Home ›› 18 Jan 2023 ›› Editorial

What options does the Iranian regime have to ensure its survival?

Raghida Dergham
18 Jan 2023 00:02:11 | Update: 18 Jan 2023 00:02:11
What options does the Iranian regime have to ensure its survival?

There are conflicting views on how the Iranian regime will rein in the country’s domestic crisis, maintain its foothold in the region, and shore up its strategic alliance with Russia in its war with Ukraine and the West.

But one thing in common is anticipation that military developments in the coming six months could shape the regime’s fate. That is, either Israel will carry out military attacks to prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear power, as has been speculated by some strategic thinkers, or Iran will carry out pre-emptive attacks against Israel and in the Strait of Hormuz, to shield the regime from both domestic and foreign threats.

There is a huge gulf between these two scenarios. Those close to the regime discount in absolute terms the possibility of its downfall. They believe it will weather the storm thanks to its leverage, which includes sabotage and warfare. They anticipate that the regime will soon instigate actions to create a crisis in the region, in order to escape domestic pressures. However, the proponents of the opposing view underscore the chaos gripping the regime to argue that it will get closer to a collapse, especially in the aftermath of possible Israeli military attacks that will cripple its nuclear programme, thereby altering the domestic equation.

A careful assessment of the situation in Iran indicates that the regime indeed needs to protect itself and ensure its survival by all means and at any cost.

It is right now preoccupied with clearing out those it doesn’t trust within its ranks and taking measures to protect its various organs. Its crackdown on the ongoing protests will also continue. The regime is angry but probably unperturbed by the implications of creating a regional crisis to deflect attention away from Iran’s restive interior and its weak position vis-a-vis a hostile population. However, the key question here is: will it risk carrying out operations abroad in the next three months, or will it focus strictly on containing domestic developments and extinguishing the uprising?

A veteran Gulf expert I spoke to believes that the regime will not fall except if the cause is linked to nuclear armament. Iran, he said, will have to choose between the nuclear weapon it is building and the nuclear weapon that could destroy it.

Indeed, there is a general impression that Israel could carry out attacks inside Iran to stop it from acquiring the bomb. Some suggest they could happen in the next six months. The US might not get involved directly, but the West more broadly could provide political immunity – and possibly even air support – to Israel.

The development of nuclear weapons, advocated for by some in the Iranian regime for the purpose of deterrence, could thus become the trigger that topples it.

Some in the regime, however, believe that the Iranian people will be swept by nationalist fervour if their country comes under attack, and will rally around the regime, rather than against it. But the opposite could be true, too, with popular anger against the regime intensifying even further. Either way, Iran’s fate could be determined by its nuclear weapons programme over the next eight months, with the programme’s timeline practically dictating the timing.

As the regime prepares for a possible confrontation, it will seek to secure its regional bases, which are the most important means available to it to deflect attention away from its vulnerabilities.

In this context, its priority would be to maintain the gains made by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and play all its cards to ensure its survival. This means shoring up its positions in the region, of vital importance if it intends to carry out pre-emptive military operations against Israel. It is not clear, however, whether the regime’s talk about such pre-emptive attacks is a bluff or not.

The National