Dr. Majid Rafizadeh: Iranian regime cannot survive without the nuclear deal/ د. مجيد رافزادا: النظام الإيراني لا يقدر أن يستمر من دون الإتفاق النووي/Khaled Abou Zahr: Seeing through Iran’s moderate vs hard-liner illusion/خالد أبوزهر: وهم التفرقة بين المتشددين وما يُسمون نفاقاً معتدلين في إيران

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Iranian regime cannot survive without the nuclear deal
Dr. Majid Rafizadeh/Arab News/February 11/2021
د. مجيد رافزادا: النظام الإيراني لا يقدر أن يستمر من دون الإتفاق النووي

Seeing through Iran’s moderate vs hard-liner illusion
Khaled Abou Zahr/Arab News/February 12/2021
خالد أبوزهر: وهم التفرقة بين المتشددين وما يُسمون نفاقاً معتدلين في إيران
I believe the two most used phrases by Iran lobbyists in Washington and Europe are “this will strengthen the hard-liners” and “this will weaken the moderates.” Every single time a tough decision against the regime is made, they go off like synchronized alarm systems, repeating “this action is going to weaken the moderates and strengthen the hard-liners.”
As US President Joe Biden’s administration has now taken office, these lobbyists are pushing for a speedy return to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) nuclear deal and have announced with certainty that, once money flows back to Iran and the economy gets better, then the moderates will be stronger. And, if this does not happen fast, then the hard-liners will be stronger, making it difficult for the Biden administration to address other issues.
Firstly, once the JCPOA is back, then the Iranian regime will not need to discuss any other regional issues. Secondly, does anyone still believe this “moderates versus hard-liners” narrative? Seriously, does anyone really believe that moderates — if they exist in the regime — have the capacity to do anything? Tehran has been successful in doing this diplomatic dance for decades now. The so-called moderate voices of Iran shouting their incapacity to move the needle because of the West’s decisions that are strengthening the hawks. This is just a superb invention.
But they have been able to use it because, first and foremost, Western policymakers have made the deliberate decision to believe this lie. Indeed, it has been quite a good tool or argument for Western officials to implement policies they wanted to push through for other reasons. It makes a good story to move fast before the “bad” hard-liners weaken the “good” moderates. This usually needs to happen before a presidential election, in which candidates are hand-picked by the supreme leader.
I do not believe that there are no reasonable or moderate figures with influential positions in Iran. However, short of a revolution — which will not happen — they are not capable of bringing a positive change. The regime has applied the same technique domestically. It alternates between moderate and hard-line decisions, giving small signs of hope for more personal freedoms. It tolerates little liberties that make the people who have been deprived of everything feel grateful, but does not bring enough hope or optimism for them to dare ask for more or for change. This balancing act has also been a superb tool.
And so, after these decades of diplomatic dancing between the West and Iran, it might be time to face the music. Facing the music means confronting the hard-liners and putting all the files on the table, including the negative meddling in regional affairs and the missile program, which has been cooperating again with North Korea. Unless there is a true will to stop these actions, then the diplomatic dance will continue.
The key question is what can be done to change the regime in Tehran’s actions — without a regime change, which would bring even more chaos into this region — and force it to adopt positive bilateral relations? A new policy direction from Iran would help develop trade, allow for cross-border investments and open the door to tourism and common infrastructure, from electrical to communications. The untapped potential of this new page would be a game-changer not only for the Middle East but the world.
After listing the pros and cons of Iran going ahead with this big shift, I do not see a single reason for it to continue pushing its current line of action. Iran will not achieve regional domination, just as it will not be removed from the regional equation. Yet we can agree on a formula preserving every party’s interests, both politically and economically, especially as the regime change concept is no longer valid.
Iran is a big and important country with a great population, and it is time this region was fully connected; especially as global economic competition heats up and there is a common need to diversify economies. The global and common threats the region faces are, in fact, much bigger than our current confrontation. I am surprised the Iranian regime has not yet grasped this.
Unfortunately, it seems that Tehran is feeling secure enough that the planets are aligning in its favor and that the Europeans, as well as the foreign policy team in the US, will go back to the JCPOA and will have a favorable approach to Iran. This action would remove all incentives, even if they were slim, for the regime to change anything in its modus operandi when it comes to regional affairs. I would say the opposite is true: The Iranian leaders are feeling emboldened and they will push for more destabilization and interference, as it seems it will yield better results.
The world needs a grand bargain with Iran. It should all start with a ‘non-interference in domestic affairs accord.’ This, more than a return to the nuclear deal, would be the key to global stability.
The regime knows exactly what the Europeans and the US diplomacy team want. Europeans want to go back and trade, especially after the coronavirus disease impact. They are eager to allow their companies to get back to the €30 billion ($36 billion) or so of deals they had in 2015. The US administration simply wants to erase the actions of the previous one and continue where President Barack Obama left off. So the Iranian regime is now making it difficult and sending different signals to put pressure on the West. In a certain way, I would say that, despite what the Western nations think, it is not they that is holding the stick and the carrot, but rather the Iranian regime — the hard-liners and no one else.
Once again, our region has many more stakeholders and players than just Iran and the West, and there will always be a counterbalance and new alliances. Therefore, the approach needs to include all the stakeholders, from Arab countries to Turkey and Israel, as well as Russia. Usually, these grand deals or bargains happen after a big war with a clear winner. So why not avoid this and consider the pandemic to be a symbol of the common threats we are likely to face in the future and map out a clear path toward a stronger Middle East? It should all start with a “non-interference in domestic affairs accord.” This, more than a return to the JCPOA, would be the key to global stability and a true win for moderates.
*Khaled Abou Zahr is CEO of Eurabia, a media and tech company. He is also the editor of Al-Watan Al-Arabi.

Iranian regime cannot survive without the nuclear deal
Dr. Majid Rafizadeh/Arab News/February 11/2021
د. مجيد رافزادا: النظام الإيراني لا يقدر أن يستمر من دون الإتفاق النووي
On the surface, the Iranian leaders are pretending they are in no hurry to rejoin the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) nuclear deal. For example, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei last month said in a speech, according to his official website: “We have no urge, no rush for America to return to the JCPOA. Our problem is not whether the United States will return to the JCPOA or not. Our rational demand is the lifting of sanctions.”
However, the reality on the ground is that the regime is on its knees and desperately needs to revive the nuclear deal. This desire to return to the nuclear deal and have sanctions lifted can be seen in the writings of Iran’s state-owned newspapers, which are connected to the hard-liners and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC).
The Javan newspaper wrote: “The new (US) administration has spoken out on almost every issue in US foreign policy except the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action and the need to return to it, while Democrats and Republicans have been vocal about maintaining Donald Trump’s policy of maximum pressure.” It added: “Apparently there is no rush on the other side, in the Biden government. In his first phone call with Vladimir Putin, Biden spoke of issues such as Ukraine, Russia’s alleged involvement in the 2020 election, and the extension of the treaties, but did not say anything about the JCPOA or did not want it to be disclosed.”
The Iranian regime’s frustration is understandable, as it is facing one of the worst budget deficits in its four-decade history. The theocratic establishment is estimated to be running a $200 million budget deficit per week and, if the pressure on Tehran continues, the total deficit will be about $10 billion by next month. This huge deficit will increase inflation and devalue the currency even further.
The decrease in the country’s revenues directly impacts the regime’s hold on power, the IRGC and its affiliates, the Office of the Supreme Leader, and the regime’s associates, who control considerable parts of the economy and financial systems. The IRGC reportedly controls more than half of Iran’s gross domestic product and owns several major economic powerhouses and religious endowments, such as Astan Quds Razavi in the northeastern city of Mashhad.
Iran is also experiencing a significant shortfall in its funding for proxies and terror groups across the Middle East. This shortfall may be why, for the first time in more than three decades, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah in 2019 made a public statement asking people to donate money to his group. He said: “The sanctions and terror lists are a form of warfare against the resistance and we must deal with them as such. I announce today that we are in need of the support of our popular base. It is the responsibility of the Lebanese resistance, its popular base, its milieu (to battle these measures).”
The cash-stripped clerical regime is desperate to see sanctions lifted and for billions of dollars to flow into its treasury once again. This would allow it to provide revenue for the IRGC to escalate its military adventurism and projects in the region, which include financing, arming and supporting their terror and militia groups in Lebanon, Iraq, Syria and Yemen.
The JCPOA signatories must recall that the nuclear deal led to more Houthi rockets being launched at civilian targets.
The Biden administration would be well advised not to rush back into the 2015 nuclear deal, which empowered and emboldened the Iranian regime and its militia groups and made the region much less safe, stable and secure.
It appears that all members of the nuclear agreement (Russia, China, the US, the UK, France, and Germany) want to rejoin the nuclear pact with Iran. But the Biden administration, along with France, the UK and Germany, must demand a much stricter agreement. They must recall that the JCPOA led to more Houthi rockets being launched at civilian targets, the deployment of Hezbollah foot soldiers in Syria, and more attacks by Iranian-funded Iraqi militia groups.
In a nutshell, the Iranian regime needed the nuclear deal to be restored yesterday, as it cannot keep going without it. The JCPOA signatories must learn from history, take their time, and demand a stricter deal with the Tehran regime this time around.
*Dr. Majid Rafizadeh is a Harvard-educated Iranian-American political scientist. Twitter: @Dr_Rafizadeh