What is next for Iran? Tectonic plates are shifting. The operational tempo of US-Iranian relations is quickening.
Big picture, US sanctions are having a profound – possibly transformational – effect. As Iran’s government pushes nuclear weapons, long-range missiles and terrorism, Iran’s people are headed in another direction. The split is pronounced – and has become palpable, observable, even hopeful.
On the ground, the uprising continues to gain momentum. This is different from past movements. In 2009, an upsurge in resentment flowed from manipulated elections. While that outpouring stirred Iranians to action in 100 cities, economic deprivation was not the cause.
In 2011, Iranian’s “Green Movement” (opposition color) or Persian Awakening, grew from unified defiance to theocratic oppression. The upsurge reflected regional unrest, effective use of social media.
Regionally, 2011’s Arab Spring protested economic and political deprivations. Originating in Tunisia, it soon spread to Libya, Egypt, Yemen, Syria, and Bahrain. Reverberations affected Iraq, Morocco, Algeria, Lebanon, Jordan, Kuwait, Oman, Sudan, and Iran.
Iran’s 2009 and 2011 protests were violently suppressed, with thousands of arrests and hundreds tortured by Iran’s IRGC – purveyor of terror internally and externally. Iran’s population, 60 percent under 30, was embittered. The protests seeded a deep, unforgettable resistance movement.
This year, a confluence of events made the movement broader, more profound, and harder to uproot. Iran’s clerics single-mindedly advance costly civil wars in Syria, Yemen, and Iraq, along with horrific terror elsewhere. Creating a radical Shiite crescent is a leading goal. They have no interest in secular self-rule – anywhere.
The same Trump White House that called out China called out Iran. As promised in 2016, Trump withdrew from Obama’s ill-conceived Iranian nuclear deal – which legitimized a nuclear Iran and paid money to delay weapons. Appeasement never works – and did not with Iran. They cheated, just as Germany cheated pre-World War II. When the US re-imposed economic sanctions, Iran objected.
Rather than embracing diplomatic re-engagement and renouncing nuclear weapons, Iran redoubled terrorist acts across the region, missile, and nuclear weapons development. Already in 2017, Iran tested a sea-launched cruise missile (failed), fired short- and medium-range ballistic missiles, equipped Yemen with missiles fired on Saudi Arabia, and worked with North Korea to build Iranian launch sites.
In 2018, Iran modernized their air defenses, broadly sought missile parts, shipped missiles to Yemen (intercepted), built short- and medium-range launchers in Syria fired on Israel, and tested navy missiles.
In 2019, Iran launched long-range ballistic missiles with satellites, ICBMs without warhead or reentry, unveiled cruise and medium-range missiles, fired more medium and short-range missiles, and revealed a new precision-guided air-to-air missile.
Progressively, over the past three years, the Trump Administration has sought to reengage Iran’s leadership diplomatically. Despite overtures, Iran has accelerated acts of terrorism. The Trump Administration has, in turn, progressively tightened economic sanctions.
In the past half-year, Iran’s Islamic leaders ramped up attacks on Western and Arab oil tankers, a Saudi oil refinery, and allied bases. They downed US drones over international waters, used Iraqi and Syrian Shiite militias to attack US allies, and expanded terror from Syria and Iraq to Yemen and Israel.
As economic conditions inside Iran deteriorate, elites continue to live in comfort. Middle-class Iranians suffer increased prices and deprivation. Iranians are also better informed than ten years ago. They know why US sanctions were re-imposed to hold their oppressive government accountable.
In late 2019, protests erupted across 100 Iranian cities. Tens of thousands turned out, despite risks. Unlike in 2009 and 2011, when less than 100 were killed, Iran’s IRGC reacted with vengeance – some would say desperation. Iran massacred 1,500 innocents, then forced families to buy the bodies.
This month, US intelligence allowed President Trump to eliminate a terror threat, the mastermind of regional terror events, IRGC and Quds General Soleimani. Soleimani was responsible for acts of terror back to the bombing of the US Marine barracks in Lebanon in 1983, killing 241 peacekeepers. Responsible for killing and maiming hundreds of Americans in Iraq, he was preparing an attack on four US embassies.
In the course of Iran’s retaliatory attack on US bases in Iraq, Iran shot down a civilian airliner, killing 176 innocents – many Iranian students and dual nationals. Iran’s government then denied they shot down the plane for three days, despite knowing they had done so. Iranian surface-to-air missiles downed it.
For many Iranians, this was the last straw. They knew their government was cruel, corrupt, ideologically twisted, and unaccountable. They saw friends, family, and fellow citizens – seeking freedom – arrested, tortured, and killed. In 2019, they saw evil reach a new level, 1,500 protestors shot in cold blood.
Now, they saw their government lying about the murder of 176 passengers in a missile attack to defend terrorism, or retribute for an unrepentant terrorist – the man who killed Iranians protesting in late 2019.
They saw a US president tweeting to them – in Farsi and English. His tweets garnered 270,000 views, more than any Persian tweet in Twitter’s history. They saw Western empathy, support for their political and economic rights. Freedom – from terror and with opportunity – is suddenly a universal longing.
The movement is palpable. New events are unfolding. Thousands are reportedly returning to the streets in protest. The Internet is interrupted, threats made, and ignored internally, moral revulsion growing at the government. The Supreme Leader has started leading prayers – the first time in eight years.
Meantime, protestors now include “mostly … middle and upper-middle classes.” They appear sick of excuses, lies, and doubletalk. The impression is average Iranians are taking risks, for change. They want iPhones more than Ayatollahs. They are demanding resignations, and some see “cracks appearing.”
Notably, this is a population that just saw the IRGC murder protestors, yet they are back. They say the IRGC kill innocents with surface to air missiles, then deny it. Yet they are not recoiling. They know President Rouhani – and their Supreme Leader – defended the IRGC against the people.
Finally, small events presage larger ones. Defections are occurring, including by Iran’s only female Olympic medalist, Kimia Alizadeh, who took to Instagram to explain she was done with being used.
In a profound display of changing Iranian sentiment, when the government invited Iranians to trample a large American flag painted on an outdoor staircase, the Iranian crowd refused. They would not disrespect the American flag. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6DiO-9F7tIY&feature=youtu.be
Now for the first time in 40 years, that is change. Where will the emerging empowerment and respect for truth lead? What is next for Iran? One cannot say, but tectonic plates are shifting. One can only hope, for the sake of the Iranian People, that freedom is coming.