An Iranian endgame?

The Iranian regime wants to return to the 2015 agreement that allowed it to maintain its entire nuclear infrastructure, recoup $150 billion, and sell up to 2.5 million barrels of oil a day.  With this money, it has expanded and developed its network of paramilitary militias throughout the region, developed its missiles, attacked oil tankers and a Saudi refinery, and threatened the Strait of Hormuz.

But the regime is unaware that the balance of power has changed in the region.  It has been virtually driven out of Syria.  It suffered a stinging defeat in the Iraqi legislative elections.  In Lebanon, the population defies Hezb'allah, which the mullahs support at arm's length.  Above all, the regime has gone through three significant uprisings in 2017, 2018, and 2019.  This situation has led the supreme leader to disqualify all rivals in the presidential election in favor of a president who will lead an obedient government.

It is clear that under the new balance of power, the P5+1 group and their allies no longer want to allow the clerical regime to continue threatening the region, block the Straits of Hormuz, or attack oil tankers.

For months, Iran has ignored Western calls to return to the negotiating table while continuing its nuclear program.  Iran seeks to buy time to obtain enough 90% enriched uranium to build a nuclear bomb.  This is unlikely unless the 5+1 revives the 2015 agreement.  While the first condition for restarting the JCPOA is compliance with its commitments, the regime must cease all actions taken since 2018 in violation of those commitments and return to the pre-2018 period.  However, this will open the doors to regional interventions, foreign militias, etc.  A vicious circle.

The supreme leader is at a crossroads: either he renounces nuclear weapons and the deployment of his militias to obtain a lifting of sanctions and delay the social explosion in his country, or he will face not only the anger of his population, but also the activation of the "trigger mechanism" of the Iranian nuclear agreement, which could lead to the return of U.N. sanctions.

The regime believes, wrongly, that it can guarantee its survival by acquiring the atomic bomb.  For this reason, at the cost of international isolation and unprecedented poverty, it is bent on obtaining it at all costs.  After the 2015 nuclear deal, it maintained its nuclear infrastructure.  The regime's goal is to obtain the maximum concessions in the negotiations to eventually obtain the atomic bomb.

Since the beginning of the year, Iran has crossed several red lines, raising the rate of uranium enrichment to unprecedented levels.  The mullahs themselves have never informed the International Atomic Energy Agency of the details of their nuclear program.  The only real Iranian opposition, the National Council of Resistance, has revealed the details of the program, including the enrichment sites at Natanz and Fordo and the heavy water reactor at Arak.  The regime in Tehran has always acted on a policy of denial, deception, and duplicity.

Iranian discontent and anger are growing.  Recently, there was an uprising in Isfahan, Khuzestan, and Baluchistan.  A few days ago, teachers held simultaneous demonstrations in 68 cities and 28 provinces.  The regime's budget for its nuclear ambitions could lift Iranians out of poverty, but instead, their leaders mismanage funds and leave a growing number of Iranians in poverty.

The demonstrators' slogans, such as "Neither Gaza nor Lebanon, I sacrifice my life for Iran" and "Leave Syria, think of us," express a clear rejection of the policy of interference in the region.  But this rejection is rooted in domestic politics.  The protests of November 2019 were triggered by a spark: the increase in the price of gasoline.  The anger quickly turned violent, and the supreme leader did not hesitate to suppress it.  Young insurgents were killed, and thousands were arrested.

The government cannot meet the cultural and economic needs of 21st-century society.  The vast majority of Iranians want the establishment of a democratic republic.  The slogans "Reformists, fundamentalists, the game is over" and "Down with the oppressor, whether he is shah or mullah" during the uprisings confirmed this.

The election of Ebrahim Raisi and the appointment of Pasdaran commanders to head the country's governorates are part of this approach.  The uprising in Esfahan showed that these measures were not effective.  Moreover, as the imam of Isfahan recently pointed out, there are "resistance units" in Iran, made up of young Iranians affiliated with the organized opposition, which play an essential role in organizing and leading the uprisings.  This is a nightmare for the authorities.

The P5+1 could condition all interactions on respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms.  Then they could force Iran to hand over its nuclear infrastructure, renounce missile development, and end its regional influence.  Thus, they could show support for the wishes of the Iranian people, whose protests and uprisings will only escalate.

Image: Nima Najafzade.

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