The nuclear deal with Iran, reached this summer, was supposed to auger a new age in Iranian-American relations. Advocates of the deal spoke optimistically of Iran moderating, opening up for business, and generally becoming a more constructive force in the region than it has been in the past. The deal really wouldn’t make a lot of sense otherwise: Why would you want to funnel hundreds of billions of dollars to Iran — and put it on the threshold of nuclear weapons status within a decade — if it remains committed to, well, “Death to America”?
So how is the promise of the Iran deal panning out? Not so well as even the New York Times editorial board, fervent supporters of the agreement, is now forced to concede. In an editorial today, the Times editors write: “The anti-American backlash in Iran since the nuclear deal was signed has gotten so bad that one Iranian-American businessman in Tehran now likens it to a witch hunt. As alarming as that is, the crackdown will probably get worse.”
Evidence of this backlash isn’t hard to find. As the Times notes, in recent days the state has “arrested several prominent people, including Isa Saharkhiz, a well-known journalist and reformist; Ehsan Mazandarani, the top editor of a reformist newspaper, Farhikhtegan; and Afarin Chitsaz, an actress and newspaper columnist. Other politically motivated arrests snared Siamak Namazi, an Iranian-American consultant known for his advocacy of improved ties with the United States, and Nizar Zakka, a Lebanese-American information technology expert. Even before the nuclear deal, three other Iranian-Americans were languishing in prison: Jason Rezaian, who is The Washington Post’s Tehran correspondent; Amir Hekmati; and Saeed Abedini.”
The Times conveniently blames this crackdown on the hardline Revolutionary Guard Corps, which is said to be at odds with the “moderate” president, Hassan Rouhani. But even the Times has to concede where ultimate responsibility lies: “Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, is fueling the crackdown. He allowed the nuclear deal to proceed, but has since denounced the United States as Iran’s chief enemy and warned against what he says is America’s intention to infiltrate Iran and attack the country’s revolutionary roots.”
It won’t do to suggest that there is a power struggle going on between moderates like Rouhani and hardliners like Khamenei. However much Iran might like to pretend otherwise, it’s not a democracy. Rouhani only has as much power as the “supreme leader” — the voice of Allah on Earth — is willing to concede to him. Khamenei calls all the shots, and he has shown no sign of becoming a kinder and gentler ayatollah. If there is any doubt, he made it clear this week when he said at a celebration commemorating the 1979 takeover of the U.S. embassy: “The slogan ‘death to America’ is backed by reason and wisdom.”
And while Rouhani may be exercised about the arrest of Iranian-Americans trying to do open up Iran to business, he has not said a peep to protest against Iran’s continuing power grab throughout the region or its testing of a ballistic missile that can carry a nuclear warhead. Far from moderating its support for terrorism in the wake of the deal, Tehran has upped its backing for the murderous regime of Bashar Assad. There are now said to be thousands of Iranian troops fighting alongside Iranian proxies such as Hezbollah to keep Assad in power. A number of senior Revolutionary Guard officers have been killed in Syria.
The Times editorial resolutely refused to draw any implications from these alarming trends. That’s because the implication is unpalatable for supporters of the Iran deal. Recent events suggest that Iran is not in the process of fundamentally altering its anti-American, anti-Western, anti-Israeli orientation. But soon, it will have a lot more resources available to carry out its dangerous agenda.