By Arab News
By Dr. Majid Rafizadeh*
Iran’s state-owned media outlets are heavily covering Europe’s Iran policy. Several major newspapers, including Kayhan, are focusing on the European Union’s strong support for the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), known as the nuclear agreement. The front pages of several newspapers highlighted statements from EU officials, such as the one from foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini, who described the 2015 deal between Tehran and the world powers as a “key security priority” for both Europe and the Middle East.
Iranian leaders are attempting to project power and appeal to their hardline domestic social base by pointing out that Tehran enjoys international support and global legitimacy. The regime is also trying to assure its sponsored militias, terrorist groups and proxies that Tehran continues to be on the winning side.
In addition, the Islamic Republic is attempting to send a message to the Trump administration and critics of Iran’s aggressive foreign policy that, despite their opposition, sanctions relief will continue due to the EU’s support.
Why is the EU jumping on the Iranian regime’s side when other global powers criticize Tehran for its destabilizing policies in Syria, Iraq and Yemen, and for its human rights violations? Mostly because of increasing revenues through imports and exports.
But the EU should be cognizant of the fact it is shooting itself in the foot by prioritizing short-term business deals and the nuclear agreement over long-term strategic and geopolitical interests. The current political establishment of the Iranian regime never has been, and never will be, a natural ally of the West.
The regime is an extremist revolutionary theocracy that was founded on the core revolutionary principle of objecting to the West culturally, geopolitically and strategically. The survival of the regime depends on its anti-Western sentiments and policies.
To achieve its hegemonic ambitions, the Iranian leaders often make tactical shifts that may mistakenly appear as fundamental strategic shifts. The JCPOA is an example. The nuclear agreement does not mean that Tehran has altered its fundamental policies towards Europe. The regime’s hold on power was in danger before the deal because of the four crippling rounds of international sanctions. The regime’s expenses abroad were rising due to Tehran’s increasing military, financial, intelligence and advisory support to the Syrian regime, Hezbollah, the Houthis, and Shiite militias in Iraq. The regime found no option other than to come to an agreement with the West — an agreement that suits the regime’s objectives perfectly: Sanctions relief in exchange for a short period of time partially halting nuclear activities. Then, when the deal expires, the regime can pursue its nuclear ambitions with no restrictions based on the sunset clauses.
Once the Iranian regime achieves its objectives, it will return to its core fundamentalist policies. In fact, a recent incident illustrates this: The generals of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) threatened to increase the range of their ballistic missiles to more than 2,000km so that they can reach Europe. Brig. Gen. Hossein Salami, the deputy head of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, added that: “If we have kept the range of our missiles to 2,000km, it’s not due to a lack of technology. We are following a strategic doctrine.”
The EU ought to consider a long-term Iran policy, because Iran’s ruling clerics conduct their policies on a long-term basis.
In addition, when examining what European powers consider as threats to their national security, one can witness the Iranian regime’s footprint behind these threats. Tehran engages in asymmetrical warfare funding, arming, training and supporting terrorist and militia groups that are sworn to damage EU nations’ security and scuttle European countries’ foreign policy in the region.
Furthermore, the Iranian regime’s long-term policy is based on favoring Russia, advancing its interests in the region, and tipping the balance of power in favor of Moscow, not Europe.
European powers should be aware that their appeasement policies toward the Iranian regime are endangering stability in the region. Business deals and support for the nuclear agreement are emboldening and empowering hardline institutions such as the IRGC and the Quds Force, as well as terrorists and violent militia groups across the region, including those in Syria, Iraq and Yemen. Hence, these appeasement policies are leading to more radicalization and militarization of the region and are also leading to more human rights violations by the Iranian regime.
It is in the national interests of the EU to favor a long-term Iran policy rather than the short-term benefits of business deals through the nuclear agreement. The EU should step up pressure on the Iranian regime for its aggressive policies in the region and human rights violations, and halt the nuclear deal sanctions relief until Tehran changes the fundamentals of its foreign policy and becomes a constructive player in the region and on the global stage.
• Dr. Majid Rafizadeh is a Harvard-educated Iranian-American political scientist. He is a leading expert on Iran and US foreign policy, a businessman and president of the International American Council. He serves on the boards of the Harvard International Review, the Harvard International Relations Council and the US-Middle East Chamber for Commerce and Business.