Tehran's difficult days: The impact of crises on the regional role of Iran
Thursday 02/May/2019 - 01:39 PM
Since the revolution of the Islamic Republic, Iran has experienced many crises, including the internal challenges that surrounded the revolution and threatened its continuation.
These challenges included Kurdish rebellion that began with the revolution in 1979, the demonstrations in Tabriz, the capital of the territory of Azerbaijan, The People's Mujahideen Organization, and confronting some anti-revolutionary entities such as the pro-Moscow Communist Tudeh Party, the Fedayeen Khalq (the hard-line Marxists, the Communist Ba'akar organization, the Kurdish Marxist group, etc.), as well as the test of Iran's military capability in the war against Iraq, which bowed to its end and declared a cessation of hostilities.
This comes in addition to the security challenges to confront uprisings and demonstrations throughout its history, most recently in 2009 or crises related to repeated sanctions imposed on them for decades.
However, the challenges that Iran has undergone have somehow managed to get out of it through strategies of adaptation or less losses, re-looking for alternatives and circumventing them to reach their goals, in addition to refusing to abandon their faith based on the Persian project and exporting the revolution with their insistence on intervention in the internal affairs of the countries of the region.
That does not comply neither with the rules of the international organization nor the diplomatic and peaceful customs - and the formation of parallel entities and militias used to achieve their objectives and pressure to form an active and pressing role.
Despite the historical experience in dealing with the crisis on the part of Iran, the scale of the challenges facing Tehran today has become more threatening and pressuring, especially since the arrival of President Trump and the administration of the Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, John Bolton, national security adviser, known for their hostility to the policies of Tehran.
The crisis has also taken on a more intense dimension, including internal and external, an unprecedented qualitative challenge to Iran, a very difficult test of the Islamic revolution itself and the viability of the regime, Iranian foreign policy and its ability to withstand and follow the same approach.
Repeated protests and an unprecedented sanctions package in Iran's history
The exit of the United States from Obama's nuclear deal with Iran in 2015 was a painful blow to Tehran, not only because President Rowhani and Foreign Minister Javad Zarif lost the most important paper to their success, but resulted in a new line of sanctions.
Although Tehran has been subjected to sanctions in the past, the latest sanctions packages are the most powerful in Iran's history, especially as they spread to strategic sectors such as banks, construction, oil exports, transactions with central banks, etc. The international companies that were preparing to invest in Iran, with the hopes of the system to eliminate the problems of poverty and unemployment that affected large sections of the people.
Unemployment reached more than 20%, and the impact of the government's actions to lift support for some goods and services which caused 40 percent of the Iranian people fall under the poverty line.
Despite attempts by some European countries to help Tehran maintain economic opportunities with them and to establish a financial mechanism to reduce the impact of those sanctions, these measures did not succeed in overcoming the crisis, which was reflected in the emergence of a protest movement inside Iran by the end of December 2018.
This was extended to the beginning of 2019, and affected many Iranian provinces and territories, and the regime only managed to contain it through security and arrests.
Export Zero: Ending Iranian Oil Exemptions
For a number of reasons, the United States has given some exceptions to eight countries in the import of Iranian oil: Italy, China, India, Japan, South Korea, Turkey, Greece and Taiwan. However, recently, President Trump ended these exemptions from the beginning of May 2019, warning against the consequences of the import of Iranian oil, in order to maximize the losses and tarnish Tehran's exports of oil as it depends on it by at least 40% -50% of state revenues.
US sanctions have succeeded in depriving the Iranian regime of about $ 10-15 billion of this amount, which affects the support of Iranian militias such as Hezbollah in Lebanon, the Ansar al-Houthi group in Yemen, and the Quds Force, the military wing of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, which is operating in Syria and Yemen, and some coordination with the popular crowd in Iraq.
Such a move to end oil exemptions would exacerbate the crisis in Tehran not only by its ability to support its operations abroad, but also at home, warning of the scale of the demonstrations and its threat to the regime. The rate of deflation in the Iranian economy reached 6%, the rate of inflation reached 51.4% and Iran fell from third to fourth place in the ranking of the largest countries in the production of oil in OPEC after Saudi Arabia, Iraq, UAE.
This comes despite the reservations of China, the world's largest oil importer, which has been linked to economic crises with the United States of America recently as well as Turkey, which relies on 40 percent of Iran's oil, causing it a crisis especially in the light of its inability to deal with the alternatives put forward by the United States due to considerations of trust and dependence.
This takes place especially since the relations between Turkey and America are not good recently with the existence of files such as the United States support for the Kurds and the Syrian Democratic forces (QSD), the United States' support for Fethullah Gulen against Erdogan, accusations of American involvement in the Turkish lira crisis, and before that the coup attempt on Erdogan.
The United States closed the way to Iran after Rohani's first visit to Iraq in an effort to salvage what could be saved on the grounds that there was some influence for Tehran inside Iraq and could be invested in easing the sanctions as well as Baghdad playing the role of mediator, but the United States followed certainly Iraq's commitment to sanctions on Tehran.
Classification of the Revolutionary Guard as a terrorist organization
There have been many previous calls to classify the Revolutionary Guard as a terrorist organization, but no serious steps have been taken in this regard because of many considerations. For decades, there have been US bases almost constant in the management of the conflict with Tehran, and there was no American ability to take a step such as the classification of the Revolutionary Guard as a terrorist organization, and even when it wanted to do so in the past, the US Treasury Department classified the Quds Force, the military arm of the Revolutionary Guard, which exported the revolution and led foreign operations, and did not have the capacity to fully incorporate the Revolutionary Guard.
One of the main reasons for fear of taking this action is the existence of fears from the Pentagon and the CIA to provoke the Revolutionary Guards forces to carry out hostile operations against US interests or harassment of troops in a number of countries in the region. This made the strategy of economic sanctions the first option for the United States of America towards Tehran.
However, this shift and decision to classify the Revolutionary Guard as a terrorist organization stems from several transformations and has different
implications. First, the decision is a reflection of the nature of the composition of the American decision-maker. This decision confirms that there is a different and continuous course and that there is no prospect of calm or negotiation in the near future, especially in the presence of the administration of the United States which adopted the strict positions willing to undermine and encircle the capabilities of the State desire to change the regime, both inside and outside. On the other hand, this resolution is a clear desire of the United States to escalate the confrontation with Iran and enter a new phase that goes beyond the final qualitative economic sanctions, in order to create a complete paralysis of Iran internally and externally.
Thirdly, classifying the Revolutionary Guard as a terrorist organization and placing it in a single trench with Al-Qaeda and Daesh imposes a different style of the American administration in dealing with it.
It is more like an American trap to provoke Iran and drag guards to irresponsible practices. This has prompted Iranian political and diplomatic analyst Faridon Majlis demand that the Revolutionary Guard commanders do not take any proactive step in the attack against US forces.
Fourthly, the Guard's classification reflects the American perception of the impact of that decision, not only at the political level, but also at the economic level in terms of the IRGC's control of at least one third of Iran's economy.
The Iranian response to this decision carries a parallel violent tone, especially from the Supreme Council of National Security, which stated that Tehran will consider the US Central Command (CENTCOM) and all the forces related to them terrorist groups. Although the statement carries a kind of "political comedy", it is not unlikely to take violent action on the ground, but it will be very cautious, especially with the American tone strict.
For decades, the Revolutionary Guard has managed to continue as a parallel army with even greater powers than the regular army of the state. It has created powers that have transcended the military to the political and economic, and has been able to adapt flexibly to the various challenges coming from inside and outside.
Differences and cracks in the political elite in Iran
During the previous period, a number of indicators emerged indicating that there is no consensus among the political elite in Iran. This can be seen in several observations:
The American withdrawal from the nuclear deal created a great opportunity for the militants in Iran, especially the Revolutionary Guards, to attack President Hassan Rowhani, which made the dispute widen, especially by holding it responsible for worsening economic conditions and increasing protests at home.
These disagreements have surfaced with the reaction of Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif, who announced his resignation through Instagram as a result of incompatibility within the ruling elite and his pressure and responsibility, before retreating from his resignation, but remains significant.
Changing the leadership of the Revolutionary Guard:
With a sudden development, and nearly two years after the extension of the task of the commander of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Mohammad Ali Jafari, and a year before the end of his extended period, Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei decided to change the commander of the Revolutionary Guard after nearly 12 years spent in the post he has held since 2007. That change coincided with his inclusion on the international terrorism list, which is indicative of clear political confusion.
The change of leadership of the Revolutionary Guards also raises old questions about the dissatisfaction with the recent Supreme Leader's decisions, including the separation of the Quds Force leadership led by Qasim Soleimani from the IRGC leadership, and the separation of the Guards’ intelligence leadership from the Guards' command.
Rouhani and the Revolutionary Guard: Some believe that Hassan Rohani views the IRGC as the main reason for the crises in Tehran. However, that perception has come back to the forefront and provokes a wave of differences with the comments of the member of the National Security and Foreign Policy Committee of the Iranian parliament, Jawad Karimi Qodsi.
One of the most powerful members of the conservative wing accused Rouhani of seeking to dissolve the Revolutionary Guards and described the IRGC's interventions in the region as "subversive."
This is inseparable from the message sent by the chief of staff of the Iranian armed forces, Major General Mohammad Baqri, to President Hassan Rouhani two months ago, asking him to discuss the budget of the Revolutionary Guards, which he described as exaggerated and "vulgar".
Flood crisis and further erosion of the regime
In recent weeks, Iran has been subjected to large waves of floods that affected some 1900 cities and villages in Iran, killing 62 people, displacing 86,000 people and housing losses amounting to 47 trillion riyals (about 350 million dollars) at least.
These floods have further intensified the Iranian government's diversion of rivers and the transfer of river water into the main Iranian cities located in the Persian provinces. This is an extension of the corrupt policies of the regime in its management of the water resources file and the construction of the dams - a barrier that has already been built, and which is under construction - especially in areas inhabited by minorities, for example, the denial of agricultural land in the spaces of water through the construction of a number of large dams on rivers, which led to the collection of water and flood with torrents.
The government's handling of the crisis, despite the participation of the most capable and prepared Iranian Revolutionary Guards, is a major setback to the problems of the Iranian people, who can not afford to put pressure on all the economic and social aspects of the country.
The margin of Iranian maneuver and the future of the regional role
According to previous data, Iran's regional role, regional influence, its ability to withstand internal threats and the US attempts to generate an explosion from within remain subject to a number of considerations:
Iran's map and tools: Iran has many tools, such as its allies from countries such as China, which rely on the principle of interest in its relations and imports of Iranian oil, which will resist the American decision, but will not be able to go far to the stage of confrontation if the United States insisted and stepped up in this matter. Turkey has also begun to exploit the crisis by exchanging the political thread with Tehran in a meeting with Turkish Foreign Minister Shawish Oglu with his counterpart Javad Zarif in light of statements by Turkey's refusal to classify the Guards as a terrorist organization.
The Russian role does not exceed the considerations of the Syrian file of coordination and maintaining balance and the use of Tehran to achieve qualitative goals in the face of the United States of America. Moscow is not fully satisfied with the objectives of Iran in Syria, which emerged in discordant differences in the position. As for the European countries, it has gone beyond it completely, and can not provide a confrontational and sharp attitude towards the American desire.
The comments by Iran's chief of staff, General Mohammad Baqri, revealing that "Iran can withstand without relying on oil," are a recognition and surrender of the reality of the situation and that Tehran has nothing to do.
However, it is likely that Tehran will not stand idly by, and will try to bypass the rhetoric of the Hanjuriyyah threats to the stage of action, but is waiting for the US initiative to be able to move its militias, such as Hezbollah in Lebanon towards Israel and the Quds Force from Syria, maximizing its threats in the region by provoking the Gulf and launching rockets again at Saudi Arabia through the Huthis in Yemen.
This is because the regime's reputation in Iran will be at stake, especially with the threats of Jawad Zarif, who said the United States should bear the consequences.
But the problem is that the effects of the US sanctions have become very apparent. The effect of these sanctions has been on those militias. The Iranian regime has been forced to reduce the military budget and the size of the allocations to the Revolutionary Guards. This reflects the parallel line of rhetoric that Rouhani is trying to open with America by talking about "conditional negotiations" and hints of a possible exchange of prisoners with the United States to calm the atmosphere, as well as cooperation and helping America in some common files such as Afghanistan and Iraq.
Threats to close the Strait of Hormuz: Iranian threats to close the Strait of Hormuz in response to American actions were not the first of its kind, but they have been repeated more than once in multiple contexts. But the risk is that the waters of the Strait of Hormuz in the Arabian Gulf are international waters and that any threat of closure will affect international shipping.
Tehran will have to confront the international community, which passes through the strait about 40% of the world's oil trade. Perhaps the statements of Colonel Earl Brown, spokesman for the US Central Command, has resolved this matter, where he stressed that the United States and its allies have the required readiness to respond.
However, the direct confrontation and war in the traditional sense remains an option despite the strained relations and the ongoing crisis, because Iran does not tolerate a war of this kind under the existing circumstances, and therefore has a ceiling for escalation, and America does not need that war.
Trump is already preparing for an election campaign for the upcoming presidential elections in 2020, which makes him cautious about the issue of opening new squares, given the bad historical experience in Vietnam, as well as Iraq and Afghanistan, which has strong domestic opposition and does not want to lose support for his constituents.
The future of the political system in Iran, and even the Iranian revolution, is connected to solving the difficult equation of the state and the revolution. Will Iran easily abandon the dream of the Persian state, and will it accept the removal of the ideological discourse and the religious cloak?
I think that Tehran is well aware that abandoning its interventionist ambitions and exporting the revolution will deprive it of its tools and its distinctive role, otherwise it will turn into a normal state with no regional weight. Iran's problem is the ideological project based on historical ambitions, like the dream of the Zionist state, and dreams of the restoration of the Ottoman Empire in Turkey.
The question was raised by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo when he said: "We just want Iran to be a normal country." In this question, all American measures are being pursued in the context of forcing Iran to return from the revolution to the state.
In conclusion, it can be said that the American sanctions and successive actions against Iran will succeed in undermining the regional role of Iran and besieging it greatly, and will affect the tools and degree of impact in various files in the coming period, but the process of destroying the regime from within or eliminating the stage of the Iranian revolution will need more pressure and continuity for a longer period. The future will be determined in light of the upcoming US elections, which will be a blow to Tehran if Trump remains or a candidate with the same political approach arrives.