Edited by Rebecca Mieli

Meir Javedanfar is the owner and editor of the Iran – Israel Observer. He teaches the “Contemporary Iranian Politics” course at the Interdisciplinary Center (IDC) in Herzliya. He has briefed officials and academics from more than 30 countries on Iran. Meir Is the coauthor of the first biography of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Called “The Nuclear Sphinx of Tehran: Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and The State of Iran“,  Has written and published more than 100 articles on Iran and relations between Iran and Israel for publications such as The Guardian, The Diplomat, The Atlantic, Al Monitor and Bloomberg. Meir serves as an expert to The U.N. Alliance of Civilizations – Global Experts Resource Project. He is also a member and contributor to the Gulf 2000 Middle East Project at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs.

Protest. What is the nature of the protests and the meaning behind the riots? Can we say that in the long run these protests will lead to the collapse of the regime? Could Iran be hit by a sort of Arab spring? Would a western intervention supporting the protests be useful or counterproductive?

It is difficult to generalize the nature of the protests since we had them in seven different cities. Without any doubt the roots of the problem are economic, but this is also reflected in a political protest. Another problem is that under this dictatorial regime people feel that their own voice is not heard. Iran is a country full of corruption, the bureaucracy is inefficient and the deepest reason for the protests is this slowing of the economy. A further cause is the limitation of liberties, which results in humanitarian protests like those of women against Hijab. In this context, a Western intervention could be counterproductive, as the Iranian population still hears Mossadeq wound. I believe that the West should only condemn what is happening.

A Brief comment on the Aftermath of the Syrian war and what is the role that Iran would like to gain after this conflict.

Iran wants to strengthen its position in Syria to make it be a transit route for Shiite weapons and militias to the Mediterranean. This land corridor under Iran’s control would respond to specific economic needs, since Iran has several interests in the Syro-Iraqi area. The second objective is to open a front against Israel by consolidating Hezbollah’s position.

Iran Revolutionary Guard Corp –IRGC-  How can we explain what exactly they are? Is it a military body, police or intelligence? Why do they still exist despite the revolution being an old issue, for what do they fight and with what motivations?

Revolutionary Guards job is to protect the revolution, as the belief that the Islamic revolution is still in danger. Initially it was only a military and intelligence body, but in the nineties, after Rafsanjani became president, they began to be interested in economics and business. They still want to defend Iran from external threats, but now they are also working against the threat of American soft power. They firmly believe that the United States through soft power is trying to influence society and overthrow the regime. The project of the Shiite corridor is functional to the objective of protecting the revolution. From what? From the US presence in Iraq, Afghanistan and the Persian Gulf, which, from their point of view, is perfectly connected to the US will to overturn the regime. As a result, even the US allies in the area are enemies, especially Saudi Arabia and Israel. Despite the fact that in the past Israel supported Iran with military and logistic help, the belief that Israel poses a threat as as both “Hard power” and “Soft power” instrument in the hands of the United States is still very rooted in the elite of the IRGC.

Does Iran intend to acquire nuclear military capability in the long run? If yes, what drives them?

Nuclear power is an option that Iran wants to have. Now it is a country under inspections so it is not so easy to resume those developments. This aspiration can certainly be considered a response to the presence of militarily nuclear states in the Middle East, such as Pakistan.

How did the agreement of p5 + 1 affect, and how would it possibly affect a devaluation of the agreement by Donald Trump?

The Iranian nuclear deal could have restarted the economy. Unfortunately, the country’s high level of corruption did not allow this to happen. A slow bureaucracy, waste and inefficiency of the regime in this area will have serious consequences. If Trump devalues the nuclear agreement would certainly not be a good news, because if other clauses and sanctions were imposed, Iran could decide to get out of it and restart to develop its nuclear project autonomously. In any case it would be very difficult to negotiate an agreement again, considering how difficult it was for the parties to agree with this.

A few days ago, Danny Danon, Israeli ambassador to the UN declared that Iran currently controls 82,000 fighters in Syria (at least 3,000 revolutionary bodyguards, 9,000 of Hezbollah, 10,000 militiamen recruited from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq, and 60,000 Syrians) and that Iran spent at least 35 $ billion on training the Syrian / Iranian army (23 billion dollars spent on weapons and missiles). Since 2015, the year of the Iranian deal, the national budget spent in the military apparatus grew from 17% to 22% in 2017. Can you comment on these numbers, in light of the rivalry between Iran and Israel, what are the risks of destabilizing the border between Syria and Israel? (http://www.jpost.com/Middle-East/Iran-News/Danon-Iran-currently-controls-82-thousand-fighters-in-Syria-539844)

35 billion are many, perhaps too many, I do not trust this number. Clearly, the situation between Iran and Israel is becoming increasingly unstable and its owe to Iran’s attempt to build strongholds in Syria.

Iran and Russia, relations during and after the Syrian war. According to former Israeli ambassador to Moscow Zvi Magen, Russia and Iran have shared short-term goals in Syria, but there are differences over long-term goals. In your opinion, what was said by Magen is true, and if so, how will Russia’s relations with Iran about the future of Syria be characterized in the future?

Iran is isolated from the United States, so it clearly approaches Russia. Iran and Russia certainly have multiple agreements in economic, strategic and military cooperation, but at the same time I would define it as a “mutual suspect” relation. It is an alliance necessary for some objectives, but inside it those actors not to trust completely each other. Iran knows perfectly well that Russia has good relations with both Israel and the Saudis, and now also with the United States, this will mean a crisis in the future of relations, or at least a general cooling.

Weeks ago Netanyahu was in Moscow for a meeting with Putin. They talked about Iran, about the future of Syria, and about the nuclear agreement. Netanyahu said. “Israel views with severity two developments. One, the attempts by Iran to base itself militarily in Syria and the second, Iran’s attempt to produce in Lebanon accurate weapons against the state of Israel. I made it clear to him that we will not agree to any of those developments and we will act accordingly.” In your opinion, is an internal agreement between Iran, Syria and Russia be possible? An agreement that can be satisfactory even for Israel’s security needs?

It depends. How many Iranian soldiers and Shiite militias will arrive in Syria? How close to the border with Israel will they settle? What kind of weapons will fill the flow destined to reach Lebanon? Their presence is considered a threat. Putin and Netanyahu have maintained good relations and often meet to discuss the Syrian question, so we just have to wait and see their moves.

Iran is a country that aims to be an interlocutor at international (especially European) level in multidisciplinary fields (research, trade). In particular, the idea that there is an Islamic justice and a religious court seems in contrasts with the European values, with which Iran has always wanted to cooperate. How can be conceived the desire of international cooperation with the prevalence of Islamic law?

The problem here is that Iran really wants to cooperate internationally and in research, but it is frightened by how the United States could fit into these fields to destabilize the country from within. Cooperating more openly with the West means opening the door to the US influence, and it is here that the phobia of being “spied on” comes into play.

During my research, I have elaborated this theory: Iran’s hegemonic and destabilizing aspirations have a twofold objective. First and foremost, the creation of a Shiite corridor from Iran to Lebanon that will increase weapons and logistic black market. The second is to gain prestige in foreign policy to balance the weakness in the internal politics. Can it be considered a valid paradigm?

Yes, absolutely right. Iran wants to play a leading role in the region and be considered a superpower. The goal of the Shia corridor is to assert its supremacy among regional actors and to show the United States that Iran has an important consensus and is consolidating as a global force. The Theocratic Republic wants to say to US: “We are strong, we have a lot of influence and therefore you cannot overthrow us, nor make the revolution fail. If you try, we will put the safety of your allies at risk. ”

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