To understand any country’s foreign policy you need to understand domestic political dynamics. So what is driving Iranian decision making right now? Negar Mortazavi is a journalist, host of the Iran Podcast and senior fellow at the Center for International Policy. I reached out to her for this interview because it seems that lost in much commentary about the widening crisis in the middle east is a nuanced understanding of what is influencing Iranian policy and decision making. Our conversation focuses on Iranian domestic politics and how that is shaping the regime’s response to the Gaza crisis and US strikes against Iran backed groups in the region.
Mark Leon Goldberg: I’m a firm believer in the idea that a country’s foreign policy can often be best understood through the lens of domestic politics; that is, domestic political pressures often shapes foreign policy. So before we discuss Iran’s response to the Gaza war, I’m keen to get a sense from you what were some of the key debates, trends and pressures that were driving Iranian politics prior to this current crisis?
Negar Mortazavi: There isn’t much debate within the elite political structure because the Iranian hardliners, the conservatives essentially consolidated power recently. A few years ago they took over the parliament from the more moderate faction. Then they took over the presidency, again from a fairly moderate president. They have essentially consolidated power, and were able to sideline and isolate the more moderate and reformist voices by either disqualifying them from running in elections or banning them. Today, we don’t hear too much from that reformist or moderate side of Iranian politics. They are no longer present in the corridors of power.
Nevertheless, we do hear an internal discussion in the country, as we have in the past few years, essentially questioning and challenging Iran’s regional policy. Is support for the so-called Axis of Resistance really worth the animosity with Israel, with the United States? But the policy of the state remains the same as it has been. And we don’t hear too much discussion or arguments in the corridors of power. So I would say there is sort of a unison support for whatever foreign and regional policy we’re seeing.
Mark Leon Goldberg: That’s interesting because there’s often this focus on intra elite rivalry in Iran between the so-called hardliners and the more moderate or reformist camps. But you’re saying that the moderate-reformist camps have just been so substantially sidelined over the last few years that their influence is virtually like nil at this point?
Negar Mortazavi:Imagine if basically you’re in the US, the Republicans took over both houses of Congress, the presidency, everything. And really, you had no prominent Democratic voices in any corridors of power. Now, the moderates and the reformers are still vocal in some media spheres online and the social media as much as they can, but not in the corridors of power. We’re not hearing or seeing much resistance to this policy of support for the so-called axis of resistance and essentially entering into a Israel-Hamas war from one side of the conflict.