Home World As unrest continues in Iran, unrest is spreading across the region

As unrest continues in Iran, unrest is spreading across the region

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in most revolutions there comes a point when a threatened regime goes from trying to control the crowd without shedding too much blood to sending in the army to quell the rebellion. Iran may be approaching that point. Parts of the country already look like a war zone. Columns of armored vehicles of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (QUEER), the regime’s Praetorian Guard, stormed towns including Mahabad and Javanrud in Iran’s Kurdish northwest, firing machine guns at protesters. Helicopters fly overhead. Circling drones broadcast battle songs.

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The death toll across the country is rising sharply. An Iranian human rights group based in Norway estimates that the death toll in the first two months has jumped from 342 to at least 416 in the past week. The real figure could be much higher, the report said, because internet blocking has interrupted the flow of information.

Protesters fight back. “You cannot ask a brutal dictator for your rights peacefully,” says the Kurd, echoing the rise of militancy. Manuals on street fighting began to be distributed. There are increasing reports of stabbings and shootings at security forces. Supporters of the Kurdistan Free Life Party (PYAK), based in neighboring Iraq, are said to be smuggling weapons and defense equipment through the mountains into Iran. About 60 Iranian soldiers and policemen were killed, according to Iranian state media and outside observers.

As turmoil grows at home, Iran’s leaders are striking back—and trying to stir up trouble—abroad. The QUEER regularly fires missiles and drones at armed camps of Iranian exiles in the Kurdish north of Iraq. Its commanders threatened a ground invasion. Perhaps they are signaling to other governments in the region that if the regime were to falter, it could still lash out at its enemies in the Middle East. Visitors to Kurdistan say its leaders fear their Western allies are too preoccupied with the economic crisis and the war in Ukraine to come to their aid.

Elsewhere, Iran is trying to show that it can still cause problems for those who get a kick out of its current disarray. It crashed into an Israeli tanker near the Strait of Hormuz. He has sent parts for the missiles to his Houthi allies in Yemen, who have previously struck the capitals of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. The QUEER released a video showing how its drones can attack Saudi oil installations.

Iran has also brazenly announced that it is enriching uranium to near weapons-grade levels and spinning more advanced centrifuges. “The more pressure there is on the regime in Tehran, the more it will lash out,” says Christian Koch of the Gulf Research Foundation in Switzerland. “It will do everything that depends on it. It’s a game of survival.” Armageddon, some fear, can beckon.

However, Iranians are also signaling to foreigners the benefits of keeping the regime on their side. The militias they sponsored long ago in Iraq opened fire on the American “occupiers”. But now that they are entrenched in the government in Baghdad, the militias are courting them. Iraq’s new prime minister, Muhammad al-Sudani, is said to have had several productive meetings with the American ambassador.

Iran’s proxy in Lebanon, Hezbollah, has also tacitly engaged with America, which recently brokered an agreement between Lebanon and Israel regarding their maritime border. “Iran is saying to the Americans: don’t miss the opportunity…to reach agreements that you could never dream of,” says a former senior Iraqi official. Some of his colleagues believe that Iran hopes that America’s worsening relationship with Saudi Arabia’s de facto ruler, Prince Mohammed bin Salman, might make it more open to engagement with Iran.

Some hardliners in the Iranian government, including Ali Shamkhani, the head of the National Security Service, have tried to bring reformers back into government. Mohammed Khatami, the most moderate of the past presidents, is quoted by the official media after being censored for nearly a decade. Several reformers proposed holding a referendum on the future type of government. Others offer early elections. A number of analysts believe QUEER abandon some of the Islamists’ demands, such as the obligation for women to wear the veil, as a price for maintaining power. But protesters, hard-liners and reformers alike, say the regime must go.

In any case, Western governments are unlikely to restore relations with Iran while it is in turmoil. Technical disagreements between America and the Europeans over the nuclear negotiations have virtually disappeared. Both are tired of Iran’s pull and outraged by Iran’s supply of drones to Russia for use in Ukraine.

Some also question whether Iran is capable of carrying out its threats to wreak havoc abroad. Since the 2020 assassination of Qassem Soleimani, a powerful longtime commander QUEERBeing a foreign strike force, many of Iran’s satellites have anyway focused on their own business rather than acting as a cat’s paw for Iran’s ayatollahs. “Even if the regime is restored, [Ali] Khamenei is no longer a pillar,” says an Iranian analyst, referring to Iran’s supreme leader.

Hezbollah may also be constrained by Lebanon’s deal with Israel. Another Iranian protege, Hamas, the Islamist Palestinian faction that rules the Gaza Strip, has remained relatively calm. The QUEER is struggling to maintain its leading position in Syria, where it is often beaten by Israel. Now that the fighting has subsided, Syria is increasingly favoring ties with deeper-pocketed Gulf Arab states. Iran is also struggling to wake up its Shia brothers in the Gulf countries, for example Bahrain. Yes QUEERThey grumble angrily against the normalization of relations with Israel under the Abrahamic Accords, but rarely take to the streets. “Shia no longer chant ‘Death to America and Israel’ at Friday prayers,” says a Shia Bahraini politician.

All in all, Iran’s ayatollahs face an increasingly defiant domestic enemy. However, their friends in the region are showing increasing reluctance to come to their aid. The Iranian regime’s struggle for survival can be a lonely affair.

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