EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: The controversy surrounding the US withdrawal from the 2015 Iran nuclear deal (JCPOA) epitomizes the ongoing debate between two contending approaches on the best way to bring about a positive change in Tehran’s Islamist regime and its policies.
Many, including in Israel, identify the (supposedly) moderate President Hassan Rouhani as the best hope for such a change, warning that the collapse of the nuclear agreement and the reintroduction of international sanctions will play into the hands of the hardliners and weaken Rouhani and the “reformist camp” more generally.
While intriguing, such views are not only unfounded but detrimental to the efforts to pressure Iran to end its domestic repression and external aggression. For one thing, it is international sanctions, not friendly persuasion, that brought Tehran to the negotiating table in the first place. For another, as shown by the popular protests across Iran since early 2018, sustained economic pressure does not weaken the internal Iranian demand for change but rather reinforces it.