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Continuity of aggressive Iranian policies ensured with the election of Raisi: former senior CIA official Norman Roule

LONDON: When Ebrahim Raisi was declared the winner of the Iranian presidential election on June 18, the world quickly turned its attention to the effect it will have on the Arab region, where the proxy militias and the Republic’s advanced weapons Islam have long inspired terror and exerted an influence on business.

Raisi has a reputation for being an ultra-conservative, but Norman Roule, a Middle East expert and former senior CIA official, believes the 60-year-old cleric’s rise to power will change little in terms of the scope and direction of Iranian foreign policy. .

“(The) election of Ebrahim Raisi means that Iran is moving on to a new generation of leaders, who will be a hard line and who will continue Iran’s aggressive policies for the region,” he said. he told Arab News in a special interview.

Roule should know: he spent 34 years with the CIA covering the Middle East and is a senior advisor to the Counter Extremism Project and United Against Nuclear Iran. He predicts that the Iranian regime will continue to support its proxies in the Arab world as a means of projecting its power abroad.

“Iran’s proxies in the region – the Houthis (in Yemen), Kataib Hezbollah and other Iraqi militias, militias in Syria and Lebanese Hezbollah – will receive strong and continued support from Tehran,” he said. -he declares.

On Monday, in his first comments since his landslide victory, Raisi dismissed the possibility of any negotiations, as part of the resumption of talks on the nuclear deal, on Tehran’s ballistic missile program or its support for regional militias. “It’s not negotiable,” he said.

Raisi won nearly 62 percent of the 28.9 million votes cast in the election, which recorded the lowest turnout in the history of the Islamic Republic. The list of candidates had been carefully manipulated by the regime’s powerful Guardian Council to ensure an acceptable winner.

Even with a strong tenure, however, in reality the new Iranian president has very little control over Tehran’s foreign and military policy, as the activities of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and its extraterritorial force Quds are under the strict command of Supreme Leader Ali. Khamenei.

So when former Islamic jurist Raisi takes the reins from his more moderate predecessor, Hassan Rouhani, he will simply be “more ideologically consistent and support these efforts,” Roule said.

The real power of the new president will be to ensure that the tough ideology of Wilayat Al-Faqih (Islamic Jurist’s Guard) created by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini – father of the 1979 Islamic revolution – continues.

“Now that he holds the post of president, it gives him the opportunity to place hard-line actors, former IRGC members in particular, in different parts of the Iranian government, so that when the Supreme Leader dies he will be able to ensure a smoother transition to a continued hard-line government, which, due to its relatively young age, could last another 20 to 30 years, ”Roule said.

Nicknamed the “Butcher of Tehran” by rights activists, Raisi does not repent of his bloody past. Protected from Khamenei, he is accused of ordering the execution of tens of thousands of dissidents over the past three decades. Iranian activists also claim that Raisi, as a junior prosecutor in the 1980s, ran “death committees” that buried political prisoners murdered in mass graves in 1988.

His election as president could be an indication of further crackdown on dissent and protests.

“At some point, the Iranian people may decide that they have just had enough and I think it will be a bloody moment,” Roule said. “The security forces in Iran are going to put pressure on this.

“But you cannot help but feel sympathy for the Iranian people, who must endure such a system at a time of such extraordinary and positive change so close to their border.”

Across the Gulf, countries like Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are advancing in technology, entertainment, and efforts to combat the effects of climate change.

“I have spent many years following the region and am witnessing the most extraordinary and impressive series of political, social, economic and technological changes right now; Iran is not part of any of these changes, ”Roule said.

“The Iranian people have an extraordinary history, but they are more and more late every day. Iran is stuck in a time warp. He is stuck in an archaic political system, which is out of step with the direction the world is taking. “

Although Raisi said there was no obstacle to Tehran and Riyadh reestablishing their relationship, Roule views the president-elect’s comments with disdain.

“Obstacles to better relations between Iran and Saudi Arabia come in the form of Iranian missiles and drones, which are fired at innocent men, women and children in Saudi Arabia every day, it seems. he said, referring to the attacks launched from Yemen.

“Saudi Arabia and the Arab Gulf States do not carry out aggression against Iran, but Iran regularly provides proxies with the money, weapons and training necessary to attack innocent civilians across the region. It is a formidable obstacle.

Raisi is due to take office on August 8 during a sensitive period, diplomatically. US and European powers are trying to revive a version of the 2015 Common Comprehensive Plan of Action, also known as the Iran nuclear deal, which the Trump administration withdrew in 2018, arguing that it did not was not strong enough.

While many believe that a new improved deal could destabilize Iran and help restore calm to the region, Roule strongly disagrees, predicting that any sanctions relief for Tehran in exchange for a nuclear restriction will only do so. fuel its other activities.

“There is no reason why Iranian hardliners oppose a nuclear deal,” he said. “A nuclear deal does not limit regional activities or missile activities. It provides them with stable resources to, in effect, support these activities.

“I don’t believe Iran will reduce its regional threat. I think the nature of regional political dynamics changes as the conflict in Syria ends and Iraq stabilizes. The Iranians are going to seek to change their proxies from fighting militias to political elements, and I think we’re going to see a different kind of Iranian activity in the region.

To achieve this, Roule predicts that Iran will increase its support for its Lebanese proxy.

“Hezbollah must follow a very cautious path over the next few months in Lebanon,” he said. “They want to retain the control, their influence, the influence of their political allies over key ministries, but they want to make sure that they are not seen as bearing responsibility for economic and political decision-making and difficulties. that this imposed on the innocent Lebanese people.

“Imagine sending $ 600-700 million a year to a terrorist organization and militia taking the Lebanese people hostage. It will increase after a nuclear deal, unfortunately, and the international community has very few options to limit that. “

Roule also believes that Raisi’s election as president will make the possibility of a diplomatic solution to the war in Yemen even more remote, as the Iran-backed Houthi militia is unlikely to accept a package that diminishes its influence.

“I remain generally pessimistic only because regional actors and the United Nations have worked very hard for years to bring the Houthis to the diplomatic table,” he said.

“They offered a series of political and financial packages to the Yemeni people, together with the Yemeni government, which is an actor we should never forget, and the Houthis have rejected it. “

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• Twitter: @Tarek_AliAhmad

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