Members of Iranian forces pray around the coffin of slain nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh on November 30, 2020. (Reuters)

By Camelia Entekhabifard

January 18, 2021

Iranians have repeatedly talked about “hard revenge”; however, in the most critical moments, Iran’s ruling regime has not gone beyond verbal threats.

On Saturday, January 17, FoxNews quoted US officials as saying, “at least one of the ballistic missiles fired during the Revolutionary Guards’ 15th Great Prophet Missile Exercise landed within 100 miles (about 150 km) of the USS Nimitz aircraft carrier and its accompanying squadron in the Indian Ocean and exploded.”

While tensions between Tehran and Washington have escalated over the past four years and the United States and Israel have launched numerous attacks on Iranian military bases in Syria and Iraq, Tehran’s response has been prudent. Even with the assassination of Qassem Soleimani, the Quds Force commander, who was one of Iran’s highest-ranking political and military officials, Tehran’s response was calculated and meant to avoid war.

“We were already expecting a missile (into the waters near Nimitz), but our concern was how far Iran was planning to land the missile,” one US official told Fox News. In other words, Washington also knows that Iran is acting mindfully.

Successive sabotages and explosions at Iran’s nuclear facilities, followed by the most recent move, the assassination of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, the deputy Defense Minister, which according to Iranian officials was carried out by Israel, also didn’t take the Islamic Republic of Iran to a military confrontation with the United States or Israel.

Why hasn’t the Islamic Republic of Iran reacted determinedly to these attacks? Is it because they are incapable of responding? Does the regime avoid war because its military is weak?

It seems that both sides of the conflict, Iran on the one hand and Israel and the United States on the other, know that a direct confrontation will be the starting point of a major war whose consequences will affect the entire region.

Although the Islamic Republic of Iran does not seem to be afraid of a military conflict, the regime officials’ patience cannot be due to their military incompetence.

The Iranian Air Force is worn out and inoperable, and it lacks a coherent and efficient navy. But they have covered up their military deficiencies, deriving from the sanctions during and after the Iranian Revolution, by investing in a missile program and advanced drones.

It is estimated that Iran has between 55 to 65 thousand ballistic missiles, of which Sejjil 2 missiles with an effective range of 2,000 to 2,500 km and a combat ceiling of 450 to 500 km can cross the Israeli Iron Dome missile defense barrier, according to experts. There is ample evidence that the attacks on the Aramco oil facilities in Saudi Arabia (summer 2019) and the recent attack on Aden Airport in Yemen (January 2021) by the Houthis were carried out with the technology and UAV facilities of the Revolutionary Guards.

The proxy war is ongoing and the regime’s interventions in the region continue. The missile and drone capabilities of the Islamic Republic are worrying. However, Israel and the United States’ military superiority is not comparable to Iran’s.

The Islamic Republic of Iran avoids war to preserve its achievements in the region and investing in Shiite groups affiliated with the regime for 40 years, whose preservation is the most important principle. War can undermine all those achievements.

Alireza Zakani, a member of the Islamic Parliament of Iran, stated that Iran currently rules over four Arab capitals: Baghdad, Damascus, Beirut and Sanaa. That claim was not entirely baseless, and according to that, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was quoted as saying, “The United States is confronting the strategy of five capitals of the Islamic Republic.”

Ali Younesi, the then Minister of Intelligence, reiterated that claim in another way.

He said, “Iraq is now not only our sphere of civilization but also our identity, culture, hub and capital.” His statement was met with a response from the then Iraqi Foreign Minister.

These capitals controlled by the Iranian government have gone beyond forming affiliated and mercenary militias. Today, the Afghan Constitution declared the Shiite religion as one of the official religions of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan.

The offspring of the Islamic Republic’s Shiite revolution has spread beyond its borders and in areas under its influence and control. Preserving these achievements prevents them from starting a military confrontation with Israel and the United States.

But the other point is the widespread dissatisfaction among the Iranian people. Recent crippling sanctions, oppression, widespread repression of civil, environmental, labor and student activists, unemployment, high prices, corruption and lies have brought the Iranian people to the boiling point and the brink of revolt.

The danger of the consequences of a military attack and war with a foreign country in the current situation provides the ground for the uprising of frustrated people.

In a situation where severe repression and intimidation are the main reasons preventing people from protesting against an inefficient ruling system, the high prices, unemployment and number of deaths due to the coronavirus, a war inside Iran would be like giving ammunition to a people that are looking for an opportunity to discharge. By going to war with the United States and Israel, a minority government made possible by suppressing the majority will be faced with the masses of angry people who will no longer be repelled.

Thus, “strategic patience,” as the IRGC leaders have repeatedly called it, will go back to the times before Trump’s policies, maximum pressure and sanctions.

Iran’s officials hope that with fewer sanctions, the economy will improve and people’s discontent will drop to some extent.

The regime believes that Joe Biden’s return to the nuclear deal will improve the economy and calm people’s anger. The regime’s concern about a military conflict is not the war itself, but the peoples uprising with the support of an attack by a foreign power, against poverty, corruption, unemployment, lack of freedom of expression, lack of civil rights and social participation, disease, high costs and the existing ruin they are living in.

The system’s strategy in the current situation is to maintain what it has made long-term investments in. As for the regime, the arrival of Joe Biden is considered the continuation of the Obama administration’s policies, and they call it the 3rd Obama. But the beginning of the new US administration will be a new beginning and the 1st Biden. The new government has also clarified the need for further talks with Tehran, including its missile program and regional interventions. 1st Biden will be a new beginning in US foreign policy to test the “strategic patience” of the Islamic Republic.

Asharq Al-Awsat

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.