Feeling anxious and frightened from the presidency of Mr. Trump, Iranian leaders are pursuing a carefully crafted tactic or classic political trick.
Iran is offering Trump a Persian carpet or an olive branch, which is “strategic cooperation” with the US in the Middle East, according to Sadegh Kharrazi, speaking to the Financial Times. Sadegh Kharrazi is a relative of Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatllah Ali Khamenei, and is the leader of the moderate political party, Neday-e Azadi. But will Iran succeed at its deception?
Objectives behind luring Trump
Iran’s tactical shift is aimed at:
1. Preventing Trump from getting close to the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries.
2. Preventing the US under a Trump presidency to tilt towards Israel rather than Tehran.
3. Fending off any hurdles that might affect Iranian leaders’ rising revenues, and continuing business and trade with the international community, particularly the West.
4. Making Washington turn a blind eye to Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps military activities, and financial and military supports for Shia proxies in several countries.
5. Finally tipping the regional balance of power in favor of Iran and continuing to suppress domestic opposition and violations of human rights without any criticisms from Washington.
This is not the first time that Tehran has implemented such tactical shifts. When President Obama came to power, Iran’s major decision makers – the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and the senior cadre of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps – masterfully implemented a tactical shift to strengthen their own hold on power, empower the political establishment of the Islamic Republic, and achieve Tehran’s geopolitical and strategic ambitions.
The shift was implemented by Iran’s presidential office, the so-called “moderates”. They came to the negotiation table, used a softer tone and bestowed smiles on the international arena. Four rounds of the UN Security Council’s sanctions were lifted, Iran’s revenues and trade rose, and Iran publicly ratcheted up its deployment of hard power and military across the region to an unprecedented level.
Being cognizant of the notion that President Obama was not going to take any military action against Tehran, Iranian leaders became more emboldened and empowered. But, now the presidency of Trump has infused fear, uncertainty and unpredictability in Tehran.
It is critical for Washington to realize that the words of the so-called “moderates” in Iran, are simply empty words because they do not enjoy the final say in Iran’s politicsDr. Majid Rafizadeh
Even though Iran is not sure whether Trump is going to be tougher than Obama or not because he has not yet entered the White House and has not yet implemented the actual policies, his words did create anxiety in Iran. Trump warned that Iranian boats will be “shot out of the water” if they “make gestures” at American sailors. President Obama did not threaten Iran this way, even with words.
Addressing the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, Trump outlined his policy: “I will adopt a strategy that focuses on three things when it comes to Iran. First, we will stand up to Iran’s aggressive push to destabilize and dominate the region. Secondly, we will totally dismantle Iran’s global terror network which is big and powerful, but not powerful like us. Third, at the very least, we must enforce the terms of the previous deal to hold Iran totally accountable. And we will enforce it like you’ve never seen a contract enforced before, folks, believe me.”
Trump’s recent appointments of Chief of Staff (Republican National Chairman Reince Priebus), and other key White House positions have also created more fear in Tehran. In order to prevent the possibility of the Trump administration allying itself with Israel and the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), and in order to prevent the US from countering IRGC military activities and support for Shiite proxy groups across the region, Iranian leaders are implementing a tactical shift by telling Trump that being on the side of Iran is an opportunity and strategically wise.
Kharrazi told FT recently: “If Mr Trump co-operates with us and shows us goodwill, we will do the same to allay our mutual concerns in the region, such as Isis, the Taliban and the tensions between Saudi Arabia and Yemen”. According to him, undoubtedly, this can never lead to a strategic alliance but we can have strategic co-operation in the region.
“Mr. Trump would be wise to look at Iran as an opportunity, which is what Russia is doing thanks to our exceptional might and strategic advantages in the region…For now, we need to wait and see what will be the US’s security doctrine and who will be Mr. Trump’s aides,” Kharrazi stated.
‘The Great Satan’
Iran is playing its hand well. But what is critical for Washington to realize is that the words of the so-called “moderates” in Iran, are simply empty words because they do not enjoy the final say in Iran’s politics.
More fundamentally, Iran can never become a strategic ally of the US. Over three decades, Iran has invested billions of dollars and resources in nurturing proxies and military institutions which aim at damaging US national security, scuttling US and its allies’ foreign policy objectives.
Finally, Iranian leaders’ political establishment survive on anti-Americanism and on keeping the US the “Great Satan”. Iran needs to have a “Great Satan” in order to suppress domestic opposition and blame the US for all its problems.
Dr. Majid Rafizadeh, an Iranian-American political scientist and Harvard University scholar, is president of the International American Council. Rafizadeh serves on the board of Harvard International Review at Harvard University. He is also a member of the Gulf project at Columbia University. Rafizadeh served as a senior fellow at Nonviolence International Organization based in Washington DC. He has been a recipient of several scholarships and fellowship including from Oxford University, Annenberg University, University of California Santa Barbara, and Fulbright Teaching program. He served as ambassador for the National Iranian-American Council based in Washington DC, conducted research at Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, and taught at University of California Santa Barbara through Fulbright Teaching Scholarship. He can be reached at Dr.firstname.lastname@example.org, @Dr_Rafizadeh.