When Shahab ul-Din Bimeqdar, a “reformist” member of Parliament from Tabriz was asked: “What is your plan of action regarding Soleimani’s killing?” he answered: “My suggestion is self-restraint and negotiations between Iran and the United States…Victory over the US and its allies, Britain and France, is a tough job.” The same day, a group of Basij members attacked his office at night, chanting slogans and spraying paint on the walls of the office building.
The editor of Khabaronline, a news website close to Ali Larijani, the speaker of the Iranian Parliament, was prosecuted for using the term “killed” instead of “martyred” when reporting news on Soleimani’s death. In Soleimani’s funeral procession, when the crowd recognized Ma`soumeh Ebtekar, one of Rouhani’s deputies, they chanted “betrayer.” Hasan Abbasi, a staunch military interventionist, implicitly encouraged his supporters to attack the “reformists”. Basij members insulted Eshaq Jahangiri, Rouhani’s vice president, during Soleimani’s funeral in Kerman.
All of these reactions are clear signs that Trump’s decision to order Soleimani’s removal has affected Iranian domestic politics.
Soleimani’s killing will affect Iranian domestic politics in the following three areas: The parliamentary elections scheduled for February 2020, internal discussions on Iran’s foreign relations especially with the United States and Europe in the Supreme National Security Council and Expediency Council, and thirdly, policy discussions about Iran’s regional policy based on expansionism and sectarianism.
A number of questions arise when considering the aforementioned: How will developments in these three areas unfold? Why is Soleimani’s removal a determining factor? Above all, who will benefit domestically from the consequences unfolded following Trump’s action?
The Parliamentary Elections
Although the “reformist” camp is aware of the repercussions of Soleimani’s killing on their standing in Iranian politics and it condemned the killing and called Soleimani a martyr, this will not let them escape the consequences of pushing for a de-escalation in tensions with Washington. Instead of a softer position in difficult times to increase political participation, the Guardian Council usually imposes harsher conditions on candidates to restrict participation in parliamentary elections. This is done to eliminate political threats and show that the country is united behind the supreme leader. There are people in the “reformist” camp who will not praise Soleimani and this will give ammunition to the Guardian Council to block their participation in the upcoming parliamentary elections.
Internal Discussions on Iran’s Foreign Policy
The “hardliners’” policy toward the United States is “no negotiations, no war.” Rouhani, Zarif and the “reformists” who support the Iranian government have sent many signals to initiate Iranian-American negotiations. Rouhani’s trip to Japan is a clear indicator of this. Right after Soleimani’s killing, the Iranian propaganda machine which is supervised by the supreme leader’s office attacked anyone who called for de-escalation.
Regarding Soleimani’s removal and Iran’s missile attacks in response, most European countries were supportive of Trump’s action and criticized Iran’s malign activities in the region. This will result in Iran-Europe relationships becoming more controversial in Iran. It is highly unlikely that we will see Iran-Europe talks in the near future.
Iran’s Regional Policy
In spite of Iran’s missile strikes on two US bases in Iraq, Iran’s policy in Iraq in the post-Soleimani era has been confronted with the United States reacting to Tehran’s belligerency. Retaliation cannot be a medium or long-term policy. Rouhani and Zarif have been silent regarding Iran’s continued presence in Iraq and reiterated Khamenei’s policy just to show unity. Before Soleimani’s killing, Rouhani never talked about the United States’ departure from the region. He is aware that the US withdrawal from the region would strengthen ISIS and lead to Iraq’s possible disintegration. However, the “hardliners” want the United States out of the region. This is their objective and they have been working on it for decades. They are now using Soleimani’s killing to weaken the reformist position on this issue.
Implications and Future Probabilities
In the short term, the Iranian military establishment is the winner. This is why Soleimani’s corpse was taken all over the country. However, in the medium and long term, Iran has no choice other than de-escalation and negotiations. Iran’s economy is in shambles, popular discontent is high, and foreign pressure will rise if the Iranian government continues with its retaliatory language and action. The probability that the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) candidates or those close to it will win the majority of seats in Iran’s parliamentary elections is high.
The killing of Soleimani will give an opportunity to the “hardliners” to keep tensions between Iran and the United States alive. While the “reformists” are inclined to continue negotiations with Europe, Soleimani’s killing will also make it easier for their political opponents to keep a distance from Europe. The “reformists” do not have much to offer and they will be the clear losers of the consequences unfolded following Trump’s action.
The killing of Soleimani by the United States was a defining moment in the history of the Islamic Republic. This incident will expose the radical nature of the government more than ever; the world will see that the so-called moderates are almost non-existent in Iran. The government is using Soleimani’s killing to bring back the discourse that was prevalent in the 1980s but the people are very different now, particularly the new generation. Therefore, social, political and cultural schisms between the Iranian government and the public will widen in the future leading to a changed Iranian domestic landscape.