By Shahriar Kia
Saturday, 25 February 2017
Following a rocky first month in Trump-Iran relations, it’s significant that Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei has chosen to maintain a substantially low profile. Comprehending the threat of vast changes in Washington, Khamenei also knows he cannot show weakness to his dwindling social base already terrified of major changes in the new U.S. administration’s policies vis-à-vis Iran following Obama’s eight years of appeasement.
In recent remarks, Khamenei even said there is no difference between the Obama and Trump administrations (!) and “the real war is the economic war, the sanctions war.”
These are interesting observations from Khamenei, and they should be considered deceptive, because he understands fully well that with Obama gone, so are the concessions the previous White House provided to his regime. Khamenei’s own change in reactions is further proof, as he is seen choosing his words quite carefully.
“To pass this stage, Iran has two options ahead. First, to strongly counter-react in areas in which the United States has vital interests, and the second is for Iran to act within the frameworks laid out by the United States in order to continue to have a role in the region and get out of the harnessed state. No doubt, the second option would ensure more strategic advantages for Iran.” (Jahan-e-Sanat, February 20)
During the Obama years, Khamenei himself used strong terms in threatening American interests across the globe. He went as far as saying that his regime would “raze” Haifa and Tel Aviv to the ground, wasting no time in lashing out at any threats. This also showed how Obama’s appeasement policy failed miserably.
Now that Khamenei is receiving “on notice” level warnings from Washington, he is in fact completely terrified to use any strong terms. However, he is resorting to a new tactic of claiming there being “no difference” between the Obama and Trump administrations. From January 20th onward, Khamenei has repeatedly made such remarks about the two administrations.
This comes at a time when the supreme leader and his inner circle used believed sanctions could have no impact. Such a shift in tone seen in Khamenei is the index that a policy of firm language against Iran, parallel to economic pressures through sanctions, can bring this regime to its knees.
On the other hand, we are witnessing that Tehran’s lobbies, and those who capitalized on massive economic gains rendered through the appeasement policy, are desperately speaking out against any sanctions, and especially the possible designation of the Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) as a foreign terrorist organization.
The IRGC controls much of Iran’s economy, and yet Tehran’s lobbies have gone the distance in claiming its blacklisting will threaten America’s interests in Iraq and other countries hosting U.S. bases, and also endangering so-called “moderates” in the face of “hardliners.”
This is nothing but fake news, signaling that not only officials in Tehran, but their decreasing number of international correspondents, are concerned about Obama’s appeasement policy coming to an end.
A firm policy against Iran goes far further than only containing this regime’s nuclear ambitions and foreign meddling. Such a shift can also fuel the Iranian people’s increasing protests against this regime. The exact opposite of Obama turning his back to the 2009 uprising in Iran.
Recent protests in Ahvaz and other cities resembles the Iranian people’s hatred of this regime and their thirst for change.
Ended Sunday, February 20, the Munich Security Conference condemned the Iranian regime for disrupting security and stability in the region. The delegations in the conference had one sentence in common when speaking against the Iranian regime: the Iranian regime is the biggest state sponsor of terrorism in the world, said by U.S. Vice President Mike Pence as well as Saudi FM Adel al-Jubeir. Also, Turkish finance minister Mevlut Chavushoghlu put this same issue another way while pointing to the regime’s interventions in Syria and Iraq. “Iranian regime is seeking sectarianism in the region”, he said.
The new alliance of Arab nations, and especially the participation of Turkey, has raised major concerns among senior officials in Tehran as a strong front against its terrorism and meddling in other countries is formed.
The formation of such a front is a sign of significant policy changes in Washington. This appears to be a step in the direction of regaining the trust lost amongst U.S. allies during the Obama tenure to confront Iran’s terrorism and meddling in the Middle East.
Etemad, for instance, writes on February 21: “the leaders and elite in Saudi Arabia, Israel, and Turkey had this vision in recent years that with Barack Obama as President, the US administration wouldn’t take any specific measure against Iran in order to put Tehran under pressure.”
Military drills and hollow saber rattling by IRGC commanders during the past few days shed light on Iran’s fear and severe weakness of developments in the makings with the incoming policy alterations in Washington.
What needs to be understood is that we are already at the beginning of a new era where the regime in Iran will no longer benefit from an appeasement policy that allows it to both increase its domestic crackdown and foreign warmongering, such as Iran’s involvement in Syria, and continuously threaten to abandon ship on the accord aimed at curbing the Iran nuclear program.
This provides a golden opportunity for the international community to begin standing shoulder to shoulder with the Iranian people and its organized resistance under the leadership of Maryam Rajavi, a Muslim woman who represents a tolerant and democratic Islam against a fundamentalist version of Islam advocated by the mullahs’ regime. Bringing an end to the appeasement policy and, as being recently weighed by the Trump administration, designating Iran’s Revolutionary Guards as a foreign terrorist designation are necessary steps in a long overdue roadmap.
Shahriar Kia is a political analyst writing on Iran and the Middle East. He is the member of the Iranian opposition, the People’s Mujahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI, also known as the MEK). He graduated from North Texas University.