Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and President Hassan Rouhani pray near the coffin of Iranian Major-General Qassem Soleimani in Tehran, Iran, January 6, 2020. (Reuters)

By Track Persia

June 30, 2020

Over the past few months, the theocratic regime in Iran has been witnessing a sharp decline in the impact of its expansionist Middle East policy after 41 years in power.

One of the most significant and recent factors that have contributed to this decline of the impacts of the regime’s Middle the policy is the killing of the Iranian Maj Gen Qassem Soleiman the leader of Qods Force, the external wing of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) in a US drone strike near Baghdad Airport back in early January. Some predicted that this event would lead to a major conflict in the region between Iran and its proxies on the one hand and the United States and its allies on the other hand. However, others were confident that Iran’s threats of war with the United States were not necessarily talking about a war in the conventional sense, rather they were aimed at causing damage to US interests in the region through its proxies such as its Shiite militia proxies in Iraq.

How exploiting Soleimani’s death ended up

The Iranian regime would have made a significant success in exploiting Soleimani’s death to serve its interests if its IRGC had not mistakenly downed the Ukrainian airliner. There was 176 on board, including 138 Iranians who were returning to Canada, all of them died only minutes after the airplane had taken off from Tehran’s main airport. A large number of the Iranian passengers on board were graduates of top science and engineering schools headed for fellowships, graduate school or teaching jobs in Canada. Fourteen of them were graduates of Iran’s elite Sharif University of Technology, a top supplier of M.I.T. and Stanford recruits.

This tragic incident completely reversed the situation for the Iranian regime as it became responsible for horrendous act instead of being a victim of a US strike. Iran’s senior officials continued to dismiss the crash as a mechanical failure for several days.

Domestically, the airline tragedy stirred anger among Iranians, particularly, over the lack of accountability at the highest levels of the Iranian officials who insisted the day after the crash that mechanical failure had to blame. Additionally, they did not show any mourning for those killed on the Ukrainian tragedy, nor did they send public condolences or ordered flags at half-staff to honour them, whilst posters of Soleimani had sprung up everywhere and many memorials and shrines were built in his honour.

A few days later, 56 Iranians died in a stampede during a funeral procession for Soleimani in Kerman city, the latter’s hometown. This stampede incident came after 600 demonstrators had been killed in anti-government protests in many Iranian provinces,  according to state sources. However, most Iranians accused the authorities of lacking transparency about the number of the protesters who were killed by security forces in the protests in November.

These protests initially erupted over a sharp increase in gasoline prices. The protestors blamed the government of being responsible for plunging the country into a sharp economic decline even before undergoing the US sanctions which were re-imposed by the Trump administration in 2018. The Iranians criticise the regime for spending far more of the country’s resources on supporting its Shiite militia proxies in the region. These sanctions have wracked Iran’s economy and now the regime facing silence the domestic unrests over their impacts.

The downing of the Ukrainian jet triggered a new wave of angry protesters who mostly had involved in last year anti-government protests over the sharp decline of the financial circumstances. Despite the number of the protesters were not as significant as the first time, these protests forced the regime, in particular its IRGC, to take a defensive position, and especially the jet crash exposed the weaknesses of the IRGC as formidable military force.

Tehran’s battle of words

Tehran appears to be keen more to exchange battle of words with the US president Trump administration than waging a conventional war against it. In a message directed at Trump, Gen Soleimani threatened the US by saying:  “If you begin the war, we will end the war. You know that this war will destroy all that you possess.”

Similarly, most senior Iranian officials such as President Hassan Rouhani, were also engaged in sending threats and acrimony to the Trump administration team. Despite there is no indications that the financial crises in Iran deterred the Iranian regime form pursuing it ambitions in the region, there are indications that Tehran’s proxies in Syria, Lebanon, Iraq and Yemen have changed their financial sources, from depending on Tehran because to depending on the resources of the countries where they based and formed formidable power bases.

Among the factors that have depleted Iran’s resources are the regime various supports to its proxies in the region. For example, the regime’s support to the Assad regime in Syria has ended up to the situation where the regime is unable to control the entire country. In Iraq, Iran-backed Shiite Islamists and their militias have been facing since October country-wide wave of discontent reflected in the ongoing protests where hundreds were killed by these militias. Iraqis choose to protest over government corruption and the influence of the Iran-backed factions on the state. There have been growing public sentiments against the Iranian regime’s stark interference in Iraq and its attempt to install an authoritarian regime in their country.  Whilst in Lebanon, Despite the Iranian regime has been successful in turning its ally Hezbollah to become a major player in the country, Hezbollah has increasingly become stuck in a tug-of-war with hostile factions. The ongoing mass protests in Lebanon is also blaming Tehran and Hezbollah of creating a major financial crisis in the country.  Similarly, in Yemen, Iran-backed the Houthi rebels have been trapped in a stalemated civil war.

Vanished hopes for the nuclear deal

Iran is also witnessing the decline of its strategic position with a sharp deterioration of its political economy. The regime was hoping that reaching the 2015 nuclear deal with the world powers would prevent the country from facing severe impacts of the deteriorating political economy started in 2012 when the Obama administration imposed the most severe round of sanctions. Obviously, Iran’s financial conditions have not improved for obvious reasons and this left the regime with no hope that there will be an improvement in domestic economy which plays a great deal in balancing its massive foreign policy prerogatives.

All these factors have impacted the regime and led it to face an impasse which if it cannot be resolved through finding compromises with international and domestic fronts, the clerical regime will not be able to maintain its continuity.

About Track Persia

Track PersiaTrack Persia is a Platform run by dedicated analysts who spend much of their time researching the Middle East, in due process we fall upon many indications of growing expansionary ambitions on the part of Iran in the MENA region and the wider Islamic world. These ambitions commonly increase tensions and undermine stability.