The Iranian regime’s recent terrorist attacks on oil tankers in the Gulf and rocket attack near the United States’ embassy in Iraq are acts of madness by a regime on its last legs as it faces internal crises and international isolation. We argue the mullahs’ regime faces a terminal crisis stemming from three factors:
Factor 1: A society about to explode
40 years of corruption has all but destroyed Iran’s economy and led to poverty, unemployment, inflation, and environmental destruction. Vice-President Eshaq Jahangiri has described Iranian society as a gashouse ready to explode with a single ignition. Suppression of youths and discrimination against women and ethnic and religious minorities has fanned the flames of rebellion and protests across Iran.
On May 20, 2018, Mohsen Hashemi, head of the Tehran city council, said: “Under the current circumstances, popular discontent is the greatest threat facing our regime. It is more dangerous and more significant than the threats posed from abroad.”
Last week, lawmaker Mostafa Kavakabian told a public session of Parliament: “Corruption, corruption, corruption has reached a point where people say that sanctions have little effect on the economy. These cases of embezzlement, corruption and misappropriation have a greater impact than the sanctions.” (May 21, 2019)
Factor 2: A viable alternative to the regime
The NCRI coalition and its pivotal force the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI or Mujahedin-e Khalq, MEK) represent a powerful democratic alternative to the regime. The MEK has gained widespread grassroots support over the past 40 years despite the execution of over 100,000 MEK activists and terrorist attacks against MEK members and dirty political deals against the group.
Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei on January 9, 2018 said the MEK was behind the anti-regime protests that swept the country. President Hassan Rouhani on January 2, 2018 told French President Emmanuel Macron in a phone call that the MEK was behind the unrest in Iran and he requested (in vain) that France crack down on the group, according to AFP.
Intelligence Minister Mahmoud Alavi said on April 19, 2019 that 116 teams affiliated to the MEK were arrested in the past year. The ministry’s director-general in East Azerbaijan Province said on April 24, 2019 that the MEK’s reach had expanded significantly and that 60 MEK activists were recently arrested in the province.
The regime’s failed terrorist plots against the MEK in France, Albania and the U.S. in 2018 aiming to limit the group’s capabilities had major diplomatic repercussions. They are acts of madness by a regime facing demise. The hysterical demonization campaign against the MEK show the regime’s fear of its principal opposition force.
Factor 3: End of appeasement
For four decades the West gave the biggest assistance to the regime. Previous U.S. administrations came to the regime’s rescue when it most needed it. The mullahs gained the most from the U.S.-led wars in Iraq and Afghanistan in 1991, 2001 and 2003. The two previous U.S. administrations opened the gates of Iraq to Iran’s regime and let it impose its dominion in Iraq and Syria without paying any price. For years, they closed their eyes to the regime’s regional aggression and illicit pursuit of nuclear weapons. The Clinton administration even blacklisted the MEK in 1997, in what a senior U.S. official described as a ‘goodwill gesture’ to Tehran. (In 2012, the Obama administration was forced to delist the group by the U.S. Court of Appeals.) In a nutshell, the most important factor that has saved the regime from collapse was the policy of appeasement.
However, the Trump administration, which seeks an end to the regime’s nuclear and missile programs and regional aggression has ended the regime’s lifeline. Without the policy of appeasement the regime could never have gained a foothold in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen, and it would have faced its end at the hands of the Iranian people. We all remember in 2009 when millions of Iranian chanted on the streets for the regime’s end, the U.S. President reached out to Khamenei. Just last week, Khamenei recounted receiving repeated letters of friendship from President Obama.
These three factors have brought a crisis of demise for the regime.
The mullahs now have two paths each of which is more dangerous that the other.
Path 1: The regime ends its illegal nuclear and missile activities, its warmongering and terrorist activities and vacates Iraq, Syria, Yemen and Lebanon. This path spells the end of the Supreme Leader’s rule. It would lead to major anti-regime protests and the collapse of the regime. The religious dictatorship is incapable of reform, since any genuine reform would lead to its collapse. Khamenei has said time and again that a change of behavior is tantamount to a change of regime.
Path 2: The regime closes its ranks and becomes more hostile to the international community. It continues its destruction policies even if it leads to war. This option, too, is very bleak for the regime.
The regime knows both paths spell its end. Its strategy therefore is to buy time.
It is trying to evade responding to U.S. demands while keeping a low profile until after the 2020 Presidential elections in the U.S. But it seems this strategy is also failing, since the regime is unable to withstand the biting sanctions for the next 18 months, and it can’t guarantee that the U.S. President or American policy would change at the end of 2020. More importantly, it is unable to control domestic unrest and the gains of the opposition.
Recent changes in the Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) top brass and the appointment of mullah Ebrahim Raisi, a key perpetrator of the 1988 massacre of 30,000 political prisoners, as Iran’s Judiciary Chief are preparatory steps to combat a scenario of being overthrown. These go in tandem with attacks on international oil tankers and rocket attacks on the U.S. embassy in Baghdad.
All signs indicate Iran’s people and the Resistance have entered the final conflict phase with the mullahs’ regime. The international community, particularly the U.S. and EU, should adopt a firm policy so as not to allow the regime to buy time to murder Iranian people and spread terrorism and warmongering beyond its borders.