Right under the media’s nose, Iran is pursuing two divergent foreign policy tracks vis a vis the West. The first – whose fruit is the nuclear deal which came into effect this year – is one of apparent moderation, disarmament negotiations and rapprochement, led by Iranian President Hassan Rouhani. But there is a second track, often dismissed by the media as one pursued by rogue hardliners, rather than by the government in Tehran – that of ever-growing hawkishness and militarism.
The pursuit of both tracks simultaneously has created an ironic situation in which, on the one hand, Iran is being rewarded under the nuclear deal with the removal of sanctions and a warm reception in Western capitals, while on the other hand, it is happy to continue its harsh offensive rhetoric against the west, its military aggression and at the same time insist on developing (and testing) its ballistic missile program – even at the cost of new US sanctions and tensions with Washington.
This week, several highly publicized statements by Iranian officials showcased just how unrelenting Tehran is in its dogged pursuit of greater military might: Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) commander Ali Jafari boasted that Iran’s missile capabilities are so “unique” that no country would dream of invading it; meanwhile, the commander of IRGC’s air force, Amir Ali Hajizadeh, said the new sanctions were “futile” in the face of Iran’s unceasing pursuit of military might, adding that the missile program will not stop “even if they build a wall around Iran.”
Some western media outlets picked up on Iran’s recent aggression, like in the context of the interception of the US naval ship (even condemned it) and in general (see for instance Washington Times). Sometimes the media, lacking political interests, can do things that the politicians prefer not to do.
While establishment Iranian outlets communicated these statements with a touch of pride, some Western outlets addressed the wider issue at hand: that due to ambiguous wording in the nuclear deal inked last summer, Iran has been able to test and produce ballistic missiles unperturbed, “capitalizing on the deal’s concessions” without having to fear new UN sanctions and leaving the international community (and particularly Washington) with few tools to curb Iran’s drive for advanced weaponry. Will the same hold true if Iran tries to push for a pathway to nuclear weapons? Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s most recent statement may shed some light on the matter: “Those who say the future is in negotiations, not in missiles, are either ignorant or traitors.”