Ray Takeyh

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Why Iran Doesn’t Want a War

The war in Gaza has now gone where many feared it would, expanding into conflict in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and the Red Sea. With America’s repeated strikes against the Houthis in Yemen this month, fears of a larger regional conflagration are steadily growing.

Present in each of those arenas is Iran — and the question of whether Tehran and its powerful military will enter a wider war.

For years, Iran has provided funding, arms or training to Hamas and Hezbollah, which are fighting Israel, and to the Houthis, who have been attacking ships in the Red Sea. Iran has also launched its own strikes in recent days in retaliation for a deadly bombing earlier this month, claiming to target Israeli spy headquarters in Iraq and the Islamic State in Syria.…  Seguir leyendo »

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi meeting Chinese President Xi Jinping in Beijing, February 2023. Iran's President Website / West Asia News Agency / Reuters.

Upon assuming power in 1979, Iran’s revolutionaries prided themselves on rejecting the global order. Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the country’s first supreme leader, declared that his state would be “neither East nor West”. Khomeini viewed the United States as “the Great Satan”—the preeminent, spiritually corrupting imperial power that supported Westernizing despots in the Muslim world. But in his eyes, godless communism and the Soviet Union were just as baleful. “My dear friends, you should know that the danger from communist powers is not less than America”, he said in 1980.

By rejecting partners, the Islamic Republic showed it would not be an ordinary country that sought to maximize its advantages by forging alliances.…  Seguir leyendo »

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi, Tehran, November 2022. Majid Asgaripour / West Asia News Agency / Reuters

September 2022, Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old Kurdish Iranian, died in police custody after being detained for ostensibly wearing a hijab improperly. Amini was not the first woman to be arrested nor was she the first person killed by the police. Her death, however, ignited a protest movement that gave voice to public anger and frustration that had been building for months. Farmers had been complaining about the lack of water, students about the lack of freedom, teachers about the lack of pay, and retirees about the lack of benefits. Two years ago, we argued in these pages that Iran’s Islamic Republic was weaker than many Western analysts and policymakers thought.…  Seguir leyendo »

In Ebrahim Raisi, Iran’s clerics have groomed and promoted their ruthless enforcer

This month, Iran held the most boring — and most consequential — presidential election in its history. Boring because the election was rigged virtually from the start. What made it consequential is not because the winner, Ebrahim Raisi, is a gruesome and unapologetic killer who has spent his entire career inside the regime’s coercive institutions. Nor is it because Raisi is the first Iranian president to fit that description. Both former president Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani and Hassan Rouhani, the current president, were instrumental in building and using the Iranian police state. Unlike Raisi, who has had little involvement in foreign affairs, these two supposedly “pragmatic” clerics advanced operations abroad that killed Americans, Israelis and Jews around the world.…  Seguir leyendo »

Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani in Tehran in 2010. He died on Jan. 8 at age 82. (Atta Kenareatta Kenare/Agence France-Presse via Getty Images)

Shortly before his death, Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, Iran’s former president and clerical major domo, mused on the Holocaust. “For instance, it is said that six million Jews died. Later accounts reveal that although people died, many Jews were in hiding during those days; ‘the dead’ are actually still living.” The larger point of the interview was to remind Iranian officials not to quibble publicly with the fraudulent Western narrative of the Holocaust, for it only empowers Israel. Such was Rafsanjani’s method and guile: He frequently brandished a moderate image that concealed the reality of his militancy.

Most of the cleric’s obituaries in the Western press lament the death of a “pragmatist” who in reality was the most consequential architect of the theocracy’s machinery of repression and regional ambitions.…  Seguir leyendo »

An Iranian woman holds a poster of Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and late revolutionary founder Ayatollah Khomeini, during an anti-Saudi protest rally in Tehran in 2015. (Vahid Salemi/Associated Press)

It is often suggested that the most consequential barrier to Iranian pragmatism is Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Once the elderly Khamenei passes from the scene, the argument goes, his successors will embrace prevailing international norms. The sunsetting restrictions of the nuclear deal need not be of concern, for a revamped Islamist regime will find global integration too tempting to discard for the sake of nuclear arms. The only problem with such expectations is that the candidate Khamenei and the Revolutionary Guards are grooming to ascend to the post of supreme leader is one of the most reactionary members of Iran’s ruling elite.…  Seguir leyendo »

As the nuclear negotiations between Iran and the United States enter their final stages, one of the most salient questions that should be considered is how the Islamic Republic would spend the billions of dollars it would receive as a result of an accord. Proponents of a deal insist that Iran will funnel much of this newfound wealth into its depleted economy. By their telling, even during dire economic times Iran prioritized funding for its malign activities and thus doesn’t need to steer new money in their direction. Such a curious justification overlooks how Iran’s regional policies, and its internal dynamics, are undergoing momentous changes.…  Seguir leyendo »

As negotiations between Iran and the great powers press forward, Secretary of State John F. Kerry seems to have settled on this defense of any agreement: The terms will leave Iran at least a year away from obtaining a nuclear bomb, thus giving the world plenty of time to react to infractions. The argument is meant to reassure, particularly when a sizable enrichment capacity and a sunset clause appear to have already been conceded. A careful assessment, however, reveals that a one-year breakout time may not be sufficient to detect and reverse Iranian violations.

Once the United States had an indication that Iran was violating an agreement, a bureaucratic process would be necessary to validate the information.…  Seguir leyendo »

On the surface, there is not much that commends Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. An anti-Semite, he has frequently questioned the Holocaust and defamed Israel in despicable terms. As a conspiracy theorist, he endlessly weaves strange tales about the United States and its intentions. As a national leader, he has ruthlessly repressed Iran’s once-vibrant civil society while impoverishing its economy. And yet Khamenei is also a first-rate strategic genius who is patiently negotiating his way to a bomb.

After years of defiance, Khamenei seems to appreciate that his most advantageous path to nuclear arms is through an agreement. To continue to build up his atomic infrastructure without the protective umbrella of an agreement exposes Iran to economic sanctions and the possibility of military retribution.…  Seguir leyendo »

This winter, Tehran has been a place of conferences and complaints.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani on Sunday addressed a conference on the economy and bemoaned that "the economy cannot develop in isolation from the rest of the world." Rouhani is not the first president of the Islamic Republic to grumble about the obstructionism of the parliament and the unelected branches of the government such as the judiciary and the security services.

Rouhani senses that economic growth is contingent on an arms control agreement with the great powers, but he still remains very much a man of the system. "In our general policies, all of us must follow the guidelines of the supreme leader," Rouhani emphasized.…  Seguir leyendo »

In this Sunday, Nov. 23, 2014 photo, two clergymen attend a gathering in front of the headquarters of Iran's Atomic Energy Organization, to show their support for Iran's nuclear program in Tehran, Iran. (Ebrahim Noroozi/AP)

After a decade of patient negotiations with Iran over its contested nuclear program, the prospects of the United States and other world powers securing a final deal are not good. The wheels of diplomacy will grind on and an extension of the talks should be granted. But it is time to acknowledge that the policy of engagement has been predicated on a series of assumptions that, although logical, have proven largely incorrect. As Washington assesses its next moves, it would be wise to reconsider the judgments that have underwritten its approach to one of its most elusive adversaries.

Two administrations — those of George W.…  Seguir leyendo »

As the Nov. 24 deadline for Iran and the great powers to negotiate a comprehensive nuclear agreement approaches, both sides may be confronted with momentous choices. What happens if the decade-long search for an arms-control accord falters? Although there is little evidence that the West is contemplating alternative strategies, important actors in Iran are beginning to consider life after diplomatic failure.

Since the exposure of its illicit nuclear program in 2002, the Islamic republic has wrestled with a contradictory mandate: how to expand its nuclear infrastructure while sustaining a measure of economic growth. The reformist president Mohammad Khatami avoided debilitating economic sanctions by suspending nuclear activities.…  Seguir leyendo »

As the United States begins its campaign to destroy the Islamic State, many voices can be counted on to call for cooperation with Iran. Among those has been none other than Secretary of State John Kerry, who insisted that Iran’s exclusion from the Paris Conference “doesn’t mean that we are opposed to the idea of communicating to find out if they will come on board, or under what circumstances, or whether there is the possibility of a change.” On the surface, this may seem sensible, as both Washington and Tehran have an interest in defanging a militant Sunni group. But we would wise to bear in mind two points: First, Kerry’s proviso on the possibility of change, and second, that the essential axiom of Middle East politics is that the enemy of my enemy is sometimes still my enemy.…  Seguir leyendo »

The Iran nuclear negotiations have reached a stalemate. The White House has asked for an extension, and Congress should give it additional time. But the latest stumble offers an occasion for some searching questions. Is the best we can hope for a series of interim agreements that curb Iran’s program but do not resolve the fundamental issues? Is our coercive strategy sufficient for dealing with a revolutionary state on the march in the Middle East? Can Iran’s nuclear ambitions even be affected by diplomatic mediation?

The international community has been negotiating with Iran over its illicit nuclear program not for six months but for 11 years.…  Seguir leyendo »

Arms control has often been a bone of contention between the White House and Congress. Presidents and their diplomats prefer to reach agreements in secret and then shield the accord from congressional scrutiny, much less consent. It is all too tempting for the Obama administration to follow this script as it negotiates with Iran. But that would be a mistake. Notwithstanding partisan difficulties, seeking congressional endorsement is essential lest any agreement rest on a shaky foundation and be difficult to implement.

Two of President Obama’s predecessors offer a path worthy of emulation. Harry Truman did much to anchor the institutions of the Cold War in a durable domestic consensus.…  Seguir leyendo »

The tragedy of Iran is that it may not be able to reach an agreement over its nuclear program even when it knows it needs one. The Islamic Republic's political class knows its hold on power depends on sustained economic growth, and that in turn requires a resolution of the nuclear issue. But the men who rule Iran still want the leverage of nuclear power.

The Islamic Republic was thought to be different this time around. The world was hopeful that the presidential election of 2013 would put to rest the sham of the 2009 election. After all, in this telling, the forces of moderation that were denied the presidency finally reclaimed the office when Hassan Rouhani was elected to succeed Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.…  Seguir leyendo »

In an all-too-familiar ritual of diplomacy, the great powers and Iran will gather in Vienna on Tuesday to hammer out a comprehensive nuclear agreement. There will be lofty rhetoric about mutual understanding and mutual compromise. All sides will be advised to desist from their maximalist demands, as the best that can be achieved is an ambiguous accord that leaves Iran short of nuclear arms but still having made great strides toward nuclear capability. Such seemingly sober calculations miss the fact that the United States is not dealing with the Soviet Union but a beleaguered middling power that may still be coerced into more expansive concessions.…  Seguir leyendo »

An unusual fear is gripping the Arab world, namely that nuclear diplomacy may yet bring Iran and the United States into a close regional embrace. This may seem comical given the legacy of mistrust separating the two nations. Yet this concern among Arab rulers, fueled by progress toward a final agreement on Tehran’s nuclear program, may have some justification in history. The United States has never been able to pursue arms control without delusion and has always insisted on sanctifying its negotiating partners, conjuring up moderates and searching for common ground. The challenge for Washington today is to defy its history and reach a nuclear agreement with Iran while negating the Islamic Republic’s regional ambitions.…  Seguir leyendo »

France has long established itself as the guardian of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and its disarmament mandates. A republic capable of much cynicism, France has nonetheless defended the integrity of the treaty and protected its much battered norms. This was the case last week in Geneva when France resisted an agreement with Iran that it deemed insufficiently robust.

For now, Washington has conceded to Paris, provoking a chorus of criticism from those who seek an accord at any price. Contrary to the critics' claims, the United States' greatest diplomatic successes have come about when it proved sensitive to the concerns of its allies and not just the imperatives of its adversaries.…  Seguir leyendo »

On the surface, the Islamic Republic of Iran is an unsavory authoritarian state unworthy of support, much less acclaim. A regime that is deeply embedded in Syria’s civil war and has embraced terrorism as an instrument of statecraft would seemingly be at a disadvantage in presenting its case to the international community. Yet Iran has had some success imposing its narrative on the negotiations Iranian officials and Western nations are conducting about its nuclear program. The theocratic state demands that its “right to enrich” be recognized upfront and that its past nuclear infractions be forgiven. The great powers’ diplomacy will be judged not by clever formulations they devise to accommodate Iran’s “red lines” but by their ability to veer Tehran away from its maximalist positions.…  Seguir leyendo »