The Ayatollah’s Dilemma

By killing Soleimani, a legend and a symbol of “resistance” to America, Trump has flipped the fear equation on the ayatollahs

Iran’s supreme leader Khamenei has much to ponder this morning

There is an Iranian American journalist, Yashar Ali, whose progressive views I find abhorrent, but who loves elephants and this alone makes him a good guy. Also, he is knowledgeable about Iran. I bring a long Twitter thread of his on the subject of Soleimani’s elimination at the end of this article because it has lots of good info, but primarily because it so clearly demonstrates the fear, the utter horror that the Iranian regime instills in those who experience it even indirectly, even when they are far away from its grasp, as is the case with Mr. Ali.

As an IDF veteran, as a pilot, I am afraid of fear. It is a paralyzing emotion that makes you hyperventilate as Mr. Ali does in his thread. It makes you incapable of well-considered action. It provides you with an endless stream of excuses why not to act even when action is the only thing that can save your life.

The worst kind of fear is fear that masquerades as calm deliberation leading to reasoned inaction. It is the worst kind because it is a death spiral and nothing can demonstrate this better than Iran and how the West has been dealing with it until now.

Iran has been acting as a criminal state ever since their so-called Islamic revolution in 1976. One of their first acts was an act of war against the world’s greatest superpower, the US. By taking by storm the American embassy in Tehran, the new Iranian regime committed a clear act of war: it attacked and occupied sovereign American territory and illegally imprisoned American civilians. In response to this act of war, the so-called “superpower” under the “progressive” leadership of Jimmy Carter did absolutely nothing.

What followed were more and more illegal and warlike actions by Iran, none of which had met with any response. As the Iranian regime became more powerful, there were more legitimate reasons to fear it. What could have been done easily in the past was now difficult. Hesitation and fear when there was little to be afraid of led to “legitimate” fear when there was indeed something to be afraid of.

It just so happens that the ayatollahs, with all their bluster, are not immune to the fear death spiral and president Trump’s action last night reverses the tables on them. Today, the ayatollahs wake up to a new reality, a reality in which they, rather than the US and the West in general, are the in the grip of the fear spiral. They have three choices: act for show, act for effect, or not act at all. Each choice is fraught with peril. Each choice is dangerous and even lethal to their very existence.

Acting for show, in other words using their proxies to attack American interests via missiles, drones, or terror cells worked well in the past, but when they did it just recently by getting their Iraqi proxies to storm the American embassy in Baghdad, they lost the #2 guy in their external affairs hierarchy, Qasem Soleimani. A reasonable conclusion for them to draw would thus be that a similar limited-scope proxy action will meet with similarly disproportionate response, pushing them to escalate further even against their wishes and leading them into a war they cannot win.

Acting for real as in closing the Hormuz Straits to international shipping is likely to dispatch their entire navy to the bottom of the Persian Gulf courtesy of the American Navy. This may well be a regime ending event and thus something to legitimately fear.

Not acting at all is going to astonish folks, who like Mr. Ali, are absolutely terrified of the Iranian regime because they have spent their lives being utterly helpless against its wanton violence. Non-action will show Iranians like like Mr. Ali’s relatives who are still in the country that the ayatollahs are afraid and someone who is afraid cannot possibly be powerful. This will lead to more internal unrest and pose a real dilemma for the Iranian police and military forces: at which point do they switch allegiance from the regime to the people to save their own hides when the inevitable happens and the regime falls. Once that point is reached, ayatollahs will be hanging by their toes in central Tehran.

If president Trump gave the order to kill the #2 guy, the revered military commander, to quote the Washington Post, why wouldn’t he give the order to kill the #1 guy, the austere religious scholar Khamenei? If that’s what it took to win, that’s what president Trump would do and justly so.

Iranian leaders have never had to deal with a Western leader whose basic posture was as simple as “we are much stronger than you are, hence we do not fear you, but you had better fear us”. They do have to deal with such a leader now and this is a language they understand well. Now it is their time to ride the fear spiral.


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Lyle January 3, 2020 at 2:14 pm

New Sheriff in town. Maybe Iran will get the message. Maybe they won’t.

Jim Hambret January 3, 2020 at 8:31 pm

Wow. A well-written evaluation by someone that has done justice to the “thoughts” behind the actions of a non-western culture. Most of us in the “west” (aka: modern civilization, not people trying to reclaim the medieval era) don’t often get to read/hear from you. Many thanks!

Staff January 3, 2020 at 8:51 pm

Thank you very much!

2fred January 4, 2020 at 10:59 am

Likewise thank you Baruch – it’s helpful for a Western mindset like mine to have your perspectives. I’ve noted your respect for others though willingness to challenge, in various articles.

spartacus January 4, 2020 at 11:00 pm

iran and the entire muslim ‘faith’ are headed into are era of extreme violence … the death of islam will be it’s result … their arrogance and lack of any ‘civility’ towards anything or any one who does not keep the ‘faith’ is their downfall ……. ( obadiah 1-21 ) … the true and great ” CREATOR” will humble islam before the world and then extinguish it from man’s degenerate history …….


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