The rise of hard-line president-elect Ebrahim Raisi has prompted some analysts to suggest counterintuitively that this could pave the way for a reduction in regional tensions and potential discussions over a Middle East security architecture. revamped, but going from A to B will probably be easier said than done. .
The hope that an uncompromising endorsement of a return to the 2015 international agreement that limited Iran’s nuclear program will pave the way for broader security agreements rests on the belief that Iranian domestic politics give Tehran an interest direct in reducing tensions. They are also rooted in a regional record of hawks rather than doves making the painful decisions that in the past have paved the way for an end to hostilities and the signing of agreements.
Analysts who see a ray of hope in Iran’s tough electoral takeover compare Raisi’s rise to the late 1980s, when Iran’s revolutionary leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini agreed to a ceasefire -fire in his country’s eight-year war with Iraq at a time when Ali Khamenei was preparing to succeed Ayatollah as Iran’s supreme leader.
That’s when Raisi, one of the first in an undeclared race to succeed Ayatollah Khamenei, 82, is accused of his worst human rights abuses, raising fears he is presiding over a new period of transition. marked by a brutal purge of perceived adversaries.
Likewise, hard-line supporters in Israel were the leaders who struck peace accords with Egypt and Jordan and peace initiatives like the 1993 Oslo Accords with the Palestinians. They included Prime Ministers Menachem Begin, a leader of the right-wing Likud party, and Yitzhak Rabin, who has often been described as the voice of Likud in the left-wing Labor Party.
Speaking at his first press conference after his victory in what was widely seen as an artificial election, Raisi insisted that Iran was “determined to strengthen relations with all countries in the world and in especially neighboring countries. Our priority will be to strengthen relations with our neighbors. “
Echoing his predecessor, outgoing President Hassan Rouhani, Raisi advocated the re-establishment of diplomatic relations with Saudi Arabia, which were severed when protesters stormed the Saudi embassy in Tehran in 2016 following the execution. by the kingdom of an eminent Shia cleric. “We are ready to engage in dialogue and strengthen relations with the Kingdom again,” said Raisi.
Iran said ahead of the elections that talks between the Islamic Republic and the kingdom mediated by Iraq, the first since the breakdown of diplomatic relations, were “in a good mood”.
Raisi needs a lift of US sanctions and regional calm to solidify his credentials in keeping his election promise to boost the economy – the main concern of ordinary Iranians.
Iranian state media this week quoted Mahmoud Vaezi, Rouhani’s chief of staff, as saying that the United States has agreed to lift “all sanctions on insurance, oil and shipping,” imposed by the administration of former President Donald J Trump, as part of a deal to revive the nuclear deal.
Raisi’s remarks followed a conciliatory note in April from Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. “We don’t want Iran to be in a difficult situation, on the contrary, we want Iran to prosper and grow. We have interests in Iran, and they have interests in the Kingdom to propel the region and the world. towards growth and prosperity, âsaid Prince Mohammed.
Winding up belligerent rhetoric and engaging in a dialogue that helps frame issues is one thing. Another is to agree on lasting regional security agreements that will allow the parties to manage their differences, even if they cannot be resolved.
This will ultimately require a paradigm shift in thinking that addresses the deep-rooted mistrust, fears and perceptions on both sides of the divide.
Iran’s ballistic missile program and its support for proxies in Lebanon, Iraq and Yemen and President Bashar al-Assad in Syria, seen by Tehran as a defense strategy in an open and secret war spanning four decades, are seen by Saudi Arabia and its allies as an effort to interfere in the internal affairs of others and export the Iranian revolution.
Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud suggested so in his first response to Raisi’s election. Prince Faisal insisted that “the outstanding issues be treated and dealt with seriously and that we hold Iran accountable for its activities and honor its commitments under the Non-Proliferation Treaty and its commitments to the IAEA “, the International Atomic Energy Agency, as part of ongoing multilateral talks to revive the nuclear deal.
The Trump administration’s abandonment of the nuclear deal in 2018 and the “maximum pressure” policy was the latest unsuccessful attempt in the past four decades to pressure Iran to change its policy. Iran has proven to be more resilient than expected, even though it has paid a heavy political, economic and social price, including the election of a leader, Raisi, who lacks popular legitimacy.
True, Iran initially invited international isolation and sanctions with the 444-day occupation of the United States Embassy in 1979 and the Islamic republic’s initial revolutionary zeal to export its revolution to the countries of the Gulf.
The Iran-Iraq war with the Iraq war effort funded by the Gulf states and ultimately backed by the United States turned revolutionary zeal into a battle for survival and a defense strategy that relied on proxies in Arab countries and sought to move the battlefield away from Iran’s borders. This cemented the belief that Iran had no friends and that its enemies were seeking regime change.
The perception of the intentions of the United States and Saudi Arabia has been cemented by Saudi Arabia’s massive investment since 1979 in the global promotion of Wahhabi ideology with its prejudiced and discriminatory attitude towards Shia Muslims.
Saudi measures since the advent of Prince Mohammed to combat the sharp spikes of Wahhabism, the ultra-conservative interpretation of Islam that has long shaped the kingdom and improve the social and economic conditions of its Shiite minority long deprived of its Rights haven’t done much to convince Iranians that Saudi attitudes have changed.
There are also no anti-Shiite incidents in other Gulf states. Human Rights Watch this week accused the UAE authorities of forcibly disappearing at least four Pakistani Shiites since October 2020 and expelling six others without explanation, “apparently on the sole basis of their religious affiliation.”
Conflict resolution expert Ibrahim Fraihat argues that Saudi Arabia and Iran need to recognize the real issues fueling their conflict rather than focusing on narratives designed to justify their entrenched positions. “What both sides refuse to recognize is that this conflict is about … at least in part, the survival of the regime, the legitimacy and desire of the governments of the two states to play a leading role in the Muslim world.” , which makes the institutionalization of conflict management. mechanisms a sine qua non.
Dr James M Dorsey is an award-winning journalist and senior researcher at the S Rajaratnam School of International Studies, Nanyang Technological University in Singapore and the Middle East Institute, National University of Singapore, as well as an honorary member principal non-resident at Eye on ISIS.