The mass protests in Iran come at the time as Iran becomes a member of the SCO, is getting near nuclear-grade uranium and a new Iran deal is being negotiated. For months now it has been said that the Iran negotiations are once again in „the decisive phase“. But then you hear nothing anymore. In the Tehran Times, the Revolutionary Guards can be heard boasting that with the new underground nuclear facilities in Fordow, Iran’s infrastructure can no longer be destroyed with nuclear weapons, earth penetrators and the like. The Jerusalem Post previously warned that Iran was building nuclear facilities under the mountains here that would be „unbombable.“ Likewise, Israel’s red lines appear to have shifted over time. While in Syria and Iraq plants still under construction were bombed, this was neglected in Iran and one now seems to find comfort in the fact that even 90% enriched uranium still needs a few other ingredients and technology before a nuclear weapon can be built. The following article from the Jerusalem Post makes this clear:
“Iran nuclear program hasn’t crossed Israel’s red line yet – opinion
Iran is a threat, it is pursuing a nuclear capability, and continues to grow closer to its goal as time passes. However, Israel’s red line has moved over the years.
Published: Septeber 8, 2022 19:04
On Monday night, Mossad chief David Barnea boarded a plane from Israel to the US. His trip is part of Israeli efforts to scuttle a return to the 2015 Iran nuclear deal and Barnea, who came armed with Israel’s latest intelligence assessments, used it for meetings with administration and intelligence officials as well as members of Congress.
Fifteen years ago, at around the same time that Barnea’s plane left Ben-Gurion Airport, another group of Israelis took off for a destination abroad. They were four Israeli Air Force crews – pilots and navigators – who took off from northern Israel in their F-16Is and made their way to a target in northeastern Syria. There, just after midnight on September 6, they bombed and destroyed a nuclear reactor that North Korea was constructing for Bashar al-Assad.
In the 15 years that have passed, the Middle East has undergone a tremendous transformation. The Arab Spring, the American withdrawal from Iraq and Afghanistan, and the Abraham Accords. One constant throughout this time has been Iran, which like then and still today, continues to pursue a nuclear capability despite Israeli and international efforts to stop it.
And while Barnea likely appreciated the timing of his flight and the anniversary it fell on, the mission that he was sent on this week by Prime Minister Yair Lapid was far from anything like what the four pilots and four navigators embarked on back in 2007.
The history of Iran’s nuclear threat against Israel
Iran is a threat, it is pursuing a nuclear capability, and continues to grow closer to its goal as time passes. Nevertheless, the sword is not yet up against Israel’s neck, as Meir Dagan, Barnea’s predecessor at the Mossad, and the architect of Israel’s covert sabotage campaign against Iran, once said.
The reason is that although Iran is unconstrained today with some parts of its nuclear program, it is not yet building a bomb, and as long as that is the case, Israeli military action will likely wait.
This is a change in the definition of Israel’s red line for when it would need to act. Back in the Netanyahu era, the sense was that the red line for Israel was enrichment at military-grade levels. Netanyahu said as much during the famous speech he gave at the UN in 2012, when he drew a red line over 90% on the picture of a cartoon bomb.
Basically, the thinking then was that Israel and the world needed to stop Iran from even getting its hands on the ingredients for a bomb – fissionable material, advanced centrifuges and more. The red line was to stop the ingredients from being collected.
For a time, that worked. Sabotage, sanctions and the 2015 Iran deal all contributed to slowing down the program. The fact is that from that speech in 2012 until now – almost a decade later – the Iranians still are not known to have military-grade uranium. For that reason, it made sense to keep the red line at the enrichment and ingredients level since if Iran were to enrich uranium to 90%, there is no other purpose except for nuclear weapons.
The Iran nuclear red line has moved
BUT THAT has changed. Today, while such a move would be viewed as an act of war, it would not immediately provoke a military response. The reason is that Israel would instead prefer to wait and see what the world would do and only then determine its next steps.
This is because the red line has moved. Even with military-grade uranium, Iran would still need to take the gas and turn it into uranium metal, a highly complicated process that – together with assembling a warhead that could be installed on a ballistic missile that could reach Israel – would take at least two years.
The reason for this shift is natural. Time has passed and Iran has managed to overcome the challenges that Israel placed in its path and, at the same time, master the technical know-how for the different components it requires. This was not always the case and, defense officials openly admit that without intervention, it is likely that Iran would have reached the stage it is at today, years earlier.
Which is why the bluster coming right now from Israel is a bit misplaced.
On the one hand, Lapid is right to publicly threaten Iran and to present it with a clear and credible military threat. Deterrence is critical. On the other hand, the Iranians know that Israel is not close to activating a kinetic military option, and that part of what is behind this talk is the upcoming Israeli election.
It is hard not to reach that conclusion after watching the Lapid-Netanyahu Twitter spat last week surrounding the security briefing Lapid was holding for the Likud leader. Lapid tweeted that he had offered the briefing so that when Netanyahu makes campaign movies he will know what he is talking about.
Netanyahu didn’t remain silent. He tweeted back at Lapid and said that he is looking forward to the meeting so he can teach the prime minister a thing or two about Iran.
Netanyahu received the briefing and was updated on Israel’s latest intelligence as well as the government’s efforts to thwart the bad deal. Nevertheless, when the meeting ended, the politicization of Iran continued.
Walking out of the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem, Netanyahu’s staff had arranged for the TV stations to be outside. He told the reporters that he left the meeting more concerned than he had gone in.
Let’s think about this for a minute: Does anyone really think that Lapid, Gantz or Netanyahu want Iran to become a nuclear power? Is there really any daylight between them? Based on a report in Thursday’s Jerusalem Post by Lahav Harkov, the Israeli pressure on the US seems to be working and the Biden administration might be delaying any progress on a deal until after the midterm elections in November.
If that is the case, then why fight about something everyone agrees on, especially when considering that the battle to stop Iran strikes at the core of Israel’s national security interests?
SADLY, WE know the answer. Everything is, unfortunately, kosher today in Israeli political discourse, even a potential existential threat like Iran.
If talk now is bluster, when would it not be? Israeli officials are not quick to lay down a clear red line. If there is one, it would likely be aligned with Iranian progress in building a bomb.
Looking back 15 years ago, then Israel set the activation of Syria’s al-Kibar reactor as the red line for attacking. At the time, the thinking was that if the reactor is activated and then attacked, radioactive material would disperse into the nearby Euphrates River and Israel would be responsible for the consequences.
It was able to set that red line because it had learned of the reactor before it was activated. Had Israel discovered the reactor after its activation, would it have not attacked? It likely would have, but it decided on an earlier red line because it had the opportunity.
With Iran, Israel’s red line has fluctuated, sometimes due to operational success, sometimes due to sanctions, and sometimes due to diplomacy. There was a period in the mid-2000s when Military Intelligence announced every year that that year was the point of no return, and here we are almost 20 years later.
When discussing red lines, there is one additional aspect that is important to point out: While the IDF has publicly said that it is working on a military option and that it hopes for it to be ready within the year, that is in reference to an ideal option, one that would be accurate, well planned and practiced.
But make no mistake: There is no prime minister in Israel who would sit in the Prime Minister’s Office, receive intelligence that Iran has started building a bomb and not order action, no matter the price, the risk and the lack of training.
This is a potential existential threat for Israel that needs to be stopped.”
So the West seem to want to buy time, maybe even with an Iran deal. Now there seems to be hope that the mass protests in Iran might bring about regime change. But is it possible, especially since the demonstrators are unguided and unarmed, and the Revolutionary Guards are unlikely to shy away from the use of force. And if you arm yourself, will a new Syria emerge? Meanwhile in Germany it is being discussed whether Iran is a probationary case of „feminist foreign policy“ and a „feminist revolution“ and the whole problem is reduced and narrowed down to a headscarf issue, and Baerbock is also accused by taz and Jungle World of being tame against it, as is usual for European governments. Baerbock is accused of appeasing the mullahs‘ regime and betraying feminist foreign policy.
The question that Iran is becoming a nuclear power is thus somewhat lost out of sight as well as the tectonic shift that the aspiring nuclear power Iran has now become a member of the SCO, that if you want a regime change, you need a better organized mass movement, maybe also armed, charismatic leaders , also demands that go beyond a headscarf ban, which also appeals to the working class and other parts of the population and does not rely on Marcuse’s revolutionary power of women and Kurds and subcultures like Jungle World, Thomas von Osten-Sacken and taz demand, as is en vogue in the Frankfurt School since Marcuse’s The One-Dimensional Man. Lots of superlatives are attached to the current mass protests: women’s revolution, transethnic, longer and more comprehensive than before. Yes, but so far there hasn’t been the widely announced general strike in the oil industry, and the Revolutionary Guards will mow down everybody if the Basiji are no longer in control. The military is also being considered. It is also interesting that former Iranian reform president Chatami has spoken out by demanding that headscarves be lifted. It is also possible that he will try to infiltrate the movement and take the edge off the demands. An Iranian opposition woman told me at the time that many Iranians and other countries had illusions in the green revolution and Chatami as a reform Ayatollah and that he did not stand for the elimination of the regime. At that time, however, Chameini left the green revolution, which was more of a reform. of the system, especially since it was led by reform mullahs, wanted to put it down without further ado and then installed Ahmadinejad. Some see the fact that the daughter of former Iranian President Rafsanjani, who is active on social media in the Club House, has now been arrested as an omen of lasting change. So it’s still too early to say where this is headed. Three more assessments. The Economist believes that more could come and that Biden should refrain from an Iran deal that would strengthen the regime again by lifting the sanctions:
“Iran’s tired regime is living on borrowed time: A wave of protests portends more to come
. Might this time be different?
It is impossible to predict, as Iran is closed to the world’s press. Anger is certainly more widespread than ever before. The unrest has drawn in young and old. It has encompassed Iranians from every corner of the country, including Kurds and other minorities. So far it is women who have shown the most exhilarating bravery. But if Iran’s men weigh in with equal valour, the removal of a vile system, though still unlikely in the short run, may no longer be inconceivable.
The dominant part played by women in the protests is new. Another difference is that the demands are more drastic. Young people, connected to their contemporaries elsewhere on social media, are chafing more furiously than ever under the rule of grey-bearded clerics. Since 2012 income per head has stagnated, leaving legions of Iran’s 85m-plus people destitute. Inflation has soared. The environment has palpably suffered. Rivers have run dry. Farmland is parched. For many Iranians the only path to a decent life is emigration.
And the regime is more rotten than ever. It is keen to blame Iran’s ills on foreigners. For sure, American-led sanctions have deepened the economic distress, but the chief perpetrator of the people’s poverty is the regime itself. Under its corrupt theocracy swathes of the economy are controlled by military men and ayatollahs whose policies, even at the best of times, seem designed to scare off foreign investors. Hardliners dominate Iran’s parliament, and most relatively reform-minded politicians have been barred from running in elections.
Moreover, after decades of aggressive foreign policy, Iran is isolated. It backs militias in Iraq and Lebanon and brutal leaders in Syria and Yemen. It menaces the Gulf states. And it persists with nuclear plans that terrify Israel and unnerve the region. Recent efforts to revive the un-backed deal that curbed Iran’s nuclear programme look doomed. While protests continue, President Joe Biden would be unwise to re-engage with the regime or risk seeming to offer the ayatollahs a lifeline.
To be candid, there is little the West can do to encourage the rebellion, especially at a time of turmoil elsewhere in the world. Sanctions have weakened the regime, but have plainly failed to bring it down. Enough of Iran’s oil leaks into countries that care nothing for human rights, particularly China, which has long been a buttress of Iran’s economy. The most vital help that Western governments can give to Iran’s brave resisters is to ensure that sanctions do not bar them from access to internet services or to tools such as vpns that help them evade censorship and surveillance.
It will be up to Iranians to get rid of their rotten regime. So far the protests have been spontaneous and disorganised. No potential leader has emerged. More than a decade after the opposition Green Movement was suppressed, its champions remain muzzled. Real change may yet come from within the ranks of disgruntled clerics, though that scenario has often failed to materialise. This latest revolt may eventually fade, as previous ones did. But one day Iranians will cast off not just their veils but also their joyless overlords. It cannot come too soon.
Carnegie, on the other hand, does not yet believe in a regime change, but is preparing for the time after Khameini’s death, since power struggles within the mullahs could then emerge and new mass protests could then arise when the regime was weakened because of the successor issue;
Can the Iranian System Survive?
In an interview, Ali Fathollah-Nejad discusses the recent protests in Iran, and long-term prospects for the post-revolutionary political order. (…)
MY: How would you compare the cycle of protests taking place in Iran today to the protests that took place against Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi in the late 1970s? At the time, the authorities were caught in a cycle of protests from which they were unable to extract themselves, until the shah fled. How have the protests under the Islamic Republic been different, leading to different outcomes?
AFN: In the 1970s, Iran’s revolutionary movement was pluralistic and united in its opposition to the shah. Also, a considerable factor in the shah’s overthrow was that his foreign backers had largely abandoned him. The main difference between now and then, however, may be the level of public awareness. Today, the internet, despite its negative tendencies, has opened horizons that can be used for a more informed public. The starker difference, though, is the present regime’s willingness to use barbaric violence to hold on to power, despite all odds, far outweighing the shah regime’s brutality during its dying days.
Yet, the greatest hope lies in the fact that today many Iranians have an understanding of the importance of human rights—a result, not least, of unprecedented human rights violations during the four-decade rule of the Islamic Republic. There is also an understanding of the importance of women’s rights, which is on display today. In contrast, probably the single most important shortcoming of the pre-1979 revolutionary movement was the dominance of a facile anti-imperialist, anti-American zeitgeist that had effectively marginalized any concerns for human or women’s rights and democracy.
MY: There has been much speculation about who might succeed Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has been in poor health lately. Is it your feeling that a succession plan is in place, and how might the ongoing protests in the country play into this?
AFN: There are many unknowns so far, both regarding domestic forces and the position of foreign backers. Yet, we can assume that the IRGC is doing everything in its power to maintain its “full-spectrum dominance” in a post-Khamenei Iran, ideally with a weak successor as supreme leader who no longer holds the extraordinary powers that Khamenei has amassed. The power of the Shia clergy could well be reduced, translating into a system in which Iranian nationalism becomes the main ideology, superseding Shia nationalism and Islamism. However, there is also a split within the IRGC between those with Shia and secular leanings. In brief, Iran could turn into a de facto military dictatorship, with the present ideological mix of Islamism and nationalism tilting toward the latter, in other words toward nationalism. Moreover, the positioning of Tehran’s main external supporters, above all Russia, will be a significant factor.
Also, a post-Khamenei Iran may be more lenient regarding social restrictions, not unlike what is taking place in Saudi Arabia under Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Yet, this doesn’t mean that popular opposition to a modified regime would be less strong, as Iranians have come to realize that the clergy and the IRGC are two equal evils. In other words, the “long-term revolutionary process” may well continue in a post-Khamenei Iran.
Israel’s Jerusalem Post, on the other hand, believes that regime change will not occur this time, but maybe next time:
“Why the Iranian protests will fail, at least this time – analysis
Despite heavy media coverage and excitement by Iran critics, there is almost zero chance of the protests in Iran will topple the ayatollahs.
Updated: SEPTEMBER 29, 2022 20:18
It would be great if the protests in Iran, prompted by the regime’s killing of Mahsa Amini by the morality police for not covering her hair to their standards, toppled the ayatollahs and led to a better world.
Yet, despite heavy media coverage and excitement by Iran critics, there is almost zero chance of that happening – at least at this stage.
What does this revolution lack in order to be successful?
Successful revolutions, in Iran and elsewhere, have crucial elements to them that this wave of protests is missing.
First, there is no protest leader, and most potential leaders were under house arrest long before this latest wave started.
The regime learned from the 2009 protests that it cannot grow into a revolution without coherent leadership and coordination.
Former Mossad chief Tamir Pardo told The Jerusalem Post that 2009 might have been a golden opportunity to remove the threat of the Islamic Republic’s fanatical leaders, but that the US was too haunted by its coup of Iranian leader Mohammad Mosaddegh in 1953.
In that coup, the CIA and Britain’s MI6 helped remove Mosaddegh. Eventually, anger at that coup and at the US’s installed ruler, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, contributed to the Islamic Revolution and the ayatollah’s unqualified hatred of America for the last 43 years.
This held the US and others back from intervening to help the protesters 13 years ago.
The protesters lack one more thing: a clear cohesive message to unite disparate ethnic and class groups. There is the women’s rights angle, but many of those protesters’ beliefs are limited to reformers who are a minority compared to the ruling regime, or even the pragmatists, some of whom criticize the regime, but are generally against ideas favored by feminists and the West.
Even if the reformers were crafty enough to form an alliance with the pragmatists, none of these groups have key allies who can use force on their behalf.
They do not have support in the military, and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps is deeply intertwined with the fate of Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and his allies.
A revolution does not need to control all the institutions that wield force, but usually, it needs at least one highly sympathetic arm on its side.
The regime is well prepared for the demonstrations
Not only that, but the ayatollahs learned from the fall of the USSR and some other dictatorships when the professional military refused to fire on its own citizens, that another group was needed to maintain domestic order – the Basij.
There are no accurate estimates for the Basij’s manpower, but some put its numbers at one million or even millions.
Their ranks are usually filled by fanatics, hooligans or a mix of the two who have no compunction about beating or slaughtering their own people for protesting.
But we are in 2022, a time when revolutions have happened through the Internet and social media.
Iran has learned from these soft Internet revolutions in Ukraine and Georgia. With technological support from China and Russia, it has developed tools for shutting down the country’s internet and all cellphone service.
If the Internet was once a space where democracy could spread too quickly for incompetent old-school authoritarians to compete, in 2022, authoritarians have control when they need to – even using the Internet to identify protest leaders.
No insurrection has yet found a new playing field or tactic to outflank Iran, China, Russia or other authoritarian regimes since these regimes jumped ahead of democrats in their use of technology to oppress dissent.
The past does not necessarily predict the future
Next, many analysts make the mistake of looking at the protests of 1979 and earlier Iranian protest waves as a guideline for understanding the present – a point of view that would mistakenly lead to the conclusion that very long protests make revolution more likely.
Yet, after the 2009 protests, Khamenei has consistently used a playbook of temporarily showing a soft side and willingness to dialogue with protesters if they end their activities within a short period. That is followed by an unregulated brutal crackdown if the protests make it past that unspecified period of time.
Also, the longer the protests go on, the more confident the regime seems to be that it will not fall, and the more it appears ready to act in the most brutal manner possible to end them, while discounting them as being led by foreign traitors.
It seems that post-2022, protests will only succeed in toppling the Iranian regime if they explode rapidly and shake the regime to its foundations before it has time to catch its breath.
This is partly because the regime does not care how much its wider public suffers, and because the wider public has become used to unusual levels of suffering after spending most of the last decade under heavy global or Western sanctions.
All of that said, the future is not hopeless.
Khamenei has had several encounters with poor health over the last decade. When he dies, neither his son, Mojtaba, nor Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi, will likely command the same loyalty of the IRGC and the clerics’ class.
A fracturing of unity in those groups could finally give those seeking to rebel the power they need to win or weaken the regime’s ability to crack down enough and allow protesters to overwhelm it.
Alternatively, the cumulative damage by periodic protests every few years could harm the economy enough or slowly turn enough key economic players against the regime to transform holes in the regime’s support into a chasm.
But like the stunning and sudden fall of the USSR in 1991, no one knows whether we are on the verge of such a game-changing moment or if the regime’s tools of oppression may be strong enough to let it hold on for some decades more before the internal rot of authoritarianism and corruption catches up with it. “