Iran seeks external enemy to distract from domestic failures

Iran seeks external enemy to distract from domestic failures

Iran seeks external enemy to distract from domestic failures
Protests in Iran have continued to swell and rage for more than a month. (AFP)
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Iran has recently launched a barrage of threats and accusations against several external actors, which it accuses of being behind the protests that have erupted across the country following the death of a young Kurdish woman, Mahsa Amini, at the hands of the regime’s so-called morality police.

To begin its quest to spin lies and distract attention, the Iranian regime targeted Iranian-Kurdish opposition parties in northern Iraq, with their positions struck with missiles. However, as the protests continued to swell and rage for more than a month, the regime claimed that Daesh had targeted a shrine in Shiraz. The Iranian public, knowing the regime’s duplicity all too well, were skeptical of its claim. Most Iranians believe that the regime’s continuous revelations about supposed terror cells targeting state institutions and society are nothing more than an attempt to distract attention and create a bogeyman to justify its harsh repression of protesters, allowing it to brutally crush the increasingly frequent anti-regime protests across the country.

The regime has also, equally predictably, directed conspiratorial accusations against the US and Israel, accusing them of plotting the protests in Iran. Saudi Arabia has also come in for more than its fair share of accusations, as well as threats from many senior Iranian regime officials, including the commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, who threatened the Kingdom and called for its media apparatus to be curtailed. These threats came in the context of media coverage by some Persian-language outlets, which Tehran claims are funded by Riyadh. Tehran accuses Saudi Arabia of inciting young Iranian men to participate in the protests.

This is of, course, nothing new from the Iranian regime, which is simply parroting the same conspiracy theories and slogans it has repeated constantly for the past four decades. This is the regime’s automatic reaction to any failure or any criticism, domestic or foreign. It blames everything on external conspiracies, flatly ignoring and refusing to acknowledge its own failures and missteps.

The regime is fully aware that these failures, more than any other factor, are the true causes of the country’s dire situation and that the public’s dissatisfaction with all aspects of life is the result of repression, dictatorship, extrajudicial killings, exclusion, and extensive corruption and marginalization, not to mention the unimaginably harsh living conditions that have placed an unbearable burden on the Iranian people; but it simply does not care.

The Iranian regime has instilled despair and frustration in young Iranians while it spends billions of dollars on fictitious projects that serve its own grandiose external ambitions and aspirations for regional expansionism at the cost of the Iranian people’s well-being. As a result, it will continue to face massive and unprecedentedly violent protests, which are a natural byproduct of its domestic failures that have nothing to do with Saudi Arabia or any other external actor.

The ludicrous accusation of IRGC Commander-in-Chief Maj. Gen. Hossein Salami that Saudi-funded media outlets are inciting young Iranians to protest against the regime, while simultaneously vowing action against the Kingdom and threatening to undermine its security through young Iranians, completely ignores the fact that these same young Iranians are at the forefront of the widespread protest movements against the political system of which Salami is one of the key pillars. Every day, these young Iranians chant, “Down with the regime and its supreme leader.”

The regime is simply parroting the same conspiracy theories and slogans it has repeated constantly for the past four decades

Dr. Mohammed Al-Sulami

The way in which young people have led and become iconic figures for protest movements that have raged across several regional countries over the past year has become a source of deep concern for the Iranian regime, as it fears meeting a similar fate to other tyrannical regimes. This fear has grown especially as Iran’s security services and the IRGC have failed to quell the waves of protest that have swelled across Iran in recent years, with the latest one still ongoing.

At this point, we believe that Salami’s threat against Saudi Arabia reflects a tacit acknowledgement by the Iranian regime that the Iranian youth are being influenced by media coverage that has, to a considerable extent, succeeded in clarifying the truth about what is happening in Iran and the scope of the violence and repression inflicted on the Iranian people. This threat reveals the regime’s concern about young Iranians becoming a locomotive of a larger protest movement that targets its very existence and uproots it, as was the case with Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi in 1979.

To avoid a repeat of this scenario, Iran’s current leaders should focus on their domestic problems, work to reestablish their deteriorating relations with the Iranian people and overhaul their domestic and foreign policies to restore stability in the country. Instead, the regime continues to bet on spinning lies about external conspiracies. Even worse, the regime expects the Iranian people to believe these lies.

The threats by Salami and other Iranian officials against Saudi Arabia come at a time when the regional political environment has been awaiting the sixth round of talks between Tehran and Riyadh in Baghdad. While there was hope of resolving outstanding issues and restoring regional stability and normal political relations between the two Middle Eastern powerhouses, the current anti-Saudi rhetoric makes it clear that Tehran prefers to maintain its hostile, crisis-mode model of relations with the Kingdom.

It seems probable that Tehran wishes to direct its internal crises outward by inciting tensions with neighboring states through the use of its proxy actors rather than engage in a direct confrontation with Saudi Arabia, given the risks involved and the long-term consequences for the Iranian regime.

• Dr. Mohammed Al-Sulami is president of the International Institute for Iranian Studies (Rasanah). Twitter: @mohalsulami

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