The targeted killing of Iran terror chief Qasem Soleimani was the beginning of a major shift in U.S. policy on Iran, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said.
“I want to lay this out in context of what we’ve been trying to do,” Pompeo said during an address to The Hoover Institute in California on Monday. “There’s a bigger strategy to this. President Trump and those of us in his national security team are re-establishing deterrence — real deterrence — against the Islamic Republic.”
Pompeo continued: “In strategic terms, this simply means persuading the other party that the costs of specific behavior exceed its benefits. That requires credibility – indeed it depends on it. Your adversary must understand that not only do you have the capacity to impose costs, but that you are in fact willing to do so.”
As Pompeo was speaking, anti-government protests continued in Iran. The latest demonstrations were spearheaded by angry youth following the Iranian military’s shooting down of a Ukraine International Airlines passenger plane Jan. 8 that killed all 176 people on board, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reported.
Images on social media showed police and security forces firing tear gas, rubber bullets, and live ammunition to disperse demonstrators in Teheran. On January 12, the unrest had spread outside the capital to at least a dozen cities across the country.
Protesters shouted, “Death to the liars,” “You have no shame,” and “Death to the dictator,” a reference to supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Images also showed some protesters ripping up photographs of Soleimani.
In his address to the Hoover Institute, Pompeo laid out the Trump administration’s case for eliminating Soleimani.
“There is no terrorist, except for Osama bin Laden, who has more American blood on his hands than Qasem Soleimani,” Pompeo said. “He killed 600 of our American patriots. I knew some of these young men. He is the mastermind of the most recent attacks on our forces in Iraq, including a deadly rocket attack by pro-Iranian militias on an Iraqi base housing U.S. forces in December, and the subsequent assault on the U.S. embassy in Baghdad.”
Pompeo added: “Let’s be honest. For decades, U.S. administrations from both political parties never did enough against Iran to get the deterrence that is necessary to keep us all safe. The nuclear deal made things worse. It enabled that regime to create wealth. It opened up revenue streams for the ayatollahs to build up the Shi’ite militias – the very networks that killed an American imposed an enormous risk to our embassy in Baghdad.”
The student protests in Iran began on the evening of Jan. 11 following a vigil held at a university in Teheran for the victims of the downing of the Ukrainian plane. The passengers included many young Iranians who were on their way to Canada, via Ukraine, for studies.
“The vigils soon turned into anti-government demonstrations as young Iranians took to the streets and gathered in squares in the capital,” Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reported.
Anti-government protests broke out for a third consecutive day on Monday. Rallies took place at Teheran’s Sharif University of Technology and Amir Kabir University, with demonstrators chanting slogans such as “Clerics get lost,” according to social-media posts.
Images on social media showed bloodied protesters and blood on the streets. Witnesses have claimed that dozens of protesters have been wounded.
Iranian authorities have been accused of attempting a cover-up after originally denying their involvement in the Ukraine plane disaster, only to admit they shot down the plane — citing human error — after three days of mounting international pressure.
“While there are issues of accountability bound up with those economic issues, the cover-up of the Ukraine plane crash strikes at the heart of this: can Iranians trust the regime, even the supreme leader, in matters of life and death?” said Scott Lucas, an Iran analyst at Birmingham University in Britain and editor of the EA World View website.
Iranian authorities initially blamed the downing of the plane on mechanical problems and said accusations that Teheran had shot down the airliner were U.S. propaganda. Then it admitted Iran’s military shot down the aircraft when it was mistaken for a “hostile target.”
In a rare public apology issued on Jan. 12, the head of Iran’s powerful Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), Gen. Hossein Salami, begged for forgiveness. Meanwhile, Khamenei on the same day expressed his “deep sympathy” to the families of the 176 victims and called on the armed forces to “pursue probable shortcomings and guilt in the painful incident.”
But their words have done little to quell the outpouring of public anger.
Lucas said the student demonstrations had been fueled by “anger and a sense of betrayal.”
“It remains to be seen if this intersects with the economic concerns that fed November’s mass protests,” he said. “And it remains to be seen if the regime pursues the same deadly repression that it used two months ago, killing hundreds of people and imprisoning thousands, and risks a further escalation.”
Narges Bajoghli, an assistant professor at Johns Hopkins University, said the government’s crackdown on the student protesters could make “things worse.”
“If they think they can ‘contain’ anger at what they’ve done through crackdowns, they’re only going to fan the fires,” Bajoghli said on Twitter.
Meanwhile, in an interview on ABC news on Sunday, U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi would not confirm her support of the Iranian anti-government protesters.
Following the interview, the hashtag #NancyPelosiFakeNews was trending on Persian Twitter.
One Iranian citizen tweeted: “.@SpeakerPelosi your embarrassing interview in which you downplayed 40Y of Iranian protests & the nation’s struggle against the criminal Ayatollahs was a massive insult to Iranians. We await your official apology over such shameless & irresponsible comments. #NancyPelosiFakeNews”
President Donald Trump on Monday retweeted a photoshopped image depicting House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer in Muslim headwear with a backdrop of the Iranian flag.
In another tweet, Trump wrote: “The Democrats and the Fake News are trying to make terrorist Soleimani into a wonderful guy, only because I did what should have been done for 20 years. Anything I do, whether it’s the economy, military, or anything else, will be scorned by the Rafical Left, Do Nothing Democrats!”
Democrats and their followers in the leftist media slammed Trump for retweeting the photoshopped image. “President Trump: How low can you go? Republicans: How long can you cover up for and defend the president’s actions?” Schumer tweeted.
White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham addressed the matter on Fox News: “I think the president is making clear that the Democrats are — have been parroting Iranian talking points and almost taking the side of terrorists and those who were out to kill the Americans,” she said. “I think the president was making the point that Democrats seem to hate him so much that they’re willing to be on the side of countries and leadership of countries who want to kill Americans.”