What began as regional protests have escalated and now developed into a national rebellion in more than a hundred cities, conducted by Iranians, who, in fear for their futures, seek the end of the current government. In several smaller cities, the security forces have lost control over the protests creating a sense of volatility reminiscing of 1979 when Iranians overthrew the Shah.
Iran’s President Rouhani attempted to appease the protesters and urged them not to be carried away by violence, saying “protesting is the legitimate right of citizens, but vandalism is not.” Supreme Revolutionary Leader Ali Khamenei responded by calling the protesters criminals who will be dealt with accordingly. And indeed, Iran has taken measures to counteract the protest. The Internet has been almost completely cut off and the Revolutionary Guard has begun to fire at protesters, with at least 65 people killed so far.
The nationwide revolt was triggered by a sudden price increase for gasoline announced in the middle of the night to last Friday. A step that is particularly affecting the poor among the 80 million Iranians who have been suffering from an augmentation of inflation and unemployment for years. However, it is not only the poor that have taken their rage to the streets.
Of the 80 million people, 60 per cent are under the age of 30, many of them educated. These people are highly cognizant about their prospects or lack thereof under the current circumstances and continue to direct their frustration towards the regime also.
US sanctions, which had been reimposed after President Trump’s withdrawal from a dichotomic nuclear agreement, have completely paralyzed the country’s economy. While European’s have been reluctant to punish the Mullahs for relaunching its nuclear program, Washington has continued to play hardball since – and rightfully so.
Most importantly and despite all the false blame on the US, the Iranian regime has brought the current circumstances on itself with its unassailable actions, such as the continuous sponsoring of terrorism. To blame Trump for exiting an agreement his predecessor conducted is being naïve at best or downright ignorant at worst. Most importantly, the withdrawal has worked out impeccably well for the US and it would be unwise to return to the negotiation table right now.
The looming threat of a nuclear Iran, able to strike against its enemies remains the counter-argument of course. But let us be honest: it has been an Iranian paper tiger from the start. Why? Because the only absolute certainty in the whole saga is this: under no circumstances would the US allow Iran to ever obtain nuclear weapons. Its safety and the safety of its main allies in the region (i.e. Saudi-Arabia and Israel) depends on it. Thus, a pre-emptive strike is always more conceivable than the Mullahs becoming a nuclear power.
However, Washington’s current tactic does not involve military actions. All the US has been attempting, is to further increase tensions between protesters and the government. It is why Secretary of State Pompeo has threatened Iran with further sanctions for its crackdown on protesters while urging the people on Twitter to send the US government photos, videos, and other evidence. Pompeo is not doing this out of the goodness of his heart, but because it is a Machiavellian move that might deliver the US an occurrence it has long wanted: regime change.
By insinuating to the protesters that the US has their back, he not only legitimizes their actions but provides them with further reason to continue these. The US’ agenda is henceforth to help facilitate an Iranian version of the Arab Spring of 2011, an overthrow of the regime by its people. And as the latest reports indicate, it is no longer inconceivable.
It is the strategy President Obama needed to apply during his tenure. Instead, he faded the opportunity and appeased the Mullahs with a, for the region, and particularly the allies, detrimental nuclear deal.
And while the current administration’s foreign policy track record has been anything but stellar (e.g. no process in the Israel-Palestine conflict and no disarmed North Korea), Iran could turn out to become an unlikely signature win without having fired one single shot or the continuation of senseless appeasement.