Tensions are intensifying quickly in Iranian politics. Recent comments by senior U.S. officials, such as Ambassador Nikki Haley and CENTCOM chief General Joseph Votel, explaining the threats posed by Tehran have resulted in an intensified domestic political debate.
The atmosphere has sparked a major standoff within the regime prior to sensitive presidential elections in May. This is critical in the broader scheme of Iranian politics as expectations were high following the deal clinched in 2015 with world powers aimed at curbing Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief.
The fact remains, however, that Iran is not a democratic state with political parties enjoying a healthy deliberative process. Iran is a unified entity with different factions seeking one strategic objective: guaranteeing their regime’s survival while realizing both personal and factional interests.Enjoying this article? Click here to subscribe for full access. Just $5 a month.
Recently, media outlets and figures associated with Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei described the Iran nuclear deal, also known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), as a failure of the faction loyal to Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, given the shortcomings in sanctions relief.
“If constructive engagement means succumbing to the enemy’s cruel belligerency and forgiving their betrayals, what we are witnessing is nothing, but increasing naïvety,” said Mullah Dolabi, a member of the regime’s Assembly of Experts.
“People’s main questions are about the government’s unfulfilled promises, such as its promise that all sanctions would be lifted on the very first day of the JCPOA’s implementation. These pledges have not only never been fulfilled, in fact dozens of new sanctions have been added,” Hossein Shariatmadari, Khamenei’s representative in the official Keyhan daily, said in remarks reported by the semi-official Fars news agency, affiliated to the Revolutionary Guards (IRGC).
Another Khamenei loyalist, former IRGC commander Mohsen Rezaie, who currently holds the chair of the secretariat of the regime’s Expediency Council, issued an open letter titled “Instead of War & Anti-War, Focus on the Economic War.”
“His Excellency and a group of your friends made remarks using new terms such as war and anti-war,” he said in reference to the Rouhani faction. “Considering the threats posed for our national security in the use of such language, I saw it necessary to remind you that conditions in the Middle East have changed with the Trump administration taking over in the U.S… There is a need for more vigilance by your government. If His Excellency’s war or anti-war remarks reflected achievements during the Obama days, such remarks may be misused by pro-war advocates in the current U.S. administration, considering the fact that all remarks must be made at a specific timing and place. Without a doubt our situation has changed in comparison to the former U.S. administration.”
And of course, media outlets and figures loyal to Rouhani’s faction have not remained silent.
“Unfortunately, there are those who constantly attempt to deny the achievements made. Public opinion must be brought to understand the JCPOA will not resolve everything. But it’s also no Treaty of Turkmenchay,” said Ali Akbar Salehi, head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization, in reference to a humiliating agreement under which then-monarchical Persia surrendered control of several South Caucasus areas to Russia.
The official Aftab Yazd daily, meanwhile, published a piece citing widespread corruption in previous cabinets loyal to the rival faction.
“Sanctions would have increased without the JCPOA. And considering the lack of goods, prices would have skyrocketed, leading to inflation. And considering the illegal influx of currency, all of our money would have been wasted and the country would see more cases similar to that of Babak Zanjani and continuous scenarios of embezzlement,” the piece reads, referring to a case of an Iranian oil tycoon who used his influence to pocket billions through Iran’s oil trade.
It is crystal clear such domestic disputes are fueled by the upcoming presidential elections in less than three months. To this end and considering this objective, rest assured such factional feuds will only increase and boost the possibility of sparking public outrage and uprisings similar to the episode witnessed in 2009. This is one issue every regime faction and element are extremely concerned of, knowing all too well the current powder keg situation riddling Iran.
Heshmat Alavi is a political and rights activist. His writing focuses on Iran, ranging from human rights violations, social crackdown, the regime’s support for terrorism and meddling in foreign countries, and the controversial nuclear program.