(/sites/default/files/uploads/2015/01/iran_ayatollah_080312.jpg)From a human rights perspective, the current trend in the Islamic Republic reveals that, under the presidency of Hassan Rouhani in 2015, there will likely be a continuing increase in violation of basic rights of Iranian citizens, suppression of freedoms (speech, press, assembly), denial of women’s rights, an increase in the rate of execution, and an increase in imprisonments of political and human rights activists. As in the case of a 30-year-old man, Soheil Arabi, even minor expressions such as Facebook posts have become increasingly reason for execution sentences by the Iranian criminal court. Currently, the Islamic Republic is also expediting the execution of 10 people for carrying out hunger strikes.
Economically speaking, the drop in oil prices will definitely bring about an austere period for Iran’s annual budget and spending in 2015 and 2016. According to the IMF, Tehran will need oil prices to be near $131 a barrel to cover its spending. However, this does not mean that there will be spending cuts in military, defense, support for proxies such as Hezbollah, or strategic shifts.
The significant fall in oil prices has led some experts to point out that the ruling clerics of the Islamic Republic will soften their position this year. This assumption is inaccurate, both empirically and when we look at the history of the Islamic Republic.
It is crucial to point out that Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and the senior cadre of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) will not alter their strategic, geopolitical and ideological priorities even in face of economic challenges. In fact, in some strategic fields, the ruling clerics are planning to make significant breakthroughs.
In 2015, Iran could make a breakthrough in its long-range missile technology by developing and testing intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM), which could reach the United States. Nevertheless, it is crucial to point out that this advancement in missile technology is more aimed at defensive or deterrent strategy rather than an offensive one.
Another potential breakthrough is linked to Iran’s air defense system and its long range surface-to-air missile system through the Bavar (Belief) 373 program. Iranian leaders are planning to unveil an anti-missile defense system which is considered to be similar to the the Russian S-30 air-defense missile system, or with “higher capabilities than the (Russian) S-300,” according to the Brigadier General Farzad Esmayeeli.
In addition, thanks to the Obama administration’s offer to extend the nuclear negotiations for the second time, until July 2015, and the offer for more sanctions relief to the ruling clerics, the Islamic Republic can alleviate the consequences of the decrease in oil prices.
The good news from the perspective of the Iranian leaders will be an increase in exports and imports, particularly with Russia, China and some European countries, thanks to the extension of the nuclear talks. The shift to use national currencies in foreign trade, instead of dollar (for example with Russia with regard to food imports), will also facilitate bilateral trade.
The limited sanctions relief will also assist Iran in addressing its budget and ratcheting up the non-oil exports in 2015. As the Enterprise Ireland delegation is planning to visit Tehran this year, European countries and businesses will look for further avenues to invest in Iran and increase business dealings.
Iran’s regional bilateral cooperation with some countries, including Turkey and Iraq, will likely heighten. President Erdogan’s visit to his “second home,” Iran, in 2015 will likely mark an increase in bilateral trades as well as heightened strategic cooperation between Tehran and Istanbul. Iran and Iraq will also be establishing a joint bank, the Islamic Regional Cooperation Bank for Development and Investment, to increase trade transactions and facilitate bilateral trade to over $20 billion in the next three years.
Strategically speaking, economic duress is not likely to fundamentally shift Iran’s regional hegemonic ambitions, as well as alter the stance of Iran’s Supreme Leader and the high officials of IRGC towards their top regional strategic priorities. History has shown that even when Iran’s economy slumped a few years ago, Tehran’s stance towards supporting Assad, boosting Hezbollah, influencing the ruling Iraqi Shiite coalition, and continuing its nuclear program, did not change. Even with the economic challenges, Iran is planning to increase it defense spending and IRGC budget by 50%. In addition, Iran gave $3.6 billion in credit to buy oil and $1 billion for non-oil products to the Syrian government.
The other crucial issue is Tehran’s relations with Damascus. Iran’s foreign policy on Syria will continue to be based on a zero sum doctrine. That follows that any change in the Syrian political system will be considered a geopolitical, strategic, and ideological loss for the Iranian leaders. As a result, the Iranian financial, military, intelligence, and advisory assistance, as well as involvement of Qud’s forces, in Syria will be steady in order to preserve the power of Tehran’s long-standing ally.
When it comes to Iraq, Iran’s social, political, religious, and economic influence in Baghdad will deepen, mainly due to the incapability of the Iraqi forces to quell the fighters of the Islamic State. Iran’s efforts to organize Shiite militia groups in Iraq, other regional countries such as Yemen, and the possibly to create another Hezbollah in Iraq in 2015, are also not out of realm of possibilities.
Economic challenges will not justify a strategic shift or any kind of ideological accommodations from the perspective of Ayatollah Khamenei and high-level military generals.
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