Rouhani calls for unity, accuses Trump of exploiting rift

Iranian official: We deterred US for years by our response to Soleimani’s death

Qasem Soleimani, commander of IRGC Quds Force (photo credit: SAYYED SHAHAB-O-DIN VAJEDI/WIKIMEDIA COMMONS)
Qasem Soleimani, commander of IRGC Quds Force
Iranians should not allow US President Donald Trump’s “maximum pressure” approach to harm national unity ahead of parliamentary elections, President Hassan Rouhani said in a speech, lashing out at hard-liners over mass disqualification of candidates.
Iran’s clerical rulers face challenges in keeping the economy afloat under increasingly tough US sanctions imposed by Washington after it withdrew in 2018 from Tehran’s nuclear deal with world powers. Vital oil exports have been slashed.
“We should not let Trump succeed in creating gaps between the establishment and people... We should remain united... Don’t turn your back on [February 21] elections. Let’s have a high turnout,” Rouhani said in a speech broadcast live on his official website. “We should not let Trump and those terrorists in the White House isolate Iran.”
Iran’s hard-line Guardians Council, which vets all election candidates, has disqualified about 9,000 of the 14,000 who registered to run in the elections. Moderates say in most cities they have no candidates to enter the race.
“This parliamentary election is a very important election... I have written letters to relevant authorities to resolve the issue of disqualifications,” Rouhani said. “You [hard-liners] claim that you will win the election. That is fine, but just let the election be a competitive one.”
Since Iran’s Islamic Revolution in 1979, its rulers have swept aside challenges to their grip on power. But the gap between them and the people has widened since last year, when hundreds were killed in anti-government protests. Iran has yet to announce the death toll and rejects figures published by human-rights organizations.
Tehran also risks a legitimacy crisis amid mounting public fury and international criticism over the belated admission of blame by Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards for shooting down a Ukrainian passenger plane by mistake.
Angry Iranians took to the streets to protest against the delayed admission by the Guards.
The distrust between the rulers and the ruled, combined with economic hardship, bodes ill for the parliamentary vote in February, when Iran’s rulers typically seek a high turnout to show their legitimacy, even if the outcome will not change any major policy.
“I am calling on our nation to vote,” Rouhani said. “Even if you have criticism over issues and problems, please cast your vote.”
Influential Iranian official and former diplomat Mohammad-Javad Larijani believes Soleimani’s loss is serious for Iran, but the regime’s supporters can move on from it through following jihad in military and scientific fields.
In an interview with Tasnim News Agency, he laid out Iran’s plans in the wake of Soleimani’s killing by the US on January 3. He argues that the US is hiding the real numbers wounded and killed by Iran’s attack on the Ayn al-Assad base in Iraq, adding that Iran has deterred the US for at least 10 years by firing ballistic missiles.
Larijani is a member of a powerful family in the political regime that has recently lost some of its luster. His interview can be seen as representative of one view regarding where Tehran’s regime might head next.
Iran’s “resistance” to the US achieved great success under Soleimani’s role over 20 years. It was able to penetrate and increase its influence in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Palestinian areas. The US chose to eradicate that resistance by killing Soleimani, Larijani argues. But Soleimani was just one individual, and the “resistance” will continue.
Iran’s theory of resistance and a resistance front is one that links Iran to allied, mostly Shi’ite, groups in other countries, he says. This includes Hezbollah, the Popular Mobilization Units in Iraq, the Houthis in Yemen and the Assad regime in Syria. It also includes Palestinian Islamic Jihad and Hamas. Iran’s regime calls this “resistance.” But what it means is to dominate the Middle East, remove the US and Israel and weaken the Gulf Sunni monarchies such as Saudi Arabia. Its goal only ends where it runs up against Turkey and Egypt, which it can work with after hollowing out other states.
Larijani compares US and Western actions to the law of the jungle, or to the “wild,” where the strong animals kill the weak. Oddly, this is the same view that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has in arguing that countries that are weak will be defeated by the strong. Larijani argues that the US used maximum pressure and killed Soleimani to pressure Iran under the belief that average Iranians were angry that the regime was wasting their lives through war abroad, such as in Syria.
Larijani analyzes Trump by arguing that he wants to work through what he calls the “milk cows” of Gulf states. Larijani calls these states the “servants” of the US and implies they created ISIS and other Sunni jihadist groups. He argues that all of this was done to support the “Zionist regime.” The goal of this policy was to weaken Iran and stoke “sedition” in Iran, meaning the 2009 and 2019 protests.
He argues that Iran’s response to the killing of Soleimani and to firing ballistic missiles at the Ayn al-Assad base in Iraq where US forces are located had wounded and killed US soldiers. The US has said 34 soldiers suffered traumatic brain injuries, a kind of concussion from the blast waves of the missile impact. Larijani believes this is a cover-up, and 100 were killed and 200 wounded.
In this calculation, he says, the attack on Assad is an important deterrence against further US and Western attacks. He believes it has bought Iran 10 years of deterrence. In this estimation, Iran’s ballistic-missile attack could be the most clear response to Soleimani’s death, and the next phase will be different. That means the next phase might not be another major dramatic attack. It could include efforts to roll back US influence in Iraq or to confront Israel in other ways.
Larijani discusses some other conspiracies, such as arguing the West does not want Iran to have elections because the West supports ISIS – even though ISIS is an enemy of the West. This is part of the usual Iranian regime theory that argues the US created ISIS.