December 4, 2023

Presidential candidate Ebrahim Raisi gestures after casting his vote in the presidential election at a polling station in Tehran, Iran, June 18, 2021.

Majid Asgaripour | WANA News Agency | Reuters

The Iranian clergyman Ebrahim Raisi has been sworn in as the new President of the Islamic Republic against the background of difficult negotiations with the West over the revival of his nuclear deal, domestic unrest, a ramp-up in local nuclear development and allegations of sabotage in Gulf waters.

Earlier this week, Raisi, who has long been vociferously anti-Western and under US sanctions for human rights violations, received final approval for the presidency of Iran’s almighty Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. He was elected in June, in a vote that many Iranians and Western interest groups say was rigged.

Khamenei’s approval followed new maritime conflicts in the Gulf waters between Iran and its Arab neighbors.

A Japanese and Israel-operated commercial tanker was hit by multiple drone strikes in international waters off the Omani coast over the weekend. The US, UK and Israel have all blamed Iran. Two people on board the ship, a Romanian national and a British national, were killed.

Tehran denies involvement, as did a separate seizure of a tanker from the United Arab Emirates this week. Iranian officials denied any role in the seizure, despite orders to sail for Iran.

How far will the escalation go?

“The key question is what kind of retaliation is likely to threaten if the new hard-line government, led by Ebrahim Raisi, prepares to take office in Tehran this week,” wrote Helima Croft, Head of Global Commodity Strategy and MENA Research at RBC Capital Markets, in a note this week. “Washington is reportedly preparing another round of economic sanctions in response to Friday’s attack, but a kinetic response also remains on the table.”

Protesters carry banners during a demonstration organized by supporters of the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) to protest the inauguration of the new Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi outside Downing Street in central London on August 5, 2021. Raisi is accused of being responsible for the mass executions of thousands of NCRI members in 1988.

ADRIAN DENNIS | AFP | Getty Images

Raisi is considered to be tougher and more anti-Western than his predecessor Hassan Rouhani, who oversaw the signing of the 2015 Iranian nuclear deal, officially known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. The agreement, which was signed by several world powers, including the US, lifted sanctions against Iran in order to curtail its nuclear program. The United States withdrew unilaterally in 2018 under the Trump administration and again imposed extensive sanctions on Iran, which have paralyzed its economy.

“Under the articles high up [Raisi’s] The agenda will be talks aimed at reviving the nuclear deal that the United States unilaterally withdrew from in 2018, “Stephen Brennock, a senior analyst at PVM Oil Associates, wrote in a note this week. Raisi said Tuesday that his administration Steps will be taken to lift Washington’s “tyrannical” sanctions.

Elevated nuclear activity

This is because Tehran is increasing its uranium stocks and enrichment in the event of gradual violations of the 2015 agreement cited in response to US sanctions. Iran announced at the end of May that it has enriched uranium by 60%, a dramatic deviation from the 3.67% level allowed in the JCPOA.

After the news, the director of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Rafael Grossi, sounded the alarm and said, “A country that is enriched by 60% is a very serious matter – only countries that make bombs get that level.”

“Sixty percent is near weapon grade, the commercial gain is 2.3 [percent]“Said Grossi. Iranian officials claim that fortification is their country’s sovereign right and that their nuclear activities are for peaceful purposes and can be withdrawn if the US lift its sanctions.

The Biden government has expressed its support for the revival of the JCPOA as a pillar of its foreign policy, but opposes lifting the sanctions until Iran ceases this nuclear activity.

Richard Goldberg, a senior advisor to the radical think tank Foundation for Defense of Democracies in Washington DC, argues that Raisi and any attempts to reach an agreement with his administration are bad news.

“No amount of spin or massage can make the man handpicked by the Supreme Leader as a moderate president into the next president,” wrote Goldberg, who served on the National Security Council of former President Donald Trump, in a comment in National Review on Tuesday.

“The election of Raisi is just one of many signals Supreme Leader Biden has sent this year to make it clear that Khamenei intends to use whatever sanctions he receives from Washington to stop the Islamic Republic’s war against the United States To stir up states and their allies to pocket completely. “

Raisi will also face severe tensions at home, where Iranians have been protesting in several provinces against the deteriorating living conditions since mid-July. Since then, human rights groups have identified several people killed by state security forces.

“The main reaction by Iranian politicians to widespread demands for fundamental rights has been unbridled repression,” wrote Tara Sepehri Far, Iran researcher at Human Rights Watch.

Israel-Iran shadow war

And after the rise in confrontation activity in the Gulf Waters, Israel has pushed for concerted action against Iran and, as has often done in the past, declared that it is not afraid to confront Iran alone.

Israel Defense Minister Benny Gantz said Thursday Israel was ready to attack Iran.

“Whether last week’s attacks herald an intensification of the Iranian naval campaigns is very difficult to tell, especially as the details of the Tuesday incident remain uncertain,” wrote Henry Rome, director of global macro-research at the Eurasia Group’s political risk advisory group, in a Customer email Wednesday.

“The US is also likely to accelerate existing plans to impose new sanctions related to the Iranian drone and missile program. Ultimately, “added Rome,” this will probably be too little for Israel, which will find its own way to avenge itself – continuation of the long shadow war between the two adversaries that is on the verge of open conflict. “