Since protests unfolded across Iran last week, President Trump has not hesitated to make his opinions known, much to the chagrin of Iranian and other international leaders. French President Emmanuel Macron, meanwhile, delivered a much more measured response towards Tehran, while accusing the US and allies of inciting war.
Speaking before a group of diplomats, President Macron, seemed to imply that France should take a more hands-off approach to the situation in Iran, a stark contrast to President Trump’s statements. Macron instead emphasized the need for change to come authentically from the Iranian people, rather than outside sources. The French president did, however, highlight the need for vigilant attention towards the rights of the Iranian people, saying, “There is a crisis that comes from the free expression of the Iranian people and our role is to be diligent and demanding that human rights be respected.”
President Macron took a much firmer stance against the US, Saudi Arabia, and Israel, who have been accused by Iranian sources of inciting the anti-government protests. “The official line pursued by the United States, Israel and Saudi Arabia, who are our allies in many ways, is almost one that would lead us to war,” Macron said. With tensions growing between Iran, other regional powers, and the US, Macron’s comments seem to highlight international fears of World War 3 with Iran.
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Who’s to Blame?
The protests that have swept Iran began on December 28th and have seen the arrests of hundreds and the death of at least 22 people, including one member of the security services. Iranian officials claim that only 42,000 people took place in the anti-government protests, which according to Iran’s prosecutor general, Mohammad Jafar Montazeri, were orchestrated by the CIA with Israeli and Saudi support, with the ultimate goal of inciting an armed insurrection by February. The CIA declined to comment, while the Trump administration adamantly denies the claims.
Turkey has publically supported Tehran’s claims that the US, Israel, and Saudi Arabia are behind the anti-government protests that have swept the nation. Turkish Foreign Minister, Mevlut Cavusoglu, echoed these allegations on Wednesday, telling CNN, Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Trump have backed protests in Iran.
Whether the reports of the Iranian government are accurate or not, government officials have seized on popular distrust and disapproval of the US and President Trump to deflect from their own culpability in the protests. Gholamali Khoshroo, Iranian ambassador to the United Nations, issued a letter on Wednesday claiming US intervention in the Iranian protests:
[The US] has stepped up its acts of intervention in a grotesque way in Iran’s internal affairs under the pretext of providing support for sporadic protests, which in several instances were hijacked by infiltrators.
Khoshroo points to President Trump’s “numerous absurd tweets” as inciting the protests. The Iranian governments accusations may fall flat when considering President Trump’s unpopularity among the Iranian people following his now infamous travel ban which bars Iranians from travel to the US. Iranian protesters instead blame a 12-29% unemployment rate and the government’s squandering of resources abroad in proxy wars, as well as corruption in general as the reason for their protests. Tehran’s notorious proxy wars have led alarmists to warn of an impending World War 3 with Iran. The Iranian government has blocked access to social media as they accuse tweets of inciting the anti-government hostilities.
Vice President Pence may have inadvertently confirmed the allegations from the Iranian government, tweeting “the clear affirmation & support that @POTUS Trump has provided to protestors rising up in cities across Iran is dramatic & consistent with America’s role in the world as a leading champion of freedom.”
Despite disapproval from many foreign leaders, President Trump continued his Twitter commentary. On Wednesday the President wrote, “Such respect for the people of Iran as they try to take back their corrupt government. You will see great support from the United States at the appropriate time!” Critics of the President have interpreted his tweet as another belligerent move threatening World War 3 with Iran. Usually President Trump is blamed for a coming World War with North Korea.
Israel has likewise been accused of inciting the protests in Iran. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu took to Twitter on Monday to unequivocally refute these claims. According to Netanyahu the allegations are an insult to the Iranian people and their struggle. In a video message Prime Minister Netanyahu said:
Unlike Rohani, I will not insult the Iranian people. Brave Iranians are pouring into the streets. They seek freedom. They seek justice. They seek the basic liberties that have been denied to them for decades.
According to reports, the US is considering imposing new sanctions on the Iranian regime in response to human rights violations such as the imprisonment and killing of protesters. But experts warn that sanctions would just force Iran and China closer together possibly leading to World War 3 with Iran. Macron disagrees with this move, insisting that the 2015 nuclear deal struck between Iran and the Obama administration should be respected instead.
Although Iranian officials have accused the US, Britain, Israel, and Saudi Arabia of foreign meddling, Iran is a notable meddler as well. Macron did not shy away from underscoring this point in his remarks, detailing Iranian involvement in Iraq, Syria, Yemen, and Lebanon, as well as Tehran’s financial support of the internationally sanctioned Hezbollah terrorist militants. Currently, Iran is embroiled in a bloody proxy war in Yemen with regional rival Saudi Arabia. The war in Yemen has caused one of the worst humanitarian crises in the world while leading many to wonder if escalating regional tensions could lead to World War 3 with Iran.
Counter protests were quickly mobilized in Iran. On Wednesday, Al Jazeera reported that anti-government protest were “few small and short-lived” while the pro-government rallies are now “what really is at play” reportedly drawing thousands of Iranians into the streets to voice their support of their government, while chanting slogans against Israel, Saudi Arabia, and the US and burning their respective flags. The flagrant hostility towards the US and allies has only stoked the fears of alarmists prophesying World War 3 with Iran.
The Iranian government has announced an end to the unrest and said that “firm action” will be taken against anti-government protesters. Iran’s blocking of social media makes these claims difficult to substantiate. According to the US State Department, more than 1,000 Iranians have been arrested by the regime.
The last major anti-government protests in Iran took place in 2009.