Ayatollahs should be most afraid of Iran’s own citizens
After protesters gained control of the Iranian Arab-majority city of Mahshahr, Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) personnel were dispatched to gun down protesters. Terrified citizens fled to a nearby marsh, where they were encircled and systematically massacred with machine guns. Mahshahr’s death toll was estimated at 130. “What have you done that the undignified shah did not do?” the city’s MP, Mohammed Golmordai, bellowed against the regime during a televised Parliament broadcast, before being physically attacked by other deputies.
US officials estimate that more than a thousand citizens were killed during the recent protests in Iran, with countless thousands more injured and detained. The authorities prepared with ruthless efficiency for the huge outburst of anger that erupted across almost every province, triggered by an overnight 200 percent rise in gasoline prices and a decrepit economy that has shrunk by 80 percent. IRGC personnel and Basij paramilitaries were deployed countrywide with shoot-to-kill orders, enjoying virtual impunity thanks to the comprehensive internet shutdown.
Yet, even as Tehran was massacring its own citizens, the regime was simultaneously exploiting the chaos of unrest elsewhere in the region to export thousands of rockets to menace Saudi Arabia and other nearby states. A veteran Western diplomat warned me that Tehran imminently intends to lash out again at Gulf targets in an attempt to wrong-foot its enemies and neutralize the perfect storm of pressures it is currently experiencing. America and Europe’s deafening failure to respond to repeated military provocations this year makes such a course of action highly likely.
Intelligence sources report that Iran recently exported short-range ballistic missiles to paramilitary bases in Iraq (deployment in southern Iraq puts numerous Saudi cities directly within their 600-mile range). Meanwhile, a shipment of sophisticated Iranian missile components was impounded en route to Yemen. IRGC adviser Allahnoor Noorollahi declared: “Unfortunately, some Gulf countries have become a military camp for our enemy. I must say this, 21 of their bases constitute targets for our missiles. NATO itself announced that Iran’s 110 missile bases and launching sites are capable of launching 20,000 missiles per day.” The fact that Iran is boasting about exploiting front-line Arab states to launch thousands of missiles “per day” against its enemies illustrates how Tehran envisages further militarizing these nations.
With even the middle classes reduced to grinding poverty, ordinary Iranuans see themselves as the walking dead.
Through their brutal domestic crackdown, the ayatollahs wanted to send a message that all opposition would be confronted with murderous force: Unemployed, impoverished protesters must be crushed and humiliated. Grieving families were informed that, to retrieve the mangled bodies of their loved ones, they must first pay for the bullets that murdered them.
This was also a message for Iraq and Lebanon — a blueprint for how dissent should be confronted. Quds Force commander Qassem Soleimani and Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei were the architects of the Damascus regime’s war against its own citizens. And, if they were willing to exterminate hundreds of thousands of innocent people, perhaps they think there are no levels of civil unrest that can’t be crushed. Yet, even in Syria today, there are rumblings that desperate citizens may again turn out in defiance of their genocidal regime. The hyper-inflated currency has left starving Syrians unable to afford bread — what are they supposed to eat? Each other?
Mass killings by Iranian proxies have exacerbated public anger in Iraq. This rage has been manifested in attacks against Iranian consulates and paramilitary offices, as well as the burning of images of Khamenei and Soleimani. Experts warn that Tehran has inadvertently triggered a “blood feud” by killing large numbers of Iraqis from prominent tribes throughout the Shiite south. Tribes “are blaming Iran and its proxies for this. It’s very dangerous, and uncharted territory for Tehran,” warned one expert.
Protests took a further nasty turn last week, when thousands of Al-Hashd Al-Shaabi paramilitary thugs descended on Baghdad’s Tahrir Square to intimidate demonstrators, with numerous stabbings reported. In the ensuing days, paramilitaries opened fire directly on protesters, killing dozens. There was also an attack on the home of cleric Muqtada Al-Sadr, who withdrew his faction from the government in support of the protests. The US subsequently sanctioned several notorious Hashd leaders blamed for ordering the killings.
In Lebanon, I have been struck by how complacently disconnected senior officials are from the massive outbreak of public anger. Some of the deluded souls I talked to belittled the protesters, predicting that everything would soon be business as usual, with Gebran Bassil as president. Attempts by unpopular figures like Bassil (denounced by protesters as thieves and parasites) to exploit the unrest for personal promotion can only make matters 100 times worse. Three high-profile suicides in recent days by poor and indebted individuals have fueled a debate about why this nation is in such a sorry state.
According to my trusted sources who attended a recent security conference in Qatar (with senior Iranian, Turkish, Russian and Israeli representation), regime-connected Iranian academics floated proposals for a five-year freeze on ballistic missile development, disassociation from Yemen, acquiescence to key US demands on the nuclear issue, and rebranding Hezbollah as a purely political entity. While we shouldn’t take such offers at face value, this demonstrates the regime’s extreme discomfort.
During Palestinian uprisings, Israel’s military gruesomely refers to crackdowns against militants as “mowing the grass” — believing that such killing sprees are necessary every few months to keep things under control. Tehran, likewise, may believe it has restored order, but it too is only “mowing the grass.” With even the middle classes reduced to grinding poverty, ordinary Iranians see themselves as the walking dead; lacking food, jobs and meaningful life prospects.
Even in Iraq and Lebanon, Tehran’s attempts at violent crackdowns risk triggering a social and tribal backlash that would make these nations hostile environments for all forms of foreign meddling in perpetuity; particularly if Iran tries to exploit these nations as front-line states in its megalomaniacal war against the civilized world.
Yet the greatest hope for the liberation of Arab citizens from Iranian domination may paradoxically be through the unconquerable spirit of the Iranian people themselves, as they face down the corruption, brutality and terrorism of the ayatollahs. The Islamic Republic’s greatest existential threat is thus not America or Israel, but its own countrymen.
- Baria Alamuddin is an award-winning journalist and broadcaster in the Middle East and the UK. She is editor of the Media Services Syndicate and has interviewed numerous heads of state.