Iran has reached its “empowerment,” so what will the West choose?
The “Islamic Republic” of Iran reached the level of “empowerment” (Tamkeen) with the arrival of President Ibrahim Raisi to the Presidency, the highest executive authority in the pyramid in harmony with the supreme leader, the Wali al-Faqih Sayyed Ali Khamenei, and with the legislative authority headed by the Speaker of the Shura Council, Muhammad Baqer Qalibaf. The formation of the harmonious trio in power is unprecedented in the history of the Islamic revolution in Iran since 1979: to this must be added Iran’s advanced nuclear research and technology, its advanced missile program and military capabilities, and the high competence of its allies in the Middle East and West Asia. Iran has reached a time in history when it offers the Western world two options, both of which are, from a Western perspective, difficult to choose.
In 1980 al-Hassan Bani Sadr was elected the first President of the Republic through the ballot box. The Wali al-Faqih and leader of the Revolution, Imam Khomeini, disapproved of Bani Sadr without necessarily announcing his position or acting according to his opinion and will. At that time, Iran was suffering under the first US sanctions, followed by Saddam Hussein’s war imposed on the “Islamic Republic”. Many Arab and Western countries were on Saddam’s side and supported the war with Iran.
For the first years, Iran could hardly stand up to Saddam Hussein, who enjoyed comprehensive international and regional support. Saddam Hussein was armed and authorized to use chemical weapons, which were not prohibited. These were used against the Iranians who rejected the US hegemony and called it the “Great Satan.” Iran’s lack of the simplest weapons triggered this thirst for defensive and offensive arsenal during the Iran-Iraq war: at the front, convoys of young people waited for the martyrdom of their comrades to take their weapons.
Evidence for this is the planes that the American envoy, Robert McFarlane, brought to Iran in exchange for the release of Western hostages held in Lebanon in 1985, what was known at the time as the “hostage crisis” and “Iran Contra”.
Iran building its defensive-offensive capabilities
Iran could not stand on its feet for many years, even after the war, because the US sanctions followed. The Iranian domestic military industrialization then began, which Iran started by developing technology imported from Russia, China and Korea.
Over the years, Iran has developed its missile capability after acknowledging that it cannot compete and build an air force that represents a suitable deterrent weapon able to confront the US air force or the airpower of America’s allies; air superiority is theirs. Iran succeeded in building tactical and strategic missiles and, in this way, became capable of defending itself and its allies.
Indeed, Israel’s war on Lebanon in 2006 demonstrated the necessary lessons imposed by one of Iran’s strongest allies, Hezbollah: surface-to-surface missile strikes versus the Israeli airstrikes created a balance of deterrence.
In 2011, Iran electronic warfare specialists cut off the communications link and captured one of the most advanced CIARQ-170 Sentinel spy drones, and its experts cloned it. In 2018, Iran fired its precision long-range, all-weather, jet-powered subsonic cruise missiles from Iran against ISIS positions in Syria and Iraq. Moreover, during the decade-long Syrian war and the war to liberate Iraq from ISIS, Iran and its allies used several new types of missiles (Burkan) whose specification depended on the nature of the battle, the theatre and the topography.
Drones and missiles were even further developed to suit the requirements of the Iranian military and its allies, each according to the nature of the geography and the theatre of operations in which it is located.
Thus, the Palestinian groups in Gaza – who received the knowledge and missile technology from Iran – could impose deterrence on Israel during its most recent battles. Israel was forced to stop the bombing when the Palestinian rockets and missile strikes reached unimagined objectives in the north and south of Israel and continue to fall daily no matter how forcibly the Israeli air force destroyed the city’s military and civilian targets.
In 2020, Iran struck the most significant American base in Iraq, Ain al-Assad, with 16 precision ballistic missiles. The US CENTCOM commander, General Kenneth Mackenzie, admitted that Iran could have caused over a hundred deaths had Iran not informed in advance of the time of its strike and the targets it wanted to destroy. Mackenzie revealed the accuracy of the 1,000-pound Iranian precision missiles marking the first of their kind since World War II.
For fear of Iranian missiles that rendered the Strait of Hormuz unsafe for US military bases, the US Central Command is expected to move the theatre of operations to the port of Yanbu, on the Red Sea, in the hope that the Iranian missiles can’t reach that base in the case of war.
With the Iranian support and sharing of experience and technology in Yemen, Houthis have acquired highly sophisticated armed-suicide-GPS-guided drones and precision missiles, imposing heavy damage on Saudi Arabian forces in Yemen.
Iran a nuclear power
What has increased and tipped the balanced dramatically to Iran’s advantage is the nuclear project. Iranian atomic technology has reached the domestic production stage of many advanced centrifuges that enrich uranium faster and produce 60 percent of enriched uranium. The only reason why Iran is not producing a nuclear bomb is the prohibition fatwa (a binding religious Islamic opinion pronounced by the highest theological level of Muslim cleric) of the guardian of the jurist (Wali al-Faqih) Sayyed Ali Khamenei.
The conclusion is simple: It is no longer an impossible or even difficult path for Iran to arm and equip itself with all necessary military power to defend itself. It is able to show its capabilities and persuade other countries they should avoid a direct war against the “Islamic Republic.”
Iran’s Allies are Part of its National Security
In addition, Iran has established relations with many peoples and organizations in the Middle East. Iran succeeded in establishing a solid wall in front of its enemies by winning the hearts and minds of Hezbollah in Lebanon, Hamas and Islamic Jihad in Palestine, Iraqi factions and brigades within the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) groups in Syria, Afghanistan, and with the Houthis in Yemen. Iran’s allies are an integral part of its national security and, these allies also consider Iran as a faithful supporter. Iran’s enemies cannot ignore all the elements of power represented by the allies and must consider these before declaring war on the “Islamic Republic.”
The policy of achieving slow and gradual empowerment, which Iran has pursued for a long time, has transformed it from a weak, isolated and powerless country in the 1980s into a solid regional, and even international, power. The strength of Iran enables it to expand beyond the Middle East, roaming the seas to deliver aid to its allies in Venezuela- challenging the US in its backyard. It has undoubtedly established deterrence, affecting the US’ will and decision to recognize the potential damage Iran can inflict back in case of war. The new Iran’s capabilities are enough to convince its enemies not to act against it in a state-to-state war but to think of the “alternatives of annoyance” (sabotage, assassinations, drone attacks, intelligence hits, cyberwarfare).
The Election of Sayyed Ibrahim Raisi
On the 18th of June, Iran had an appointment with the presidential elections where four candidates were expected to compete for the thirteenth session. As in every presidential election and according to the constitution – that the people of Iran voted for and adopted in a general referendum – the Guardian Council (responsible for approving the names, programs and biography of candidates), has excluded several candidates, triggering domestic and international criticism. Nothing new to the Guardian Council’s decision in exerting the right of selection. However, the decision went viral around the world because anything Iran does is under the world scrutiny and criticism. It is not easy to live in such a level of fame particularly when an emerging country defies the strongest superpower country in the world and decides to challenge its authority for more than four decades.
These free and fair elections appear different from the previous ones, as the level of participation fell to around 50 percent. The turnout was indeed the lowest in the country’s electoral history, given that the participation rate in the last presidential elections was 73 percent. However, the percentage in any presidential elections worldwide has never been neither high nor a reliable indication. Iran is not an exception where society has been politically polarized since 1980. Moreover, there were candidates representing both major political currents, allowing political parties and supporters to express their views.
Undoubtedly, the coronavirus and the performance of the previous administration in the last eight years inflict on the number of voters. Nevertheless, the Iranian elections confirmed once again the unique electoral democratic process in a Middle Eastern region where people do not vote for their head of state or kings. Western leaders and analysts were unhappy about the Guardian Council’s selection of the candidates but that has never prevented the Iranian officials from sleeping.
As for the Guardian Council, which decides who will run in the elections or not among the applicants for candidacy, it has the authority to reveal or not the reasons behind excluding candidates to the presidency or reply to the objectors who have been rejected. The most prominent candidate in the current race, Ali Larijani – the former secretary of the Supreme National Security Council, the former parliament speaker (2008-2020) and the current adviser to Sayyed Ali Khamenei – was removed by the council.
As for Ahmadinejad’s rejection as a candidate, that was expected, especially after the case of First Vice President Esfandiar Rahimi Mashaei and his statements about seeking the rapprochement with Israel, and Ahmadinejad’s refusal to dismiss him from office notwithstanding Sayyed Ali Khamenei’s letter in which he requested the President to dismiss Mashaei.
As for saying that principlists did not want to risk Larijani’s coming and losing to Raisi because of the popularity of the two parties, it is a deductive narrative because the contest of the most principlist candidates disperse the votes among them to give greater chances for the centrist among them to rise. One of the principlist candidates (Alireza Zakani) withdrew from the race and threw support behind Raisi. Vice President Mohsen Mehralizadeh, a reformist, left the race, leaving more space for the only moderate, Aboldnaser Hemmati, to win if he gathers enough support. Having only one moderate for the presidency race presents an opportunity for voters to show their weight, especially when the word is indeed spreading among reformists to rally behind Hemmati.
During the electoral campaign, tens of thousands of people gathered at the largest electoral rally for current candidates in Iran’s Ahvaz region to support Raisi, as proof of his popularity. Therefore, he is considered one of the most likely candidates to implement his promised economic program. The rise in the popularity of principlists is caused by the retreat of the reformists’ bases, due to their previous mistakes in monetary policy, without necessarily meaning that their role is over. On the contrary, they will try to return in the future after regrouping if they fail to reach the presidency.
One party winning or losing over another is a hit-and-run political process as long as people participate in the elections and believe in the Islamic system. Winning the presidency in one issue and succeeding to pull out the country to economic prosperity regardless of the international sanctions is another. For example, Muhammad Reza Mahdavi Kani, a conservative was elected as Prime Minister in the 1980s. Mir Hossein Mousavi took over in 1981, a leftist and reformist. The conservative Ali Akbar Nategh Nuri failed in front of Rafsanjani, who obtained the consensus of the right and the left political wings in the 1989 elections. Throughout the forty years of the “Islamic Revolution,” many reformists and conservatives took power. However, the US and harsh international sanctions always aimed to cripple Iran’s economy regardless of the presence of a reformist or a principlist in power.
The new president will face the challenge of the economy, security, regional alliances, restoration of the relationship with Saudi Arabia and the countries of the region, and positioning with China and Russia to eliminate unilateral US control in the world, and most importantly, the purchasing power of the local currency and restoring life to the economy.
The presidential elections will not affect the nuclear file, which, the more negotiations fail, the higher will be the progress in nuclear science and technology.
For forty years the west kept predicting that the “Islamic Republic” was coming to its end, indicating the wishful thinking behind this narrative and the frustration of Iran’s policy to stay out of the US hegemony and its orbit of influence and control.
Sayyed Ibrahim Raisi’s victory in the Iranian presidential elections was not a surprise, but the polls and their results are very significant and send domestic, regional and international messages.
The number of voters is powerfully expressive: Raisi won 17,926,345 million votes out of the 28 million who voted in the elections, regardless of the coronavirus pandemic that continues to threaten all countries and cause a reduction of the participation in elections. It is noteworthy that the second place went to the principlist, former IRGC – Revolutionary Guards Corps – commander Mohsen Rezai, who won 3.4 million votes. The third place went to former central bank governor Abdel Nasser Hemmati, who represented the weight of the reformists, reaching only 2.4 million votes. Conservative lawmaker Amir Hossein Ghazizadeh Hashemi ended up with more than one million votes.
These numbers, if anything, indicate that the Iranian people, who went to the polls, did not favor the arrival of another reformist to power to succeed President Hassan Rouhani. On the contrary, more than 22.2 million (the total votes of Raisi, Rezai and Hashemi voters) supported the policy representing the Islamic Revolution and the line of the Wali al-Faqih Sayyed Ali Khamenei. There is no doubt that Brigadier General Qassem Soleimani is a partner in Raisi’s victory. His assassination by the US in Baghdad rallied millions of Iranians behind the revolution and injected new blood in its body.
Former President Sayyed Mohammad Khatami, the reformists’ guru, declared that “Iranians must participate in the elections to prevent the imposition of one-stream rule.” He intended to prevent the conservative movement behind Raisi from assuming the presidency. Consequently, he asked the Iranians to support the reformist candidate – without explicitly declaring it – represented by Hemmati.
The reformists waited until the last hours of the day of voting to understand in which direction the results of the elections were heading before pushing the public and those who did not want to participate in the vote to support Hemmati. Mohammad Javad Zarif – who was very popular before the leak of the recording in which he criticized Major General Qassem Soleimani and consequently the decision of the Wali al-Faqih in supporting the Revolutionary Guard Corps over the policies of the foreign minister- had said that he had accepted the position of Foreign minister in Hemmati’s government, as stated by the head of the reformist coalition, Behzad Nabavi.
Therefore, notwithstanding all the support and preparation of the reformist camp behind Hemmati, he was defeated by Mohsen Rezai alone, who gathered one million votes more than Hemmati. Consequently, the winner represents the voters who stood behind the line of Imam Khomeini and the line of the revolution represented by his successor, Sayyed Ali Khamenei. They have confirmed their choice for the next four years, especially after the failure of the reformist political line defined by the Rouhani-Zarif, who lost face along with their reputation in this Presidential election.
In the West, there has always been a significant focus on all events taking place in Iran. Some “experts”(naively) identified the Guardian Council’s move under the label of the control of the “deep state.” These have little knowledge of the Iranian constitution and who holds which power in the country. Other ‘experts’ believed that “the regime wants Ibrahim Raisi” for the next Presidency because he is supposed to be preparing for a future higher position as the successor to the Wali al-Faqih Sayyed Ali Khamenei. At the end of the day, the casting numbers speak for themselves.
Having a reformist or a principlist president leading the government changes nothing in the lack of the US and Europe number of sanctions on Iran and the compliance with the JCPOA deal that the US revoked. The difference between President Hassan Rouhani and President-elect Sayyed Ibrahim Raisi is the fact that latter has less expectations from what the West could offer to Iran and has acquired more experience in dealing with the international community. Sayyed Raisi closely watched the failure of the Rouhani’s government in persuading the West to respect a long negotiated agreed deal and failed to honor notwithstanding promises and written commitments. In fact, the reformist President Rouhani who was so much hailed by the international community when elected, was so badly hit by the same US-EU leaders who robbed him the only potential achievement, the nuclear deal. Moreover, no Iranian President was so harshly locked down under over hundreds of sanctions under his term and the country so isolated.
For forty years the West kept predicting that the “Islamic Republic” was coming to its end, indicating the wishful thinking behind this narrative and the frustration of Iran’s policy to stay out of the US hegemony and its orbit of influence and control.
Moreover, Iran is expected to remain under the harshest attack in the future, whichever direction the nuclear deal takes. If the US signs the agreement, it will do everything to try and curb Iran’s allies and its missile program. If the nuclear deal with the US fails to reach a happy ending for both sides, Iran will go full atomic and be under further sanctions and attack. Saying that the path was cleared for Raisi is too pretentious because, if selected, he has enormous domestic and foreign challenges to face. And if Raisi fails, the reformists may collect the benefit in the next presidential elections. If Ibrahim Raisi succeeds in taking Iran to another more prosperous economic level, the Iranian people will be the biggest winners.
The principlists rightly believe that there are no reasons why any Iranian government should trust the US and Europe in relation to the JCPOA or any other present or future agreement. By diverting the world attention from the lack of US will to lift all sanctions and abide by its deal, the mainstream media throw to ‘experts’ and ‘analysts’ the bone of “moderate versus radicals” or “reformists versus principlists.” Another toy to play with was the percentage of voters.
Iran Achieving al-Tamkeen (Empowerment)
The importance of the recent presidential elections is highlighted in these circumstances, because they complete the cycle of Iran’s power and achieve the ultimate goal that Iran aimed at, to fortify the home front.
During the decades since the 1979 revolution, the Wali al-Faqih realized that the young generations could look at the West positively and with high acceptance. The new generation is vulnerable because it did not exist during the days of the revolution and hasn’t lived to memorize the damage the US caused to Iran in the attempt to bring it to its knees. Many Iranian youths want to imitate the West with its temptations, under different titles, the most important of which is ‘democracy’, with technology, innovations and all the tools that distinguish the slow-growing Middle East from the fast-modernizing West.
However, the young generation does not realize that democracy, as practiced in the West, provides neither empowerment nor protection. Freedom of expression indeed exists within Western countries – but in the US: America recently seized thirty-six Iranian websites and those of its allies and Sayyed Ali al-Sistani. However, in most European countries free elections are available, and voting is even compulsory in some countries such as Belgium.
However, international laws, long believed to be the backbone of the western constitutional system, have now become burdens for the decision-makers. When US President (Donald Trump) threatens Germany with preventing the entry of its imports if it does not comply with his will, he uses the jungle law of the most powerful against the weaker, rebuffing all international laws.
When the United Nations Security Council issues 187 resolutions in favor of Palestine and against the Israeli apartheid regime which prevents the return of the indigenous people, confiscates their property, rejects the simplest means of humanity and puts its subsistence at risk in the eyes of the world, international laws become simply ink on paper. The simplest example is the nuclear deal signed by President Obama, revoked by President Trump. Europe felt unresistingly impotent and incapable of respecting its part, incidentally now being renegotiated by President Biden. The modern west comes with its hegemony and the submission of its impotent populations.
President Donald Trump has contributed unintentionally to re-igniting the revolutionary spirit in Iranian society by assassinating, minutes after arriving in Baghdad, Brigadier General Qassem Soleimani, an outstanding military leader who was dearly beloved in Iran and the Middle East, where allies are positioned.
The Iranian Wali al-Faqih Sayyed Khamenei realized the extent of the threat against the country and the necessity to take Iran to another much-higher level of readiness to stand against the US sanctions and hegemony and protect Iran’s sovereignty. In the first place, he fortified the military forces to hand over the management of these forces to military leaders loyal to the line of Imam Khomeini and Wali al-Faqih. This move has allowed Iran to open the doors of politics without restructuring or the need to impose its will on domestic policy. The so-called reformists had repeated chances following al-Hassan Bani Sadr, Mir Hossein Mousavi, Hashemi Rafsanjani, Muhammad Khatami, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Hassan Rouhani.
The Wali al-Faqih has never imposed his will on the republic’s president, except as permitted by the constitution in foreign policy and national security. He has the necessary constitutional authority to take significant decisions and assume their responsibilities. Before taking office, the Iranian president agrees to respect the constitution. Since Imam Khomeini’s era, the revolution leader left the necessary space for the president and his ministers to take decisions as long as they do not conflict with the strategic security of the state, especially the relationship with the outside world.
Upon the appointment of Sayyed Ali Khamenei as Imam Khomeini’s successor, he took the country towards scientific, nuclear, ballistic development.
Today, with President Ibrahim Raisi (who has said he does not want to meet President Biden) as head of the executive power, Iran has completed its military and political empowerment- with the Speaker of the Shura Council, Muhammad Qalibaf – Qassem Soleimani’s companion – at the top of the legislature’s pyramid. No country can declare war on Iran and get away with simply minor damage. Deterrence has been imposed; the domestic front is powerful as it has never been.
Iran has reached a crossroads with the West. Thanks to its total empowerment, the “Islamic Republic” has been able to put two options before the world. The main one consists in lifting the sanctions and allowing Iran to restore its economic strength, restore its purchasing and financial capabilities, develop the process of economic self-sufficiency, raise its readiness and with it one of its allies. Consequently, it enables Iran to increase its financial power with hundreds of billions yearly to enrich its coffers with oil and non-oil revenue. Moreover, Iran will recover more than 110 billion dollars frozen in several countries to become, with its allies, more vital than ever. The other option for Iran is to reach the complete cycle of nuclear power and enriched uranium which is already getting closer to 90 percent.
Both options are critical for the West. What will the west choose? Rejecting one will undoubtedly kick-start the other.