA reached a temporary agreement about nuclear surveillance, Khamenei announced that he would increase uranium enrichment to 60%. At his command, the IRGC ordered the armed Houthis to attach the Yemeni city of Marib, threatening the densely populated city. Iraqi armed groups loyal to IRGC attacked the U.S. embassy in Baghdad and targeted a U.S. military base in Balad in central Iraq, injuring several civilians.
A glance at developments in the six weeks since Biden took office shows that Iran is testing the new White House. Khamenei and the IRGC seem to have concluded that the new president is weak, in stark contrast to Trump. Neither Biden nor official Washington has spoken about Iran's aggression and both the administration and the media downplayed, and denied responsibility for, the recent targeted strike in Syria.
What Biden doesn't realize is that Khamenei in 2021 is qualitatively different from Khamenei in 2015, when Biden's boss, Obama, was pushing for the Iran deal. When Trump assassinated Qassem Soleimani and started delivering peace in the Middle East, Khamenei's regional imperial dreams suffered a serious blow. Khamenei also had his hands slapped when Asadullah Assadi, an active Iranian diplomat, was sentenced to 20 years in prison in Antwerp, Belgium, after a booklet containing his spy networks revealed many of the secrets of Iranian state terrorism.
In America, 113 members of the House of Representatives issued a bipartisan resolution stressing that America's policy toward Iran must consider the regime's terrorism and human rights violations, as well as the uprisings in recent years and the desire of Iranians for freedom and democracy.
Khamenei has problems within Iran, too. Protests there have explosive potential due to corruption, repression, unemployment, and poverty. For example, on Tuesday, February 23, Baluch citizens captured an IRGC headquarters and city governorate, and IRGC forces fled their bases out of fear. During the protests in Sistan and Balochistan province, the IRGC killed than 40 people and injured 100.
In theory, Biden should have the upper hand in any negotiations with Khamenei. In fact, Khamenei intends to use Biden's proven weakness to show that Iran has the upper hand. If Biden were smarter, he'd understand that Iran is facing a serious crisis, much bigger than JCPOA — the uprisings in Iran, reflecting years of poverty, corruption, and oppression, threaten to overthrow the regime.
In this context, the Biden administration's desire to re-enter the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran is a strategic mistake and a threat to world peace. America can continue to weaken Iran, as Trump did, or it can prop it up just enough for the regime, backed into a corner, to be far more dangerous than it was in 2015. For the mullahs, survival is possible if they continue to develop ballistic missiles and arm their proxy forces in the Middle East.
If America pursues a failed policy that was tested exhaustively in the past, there will be irreparable consequences. Seven American presidents, from Carter to Trump, used various methods to negotiate with the evil Iranian government and only Trump made a dent by isolating Iran.
The main Iranian opposition, the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), understands how to treat Iran's mullahs. It holds that the Iranian regime is only responsive to the language of determination. Lifting of sanctions — which is the opposite of determination — will pave the way for the Iranian regime's blackmail, nuclear ambition, and internal repression. Future peace negotiations in the Middle East will be in serious jeopardy.
Hassan Mahmoudi is a Europe-based social analyst, researcher, independent observer, and commentator of Middle Eastern and Iranian Politics. He tweets under @hassan_mahmou1.
Image: Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps. YouTube screen grab.