The tough economic sanctions imposed recently on Iran by the United States has sent different messages to the Iranian society and the ruling regime.
As Secretary of State Mike Pompeo tweeted in regard to the punitive measures on Iran:
The U.S. has reimposed tough sanctions on #Iran’s regime as part of our relentless pressure campaign to convince the regime to change its destructive behavior. Iran’s regime has a choice: change its behavior and act like a normal country or watch the escalating pressure continue. pic.twitter.com/Yg0e8ovDPs— Secretary Pompeo (@SecPompeo) November 5, 2018
Secretary Pompeo’s remarks signal the end of four decades of policy appeasement toward Iran. This reality, along with a willingness by the United States to shift to maximum pressure, has put the theocracy in a political and economic impasse, which will restrict regime’s capacity to continue its destructive behavior across the Middle East.
Consequently, Iran’s supreme leader, Ali Khamenei, keeps tiptoeing around the crisis.
It would be naïve to think that Khamenei’s regime will change its nature because export of terrorism and domestic repression are the fundamental pillars upon which the theocratic regime is established.
The reality in Iran, however, is that any realistic solution to break the political, economic and international impasse will push the entire regime towards collapse. This, in contrast to the previous crisis — the sanctions that came before the implementation of the nuclear deal, which brought the regime to its knees.
Facing such perilous condition, the theocracy has expanded its terrorist operations across Europe targeting the Iranian opposition.
Indeed, the regime hoped to save the nuclear deal by capitalizing on the emerging split between the United States and its European allies. But the regime’s desperate need to silence its opposition has created great obstacles for EU leaders to justify their defense of any sanction relief.
Khamenei is evidently stuck between the devil and the deep blue sea.
Whether current sanctions restrict his regime to maintain the previous level of funding for Tehran’s proxies is not the real question. The reality is that if Khamenei would accept restrictions over regional policy, losing clout over the repressive forces under his control will be inevitable.
More importantly, Iran stands on the brink of a revolution.
People are no longer able nor willing to live under the status quo. Because of being hated inside the country, obeying Secretary Pompeo’s list of 12+1 demands will not only destroy the regime’s pillars but send an exhortative message to the Iranian people that they are facing a paper tiger. This comes at a time when ongoing nationwide protests have already torn down the wall of repression.
The regime and its supreme leader fully understand this reality.
Consequently, Khamenei must balance between the oil price, the splits between the EU and the United States, and the international reaction to the regime’s terrorist operations across Europe.
Recently, a senior cleric Ahmad Alamolhoda, who represents the supreme leader in Mashhad, the second most populous city in the northeast of Iran, threatened the Arab countries by repeating President Rouhani’s remarks.
“If we reach a point that our oil is not exported, the Strait of Hormuz will be ours. Saudi oil tankers will be seized and regional countries will be leveled with Iranian missiles,” he said during Friday pray last week.
Indeed, the government of the so-called moderate President Rouhani is solely a mask to legitimize the regime’s bellicose behavior.
As the popular protests and strikes mount pressure on Rouhani and his government, he instructs the Intelligence Ministry to assassinate dissidents abroad and threats neighbors.
Earlier last month, the French government said there was no doubt Iran’s Intelligence Ministry was behind a June plot to attack an exiled opposition group’s rally outside Paris and it froze assets belonging to Tehran’s intelligence services and two Iranian nationals, including an Iranian diplomat.
The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) has become an elite force by controlling Iran’s economy and has enough financial and political resources under its control to pursue its ambitions for at least a year.
The theocracy abuses international organizations and its relationships with countries to both bypass sanctions and legitimizes its unacceptable behavior.
As the U.S. administration has consistently said its policy is to pressure Iran to “act like a normal country,” President Trump should consider tough political sanctions toward Iran parallel with targeting its propaganda machine in either inside and outside the country.
Hoping to change Iran’s unacceptable behavior solely through economic sanction is like beating the air.