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Iranian Protests - Target Of Opportunity Or Necessity?

Authored by Tom Luongo,

From the moment reports of protests in Iran surfaced I was skeptical of the narrative. It only makes sense to be. So many things are coming together in the first half of 2018 that the timing of these protests warrants scrutiny.

The earliest reports were of legitimate and peaceful protests of changes in law creating huge price spikes in certain foods and commodities. But, that was quickly hijacked by forces both internal and external to foment wider strife and violence.

I recommend Moon of Alabama’s commentary on the early days of these protests to get up to speed with how complicated the situation may be in Iran (here and here). In short, what started as normal grievance airing has blossomed into something uglier but that still hasn’t reached anything close to the critical mass needed to replicate successful regime change operations in Libya and Ukraine.

And with very good reason. Iranians are not as fractious in their opinion of their government as simplistic narratives spun by the U.S., Saudi Arabia and Israel would have you believe. This commentary by Ramin Mazaheri over at The Saker’s Blog makes this very salient point:

For 8 horrible years the West foisted Iraq on Iran, supplied Iraq with weapons, turned a blind eye to the worst chemical weapons atrocities since World War One, and did all they could to create, prolong and influence the deadliest war in the last quarter of the 20th century.

And it was still not enough.

A 2nd phony Western war would also totally backfire in 2018 – have no doubt about that. The Iran-Iraq War created a nationalist unity which Libya did not have; Libya’s revolution did create the highest standard of living in Africa and fewer poor people than the imperialist Netherlands (and free loans, education, health care, etc.), but it was never really tested. Syrians, on the other hand, will soon enjoy a nationalist unity also forged in the crucible of a horribly unjust war.

So there are simply not the type of divisions in Iranian society which the West was able to exploit in Libya.

[emphasis mine]

And you can’t gaslight well-intentioned conservatives on Twitter to produce the kind of results necessary for overthrowing the Iranian theocracy. This is not to say there isn’t an undercurrent of unrest in Iran. There is. But, it’s just not enough that can be stoked into regime change.

That time will come but I sincerely doubt it’ll be 2018.

So, if this isn’t going to work, why try now?

What Israel Wants…

Israel, with its failure in Syria is feeling incredibly vulnerable now. Iran has helped secure Syria’s future. Russia will continue to act to guarantee it while President Putin and his diplomatic staff try to hammer out deals with everyone and de-escalate the situation.

Israel’s leadership is dead set against any land route from Iran to Lebanon. Moreover, Israel knows that once Iran acquires nuclear weapon capabilities through its partnership with North Korea, then the window closes permanently on any military solution to its Iran problem.

The problem with that analysis is that there is simply no path to that end without the U.S.’s involvement. This is why we claim, quite against international law, sections of Syria’s airspace to be off-limits to the Syrian government. Kurdish enclaves east of the Euphrates River are being used as logistical staging grounds for a war on Iran. So, is the escalation of U.S. troops in Afghanistan.

All of this is sold to us as ‘fighting ISIS,’ which I believe President Trump and the factions of the Pentagon that are loyal to him want. But, at the same time these are also some of the biggest Iran-hawks in U.S. political circles and will use this fight against ISIS as a pretext for establishing a network of bases across the region to pressure Iran.

I’ve been handicapping a grand peace bargain in the Middle East for months, but I’m beginning to wonder if that is even possible at this point. Israel under Netanyahu will push for as aggressive approach as possible. He is leveraging whatever he can to get the U.S. to not pursue peace in the region.

And in that respect the real question is whether the Israeli people want to continue with him as their leader if he continues to pursue this path?

The Saudi Connection

In that sense the pressure of the loss in Syria already created regime change in Saudi Arabia, so predicting the potential for the same thing in Israel follows. The Saudis need Iran to stay out of the oil markets.

They are getting no help from their benefactors in the Trump administration who continues to open up U.S. oil production. Pulling out of the Paris Climate Accord, opening up ANWAR, approving pipeline projects like Keystone XL. These, along with the new tax cut bill which is designed to create a domestic investment boom will do nothing to lift the price of oil in the long run.

Meanwhile the Saudis were only able to get a temporary 300,000 barrel reduction from Russia. And the last thing Crown Prince and de facto King Mohammed bin Salman needs is for Iran’s full potential to hit the market.

So, it makes sense to activate splinter groups to blow up pipelines and push the U.S. for more sanctions by reversing the Nuclear deal. All of these things are meant to ratchet up the fear of an oil supply disruption and get the price up high enough for the Saudis to balance their budget in the short term.

They can’t de-peg the Riyal and they can’t accept Yuan for their oil. So, the next best thing is to help along any sign that the Iranian people are fed up with the Mullahs, even if it’s long odds. At a minimum it’ll push up oil prices for a few weeks.

In politics, like crime investigation, motive, means and opportunity matter. The Saudis, Israel and the U.S. have all three here. The timing window is closing with the advent of nuclear deterrence. So, don’t believe everything you hear and don’t take CNN’s silence as anything more than domestic political wrangling.

Regime change in Iran would be a feather in Trump’s cap. Not a black eye for Obama, who is now wholly irrelevant. The fact that every bloodthirsty neocon in the U.S. is showing its support for the Iranian people is beyond laughable.

If anything, a tweet from John “Bomb Iran” McCain or Netanyahu will harden internal support for the Iranian government more than it will feed the opposition. There is real opposition to the current Iranian regime. Most of the protestors are young, under 25. Contrary to what most Americans believe, Iran does hold elections. And last year President Rouhani won re-election over the objection from the clerics who openly backed a different candidate. R0uhani’s victory was clear, but he has a lot to do to quell the discontent in Iran.

So, ask yourself this question, what goal does putting the sanctions back on achieve? Will it support Iranians with increased economic opportunity or strengthen support for a domestic government no one supposedly wants?