Iran’ Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei during a meeting with a group of Iranians, Mashhad, March 20, 2024

In Norouz Speech, Khamenei Challenges US And Israel

Thursday, 03/21/2024

The US will have no choice but to leave the Middle East, Iran’ Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei said Wednesday, taunting the Biden administration amid a prolonged regional conflict.

“The Americans were looking to gain full control over this region,” he said, “they had this thought, mistakenly, that they’d [establish] their presence in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, and across the whole region. The power of Resistance shattered their calculation; proved that that is not possible, and the Americans can’t stay in this region. They have no choice but to leave.”

Khamenei’s words – in his second speech on the first day of the Iranian new year– seemed to have been more public posturing, nevertheless, they did partly reflect the reality on the ground: the gradual waning of US supremacy in the Middle East, even though it’s still far superior to any other power in the region.

On the flip side, the Iranian regime has expanded its regional influence in recent years, even as it grapples with numerous, seemingly insurmountable crises domestically: a faltering economy, pervasive corruption, and a near-total breakdown in trust between the populace and the government following the unprecedented protests in 2022.

Critics of President Biden blame him for Iran’s belligerence. He has repeatedly said that his administration does not want escalation with Iran, which, according to the critics, nullifies any notion of deterrence.

“During Joe Biden’s presidency there have been more than 200 Iran-backed attacks on Americans in the Middle East – with over 170 attacks since October 7,”Congressman David Rouzer posted on X .” At the same time, Iran-backed Houthi attacks in the Red Sea are disrupting global shipping & endangering human life. Americans are less safe because of Joe Biden’s weakness on the world stage.”

In his speech, Khamenei did address the economy, the most relevant issue for Iranians. He also talked about the recent elections and political participation in Iran. But the central theme of his speech was foreign relations, and the current situation in the Middle East, in particular.

But he once again emphasized the role of the "Resistance Front" in the region, a label Tehran uses for a multitude of armed proxy groups that harass the United States, Israel and occasionally pro-West Arab states. Despite each having their specific domestic (or national) agenda, these armed groups converge on their opposition to American presence in the region and their enmity with Israel.

“It has become clear that the Zionist regime is suffering a crisis,” Khamenei said, “not only in terms of protecting itself, but also in terms of being unable to come out of the crisis. Because by entering the war in Gaza, it has become stuck in a quagmire. Regardless of whether it comes out of Gaza or not, it will have failed.”

The Israeli onslaught on Gaza is probably the biggest determinant of these groups’ actions at the moment. The Houthis in Yemen, Hezbollah in Lebanon and various groups in Syria and Iraq, have –to various extents– entered the war in support of the Palestinians,

“We are on the side and the supporter of whoever becomes involved in this great, human, Islamic jihad of principles,” Khamenei said, while calling Israel the source of “immense oppression” in the region that “must be cut off”.

Khamenei and his commanders in the Revolutionary Guards prefer to stay away from main theaters of conflict and have their proxies fight Israel.

Since last November, Hezbollah forces have been exchanging fire with Israeli forces almost daily. Armed groups in Syria have launched one-way drones against targets inside Israel. And the Houthis have all but blocked the Red Sea to all vessels with links to Israel. (direct or indirect), forcing major shipping companies to abandon the standard route and take a much longer one to the detriment of maritime trade and the consumers who eventually pay for any extra costs to businesses.

All these groups are known to be propped up by the Iranian regime. Although Iran insists that they all enjoy operational freedom and independence.

“Wherever it is in the region, be it Yemen, Iraq, Syria, or Lebanon, any measure that is taken by the fighting and brave Resistance forces, the Americans will attribute it to Iran,” Khamenei said. “In truth, it is the Resistance groups who make their decisions and take action.”

He then concluded, “The US doesn’t understand the people of the region and the brave, determined youth. This miscalculation will definitely bring the US to its knees.” Again, Khamenei's reference to the region's youth mainly involves groups under the Iranian regime's influence.

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