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The Irony of Revolution: JCPOA as Youth Coercion Tool in Iran

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Authors: Dr. Matthew Crosston, Paula Malott

The recently signed Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) between Iran, the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, and China was barely completed and announced to the world when debates about its impact began.

As can be expected, much of the conversation since the announcement has been focused on Iran’s nuclear program and whether this plan can prevent it from acquiring a nuclear weapon in the future. Formally speaking, the JCPOA leaves Iran enough capacity to still attain a nuclear weapon in the future should it decide to pull out of the agreement. But the question that must be asked, that we must keep in mind when discussing JCPOA, is this: What does Iran gain by signing the JCPOA?

When one considers that Iran has expended a great deal of resources over previous decades on building up its nuclear program, there has to be a serious reason for it to give up its nuclear aspirations now. Iran has spent billions of dollars on building infrastructure: nuclear reactors, centrifuges, and facilities; attaining nuclear materials; and thousands of man-hours expended on uranium enrichment. So why after all that material, time, and man-power investment does Iran reverse course and agree to curb its nuclear aspirations?

The most obvious gain to the Iranian government and its partners in the JCPOA is the economic and geopolitical cascade effects of full Iranian reintegration into the global economy. Iran’s economy has taken hits related to drops in the price of crude oil the last couple of years from over $100.00 a barrel to just above $50.00, as well as chronic strains on economic output because of sanctions imposed by the UN, the EU and the US. Prior to the imposition of sanctions, Iran was OPEC’s second largest oil producer with the fourth largest oil reserves and second largest natural gas reserves. Indeed, 80% of Iran’s economy was based on its petroleum industry. Iran’s economy was growing before the sanctions and it enjoyed a relatively low unemployment rate. As intended, these sanctions have had a devastating effect on the Iranian people over the last decade since their imposition. Iran’s unemployment rates now hover in the low teens and 20% of its population lives below the poverty line. Iran would greatly benefit by a return to its pre-sanction economic output. For the European Union, Iran’s return to the global market would offer it a welcome alternative to obtaining its natural gas supplies from someone other than Russia. Russia has used threats to shut off natural gas supplies to Europe to gain leverage in negotiations on the situation in the Ukraine. While much of Western Europe isn’t 100% dependent on Russia for its natural gas supplies, it nevertheless must be very attractive to remove that threat leverage from future negotiations with Russia. So on this level the JCPOA has very little to do with joining or being prevented from joining the global nuclear club and much more about a return to what must be seen in Iran as its proper economic birthright on the global market and in the EU as a wonderful chip to work against the Russian Federation as concerns its own energy needs.

But as we continue to ponder the question of what Iran gains by signing the JCPOA, we must begin to look also at a less obvious and, at least in our opinion, more compelling reason for its sudden agreement to capitulate on a nuclear program now. It is Iran’s demographics and the potential for political unrest related to its large youth population that can no longer be simply dismissed by the governing authority. Since the Ayatollah’s revolution Iran’s population has doubled and nearly 50% of the population is now under 35 years old. Unlike previous generations, this youth population is well-educated, since earning a college degree was highly encouraged by the Iranian government since the revolution. Despite their education levels, the brute force and displacement of the economic fall-out caused by sanctions has fallen squarely on this young and talented generation. Youth unemployment remains at nearly 25%, double the rate of other generations. The last time Iran had youth unemployment rates this high was in the decade prior to the revolution. The current regime is largely dominated by leaders who were youth members of that revolution. We find it hard to believe they themselves fail to recognize the strange similarities between the current situation and the 1970s, especially if they continue to ignore youth dissatisfaction. The Iranian Islamic Revolution was largely born within a restive youth population suffering from high unemployment rates that then partnered with other marginalized groups to overthrow the Shah and his US-backed government, which almost all sides had come to view as corrupt and ineffectual. While the current youth dissatisfaction has no religious underpinning or charismatic single leader to powerfully unite them all, it is not illogical to think current progressive thinkers within Iranian authority see concern with all this displaced anger and wasted young talent. For recognizing that danger and trying to counteract it through the JCPOA, Iran has proven itself to be diplomatically cunning and adept.

Keep in mind Iran had already experienced civil unrest from this demographic group. Following the 2009 presidential elections the Green Movement, which supported reform politicians in the elections, organized and led some of the largest protests seen in Iran since the revolution itself. Hundreds of thousands of Iran’s youth were in the streets protesting for political reform in the weeks following President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad’s reelection. While the government ultimately quelled the protestors, the sentiments expressed by the movement did not just melt away. On the contrary, the Green Movement has always been working below the surface of Iran’s political scene, pushing for democratic and social reform. As the 2011 Arab Spring spread through neighboring nations, Iran’s leaders had to notice the similarities to the Green Movement protests of 2009. They might have even worried that the base source for the Arab Spring may have been its own quashed Green Revolution. There had to be concern that the Arab Spring could create a ‘full circle’ effect, bringing revolution back to the place it all almost started three years before.

In addition, the countries that had the largest protests and ultimately largest reforms were the countries that had similar demographics to Iran: high youth populations and high youth unemployment rates. During the Arab spring, leaders of the Green Movement organized street demonstrations that had nearly a million protesters on the streets of Tehran. The candidates selected by the Guardian Council in the 2013 election cycle also show that while the Green Movement is not as openly active they are still clearly on the minds of the ruling class: the eventual winner, while a conservative leader, has shown more willingness to enact reforms and engage the broader population across the country.

The ultimate goal for Iran to join the JCPOA is rebuilding economic opportunities for its large youth population and hopefully redirecting it energies into building careers, raising families, and achieving stability and prosperity. Prior to the JCPOA, with sanctions still firmly in place, those goals had to seem largely out of reach for many of the young members of Iran’s society. Again, the true diplomatic talent with the nuclear accord is in Iran recognizing what could be a boiling point for political dissent and with one deft stroke has attempted to turn that energy into an economic aspiration for the entire country. Once it gains economic prosperity for its youth population, while still trying to ensure political stability for its ruling class no doubt, it will be interesting to see if Iran will continue to follow the mandates set out for it under the agreement. Or will it choose to pull out of the agreement (as it has a right to do let’s not forget) and return to its quest for a nuclear weapon, only now with the stability and prosperity and LEVERAGE of being a fully integrated and quite possibly valuable piece of the global energy economic puzzle for the Western world.

Who says global affairs isn’t full of irony in the modern day? The Iran accord proves this cynicism false.

Dr. Matthew Crosston is Executive Vice Chairman of ModernDiplomacy.eu and chief analytical strategist of I3, a strategic intelligence consulting company. All inquiries regarding speaking engagements and consulting needs can be referred to his website: https://profmatthewcrosston.academia.edu/

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Middle East

Justice delayed is justice denied. I lost my family to Iran Regime’s barbarity

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Mohammad Shafaei’s family- The toddler in his mother’s arm is Mohammad Shafaei

On May 4, over 1,100 families of the victims of the 1988 massacre in Iran wrote a letter to the international community. We called on the United Nations and European and American governments to take immediate action in preventing the regime from further destruction of their loved ones’ graves.

I was one of the signatories. I have lost six of my relatives to the regime’s cruelty. I was seven years old when my parents were arrested for their democratic ideals and activism.

My father, Dr. Morteza Shafaei, was a well-respected and popular physician in Isfahan. He was admired by people because he was extremely compassionate and giving to others. He was brutally executed by the regime in 1981 simply because he sought a democratic future for his family and his compatriots. The mullahs also killed my mother, two brothers, Majid (only 16) and Javad, and one of my sisters, Maryam, along with her husband.

By the age of 8, I had lost my entire family, save for one sister, as a result of the regime’s executions and crimes against humanity.

Mohammad Shafaei

The 1988 massacre stands as one of the most horrendous crimes against humanity after World War II. In the summer of that year, based on a religious decree issued by Khomeini, then-Supreme Leader of the theocratic regime in Iran, tens of thousands of political prisoners were liquidated. Most of the victims belonged to the principal democratic opposition movement Mujahedin-e Khalq (MEK).

It is believed that the regime massacred at least 30,000 political dissidents that year in the span of a few months. This much was confirmed by the designated heir to the regime’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Hossein-Ali Montazeri both in his published memoires and leaked audiotape in 2016, in which he condemned the ongoing crime against humanity in August 1988 during a meeting with high-ranking regime officials.

Those officials continue to serve the regime today in high-ranking positions. Ebrahim Raisi, for example, who was a member of the “death committees” in charge of rounding up and killing the political prisoners, is currently occupying the highly sensitive post of the Judiciary Chief. He is expected to announce his candidacy to run for President during the June election. After the June 2009 uprising, he said, “Moharebeh (waging war on God) is sometimes an organization, like the hypocrites (MEK). Anyone who helps the MEK in any way and under any circumstances, because it is an organized movement, the title of Moharebeh applies.” According the Islamic Punishment Act, the punishment for Moharebeh is death.

For years, the clerical regime has been systematically and gradually destroying the graves of the victims of the 1988 massacre in Tehran and other cities. As the world learns more about the killings and the international outrage grows, Tehran’s mullahs are scrambling to clear all traces of their crimes against humanity.

Most of us have forgotten where exactly our loved ones are buried, many of them in mass graves. The campaign for justice for victims of 1988 has gained greater prominence and broader scope. International human rights organizations and experts have described the massacre as a crime against humanity and called for holding the perpetrators of this heinous crime to account.

Paranoid of the repercussions of international scrutiny into this horrific atrocity, the Iranian regime has embarked on erasing the traces of the evidence on the massacre by destroying the mass graves where they are buried. The regime has tried to destroy the mass graves of massacred political prisoners in Tehran’s Khavaran Cemetery in the latest attempt. Previously, it destroyed or damaged the mass graves of the 1988 victims in Ahvaz, Tabriz, Mashhad, and elsewhere.

These actions constitute the collective torture of thousands of survivors and families of martyrs. It is another manifest case of crime against humanity.  

The UN and international human rights organizations must prevent the regime from destroying the mass graves, eliminating the evidence of their crime, and inflicting psychological torture upon thousands of families of the victims throughout Iran. 

Moreover, the Iranian public and all human rights defenders expect the United Nations, particularly the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michele Bachelet, to launch an international commission of inquiry to investigate the massacre of political prisoners and summon the perpetrators of this heinous crime before the International Court of Justice.

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Middle East

Can Biden Bring Peace to the Middle East?

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Joe Biden
Official White House Photo by Adam Schultz

As the fierce fighting between Israel and the Palestinians rages on, the Biden administration’s Middle East policy has been criticized for its relatively aloof, “stand back” approach that has resulted in the absence of any pressure on Israel to re-think its harsh mistreatment of the Palestinians, vividly demonstrated in the recent police attack at al-Aqsa mosque and the attempted eviction of Palestinians from their homes in East Jerusalem, viewed by the Palestinians as part of Israel’s “ethnic cleansing.”

Consequently, a UN Security Council draft resolution on the crisis has been reportedly held up by US, which has prioritized the familiar narrative of “Israel’s right to self-defense” ad nauseam, without the benefit any nuances that would reveal any fresh thinking on the problem on the part of the Biden administration.  As in the past, the new crisis in Israel-Palestinian relations has sharpened the loyalties and alliances, in effect binding the US government closer to its Middle East ally under the rainstorm of Palestinian rocket attacks, highlighting Israel’s security vulnerabilities in today’s missile age.  Determined to crush the Palestinian resistance, the mighty Israeli army has been pulverizing Gaza while, simultaneously, declaring state of emergency in the Arab sections of Israel, as if there is a military solution to an inherently political problem.  What Israel may gain from its current military campaign is, by all indications, bound to be elusive of a perpetual peace and will likely sow the seed of the next chapter in the ‘intractable’ conflict in the future.  

Both sides are in violation of the international humanitarian laws that forbid the indiscriminate targeting of civilian population and, no matter how justified the Palestinian grievances, they too need to abide by international law and consider the alternative Gandhian path of non-violent resistance, notwithstanding the colossal power of Israeli army.

As the editors of Israel’s liberal paper, Haaretz, have rightly pointed out, the problem is the Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is highly unpopular, unable to form a government, afflicted with a corruption case, and who has been appeasing the extremist elements in Israeli politics who have no qualm about the illegal expropriation of Palestinian lands.  Israeli politics for its own sake needs to move to the center, otherwise the Israeli society as a whole will suffer, as more and more educated Israelis will leave the country, Israel’s recent gains through the Abrahams accord with the conservative Arab states will be essentially wiped out, as these states will need to cater to the rising tide of anti-Israel sentiments at home or face serious legitimation problems, and Israel’s regional rivals led by Iran will continue to harvest from the present crisis.

Unfortunately, there does not seem to be any political will in Washington to spur a political shift in Israel that would secure better results in terms of the elusive Middle East peace and both President Biden and the Democratic Party establishment are concerned that their Republican opponents will seize on any tangible US pressure applied on Israel.  In other words, domestic US priorities will continue for the foreseeable future to hamper a much-needed corrective Washington influence on an ally that receives 4 billion dollar military aid annually and, yet, is unwilling to allow the White House to have any input on its handling of the Palestinians at home and the West Bank and Gaza.  

But, assuming for a moment that the Biden administration would somehow muster the will to stand up to Netanyahu and pressure him to cease its massive attacks on Gaza, then such a bold move would need to be coordinated with a deep Arab outreach that would, simultaneously, persuade the Palestinian groups led by Hamas and Islamic Jihad to go along with a US-initiated cease-fire, followed by related efforts at UN and regional level to bring about the groundwork for a more enduring peace, such as by holding a new international peace conference, similar to the Oslo process.  

At the moment, of course, this is wishful thinking and the protagonists of both sides in this terrible conflict are more focused on scoring against each other than to partake in a meaningful peace process.  In other words, an important prerequisite for peace, that is the inclination for peaceful resolution of the conflict instead of resorting to arms, is clearly missing and can and should be brought about by, first and foremost, a capable US leadership, sadly hitherto missing.

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Middle East

Israel-Palestine Conflict Enters into Dangerous Zone

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Palestinians react as Israeli police fire a stun grenade during clashes at Damascus Gate on Laylat al-Qadr during the holy month of Ramadan, in Jerusalem's Old City, May 9, 2021. /Reuters

Since the start of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan in mid-April 2021, tension has escalated, with frequent clashes between police and Palestinians. The threatened eviction of some Palestinian families in East Jerusalem has also caused rising anger. But when Israeli security forces entered and attacked the unarmed Muslim worshipers, damaged the property, and humiliated the families, the situation turned into conflict.

Since the irrational and illogical creation of the Jewish State in the middle of the Muslim World, the tension started and emerged into few full-fledged armed conflicts and wars like; 1948–49, 1956, 1967, 1973, 1982, and 2006 wars/ conflicts. Tensions are often high between Israel and Palestinians living in East Jerusalem, Gaza, and the West Bank. Gaza is ruled by a Palestinian group called Hamas, which has fought Israel many times. Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank complain that they’re suffering because of Zionists’ expansionist actions. Israel’s severe violations of human rights and extreme atrocities against Palestinians left Palestinians with no option other than protest and agitate. But Israel suppresses them and uses all dirty tricks to keep them silent.

It is worth mentioning that the United Nations Security Council has passed several resolutions to settle the Israel-Palestine issue peacefully. But Israel has not implemented either of them and kept using force to push them out and settle Jews in their land.

The State of Israel has been enjoying undue supported by the US, irrespective of who is president, but all of them support Israel unconditionally. Israel is the most favored nation of the US and the largest beneficiary of American aid, assistance, and support.

Ex-President Donald Trump helped Israel establish diplomatic relations with the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Sudan, and Morocco. Donald Trump favored Netanyahu, dramatically moved the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. His daughter and son-in-law were the facilitators for his support to Israel.

Till last news, at least 56 Palestinians have died under an array of aerial bombardments of the Gaza Strip. Five Israelis were killed too. Rockets, bullets, and rocks are flying around Israel and the Palestinian territories with catastrophic intensity in the latest wave of violence that periodically marks the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Palestinian protesters run for cover from tear gas fired by Israeli security forces amid clashes at Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa mosque compound on May 10, 2021, ahead of a planned march to commemorate Israel’s takeover of Jerusalem in 1967 Six-Day War.  Security forces have set on fire the centuries-old holy Mosque. Serious communal violence has broken out within Israel between Arab citizens and Jews. Fires were lit, a synagogue burned, a Muslim cemetery trashed, police cars set aflame, and an Arab-Israeli man killed. The mayor of Lod termed it a “civil war.”

The ferocity of the fast-escalating conflict might be extremely dangerous as Israel uses hi-tech, advanced, lethal weapons. A week ago, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu seemed close to losing power after the climax of four inconclusive elections. The outbreak of hostilities has allowed him the opportunity to make his latest appearance as a tough guy and ended coalition talks by rival politicians. He might politicize the conflict in his favor.

There is a severe danger of spreading this conflict to a large-scale war, which might engulf the regional countries. There already exists tension among Israel and few regional powers. The recent Israeli attacks on Russian bases in Syrian may also widen the conflict.

Any war in the middle-East will have dire consequences globally. It is appealed to the UN and all peace-loving nations and individuals to speed up all-out efforts to stop the conflict at this initial stage and avert further bloodshed. It is demanded that the Israel-Palestine issue must be settled according to the resolutions passed by UNSC. Wish immediate peace, sustainable peace, and permanent peace in the Middle East and globally.

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