Iran’s Defense Minister accused the United States of playing a role in the latest anti-regime protests in the country and threatened that Tehran will take retaliatory measures against US interests. “Wherever the Americans inflicted damage and loss to our country, they received a resolute response. This time, it will certainly be the same,” Brigadier General Amir Hatami said on Wednesday. “Our country is an independent nation and has repeatedly demonstrated that it will not tolerate such losses,” he stressed in an interview with Fars News Agency, which is affiliated with Iran’s Revolutionary Guards. Hatami was echoing earlier remarks by Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei on Tuesday, when he accused the United States and its regional allies of fomenting unrest in the country and warned that Tehran will take action against Washington. "You inflicted damage on Iran in these days and this will not go unanswered," he stressed, addressing the US government. “The American President says that… the Iranian government is terrified by America’s power. Well, if we’re scared of you, how did we drive you out of Iran in the 1970s and evicted you from the entire region in 2010s?” he added.
Speaking to a large group from Iran’s holy city of Qom, the supreme leader also defended Iran’s role in regional conflicts. “The powerful presence of the Islamic Republic in the region is one instrument of our national power. It depicts the nation powerful and it is a reality. They want to destroy this.” He also emphasized Tehran would not negotiate with European powers or America over its military presence in the region or its controversial missile program.
Comment: When the protests initially started in the Iranian city of Mashhad against the Rouhani government’s economic mismanagement, many conservatives encouraged the protesters and sympathized with their complaints. But the protests soon mushroomed across the country agains the entirety of the regime. As a result, Iranian IRGC leaders and clerics began to discredit the protests as a foreign-backed conspiracy to externalize the problem and dissuade other Iranians from joining the protests.
It remains to be seen whether Tehran will take retaliatory actions against Washington because of the latter’s expression of support to the protesters’ legitimate economic and sociopolitical grievances and the right to peaceful protest. Iran has the capability of inflicting harm to US interests in regional countries, particularly in Iraq and Afghanistan, through its proxies. But such actions would have strategic consequences for Iran at a time when the Trump administration has adopted a tougher approach vis-à-vis the Islamic Republic. Iran also sees itself as the “winner” in Iraq and Syria. Any terrorist actions by Iranian proxies in the two countries would invite a forceful response from the US and its allies at a time Tehran is trying to consolidate its gains.