The objective of this research is to assess whether the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), negotiated between Iran and the international community in July 2015, might lead to a fundamental reorientation in Iran's foreign policy.
Taking power in 1979, Iran's revolutionary regime adopted an international posture that combined the export of the Islamist revolution, a quest for regional hegemony, defiance of international norms and, most consequentially, the search for an atomic arsenal. Over the years, these policies turned Iran into a virtual pariah state, a process made unbearable when the United Nations imposed heavy sanctions to force the regime to roll back its nuclear project.
From the onset of his presidency, Hassan Rouhani and his supporters considered the JCPOA to be the first step in a grander plan to normalize Iran's international relations and reintegrate it into the community of nations. But opposition to normalization has not disappeared; important elites have objected to the conditions that would qualify Iran as a member in good standing of the international community.
It is assumed that a power struggle between the normalizers1 and their opponents would dictate the outcome of the process. Integrating Iran into the community of nations is one of the defining issues of our time. Providing rigorous measurement for evaluating this project would help to monitor its progress and predict the outcome. Beyond the case of Iran, the study hopes to advance the theoretical knowledge of how spoiling actions develop in all instances crucial to the well-being of the international community.
IRAN'S NORMALIZATION PROJECT
Analysts of conflict resolution note that for a peace process to take root, agents desiring peace — custodians — need to take control. But the process can be derailed by domestic or outside actors whose interests are threatened. Stephen J. Stedman conceptualized this relationship as a two-player game in which the custodians are challenged by spoilers, "leaders and parties who believe the emerging peace threatens their power, world view, and interests and who use violence to undermine attempts to achieve it."2
The failure of the Oslo peace process is a notorious case of spoiler theory in action. As a recent study details, on the Israeli side, right-wing political parties acted as spoilers to the Labor Party's peace custodians. On the Palestinian side, the PLO was tripped up by Hamas, and Islamic Jihad helped by aiding Iran and Hezbollah.3
To analyze the custodian-spoiler dynamic, Stedman offered several research guidelines. First, it is imperative to determine the identity of the custodians and spoilers and their respective locations. Second, it is important to assess the possible strategies of spoilers, from political-diplomatic to disruptive stealth tactics and even overt violence. Third, the ultimate goal of the spoilers is also important. Some have a limited goal, such as a delay in implementing the agreement; others want hegemony over the process with a view to its abrogation. In between are the so-called greedy spoilers who search for ways to adjust the outcome without obliterating the entire process.4
While the spoiler theory was formulated in the context of conflict resolution and peace agreements, it can be easily adapted to the quest for normalization in Iran. In fact, the political system in Iran, known as the negotiated political order, is especially susceptible to manipulation by putative spoilers. Unlike a standard hierarchical polity or even the party-state system in the former Soviet Union, the negotiated political order is based on a series of complex arrangements among elites whose power base is anchored in either the state or parastatal domain. The president and the state bureaucracy compete with the parastatal Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), a revolutionary militia commonly referred to as the Revolutionary Guards; the Basij, a volunteer paramilitary organization operating under the Revolutionary Guards with multifaceted roles; and the large revolutionary foundations like Bonyad-e Mostazafan-e Enghelab-e Eslami — all outside the control of the state. Internal fragmentation of elites along personal or ideological lines adds to the mix. In principle, the supreme leader is tasked with making binding decisions, but his power is far from absolute. Secretive, complex and intense maneuvering, intimidation, brinkmanship and even violence combine to generate a fluid and opaque decision-making process. This often results in contradictory messages emanating from Tehran.5
Using Stedman's theory, the players are grouped as follows:
Ideological normalizers: a group of progressive politicians and intellectuals who reject the revolutionary Islamist ethos and urge unconditional normalization through reintegration into the community of nations.
Pragmatic normalizers: a coalition of conservatives long headed by the late Ayatollah Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani and Hassan Rouhani, who argue that the revolutionary ethos is too costly for the nation and that Iran should reintegrate into the international system, especially in the economic sphere.
Tentative normalizers: an alliance of nationalists, elements of the Revolutionary Guards, and the Bonyads, who apparently prefer limited normalization to being a chronic pariah state.
Principalists: A collation of the Abadgaran (Principalist) movement of former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, ultraconservative clergy led by Ayatollah Mohammed Taqi Mesbah Yazdi and the Haqqani School, hardcore elements in the Revolutionary Guards, and the Basij. The principalists vehemently oppose any and all facets of the normalization project. In conceptualizing normalization, the custodians have paid considerable attention to the rules of international behavior. At the same time, however, they understand well the limits imposed by the negotiated political order. By compromising between the two imperatives, the custodians have generated a four-dimensional plan of action arranged in descending order of importance. Each dimension represents a facet of normalization that, in principle, is required for full reintegration into the international order, but the custodians decided to prioritize knowing their domestic limitation.
THE JCPOA GUIDELINES
By any measure, the JCPOA wiped out most of the achievements of Tehran's decades-long nuclear endeavor. Iran has been restricted to 6,000 IR-1 first-generation centrifuges of limited enrichment capacity. As measured by Separation Work Units (SWU), a standard gauge of the separation power of a centrifuge, the IR-1 has been estimated to produce around 1 kilogram of uranium SWU/year. The more advanced models that Iran had worked hard to fabricate are more efficient and have a higher SWU capacity. In addition, Iran has been allowed 300 kg of Low Enriched Uranium (LEU) per year; excess LEU must be shipped out of the country. These limitations were devised with a view to lengthening the breakout time — the length of time Iran would need to fabricate enough weapons-grade uranium for a single nuclear weapon, should it renege on the agreement and leave the nuclear nonproliferation treaty (NPT). The same time framework applies to the so-called "sneak out scenario," a clandestine effort to enrich uranium without renouncing NPT membership.6
The one-year timetable is limited to uranium production alone. It does not include projections about other parts of weaponization: fabricating the metallic core of the weapon from the powdered uranium hexaboride, building the trigger mechanism, integrating the package into a delivery system, and testing. The time period to produce a working weapon, known as "effective breakout time," is estimated at a minimum of one year.7
To prevent Iran from cheating, the JCPOA offered a strict safeguards protocol based on electronic monitoring, visits by International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspectors and unspecified cyber sleuthing. Depending on the type of activity, the JCPOA restrictions would be lifted in 10-15 years, but an additional protocol that Iran was obliged to ratify would guarantee stringent IAEA oversight beyond the agreement's expiration date. Should Iran default on its JCPOA obligations, sanctions would be reinstated or "snapped back."8
The JCPOA, referred to by the Persian acronym Barjam, has featured prominently in the struggle between the custodians and the spoilers. Unwilling to test its power in the then-hardline Majlis, the Rouhani administration opted for the Plan of Action, a term that skirted the constitutional need for parliamentary approval of the agreement. The normalizers managed successfully to implement the JCPOA on January 16, 2016, and, according to the IAEA, there have been no breaches in the conditions imposed.9 The results of the February 26, 2016, parliamentary election gave the normalizers considerable political cover. Reformists gained 135 seats in the new 290-member parliament, compared with 92 for their conservative rivals. The 52 remaining seats went to independents and five were won by religious minorities, a bloc that could hold the balance of power.10
While the Majlis configuration virtually precludes political damage, there is at least a theoretical possibility that spoilers may try to sabotage the agreement using clandestine methods. The IAEA Safeguards Division and the intelligence services of countries that monitor Iran have discovered no effort to fabricate uranium in a secret facility. Admittedly, the Safeguards Division and Western intelligence would have a harder time tracking small-scale weaponization work.
Much as the JCPOA closed the path to enrichment, it left the spoilers the opportunity to pursue a ballistic-missile project, a concession that they demanded from the custodians. In the final weeks of negotiations, Iranian officials sought to soften UN Security Council (UNSC) Resolution 1929, passed on June 9, 2010, which "dictated that Iran shall not undertake any activity related to ballistic missiles capable of delivering nuclear weapons." They were successful in the sense that UNSC Resolution 2231 of July 20, 2015, which endorsed the nuclear pact, was more permissive: "Iran is called upon not to undertake any activity related to ballistic missiles designed to be capable of delivering nuclear weapons."11
Essentially the new resolution, which is not as legally binding as the JCPOA, created a loophole by complicating the definition of what kinds of missiles are capable of carrying a nuclear payload. According to the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR), an informal group that monitors nuclear-capable missile technology, missiles with a range of 300 km and a payload of 500 kg can deliver a nuclear payload.12
By MTCR standards, Iran's missile tests arguably violated Resolution 2231. In December 2015, the Revolutionary Guards fired the mid-range Emad missiles and, in March 2016, followed with Qader H and Qader F. The Qader has an estimated range of 2,000 km and is capable of carrying a nuclear payload. It did not help that the missiles were marked with "Israel must be wiped out." Brigadier General Ali Abdollahi was quoted as saying at a Tehran science conference, "We test-fired a missile with a range of 2,000 kilometers and a margin of error of eight meters." He also alluded to the fact that the missiles can easily reach Israel. In spite of considerable criticism, Iran claimed that it has a right to develop a defensive-missile capability.13
In its later move, on March 8, 2016, as part of a major military exercise, the Revolutionary Guards test-fired several ballistic missiles capable of carrying 24 warheads and one ton of TNT. A communiqué issued by the Revolutionary Guards stated that the tests "were aimed at displaying the country's deterrent power and its ability to confront any threat."14 A military parade in Tehran on September 21 used the missiles to threaten Israel. A banner on one of the transport trucks shown on state TV read, "If the Zionist regime makes a mistake, the Islamic Republic will turn Tel Aviv and Haifa to dust."15 Because they well knew that they could not obliterate Tel Aviv and Haifa, the threats were apparently designed to embarrass the custodians.
LIMITING TERROR AND MILITARY ACTIONS
As articulated by the custodians, managing terror and limiting overt military actions are only of secondary importance to the normalization project. From its earliest days, the regime has followed the doctrine of revolutionary export, which Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini promoted as early as the 1940s. Upon taking power, Khomeini reaffirmed it, declaring, "We should export our revolution to the whole Muslim world and to the whole world in the next step." The preamble to the new constitution of the Islamic Republic, promulgated on December 3, 1979, declares, "Based on the Islamic content of Iran's revolution, the constitution provides the situation of continuation of the revolution inside and abroad and paves the way to set up the global Ummah. Paragraphs 152-155 mandate Iran to spread its particular brand of Islamism to other countries."16
In May 5, 1979, the regime created the Revolutionary Guard Corps and, three years later, the elite Quds Force that was tasked with operations abroad. Although the Quds Force was nominally under the command of the supreme leader, there was substantial overlap between the two organizations.17 Both have relied on terror to destabilize neighboring countries and operate farther afield. They have engaged directly or acted through proxies like Hezbollah in Lebanon, Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad, the Houthis in Yemen, the Zakzaky group in Nigeria, some factions of the Taliban in Afghanistan and even al-Qaeda. Operatives from the latter allegedly assisted with the bombing of the American base in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, in 1995.18
In Iraq, the Revolutionary Guards and the Quds Force have worked together with various Shiite organizations, exacerbating the ethnic tensions that have flared up since the American invasion in 2003. In Bahrain, they have collaborated with the Shiite political movement Al Wafa to plan attacks against the government, a close ally of Saudi Arabia. The Revolutionary Guards and the Quds Force emerged as major players in the civil war in Syria, where, assisted by Hezbollah fighters, they have been supporting forces loyal to Bashar al-Assad, Iran's main ally in the region.19
The terror operations of the Revolutionary Guards and the Quds Force landed Iran atop the U.S. and EU lists of state sponsors of terror. Featured on the State Department list since 1984, Iran, according to the 2016 report, "remained the foremost state sponsor of terrorism in 2015, providing a range of support, including financial, training and equipment, to groups around the world."20
The United States has designated Iran a state sponsor of terror since 1984 and has sanctioned an amalgamation of the Revolutionary Guards and the Quds unit as well as individuals and companies affiliated with them as a "foreign terrorist organization" (FTO). This designation has triggered a series of sanctions on Iran, including denial of U.S. foreign assistance, a ban on arms sales, restrictions on the sale of dual-use items, a prohibition on certain transactions and imports, the blocking of property owned by individuals linked to the Revolutionary Guards including the Quds Force and senior commanders, Bank Saderat, and air and cargo companies connected with the Quds Force and Hezbollah. By one account, Iran came under some 40 different sanctions for its support of terror groups in the Middle East and beyond.21
Complicating the plans of the custodians is the policy of causing provocations in the waters of the Gulf instituted by the naval branch of the Revolutionary Guards, the Neyroye Daryaee Sepah-e Iran (NEDSA) — the Sepah Navy Special Force — under the command of Rear Admiral Ali Fadlavi. Since July 2015, NEDSA has been involved in eight incidents, most of which were against American vessels patrolling the Gulf. Reportedly the boats have a speed of over 110 knots (203 km/h) and are equipped with heavy machine guns and 107 mm or other similar rocket launchers and missiles, including Zafar, Nasr, Noor and Ghader. These are radar-guided anti-ship cruise missiles capable of destroying 1,500-ton targets and damaging even larger ones.22
Reportedly, the Revolutionary Guards have 3,000 to 5,000 speedboats of different types: Zulfikar, Tundar, Tir, Seraj and Ya-Mahdi, an unmanned craft speedboat used for bait-and-switch tactics against larger vessels. Based on the British Bladerunner, they are almost 23 meters in length and have a 12.7 mm rifle in the stern and a 23 mm single artillery piece in the bow and a 107 mm multiple-rocket launcher.23
In January 2016, the NEDSA units seized two American riverine boats and held their 10 sailors overnight. More typically, however, the boats approach American vessels at high speed before turning around.24
Recalling that the negotiated political order grants the Rouhani administration little influence over the parastatal Revolutionary Guards, harassment of American vessels is an effective way to tarnish the normalization project. Not entirely surprisingly, Ayatollah Khamenei, who accepted the nuclear deal under economic duress, seemed to have blessed the NEDSA initiative. Just months after the deal was signed, on October 7, 2015, Ayatollah Khamenei praised the Revolutionary Guards' naval units for their "vigilance" in the Persian Gulf. The recent encounters have brought more praise from the supreme leader and the media outlets that support him.25 As long as the naval harassment is kept within certain limits, it is not expected to destroy the custodians' goals. However, analysts have commented that such a policy could get out of control and trigger a major conflict in the Gulf. General Joseph Votel, head of the U.S. military's Central Command, recently noted that "in a relatively compressed space here, there is great opportunity for miscalculations."26
Iran's increasingly fraught relations with Saudi Arabia have the potential for an even higher escalation. Mindful of the importance of the Saudis, Rouhani and — before he died — Ayatollah Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, chairman of the Expediency Discernment Council and a key figure in the custodian coalition, took steps to normalize relations with the kingdom. On January 2, 2016, when Riyadh, determined to clamp down on Shia protests in the Eastern Province — allegedly driven by Iranian parastatals — executed prominent Shia cleric Sheikh Nimr al Nimr, on charges of terrorism and conspiring with Iran, the Rouhani government cautioned restraint. However, a crowd, organized by Hassan Kordmihan on orders from Reza Panahian, a member of the hardline Haqqani School network of Ayatollah Mohammed-Taqi Mesbah Yazdi, stormed the Saudi embassy in Tehran, prompting the Saudis to terminate relations with the regime. Rafsanjani's subsequent efforts to calm the situation did not bear fruit either, not least because of Khamenei's virulent anti-Saudi rhetoric. In his September 5, 2016, message for the annual Hajj pilgrimage, Khamenei was particularly offensive, calling on Muslim countries to recognize the true nature of the Saudi rulers, who are "criminals, and servants of the American Satan and the Zionists."27
Like an unexpected naval escalation, a terror-driven provocation against Saudi Arabia can quickly get out of control, undermining the credibility of the custodians. Since there have been reports that, under the recently installed King Salman and his son the defense minister, Saudi Arabia has created its own counterterror forces, the probability of a major skirmish has gone up.28
REFORMING THE IRANIAN ECONOMY
When running for office in 2013, President Rouhani promised to reform the economy, ravaged by years of mismanagement, corruption, populism and sanctions. Indeed, the hope of economic improvement drove the popular support for the nuclear deal. Within days of signing the JCPOA, President Rouhani declared in an open letter to First Vice President Eshaq Jahangiri his intention to heal the economy by focusing on the banking system. The pledges were popular enough to give Rouhani an edge in the 2016 Majlis election.
After analyzing the problems, the administration concluded that the cornerstone of economic recovery should be reform of the banking system, which had operated for decades "with low capital-adequacy requirements and inadequate regulatory and supervisory mechanisms." As a result, the banks were hobbled with a large inventory of nonperforming loans and lacked capital for extending credit to businesses. Veliollah Seif, the governor of Iran's Central Bank, commented that financial mismanagement had left Iran's financial system in "tatters." The Banking Overhaul Plan, signed into law by Rouhani in July 2016, was designed to remedy the situation. An official government website promised "to get financing for short- and medium-term projects back on track, provide a cash cushion to tackle bad loans, promote competition, reorder the money market by regulating the army of uncertified credit and financial institutions, and increase banks' lending power by raising their capital."29
Much as the law was appreciated, it did not go far enough to secure Foreign Direct Investment (FDI). Indeed, the custodians hoped to cash in on the JCPOA's promise of FDI, especially as the country's critical oil and gas sectors had become badly degraded under years of mismanagement and sanctions. But, as Seif put it, the "Iranian banks are outdated" for attracting FDI; they are "behind international norms and standards." The Central Bank governor's somewhat oblique reference pertained to the 1999 UN International Convention on the Suppression of the Financing of Terrorism.30
The Financial Action Task Force (FATF), is an international watchdog that was created soon afterward to monitor compliance with the convention. On February 19, 2016, the FATF described itself as "particularly and exceptionally concerned about Iran's failure to address the risk of terrorist financing and the serious threat this poses to the integrity of the international financial system." In addition to advising member states to guard against all transactions with Iran, the FATF also recommended that members continue to apply countermeasures, such as enhanced due diligence on transactions and systematic reporting requirements.31
For the custodians of the normalization project, the strong language of the FATF was a reminder of what they knew all along: that Iran would not be able to access the FDI investment market without joining the convention, renamed the Terrorist Financing Convention (TFC). On August 4, 2015, the Majlis voted to join the 1999 convention. On March 5, 2016, The Guardian Council approved the legislation, paving the way for a membership application. As a rule, states participating in the TFC have been required to enact national legislation that criminalizes acts of terrorist financing.32
In the past, the Revolutionary Guards unequivocally opposed such legislation, but the post-JCPOA period presented them with some complex choices. As president, Hashemi Rafsanjani (1989-97) had helped transform the Revolutionary Guards from a strictly military organization into a leading economic and political entity. Rafsanjani's privatization policy let the Guards take control of several confiscated companies and established their signature Khatam al-Anbiya Construction Headquarters. They have subsequently branched out into agriculture, mining, telecommunications, transportation, and import and export services.33 The principalist Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who came to power with the help of the Revolutionary Guards, dramatically increased their economic standing. More than half of his cabinet members were either Revolutionary Guards veterans or had ongoing ties to the organization. The Guards were awarded hundreds of no-bid government contracts and billions of dollars for construction and energy programs.34
To mask their extensive economic empire, the Revolutionary Guards eschewed the traditional "pyramid ownership structure" in favor of an elaborate network of hundreds of nominally private companies normally run by Revolutionary Guards veterans, or subsidiaries that own shares in other companies. The total number of parastatal companies is thus very difficult to estimate. For example, based on registered companies on the Tehran Stock Exchange (TSE), the Revolutionary Guards are the major stockholders in approximately 250 major companies out of the 700 listed. Of the 36 banks and major financial intuitions, some 12 are said to be owned by or related to the Revolutionary Guards.35
As large stakeholders in the economy, the Revolutionary Guards have shared the custodians' desire for an infusion of foreign capital, especially in the oil, gas and mining sectors. For instance, the new lease in the gigantic South Pars field would require intensive investment. According to Bijan Namdar Zangeneh, Iran would need $200 billion in foreign investment to develop its oil industry. The minister estimated that $130 billion was needed for exploration and extraction projects and $70 billion for crude processing and marketing.36
In what was an even more significant move, the government started questioning the Revolutionary Guards' ability to develop large projects in an expedient and economically sound way. A confidential review urged that a top Revolutionary Guards project be scaled back — the multibillion-dollar bullet train, awarded to them by Ahmadinejad — and that some of the contracts be granted to Western companies. Put on the defensive, Brigadier General Ebadallah Abdollahi, the head of Khatam al Anbiya, stated that his organization could manage without foreign inputs, but analysts noted that the Revolutionary Guards started hiring foreign consultants and tapping other foreign resources.37
On the other hand, revealing the identity of this extensive network of holdings, a FATF requirement, would jeopardize the Revolutionary Guards' control over their domain. This conflict of interest has not escaped the Guards' chief, Ali Jafari, who took a hard line in public. He called for reviving the so-called "resistance economy," a policy advocated by Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and other Abadgaran figures to express their opposition to integrating with the world economy. According to the principalists, Iran should develop its economy without relying on the outside world. It was Jafari's first significant speech on the resistance economy since November 2014, prompting some observers to conclude that the Revolutionary Guards would revert to the role of unconstrained spoilers. The supreme leader took an equally tough stand on the resistance economy, not least because the top clerical establishment was convinced that opening to the world would lead to an erosion of Islamic values. Interestingly, in February 2016, Ahmadinejad, in an apparent appeal to the Revolutionary Guards, launched his bid for reelection under the banner of "resistance economy."38
In spite of the public posturing, behind-the-scenes maneuvering revealed a more nuanced reality. Far from assuming the role of an unmitigated spoiler, the Revolutionary Guards have been forced to engage with the Rouhani administration over a whole range of issues. On terror financing, the government essentially presented the Revolutionary Guards and the supreme leader with a fait accompli. On June 12, 2016, Iran joined the Eurasian Group, a FATF-style regional body that is expected to provide assistance with the implementation of anti-laundering laws. British authorities have also stepped up their help to Rouhani by providing reform assistance to three banks, Persia International Bank, Melli Bank and Sepah Bank International. The Melli and Sepah banks, once the premier outlets for illicit transactions, announced that they would not service Revolutionary Guards accounts, including that of the giant construction concern Al Anbiya.39 Some Tehran insiders predicted that the Rouhani administration would force other banks to comply with FATF-style policies, limiting the Revolutionary Guards' access to banking services.40
In yet another important development, Ayatollah Khamenei barred the aggressive Ahmadinejad from running in 2017. Although no official reason was given, according to insiders, the supreme leader did not want to see the benefits of the JCPOA destroyed. As the supreme leader admitted, Ahmadinejad "came to me and I told him not to stand for election. It will create polar opposites and divisions…which would damage the country."41
The poor human-rights record of the Islamic Republic has concerned the international community for decades. Iran has been censured by the United States, the European Union and the United Nations. In 1985, Iran was "the fourth country ever in the history of the United Nations" to be placed on the agenda of the General Assembly because of the severity and extent of its abuses of human rights.42
Over the years, Iran has been accused of a wide range of violations of minority rights, gender rights, gay rights, religious rights, civil rights and political rights. The regime has been notorious for its mistreatment and torture of prisoners, extrajudicial killings, excessive use of capital punishment, and harsh sentencing guidelines, even for minors. During the tenure of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, 2005-13, Iran's human-rights record deteriorated badly. Human Rights Watch reported that executions increased from 86 in 2005 to 317 in 2007. There were long and arbitrary detentions of "peaceful activists, journalists, students and human-rights defenders," who had often been charged with "acting against national security." The UN General Assembly in 2008 voted to express "deep concern" for Iran's human-rights record, particularly "cases of torture, the high incidence of executions and juvenile executions ... the persecution of women seeking their human rights, discrimination against minorities and attacks on minority groups like the Bahais in state media." Protests over the "stolen election" of 2009 saw scores killed, hundreds arrested (including dozens of opposition leaders) and a wholesale suppression of the media.43
Despite Rouhani's promise to improve this lamentable record, things have hardly changed. Ahmed Shaheed, the UN special rapporteur on human rights in Iran, noted that in 2015 the number of executions reached 977, compared to 743 the year before. Other forms of persecution and harassment have also increased. The statistics for the first half of 2016 were even worse. On July 29, the Iran Human Rights Documentation Center and the Abdorrahman Boroumand Foundation, an independent institution monitoring human rights in Iran, reported 386 executions. In a telltale sign of oppressive practices, prosecution of so-called lifestyle crimes, including enforcement of the Islamic dress code for women, has increased. There has been a renewed push to enforce the ban on female sports fans in stadiums, an issue debated since 1979. As a rule, attempts to prevent women from enjoying sports have been a barometer of attitudes toward the Sharia-compliant lifestyle.44
In a more ominous turn, an increasing number of dual-nationality Iranians have been targeted. At least seven have been arrested since October 2015, many of whom stand accused of spying or attempting to undermine the Iranian system. Iranian-American businessmen Siamak Namazi and Reza "Robin" Shahini were arrested on suspicion of crimes against the Islamic Republic on October 27, 2015, and July 11, 2016, respectively. The British-Iranian citizen Abdol Rasul Dori Esfahani, a member of Rouhani's nuclear negotiation team, was arrested for selling economic information to foreign countries.45 The arrests and trials of these and other dual citizens have attracted intense publicity in the West and deepened the perception that Iran does not comply with international standards of human rights.
In another high-profile case, on August 3, 2016, Iran executed Shahram Amiri, a former nuclear expert who defected to the United States. Under intense pressure, including death threats to his family, Amiri returned to Iran on July 14, 2010, and was sentenced to 10 years in prison. But Gholam-Hossein Mohseni-Ejei, the first deputy to the chief justice of Iran, insisted that Amiri had been sentenced to death at his original trial. Analysts have speculated that his unexpected execution, covered extensively by the American media, was yet another ploy by the hardliners to undermine Rouhani's normalization effort.46
The president and his fellow custodians understand that, without improving Iran's human-rights record, the normalization project and reintegration into the community of nations will be hobbled. Rouhani has tried to curb the violations of human rights and implied that conformity with a Sharia-imposed lifestyle should not be coerced. On one occasion, Rouhani stated, "You can't send people to heaven by the whip," a clear rebuke of the clerical establishment. On another occasion, a challenge arose over female fans in sports stadiums. Hardliners argued that letting women into sports stadiums would be altogether anti-Islamic and would promote prostitution. Iravani Religious Seminary teamed up with Ansar-e-Hezbollah to distribute leaflets around Tehran calling for action to ensure women were kept out of stadiums. Some of the leaflets they distributed warned of a "bloody uprising."47
Unfortunately for the custodians, the spoilers held virtual control over human-rights issues, because of the peculiarities of the negotiated political order. Following the revolution, the judicial system was restructured to comply with the principles of sharia, although some types of civil status were retained. In addition to the network of public courts, both civil and criminal, the Islamic Revolutionary Courts are in charge of special and often ill-defined offenses such as crimes against national security and crimes that undermine the Islamic Republic. The Special Clerical Courts are independent of the regular judiciary system and accountable to the supreme leader alone. The Special Clerical Courts, whose sentences cannot be appealed, serve to prosecute dissident clerics and others who present a theological danger to the regime.
A number of Revolutionary Court justices, including Abolghassem Salavati, Mohammad Moghiseh, Yahya Pirabbasi and Hassan Zareh Dehnavi, have notorious track records in handing down death sentences or long prison terms. Pirabbasi has been known to take an especially activist stand against human-rights lawyers, students, journalists, and the Christian and Bahai minorities. Salavati has also been in charge of dual-nationality Iranians.48
In yet another peculiarity of the political order, hardline elites have virtually exclusive control in the extensive surveillance and punishment regimes. Ansar e-Hezbollah, a radical group affiliated with the Basij, has reaffirmed its vow to carry out motorbike patrols in Tehran's streets to enforce Islamic norms and "promote virtue and prevent vice." Ansar activists have also taken action to block women from entering sporting arenas.
On April 18, 2016, Gasht-e Ershad (Guidance Patrols), supported by the Basij militia, the main agency tasked with enforcing Iran's Islamic code of conduct in public, launched a renewed campaign to force observance of Islamic norms of behavior in public or even private spaces. As before, enforcing the hijab is high on their agenda.49 The Guidance Patrols have the right to admonish suspects, impose fines and arrest people. The Basij also is empowered to destroy satellite dishes and receivers as part of a widespread crackdown against devices they say "deviate [sic] morality and culture."50
Not surprisingly, the inability of the Rouhani administration to curb human-rights abuses has generated widespread disappointment both domestically and abroad. The liberal United States Institute of Peace, normally sympathetic to Iranian moderates, issued a report entitled "Rouhani Failed on Human Rights Reform." Opponents of the regime in Washington who fought hard against the JCPOA were even more outspoken. Tower, a publication of the Israel Project, a pro-Israel advocacy, has routinely reported information on the dire human-rights record under Rouhani.51
There is little doubt that the custodians have been unhappy about the human-rights record, not least because they expect it to be used in the 2017 presidential election. Having manipulated human rights to discredit the presidency of the moderate Ayatollah Mohammed Khatami, hardliners would do it again. As a matter of fact, it is the domestic audience that matters most in this intricate human-rights game. Delegitimizing the custodians in the international arena is, of course, a substantial side benefit for the spoilers. At the same time, a poor human-rights record is not enough to undermine the entire normalization project.
The process of normalization and reintegration into the community of nations is intimately bound up with the political future of the custodians. Unlike a state treaty that is binding, the JCPOA is a controversial deal that depends on the political health of Rouhani and other custodians. Hard-core spoilers have made clear that they would try to sabotage it in whatever ways they can. The outcome of the 2016 Majlis election indicates that the custodians have the upper hand, but next year's presidential election is crucial. Should Rouhani lose, normalization would be thwarted. However, the JCPOA is not likely to be abandoned; most spoilers do not want to see sanctions return.
Still, spoilers can either use terror or take advantage of an accidental escalation or limited military action spearheaded by the Revolutionary Guards or their naval units. The latter scenario is particularly troublesome; it is difficult to control the dynamics of terror-driven encounters. A catastrophic attack against Saudi Arabia, for instance, or a blow-up in the waters of the Persian Gulf has the potential to undermine the credibility of the normalization project.
Less explosive but potentially vexing is the strong linkage between foreign capitals and internationally accepted banking standards. Spoilers' resistance to bank reforms may jeopardize future capital inflows and damage the custodians' trump card of economic recovery. Even human rights, unlikely to be a total spoiler, may tarnish the normalization project and make it harder for the custodians and their supporters abroad to maintain credibility.
For those who have hoped that the JCPOA would bring an instant change, this study is sobering. Rouhani and other custodians have gone further than any previous reformers in altering the system in a meaningful way. But much more time is needed to undermine the parastatal elites acting as spoilers.
For others, notably Western opponents of the JCPOA, who have tried to use sanctions to undermine the custodians, the message should be even more somber. External pressure would undoubtedly delegitimize the normalizers and tip the balance of power in favor of the spoilers. In such a scenario, the collapse of the JCPOA cannot be ruled out, a process that could lead to a new round of conflict in the already fraught region.
1 A coalition of pragmatic conservatives headed by Ayatollahs Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani and Hassan Rouhani, who argue that the revolutionary ethos is too costly for the nation and Iran should reintegrate into the international system, especially in the economic sphere.
2 Stephen John Stedman, "Spoiler Problems in Peace Processes," International Security 22 (Fall 1997): 5-53.
3 Galia Golan, "Israeli Peacemaking since 1967: Factors behind the Breakthroughs and Failures," UCLA Center for Middle East Development, 2014.
4 Stedman, "Spoiler Problems in Peace Processes."
5 Ofira Seliktar, "Reading Tehran in Washington, The Problem of Defining the Fundamentalist Regime in Iran and Assessing the Prospect for Political Change," in Political Islam from Muhammad to Ahmadinejad: Defenders, Detractors, and Definitions, ed. Skelly (Praeger, 2010), 163-181.
6 Moshe Ya'alon, "Current Iran Framework Will Make War More Likely," Washington Post, April 8, 2015; David E. Sanger and William J. Broad, "In Iran Talks, U.S. Seeks to Prevent a Covert Weapon," New York Times, November 22, 2014; and JCPOA, "Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action," July 14, 2015, https://www.justsecurity.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/271545626-Iran-….
7 Ishaan Tharoor, "The Historic Nuclear Deal with Iran: How It Works," Washington Post, July 14, 2015, https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/worldviews/wp/2015/07/14/the-histor…; and JCPOA, "Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action."
8 Moshe Ya'alon, "Current Iran Framework Will Make War More Likely," Washington Post.
9 Board of Governors, Verification and Monitoring in the Islamic Republic of Iran in light of United Nations Security Council Resolution 2231 (2015), GOV/INF/2016/1, Report by the Director General, January 16, 2016.
10 Full 10th Parliament Composition, https://goo.gl/qFOuwp.
11 UNSC Resolution 2231, July 20, 2015; UNSC Resolution 1929, June 9, 2010; "Appendix E: Iran's Ballistic Missiles and the Nuclear Deal," Arms Control Association, August 11, 2015, https://www.armscontrol.org/reports/Solving-the-Iranian-Nuclear-Puzzle-…; and ACA; and "Addressing Iran's Ballistic Missiles in the JCPOA and UNSC Resolution, 7, 8," Arms Control Association, July 27, 2015, www.armscontrol.org/Issue-Briefs/2015-07-27/Addressing-Irans-Ballistic-….
12 Colum Lynch, "Washington Made It Easy on Iran to Fire Its Ballistic Missiles," Foreign Policy, March 16, 2016, http://foreignpolicy.com/2016/03/16/washington-made-it-easy-for-iran-to-fire-its-ballistic-missiles/.
13 "Iran Tested a 2000 km-Ranged Ballistic Missiles with a Margin of 'Error of 8 Meters,'" Tasnim News Agency, www.tasnimnews.com/fa/news/1395/02/20/1070402; and Tamar Pileggi, "Iran Claims to Successfully Test Missile That Can Reach Israel," May 9, 2016, Times of Israel, www.timesofisrael.com/iran-claims-to-successfully-test-missile-that-can-reach-israel/.
14 IRGC Chief, "Enemies Should Fear of the Guards' Missiles," Press TV, www.presstv.ir/DetailFa/2016/03/08/454527/IRGC-commander-ballistic-miss….
15 "Tel Aviv and Haifa Will Turn to Dust If the Leaders of the Zionist Regime Make a Mistake," Rajan News, www.rajanews.com/news/136566; and "Western Media's Attention towards a Banner on Zolfikar Missile," Ilna News Agency, September 21, 2016, https://goo.gl/pYI6hk.
16 Ayatollah Khomeini speech, Jomhorie Eslami Newspaper, April 20-21, 1980.
18 Yael Shahar, "The History of Iranian Sponsored Terrorism: Al-Qaida's Links to Iranian Security Services," www.higginsctc.org/terrorism/Iraniansponsoredterrorism.htm.
19 Michael R. Gordon and Andrew W. Lehren, "Leaked Reports Detail Iran's Aid for Iraqi Militias," October 22, 2010, www.nytimes.com/2010/10/23/world/middleeast/23iran.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0; Warren Strobel and Mark Hosenball, "Elite Iranian Guards Training Yemen's Houthis: U.S. Officials," Reuters, March 27, 2015, www.reuters.com/article/us-yemen-security-houthis-iran-idUSKBN0MN2MI20150327; and Bill Roggio and Amir Toumaj, "Qods Force General Vows to Fight in Iraq and Syria until the Last Jihadist is Killed," Long War Journal, June 17, 2016, www.longwarjournal.org/archives/2016/06/qods-force-general-vows-to-fight-in-iraq-and-syria-until-the-last-jihadis-is-killed.php.
20 Strategic Assessment Bureau of Counterterrorism and Countering Violent Extremism, Country Reports on Terrorism 2015, chapter 1, www.state.gov/j/ct/rls/crt/2015/257513.htm.
21 "Sanctions Against Iran: A Guide to Targets, Terms, and Timetables," June 2015, belfercenter.ksg.harvard.edu/files/Iran%20Sanctions.pdf; "Executive Order 13224 — Blocking Property and Prohibiting Transactions With Persons Who Commit, Threaten To Commit, or Support Terrorism Notice of September 24, 2001 — Continuation of Emergency With Respect to UNITA," https://www.treasury.gov/resource-center/sanctions/Documents/13224.pdf; and "NYT Readers Respond to Zarif's Article: 'Iran Is Leading Sponsor of Terrorism,'" Asharq Al-Awsat, September 17, 2016, english.aawsat.com/2016/09/article55358491/nyt-readers-respond-zarifs-article-iran-leading-sponsor-terrorism.
22 An Overview of the IRGC Speedboats, Mashregh News, https://goo.gl/rGiDx9.
24 TIP, "U.S.-Iran Naval Encounters," The Iranian Primer, United States Institute of Peace (TIP), September 7, 2016, http://iranprimer.usip.org/blog/2016/aug/29/timeline-us-iran-naval-encounters.
25 "Awarding Fath Medal to the Commander who Arrested American Invaders," Ayatollah Khamenei's website, September 26, 2016, farsi.khamenei.ir/news-content?id=32124.
26 TIP, "U.S.-Iran Naval Encounters."
27 "Hashemi: 'It Doesn't Hurt If We First Offer Our Hand to Saudi Arabia,'" JAM News, September 4, 2016, www.jamnews.ir/detail/News/712527; "There Is a Blood Sea between Iran and Saudi Arabia," Fars News Agency, September 9, 2016, www.farsnews.com/newstext.php?nn=13950619000247; and "Leader of the Revolution; Saudi Arabia Has No Credibility to Administer the Holy Sites," Fars News Agency, September 7, 2016, www.farsnews.com/newstext.php?nn=13950617000839.
28 "In Major Political Reshuffle, Saudi King Salman Names Counter-terrorism Czar as New Crown Prince," First Post, April 29, 2015, www.firstpost.com/world/in-major-political-reshuffle-saudi-king-salman-…; and Bruce Riedel, "Meet the Saudi Prince of Counter-Terrorism," Newsweek, March 10, 2015.
29 "Rouhani Signs Banking Loan into Law," Financial Tribune, July 2, 2016, financialtribune.com/articles/economy-business-and-markets/44712/rouhani-signs-banking-reform-plan-law.
31 FATF Public Statement — February 19, 2016, www.fatf-gafi.org/publications/high-riskandnon-cooperativejurisdictions/documents/public-statement-february-2016.html.
32 "Zangeneh: Oil Industry Needs 200 Billion Dollars Investment," Iran Economist, May 8, 2016, https://goo.gl/5SRtjK.
33 Farhad Rezaei and Somayeh Khodaei, "The Revolutionary Guards: From Spoiler to Accepter of the Nuclear Agreement," British Journal of Middle Eastern Studies, July 2016.
36 "Zangeneh: Oil Industry Needs 200 Billion Dollars Investment."
37 Benoit Fauçon et al., "Iran's Government and Revolutionary Guard Battle for Control of Economy," Wall Street Journal, May 18, 2016.
38 "Commander Jafari: All of the Guards' Capability for Resistance Economy Is in the Government's Service," Fars News Agency, April 5, 2016, www.farsnews.com/13950117000830; Tamer Badawi, "Iranian Economic Reform between Rouhani and the Guards," Carnegie Endowment for August 12, 2015, http://carnegieendowment.org/sada/60999; and Scott Lucas, "Revolutionary Guards Turn against Nuclear Deal," EA Worldview, April, 6, 2016.
39 "Iran Joined the Eurasian Group," Fars News Agency, June 12, 2016, www.farsnews.com/13950323000767; Martin Arnold, "British Regulators Help Iranian Banks Come in From the Cold," Financial Times, January 31, 2016, http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/54144ec2-c692-11e5-b3b1-7b2481276e45.html.
40 "Government Under Attack for Implementing FATF," Aftab News Agency, September 6, 2016, https://goo.gl/k8z40J; "What the FATF Solicitous (Delvapasan) Are Looking for?" Bartarinha, September 23, 2016, https://goo.gl/q23D7Z.
41 "Statements at the Beginning of Theological Class," Ayatollah Khamenei's website, farsi.khamenei.ir/speech-content?id=34459.
42 R. Cooper, The Bahaís of Iran: The Minority Rights Group Report 51 (London, UK: The Minority Rights Group LTD, 1995).
43 Ali Akbar Dareini, "Iran Accuses U.S. of Meddling after Disputed Vote," International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran, June 17, 2009, http://www.google.com/hostednews/ap/article/ALeqM5jGSJEAPs_r2T2wxsL5G3t4z-jajQD98SIN8O1; Borzou Daragahi, "Hardliners Threaten to Depose Ahmadinejad over Defiance," Los Angeles Times, July 29, 2009, latimes.com/2009/jul/29/world/fg-iran29; "UN Secretary General's Report on the Situation of Human Rights in Iran," International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran, February 16, 2015, http://www.iranhumanrights.org/themes/documents/un-secretary-general-report.html; "United Nations General Assembly 'Deeply Concerned' about Human Rights Conditions," International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran, December 18 2008, http://www.iranhumanrights.org/themes/news/single-news/article/united-nations-general-assembly-deeply-concerned-about-human-rights-conditions.html; and "Iran Reformists Arrested after Tehran Riots," The National, June 14, 2009, www.thenational.ae/news/world/middle-east/iran-reformists-arrested-after-street-protests.
44 Amnesty International, "Death Penalty 2015: Alarming Surge in Recorded Executions Sees Highest Toll in More Than 25 Years," April 6, 2016, https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2016/04/alarming-surge-in-recorded-executions-sees-highest-toll-in-more-than-25-years/; Human Rights and Democracy for Iran (A Project of the Abdorrahman Boroumand Foundation), "Reported Executions 2016," http://www.iranrights.org, last accessed Sept. 20, 2016; and "Ansar e-Hezbollah Letter to Interior Minister," YJC, September 16, 2014, https://goo.gl/W2I4Gw.
45 Siamak Namazi, "The Fourth Iranian-American Arrested in Iran," Radio Farda, October 27, 2015, www.radiofarda.com/a/f3-namazi-arrested/27329259.html; "Information about Detaining of Member of the Nuclear Negotiation Team," Nasim Online, August 24, 2016, https://goo.gl/TK9x27.
46 Greg Miller and Thomas Erdbrink, "U.S. Paid Iranian Nuclear Scientist $5 Million for Aid to CIA, Officials Say," Washington Post, July 15, 2010, http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/07/14/AR2010071405898.html; Courtney Fennell, "Cryptic Clinton Emails May Refer to Iranian Scientist," CNN, September 2, 2015, http://edition.cnn.com/2015/09/02/politics/clinton-email-shahram-amiri/; "Execution of Shahram Amiri," Iranian Students News Agency, https://goo.gl/KHmXhF; "Execution of Iranian Nuclear Scientist Reveals Tensions between Liberals and Hardliners," The Conversation, August 11, 2016, theconversation.com/execution-of-iranian-nuclear-scientist-reveals-tensions-between-liberals-and-hardliners-63683.
48 Iradj Mesdaghi, "Judge Salavati One of the Agents of Crime against Humanity," Iran Global, August 31, 2013, www.iranglobal.info/node/24337.
49 "Mobilizing of 7 Thousand Police for Morality Police," Kayhan Newspaper, https://goo.gl/wYq2vT.
50 "Destroying 100,000 Satellite Dishes," Etemad Newspaper, July 24, 2016, etemadnewspaper.ir/Default.aspx?News_Id=49721.
51 Lisa Canak, "Rouhani Fails on Human Rights Reforms," August 12, 2016, iranprimer.usip.org/blog/2016/jun/14/rouhani-fails-human-rights-reforms; and "Latest UN Report on Human Rights in Iran: More Executions, Fewer," The Tower, March 11, 2016, www.thetower.org/2076-latest-un-report-on-human-rights-in-iran-more-executions-fewer-freedoms/.
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