In mid-January of this year, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo Tweeted a statement and accompanying video in which he said that "The goal of our maximum pressure campaign is to deny the regime resources to conduct its destructive foreign policy. We want Iran to act like a normal country."
He cited the "death and destruction" the regime sows across the Mideast and noted that "Iran continues to be the world's leading sponsor of terrorism."
But given this regime’s doctrinal foundations in jihad and revolution, is it realistic to think any amount of financial pressure or even the Jan. 3, 2020 targeted assassination of Quds Force commander Gen. Qasem Soleimani can shake this Tehran regime into behavior so inconsistent with the beliefs of its senior leadership?
Those beliefs are enshrined in the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini’s personal ideology of Velayat-e Faqih, or Rule of the Jurisprudent, which concentrates all power, both political and spiritual, in the hands of Shi’ite clergy. That is likewise spelled out in the Iranian constitution, which dedicates the regime to jihad to establish a global Islamic State under rule of Islamic Law.
Shi’ite theological belief in the Twelfth Imam as Islam’s messianic figure of the Mahdi also guides the behavior of those at the top levels of the Iranian regime. Some of those additionally believe that they can expedite the return of the Mahdi and the End Times scenario through instigation of chaos, strife, and warfare on earth such that he will feel compelled to come back to set it all straight.
Once these core beliefs are understood, it becomes easier to understand the past, present, and likely future behavior of this regime. What the West typically calls "terrorism," the Tehran regime would identify as jihad, a core and obligatory tenet of the Islamic faith.
The litany of attacks carried out, often via proxies both Shia and Sunni, against Americans worldwide since 1979 is a long one: Beirut (1983), Khobar Towers (1996), East Africa Embassies (1998), USS Cole (2000), 9/11 (2001), Shi’ite militia attacks against U.S. forces in Iraq (2000s), and recent attacks on commercial shipping and Saudi oil facilities in the Persian Gulf area, and finally, attacks against U.S. forces in Iraq and our Embassy in Baghdad.
The horrific human rights abuses of this Tehran regime against its own people likewise are justified on the basis of its interpretation of Islamic Law.
The takedown of Soleimani marked a sharp and important turning point for the Trump administration, under which for the first time in four decades, the U.S. struck back with lethal force directly at the senior ranks of the Tehran regime itself. Pledges of retaliation were quick to follow as was the close identification of Soleimani as a "martyr" with the revered fallen figure of Hussein, killed at the Battle of Karbala in 680 CE.
This identification lies behind the raising of the red flag of war over the Jamkaran mosque. For people who are still commemorating a Shi’a ancestor killed more than thirteen centuries ago, though, the exact timing of that promised retaliation may not necessarily coincide with Western notions of time.
Events unfolding in real time, however, may have a more immediate impact on what happens next.
Popular revolts in Lebanon, Iraq, and Iran are shaking the grip of the Tehran regime over its regional satrapies, possibly as well as the foundations of the regime itself.
New alignments in the Mideast that have Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) lining up publicly or behind the scenes in support of President Trump’s Peace Plan of the Century, unveiled Jan. 28, 2020, would have been unthinkable just a few years ago.
Immediate rejection of the Plan by the Palestinian Authority, Hamas, Hezbollah, and the Iranian regime was, of course, expected, no matter the generous provisions proposed.
Increasingly, however, Arab states are fed up with the Palestinians and their demands; fear of Tehran’s aggressive projection of power by way of proxies as well as its drive for deliverable nuclear weapons also are bringing them into alignment with Israel and the U.S.
Could the confluence of all these events possibly bring down the Iranian regime?
Or at least the mullahs and their Velayat-e Faqih system?
We should be careful what we wish for.
The collapse of the ayatollahs may not be so inconceivable anymore, but that would not be the end of Iran’s jihad aggression.
The reason is that even now, it may not be the ayatollahs alone who are the real power in Iran: the key officials who carry out the violent, extrajudicial murder, torture, and jailing of Iranian protesters include Chief Justice Mullah Ebrahim Raisi, but also Iran’s Bassij forces under the command of BG Gholamreza Soleimani, Justice Minister Alireza Awayi, and Interior Minister Abdolreza Rahmani Fazli.
Those who direct regional terror throughout the Mideast and beyond and oversee Iran’s biological, chemical, and nuclear WMD programs are the commanders of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), including MG Hossein Salami, Deputy IRGC commander Ali Fadavi, and Qods Force commander BG Ismail Qaani (who succeeded Soleimani).
These are the thugs with guns that keep the ayatollahs in power.
They are also the true believers of the Iranian regime.
It's not realistic to expect that such as these could ever be persuaded to change their behavior so drastically as to align with conventional norms of nation state behavior.
The Iranian people have told us what they want: regime change.
We should get behind them in earnest.
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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