As protests continue to escalate in Iran, the vultures are beginning to circle. It is no secret that Iran has many enemies and the fall of its regime has been eagerly awaited and hoped for. The protests in Iran today have caught many by surprise and in the euphoria of the moment, Donald Trump wholeheartedly supported the protestors, implying that change was just at hand, that Iran’s government would fall.
Such hopes are premature at this early stage. With the Iranian state shutting down social media, there is no real way to tell what is happening in the country. Despite their sudden appearance, there appears to be no cohesive leadership and no real end goal. Do the protesters want a return to monarchy, to democracy or just a new president? There is widespread discontent, but will it survive a brutal crackdown?
Many would certainly cheer if Iran’s government fell, but we’ve been here before. When the Arab Spring swept through the Middle East in 2011, many international observers hailed it as a wave of hope, of optimism as democracy would flourish where dictators once ruled over their subjects.
Five years later, Libya is still caught in the throes of civil war along with Syria which has become an icon of how the Arab Spring went so disastrously wrong. Egypt is back under military control while Yemen serves as a battleground between Saudi Arabia and Iran.
The fall of Iran’s regime would be hailed as an event equal to the French Revolution, a dramatic change that would change the world forever. However, much like the French Revolution and Arab Spring, there is cause for concern and Trump may regret his quick support for change.
Iran’s expansionist policies following the invasion of Iraq has caused tensions across the Middle East and set Iran on a collision course with Saudi-Arabia who also has designs on the region. The new crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, has earned a reputation for recklessness as he seeks to curb Iran’s power. Some has even speculated that Salman might declare war on Iran. With the country in turmoil, what better time is there to attack?
Saddam Huessin probably had the same idea when he invaded Iran in 1980, hoping to curb the spread of Iran’s previous revolution. But Iran fought back and turned a quick war into a long, bloody stalemate. If Saudia Arabia tried the same tactic, the slaughter will be even worse.
There’s also the question of what happens if things get out of hand in Iran. Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s prime minister, has urged caution over the protests. Having made his career over demonizing Iran, Netanyahu probably recognizes a major crisis looming. A weak and wounded Iran, seeking to bolster its position, may seek an excuse for revenge. Israel is right on Iran’s doorstep and unlike, Trump, Netanyahu is in real danger from a vengeful Iran.
If things get out of control in Iran, Turkey and Russia will have a Trump-style problem on their hands: an unpredictable partner with few restraints. Iraq and Syria might find themselves wishing the protests never happened if Iran’s domestic troubles spill over into their countries, as it threatened to do in the 80s. Meanwhile, ISIS and its high command ponder whether they can use the chaos to their advantage…
Israel, Saudi Arabia, and the USA are cheering for Iranian protesters, hoping that Iran re-discovering democracy or re-installing their royal family will make their lives easier. They each spy a chance to exploit Iran’s internal struggle for their own gain, cheering for the fall of a hated regime.
They should be careful what they wish for.