Will 2018 Bring Revolution to Iran?

gas flare on an oil production platform in the Soroush oil fields is seen alongside an Iranian flag in the Gulf July 25, 2005. REUTERS/Raheb Homavandi/File Photo

The diverse coalition of demonstrators that have taken to the streets is making it clear that the theocracy ruling Iran has no future.

“[This] is a theocratic regime that is looking backwards, instead of a regime that is looking forward to make the lives of their people better . . . It is my full expectation that you will see the Iranian people continue to revolt against this.” — Michael Pompeo, Director, Central Intelligence Agency

Breaking News: “These protests are not behind us.”

We share Pompeo’s view, stated January 8.

President Trump’s January 12 decision to renew the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) with Iran, also known as the nuclear deal, keeps it intact for another 120 days as the White House considers whether to modify the arrangement with key European allies or scrap the deal altogether.

But newly targeted, nonnuclear sanctions issued by the Treasury Department signal the president’s intent to turn up the heat on the regime by prosecuting Tehran’s adventurism, while continuing to scrutinize JCPOA compliance. Exhibit A: Treasury named head of Iran’s judiciary, Sadegh Larijani, to the sanctions lists, where it also placed a Chinese network helping Iran procure weapons.

The president’s move provides an opportunity to pressure Tehran further over its illicit activities, missile tests and crackdowns on protesters. Iran’s use of coercive capacity toward protesters places the regime in a precarious position with a Trump administration now more inclined to uphold human rights and support the aspirations of the Iranian people. The regime arrested thousands, detained, injured and killed them in uprisings beginning on December 28; demonstrations continue in more than a hundred cities, including the heartland of regime support, rural Iran.

Neither Presidents Bush nor Obama backed the Iranian people, when they rose up to change the regime in Tehran, following protests during their respective tenures. Trump therefore stands to make history, provided he follows through on threats to punish those using violence against freedom-seeking demonstrators, per the authors on January 3.

Trump’s offensive posture in responding to the largest uprising since the 2009 presidential elections places Tehran on its back foot and engenders gratitude from demonstrators: Each day of protest represents an opportunity to leverage the people’s resentment against Tehran and strike a fatal blow to a tyrannical regime.

In contrast to our view, on January 7, Frederick Kagan and Marie Donovan argue “The protests rocking an unprecedented expanse of Iran do not, and probably will not, immediately threaten the regime’s survival despite the hopes and dreams of many here in Washington.” But consider Ray Takeyh’s position on January 16 that “The popular uprisings in Iran make it a sure bet that the Islamic Republic’s government will eventually collapse.”

We do not claim that revolution will transpire in 2018, but rather that change will occur and it may happen sooner than some think.

Former CIA analyst, Marc Reuel Gerecht, observed on January 4:

The current eruptions may well fail to unseat the mullahs. Yet as the great medieval historian Ibn Khaldun warned, there is always another asabiyya, or galvanizing spirit of a superior force, waiting outside the capital, gaining unstoppable momentum.

We share Gerecht’s view that momentum is growing, and calls for change are not easily dismissed when broad support exists.