The Iranian regime’s bad reputation is not merely propaganda that has been fabricated against it ever since the revolution against the Shah—as it maintains. It is actually the true face of a regime that has for more than 36 years exported conflict, revolution, violence, and extremist and hostile ideologies against any local, regional, or international voice that disagrees with it. This bad reputation is a direct result of several malicious acts perpetrated by the regime—including abductions, assassinations, and terrorist attacks—as well as Iran’s threatening behavior and status as a state sponsor of terrorist groups which it mobilizes against several countries. This is not to mention the violent form of governance inside Iran itself, which has seen the regime pursue and exclude millions of Iranians who fled the country and currently live in exile.
These damaging behaviors, which have accumulated over time, have made Tehran’s governance style comparable with that of Saddam Hussein in Iraq, the Assad family in Syria, Muammar Gaddafi in Libya, and Kim Jong-un in North Korea. This negative image is therefore not one “fabricated” by the regime’s critics outside Iran.
Recently, however, the Iranian government has shifted its tone and is making clear moves regarding its desire to establish positive relations with its rivals in the Middle East. These hints, made by Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, drew quick responses from Iran’s regional rivals. Their reactions came as expected: while they welcome these new sentiments in principle, Iran’s neighbors are still doubtful about how genuine Tehran’s friendly overtures really are. There is a general consensus that Tehran is simply running this campaign in order to end regional opposition toward its nuclear deal with Western powers—particularly from Gulf countries, Jordan, and Israel, who all believe the agreement may be used to mask Tehran’s real intentions. Of course those who oppose the nuclear deal do not all oppose it for the same reasons. Arab states think that Iran wants to placate the West and end sanctions imposed on it so it may resume its plans to dominate the region. Israel, meanwhile, believes that Iran plans to resume its nuclear military program and fears the agreement does not provide enough guarantees that Iran will not pose a threat towards Israel’s security and existence. Some American politicians, including Democrats, are also doubtful of the agreement and have strenuously opposed it.
In the past, Iran was clear in regards to its extremism, ignoring all criticism regarding its intentions and stances and continuing with its policies. However, today it fears that the interests of the Arabs, Israelis, and Americans who oppose the nuclear agreement have become an impediment against its endeavors. We must note however that despite the fierce opposition against this deal, President Barack Obama has a good chance of getting it passed by the US Congress. All he needs is to gain the approval of just one-third of either the Senate or the House of Representatives.
To activate the nuclear deal, Iran is embellishing its policies and rhetoric towards other countries in order to reassure opponents that it wants to cooperate and turn a new page—that it has now become a “new Iran,” a country that is politically, and religiously, moderate, as well as cooperative on regional and international levels. To serve this purpose, the regime has pushed two “smiling faces” to the forefront: President Hassan Rouhani and Foreign Minister Zarif. Neither one of these two men bears any resemblance to former prime minister Mahmoud Ahmedinejad and his grouchy band of ministers. However, we are aware that it is actions and not facial expressions that expose a politician’s true intentions. Bashar Al-Assad for example is a seemingly jovial, genteel, and urbane man, yet his hands are stained with the blood of more than 250,000 Syrians.
Moreover, in Iran the president and the government do not actually rule since there is a strict religious institution that makes decisions on important details. We have not yet witnessed any change in the Iranian religious establishment’s hostile policies towards other countries in the region and the Iranians who oppose it. The new image Iran is trying to present and the soft rhetoric it is addressing us with is most likely a ruse designed to sooth opposition towards the regime and the nuclear deal. In the end, Iran simply wants to seal the deal, get it approved, and have all sanctions lifted.