After the Iran nuclear deal, a group of Iranian dissidents met with researchers at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs to discuss Iran in the post-agreement era, as part of the Center’s long-term project analyzing the Iranian role in the Middle East. While the dissidents who visited Israel cannot be identified, two Israeli experts who met with them describe the outcome of the meeting.
Dr. Avi Davidi, Director of the Jerusalem Center’s Iran project, said,
The goal of this study was to generate a dialogue between Israeli researchers and experts and Iranian activists outside of Iran – former diplomats and former revolutionaries, student leaders, civil rights activists, researchers, some with family still in Iran, some who are very active outside of Iran. We wanted to see how both of us – we share the same concerns for the region – how we see the changes and developments after the JCPOA in the Middle East and internationally.
The majority of the participants believe that Iran will withdraw from its commitments and obligations as soon as it improves its economy and its international position. They do believe that this regime specifically has not given up any desire for acquiring any kind of nuclear weapon.
Those whom we met with agree that the most important and the most challenging phase right now in Iran is who will lead Iran after Khamenei. We don’t have any specific personality who has been pointed out either by him or other groups as the potential next leader.
Another aspect of the domestic issues we discussed is the economy. Many believe that in order to improve the economy Iran needs massive foreign investment. But this massive foreign investment requires a massive reform in the current economic foundations and infrastructure. Those who understand the Iranian economy explained that the current system needs a massive reform and that this specific clean-up will lead to a political explosion. They did not see that the removal of sanctions will bring immediately a significant and considerable change in the economy of Iran.
Asked if he expected Iran to become more liberal and moderate after the JCPOA, Brig.-Gen. (res.) Yossi Kuperwasser, former head of research of IDF Military Intelligence, said,
This is what the supporters of the deal, especially the American administration, was trying to say was going to happen. The people we spoke with, the Iranians in exile, were of the exactly opposite opinion. I think that their position is more accurate. Because of the JCPOA, now the regime feels much more confident and there is no intention to let the reformist-realistic elements like Rouhani have an upper hand in what is going on inside Iran. As a matter of fact, the abuse of human rights in Iran grew after the JCPOA and the assessment of the Iranians we spoke with was that this was the way things are going to be in the future. All those who were misleading the international community by saying that this is a real possibility – according to the Iranians, and I think they are quite right – are doing that just to justify a bad deal so that people will say there is some hope at the end of the tunnel. The Iranian dissidents don’t see it.
Asked if the Revolutionary Guards have been weakened by the nuclear deal, Davidi said:
At this stage after the nuclear deal, the JCPOA brought some sort of changing position of the hardliners, the IRGC and the house of the leader. In this power struggle between these two camps, between these two factions, the challenge for Khamanei is to show that he did not give up or compromise any of the revolutionary principles. It was an act of heroic flexibility that he expressed in order to get to the negotiations and to get this nuclear agreement.
The West forgot that actually this regime is a revolutionary regime, is a regime of ideology. This specific agreement granted legitimacy to the regime that suppresses its own people. People there are interested in transformation to democracy by having more freedom and more human rights.
The future of the Middle East is going to be different than the one we could have envisioned before the JCPOA. First of all, as seen by everybody in the region, it is a reflection of the weakness of the West and that opens the gate for Iran to extend its influence in the Middle East and become not only a hegemonic power in the Middle East, but also an international player. That’s what they actually want. The West was not ready to confront Iran. Because of that it chose to make a deal with Iran and that proves that the Iranians were having the upper hand.
In the Middle East itself, it made the parties in the Middle East so frustrated that they immediately understood that they cannot rely any more on the West, so the new partner they chose is Israel. And that is why we see there is growing cooperation between them and Israel and this cooperation is even becoming more public, not only underneath the surface. That, by itself, brought another change and that was that the Palestinians were worried about their issue becoming marginalized, and that’s how the Palestinians decided that they should actually embark on a new wave of terrorism to remind the world that they are here and somebody has to take care of them as well.
Regarding the future of Iranian-Israeli relations, Kuperwasser said:
This opportunity of discussing the situation in the Middle East in the international arena and especially in Iran itself between Israeli scholars and Iranian experts – Iranians that are involved in the ongoing battle about the future of Iran – was not only interesting but is also important because it was by itself a proof that the Iranian people and the people of Israel have common interests. We can discuss these matters.
See also the full study, Iran in the Post-Nuclear Deal Era: Iranian Dissidents’ Perspective, by Brig.-Gen. (res.) Yossi Kuperwasser and Dr. Avi Davidi