In his first news conference since his victory in Friday’s election, Iran’s President-elect Ebrahim Raisi immediately adopted a defiant stance on Monday, saying, “The U.S. is obliged to lift all oppressive sanctions against Iran,” adding that Iran’s foreign policy “will not be limited to the nuclear deal.”
On Sunday, the P5+1 wrapped up its sixth round of talks in Vienna over the possibility of a return to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the nuclear deal negotiated between Iran and world powers in 2015.
Michael Segall, a senior analyst at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, told JNS the international community is “at a crossroads” regarding Iran and the nuclear deal.
He noted the most important issue now is that Iran “has the know-how” to go nuclear. “They have proven they are capable of reaching 60 percent and can get to weapons-grade levels.”
Segall noted that the next problem facing the international community is that now, Iran will have a president who’s not pretending to be a moderate, like Hassan Rouhani.
Iran’s entire system of rule, which includes the government, parliament (Majles) and judiciary, is now all made up of “radical conservatives.”
“There is one Iran now,” he said. “There is no mix of pragmatists, conservatives or moderates. There is only one face of Iran.”
Segall said Iran is paying attention to a changing of the guard in the United States and Israel, which has taken place as both former U.S. President Donald Trump and former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu have been replaced by new leaders and governments.
“We will have to see how Iran sees these developments in Israel and the United States,” he said.
Meanwhile, according to Segall, Iran sees everything going its way—from wars against Israel waged by Hamas and Hezbollah to the replacement of Trump and Netanyahu. “Iran considers all these events as Divine intervention for it to fulfill its strategic goals, which is hegemony and dominance of the Middle East,” he said.
“If we add these things together,” he said, “Iran stands on a solid mound concerning its nuclear activity, ballistic-missile program, subversive activities in the region, and, of course, all this on the account of the Iranian people. They will be the ones who will pay the price for these adventures.”
The international community may believe that it is making headway in proving Iran has peaceful intentions with regard to its nuclear activity or its destabilizing activities in the region, but Raisi’s appointment will complicate things, according to Segall.
“The Iranians are no longer afraid to admit things and are not hiding behind masks,” he said. “In the past, they might have relied on plausible deniability, but no more. They are confident, blunt and defiant. And this is what we will see in the near future.”
Raisi’s “victory” comes after an election that saw poor voter turnout and blatant interference by Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and the Guardian Council, which disqualified most of the other candidates, thereby handing Raisi his win on a silver platter.
During Sunday’s weekly Cabinet meeting, Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett called Raisi “the executioner from Tehran,” and called on the international community “to wake up and understand with whom they are dealing.”
Bennett emphasized that “a regime of executioners must not be allowed to get its hands on weapons of mass destruction. This is the position of the State of Israel,” he said.
His description of Raisi is not without basis.
Raisi is under U.S. sanctions for human-rights abuses, and Amnesty International has documented how Raisi “had been a member of the ‘death commission,’ which forcibly disappeared and extrajudicially executed in secret thousands of political dissidents in Evin and Gohardasht prisons near Tehran in 1988.”
Last week, in their fourth phone call since Israel’s new government took power, Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid agreed to a request from U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken that there be “no surprises.”
On Monday, in reaction to this development, Netanyahu said this is a dangerous commitment that could paralyze Israeli military activity against Iran’s military nuclear program.
“I cannot think of a weaker and more emasculated message to our enemies in Iran,” he said. “I cannot think of a better gift for the ‘Executioner from Tehran.’ From now on, he and his friends in the regime know that they can sleep silently, with no surprises.”
Subterfuge can only slow down the program
Iran, however, has already experienced a number of surprises over the last few years, as it has seen dozens of mysterious fires and explosions take place at important nuclear-related facilities across the country.
Two alleged Israeli attacks on the Natanz nuclear complex, which destroyed thousands of centrifuges, as well as a number of alleged attacks on other Iranian targets were reported by Iranian media as “accidents.”
This week, the Bushehr nuclear power plant in southern Iran was shut down temporarily because of a “technical failure,” according to the Tasnim news agency.
While there is speculation that this is related to those other mysterious events, it is more likely, according to Segall, that it is related to the current high civilian demand for energy.
Raz Zimmt, an expert on Iran at the Institute for National Security Studies, told JNS “the biggest question is whether the revival of the JCPOA will be achieved before August, before Raisi enters office.”
“If Khamenei decides to agree to a deal with the P5+1, it matters little whether Rouhani or Raisi is president,” he said.
Zimmt said it may be more difficult for the international community to carry out follow-up negotiations after August when Raisi is president because of his more conservative and “hardline” position, and he could elect a more hardline foreign minister.
According to Zimmt, there are three main possible ways to delay Iran’s nuclear program. First is the JCPOA. Second, is the military option, though no one in Israel really wants that. The third, in-between option is these so-called covert activities that might slow down some of the progress and may delay the program.
“But there are two problems with this,” he said. “First, it will only delay and slow down the program; they cannot destroy the nuclear facilities. Second, this urges Iran to improve its capabilities and sometimes to retaliate. Its decision to enrich to 60 percent was made after the second attack on Natanz.”
The international community is, as Segall said, at a crossroads, and it isn’t looking good for Israel.
According to Segall, Blinken’s promise for a “longer and stronger” Iran deal “will not happen.”
With this in mind, as well as Iran’s growing defiance and confidence, is Israel preparing to take military action against Iran’s nuclear weapons program?
Segall wouldn’t say, but he insisted that Israel “will not accept a nuclear Iran.”