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Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs
Strategic Alliances for a Secure, Connected, and Prosperous Region

Iran responds to John Bolton’s departure: “The Policy of Maximum Pressure on Iran Has Failed”

Filed under: Iran, U.S. Policy

Iran responds to John Bolton’s departure: “The Policy of Maximum Pressure on Iran Has Failed”

Iran was quick to “celebrate” the dismissal on September 10, 2019, of John Bolton, President Trump’s hawkish national security advisor. Due to his harsh and uncompromising policy of “maximum pressure” on Iran, senior officials in Tehran view his removal as a kind of victory that includes the possibility of change in U.S. policy toward the Islamic regime.

Trump kicks Bolton and his plans for Iran over the cliff
President Trump kicks Bolton and his plans for Iran over the cliff. Next to Trump is Maryam Rajavi, leader of the Iranian opposition group, the People’s Mujahedin of Iran, who is close to Bolton and is watching in trepidation. (Source: Tasnim news agency, which is associated with the Iranian Revolutionary Guard.)1

From Iran’s point of view, the timing of Bolton’s dismissal could not have been better. It occurred on the Shiite religious holiday, Ashura, which fell on September 10-11 and is the anniversary of the martyrdom of Husayn ibn Ali, grandson of the prophet Mohammed, at the Battle of Karbala in 680. This occurrence is the guiding tradition behind Shiite Islam, and it is cited to justify the concept of self-sacrifice and martyrdom. Some opinions in Iran perceive this to be a “divine sign” and an indication of divine intervention in the history of Iran and its success in overcoming the obstacles in its way. This is how they perceive the struggles of Hamas and Hizbullah against Israel, the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, and more. In any case, from Iran’s perspective, this is another sign of the success of its policies and its firm stand against the pressures imposed upon it by the United States.

On September 11, 2019, President Hassan Rouhani indirectly alluded to Bolton’s dismissal at a government meeting, saying (without mentioning names) that, “other sources inciting war should also be removed.” He added that the United States must internalize that incitement to war, and the inclusion within the U.S. government of sources interested in provocation to war will not do it any good, and it should remove (all) the sources calling for war and maximum pressure on Iran.”

The Battle of Karbala
The Battle of Karbala (Wikipedia)

In the spirit of the holiday, Rouhani compared the situation of Iran today to the Battle of Karbala, in which Imam Husayn was killed early in the history of Islam. Rouhani devoted a large part of his speech to the battle and the lessons learned from it. He referred to the many hardships faced by Husayn and his followers during the mythical battle, which is part of Shiite tradition. Rouhani stressed that the logic behind Husayn’s heroism was “to be a hero and act with fairness,” and this is the path that Iran follows today, “while the enemy (the United States) exerts maximum pressure. We choose the path (that Imam Husayn laid out for us) of firm and fair resistance.” President Rouhani alluded to the three final stages of his policy of reducing Iran’s obligations to the nuclear deal, saying that if the other sides would continue to fail in the implementation of their obligations, Iran would take additional steps to reduce its responsibilities.

The Iranian president referred to the price the Iranian people is paying for its firm stand, the sacrifice and terrible suffering for the sake of Iran as a result of the “harshest economic situation since the establishment of the Islamic Republic.” He added that this may be the peak of the country’s hardships, as the situation has somewhat stabilized and this is attributed to “the firm stand of the people and the government against their enemies.”

Newspaper headlines in Iran shrieked, “Chaos at the White House,” “Bolton Suddenly Removed,” and “Was Bolton Sacrificed on the Iranian Altar?”

Shargh headline
Shargh headline: Was Bolton sacrificed on the Iranian altar? The picture was taken at the Ashura celebrations.2

Other senior figures in Iran, such as the foreign minister and Iran’s UN ambassador, have reacted cautiously and have refrained from mocking Bolton. Maybe this is an attempt to avoid harming the chance of a meeting in the near future on the periphery of the UN General Assembly between President Rouhani and President Trump. UN Ambassador Majid Takht-Ravanchi stated that Iran’s policy (in anything to do with conducting talks with the United States) is clear and does not depend on changes in the U.S. government: “Until the policy of economic terror exerted by the U.S. government against Iran is abandoned, there will be no place for negotiations.”

Rouhani’s adviser and head of the Center for Strategic Studies, Hesamodin Ashna stated, “Bolton’s removal to the fringes (with the regard to policymaking) and his eventual (political) ‘elimination’ were a clear sign of the failure of the U.S. government’s strategy of maximum pressure in the face of Iran’s creative resistance, which can without a doubt cope with U.S. pressure and not give in.”3 Ashna also lashed out at U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo: “With your moves, you have proven over and over again that you are the wrong man due to the greatness of the hour for anything relating to fateful decisions and international agreements…. But you don’t care…. Indeed, it will be your boss (President Trump) who will pay the price.”4

Spokesman for the Guardian Council of the Constitution Abbas-Ali Kadkhodaei tweeted, “While the removal of one person or another won’t change the policy of the U.S. government, Bolton’s dismissal is a sign that the policy of ‘maximum pressure’ has failed.”5 Government spokesman Ali Rabiei stated that with the removal of Bolton, who was the leading promoter of the policy of economic terror against Iran, the White House would have fewer obstacles in its understanding of life in Iran.

Other sources in the regime “reminded” Bolton of an incident when he forecast several months ago that Iran would collapse, and they tweeted, “We are still standing, and you have fallen, like many enemies of Iran before you.”

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