Here is something we know about the coming year: It is going to be crucial for the future of Iran, the region and American interests in the Middle East. In assessing what the Iranian regime's behavior will be in the near future, the best guide is how it has behaved in the past.
This probably sounds obvious, and most people reading this piece know that Iran has been under intense scrutiny over the past year. The reasons for this attention are many, from the Iranian regime's continuing illicit nuclear program and threats against the international economy, to its support of international terrorism and its egregious human rights abuses. The eyes of the world have been trained on Iran because its behavior is consistently at odds with international norms. Looking at Iran's behavior during 2012 we can break down those violations, and what they imply for the coming year, fairly succinctly into three categories.
1) Nuclear Non-Compliance - During 2012 the Iranian regime has consistently ignored the demands of the United Nations and that body's nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).
Is there hope for this pattern of behavior to change in 2013? I wouldn't hold my breath. Despite facing arguably the most comprehensive international sanctions regime in the world, and despite numerous efforts by the P5+1 and the IAEA to engage in meaningful negotiations, Iran has preferred stubborn defiance to accommodation.
As noted by the IAEA in its November 2012 report, Iran has continued to increase its installed centrifuge capacity at its largest enrichment facility, a fact that theoretically will allow them to enrich uranium faster than was previously possible. The regime has also refused to grant access to the Parchin military facility, a location the IAEA suspects may play a crucial role in Iran's weapons development efforts.
International sanctions designed to bring Iran back to the table are biting. But despite indications of divisions within the regime over how to approach any future negotiations, it is clear that compromise is not the preferred path for the regime's dominant players. For these reasons it is clear that a negotiated solution is a best-case scenario for 2013.
2) Exporting Terror - 2012 saw the Iranian regime continue its sordid tradition of support for international terrorism. This manifested itself in a range of deadly plots against Jewish and Israeli targets around the world, continued support for Hamas and Hezbollah, support for the mass slaughter of Syrian civilians, and a newfound enthusiasm for cyber attacks against the U.S. and its allies.
Will 2013 be different? Almost assuredly not. As with the nuclear program, 2012 was not the beginning of Iran's bad behavior, it was simply its continuation. In fact there is reason to believe that the coming year will only see a surge in the Iranian regime's active employment of violence abroad. From terror attacks, to digital disruption, expect Iranian backed attacks to make headlines on a regular basis over the coming months.
3) Human Rights at Risk - As with Iran's nuclear program, and its support for international terrorism, Iran's human rights record in 2012 makes for grim reading. According to a range of organizations and human rights activists, the situation in the country has deteriorated for a range of communities. This includes human rights defenders, labor activists, women, religious and ethnic minorities, journalists and bloggers, children and other everyday Iranians subject to the capricious nature of Iranian "justice."
The circumstances facing prominent and internationally known activists and artists like Nasrin Sotoudeh and Jafar Panahi are well known, but as the horrific demise of the previously little known blogger Sattar Beheshti demonstrates, any and all Iranians are potential targets of the regime. Add to this the arbitrary and frequent employment of the death penalty, nearly 500 have been executed in the past year, and you can see that the regime is actively seeking to instill fear in the hearts of its people.
Will this change in 2013? Probably not, and the reality is that things might only get worse. The most significant recent crackdown on Iranian civil society and pro-democracy activists came in the wake of the fraudulent 2009 presidential elections. While it is reasonable to predict that the upcoming electoral contest in 2013 will be rigged in favor of the powers that be, just how everyday Iranians respond to this event is unpredictable. Any large-scale popular effort to oppose the status quo will undoubtedly be met harshly by the Islamic Republic.
It is for these reasons that the Iranian regime has maintained its status as a pariah state internationally. As much as we hope that this behavior will change in the coming year, we are unlikely to be so lucky. On the Iran front, get ready for a rocky 2013.