by Zafar Bangash (News & Analysis, Crescent International Vol. 44, No. 9, Muharram, 1437)
The US and its allies in the P5+1 group of countries appear to be dragging their feet in fulfilling their part of the bargain while demanding Iran comply with all its conditions in the nuclear deal. On October 21, the Rahbar, Imam Seyyed Ali Khamenei sent a letter to President Hassan Rouhani pointing this out saying the Islamic Republic’s concessions on the nuclear file were conditional on the other side, especially the US, lifting all sanctions.
Washington appears to be playing its old tricks. It wants to drag the process out while seeking more and more concessions from the Islamic Republic. What the US would really like is to sneak back into Iran after realizing that the illegal sanctions it had imposed did not work. Tehran was not brought to its knees precisely because of its wise leadership and the Islamic system of government.
One of the essential qualities of a great leader is that he takes a panoramic view of all developments. He is not swayed by emotions, nor does he make impulsive decisions. In times of difficulties, he assures people so that they do not become despondent. In success, he keeps the euphoria in check so that people do not get carried away and make rash decisions not grounded in reality that they might regret later.
This is what the Rahbar has done throughout his leadership of the Islamic State. He has provided guidance and advice to officials, intellectuals and people at critical junctures. This is best illustrated by his position on the Iran-P5+1 nuclear agreement signed in Vienna on July 14, 2015.
Once there was an agreement, it led to euphoria among some segments of the Iranian population. Was such euphoria justified? Given 35 years of illegal sanctions against Iran, some people felt that these would be lifted soon, Tehran’s troubles would be over, the US would hand over all of Iran’s money it has illegally frozen and people would live happily ever after.
Beyond such perceptions — whether real or imaginary — there are others in Iran who feel relations with the US should be normalized as soon as possible so that things would return to the days before the Islamic Revolution. In several speeches, the Rahbar has cautioned against such thinking. He has laid down the parameters for how the Islamic Republic should deal with the US. He has repeatedly stressed that beyond the nuclear deal, there would be no opening to the US because it would not be to Iran’s benefit. Of course this could change but that will depend on US conduct vis-à-vis the Islamic Republic and its system of Islamic governance. During the nuclear negotiations, the Rahbar pointed out that if the US changed its behavior and lived up to its obligations, the Islamic Republic could consider discussions on other issues. This, however, was contingent on US conduct. Until there was conclusive proof, there would be no opening.
Addressing two international conferences in Tehran on August 17, the Rahbar made clear that the Islamic Republic would not let the US infiltrate the country. He was addressing participants at the 8th summit of the General Assembly of the Islamic Radio and Television Union (IRTVU) and the 6th General Assembly of the Ahl al-Bayt World Assembly. He cautioned that members of the P5+1 group of countries, especially the US, were trying to find a way to infiltrate into Iran. The Rahbar said that the Islamic Republic would not allow the other side to achieve its goal.
“We will firmly block their way. We will not allow the US to make economic, political or cultural inroads into the country. We will counter such infiltration with all our power,” the Rahbar emphasized. He further advised in remarks addressed as much to the conference participants as to officials of the Islamic Republic, “We should first identify the enemy’s intentions and then counter their objectives through planning.”
Ten days later (August 26) the Rahbar again cautioned officials at the highest level including President Hassan Rouhani and several members of his cabinet about the enmity of the US and Israeli regimes. “Since the beginning of the Islamic Revolution, enmity of the Zionists and the Americans has not waned; and this reality should never slip the minds of the [Iranian] authorities,” the Rahbar cautioned.
He praised the efforts of the nuclear negotiators but warned against falling for the charm offensive of the enemy. “Of course, methods of enmity and doing harm may change and renew; however, all ‘political, economic, and cultural’ authorities must be vigilant not to play into the hands of the enemy under any circumstances so that their [the Iranian authorities’] decisions do not willingly or unwillingly help implement the package envisaged by the enemies,” the Rahbar pointed out. “If we abandon our vigilance, we will suddenly find the enemy having infiltrated in certain areas and being engaged in dangerous cultural, economic and political activities…”
The Rahbar’s repeated warnings against dealing with the US suggest that some Iranian officials are pushing for it. There is little doubt that the US would like to re-enter Iran not because it has abandoned its enmity toward the Islamic Republic but because it has failed to break the Iranians’ spirit of resistance even after 35 years of aggressively hostile acts: sabotage, assassinations, war and sanctions. Washington has now changed its approach; it wants to use soft power to undermine the Islamic system of governance. Following the nuclear deal (not yet fully implemented), the US wants to broaden areas of contact with Tehran.
It appears that some officials may have approached the Rahbar seeking his approval for such an opening. In fact, there may already have been discussions on certain issues. On September 9, the Rahbar made clear that the Islamic Republic “did not and will not hold talks with the US on issues other than nuclear negotiations.” He said, “We agreed to hold talks with the Americans only on the nuclear issue and for particular reasons, and thank God, our negotiators did a good job.” He warned that in other areas “I have not authorized negotiations and [we] will not hold talks with them.” Referring to the long history of US enmity toward Iran, the Rahbar said, “One [US official] smiles, while another draws up a bill against Iran.”
There are certain elements in Iran — let us call them Iranian nationalists — that would like to set aside Islamic principles so that Iran could make material progress by opening up to the West. If this means importation of Western cultural norms, so be it, these nationalists would say. Some of these elements were exposed soon after the victory of the Islamic Revolution. Names like Bani Sadr and Sadeq Qutbzadeh immediately come to mind. They made it to some of the highest positions in government — president and foreign minister respectively. They had no attachment to Islam, only to power and personal aggrandizement and for that they were prepared to strike a deal with the devil. They were quickly exposed. Bani Sadr escaped to Paris, disguised as a woman in a chador, but Qutbzadeh was caught. He faced revolutionary justice for plotting to assassinate Imam Khomeini.
Their elimination did not end the nationalists’ ambitions. They simply kept their heads low biding their time for an opportune moment. It seems they have found their voice after the nuclear deal and are now pushing for much broader interaction with the US arguing that this would bring great material prosperity to the Islamic Republic. This in turn would relieve pressure on the masses, they argue. Their concern for the masses appears contrived.
Many of these people who can be found in academia, some government departments and the media, lead quite comfortable lives, far above the level of the masses. They are not willing to give up their luxurious lifestyles to help the masses on whose behalf they claim to speak. They hark back to the old days when Western goods were aplenty in the Iranian market. Their desire is to open Iran to such luxury goods once more so that they can satiate their desire for things Western.
The Rahbar, however, has dismissed such arguments emphasizing instead the importance of a strong, resistant economy, advanced scientific research, and a revolutionary spirit. He called these the three pillars that strengthen the country in the face of the enemies’ charm offensive. Anyone paying proper attention to developments in Iran would confirm that these three factors enabled the country to weather the decades-long sanctions. Other countries faced with similar sanctions but without an Islamic government, were forced to surrender; not the Islamic Republic.
Aware that some officials dismiss the revolutionary youth as misguided or even “extremists,” the Rahbar advised state officials to respect them. He also advised certain speakers and writers not to verbally attack these faithful and revolutionary youth by labeling them as “extremists.” One of the fears expressed by some observers was that a deal — any deal — with the US would lead to divisions in the Iranian society. The Islamic Republic needs to be on guard against this.
A resilient economy and preventing the intellectual, cultural and political infiltration of the Islamic Republic by the enemies of the Revolution have been constant themes in the Rahbar’s speeches. He again returned to the latter theme when he addressed commanders and officials of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) on September 16. He identified the three areas — intellectual, cultural and political — that the enemies of the Islamic Revolution would use to infiltrate Iran. He went so far as to say that even “economic and security infiltration” were not as important compared to the US’ soft power tools employed in the other three areas. He reposed full confidence in the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps to firmly stand up to security infiltration but he urged the authorities to remain vigilant in other areas.
Removing all ambiguity, the Rahbar pointed out that cultural infiltration is achieved when the beliefs that underpin an Islamic society like that in Iran are distorted and undermined. The West then offers its hedonistic culture that undermines the values and morals of an Islamic society. And what is the consequence of such infiltration? “…The direction in which the country moves will be according to the will of the hegemonic powers,” not that of its people.
As if some people, including perhaps some officials are fixated on the idea that progress is only possible if Tehran were to abandon its principled stand in support of the Palestinian people and open up to the West, the Rahbar reminded them that the Islamic Republic’s progress is tied to the Revolution. Addressing government officials and ‘ulama on October14, the Rahbar said that as long as the revolutionary movement and ideology continue to exist, Iran’s progress, influence, grandeur and spiritual dominance would increase in the region and beyond.
International scientific bodies that determine indicators for scientific progress have confirmed Iran’s impressive progress. Certain westoxicated individuals who think progress is only possible by subservience to the West have dismissed such achievements. The Rahbar warned such “individuals and elements” that make use of the print media and other forums against frustrating the people and youth by “negating” the country’s scientific developments as well as key accomplishments. “The country’s major scientific developments in the fields of nano technology, stem cells and nuclear power are not an illusion, but rather realities the whole world is aware of,” said the Rahbar.
The nationalists’ multipronged attacks and insistence on opening to the West are meant to weaken the revolutionary spirit and zeal of the people. They believe that Iran has paid a heavy price for supporting the Palestinians’ cause, for instance. Why should the people of Iran have to pay this price when it has no enmity with the Zionist regime and in any case, there is no common border with Palestine, they argue.
These are ideas drummed into their heads by the enemies of Islam to appeal to the base instincts of people. The nationalists are appealing to people’s selfish desires to undermine their attachment to Islam. They ignore the fact that Iran’s standing in the region and the world has been built not by nationalism but by adhering to the pristine principles of Islam. People worldwide — Muslims and non-Muslims — respect the Islamic Republic because they see it as one country that follows the principles of justice and fairness without compromise.
The Iranian nationalists that talk of material progress and prosperity should keep the examples of some of their neighbors in mind. Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, for instance, are two rich countries. Most of their citizens are also very rich. Can any honest person say that they enjoy much respect in the world?
Honor and respect are not functions of wealth or power, but of principles,
All honor and glory belong to Allah and [thus] to His messenger and the covenant-bearing Muslims (mu’minin), but of this the munafiqin [hypocrites] are not aware (63:08).