The idea of regime change in Iran is delusional

Iranians know too well their history to allow a US-Saudi-Israeli alliance to change the Iranian regime.

Pompeo iran demands Reuters
On May 21, US Secretary of State Pompeo outlined 12 demands to be included in a new nuclear treaty with Iran, and threatened 'the strongest sanctions in history' if Tehran does not comply [Reuters]

In the immediate aftermath of US President Donald Trump‘s announcement on May 8 that the US is unilaterally withdrawing from the Iran nuclear deal much wishful thinking about “regime change” in Iran surfaced in the global news. 

The tone for this prattle was set by a major speech that US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo delivered at the Heritage Foundation in Washington on May 21. In the speech, Pompeo outlined 12 specific demands for Iran, which in effect would amount to its complete capitulation to the imperial wishes of the United States and its colonial sidekick, Israel.  

Following the US cue like clockwork, a “former top Mossad official” named Haim Tomer told The Jerusalem Post that Israel, the US and Saudi Arabia can all secretly help to advance regime change in Iran”Well, how is this “regime change” exactly to happen? Pray, do tell. 

I am not saying it will be a piece of cake – The Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps and the Basiji militias are very strong. But… even if regime change does not succeed… it is better to have the Iranians fighting among themselves,” Tomer said. 

That last sentence is, of course, the key issue here: the more Muslims get to kill each other and dismantle their own polities, the stronger the European garrison state built in Palestine would be. Right? Well, let’s see now. 

Wishful thinking running amok  

Aside from such “ex-Mossad” characters or Islamophobe hawks like Mike Pompeo, the issue of “regime change in Iran” goes way back, much before the Israeli-Saudi-instigated Trump violation of the Iran nuclear deal. Mark Dubowitz, CEO of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD), and his FDD buddy Reuel Marc Gerecht have for the longest time argued that “the goal should be regime change in Iran, not stopping proliferation.” This Gerecht character is even more rabid than Dubowitz; by his own account, he has “written about 25,000 words about bombing Iran. Even my mom thinks I’ve gone too far.” 


Soon after Pompeo issued his list of demands for Iran to do as he wishes, more sensible voices have come out one by one dismantling the options that such a delusional “regime change” might entail.

In an excellent piece for the CNN, William D Hartung has asked precisely how the US-Israeli-Saudi alliance might wish to implement this “regime change” in Iran. “Pompeo’s threat to bring Iran to its knees with punishing economic sanctions,” Hartung pointed out, “clearly won’t get the job done, especially since the Trump administration has just alienated its most important potential partners by withdrawing from the Iran nuclear deal.” 

The next fantasy this open plot against Iran espouses is to have the discredited cult of the Mujahideen-e-Khalq (MEK) traitors do the job for the US and its Saudi-Zionist alliance. In response to this fanciful proposition, Hartung rightly says, “to think that an organization that the New York Times has rightly described as a ‘fringe dissident group’ could overthrow the government of Iran is a fantasy.” 

So, most people can clearly see that neither direct military action by the US, nor any fancy footwork in conjunction with Israel and Saudi Arabia is likely to dismantle the ruling regime in Iran. That leaves only the lunatic fringe of the Trump administration, led by Rudi Giuliani and John Bolton, both regular fixtures of the gaudy MEK cult spectacles, to continue to call for “regime change in Iran”. 

As Ishaan Tharoor has pointed out in a piece in Washington Post: “Bolton, Giuliani and a host of Washington politicos from both parties have supported – and likely taken money from – front groups directly related to the Mujahideen-e-Khalq (MEK) … [which] has paid Giuliani handsomely for years – $20,000 or more, and possibly a lot more – for brief appearances before the group and for lobbying to have it removed from the State Department’s list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations …” 

Regime change as a smokescreen

In most of these analyses what is missing is Iran itself, its people, its political culture and its historical experiences – the creative and critical dynamics of its nation-state polarities. So far, it has been just a gang of Saudi princes, Zionist zealots, and their bought and paid for US politicians speculating about “regime change” in Iran.  

They all have their reasons and interests, to be sure, to keep the focus on Iran. Trump is eager to have a war to distract people’s attention from the calamities of his presidency and to bring his miserable approval rating up so that he can get himself re-elected and keep the Congress under Republican control. If not, the midterm elections in 2018, then the presidential election of 2020 would certainly be the golden occasion for such a possible strike. The Saudi-Zionist alliance most certainly relies on this timetable.  


Netanyahu, too, has his own reasons to babble about “regime change”, for he wants a permanent distraction from the systematic theft of Palestine, the unyielding Palestinian uprisings and the global outcry after his recent massacre of Palestinians in GazaAnd of course, a sideshow distraction from his own personal corruption charges will not hurt.

The farther the Zionists throw the political ball around, first to the Arab world at large, and now to Iran, and next maybe to Pakistan and Turkey, the more, they so delude themselves, they can cover up the basic fact that is staring the world in the eyes – that Israel is a European settler-colony in someone else’s homeland. 

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, too, wants Iran destroyed to upstage his tribe’s massive militarism and the slaughter it is currently committing in Yemen so his juvenile ambitions of the counterrevolutionary mobilisations against Arab uprisings could be successful. 

The ruling state in Iran, too, to be sure, benefits from this state of war that will enable it to continue to rule a restless population of almost 80 million human beings with an iron fist. 

So, the state of war will effectively help all these reactionary forces conceal the real issues at hand – the fact that Arabs, Iranians, Turks, Kurds, etc, are following Palestinians in demanding their national sovereignty, their democratic dignities, and their civil liberties.

While the Saudi-Zionist alliance leads this treacherous counterrevolutionary mobilisation from Riyadh and Tel Aviv, the US is its direct puppet master and all other reactionary regimes in the region its beneficiaries.

How do regimes change in Iran?

This brings us back to the key question: would Iranians themselves not welcome a “regime change in Iran” and have the US, Israel, and Saudi Arabia help them get rid of a nasty theocracy that has ruled over them for almost 40 years now? Here the answer is a resounding “no” for the following reasons.


Based on their prolonged historical experience – and they have a very long historical memory (they still think of Alexander the Great invasion of their homeland in 330 BC as if it happened a couple of years ago) – Iranians detest foreign interventions in their homeland.

They do not want anyone else changing their ruling regime for them for the very simple fact that they have been changing their ruling regimes on their own terms over the last two centuries of their modern history, including the last almost 40 years of the Islamic Republic.

The ruling Islamic Republic did not fall from the sky. It is not like the gang of European Zionists who descended upon Palestine and stole it from its rightful inhabitants.

Khamenei and his gang of recalcitrant clerics and their Praetorian Guards are Iranians, too, homegrown, rooted in Iranian politics, polity, and culture.

The Iranian revolution of 1977-1979 was a major political shift in the course of Iranian history in which Iranians staged one pole of their political culture (clerical) against the other (monarchic). But from the day that the clerical Shi’ism (to be decidedly distinguished from revolutionary Shi’ism) took over the Pahlavi monarchy, Iranians have been systemically and consistently challenging and changing their regime on their own terms. 

The Khomeini faction of the revolutionary mobilisation against the Pahlavis took over on February 11, 1979. By March 8, 1979 (International Women’s Day), less than a month after Khomeini returned to Iran from France, Iranian women were out in massive numbers protesting the imposition of mandatory hijab on them.

Starting from that day in 1979 until the widespread protests in January 2018, Iranians have been consistently challenging and changing their regime on terms determined by their own best interests.

Those who have opposed them and have sided with power, or are in power, are Iranians, too. The sustained battle between these two forces has enriched and empowered and enabled the Iranian political culture – and above all inoculated it more than ever against treacherous foreign interventions in their affairs.

The treasonous MEK forever lost any legitimacy in Iran when they exited this dialectic and sided with the murderous Saddam Hussein against their own people. Now, they are in the same camp as Benjamin Netanyahu, Mohammed bin Salman, Rudy Giuliani and John Bolton. 

None of that, however, means that tens of millions of Iranians do not wish to see the back of the Islamic Republic and its entire ruling apparatus. But they do not want to see that at the expense of the destruction of their homeland. 

A free lesson on Iran

The problem with Trump, Bolton, Pompeo, Netanyahu, bin Salman, and any other morally and intellectually compromised character who thinks they can threaten the ruling regime in Iran and it will just fall is that they are clueless about the nature of Iranian conceptions of nation, nationhood, and nationalism. 

So here is a free lesson on Iran for them to study at their CIA, State Department, Shin Bet, or mukhabarat: Iran emerged from the thicket of the 19th and 20th-century colonialism as a postcolonial nation before and beyond and above any feckless state apparatus could have any claims on it.

In Iran, sovereignty is national, not statist. Chew on that one for a second, ladies and gentlemen of the Shin Bet! You will have difficulty digesting that one, for you are a rootless settler-colony, a garrison state built by European colonialists on the historic resistances and the national consciousness of Palestinians, the rightful inhabitants of the country you have stolen. 


Starting with the Russo-Persian wars of the early 19th century forward, Iran emerged with an enduring anticolonial national consciousness while the Qajar dynasty (1789-1926) was crumbling under the Russian, French, and British imperial rivalries.

The Qajar dynasty eventually collapsed between the Tobacco Revolt of 1891 and the Constitutional Revolution of 1906, as Iranians became even more rooted in their national self-confidence and collective consciousness.  

The final demise of the Qajar dynasty and rise of the Pahlavis (1925-1979) only consolidated the societal power and political intuition of Iranians as a nation. The same is true in the aftermath of the collapse of the Pahlavis and the rise of the Islamic Republic.

This nation has not allowed one single day, one single year, one single decade pass over the last 40 years of the life of the ruling Islamists without systematically, consistently, non-violently, but structurally challenging and changing it. This challenge has changed the ruling regime, produced rooted and successive women’s rights, human rights, and civil rights movements within the skeletal framing of the ruling Islamic Republic.

Revolutionary leaders like Mir Hossein Mousavi, reformists liberals like Mohammad Khatami, moderate politicians like Hassan Rouhani do not grow out of nowhere. They are the Islamic Republic’s successive answers, never fully satisfactory, to demands from within the Iranian society. In that calculus of the nation versus the state, the US, Israel, and Saudi Arabia are the enemies of Iranian people, not their friends. 

No doubt the combined treacheries of Saudi Arabia, Israel, and the US can indeed conspire and impose even more crippling sanctions on Iranian people, or even start bombing targets in Iran. No doubt this can cause enormous pain and suffering, murder and mayhem, among innocent populations – as they did in Afghanistan and Iraq. But that will not result in “regime change in Iran”.

That will, in fact, strengthen the regime even more, for at least some people in the Pentagon who have neither had the Israeli Kool-Aid or have been corrupted by Saudi wealth must know the ruling regime in Iran, its Praetorian Guards in particular, is basically a transnational guerrilla operation spread from the Indian Ocean to the Mediterranean Sea.

They have not put all their eggs in one basket inside Iran for you to target and destroy. They do not fight conventional warfare. The masses of billions of dollars of US and EU arms the Saudis, the Emiratis, the Bahrainis, and, of course, the Israelis have procured for themselves will be entirely useless protecting their own ruling regimes. 

So yes, “the ruling regime in Iran” is a perfect match for those who are threatening it and knows how to defend itself, but it is nowhere near what Iranians as a nation deserve and will ultimately demand and exact. That it could be changed by a Saudi-Israeli-US conspiracy is simply delusional. 

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.