Facing Trump Administration, Iran Shows Fear And Military Self-Restraint, Halts Provocations, Threats, And Incitement – While Boosting Morale At Home And Delegating The Bulk Of Conflict To Its Proxies, MEMRI, A. Savyon Yigal Carmon* March 20, 2017
Since the establishment of the administration of U.S. President Donald Trump, which is known to be against Iran’s revolutionary regime, Iran has faced a new reality. On the one hand, the U.S. is acting to organize the Gulf countries and Arab countries into an arrangement that Arab media have dubbed an “Arab NATO” which is aimed against Iran. On the other hand, Iran senses that despite the Iran-Russia cooperation in recent years and in various areas, Russia is abandoning it for its other vital interests, such as an understanding with the U.S. in order to advance the lifting of the sanctions against it, and an understanding with Turkey as its top regional partner.
These developments have given rise in Tehran to a sense that it is besieged and under an emerging existential threat, in light of the crystallization of a comprehensive U.S.-Russia-Arab (including Israel) front against the Iranian revolutionary regime.
This report will review the overall Iranian reaction to this new situation:
The Iranian Response To The New Developments
Iran’s response to these new developments is characterized by fear of U.S. activity against its regime, as can be seen in several areas:
1. Considerable military restraint and a halt to long-range missile tests, in response to the warning by President Trump: Following Iran’s failed January 29, 2017 launch of its long-range Khorramshahr missile, the Trump administration announced that Iran was being “put on notice.” At that time, Iran had been making preparations to launch yet another long-range missile, and had made the practical arrangements for doing so; the launch was cancelled following the U.S. warning. Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) Aerospace Force commander Amir Ali Hajizadeh complained, on March 9, that Iran had been so firmly deterred that it is even refraining from using a missile to launch a satellite into orbit: “We have a missile for non-military purposes for launching satellites. But it is being put into storage because of America’s angry tone?! … How much longer will we be blackmailed and forced to compromise? If we do not change our strategy, and continue to operate according to orders from officials who are stuck in the mud, our situation will deteriorate daily.”
The satellite images below, taken by ImageSat International (ISI), show the launch site in Semnan. The first image, taken January 17, shows the launch site and launch pedestal as inactive; it also shows, on the ground, the emblem of the Iranian Space Agency (ISA) and the emblem of the Simorgh (“Phoenix”) orbital carrier rocket that is used to launch satellites. The second image, taken February 3, shows the launch pedestal ready for launch and many vehicles at the launch site.
Left to right: Image 1: Launch site in Semnan showing inactive launch pedestal, with emblems, taken January 17, 2017; Image 2: Launch site showing pedestal ready for launch and vehicles surrounding the site, taken February 3, 2017.
Images 3 and 4 below, also taken February 3, show the integration facility during a visit by a VIP in advance of the launch. The VIP’s vehicle, and many others, including jeeps from the VIP’s motorcade, can be seen.
Left to right: Images 3 and 4, showing integration facility during the VIP’s visit; taken February 3, 2017.
Image 5, taken two days later, on February 5, shows that the launch site is again inactive.
Image 5 – launch site again inactive, taken February 3, 2017.
The day after the cancellation of the missile launch, on February 4, IRGC Aerospace Force commander Amir Ali Hajizadeh said: “America is looking for excuses surrounding our missile tests, because the enemy has set its sights on [harming] our security. The enemy deals with issues such as [our] nuclear capabilities and science, the might of [our] missiles, and so on. These are all merely excuses [to justify] their hostility towards the Islamic regime and the Iranian nation.”
Also indicating Iran’s military self-restraint were February 9, 2017 statements by Defense Minister Hossein Dehghan. On the eve of Iran’s Revolution Day, he spoke about “the new claim by American elements and media outlets regarding an additional missile test by Iran. These false claims,” he added, “are a type of creating an enemy and Iranophobia. This is planned by the Zionist regime, which incites while spreading lies.
“First, this is a false claim, and nothing like [such a missile launch] happened; second, even if such a test was conducted, it had nothing to do with them at all; and third, Iran’s missile program is a standard program, and missile tests are part of these plans, which are made in advance; these tests are conducted in order to maintain our country’s defensive readiness.”
- A halt to provocations against U.S. Navy vessels, and even an official IRGC statement that responsibility for handling the crews of foreign vessel apprehended penetrating Iranian territorial waters was being transferred from the IRGC to the civilian Ports & Maritime Organization (PMO): This is due to fear of a harsh response by the Trump administration to humiliation of American captives – as happened in January 2016, even though there had been no real response to this from the Obama administration.
- A halt to public threats to burn and sink U.S. Navy vessels in the Persian Gulf, and a near-total moratorium on hostile anti-U.S. statements: The slogan “death to America” has disappeared almost entirely from the official discourse of regime spokesmen, including Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei himself, as have public burnings of the American flag.
In a March 16, 2017 article, the ideological camp mouthpiece Kayhan attacked the government of Iranian President Hassan Rohani, stating that the government is claiming that “when Trump was elected, [Rohani government officials] said that Trump was unpredictable and makes unconsidered decisions – and that is why it is better for us to refrain from saying anything to offend him…”
- Boosting morale and persuading Iranians of the might of their country and of the need for faith in God and in the armed forces’ ability to face down the U.S.: One example of this was a television interview with Defense Minister Dehghan on February 7, 2017, on the eve of Revolution Day. In it, Dehghan said that today, that is, after Trump took office, Iran is on the defensive against the American threat: “We consider defense to be necessary for our country, for other Muslim countries, and for Muslims [in general]… It is certain that the enemies are lying in wait for our regime. It is our duty to equip ourselves to the point that no one dares threaten us, blackmail us, or attack our country. All defensive elements, together with the nation as a whole, stand against the enemy to prevent an attack by it, and if the enemy attacks, we will punish it…
“The countries around us are no threat to us. The threat to us is an extra-regional threat known as the regime of arrogance [i.e. the U.S.], which is why we must acquire anything that gives us the upper hand – that is, asymmetric warfare. We must operate so that on the designated day [when war breaks out], not only will we not be caught off guard strategically, but we will surprise the enemy and inflict the maximum damage on it…”
One example of efforts to boost national morale was a speech by IRGC Deputy Commander Hossein Salami, who had often issued threats to the U.S. and had said that Iran would destroy its forces in the Gulf. On February 2, 2017, Salami highlighted Iran’s defensive capabilities in light of the uniting of ranks by its enemies: “Today, the enemies have joined forces against our great revolution, but their plans have been defeated. The entire world wants to wipe us off the geographical map… but the martyrs have shown that any superpower can be confronted with reliance on faith, with Islam, and with obedience to the leader. By relying on jihad and martyrdom, we can confront any power and defend the honor of Muslims.
“Our glorious history is full of victories over the arrogance [i.e. the U.S.]… The Islamic regime of Iran has succeeded in gaining major influence in the Islamic world… Our nation is so mighty… We are involved in a great jihad, and as long as the Muslims [meaning the Shi’ites] dream of martyrdom and rely on the directives of the Koran, which light our way, we will never be defeated, but we will defeat the enemy…
“Iran’s mighty missile force is included in the list of unprecedented global deterrents. If the enemy fears our nuclear might, it can flee to the bomb shelters.
“The Iranian nation has learned to create might by reliance on internal faith… Every day, the number of defensive missiles, warships, and launchers increases. The air, land, and sea are under the control of this nation… here, in the land of heroes and martyrs.”
Also in his February 4 speech, IRGC Aerospace Force commander Amir Ali Hajizadeh highlighted Iran’s ability to withstand an American attack: “The threats to Iran made by certain American elements are merely boasts. Due to my knowledge of the capabilities of our armed forces, I confidently say that a foreign threat will not influence our Islamic regime. We rely on the infinite might of God, while America relies on earthly equipment and might. We will emerge victorious from the arena in any possible scenario. We will not hesitate for a single moment in creating and strengthening our defensive capabilities… 24 hours a day, we work to defend the security of the nation, and if the enemy makes the smallest error, our missiles will land on its head like a thunderclap.”
- Strengthening the resistance front and delegating the fight against Iran’s enemies – the West, Israel, Saudi Arabia, and the Gulf states – to Iran’s proxies: These proxies include the Shi’ite militias in Iraq and the Houthis in Yemen, as well as Syria, Hizbullah, and the Palestinian organizations, which are operated by Iran, to revive the battlefront against Israel (see MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 6811, Iran Prepares Militarily And Politically Vis-à-vis Trump Administration: Strategic Alliance With Russia, Dragging Israel Into War With Hizbullah, Palestinians, March 3, 2017).
The Iran-backed Houthis in Yemen have recently been firing missiles at Saudi Arabia: On March 17, the Houthis fired a medium-range ballistic missile at an Aramco facility in Jazan, Saudi Arabia. Also on March 17, the Houthis fired three missiles at a mosque in an army base in Ma’rib Governorate during Friday prayers. The attack killed and wounded dozens of officers and soldiers. Additionally, a locally made Yemeni Borkan-2 missile was fired at the King Salman airbase in Riyadh.
Further, the Syrian regime has been escalating its responses to Israeli attacks on convoys transferring strategic missiles from Iran to Hizbullah. Unlike in the past, this week the Syrian regime fired anti-aircraft missiles at Israeli aircraft. MEMRI assesses that this was the result of Iranian pressure on Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad and on Hizbullah to respond in accordance with Iranian policy in order to spark a military confrontation with Israel.
Furthermore, it should be mentioned that as part of the Iranian regime’s efforts to revive the Palestinian front against Israel, on February 21, 2017, Tehran held the Sixth Conference in Support of the Palestinian Intifada. In his opening remarks at the conference, Supreme Leader Khamenei stressed the need to assist resistance movements in their military struggle against Israel, and said that Iran’s aid to these movements is directly tied to the level of these movements’ commitment to the principles of “resistance” (i.e. the struggle against Israel). He especially highlighted the need to continue aiding the resistance in the West bank, saying: “The main pivot of the Resistance is the steadfastness and endurance of the Palestinian people who have raised courageous and resistant children. Meeting the needs of the Palestinian people and Palestinian resistance is an important and vital responsibility which should be carried out by all of us. In doing so, we should not ignore the basic needs of the Resistance in the West Bank because the West Bank shoulders the main burden of the suppressed intifada.” (see MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 6795, Khamenei In Speech At Iran’s Sixth International Conference In Support Of Palestinian Intifada: ‘We [Stand] With Every Group That Is Steadfast On This Path [Of Resistance]’; ‘Cancerous Tumor’ Israel Must Be Cured In Several Phases, February 21, 2017).
It should also be mentioned that as part of Iranian efforts against Israel, Hizbullah secretary-general Hassan Nasrallah has recently made aggressive statements about Israel in interviews with Iranian and Lebanese media.
- Attempting to connect Russia to Iran in a strategic alliance (see MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 6795, Iran Prepares Militarily And Politically Vis-à-vis Trump Administration: Strategic Alliance With Russia, Dragging Israel Into War With Hizbullah, Palestinians, March 3, 2017).
- Clinging insistently to the JCPOA, even in light of actions by the U.S. that Iranian representatives had once stated would lead Iran to revert to a pre-JCPOA situation.
Moreover, in this context, MEMRI assesses that Iran will under no circumstances withdraw from the JCPOA, even if the Trump administration increases the sanctions against it, and even if the U.S. takes military action against Iranian interests in the region. This is because the JCPOA is an historic achievement for Iran, since it grants it the status of a nuclear state. Furthermore, according to the Iranian regime mouthpiece Kayhan, the Rohani government had presented the JCPOA as a tool to prevent a war against the Iranian regime.
*A. Savyon is Director of the MEMRI Iranian Media Project; Y. Carmon is President of MEMRI.
 See MEMRI Inquiry and Analysis No. 1303, ‘Iran Diplomacy’ Following Tripartite U.S.-Russia-Turkey Military Chiefs of Staff Meeting: ‘If You Aren’t Sitting At The Table, You Are Being Eaten At The Table,‘ March 15, 2017.
 Tasnim (Iran), March 9, 2017.
 ISI – ImageSat International – is a privately owned company which provides confidential earth imagery acquisition under prioritized tasking management with very high resolution image quality.
 Tasnim (Iran), February 4, 2017.
 Asr-e-Iran (Iran), February 9, 2017.
 According to IRGC Navy commander Ali Fadavi, the IRGC signed an agreement with the Ports and Maritime Organization of Iran (PMO) under which the crews of all foreign naval vessels penetrating Iranian territorial waters and captured by the IRGC would be handed over to the PMO. Defapress.ir February 27, 2017.
 An isolated incident on March 4, 2017 saw IRGC boats approach an American destroyer, forcing it to change course. The Iranians later argued that the incident came about because the destroyer had deviated from its regular path. Tasnim (Iran), March 8, 2017.
 Assembly of Experts head and Guardian Council secretary Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati was the one official who did use the “death to America” slogan during a Revolution Day parade on February 10, 2017. He said: “Today, we all chant the slogan ‘death to America’ and trample its flag. This means we will not compromise nor back down to evil. We are not alone in the world, and throughout the world there are many nations that trample the American flag. Hostility towards America is the slogan of all those who are oppressed and desire freedom. We will never end our hostility towards evil, and we will always chant the slogan ‘no to humiliation.'” Fars (Iran), February 10, 2017.
 It should be noted that some attempted to justify this by calling it a sign of respect for the American people who voted against Trump.
 Kayhan (Iran), March 16, 2017. It should be mentioned that while the ideological camp’s hawks, such as the IRGC and Kayhan, accuse the pragmatic camp and President Rohani of responsibility for this policy of self-restraint, Supreme Leader Khamenei consents to this policy, and even leads it himself.
 Tasnim (Iran), February 8, 2017.
 Tasnim (Iran), February 2, 2017.
 Tasnim (Iran), February 4, 2017.
 Al-Akhbar (Lebanon), March 18, 2017.
 ‘Okaz (Saudi Arabia), March 18, 2017.
 Al-Quds Al-Arabi (London), March 18, 2017.
 Kayhan (Iran), March 16, 2017.