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Just when you thought that Iran has got the message loud and clear that its nefarious activities in the region will not be tolerated, the Iranians are at it again.

One would think that the build-up of forces in the region and the military drills conducted in the Arabian Gulf with US and other international forces would make Iran pause and ponder. But no. In a scenario that almost smacks of a death wish, this time around the Iranians are releasing a salvo of words that cannot be taken as conciliatory in any form.

Last week, addressing a gathering of Iranian faithful in Tehran, the commander in chief of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards threatened Saudi Arabia, the US and Great Britain in a speech that has raised some ire in the power corridors of the regional countries. Hossein Salami, the commander-in-chief of the IRGC [Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps], said, “You have been slapped hard by us and have not been able to respond … but if you cross the red lines, we will annihilate you.”

Addressing the pro-government crowd and in a clear reference to the United States, he continued. “Believe me, we are now in a world war and at this moment you are in the process of defeating all the power of arrogance.”

Brazen attacks

Perhaps Salami, a brigadier-general, was buoyed by the fact that recent Iranian aggression was not countered by any military reaction.

One must not forget that it was just recently when Iran shot down a sophisticated and state-of-the-art US military drone. Nor was the Iranian detention of a British tanker responded to with a heavy hand. And perhaps the most brazen of all was the attack on Saudi Arabia’s oil facilities which led to a temporary glitch in world supplies. A swarm of explosive drone attacks hit two major oil facilities run by the state-owned company Aramco in Saudi Arabia.

Given the deep-seated problems, deterrence will work [in Iran] for a short while only. If there is no change, unrest will break out again and again.

- Ali Fathollah-Nejad, Iranian analyst

While the Al Houthis in the south initially claimed responsibility, surfacing evidence increasingly pointed to an Iranian hand. Just last week, a Reuters investigation revealed that an Iranian ‘coalition’ was indeed behind the attacks with none other than Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei giving the order to attack. The attack followed a series of closed and secret meetings between the head cleric and the top commanders of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards.

A senior commander was said to have declared that “It is time to take out our swords and teach them a lesson.” Khamenei ordered that the attack be conducted with minimum casualties “short of direct confrontation that could trigger a devastating US response.” Such are indeed not the actions of a country that is working towards a peaceful existence with its neighbours. Due to the sanctions imposed by the US, Iran is facing a tough economic situation. The World Bank has estimated Iran’s economy will shrink by 9.5 per cent this year. Following the government’s announcement of a petrol price increase, a nationwide demonstration took place. It was followed by a heavy response by the government and 106 of the demonstrators were reportedly killed across the country. Access to the outside world was cut on November 16.

Existential crisis

The heavy-handed state response, by cracking down hard on a countrywide wave of unrest while not addressing the root of the issue, spells disaster for Iran in the long term. Ali Fathollah-Nejad, an Iranian analyst and a visiting fellow at the Brookings Doha Centre, said that “The Iranian regime has entered the most serious and most existential crisis since its creation. Given the deep-seated problems, deterrence will work for a short while only. If there is no change, unrest will break out again and again.”

It is for the people of Iran and not their ruling class to shape the future of the country. For that, they must rise again and again and reject the aggressive course their government has chosen for their nation. For Iran to live peacefully among their neighbours, change must happen from within and soon.

— Tariq A. Al Maeena is a Saudi socio-political commentator. He lives in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. Twitter: @talmaeena

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