By Dr Salem Al Ketbi
The Iranian regime’s reactions to the harshest sanctions it has to face are both ironic and deplorable. The statements made by Iran’s political and military leaders revealed a great deal of confusion. In response to the implementation of the “zero export” strategy for Iranian oil, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei said that the sanctions would not go unanswered.
Meanwhile, President Rouhani has criticized Saudi Arabia and the UAE for their compensation for the expected shortage on world oil markets due to the ban on Iranian oil exports. The two countries have not officially announced such a move. If they did, such a step would not be a political but rather a procedural decision to keep oil markets stable and to ensure that OPEC can control them.
The leaders of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard reiterated their threats to close the Straits of Hormuz. But the truth is that these threats no longer produce the desired psychological effect. As the world has now come to realize, the margin of maneuver left to the Iranian regime to implement such a threat is almost nil. The option would be suicidal by all strategic standards.
The second phase of US sanctions against the Iranian regime consists in putting a chokehold and containing the regime. This will end its turbulent and disruptive involvement in the Middle East. There is no doubt that the Iranian regime’s most important bet is to lure the US and its allies into war.
The Trump administration is well aware of the situation. I do not think that it will offer the Iranian regime the opportunity to confuse the issue and dodge sanctions. Under the present circumstances, war is perhaps the most appropriate scenario for the Iranian regime to keep its ability to rule the country.
The mullahs are aware that if the country’s oil revenues collapse, the domestic situation will become exposed. As a result, the regime’s ability to finance its militias and sectarian agents will fall apart. Then, the malevolent regime that has spread through the region from Yemen to Syria and Iraq will break down.
Sectarianism, which is the common denominator of the regime’s militias, could provide it with a lifeline, some might argue. However, in reality, most of these militias are mainly mercenaries and agents brought in from different countries. If funding is cut, such as that of the al-Houthi group in Yemen, their ability to keep wreaking havoc throughout Yemen will end.
Some see the sanctions as starving the Iranian people, which is not at all true. Oil revenues are not used to finance development plans; they go, in total, to the Revolutionary Guards’ companies. The money is used to finance expansion projects abroad. If part of these billions was spent on improving the living conditions of the Iranian people, we would not have seen the massive and continuous deterioration in living standards and the raging anger of the millions of Iranians who cannot afford to rebel for fear of being repressed by the Basij militias.
Ironically, based on their statements, Iranian leaders do not seem to follow and understand what is happening around them. They are still living the illusions of the past. Arrogance and pride prevent them from realizing the growing disparities in the balance of military power between Iran and its supposed enemies. They do not see any power in the US or anywhere else.
They also fail to see the weakness of Iran’s military power, whose air force has been drastically weakened. The mullahs stake too much on the use of the militias, non-conventional warfare and some short- and medium-range missile systems that can be easily neutralized by advanced anti-missile defence systems.
Contrary to what truth benders want people to think, Iran is militarily a paper tiger.
States derive their power mainly from the capabilities on the home front, their economy and their ability to withstand armed conflicts. The Iranian regime does not qualify as such. It lacks the popular credit to go to war.
Under those circumstances, can the Iranian regime count on anything?
My guess is that it is betting on its ability to create chaos and unrest and cause regional and global panic through the use of militias, sectarian arms and sleeper cells.
But all these tools can be easily neutralized if the head of the system is toppled. The mission will be carried out by the Iranian people when conditions allow.
Salem Al Ketbi is an Emirati political analyst, researcher and opinion writer. Member of @ChathamHouse and @londonpressclub.