Are Iran’s mullahs in trouble?

Michael Ledeen says so:

For some time now, the regime in Tehran has shown signs of urgency, sometimes verging on panic. Of late, the mullahs have organized raucus demonstrations in front of numerous embassies, including those of Egypt (with chants of “Death to Mubarak”), Jordan, Turkey, Great Britain, Germany and today (imagine!) France. These demonstrations were not mere gestures; the regime’s seriousness was underlined on Sunday, the 4th, when it offered a million-dollar reward to anyone who killed Mubarak (the Iranians called it a “revolutionary execution”). Significantly, the announcement came at a rally of the Basij, the most radical security force in the country, at which the Revolutionary Guards official Forooz Rejaii spoke. The Egyptians take it seriously; they have been on alert of late, looking for the possibility of a Mumbai-type operation in Cairo or elsewhere.

At the same time, the regime intensified its murderous assault against its own people, most notably hanging nine people on Christmas Eve, and assaulting the headquarters of Nobel Prize Winner Shirin Ebadi.

This intense tempo of activity bespeaks alarm in Tehran, which is fully justified by a number of setbacks. First of all, the dramatic drop in oil prices is devastating to the mullahs, who had planned to be able to fund terrorist proxies throughout the Middle East, Europe and the Americas. Suddenly their bottom line is tinged with red, and this carries over onto their domestic balance sheets, which were already demonstrably shaky (they were forced to cancel proposed new taxes when the merchant class staged nation-wide protests). No wonder they seize on any international event to call for petroleum export reductions. Just today they called for a drastic reduction of oil shipments to all countries that supported the Israeli military incursion into Gaza.

Second, their terror strategy has not been working as well as they wished and expected. Most American and European analysts have not appreciated the effect of the defeat of al Qaeda, Hezbollah and the Revolutionary Guards in Iraq, but you can be sure that the high and mighty in Arab capitals have taken full notice. . .

Third, despite all their efforts to crush any sign of internal rebellion, many Iranians continue to publicly oppose the mullahs. A few weeks ago, students at universities all over the country demonstrated in significant numbers, and as one Iranian now living in Europe put it to me, “they were surprised that the regime was unable to stop the protests, even though everyone knew they were planned.” This is the background for the new wave of repression, accompanied by an intensification of jamming on the Internet, and an ongoing reshuffle of the instruments of repression; Khamanei and Ahmadinejad have no confidence in the efficacy or blind loyalty of the army or of large segments of the Revolutionary Guards. Most public actions are carried out by the Basij, who are judged more reliable, and repression is less in the hands of the traditional ministries than in new groups freshly minted in the Supreme Leader’s office. . .

I have long argued that the Iranian regime is fundamentally hollow, that much of its apparent strength is bluster and deception rather than real power and resolve.  At a minimum, it is a regime that must constantly fear for its own survival, not because of any willful resolve from its external enemies but because of the simmering hatred from its own people.  This is a moment when those people are, as so often in the recent past, looking for at least a few supportive actions.  If the West is now convinced that Iran is the proximate cause and chief sponsor of Hamas’ assault against Israel, it should demonstrate once and for all that we are prepared to fight back.

(Via Instapundit.)

Ledeen has been arguing for those supportive actions for a long time.  In his 2002 book, he argued that the Iranian regime could be overthrown without military action, principally by diplomatic efforts to strengthen its internal enemies.  Unfortunately, President Bush failed to do anything about Iran, leaving the problem to President Obama.

Is there any reason to believe that Obama is up to the task?  His promise to meet unconditionally with Ahmedinejad is cause for pessimism, but it’s clear Obama knows that pledge was a mistake.  Typically, he was unable to admit his mistake, but he did backpedal in every possible way, so we can view the pledge as withdrawn.

Moreover, the idea of overthrowing Iran without military action would have to be attractive to Obama, who needs to show that he is serious about national security but nothing at all like President Bush.  His National Security Advisor, Jim Jones, is well-regarded in the right circles and should give him good advice.

At least, that’s what I’m telling myself.

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