by Willy B
The good colonel asked me a couple of days ago to post something on Iran. My apologies for taking so long.
According to a number of reports I’ve seen this morning, the protests in Iran have been fading down. Now may be a good time to consider both the internal and external factors involved with them (though this analysis will hardly be comprehensive).
A number of sane observers, in response to Trump's tweets in support of the protestors, suggested that he and the regime changers should be careful what they wish for. The Guardian's Simon Tisdall warned any real or imagined weakening of the Iranian government’s grip could presage a dangerous escalation of regional tensions. Trita Parsi, of the National Iranian American Council, reported in an op-ed published by CNN that the demonstrations, through "quite ferocious... have rarely numbered more than a few thousand in any specific locality."
From everything that I've read, there seem to be two internal factors involved in the demonstrations. One is the real economic issues that reportedly aided the spread of the protests. Secondly, is the hardline factor. By all accounts, the protests began in Mashad, Iran's second largest city and the home base of Ebrahim Raisi, Rouhani's conservative rival for the presidency. According to Parsi, Raisi sought to take advantage of the population's legitimate economic grievances to score points against the Hassan Rouhani government, which they consider too moderate, but then they lost control of them because the economic message has resonated with a broader segment of the population than they expected. "Pro-Rouhanists … believe hard-liner opposition and state security establishment provoked or even helped organize the Mashhad demos and … hadn't factored in the possibility that the demos would get overtaken by their own opponents calling for their own end," reported Golnar Motevalli, an Iran-based correspondent for Bloomberg, reports Al Monitor's Laura Rozen.
Ali Jafari, the commander of the IRGC, acknowledged the economic grievances of the population but indirectly criticized Rouhani during a press conference, yesterday. “Some feel that a friendship with America will improve the economic situation, but these people should look at a country such as Egypt, which has sacrificed everything for friendship with America,” Jafari said. The tensions between Rouhani and the IRGC are not new, however. Another al Monitor article reports on the media war between Rouhani and the IRGC, with the IRGC, in recent days setting up new media channels to steer criticism of the government towards Rouhani and away from Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. This is in direct response to Rouhani’s effort, as reflected in his budget submission in early December, to reduce the amount of state support to cultural organizations that have been instrumental in criticizing the Green Movement as a foreign plot and in attacking Rouhani himself. “We couldn’t allow him to cut off our lifeline,” a producer at the regime production studios said after Rouhani revealed his new budget. “He and his supporters want to silence us by taking away our funding. But we will not be silenced. We will show him that people don’t agree with him.” the protests that began in Mashad on Dec. 28, therefore, were a direct response from the hardliners to Rouhani's budget and his attack on the hardliners.
That the Iranian leadership has pointed to foreign interference in the protests has been widely reported. Those accusations are frequently dismissed in Western media, but the truth is that the U.S. in particular, has a long history of interfering in internal Iranian affairs going back to at least the 1953 coup. I, myself, have become convinced that the entire history of Iran and its relations with the outside world for the past 64 years have been shaped by that coup and future history will remain shaped by it until there are statesmen on both sides with the courage and the vision to rise above that event and its subsequent history. Ervand Abrahamian, author of “The Coup: 1953, the CIA and the Roots of Modern U.S.-Iranian Relations,” writes that the coup produced four substantial legacies: 1) the denationalization of the oil industry; 2) the destruction of the secular opposition; 3) the fatal deligitimization of the monarchy; and 4) the further intensification of the already immense paranoid style prevalent throughout Iranian politics. “In other words, the coup left a deep imprint on the country—not only on its polity and economy but also on its popular culture and what some would call mentality.”
On the U.S. side of this we have the neo-cons, the same crowd of chickenhawks that brought us the Iraq war. They have been agitating for regime change in Iran probably longer than they were for Iraq. The actual promise is the same, however, that such a campaign would probably have even bigger strategic ramifications than the invasion and occupation of Iraq did.
There’s also the Israeli factor. Under Trump, the U.S. and Israel factors have combined. This happened on Dec. 12 when, according to Israel Channel 10’s Barak Ravid, the U.S. and Israel reached an agreement on a plan to "counter" Iranian activity in the region. An unnamed U.S. official told Ravid that the document goal's was to translate President Trump's Iran speech of mid-October to joint U.S.-Israeli strategic goals regarding Iran and to set up a joint work plan. Ravid reports that the Israeli team was led by national security adviser Meir Ben-Shabbat and included senior representatives of the Israeli military, Ministry of Defense, Foreign Ministry and intelligence community. The U.S. side was led by H.R. McMaster and included senior representatives from the National Security Council, State Department, Department of Defense and the intelligence community.
According to Ravid, the document lays out four joint goals: 1) Covert and diplomatic action to block Iran's path to nuclear weapons (this is clearly based on a false premise that Iran is building nuclear weapons now), both in the diplomatic realm and covert actions; 2) Countering Iranian activity in the region, especially the Iranian entrenchment efforts in Syria and the Iranian support for Hezbollah and other terror groups. This working group will also deal with drafting U.S.-Israeli policy regarding the "day after" in the Syrian civil war; 3) Countering Iranian ballistic missiles development and the Iranian "precision project" aimed at manufacturing precision guided missiles in Syria and Lebanon for Hezbollah to be used against Israel in a future war; and 4) Joint U.S.-Israeli preparation for different escalation scenarios.
Senior Israeli officials, Ravid reports, confirmed that the U.S. and Israel have arrived at strategic understandings regarding Iran that would strengthen the cooperation in countering regional challenges. The Israeli officials said:
"[T]he U.S. and Israel see eye to eye the different developments in the region and especially those that are connected to Iran. We reached at understandings regarding the strategy and the policy needed to counter Iran. Our understandings deal with the overall strategy but also with concrete goals, way of action and the means which need to be used to get obtain those goals."
Does this agreement have anything to do with the past week's protests? I don't know, but clearly the Iranians are right to be concerned about foreign interference in their affairs.