Iran Protests: A Few Of the Internal and External Factors


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. 

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22 Responses to Iran Protests: A Few Of the Internal and External Factors

  1. Willybilly says:

    Hopeless bunch, and you are absolutely right in calling them chickenhawks… No matter what they throw in the theater, they will lose badly. They are real bad readers of the strategic environment……

  2. Trump is putting Israel–not America–first. Shameful!

  3. ISL says:

    Thanks Will nice summary,
    So for 2) Countering Iran, we have the brilliant policy of supporting the liver eaters who love the US for its freedoms (or do I have that backwards)
    for 3) I cant figure out what is feasible against Iranian ballistic programs? Make it illegal to sell advanced rocket tech to Iran? Ooops, already is. Given that Russia will sell one of their S-400?S-300? to Iran, how will the US stop a flow from Russia (who will sell with a price)? Other than full scale war, 3) is a pipe dream.
    I subscribe to the Mao-ist approach for the recent protests – government inspired to get the malcontents (with US encouragement from some really brilliant foggy bottom types) to stick their necks out, identifying them for arrest.

  4. Kooshy says:

    The best thing one can encourage Iranian to protest and wins thier hearts and minds, is first to call them a “terrorist nation” and then call thier 3 thousand year old life line body of water “the Arabian Golf”
    And then tell them we fully support care for them. That is very sound foreign policy and great strategy to ecurage Iranian to revolt against thier government to benefit of Trump Adminstration. One wonders why no US analyst or reporter don’t mention last month’ Arab golf ocuppying terrorist Iranians are suddenly US head of states new freedom fighters?

  5. Kooshy says:

    Although, Hamid Dabashi is an old lefty expatriate Iranian residing in NY, teaching in Columbia U.. And, besides that we do have different opinions on Iranian system, nevertheless he did a good
    humorous job on this article.
    The top 10 ways to discredit any uprising in Iran

  6. According to reports I’ve seen today, large-scale pro-government protests have been organized and the anti-government protests are winding down.
    IRGC chief declares ‘end of sedition’ after huge pro-government rallies in Iran
    What is worse is that apparently Trump may re-impose sanctions on Iran that were withheld based on the JCPOA, using the protests as an excuse.
    The Iran Nuclear Deal Could Be Dead in 11 Days
    And yes, the US would be in “material breach” of the JCPOA to do this. In other words, another deal the US reneges on.
    How anyone can believe that the US is not directly and deliberately heading for war with Iran – in concert with Israel – is beyond me. This has been true for at least the last 15 years if not the last 30. The only reason Obama actually got a deal was because he wanted at least one foreign policy “success” on his resume before he left office. He could have had it in 2009-2010 but blew it off for another six years. And of course he knew whoever succeeded him – whether Republican or Democrat – would tear up the deal in the first year of their office.

  7. Kooshy says:

    As I wrote in last Iran thread, at least ever since Clinton, every new US president has (or had) to try a regime change operation on Iran, to at least, show his founding lobby supporters that he tried and didn’t work, even if it failed. IMO ever since Obama, the lobby will not support reelection if this operation is not tried early on first term. I don’t believe Obama would have been re-elected if he had done the JCPOA on his first term.

  8. Willy B,
    A good summary. Thanks for your effort. Along with the earlier observations by our Iranian brethren, I think we have about as accurate account of the situation as we can expect. Al Masdar has an interesting report about possible foreign involvement far beyond the tweet assault. IRGC claims to have destroyed an armed element entering Iran to conduct false flag attacks in the country. They also ask for legitimate demonstrators to clear the streets so they could identify and take out the armed agitators.

  9. Peter AU says:

    The area they entered Syria is interesting. Perhaps from al Hasakah, through Iraq Kurdistan and into Iran?

  10. Bandolero says:

    I agree. Trump campaigned on an anti-Iran platform, so he has to support attempts for regime change by color revolution in Iran.
    But this attempt for regime change by color revolution is the most unprofessional I ever saw. It starts with tactics: some groups of “protesters” burn buildings and hurt and kill security forces and innocent bystanders alike. In Iran, even for opponents of the Islamic Republic and Ayatollah Khamenei that sounds like some people try to bring a situation like in Iraq, Libya or Syria into our peaceful country. And it ends with the leaders of these protests. In the west, mass media claim these protests are leaderless, but in Iran, the people see who supports these “protests” publicly: Maryam Rajavi, Donald Trump, Benjamin Netanyahu, Prince Salman, Hillary Clinton and John McCain. These leaders or supporters of this “people’s revolution” in Iran, are in Iran about as “popular” as Ayman al-Zawahiri, Hassan Nasrallah, Ayatollah Khamenei and Kim Jong-un are popular in the USA. The people simply hate them.
    To try a “popular revolution” with such leaders has maybe a bit of comic, but in Iran it will surely srengthen the position of Ayatollah Khamenei, the IRGC and the basij, who protect Iran from these horrific actors. While supporters of economically progressive political leaders like Mahmud Ahmadinejad, and the IRGC whom he is close to, therefore become more popular in Iran, the star of more so-called reformist, ie neoliberal, leaders like Rouhani sinks. And abive these disputes Ayatollah Khamenei will be lauded in Iran to have managed the situation well.
    Internationally, I think the mass media fake news and their supporters, who spoke of a chance for regime change in Iran, may take a hit.

  11. Babak Makkinejad says:

    Obama could have obtained the 2015 deal in 2009. He refused.

  12. kooshy says:

    I don’t think Rahm Israel Emanuel would have allowed JCPOA negotiation in Mr.Obama’ 1st term. But surely
    2009′ green color revolution 5 month after inauguration was on the cards, and had to be tried first. Israel and US’ other unpopular regional client state KSA, still can’t digest and accept JPCOA. IMO, Iran is now too JCPOA or not they have no choice, they no longer can change or reverse Iran’ trajectory.

  13. JJackson says:

    How much of the the original economic protest can be traced back to false expectations raised by Rouhani around the 2015 deal? At the time I was concerned that the benefits of lifted sanctions were overplayed – and that they were unlikely to materialise as promised given the deep anti-Iranian mindset in the west.
    I am expecting a similar backlash at home as some of the Britexiters were also promising an unrealistic vision of cherry picking the EU arrangements they liked while giving little in return.

  14. Babak Makkinejad says:

    You have to ask the protesters.
    But I agree with your observations about JCPOA’s economic benefits being exaggerated by the government. But, then again, every politician exaggerates his own accomplishments and blames the problems on his predecessors.
    My sense of Brexit in England was that it was caused by largely a crisis of jobs for the lower social classes and enduring austerity measures since 2008.
    I should expect the job crisis to be eased a bit and the Brexiters be at least partly assuaged.

  15. Kooshy says:

    IMO, and from what I have read from Mr. Zarif and Araghchi Iranian negotiators were fully aware that US would not and could not stay with the deal and can delay, or later bring back sanctions even on banking and foreign finance for various reasons like HR. But to them the deal IMO was about and more important as a cease fire on a possible hot war, rather than ending economic war. That’s why it was important for US to be on the table. Besides, is not that the Iranian population is not aware that the economy is not improving because west didn’t stick to her side of agreement and they didn’t know, as fas I have read, for last two years Iranian opposition hardliner’ media even TV is full of articles and story’s on how economy is not getting improved because of banking and finance impediments by the west.
    IMO Iranians would be fools if they think their old, single sourced, corrupt socialized subsidized neoliberal economy, with a lazy work force with a lot of expectations( we have plenty same here) will be fixed and stable in just two years, specially when west will do everything she can to prevent that.
    The story is in the begging of the revolution when bunch of merchants went to leader of revolution. Imam Khomeini and complained that the price of watermelon has gone up, what could you do, he told them people didn’t do this revolution for watermelons.
    I don’t think in Iran a revolution for watermelon is possible, but is easy to have a revolution in Iran if one f*s with their honor like their mother or country.

  16. Kooshy says:

    BTW, as far as history is the source, ever since Cyrus the great, nobody in Iran’ streets ever liked any government or king, and all, at all times complained about the economy.

  17. “I am expecting a similar backlash at home as some of the Britexiters were also promising an unrealistic vision of cherry picking the EU arrangements they liked while giving little in return.”
    It’s odd that what was supposed to be an amicable and mutually beneficial trading arrangement between the UK and Europe turned into a pay to play deal in which we got a fair bit of the paying but not so much of the playing. It’s a good thing we’ll be at least part way out of that deal because, if the EU is to remain intact, there’s a lot more paying to come from the richer countries and the UK simply doesn’t have the money to help prop up what is in any case a dangerously rickety structure. Why pay for the fantasies of the European neo-liberals? We’ve got enough to do paying for the fantasies of our own.
    By “we” I mean those who, as in the States, do the paying with their ever less secure livelihoods. THAT is why so many votes poured in for Brexit. It is false to pretend otherwise.
    Remainers often advance false explanations for the Brexit vote because they do not want to get to grips with the real arguments. Perhaps this is like the Democrats in the States finding all sorts of meretricious reasons to account for the Trump victory because the real reasons for that victory are too difficult for them to deal with.
    I am afraid you are peddling one such false explanation. Babak gets it:-
    “My sense of Brexit in England was that it was caused by largely a crisis of jobs for the lower social classes and enduring austerity measures since 2008.”
    But even Babak misses out on one or two other reasons.
    English Outsider

  18. LeaNder says:

    The story is in the begging of the revolution when bunch of merchants went to leader of revolution.
    Outside the MSM context my source on Iran’s current affairs/politics is Bahman Nirumand’s Iran report:
    As you, he obviously observes Iranian media.
    From a no doubt more superficial reading I get the more genera impression there is an ongoing struggle between the more hard core conservative and the more moderate conservative camp.
    One snippet from his latest Dec, 2017 report, slightly modified via Google translate, I didn’t check English spelling conventions on the names:
    According to Iranian media reports, former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has sharply criticized the leadership of the Islamic Republic, namely the Chief Justice and the Speaker of Parliament. “The Iranian people will dismiss you both in time,” he said on November 16 at the Abdolasim Mosque south of Tehran. His former deputy, Hamid Baghai, former treasurer Habibollah Chorasani, and his spokesman, Ali Akbar Dschawanfekr, were in a sit-down strike. They had received an order to appear in court the day before, but didn’t appear. The prosecution accuses them of corruption and misappropriation of state funds.

    What does “the story is in the begging” mean?
    Question: I may be slightly obsessed with Ahmadinejad, but what’s your opinion of him?
    There is of course this information that The Iranian admin diminished the money flowing into the pockets of the Revolutionary Guards. If that is what they call themselves.

  19. kooshy says:

    I have never participated on any Iran elections, as I have lived in LA since 72. But I thought Mr. Ahmadinejad at time was a good choice for Iran, specially for being a political and verbal bully against the west. When, west (you read US) was bloodied by 911, and, in high moral justified place, she wanted to use 911 to settle and scores her old differences with Iran which had nothing to do with 911. Ahmadinejad administration, increased Iran’ spending on Nuclear research, missile development, space research by many, many fold which at the end forced US to become serious to negotiate for JCPOA. He also challenged US moral standing for attacking Iraq, by calming, it was to secure Israel, which she doesn’t belongs in the region to begin with, as she is an occupying state.
    But IMO, like any other politician, his time and usefulness is over, and I don’t believe he has much support in Iran, he and his handful of close supporters have to come to term with that and realize it, as far as I have seen I don’t think IRI will jail any of her high officials, including Mr. Montazeri, Rafsenjani, Mossavi, Karoubi, Khatami etc. But they correctly limit their exposure. Like Clint in one of movies (dirty Harry?) said, “man got to know his limitations’ this folks, like our own Clintons don’t want to realize their usefulness has ended.

  20. LeaNder says:

    He also challenged US moral standing for attacking Iraq, by calming, it was to secure Israel, which she doesn’t belongs in the region to begin with, as she is an occupying state.
    that far I am and always was with him. My problem with Ahmadinejad was his larger narrative and ill decisions.
    In a nutshell, at one point (UN speech, never mind his legitimate East-West complaints) it looked like “the Mossad” couldn’t have invented a better alter-ego then him.
    * yes, there is no rules based reason to use quotes/quotation marks here. Nevertheless.
    Basically, it feels the Iranians should have the same rights to study and develop tools that may or not ultimately serve as the best of all defensive weapons.

  21. kooshy says:

    From what I have read and understand of Iran’s military strategy in her own region I don’t think Iran fears a military invasion or even an attack by US and or her monarchic regional allies. Iran’ military strategy is based on two points first, Iran has no ambition for expansion or invasion of any of her neighbors even the ones they do not respect or agree with. That automatically shapes Iran’ second and more important military posture point, which makes Iran’ military only a defensive force, tasked to defend Iran’ territory and her Islamic revolution and the entire Shia interests as whole. That is the reason Iran’s military spending is concentrated mostly on Air-defense systems, Radar, Mobil precision Missiles, fast cheap missile attack boats, and reconnaissance and attack drones. IMO, this strategy has made the bang for bucks of Iran’ military spending very reasonable and inexpensive as well as a very effective at deterrence.

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