Iranian regime under pressure from three sides
The Islamic Republic is, for the first time since its establishment, simultaneously encountering what I would call three concentric circles of pressure. These forces are influencing and reinforcing each other, maximizing the level of pressure that the regime is under. If these three forces of pressure persist, the theocratic establishment will find it extremely difficult to survive.
The first circle of pressure the regime is facing is domestic. The Iranian people’s dissatisfaction with their rulers has reached an unprecedented level. The discontent toward the regime is both political and economic. Many Iranians are extremely frustrated with the lies and widespread corruption at the top, and how the nation’s wealth is being squandered to satisfy the ruling mullahs’ revolutionary and geopolitical ambitions. There exists no rule of law to hold the gilded circle of the regime’s leaders accountable.
Even if the regime succeeds in brutally suppressing every wave of demonstrations, the deep frustration and anger shared by many in the country will not disappear, but will continue to simmer under the surface.
Every event can become a trigger for new rounds of widespread protests, which will endanger the hold on power of the ruling politicians. But the Iranian authorities do not appear to grasp the seriousness of these problems, as they continue to prioritize supporting, financing, arming and training terrorist-designated groups in the region — militias that advance the ruling mullahs’ objectives — rather than listen to their people.
Another major issue that that the Iranian government is facing is that people are not demanding limited reforms anymore. Instead, they are calling for regime change. After almost four decades of living under a theocracy, with the ruling mullahs controlling them, with rampant corruption and with the regime’s persistent dissemination of propaganda, the people’s anger has reached boiling point.
Protesters are frequently risking their lives as, in almost every demonstration, one can hear people chanting, “Death to Khamenei” and other such slogans — a serious crime according to the clergy and punishable, under Iranian law, with death. Similarly, demonstrators have been tearingdown banners bearing the images of Iranian leaders, including Supreme Leaders Ruhollah Khomeini and Ali Khamenei.
The second circle of pressure that the ruling mullahs are facing is regional. The regime’s popularity is likely now at its lowest ebb in the Middle East. People in Lebanon and Iraq recently expressedtheir opposition to Iran’s influence, interference and support for militia groups in their countries. Meanwhile, six Gulf countries joined hands last October to impose sanctions on banks, individuals and dozens of corporations linked to Tehran’s support for militant groups, including Hezbollah.
Iran’s eventual admission of its culpability for the shooting down of a Ukrainian passenger plane last week brought into even sharper focus the tragic consequences of its trigger-happy preference for missile warfare. Even for a region as drama-filled as the Middle East, 2020 has already seen more action than could reasonably be expected across an entire calendar year — all of it centering on Iran. The regime has shown the world what many of us have long known it to be: An instigator of instability with a reckless disregard for human life. However, these recent developments should be viewed by Iran’s rulers as an opportunity to renounce their previously malign ways.
The third circle of pressure is global. Not only is the US continuing to level significant economic and political sanctions on the regime, but additional countries are now leaning toward Washington’s course of action and imposing pressure on the Iranian leaders.
To be specific, Iran’s latest actions — such as detaining the UK ambassador to Tehran and shooting down the Ukrainian jet — have begun to change the EU’s political calculations and appeasement policies toward the regime. France, Germany and the UK this week upped the pressure on Iran over its uranium enrichment and centrifuge development by triggeringthe dispute resolution mechanism in the 2015 nuclear deal.
Recent developments should be viewed by Iran’s rulers as an opportunity to renounce their previously malign ways.
Dr. Majid Rafizadeh
Meanwhile, due to the US policy of “maximum pressure” and the Trump administration’s determination to reduce Iran’s oil exports to zero, Tehran is running out of funds. The regime is finding it extremely difficult to finance its proxies and militias across the region and pursue its military adventurism.
For the first time since its establishment, the Iranian regime is facing these three concentric circles of pressure — domestic, regional and international — and, if they continue, it will likely be brought to its knees.
- Dr. Majid Rafizadeh is an Iranian-American political scientist. He is a leading expert on Iran and US foreign policy, a businessman and president of the International American Council. He serves on the boards of the Harvard International Review, the Harvard International Relations Council and the US-Middle East Chamber for Commerce and Business. Twitter: @Dr_Rafizadeh