When 2015 drew to a close, I was dismayed to see that many leading Western policy makers were still clinging to the notion of a moderate Iranian regime. At the same time, President Hassan Rouhani of Iran was continuing to exploit the moderate appearance of his regime in order to encourage more Western conciliation and deflect further scrutiny. Now sanctions have been lifted on Iran by Western powers, the insincerity of Rouhani’s regime has become more visible.
For those who have been paying attention to Iran’s domestic activities and its intrusion into the broader affairs of the Middle East, no one has been fooled for a moment by Rouhani’s superficial statements. The regime has been shored up by the executive power of a few leading Western countries, whose closest advisers have been swayed by this ongoing piece of political theatre. This has proven sufficient to shield Iran from the serious challenges it faces and from the enforcement of international resolutions. With this in mind, it is likely that this misleading moderate trend shall continue well into 2016.
On the international stage, Iran has already twice violated the UN Security Council Resolution 1929. One such violation occurred with the ballistic test in October, followed a month later by another test of an even more advanced missile. In both tests, the missiles were capable of carrying a nuclear warhead and clearly broke the 14th July 2015 Nuclear Agreement of halting Iran’s progress towards making a nuclear bomb.
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These ballistic missile tests undermine the perspective of a prevailing moderation inside the regime in Tehran, especially its symbol, Hassan Rouhani, who has explicitly endorsed these tests and other efforts to advance the regime’s ballistic missile programme. Iran has already warned that it would not abide by any UN resolutions or other so-called “impositions” by Western powers. Moreover, Rouhani ordered his defence minister to accelerate missile production in line with the principle that the delivery systems for nuclear weapons are an entirely separate issue from the Iranian nuclear programme.
The aggressive actions we have seen might pose a big question as to why Rouhani has continued to exploit Western optimism and how he has managed to retain his own moderate reputation. The depth of that Western optimism is certainly part of the equation. It makes the Obama administration and its allies captive to Rouhani’s positive rhetoric and propaganda.
At an International Islamic Unity Conference hosted by President Rouhani in late December 2015 in Iran, Rouhani declared that it was up to Muslims around the world to counter the negative impressions of Islam such as the Daesh-inspired terrorist attacks in Paris, San Bernardino in California, Jakarta and Burkina Faso.
There is little doubt that Western advocates of a rapprochement were very keen to pick up these statements and use them to justify Rouhani as a moderate. There was strong motivation on their part to ignore the surrounding context of those statements where Rouhani declared that Israel was a major enemy of all Muslim states, blamed Saudi Arabia and the US for all the regional instability in the Middle East, even in nations where Iran is engaged in fighting. Most intriguingly of all, Rouhani declined to make any serious policy suggestions to counter the threat of extremist groups such as Daesh. Behind the moderating façade, there is much hypocrisy from Rouhani.
Essentially, the regime in Tehran pioneered extremism in Islam. The Iranian Resistance has relentlessly warned of the regime’s tendency to inspire extremism beyond its borders for decades, particularly with the publication of Islamic Extremism, The New Global Threat in 1993 by the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI). The leader of the NCRI, Maryam Rajavi, a Muslim woman who campaigns for a tolerant, enlightened interpretation of Islam has been countering Islamic extremism and the Islamic Theocracy of Iran for years. Yet such warnings were given little attention and unfortunately are still being ignored today.
As Rouhani’s honeymoon with the West continues with his planned visits to Italy and France this month, Europe and the United States can expect to see major protests led by Iranian dissidents and human rights activists who are supported by Western politicians that agree with them on the idea of a democratic Iran.
However dangerous the provocations of the regime in Iran are, these protests might create the conditions that force Western leaders to no longer overlook the popular dissent against the ruling theocracy in Tehran. If Western neglect of the Iranian regime‘s domestic record and its conduct abroad persists into the long term, the consequences will surely be disastrous for Western interests in the Middle East and will be greater too for the world.
Sanctions or no sanctions, now is the time to say to the Iranian regime, enough is enough.
Sir David Amess, Conservative MP for Southend West and co-chair of the
British Parliamentary Committee for Iran Freedom (BPCIF).