driving the convo

Are the walls caving in on Iran’s regime?

The Islamic Republic and China are working on building a sweeping economic and security partnership

Hamed Saber/Wikipedia

Anti-aircraft guns guarding the Natanz nuclear facility in Iran in 2006.

A series of mysterious blasts at sites across Iran in recent weeks have led to speculation that the U.S. and Israel may have launched a covert sabotage campaign against Tehran’s nuclear program.

Wait and see approach: Iran’s reluctance to lay the blame on America and its allies and the lack of immediate retaliation suggests the ayatollahs are waiting to see the outcome of the U.S. presidential election in November, posited Danielle Pletka, senior fellow of foreign and defense policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute. “Right now, Iran’s posture is to wait out [President Donald] Trump. If he loses, [Joe] Biden’s on the hot seat. If not, Iran has to rethink everything,” Pletka told JI. 

Crippling sanctions: Some American security analysts suggest the walls seem to be caving in on Iran amid a tough sanctions regime following the U.S. withdrawal from the 2015 nuclear deal. “It’s increasingly clear that President Trump’s maximum pressure campaign is working,” said Richard Goldberg, senior advisor at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and a former member of Trump’s National Security Council. “If you’re the Supreme Leader taking stock of the last few months, here’s what you see: oil revenues close to zero, a currency in free-fall, accessible reserves drying up, [Qassam] Soleimani dead, key elements of your nuclear and missile program sabotaged left and right, the IAEA investigating your undeclared nuclear materials and activities, the U.N. Security Council likely to reimpose all pre-Iran deal sanctions and restrictions, coronavirus out of control, influence in Iraq contested and Hezbollah financially squeezed.” 

Too early to tell: Patrick Clawson, the director of research at The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, told JI that Iranian statements “are often a poor indicator of what they are actually thinking” and that it’s their actions that matter — whether or not they launch any new attacks against the U.S. and its allies. 

A ‘downward spiral’: Nazee Moinian, an Iranian native and a former consultant to the Council on Foreign Relations, told JI that while the U.S. sanctions have clearly “been effective” in hurting the Iranian regime, it’s “too early to tell if the walls are caving in. The news of the Islamic Regime’s demise has repeatedly been exaggerated. But one can clearly see that the Iranian economy is in a downward spiral. A lot more needs to happen for this regime to collapse, but for now Tehran is having a serious existential problem.” Moinian, who served as an advisor on Iran to the 2016 Hillary Clinton presidential campaign, added that Trump’s “style of leadership has thrown the Iranian political elite into a spin. Even if their coping strategy was to wait President Trump out, the news that both Anthony Blinken and Jake Sullivan have advised Joe Biden to stay the course, keep up the economic pressure and renegotiate the deal (for far better terms, including but not limited to Iran’s regional adventurism) should have made Tehran nervous.” 

New alliances: The New York Times reported on Saturday that Iran and China have quietly drafted a sweeping economic and security partnership that would result in billions of dollars in revenue for Iran from Chinese investments in energy, banking and other sectors. The Washington Institute’s Clawson explained that “Iranian officials are exuding confidence that their strategy is working — that the U.S. is in decline at home and abroad and they have figured out how to do well despite the U.S. maximum pressure.”

Expectation games: “It’s not surprising that a regime as ideologically bankrupt as the Islamic Republic would sell out the Iranian people’s economic assets to the Chinese Communist Party to stave off financial collapse,” Goldberg told JI. “The bad news for both Iran and China is this: U.S. sanctions already make most deals very difficult to pull off and once the leaked agreement is translated and analyzed, it will become a roadmap for U.S. financial warriors at Treasury and State.”

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