Following Donald Trump’s decertification of the nuclear deal on Friday, Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has hit back at the US president, saying it will ignore his “rants and whoppers” and not be the first to break the deal. President Hassan Rouhani similarly said that Trump’s actions were “nothing new”.
The reaction from Tehran, however, did not address the real reasons behind Trump’s decision, which was based on factors including Iran’s support for terrorism, burgeoning weapons programme and its fundamentalist regime.
Perhaps the best explanation for this omission is that Trump was right; Iran’s divisive actions in the region are impossible to deny, and are perpetuating the chaos in the Middle East.
When Trump lambasted Iran’s actions on Friday, his main complaint was that Iran has not stuck to the spirit of the deal. Since the nuclear deal was agreed in June 2015, Iran has tried to push the limits of what it agreed to.
Even before Trump arrived in the White House, Tehran had authorised a substantial increase in its ballistic missile programme. The Supreme Leader’s claims that these offensive weapons are being produced for Iran’s defence are laughable; senior intelligence and defence officials in the West understand the growing threat of the programme to other countries in the region and beyond.
Meanwhile, Tehran has continued to encourage its Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) – soon to be the subject of increased sanctions from Congress – to meddle in the internal affairs of other neighbouring states. The IRGC plays a key role in propping up the failing regime of Bashar al Assad in Syria, murdering civilians fighting for their freedom; in Lebanon, it trains Hezbollah’s military wing, a designated terrorist entity; in Yemen, the Houthi rebels have been receiving Iranian weapons, including missiles, from IRGC-managed smuggling routes since the conflict began; and in the Gulf, violent civil unrest in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia is fuelled by Iranian money and materiel.
These aggressive actions are a small symptom of the overriding problem, the Iranian regime itself. Founded as a revolutionary reaction to an autocratic government, the current regime has evolved into a theocratic dictatorship that exports revolution and disruption to its neighbours as a matter of course. It represses the democratic will of its own people, and abuses their human rights and freedoms. By placing all control in the hands of one aging religious fanatic, the Supreme Leader, Iran’s current political system is worse than the one it replaced and closer to the likeness of North Korea than the Western democracies it opposes so avidly.
Iran’s actions allow little chance for the wider Middle East to stabilise and try to deal with the crises across the region. Indeed, it overtly prolongs these disasters, exacerbating human suffering and impeding economic and social development. The human cost of Iran’s policies are the real reason behind Trump’s decertification of the deal, and Iran only has itself to blame.