Was it just Mahmoud?

The international community appears to be under the charm of the President Rohani. The newly elected Iranian leader may be maintaining the religious conservative doctrine of his country however he has been breaking away from the vitriolic rhetoric of former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. He has been on record wishing the Jewish Nation a happy new year, he has given increasing space to women in the Iranian public sphere and he has appeared willing to discuss the Iranian nuclear file while clearly stating that the Islamic Republic will not seek to obtain any kind of nuclear weapon. These latest changes in the Iranian posture has sparked a wave of hope in the discourse of worldwide commentators and policymakers bent to believe that Iran is a possible partner in regional issues and to accept that the whole over storm over Iran passed with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Such an analysis exposes the fallacy of an understanding which does not take into consideration the core tenets of the Iranian foreign policy posture. It may be true that Rohani has not yet, and may never, pronounce statements indicating that he believes in the messianic need of his country to lead the world into the apocalypse but his rhetoric alone will in no way represent a clear cut in a decade old policy undertaken by the whole political and defense establishment of his country. In fact, the Iranian military stance has not been made as a force needing nuclear weapons to cause disruption, on the other hand nuclear weapons and rhetorical attacks against Israel are tools used by the government and they are part of a wider strategic posture.

To effectively break from his predecessor’s legacy, Rohani needs to address core issues such as the Iranian protracted and global support of terrorist groups and its countries hegemonic aims over the Gulf and Near Eastern regions.

While Prime Minister Netanyahu has been right to focus the world’s attention toward the Iranian nuclear program, his policy may have played in the hands of the Iranian regime. Western leaders, unable to understand the gravity of the situation and unwilling to commit any serious political capital to the question, are pleased to consider the Iranian threat only as a case of illegal proliferation of nuclear material. In that perspective, should the Islamic Republic enter into any kind of negotiations, Iran should no longer be considered a complete rogue state. For this, European Union member states and the US may be blinded by the current openings expressed by President Rohani.

The question is, to what extent is a nuclear-armed Iran relying solely on its nuclear arsenal to cause damage? The answer may be that the nuclear weapon would be only a component of Iran’s military structure. The world should by any means work to block the Iran’s aims of obtaining such weapons however leaders and analysts should understand that even without such weapons Iran remains a subversive state able to wage major terrorist attacks throughout the globe. Should President Rohani be sincerely interested in changing his country’s policies he needs to openly challenge the revolutionary guard and the religious establishment by pushing to decrease Iranian military and financial aid provided to Hezbollah, Hamas and other terrorist organizations worldwide. This scenario looks utterly impossible as the Islamic Republic has built its strategic posture on asymmetric deterrent forces posted in Lebanon, Yemen, Europe and to a minor extent in Western Africa, Latin America and South East Asia. The country has developed an ability to inflict damage to Israel and the Western powers which goes beyond the acquisition of a nuclear bomb and is effectively based on its capacity to stage terrorist attacks in all major capitals.

The reality is that by playing the moderate card, President Rohani may be able to further strengthen the international position of his country. In fact, should nuclear talks begin, sanctions are likely to be weakened and Iran may be able to expand its cash stocks, a situation which would provide the Islamic Republic with a much needed breathing space. While European and American diplomats may consider it a satisfactory stick-and-carrot win, it would in no way benefit the overall security environment damaged by Iran’s war-bent policies. As there are no signs that the Rohani government is interested in renouncing the country’s support of terrorist groups positioned to hurt Israeli, European, American and Sunni Arab interests then the policy toward the country should not only focus on its race to obtain nuclear weapons but on the necessity to design a proper way to contain and deter the vast network of subversive groups organized to stage asymmetric attacks to the benefit of Iran’s hegemonic plans.

While stressing the necessity of blocking any Iranian attempt to acquire nuclear weapons, Prime Minister Netanyahu has the difficult task of leading the international community to understand that nuclear weapons, ballistic missiles and terrorist groups are all tools aiming at one united long term strategic goal. A goal which was not only found in Ahmadinejad delirious rants but is the part of the fundaments on which Iran’s strategic posture is built.

About the Author
Riccardo Dugulin is an independant international affairs analyst. He holds a Master in International Security from the Paris School of International Affairs (Sciences Po) and has worked in leading think tanks in Washington DC, Beirut and Dubai and has held the position of security coordinator for a security assistance firm.