Within Iran’s political establishment, both hard-liners and moderates share the same goal of ensuring the survival of the regime and the concept of Velayat-e Faqih (guardianship, or rule, of the Islamic jurist). Leading adherents of both political ideologies are regime insiders and are loyal to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei.
However, there is a difference between the two camps: The means they rely on to reach the ultimate objective. This important distinction can shed light on the regional and foreign policies of the regime, depending on which political camp controls the relevant part of the government.
Hard-liners prioritize the revolutionary ideals and principles of the regime, while the moderates argue that putting economic interests ahead of revolutionary norms better serves the interests of the political establishment.
As a result, the so-called moderates are more willing to negotiate with the West and employ diplomacy to reintegrate the country into the global financial system and help the government’s economy improve.
This strengthens the theocratic establishment, providing it with the resources and cash needed to pursue its revolutionary goals, hegemonic ambitions and military adventurism in the region.
It was the so-called moderate administration of Hassan Rouhani, for example, that in 2015 sealed the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action deal with global powers concerning its nuclear program. As a result of the deal, sanctions against Tehran were lifted, the regime gained global legitimacy, and billions of dollars flowed into Iranian government coffers.
But the international community saw that the regime’s behavior and foreign policy objectives did not change after the nuclear agreement; instead, it used the extra cash to further pursue its ambitions in the region, empowering its militia and terror groups with financial assistance and ammunition. Had it not been for the Trump administration pulling the US out of the JCPOA, Tehran would still be reaping the benefits and the moderates would likely still be ruling the executive branch.
Now, however, Iran’s hard-liners have control of all the regime’s branches — executive and legislative, as well as the judiciary. The last time they were in such a position was almost a decade ago, during Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s presidency.
The top decision-makers — Khamenei and the senior cadre of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and the elite Quds Force — invariably dictate which political party controls what. This is done through powerful unelected institutions, such as the Guardian Council, which vets political candidates. The 12 members of the Guardian Council are appointed either directly or indirectly by the supreme leader. They all owe their positions to Khamenei and represent his agenda.
After the nuclear deal failed and the US reimposed sanctions on the regime, and following widespread uprisings that began to threaten the government’s hold on power, senior Iranian decision-makers began to replace moderates with hard-liners in all government branches.
The regime orchestrated a plan that would allow hard-liners to take over the parliament and presidential office. Khamenei’s political arm, the Guardian Council, disqualified more than 7,000 candidates, mostly from the reformist, independent and moderate political movements, ahead of last year’s parliamentary elections. As a result, hard-liners took over the parliament and, later, about 230 lawmakers out of 264 voted for Mohammed Bagher Qalibaf, a former general and senior IRGC figure, to be speaker.
Had it not been for the Trump administration pulling the US out of the JCPOA, the moderates would likely still be ruling the executive branch.
Dr. Majid Rafizadeh
A year later, the regime orchestrated another sham election, with the Guardian Council disqualifying any presidential candidate, reformist or moderate, who appeared to be a viable rival to Khamenei’s favored choice, Ebrahim Raisi.
Raisi, in turn, has appointed top hard-liners, including former members of the IRGC, to the Cabinet. These include Ahmad Vahidi, Iran’s new interior minister, an IRGC commander and defense minister from 2009 to 2013 during Ahmadinejad’s presidency. Vahidi is wanted by Interpol for his alleged involvement in the 1994 AMIA Jewish center bombing in Buenos Aires that killed 85 people. Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, who had a liaison role with the IRGC and Quds Force, is now foreign minister.
In conclusion, the Iranian regime’s tactical shift in placing hard-liners in charge of the legislative, judicial and executive branches highlights its prioritizing of revolutionary principles over diplomacy and economic interests.
- Dr. Majid Rafizadeh