Can a country change its “national perspective” overnight? On the surface, it appears that it can happen, at least in part. Take Iran, for example. Less than a week ago, the multitudes poured out in the streets of Kerman, where Qasem Soleimani was buried. Countless others filled the streets of Tehran and other cities of Iran, revering him, mourning his death and shouting “Death to the United States” and “Death to Israel”.
And then, almost as if the curtain to Act One was coming down, the curtain to Act Two was beginning to rise. Ukrainian International Airlines flight PS752, en route to Kyiv, was shot down near Imam Khamenei Airport, in Tehran, shortly after take-off, killing all 176 passengers and crew members aboard. The incident took place a few short hours after Iran fired missiles at two bases in Iraq that housed U.S. forces, in response to the assassination of Soleimani. The plane carried Iranians, Canadians, Ukrainians, Swedes, Britons, Germans and Afghanis. Iranian officials claimed that the cause of the crash was engine failure. The downward flight of the plane from the time it began to be in trouble until it crashed was captured on film. The Ukraine originally accepted Iran’s explanation that the plane crashed due to engine failure, but later said that it was too early to determine the actual cause of the crash, expecting that Iran would cooperate in the investigation. Difficulties began to emerge when Iran’s civil aviation authority refused to turn over the “black boxes” to the investigators from Boeing, who would usually be the one to examine and analyze the data, or to any other investigative body. The initial refusal of Iran to cooperate with others in the investigation of the plane crash fostered widespread speculation that the plane was shot down by Iran. Only several hours prior to the crash, the Ukraine withdrew its membership in the U.N. Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the “Palestinian” People, which committee was established in 1975 and which, historically, supported anti-Israel resolutions. Of course, that move was applauded by the Israel Foreign Ministry and it urged other committee members to follow the Ukraine’s lead in this regard.
After several days of excuses at the highest levels, and following accusations from different countries, including the U.S. and Canada, of causing the downing of the Ukrainian plane, Iran finally admitted, three days after the event, that it was responsible for the crash … by mistake! It was alleged that a missile operator acted independently and mistook the plane for a “cruise missile”. Almost ironically, it was reported that the Iranian military fired a Russian Tor-M1 surface-to-air missile system, referred to by NATO as the Gauntlet.
And then it happened. At first, hundreds of protesters took to the street in Tehran and very vocally condemned the lies of Iran’s public officials for denying for days that Iran shot down the Ukrainian passenger plane. It started peacefully enough, with university students gathering together to pay their respects to the victims of the crash. Then, the gatherings turned into angry protests, with chants against the government leaders and even tearing up pictures and posters of Soleimani, who only a day earlier had been the reason for national mourning. The students called for the prosecution of those responsible for the downing of the plane, and for those who had covered up the action. Then they began to shout “Commander-in-Chief resign”, a clear reference to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, as well as “death to liars”. This was the golden opportunity for the U.S. to step in and encourage the protesters and to warn the government of Iran that “The world is watching” and that it should not kill peaceful protesters.
The anti-government protests grew and the attitude and language of the protesters changed. “They are lying that our enemy is America, our enemy is right here” and “Death to the dictator”, again referring to Khamenei. One site stated that along with it those chants, the removal of posters of Soleimani almost became a national sport and a sudden respect for the flags of the U.S. AND Israel. Note in the link that the university students are walking carefully in line, being sure not to walk on the flags of either country, which, apparently, had been a stomping ground for them only a day or two earlier. Now they tell the individuals who are walking on the flags to be careful where they are walking (translation from Hebrew). Another site said: “The people do not disrespect the flag of USA and Israel. They say all over Iran: We are not the enemy of the USA and Israel. Our enemy is the people of the Islamic Republic of Iran.” See Iran Protests.
Criticism of Iranian authorities is nothing new, but such criticism usually stayed within “acceptable” boundaries. When they exceeded those boundaries, the government clamped down, resulting in the deaths of hundreds of civilian protesters, even as recently as last November. Now, the actions of the government are referred to as “shameful”, even “unforgivable”. And, as expected, when push came to shove, the protesters were fired upon and blood was shed. Yes, the world may be watching, but Iran has done what it wanted to do in the past and there is no reason to believe that this time will be any different.
Does this signal the beginning of the end of the Islamic revolution in Iran? Far from it. Iran still has its goal of regional Shiite hegemony. It is also clear from the massive turnout for the funeral of Soleimani that considerable numbers of Iranians continue to be supportive of the clerically-led government. Iran needs to “regain face” in the Middle East. It needs to be careful how it will do so, while staying true to its oft-repeated warnings and promises of avenging the death of Soleimani, which should not be ignored. Iran’s policy has usually been to act when its territory has been violated. It related to Soleimani’s killing, even though it took place in Iraq, as if it took place in an extension of its territory. Usually, it gives orders to one or more of its proxies to act on its behalf, so that Iran itself cannot be blamed for the dirty work performed by one of its dependent, terrorist organisations.
It would be foolish, indeed, for the West to think that the retaliation for Soleimani’s elimination came to an end with a soft-touch (slap) missile attack on two, almost empty U.S. bases in Iraq. His assassination, as welcome as it was, increased an already tense situation in this area of the world and it generated a new reality regarding conflict, both territorial, as well as religious, and those who are on the playing field. The difference in the military capability of the U.S., as compared with that of Iran, is aptly demonstrated in the attached illustration. The boot is a symbol of belittlement; it is something we use to walk on dirt and ground.
Sayyad Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of the Hezbollah terrorist organization based in Iran, just urged Iran’s allies to begin working to retaliate for Soleimani’s killing and, particularly, to get the U.S. out of Iraq and the Middle East. Those allies include the government of Syria, the various paramilitary groups that were established in Iraq with the support of Iran, as well as Islamic Jihad and Hamas, in Gaza. Yemen should also be included in this grouping. The Hezbollah was established by Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, that was headed up by Soleimani, and is an inseparable part of the “axis of resistance” led by Tehran. Nasrallah said that it was “time for the axis of resistance to start working”. He added that retaliation could happen in the “coming days, weeks and months”. Some things are said openly, others are spoken in closed quarters, away from listening ears. Countries in the Middle East have long memories. When an enemy has over a 100,000 missiles at its disposal and threatens to use them, we should not be foolish and ignore the threat.
Be of sober spirit, be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. (1 Peter 5:8)
[My] God is my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield and the horn of my salvation. He is my stronghold, my refuge and my savior— from violent people you save me. (2 Samuel 22:3)
Bless, be blessed and be a blessing.