While not as well-known as some analysts, this author speaks the language, lived in Iran for twenty-eight years until two years ago and recently visited the country for forty days—fortunately without any problems entering or leaving. The purpose of this piece is to share what I saw and heard, with one disclaimer: these are my personal observations and when I refer to “Iranians,” I mean the people I talked and interacted with, not the entire 80 million population.
Poland, after hosting a NATO summit in 2016 and a UN Climate conference in 2018, has once again shown that it is able to organize large international events.
Despite White House backtracking from an initial expressed aim to focus on Iran, US officials and regional leaders such as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu used the occasion to unleash rhetorical barbs against Iran—which was not invited.
These were among the insights gleaned from a day-long conference at the Atlantic Council on February 12. Organized in conjunction with the Center for Strategic & Diplomatic Studies at the University of South Florida, it brought together veteran scholars and up and coming experts with recent field experience in Iran. Many of the speakers also wrote blog posts, which were collected on our IranSource site.
The United States has withdrawn from the 2015 Iran nuclear agreement, also known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), that solely addressed the regime’s efforts to obtain nuclear weapons but failed to address its menacing actions towards neighboring countries, continued support of international terrorism, and ongoing efforts to develop ballistic missile technology. The JCPOA also completely failed to address the horrible human rights situation inside Iran itself.
“We need to acknowledge that truth, because if we don't, we make bad choices [that will] have consequences for nations, for millions of people,” he said. “In falsely seeing ourselves as a force for what ails the Middle East, we were timid in asserting ourselves when the times—and our partners—demanded it.”
The Poland summit officially centers around three major issues: The challenge of missiles, terror funding, and cyber threats. The common denominator of all three categories is the Iranian threat, which is for all intents and purposes at the center of the conference—though the Trump administration has backtracked its comments about Iran being the center of the debate.
What historical memory there is of Persian-Judaic interactions is largely positive in Jewish eyes: Streets in Israel are named for Cyrus the Great, who allowed the Jews to return to Judea from their Babilonian exile in 538 BCE. Conversely, Judea never rose to compete with Persia for regional prominence, as did Greek or later Arab forces.
Since then, hundreds of American scholars and practitioners have attempted to understand the Islamic Republic’s foreign policy and how to best respond to the challenges it poses. Some have long advocated for engaging the Iranian regime, while others have pushed for a tougher stance against it. US President Donald Trump has argued that a maximum pressure campaign would force the mullahs to negotiate and strike a deal on the entirety of their foreign policy, including their missile and nuclear programs and interventions in a number of theaters throughout the Middle East and South Asia. But the Islamic Republic isn’t likely to change the course of its foreign policy.
After the Iranian revolution in 1979, shared enmity of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, Israel and the United States brought Damascus and Tehran together. Following the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982, Tehran and Damascus joined forces to found Hezbollah, mainly to enhance their respective deterrence capabilities against Israel and the United States. The withdrawal of Syrian forces from Lebanon in 2005, the 2006 Hezbollah-Israel war and Hezbollah’s role in the Syrian civil war since 2012 turned the Lebanese proxy into a strategic partner and earned the Party of God a seat at the grownups’ table.