Some politicians and policy analysts argue that Iran's sanctions relief and the continuing implementation of its nuclear program would push Iran towards moderation in dealing with the United States and Israel, as well as scaling down Iran's expansionist and hegemonic ambitions. The realities on the ground suggest otherwise.
As Tehran's revenues are rising, anti-American and anti-Semitic rhetoric by Iran's Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, are escalating.
The Iranian regime continues to view the U.S. and Israel as their top geopolitical, strategic and ideological enemies. According to Iran's Mehr News Agency, on May 1, Khamenei welcomed the Secretary General of Palestinian Islamic Jihad, Ramadan Abdullah Shalah, and his accompanying delegation in Tehran:
"Ayatollah Khamenei reaffirmed that with this perspective in regional issues, Iran sees the United States as the main enemy with the Zionist regime standing behind it. He pointed to extensive, unprecedented sanctions of the U.S. and its followers against the Islamic establishment in recent years and dubbed the objective of them as discouraging Iran from continuing its path; 'but they failed to achieve their goals and will fail in future as well.' "
Khamenei is sending a strong signal to Washington that Iran's reintegration in the global financial system does not mean that the Iranian regime will change its hostility towards the U.S. and Israel.
In addition, Khamenei is sending a message to the Iranian people that the current process of implementing the nuclear agreement, lifting sanctions, and partial economic liberalization does not mean that Iran is going to liberalize its politics and allow freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and more political participation.
Khamenei is also making it clear that Iran is not going to fundamentally change its foreign policy objectives in the region.
Regarding Iran's role in the Gulf, Iran's Supreme Leader pointed out on May 2 that
"The Persian Gulf is the Iranian nation's home and the Persian Gulf and a large section of the Sea of Oman belong to this powerful nation. Therefore, we should be present in the region, hold war games and display our power."
When it comes to Syria, Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) has become more emboldened and empowered in supporting the Syrian regime financially, militarily, and in intelligence and advisory capacities. Even during the current peace talks, Iran is ramping up its presence in Syria to increase Bashar Assad's leverage in the negotiations.
In Iraq, Iran's sectarian agenda and support for Shiite militias continues to cause political instability. This week, hundreds of followers of the Iraqi Shia leader, Muqtada al-Sadr, stormed into the Iraqi parliament building, demanding its speaker halt the session. Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi warned that these protests could lead to the Iraqi state's failure. After the protests, al-Sadr -- who spent several years studying in Qom (Iran's center of Islamic studies) -- travelled to Iran.
Currently, some of the powerful Iraqi Shiite militias with which Iran has close connections, and in which it is investing its resources, are: Sadr's Promised Day Brigade, the successor to the Mahdi Army; the Badr Organization, Asa'ib Ahl al Haqq (League of the Righteous) and Kata'ib Hezbollah (Battalions of Hezbollah).
In Yemen and Bahrain, Iran's support for the Houthi rebels and Shiite groups continues to fuel the sectarian conflicts there.
Khamenei has also unleashed a series of anti-U.S. and anti-Israel tweets, including:
"Lebanon's Hezbollah is strong enough not to be hurt by some pressures; today, no doubt Zionist regime is scared of Hezbollah more than past." (1 May 2016)
"Shia-Sunni clash is colonialist, US plot. Top issue is to realize 2 sides of the extensive war & one's stance to avoid being against Islam." (1 May 2016)
Iran's foreign policy is anchored in three areas: ideological principles (anti-Americanism and anti-Semitism), national interests (mainly economic gains), and nationalism.
Although Khamenei needed to emphasize Iran's national and economic interests, there is no evidence that he is giving up on the revolutionary ideological norms. Khamenei is relying on the so-called moderates -- President Hassan Rouhani and his U.S.-educated foreign minister, Javad Zarif -- to continue the process of implementing the nuclear deal in order to benefit Iran economically and ensure the regime's hold on power.
Nevertheless, at the end of day, the key decision makers in Iran's political establishments are Khamenei and the senior cadre of the IRGC, who prioritize Iran's ideological and revolutionary principles. It is from them that Khamenei draws his legitimacy.
As long as the Supreme Leader is alive, one should not expect that Iran's reintegration into the global economy to move the country to the moderate end of the spectrum, or that its anti-American, anti-Semitic sentiments and fundamentals of Tehran's foreign policies will change.
Dr. Majid Rafizadeh, an Iranian-American political scientist and Harvard University scholar, is president of the International American Council.