Because something is happening here
But you don’t know what it is
Do you, Mister Jones? – Bob Dylan, Ballad of a Thin Man
Since Thursday, December 28, something has been happening in Iran.
Anti-regime demonstrations have broken out all over. Although the nuclear deal with the West brought huge amounts of cash into the country, instead of improving the economy it’s been used to support the war in Syria and parceled out to Hezbollah, Hamas, the Houthi rebels in Yemen, Iraqi Shiite militias, the ballistic missile program, and many other things that I don’t know about but that serve the imperial goals of the regime.
Much of the economy is controlled by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), a branch of the Iranian armed forces which is involved in both internal security for the regime and its foreign adventures. People connected with the IRGC are doing well, while those who aren’t “hooked up” are suffering from the severe inflation and unemployment that plague the rest of the nation.
There are about 125,000 members of the IRGC and it controls the basij militia with several hundred thousand additional fighters in reserve. The IRGC operates Iran’s missile and nuclear programs .
Apparently, many Iranians are tired of the corrupt regime and don’t see the point of its adventures in Syria and elsewhere. I would like to believe also that they see the regime heading for a direct collision with Israel and other regional powers, and they would prefer to avoid an unnecessary and bloody war.
Although the immediate irritants are economic, the demonstrations are strongly political and aimed at the regime. Posters of Supreme Leader Khamenei, General Qassam Solemani of the IRGC’s “Quds Force” (a sort of foreign legion), and President Rouhani have been destroyed. Chants of “death to the IRGC” and “death to the dictator” have been reported.
Is it possible that the revolutionary Islamic regime established in 1979 could be overthrown?
In 2009, the so-called “Green Revolution” – a protest against what many believed to be a rigged presidential election – was brutally put down by police and the basij militia. Then demonstrations were primarily in the capital and on behalf of a reformist candidate, not directly aimed at the regime. Today’s demonstrations are both more widespread and clearly challenge the regime. There’s no reason to think the regime would hold back in its use of violence. At least two demonstrators have reportedly been killed already.
In 2009, President Obama chose not to encourage the demonstrators. Today, President Trump has expressed his support and warned the Iranian regime against violating the protesters’ rights. But it’s not clear what actions the US could take at this point to aid them. What might really make a difference could be support from the Iranian army, which is significantly larger than the IRGC, although probably a less effective fighting force.
At this point we don’t know if the demonstrations are the beginning of a planned putsch with an organization behind them, or just a spontaneous explosion of frustration. If the latter, the regime will probably succeed in shutting them down by the escalating use of force. But if the former is the case, then regime change is a possibility.
This raises so many questions! Could Iran get a non-Islamist regime? Could it get one that is not committed to imperial conquest? Could it even dream of a democratic government?
Iran is a relatively advanced country with a well-educated population. It was at one time one of the most Westernized countries in the Middle East. The 1979 revolution imposed an atavistic, medieval regime on a people that has chafed under its rule ever since. There is certainly popular support for a counter-revolution.
The consequences in the region if the Iranian regime were replaced by one which prioritized economic development over foreign adventures would be immense. If the demonstrators got their wish and the millions sent to Hezbollah and the Iraqi Shiite militias stayed in Iran, the air would go out of Bashar al-Assad’s plan to re-conquer Syria. The best he could hope for with plenty of Russian air support would be to survive in a small enclave. The Sunni resistance to his regime would be reenergized.
Needless to say, Israel would be overjoyed. Hezbollah is Israel’s most dangerous immediate enemy, with its 150,000 rockets aimed at us. Without Iranian support, the process of disarmament, which was called for by UNSC Resolution 1701 at the end of the Second Lebanon War, but never implemented, could finally begin. Lebanon could begin to think about becoming an independent sovereign nation again, instead of a country-sized human shield for Hezbollah rocket launchers.
Subversive and murderous activity against Jews and Westerners all over the world would suffer a severe blow. Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, and countless other terror groups would lose their greatest source of funds for weapons and terrorism. Antisemitic propaganda would decline. Without support from a sovereign state, Hezbollah would just be another international narco-terrorism group, and the world’s police agencies could pursue it and prosecute its leaders.
Would the Islamic State and Al-Qaeda try to expand back into the vacuum? Probably. It would not be the end of terrorism or even the end of extremist Islamic terrorism. Iraq’s Shiite majority would not suddenly decide to share power with its Sunni minority, even without Iranian prodding to violent confrontation.
The Palestinians would not turn around and recognize a sovereign Jewish state in any borders, nor would the Europeans stop trying to subvert Israel for their own dark reasons. Just as all the problems of the region didn’t grow from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, they aren’t all related to Iranian expansionism.
If Iran stopped exporting revolutionary Islamism, it wouldn’t create a new, more peaceful world all at once.
But what a good start it would be!