It’s been made abundantly clear through Tweets, public statements, and our ally Israel’s covert-then-public actions that the United States and its closest friend in the Middle East would like a new regime to take over in Iran. It’s undeniable that the Ayatollah Khomeini and his underlings have clung to religious extremism as government, and it continues to threaten stability and safety in the region. But even with an abundance of valid reasons to want new leadership, it must be considered what the next Iranian leader might look like.
Since the dramatic, fervently anti-American uprising in 1979 that resulted in religious zealot Ayatollah Khomeini’s installation as de facto leader of Iran, there’s been an unspoken yet clear desire for the regime to be removed by one means or another. The nation has become synonymous with threats to Israel, hatred of America and Western values, regional influence especially through its proxy army Hezbollah, and more recently nuclear proliferation. While the previous American administration was willing to indulge these dangerous tendencies, the current one has unabashedly sided with Israel.
The president has drawn attention to Iranian anti-government protests while simultaneously blasting the regime as one which neglects its people, instead spending untoward amounts of cash to build its nuclear arsenal. The protests that seemed to have died down are roiling once again in Southern Iran. Prison sentences for those caught demonstrating – although that word is a bit too mild of a descriptor –were not enough to deter this subsequent round of riots. The nation’s leadership has clearly chosen the hardline route to dissent suppression, as on Friday a man was killed, apparently shot by riot police.
Israel is also doing its part in ensuring there is no doubt about the danger of the Iranian regime, either. Last week, a story was run in several major outlets documenting how ‘Israeli agents covertly extracted documents detailing Iran’s nuclear program in a dramatic 6½-hour operation in Tehran in January, removing a trove of materials that included partial designs for a nuclear warhead, senior Israeli intelligence officials said.’ The confluence of pressures coming from both inside the nation and out spells potentially serious trouble for Khomeini and sitting president Hassan Rouhani.
According to a report provided by an opposition group, allegedly gleaned from a high-ranking member of the Khomeini regime, the government is panicked.
‘The report added, “Religious leaders and the leadership must come to the scene as soon as possible and prevent the situation (from) deteriorating further.” It continued, “God help us, this is a very complex situation and is different from previous occasions.”’ (Fox News)
It’s not yet known what course of intervention or action the United States and/or Israel would have if the regime is to be overthrown or, somehow, step down once it becomes clear there is no other option. If no installation of new leadership is pursued, it’s critical that the likely heirs to the Iranian throne be considered and evaluated. Undoubtedly US and Israeli leadership has done just this, but many others are likely still unaware of what may follow any regime change in Iran.
According to reports, the most likely way regime change would be achieved is through a military overtake. The Iranian people, while fervent, do not appear to have the means to oust a government intent on staying. So, if indeed military intervention were to occur, it would seem likely that – as has been the case more than once in Middle Eastern history – General Qassem Suleimani would be the most likely candidate to be installed as head leader.
He has been granted great power by the government, left in charge of the nation’s foreign military operations, most notably in Syria, Lebanon, and Iraq. These conflicts, which collectively have been in opposition to American, Israeli, and Saudi Arabian forces, has made Suleimani an unsympathetic figure who is diametrically opposed to American interests. Perhaps he may be seen as a mere soldier of the regime who is the preferable alternative to the theocratic zealots currently installed in the highest Iranian offices. But, he’s far from ideal as the next leader of Iran, should it come to that.
Suleimani would likely have strong support in Iran, too. He’s become a darling of both the Khomeini regime and the Iranian people, reportedly a pseudo-celebrity due to his role in fighting ISIS in Syria and conducting operations across the region that have risen Iran’s profile, perhaps to the nation’s ultimate detriment considering its current state. And, he’d apparently be within his rights to step in and assume power. It wouldn’t even technically be considered a coup.
‘(Suleimani) has the legislative authority to step in to restore order; the mandate of the IRGC is to protect the revolutionary regime from internal and external threats. If the uprisings escalate, Suleimani has both the legal and practical authority to handle civil unrest. Even if Suleimani does not formally assume power, he would become the de facto leader and decision-maker.’ (Foreign Policy)
If the Arab Spring taught us anything, it’s this: in a time when the sabers are being thoroughly rattled and the potential for regime change remains a credible threat, what to do in the wake of any upheaval is as important a consideration as the change itself. Whether Suleimani is a suitable replacement for the current regime, and whether an alternative can be plausibly installed, remains a critical factor in any discussion about regime change in Iran.