Amir Mohebian is one of the most well-known conservative voices of the last two decades. He rose to prominence as a critic of the Reformists after the election of Mohammad Khatami in 1997. A professor of Western philosophy at Islamic Azad University, Mohebian was also one of the editors of the conservative newspaper Resala and established the Arya Center for Strategic Studies, a think thank. He is currently editor in chief of the Arya News Agency.
Mohebian is one of the founders of the Modern Thinkers Party of Islamic Iran, which is considered a modernist, moderate conservative party. The Modern Thinkers supports social justice and freedom and tries to resolve problems through dialogue with the political elite. The party defends pro-poor policies with the goal of reducing poverty and discrimination in Iran.
Mohebian is a moderate figure among the Principlists. State-run TV channels often invite him to debate Reformist figures, and student organizations approach him to talk on various issues.
In an interview with Al-Monitor, Mohebian said that US Middle East policy in the last 10 years has benefited Iran. He also asserted that Iran’s regional power is a “reality” that the United States should accept, because Washington is now in a position where it needs Iran. He further stated that if a nuclear deal is reached, Iran’s ability to export gas could have the effect of forcing Russia to change its policies.
The full interview:
Al-Monitor: Former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger said in an interview with NPR [National Public Radio], while discussing his new book, "World Order," that Iran is a bigger threat to the region than the Islamic State (IS). Given that Iran and the United States now have a unique opportunity to collaborate in Iraq, since they are facing a common enemy, what do you think motivated Kissinger to make such comments?
Mohebian: More than it being the result of a scientific and objective analysis, Kissinger’s comments reflect the concerns of the Israeli government and what they are trying to project in order to influence public opinion.
The internal logic of Israeli officials is that Iran has three characteristics that IS does not. First, Iran, unlike IS, is an established government. Second, Iran enjoys a level of national, regional and international support that is incomparable to what IS has. Third, Iran is a legitimate system that behaves logically and opposes Israel. IS, on the other hand, is a made-up organization that behaves irrationally and was partly made and organized by Israel itself and thus has no originality. These are the reasons why Iran is being considered a bigger threat than IS.
This is a simplistic view. First of all, Iran has a political system that works within the international system, and therefore its behavior is logical and understandable. On the other hand, the very existence of IS is dependent on spreading fear as well as relying on emotions as opposed to logic. Therefore, IS is unpredictable. Second, IS is a Western project gone wrong in Syria … The United States has proven that while it is capable of creating radical movements against its enemies, it is not capable of managing these movements due to its lack of familiarity with their way of thinking. Therefore, these movements usually backfire and turn against the United States itself. Al-Qaeda is a sufficient example in this case. Israel knows this fact but cares more about the safety of the citizens of Israel than the citizens of the United States. Third, Iran is trying to lessen the tension between itself and the United States, while IS is just starting to create tensions. Therefore, it is quite logical for the United States to recruit Iran as an ally in its attempt to eliminate IS. However, Israel and certain Arab countries in the region are deeply worried about the idea of Iran and the United States warming up to each other. Now we have to see whether the government of the United States cares more for the safety of its own people or for the conspiracy theories of Israel.
Al-Monitor: Do you think that if Iran succeeds in solving its problems with the United States, it will also be able to change the balance of power in the region in favor of the Shiites in Bahrain and Muslims in Palestine given that the US government supports Bahrain and Israel?
Mohebian: Iran knows that the US is in the midst of a series of strategic events in the region and needs to get close to Iran in order to solve these problems. Therefore, it does not need to offer any advantages and only needs to wait. Time has turned the strategic mistakes of the United States into advantages for Iran. For more than 10 years, all the actions of the United States have had a positive outcome for Iran. Eliminating Saddam [Hussein in Iraq] and the Taliban [in Afghanistan] left the field open for Iran in the region. Its inability to understand their priorities in Syria made Iran the number one power in the region. Instead of behaving emotionally, the US needs to accept that Iran is a powerful reality in the region. The region has changed, and whoever fails to understand this fact will be eliminated
Al-Monitor: After Mosul was occupied, everyone blamed [Iraqi Prime Minister] Nouri al-Maliki. Now he is gone, and a new administration is in charge. However, we are yet to see a peaceful Iraq. How can peace be maintained in Iraq? It is something that the Iranian government wants as well.
Mohebian: Strengthening the national government, spreading power logically and creating unity among different factions.
Al-Monitor: Are you optimistic regarding the outcome of the nuclear negotiations?
Mohebian: If the US views the nuclear negotiations as part of a strategic package that could help lessen the tension between Iran and the United States, then it will put aside the details, and the negotiations will be successful. However, if the US fails to see the changes in the Middle East, the important role of Iran in relations with other countries in the region and Russia, then the negotiations will not succeed.
Al-Monitor: Do you think that the crisis in Ukraine and the increasing differences between the members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization [NATO] and Russia have made it impossible for the superpowers to come to an agreement about increasing pressure on Iran?
Mohebian: With the increase in the number of countries that are under sanctions, these sanctions have become ineffective, and thus the policy of using sanctions as a tool to control the behavior of another country has become useless. With extensive sanctions against Russia, sanctions will no longer hurt Iran the way they used to. If Iran’s case were solved, and the Iranian pipeline were to replace the Russian pipeline, Russia would lose its leverage over Europe and would be forced to change its policies.
Al-Monitor: Iran is a regional power, but inside the country, after the controversial presidential elections in 2009, we witnessed massive unrest. Following these incidents, [the Reformist candidate] Mir Hossein Mousavi has been under house arrest, former President Mohammad Khatami cannot leave the country, and former President Ayatollah Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani is sidelined. The regime has even accused individuals with close ties to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of being part of the sedition. What do you think the Islamic Republic should do in order to create stability?
Mohebian: In order to solve its key international and strategic problems, Iran needed to unify its decision-making structure and it has done that.
Al-Monitor: There is evidences that the supreme leader is not optimistic about the negotiations. This is after [Hassan] Rouhani got elected on the promise of lessening tensions and solving the existing crisis. Inside the structure of the Islamic Republic, there are always disagreements between those factions that are directly elected by the people and those that are appointed by the supreme leader. Can you comment on the claim about Iran having unified its decision-making structure when it comes to strategic and key international issues?
Mohebian: There are two main reasons why the supreme leader is not optimistic about these negotiations. First, history shows that the United States does not have a clear understanding of Iranians' mindset, and whenever Iran has behaved radically, the US has asked for discussions and negotiations. On the other hand, whenever Iran has stepped forward, the US has taken it as a sign of weakness and has increased its demands. Second, the supreme leader knows that if he demonstrates that he is interested and optimistic, it will be interpreted as a sign of weakness, as if the entire establishment has surrendered. If that happens, the United States will start asking for more and will go as far as asking for all the handguns in Iran. The supreme leader is acting wisely, for although he has approved the negotiations, he is reserving the right to react accordingly if the United States decides to increase its demands.
More important, inside the complex political structure of Iran, the president is the symbol of the people’s vote, and the supreme leader is the symbol of the ideology and the will of the establishment. Of course, the supreme leader has the final say in everything.
Al-Monitor: Conservative forces usually emphasize such issues as the hijab, Internet supervision and gender segregation in the work place. Reformists, on the other hand, claim that they are defending freedom. Are you worried that the Principlists will lose the vote of the younger generation because of their insistence on imposing restrictions such as internet supervision and the hijab?
Mohebian: The Principlists are not unified. Moderate Principlists support the reasonable and low-risk utilization of social media and technology. Of course, there exists a radical faction that supports the idea of control achieved through maximum pressure. However, the establishment in its entirety does not support this policy, but allows them to express their viewpoints.