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Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs
Strategic Alliances for a Secure, Connected, and Prosperous Region

Will Iran Display “Heroic Flexibility” and Negotiate with the United States?

Filed under: Iran

Will Iran Display “Heroic Flexibility” and Negotiate with the United States?
The Iranian Republic’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and Intelligence Minister Mahmoud Alavi1

Intelligence Minister Hajat Al-Islam Mahmoud Alavi declared on May 21, 2019, the need to show “heroic flexibility” to enable the survival of the Islamic regime. These words seem to be in paradox to the inflammatory statements recently exchanged between Iran and the United States. The Iranian Supreme Leader and president have rejected any negotiations with Washington under current conditions.

The Iranian Republic’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and Intelligence Minister Mahmoud Alavi1

Alavi spoke in the province of Kermanshah, on the border with Iraq (Iraq was mentioned as possibly mediating between Iran and the United States in the current crisis, and Iranian Foreign Minister Zarif visited Baghdad May 25-26.) Alavi said that the leadership of the Shi’ite community (Imamat) does not insist that the path of uprising is consistently taken. Sometimes a passive strategy is best to save those who walk in the path of the Imam, the Prophet Muhammad, and the Wilayat al-Faqih  (The Guardianship of the Islamic Jurist, Supreme Leader Khamenei.)

“Heroic Flexibility”

Alavi cites the Iranian Leader from 2013 (when he gave the green light to conduct the nuclear negotiations with the P5+1 nations.)2 The Iranian leader said that Imam Hassan Mujtaba (the second Imam, 624-670 CE) demonstrated extraordinary “heroic flexibility” in order to defend Islam at the beginning of its path when it was riven by civil war. Following his example, Khamenei counseled the Iranian diplomats to show heroic flexibility, determination, and faith in order to achieve Iran’s strategic goals. He noted that the negotiations conducted by Imam Hassan Mujtaba with Muawiya, the first Caliph and founder of the Umayyad dynasty, are a historic prototype for successful negotiating. This negotiating model should be imitated today, even as Iran takes into account ever-changing international circumstances. Khamenei’s expression “heroic flexibility” was perceived as readiness for a certain amount of negotiating flexibility.

Shia clerics tell of the peace treaty between Imam Hassan Mujtaba (son of Imam Ali and Fatma Zahara, the daughter of the Prophet Muhammad) and his bitter rival Caliph Muawiya. This story is retold to prepare the people for compromises with anyone defined as an enemy. Shortly after the inception of Islam, Imam Hassan Mujtaba gave up his claim to the Caliphate crown. He did this despite being convinced that it was rightly his. He died when his food was poisoned (supposedly at the hand of his wife).

Alavi called on the leaders of the regime to publicize the many injustices the Iranian people suffer at the hand of the enemies.

He said that attributing Iran’s problems to the ineffectiveness of the government –

is the will of the enemies, especially America … We must inform the people of the actions of our main enemy (the United States) against the regime, and try to overcome the problems while exercising discretion … The enemies want to drag us into a situation where we will bow down before them. The Iranian people need to internalize that this is the root of all problems. Then the citizens will take a stand (alongside the regime) and we will overcome the present situation. It is a historic test for us.

Alavi described Imam Hassan Mujtaba as –

a symbol of wisdom, modesty, and self-control, and a wise ruler. In order to become an imam, one must not only rise up (against Muawiya). There are times that quiet (in the sense of compromise) on the part of the imams (such as Khamenei) is the best strategy for their faithful followers. Sometimes this is the way the Prophet’s household members (Muslims) will find peace.

The intelligence minister continued:

The leadership of Imam Hassan was put to test. Anyone who did not accept his order for a compromise failed the test because they wanted to impose their views on the Imam. The success of a revolution is always through obedience to the “Wilayat” (rule of the cleric, i.e., Khamenei). This is the condition for successfully overcoming the present historical test.

Alavi brought additional examples from Islam’s inception, emphasizing the people’s loyalty as critical to standing strong against external enemies.

The reality today is that both Iran and the United States seem to be interested in avoiding direct confrontation. The words of the Iranian intelligence minister more than hint at the possibility of opening channels of indirect negotiations. This may be via Iraq (Iran’s foreign minister was in Baghdad in recent days) or Omani involvement (where negotiations between the United States and Iran began before signing the nuclear agreement), or with other intermediaries such as Japan. Iran’s deputy foreign minister started on May 27 a tour in Oman, Kuwait, and Qatar “to negotiate with each and every country in the Persian Gulf for a balanced and constructive relations based on mutual respect and interests.”3

Iran’s deputy foreign minister with the Sultan of Oman
Iran’s deputy foreign minister (right) meets with the Sultan of Oman (Twitter)

On May 21, 2019, Iraqi Prime Minister Adal Abd al-Mahdi said that his country is interested in “calming” and mediating the crisis between the United States and Iran. He said that Iraq would even send delegations to both countries. At the same time, he stressed that Iraq is preparing alternative options in case the Strait of Hormuz is blocked during a crisis.

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