Iran displays fundamental shift in its public reaction to pressure
There seems to have been a shift in how the Iranian government publicly reacts to pressure under the presidency of Hassan Rouhani. Whenever Tehran used to encounter serious international pressure, it would tactically and temporarily tone down its provocative and aggressive rhetoric in public in order to deter the threat. Simultaneously, Tehran would covertly ratchet up its asymmetrical warfare and support for proxies and militias in order to achieve its hegemonic ambitions.
For example, in 1981, when incoming US President Ronald Reagan declared that he was going to abandon his predecessor Jimmy Carter’s containment policy toward Iran and impose pressure on the regime, Tehran immediately released 52 American citizens who had been held hostage at the US Embassy in the Iranian capital for 444 days. The Iranian leaders believed that the Republican administration of Reagan was determined to employ various strategies to fight their hostage-taking and support for terrorism.
However, at the same time, Tehran secretly pursued its revolutionary principles by training militants in Lebanon and instigating the Shiite uprising in Iraq. Iran set up Hezbollah, which has been accused of many terrorist attacks, including the 1983 bombing of the US Marine barracks in Beirut that killed 241 American personnel and the 1983 US Embassy bombing in Beirut.
The Iranian leaders succeeded at scuttling US foreign policy objectives in Lebanon, while also pushing US and Israeli troops out of the country, replacing them with many Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) members and positioning the country as the most important player in Lebanon’s political affairs.
During the George W. Bush administration, Tehran again came under significant pressure. After the US ousted Saddam Hussein in Iraq and the Taliban in Afghanistan, Iranian leaders realized the period of President Bill Clinton’s engagement was over. Highly concerned that Tehran might be the next US target, on the surface Iran offered to help Washington with its intelligence. It held several high-level meetings with US officials, some of which were at ambassadorial level, and even voluntarily suspended its nuclear program, including all uranium enrichment activities.
Surprisingly, instead of publicly backing off from its aggressive stance, the Iranian regime has become more aggressive, belligerent, and defiant.
Dr. Majid Rafizadeh
In order to see off the threat, the Iranian regime tactically toned down its incendiary rhetoric against the US and refrained from publicly getting engaged in political or military posturing in the region. But, behind the scenes, the regime covertly assisted, funded, armed and trained militias and terror groups in Afghanistan and Iraq. Tehran emerged as the winner in both Iraq and Afghanistan and it succeeded in inflicting significant damage on the US financially, militarily, strategically and geopolitically.
But the regime seems to have shifted its dual policy since President Donald Trump assumed office. Similar to the Republican administrations of Reagan and Bush, the Trump White House has leveled significant pressure on Iran. Sanctions against Tehran’s major economic and energy sectors have been reimposed and Washington declared that it would punish any US or non-US entities engaging in commerce with the Iranian regime, including any currency transactions, trades or financial dealings. Washington has also succeeded in dramatically lowering Iran’s oil exports.
Surprisingly, instead of publicly backing off from its aggressive stance, the Iranian regime has become more aggressive, belligerent, and defiant. For instance, lately it has boasted about its intervention in Syria. Ali Shamkhani, secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, told the semi-official Tasnim news agency on Saturday: “We have accomplished more than 90 percent of our objectives. Thus, the Israeli punitive strikes (on Syria) have had no strategic impact and the resistance has pressed ahead with its activities.”
Despite the robust pressure from the Trump administration, the regime has been defiantly unveiling new and advanced weaponries. Most recently, the regime conducted a massive, public navy drill near the Strait of Hormuz. Rouhani has also unveiled a “state-of-the-art” destroyer and a new cruise missile-armed submarine. Iranian Defense Minister Brig. Gen. Amir Hatami said defiantly: “The Defense Ministry’s Marine Industries Organization is prepared to carry out the missions of the Islamic Republic’s powerful naval forces, including the IRGC, army and the police force, in designing, constructing and supplying advanced marine equipment and weapons… using state-of-the-art technology.”
Iran also recently showcased a massive underground missile factory and announced that it would continue to advance its ballistic missile program in spite of resistance from the international community. Iranian leaders also threatened Saudi Arabia and the UAE this month, and the IRGC’s deputy head Brig. Gen. Hossein Salami threatened to annihilate Israel. He said: “Our strategy is to erase Israel from the global political map. And it seems that, considering the evil that Israel is doing, it is bringing itself closer to that.”
There appears to be a shift in the way that the Iranian regime reacts to pressure publicly. As the pressure mounts against Iran, the rulers become more violent, aggressive, militarized and belligerent, both domestically and regionally.
- Dr. Majid Rafizadeh is a Harvard-educated Iranian-American political scientist. He is a leading expert on Iran and US foreign policy, a businessman and president of the International American Council. Twitter: @Dr_Rafizadeh