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Confront a Weakened Iran Now or an Emboldened Regime Later

Confront a Weakened Iran Now or an Emboldened Regime Later

Shops that were destroyed during demonstrations against petrol price hikes, are pictured on November 20, 2019, in Shahriar, west of Tehran. Three security personnel have been killed by "rioters" in Iran, the latest deaths in protests that showed no sign of subsiding despite a wave of arrests and internet shutdown. (Atta Kenare/AFP via Getty Images)

Clare M. Lopez By Friday, 22 November 2019 12:29 PM EST Current | Bio | Archive

The Iranian people have been in the streets, protesting against their corrupt, oppressive, tyrannical regime since late December 2017.

But since Friday, November 15, 2019, there’s been a violent new outpouring of disgust for the mullahs and their defending thugs in the IRGC (Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps), MOIS (Ministry of Intelligence and Security), and national police. That includes Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and the entire Velayat-e Faqih system of Islamic domination over Iranian society.

Chants of “Death to the Dictator (Khamenei)” are heard all over the country.

The immediate precipitating factor for this round of protests was a 400% increase in the price for gasoline, in effect, by removal of subsidies that previously kept that price at an absurdly low level.

Popular outrage at the price increase, coupled with further stringent rationing, attests to the desperate level of economic hardship experienced by the Iranian people, at least partly as a result of Trump administration sanctions.

The extent of the protests — now in all of Iran’s 31 provinces — the sustained, violent nature of them even in the face of a brutal crackdown by Iranian security forces, plus the expansion of popular complaint to include regime corruption, mandatory hijab, mismanagement, and diversion of massive amounts of funding to support for Iran’s terror proxies abroad, all mark this uprising as different than the Green Revolution of 2009 or even the many thousands of demonstrations that have been ongoing since late 2017.

That the Iranian uprising coincides with similar massive popular protests against two of Tehran’s key satraps — the Baghdad regime and Lebanese government — undoubtedly brings home to the ruling ayatollahs and their hired guns the reality of the threat to their aggressive geo-strategic plans for the region. This time, the challenges to the Supreme Leader’s authority at home and revolutionary agenda abroad are mounting inexorably against a backdrop of concerted economic pressure.

In Lebanon, Prime Minister Saad Hariri has already stepped down and Iraqi Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi is under increasing pressure to do so as well, despite proposals for a package of reforms, intended to defuse the situation until elections next year.

In both places, the Iranian regime has deployed proxy forces with orders to kill.

Contrary to expectations that such brutality would quickly defuse popular anger, at least in the near term, the result has been the opposite.

The 2015 nuclear deal (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA) lies in tatters, unlikely to be revived. Tehran’s calculated, incremental violations of the JCPOA (not to mention the Non-Proliferation Treaty, NPT, to which it remains a signatory) not only are not yielding the hoped-for capitulations to demands for sanctions relief but are opening the eyes of even the most die-hard JCPOA fans.

Shows of force, like the November 19, 2019, transit through the Strait of Hormuz of the U.S. Navy’s Abraham Lincoln Carrier Strike Group make for good photo ops, but until and unless the Iranian regime actually believes the Trump administration would ever use such firepower against it, otherwise don’t have much effect.

In light of a consistent pattern of U.S. failure to respond forcefully to a long series of Iranian kinetic provocations — attacks against commercial shipping, seizure of ships and crews, drone and cruise missile strikes against Saudi oil facilities from Iranian territory as well as by Iraqi Hashd-e Shaabi and Yemeni Houthi proxies, bringing down an expensive U.S. drone — the reality at the moment is that this Iranian regime does not believe the Trump administration has the steel to take it on. And until Tehran meets that steel, it will keep pushing, confident it can get away with it.

Nor are ever more sanctions the answer, despite the dire straits in which they undoubtably have placed the Tehran regime — because that regime will always prioritize its own jihadist agenda over the needs of its people. Worse, sanctions tend to solidify the grip of the IRGC, which already controls a minimum of 30% of the Iranian economy, because IRGC commanders and their regime cohorts are the ones who control the tightening import and export spigots — to their own massive profit.

Diplomatic pronouncements about hoping the Tehran regime changes its behavior to conform to international norms and hopeful statements about negotiations only bring despair to the brave Iranians, Iraqis, and Lebanese putting their lives on the line to be free of the oppressive tyrants that make their lives miserable.

Now is the time finally to confront the head of the snake: to declare the Iranian regime illegitimate in the view of its own people and amidst unceasing violations of international agreements, norms, and treaties.

We should begin by ensuring the protesters have the communications technology support they need to circumvent regime attempts to shut down internet and telephone connections. Assignment of 3,000 fresh troops to Saudi Arabia and unswerving support for Israel are exactly right. More tangible (preferably covert) support to the brave freedom fighters in the streets would be even better.

We’re in a race between whether the people of Iran, Iraq, and Lebanon finally will win their liberty or Iran will deploy the nuclear weapons it seeks to solidify its grip on power indefinitely. They have the courage: do we have the resolve?

Clare M. Lopez is VP for Research and Analysis at the Center for Security Policy. Previously a Senior Fellow at the London Center for Policy Research and a member of Board of Advisors for Canadian Mackenzie Institute, she was named to Senator Ted Cruz’s presidential campaign national security advisory team in 2016. Lopez served with Citizens’ Commission on Benghazi and now its successor, Citizens’ Commission on National Security. Formerly VP of Intelligence Summit, she was a career operations officer with Central Intelligence Agency, professor at Centre for Counterintelligence and Security Studies and Executive Director of the Iran Policy Committee from 2005-2006. Lopez received a B.A. in Communications and French from Notre Dame College of Ohio and an M.A. in International Relations from the Maxwell School of Syracuse University. She completed Marine Corps Officer Candidate School (OCS) in Quantico, VA, before declining a military commission to join the CIA. To read more of her reports — Click Here Now.

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The Iranian people have been in the streets, protesting against their corrupt, oppressive, tyrannical regime since late December 2017.
iran, protests, regime
Friday, 22 November 2019 12:29 PM
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