Iran’s Protests Are Just What Trump Wants. So Why Is He Silent?

The news from Iran is trickling in. The authorities in Tehran have blocked access to the internet, which has been functioning, according to several assessments, at 5 percent of its capacity. Even so, the mass protests over fuel price hikes seem to be gaining momentum and spreading to many cities around the country. Journalists and activists involved in the demonstrations are describing  systematic vandalism of banks, hundreds of arrests and some deaths (about 20, according to one report), among them a policeman who died when a police station was attacked by protesters.

The current wave of demonstrations isn’t the first of its kind. In 2009, the regime brutally suppressed the “green revolution” – weeks of rioting, triggered by claims that the presidential election that year had been rigged. In late 2017 there was another surge of unrest sparked by economic problems, but it ebbed within weeks.

– Haaretz Weekly Ep. 49

Haaretz Weekly Ep. 49Haaretz

If there’s one realm in which the regime in Tehran has demonstrated its proficiency over years, it’s the systematic, unrestrained oppression of any attempt at mass resistance that could undermine its stability.

When the so-called green revolution eventually petered out, accusations were levelled at the Barack Obama administration. The American president was still new on the job, when he spoke at Egypt's Cairo University – a week before the Iranian election, on June 12, 2009 – about the need for changes in the United States' relations with the Arab and Muslin world. But then Washington fell silent as the Iranian security forces arrested, tortured and killed protesters participating in the revolution that erupted after the election.

The Trump administration seems to be no more involved, at least for the time being. The president is preoccupied with tweeting against the Democrats, who have begun impeachment proceedings against him, and hasn’t had a chance to make time for Iran-related matters.

The United States should not intervene itself in the unrest that's going on at present, but if it had perhaps examined in advance ways to circumvent the internet block in Iran – it might have rendered a needed service to opponents of the regime. Their efforts at coordination and their ability to drum up support for their struggle (mainly, by documenting dramatic moments during the protests) depend to a great degree on whether the internet is functioning at a reasonable level.

The U.S. administration’s apparent indifference to developments in Iran, thus far, is surprising, because the harsh economic sanctions Trump has been spearheading, particularly since the American decision in May 2018 to withdraw from the nuclear agreement, have exacerbated Iran’s economic travails. Trump has been castigated – including by Israel, albeit not openly – for his decision to ignore Iranian attacks over the last half year against targets in the Gulf, culminating in the attack on the Saudi Arabian oil facilities last September.