Until last week, the almost two-year-old nuclear deal between Iran and the West was shaky and in question.President Donald Trump had run on a promise to scrap the agreement and there was a strong chance that Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, co-architect of the deal with former president Barack Obama, would be ousted from power in Friday’s election by Ebrahim Raisi, a critic of the deal.Then, on Wednesday, Trump “owned” the Iran deal for the first time, boosting it by waiving nuclear sanctions just as the Obama administration had done previously.But this was not the real moment of truth.That was Rouhani’s victory, which he won handily with around 57% of the vote and no need for a runoff – this, despite the fact that Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and the powerful Revolutionary Guard Corps supported Raisi.“Support” in Iran can also mean tampering with elections, as many neutral observers believe Khamenei tampered with the 2009 election to ensure hard-line anti-Westerner Mahmoud Ahmadinejad won the presidency.That Rouhani won and won big means that Khamenei and the IRGC chose to let the election run its course and, with regard to the nuclear deal, are prepared to let it continue for the foreseeable future even in the face of aggressive treatment by Trump.It could be seen as a validation of Trump’s pushing the envelope in getting tough with Iran, whereas some critics, and the Obama administration, had believed that blasting Iran too much could push Iranians into Raisi’s corner and put the deal at risk.
More generally, it means that the Iranian public still broadly supports the deal even as the economic benefits they expected with Iran emerging from isolation have not fully transpired.The harshest critics of the deal may be unhappy because scrapping it would have been easier with a win by Raisi. However, Israel’s security establishment and many moderate critics are in favor of the deal because it gives Israel breathing room, at least for a few years, on the Iranian threat, provided some issues can be addressed.Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s comment Saturday that he hoped Rouhani would now cease Iran’s ballistic missile program and support for terrorism in the Middle East are probably wishful thinking.But Rouhani’s election means that some of the deal’s loopholes could be filled.If Iran is so in favor of the deal, could some nuclear restrictions be made permanent, instead of expiring in six, eight and 13 years, in exchange for continued economic benefits? Could some holes in the inspection or review of past nuclear behavior be addressed? If, before, the deal was on life support and positive change in its terms seemed like a longshot, Rouhani’s election means it is here to stay and that some positive change may be possible.
Netanyahu: Iran is responsible for more than 80% of Israel"s security problems (credit: GPO)