(July 3, 2018 / JNS)
The Iranian regime appears to be in a panic as the Trump administration tightens the screws on the country’s economy with the United States telling countries to stop all oil imports from Iran starting on Nov. 4.
In the meantime, the United States is asking the Gulf states to boost their oil production to make up for the Iranian shortfall.
The question is if this, and other economic sanctions and pressure, will be enough to increase the protests inside of Iran?
Dr. Harold Rhode, a former adviser on Islamic affairs in the U.S. Department of Defense and now a distinguished senior fellow at the Gatestone Institute think tank, told JNS in an interview that from the perspective of the Iranian people, the radical regime is reacting to the protests from a position of fear.
“The protesters have confidence because they inherently sense that the regime is weak,” commented Rhode, adding that as long as the regime is perceived to be strong, the protesters will be more careful and reserved.
Protests have criticized the Iran regime and its foreign policy of imperialist expansion in the region, which they say is happening against the interests of its own citizens.
Regarding the significance of protests in Tehran’s Baazar, Rhode said that keeping control of the central market is a key indicator of the power of the regime to control the rallies.
In an article for the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs on Iranian negotiating behavior, Rhode stated: “It is only when Iranians become convinced that either their rulers lack the resolve to do what is necessary to remain in power or that a stronger power will protect them against their current tyrannical rulers that they will speak out and try to overthrow leaders.”
The former Pentagon official sees the pressure and sanctions strategy of U.S. President Donald Trump—one that has been pushed for years by Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during the Obama administration—as having a chance of succeeding and leading to regime change.
Asked if the new sanctions will be effective, Rhode responded that “all of these companies have a choice to make: to trade with Iran or the U.S.”
He continued, saying, “large multinationals that have done business in Iran, such as German’s Siemens or other oil companies, will have to decide if they want to continue to have access to the U.S. banking system.”
Two choices facing the Iranian regime
As a result of the recent U.S. withdrawal from the nuclear deal and the new pressure campaign initiated by the Trump administration, reports keep coming in about how deals worked out during the Obama administration are falling apart.
For example, in early June, Boeing said it would not be delivering any aircraft to Iran after having signed a pair of large contracts with Iranian airlines, AFP reported.
Raz Zimmt, an Iran expert at the Israeli think tank INSS, told JNS that the recent protests in the Tehran Baazar is the latest link in the wave of protests that have gripped Iran in recent months.
The key factor, he said, is “if other sectors of the population join the protests.”
However, Zimmt also warns against observers who are overly optimistic about the possibility of the regime falling, mentioning the limitations that the protest movement faces. “Most of the demonstrators, including the merchants at the bazaar, focus on improving the economic situation against the background of the worsening crisis and not toppling the regime.
“Second, with the exception of the truck drivers’ strike that broke out last month, the rest of the protests are limited geographically and occur sporadically. They lack a unified leadership.”
And thirdly, he added, the “new” urban middle class, which led the 2009 riots, remains “outside the wave of protests.”
Therefore, “the protest currently affects mainly the status of President Hassan Rouhani and the government and poses no real threat to the stability of the regime,” asserted Zimmt.
As the economic crisis deepens in the coming months as a result of the resumption of economic sanctions, the regime will have two choices, according to the Iran expert: “To agree to a compromise with the Trump government, even at the price of making significant concessions on issues that the regime considers essential, such as its long-range nuclear or missile program.”
Or, he concluded, the regime could increase its “resistance economy” and willingness to increase internal repression, if necessary, “in an attempt to gain time in the hope that by the time sanctions make a significant effect, the U.S. administration will be replaced by a more convenient administration.”