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Iran’s ayatollahs: Track record vs. speculation

U.S. policy-makers and legislators seem not to understand that the Iranian leopard may be capable of changing tactics, but not spots.

Ebrahim Raisi campaigning for president, Tehran, April 29, 2017. Credit: Mahmoud Hosseini, Tasmin News Agency via Wikimedia Commons.
Ebrahim Raisi campaigning for president, Tehran, April 29, 2017. Credit: Mahmoud Hosseini, Tasmin News Agency via Wikimedia Commons.
Yoram Ettinger
Yoram Ettinger

The U.S. policy-makers who are negotiating a return to the 2015 Iran nuclear accord should be aware that the most effective predictor of Iran’s future behavior is its past behavior.  Past performance—especially in the highly traditional Middle East—is a tangible and objective basis of assessment, while future behavior is subjective, speculative and fraught with uncertainty.

To ignore the systematic and relentless anti-U.S. track record of Iran’s ayatollahs since the 1978/79 Islamic Revolution—which transformed Iran from “the American policeman of the Gulf” to a key epicenter of regional and global subversion, terrorism and war—would be to endanger regional and global stability. It would undermine vital U.S. national security and economic interests.

However, the U.S. administration seems determined to conclude another accord with Iran, irrespective of Iran’s consistent track record—fanatical anti-U.S. educationviolation of agreements with the United States and the Arab Gulf countries and horrific violations of human rights and democracy. Add to that Iran’s regional and global proliferation of subversion, terrorism, war, conventional and non-conventional military technologies and close ties with North Korea, Venezuela, Syria, Afghanistan’s Taliban, Al-Qaeda, the Muslim Brotherhood, Hezbollah, Hamas and additional rogue entities.

U.S. policy-makers consider the ayatollahs credible partners for negotiation, amenable to peaceful coexistence and power-sharing with the Arab Gulf states. This despite the aforementioned track record, as well as Iran’s fueling the civil wars in Yemen, Iraq, Syria and Lebanon, the persistent violent attempts by the Shi’ite ayatollahs to topple every pro-U.S. Sunni Arab regime, and the entrenchment of Iran’s drug-trafficking and terrorist cells in South and Central America.

Moreover, in order to advance negotiation with Iran, the United States has waived the military and regime-change options, which is perceived by the ayatollahs as weakness, as it would be by any rogue regime, especially in the Middle East.

Thus, while the U.S. courts Iran’s ayatollahs—who constitute a clear and present existential threat to all pro-U.S. Arab regimes—it pressures and undermines the regional and domestic stature of the pro-U.S. Egyptian and Saudi regimes, which may push the latter to more closely align themselves with Russia and China.

While U.S. policy-makers assume that the ayatollahs can be cajoled into a departure from their intrinsically fanatic goal of dominating the Persian Gulf, the Middle East and beyond—in return for a dramatic economic and diplomatic dividend—the ayatollahs’ own track record has proven that they have never been driven by despair or economic benefit. They have always been driven by a non-compromising religious, ideological, historic vision of grandeur, aiming to bring the Western culture—and especially the United States—to submission.

In fact, the track record of the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) documents that the ayatollahs leveraged U.S. generosity by bolstering their subversive and terrorist operations throughout the Middle East and beyond, boosting their ballistic program, acquiring military systems, intensifying domestic repression and advancing their campaign against “the Great Satan:” the United States.

The U.S. Special Envoy for Iran is Rob Malley, who is a true believer in multilateralism (with Europe and the United Nations), rather than a unilateral U.S. national security policy. He is convinced that Iran’s ayatollahs can be enticed to amend their fundamental ideology and to peacefully co-exist with Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain, Oman and other pro-US Arab countries.

Until recently, Malley—a key architect of the 2015 JCPOA—was the president and CEO (and co-founder) of George Soros’s cosmopolitan International Crisis Group. He was an informal foreign policy adviser to Sen. Bernie Sanders during the 2020 Democratic presidential primary. Also, Malley served as Special Assistant to President Obama and Coordinator for the Middle East, North Africa and the Gulf Region.

Will U.S. policy-makers and the co-equal, co-determining House Representatives and senators learn from the track record of the 2015 JCPOA and President Carter’s 1978/79 Iran policy—which trusted the ayatollahs, provided a robust tailwind to their rise to power, while stabbing in the back the pro-U.S. Shah—by avoiding costly mistakes? Or, will they repeat critical mistakes at dire cost to regional and global stability, including U.S. interests.

Will U.S. policy-makers and legislators realize that the Iranian leopard may be capable of changing tactics, but not spots?

Yoram Ettinger is a former ambassador and head of Second Thought: A U.S.-Israel Initiative.

This article was first published by The Ettinger Report.

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