Analysts of Iran and global politics are at odds over what is going on with the Islamic Republic – some believe a real change has taken place, while others continue to insist that Tehran is just playing the same game on its way to the bomb.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s charm offensive has convinced many analysts in the US and Europe that a negotiated solution is possible just as was recently reached with Syria.
Perhaps some kind of Iranian concession may be forthcoming, but it seems that it would be a temporary tactical adjustment in the face of biting sanctions – not a deep ideological and strategic change of direction.
For example, the Iran-Iraq War (1980-1988) ended when Tehran decided to compromise and uphold a cease-fire, this after years of brutal war where the regime sanctioned self-martyrdom attacks and its leader, Imam Ruhollah Khomeini, sent members of his Basij militia, as young as 12 years old, in human waves toward Saddam’s forces. They would blow up minefields to open up the way for Iranian tanks to pass through. The children wore plastic keys around their necks, which Khomeini issued to symbolize their entry into paradise.
When faced with a harsh reality, Iran has demonstrated that it is willing to be pragmatic in order to live to fight another day.
Mehdi Khalaji, an Iran expert and senior fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, wrote that Iran’s decisions may be guided by Shia Islam’s view toward “religious dissimulation,” or “taqiyya.”
“A phrase by the classical Persian poet Saadi captures the prevailing view among Muslims: ‘A convenient lie is better than an evil-causing truth.’ By this, he means that if telling the truth puts one’s life at risk, then truth loses its virtue,” he wrote.
Khalaji believes, as do other experts, that the Shi’ite principle of taqiyya is greatly influencing Iran’s decision making regarding its nuclear program. Taqiyya denotes the Shi’ite principle of deception for the sake of self-protection, notes Khalaji, adding that Khomeini himself said that one should lie or even drink wine (prohibited in Islam) if it is what is required for the expediency of the Islamic government.
In fact, Rouhani, who was chief negotiator from 2003 to 2005, admitted that deception allowed Iran to further advance its nuclear weapons program.
However, neither the damage caused by the Iran- Iraq War, nor sanctions nor the threat of military attack has worked to fundamentally alter Iran’s modus operandi or ideology. It would make more sense – according to Western logic – for Tehran to agree to accept a deal and stop promoting terror, thus leading to the end of sanctions and better relations with the West and the Arab world.
But that is not how Iranian leaders and clerics think.