Iran’s Nuclear Program & Western Sanctions

[op-ed snap] Iran’s tightrope


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: Not much.

Mains level: Paper 2- Events in the Middle East, especially involving Iran and its implications for India.


In the aftermath of recent events, Iran needs a new compact to deal with the domestic crisis and also a framework to deal with the US.

The threat of “regime change” in Iran

  • The US policy-The temptation for a policy of “regime change” in Iran has never disappeared from the US policy towards Iran.
    • The policy is based on the hope that mounting external pressure and deepening internal dissent will combine to produce a “regime collapse” in Tehran.
    • US President has often insisted that he is not seeking to overthrow the clerical regime in Tehran led by Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
    • The Us demands were an end to the nuclear and missile programmes, stop supporting terror in the region and end the interference in the internal affairs of its Arab neighbours.
  • Iran’s success in fending off these threats: Iran has been successful so far in fending off these external and internal challenges.
    • Iran has put down repeated mass uprisings and neutered attempts from within the elite to reform the system.

De-escalation of the tension after the war-like situation

  • Fear of escalation: The widespread assessment after the killing of Soleimani was that Iran would inevitably escalate the confrontation.
    • Tehran set up a token retaliation for domestic political consumption and quickly called for de-escalation.
  • The message of peace from the US: Trump also told the Iranian leaders that America “is ready to embrace peace with all who seek it”.

The shooting of a passenger jet and the aftermath 

  • The shooting of the jet:
    • The Ukrainian passenger jet was shot-down near Tehran killing all 176 passengers and crew on-board.
    • It included 82 Iranian nationals and many Canadian citizens of Iranian origin
  • After initial denial, Tehran was forced to accept responsibility for shooting down the plane.
  • The aftermath of the shooting of the plane
    • Protests: Soon after the confession, protests broke out against the government.
    • Demand for accountability: Iranians are angry at the attempt of the government to cover up initially and are demanding full accountability.

The general discontent of the people against the government

  • The latest round of protests must be seen as a continuation of those that have raged since the end of 2017.
  • Reasons for the discontent: Economic grievances, frustration with widespread corruption, demands for liberalising the restrictions on women and political opposition to the regime are the reasons.
  • Discontent against external adventures: There was also strong criticism of the government’s costly external adventures in the Middle East amidst the deteriorating economic conditions.
    • There is little love for the Revolutionary Guards, the principal face of state oppression.
  • External pressure: As the regime cracks down on the protests against the airliner shooting, the external pressures against Iran are only likely to mount.

Available option and their dangers

  • As sanctions squeeze the Iranian economy, the costs of regional overreach become apparent, and internal protests become persistent, Khamenei has few good options.
  • The option of the new political compact: Offering a new political compact to the people of Iran or a new framework to deal with the Arab neighbours and the US would seem reasonable goals.
    • But they involve considerable risk for the regime.
  • The option of pragmatism: All revolutionary regimes come to a point when they need to replace ideological fervour with pragmatism.
    • But the change from ideological fervour to pragmatism is also the time of the greatest vulnerability for the regime.


India as a friend of Iran will surely begin to debate if privately, the implications of the deepening regime crisis in Iran.

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