Diplomacy to take a temporary backstage
Various incidents in the past several weeks that culminated with the death of Soleimani will for the time being put on hold a number of on-going quiet diplomatic efforts for arriving at a new and more ‘comprehensive nuclear deal’ to replace JCPOA primarily with the US. Nonetheless, unless there is some kind of a ground breaking diplomatic breakthrough either at the regional or international level, of the new year is likely to bring very harsh economic prospects coupled with greater political instability to the Iranian nation, especially since the government is simply incapable of offering any serious remedies for countering the huge damaging effects of the US economic sanctions.
Although the hype surrounding the death of Soleimani might offer the Islamic regime a temporary respite to distract public attention away from its daily woes, failure to find any kind of a solution for ending the current economic debacle at home is unlikely to remove prospects of further serious protests and domestic unrest in the coming months.
In such a scenario, every expectation suggests that a seriously fractured hard-line leadership under Khamenei will not hesitate to unleash every means at its disposal for crushing any defiance. They will also be more focussed than ever before on preventing any public protests from becoming an instrument in the hands of foreign intelligence services anxious to undermine their authority, especially in the aftermath of the vacuum that has now been created with Soleimani’s demise.
Although the regime will try and use Soleimani’s extended period of mourning into a public display of support for itself and its anti-American policies, but once the initial hype surrounding his death has ended, no one truly expects such manoeuvrings to distract the public away from their legitimate demands.
It is important to bear in mind that the brutally crushed public protests of November 2019 had come at a time when Iran was also facing a new serious domestic challenge in the shape of the increasing divide that has taken place between the Supreme Leader and his allies (senior figures in the IRGC, the Judiciary and the intelligence community), and other previously loyal and compliant personalities from both the ‘Reformist’ and the conservative ‘Principalist’ camps.
Soleimani’s death will no doubt provide the regime with a temporary period of solace when all forces unite together in condemnation of ‘the vile US attack’ that had taken place. However, once the mourning ceremonies come to an end, internal challenges to Khamenei’s style of leadership is bound to resume, this time with a new vigour given the absence of such a critical and loyal supporter as Soleimani.
Moreover, in recent months, internal threats to the ruling establishment in Iran have been further exacerbated by the prolonged anti-government riots in Iraq and Lebanon with a pointed anti-IRI dimension – believed by many Iranian leaders including the late General Soleimani to have been ‘conspired’ by a combination of elements from the US, Israel and Saudi Arabia, all intent on frustrating Iran’s so-called ‘hegemonic ambitions’ in the region.
But despite all domestic problems and recent challenges posed to its legitimacy in the region, it would be wrong to assume that the Islamic leadership in Iran is on the verge of collapse, especially as it faces no organised or cohesive opposition either inside or outside Iran.
While the assassination of Soleimani has now exploded into a new and probably unprecedented round of open recrimination and confrontation between the US and Iran, there are signs that all sides, including the unfortunate Iraqis who have been forced to put up with the brunt of an Iran-US proxy war being waged on their soil, do not want matters to get out of hand and result in more death and destruction.