The new decade couldn’t have started worse for Iranian citizens. The death of Suleimani and the revenge attack on American troops in Iraq raised the tensions between the USA and Iran quickly. A tensed status quo has been reached halfway January. A situation that is complicated with the plane crash by Iranian missiles, caused by miscalculation of the Iranian military. The accident was denied and held in mystery over days by the government of Ayatollah Khamenei. How could Iran get out of this crisis?
In this situation, the Iranian citizens aren’t only literally paying the price for the economic sanctions, but also for the corruption, misleading and self-protection of their leaders. Mass protests in Tehran, Esfahan and Shiraz underscore that the Iranian people are holding their government more than ever responsible for their current situation. And so is Iran facing a huge crisis at the start of the new decade.
How could the Iranian people get out of this crisis? Three scenarios:
1 External de-escalation or intervention
De-escalation by external partners like the United Nations, the EU or any other third party. De-escalation could lift the economic sanctions of the USA and motivate the regime of Khamenei for internal changes.
In previous months, de-escalation has not been a success. Since the summer of 2019, the French president Macron is actively involved in de-escalation attempts with minimal results. Currently, no third party has stepped forward to make an attempt for de-escalation. It’s questionable if any third party is able to do this as both the USA and the regime of Khamenei are strongly persistent.
An external intervention like Iraq in 2003 and Libia in 2011 is highly unlikely. For the USA and the international coalition intervene has never been a success. Besides, intervene is not in line with Trump’s promises of getting the troops back from the desert. Shortly before new American elections, Trump would play with fire to start another war in the Middle East.
2 Changes within the Iranian government
The Iranian regime will accept the demands of the USA. The country will stop nuclear activity, destroy its weapons and change its foreign influence in the Middle East in favour of lifting the economic sanctions. This will positively influence the economic situation and would relieve the national pressure of the regime.
This scenario is highly unlikely as oppression against the American influence in the region has been one of the strongest foreign policies of Iran since the start of the Islamic Republic in 1979. Trump will only lift sanctions when all of his demands will be accepted. But any commitment -even a little one- to its worse enemy will be a big no-go for Iran. The Iranian government will interpret the escalations of January 2020 as a reason for defence. Compromising with the USA on self-defence will be no option.
3 Intervention from within
It’s no secret that the Iranian regime is under growing national pressure for years. Although the Iranian media shows consequent supporting citizens of Ayatollah Khamenei. Protests were massive after the 2009 elections and have erupted multiple times in the past years. The protests show that there’s a growing discomfort among Iranian citizens about the economic situation and the functioning of the regime. The social contract between the regime of Khamenei and the Iranian people is under pressure now the Iranian people hold the regime responsible for their critical situation.
The dissatisfaction is likely to increase even more as the economic sanctions of the USA will affect Iranian citizens the hardest. The denying of the cause of the plane crash and the mystery surrounding it have increased the dissatisfaction even more. The current mass protest is living proof.
In the Iranian crisis of January 2020, it’s highly likely that the biggest pressure for the Iranian regime comes from within. Years of corruption, misleading and economical downfall are now the fuel for dissatisfaction. The dissatisfaction could be so strong that it will cause intervention from within. A scenario that is most likely with protesters demanding military and political changes. When the regime of Khamenei is not able to handle these protest quickly, there’s a realistic chance that Iranian citizens will no longer accept the power of the regime and will take the law into their own hands.