There has long been a narrative advanced by the Iranians and their backers in the West. It goes like this: There are two conflicting ruling elites in Iran. The first comprises the mullahs - the quintessential hardliners with nothing but hate for the West and Western values. The second group, according to this narrative, is of the constrained moderates who are eager to cooperate with the West. These so-called moderates thus should be strengthened if the West wants to steer Iran away from its path of confrontation. In reality, there is no such entity as moderates in the Iranian power structure. Nor are they as powerless or aloof from the decision-making process as some want us to believe.
Two opinion pieces appeared in The New York Times during the last three weeks. Both were written by people of Iranian descent - one by the current Iranian foreign minister nonetheless - and both advanced almost the same agenda. The Iranian foreign minister Javad Zarif took jibes at the archrival Saudi Arabia, masquerading as the global champion of human rights and feigning great piety. Riding high on a delusional roller-coaster, Mr. Zarif went on to suggest the world should help Iran in fighting the scourge of terrorism, conveniently ignoring the big skeletons in the closet. Iran, with blood of thousands of Syrians on its hand, appears to be least qualified in taking the mantle of a global preacher on humanity.
The other piece, by noted Iranian American scholar Vali Nasr, bemoaned the lack of support from the West for people like Zarif and Rouhani. Mr. Nasr regurgitated the age-old rhetoric that the moderates in Iran have been thrown under the bus by the mullahs - and can only be saved by the West. In reality, the moderates in Iran appear to be as extremists as the oft-maligned clergy.
The Iranian political structure after the revolution in 1979 has maintained a quasi-democratic facade while allowing the clergy to call the shots. In most cases, the political face of the mullahs turns out to be as conservative and hateful of the West as the ayatollahs. More importantly, the political process is skewed in favor of electing the yes-men. The only difference between the so-called moderates like Rouhani and Khatami and hardliners like Ahmedinejad is that of perception. Ahmedinejad positioned himself as a staunch critic of the West, a holocaust-denier; and a vociferous supporter of the Shiite cause. Rouhani, on the other hand, masquerades as a darling of the West.
Under this mask of amicability, Rouhani has doubled down on the agenda of the mullahs. Ahmedinejad was faltering in propping up the genocidal Assad regime in Syria. Cunning Rouhani reached out to the Russians, recruited large number of Shiite fighters from Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria; and quadrupled the financial and military aid to Assad. Iranian military officers and generals got more involved in the war - and many also died at the hands of the rebels. It all came on the heels of the opening up with the West and the interim nuclear deal that opened the coffers for Iran. Thus the Rouhani regime was able to send more monies to the Assad regime and proxy Shiite mercenaries. The finalization of the nuclear deal removed whatever financial hurdles the regime had and it has been an all-out bonanza ever since.
Iran now has the financial prowess to enforce its agenda in the region. Thus the Rouhani regime has enhanced border incursions into Pakistan; is annihilating its Kurdish population in the north; and using offensive tactics in the Gulf waters. Support for terror outfits and providing cash and ammunition for the Assad killing machines has increased manifold. The upcoming passenger jet deals with Boeing and Airbus could also help streamline the air-bridge to Syria, which has helped Iran to maintain an endless supply route of weapons and manpower. Thus those who advocate going soft on the so-called moderates are either living in a pipedream or have agendas of their own.
It is ironic, then, that another article in the Times, by an Iranian activist Maziar Bahari, demolished the very foundation of the narrative pushed by people like Mr. Zarif. Bahari, who once had high hopes of Zarif, lamented the about-turn the latter did when coming into power. Gone were the promises of reform and upholding of human rights, replaced with an utter disrespect for anything related to civility.
There is no no such entity as moderates in the existing Iranian political structure. Rouhani has proven to be more violent and war-mongering than his conservative predecessor. The moderates also appear to be tricking the West into believing they could become their trustworthy allies. Iran's real alliance is with Russia as has been evidenced by providing of air bases and convergence of interests on Syria. With one ceasefire after another falling through - and incessant aerial strikes and barrel bombings continuing apace - perhaps it is time to call out the charade of the so-called moderates.
Make no mistake. There are real moderates in Iran. They are still repressed, facing police brutalities, incarceration and death penalties. The irony lies in the fact that only pseudo-moderates can gain power in the existing structure, which condones aggression and terror. Curbs on political freedom and repression of ethnic and religious minorities has increased under the new regime. Perhaps the West should try to empower these hapless people rather than believing the quasi-mullahs and faux moderates like Rouhani and Zarif.