Comments by senior American officials like U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, and CENTCOM chief General Joseph Votel, about the threat Tehran poses, are intensifying Iran’s domestic political debate.
With the upcoming presidential elections in May, tensions have led to a major standoff within the regime. Expectations were high after the nuclear deal was clinched in 2015. World powers had exchanged sanctions relief for the promise of curbing Iran’s nuclear program, also known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).
However, Iran is not a democratic state. Iran is a unified entity of different factions whose main objective is to guarantee their regime’s survival, while realizing both personal and factional interests.
Media outlets and factions associated with Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei now describe the nuclear deal as a failure of the faction loyal to Iranian President Hassan Rouhani.
Mullah Dolabi, a member of the regime’s Assembly of Experts, spoke of 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,” he said.
The semi-official Fars news agency, affiliated to the Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) reported that Khamenei’s representative in the official Keyhan daily, Hossein Shariatmadari, said, “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.”
Former IRGC commander, Mohsen Rezaie, another Khamenei loyalist, who currently chairs the secretariat of the regime’s Expediency Council, issued an open letter titled “Instead of War & Anti-War, Focus on the Economic War.”
In the letter, referring to the Rouhani faction, he said, “His Excellency and a group of your friends made remarks using new terms such as war and anti-war. 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.”
Media outlets and factions loyal to Rouhani have not remained silent, either.
Ali Akbar Salehi, head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization, said, “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,” he said. That treaty was regarded as a humiliation agreement, under which then-monarchical Persia surrendered control of several South Caucasus areas to Russia.
Meanwhile, the official Aftab Yazd daily, published a piece citing widespread corruption in previous cabinets loyal to the rival faction. In reference to a case of an Iranian oil tycoon who used his influence to pocket billions through Iran’s oil trade, the piece reads, “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 upcoming presidential elections, less than three months away, fuel these domestic disputes, and these factional feuds will only increase and fire public outrage and uprisings like the one that occurred in 2009. This is one issue all factions are concerned over, knowing all too well the current unrest seething in Iran.