The new year began with an event that will change the future of Iran. In this second post, I consider what we may expect politically in the coming months.
Iran has lost one of its top leaders. General Qasem Soleimani, head of the Quds Army, was more powerful and influential than Iran’s President Rouhani. The people and the Iranian government are on the opposite side of almost every issue, but regarding Soleimani, they both loved and respected him.
Senior commanders of the Islamic Republic of Iran’s armed forces, including General Qasem Soleimani, met with Ayatollah Khamenei on April 11, 2016. Source: http://english.khameini.ir, licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.
Despite President Trump warning that the United States will quickly strike back, “perhaps in a disproportionate manner,” if Iran strikes any American person or target, Ayatollah Khamenei and Iran’s military leaders vowed to take revenge. They responded Tuesday by firing 22 ballistic missiles at two military bases in Iraq.
What will the Islamic Republic of Iran do now? What will happen? Will they continue to fight back? If they do, the U.S. may attack and they will lose a lot; if not, they will look weak and full of hot air.
There are three possibilities: moving to full-fledged war, responding with a limited conflict, or private negotiation.
In my opinion, this option is very unlikely because:
- The Islamic government knows a war with the United States will end its regime. This government is in trouble—big trouble. The economy is bad, and sanctions are making it worse; the nation has risen against the government; the people are turning away from Islam to become secular agnostics or Christians. This regime has no popularity either inside or outside the country.
In the past two months, not only have Iranian cities demonstrated against the Iranian government but so have cities in Lebanon and Iraq. The people of Iraq want Iran out of their country. Iraqis are happy about the assassination of Soleimani but do not show it on the streets because of fear. Many were killed a few weeks ago demonstrating against Iran’s intervention in Iraq.
- The Islamic government does not have many options unless it already has a nuclear bomb. If so, they will detonate one in the center of Iran’s desert to let the world, and especially Trump, know that they cannot be pushed around anymore. If they do have the bomb, they probably will not use it except to threaten, bully, and impose their will in the Middle East and the world.
- If they have no nuclear bomb, Iran’s options are VERY limited. Trump threatened that he has already identified Iranian targets to hit if Iran acts against U.S. citizens or property. They understand Trump may do it, and even his own congress cannot stop him.
Iran knows that without a bomb, they have practically no protection from a U.S. attack. Therefore, after the assassination, they declared that they will fully pursue making the bomb. A possible shortcut for them is to purchase a bomb from North Korea and detonate it in a desert to pretend that they have successfully built it themselves and that they can build more.
As already seen through Iran’s initial ballistic missile response, this option is likely.
- Khamenei and the Iranian government will want never to appear weak. Honor and shame are controlling values in the Middle East, especially among the leaders. So to show that they are not taken aback by the assassination and that Trump’s threats mean nothing to them, they have to do something even if through other organizations. Tuesday’s ballistic missile attack seems to be just such an action. Khamenei said he had dealt the United States a “slap in the face” while the foreign minister announced that the nation had “concluded proportionate measures” in its retaliation.
This attack—perhaps intentionally—had no casualties. It brought honor to the Iranian government, showing its own people and the world that they are not afraid of the U.S. and that they will retaliate. But with no casualties, they felt safe from U.S. payback. It is interesting that the Iranian media is presenting the attack as a point of strength. They are saying, “Nobody since Vietnam has attacked U.S. bases, but we did. And Trump did not have the guts to retaliate.”
- Iran’s government must also maintain deniability. Iran may follow up by attacking U.S. embassies around the world, attacking U.S. ships in the Persian Gulf, or killing some American citizens around the world—even in the U.S.—just out of pride to show that they are not defeated. Of course, they will do these things through proxy terrorist organizations whose support is not traceable to Iran. For their own protection, they want to be able to say, “We did not do it; those who support us and hate the U.S. did it on their own.”
This option is most likely, but it will not be a public negotiation.
- Because of Trump’s multifaceted strategy, I believe the Islamic Republic of Iran has no choice but to negotiate. They know that if they misbehave, Trump will attack their oil facilities, which will wipe them out completely since their only source of survival income is oil.
- Iran cannot support or survive a war. They will not want to enter a war with the United States because they know their army cannot carry on that fight for more than a few days. More importantly, they know their own people will not support that war. The American population wants to avoid war because of its cost—both in money and lives; the Islamic regime wants to avoid a war with the U.S. too, but for them, the motivation is even higher—their survival.
- Negotiation will happen in secret. Iran will be forced to negotiate, but public negotiation would admit weakness. The importance of honor and saving face will prohibit public terms. So after limited terrorist action around the world through their proxy agents, they will start negotiating with the United States secretly without either side mentioning it publicly.
- Negotiation is not the same as appeasement. Critics might say, “But that is what Obama did, negotiating with Iran.” President Obama’s policy invigorated the regime. Obama wanted the treaty more than they wanted it. Obama wanted to evade war more than they wanted to avoid it. Therefore, Obama came to the negotiation table from a very weak position.
The Iranian government celebrated after the nuclear deal with Obama was signed because they got so much with little cost. They received US$150 billion in cash, the removal of sanctions, freedom to sell oil in the world market, and permission to have business relationships with Europe and other countries, all for just a promise that they would delay building a bomb until 2025! They used that money to expand their influence in the Middle East, finance terrorism around the world, and yes, build the bomb—but in new, underground facilities hidden in the middle of large cities. They were allowed to buy arms from Russia and build up their military, including developing intercontinental ballistic missiles able to deliver nuclear warheads to Israel, Europe, and soon, to the United States.
It seems that Trump has a better understanding of the Islamic-Iranian culture. An appeasement policy never works against a bully. It encourages them to continue that behavior. You must stand firm against bullies. Even the Bible tells us, “Resist the devil, and he will flee from you” (James 4:7). Islam’s mandate in the Quran is to rule the world by war and violence with neither compromise nor negotiation. Islamic regimes will never negotiate by choice but only when they have no other way out.
The good news is that the Lord is faithful to His promise in Jeremiah 49:38. We know that sooner or later there will be a horrible war in Iran according to Jeremiah 49:34–37. Let’s pray that this war will be delayed so that more Iranian Muslims will have a chance to hear the gospel before being killed.
Iran as a nation has rejected Islam and is open to the gospel. Let’s do our part to share the good news with Muslims and disciple them to become agents of transformation after they get saved. Through our broadcasts and our training school, we are doing just that. Will you join us?
In my final post for this series, I write about the impact of these current events on Iranian Christians.
Did you miss part 1 that explained Qasem Soleimani’s role and popularity in Iran? Find it here.