On December 12, 2018, Ayatollah Khamenei accused the Trump administration of trying to carry out a plot against Iran in 2018. In particular, he claimed that the US government had aimed to ignite fresh street protests over the course of the summer. Khamenei said this US plot was codenamed “the hot summer” —  and announced that it had been defeated. The Supreme Leader then warned about  “America’s deceitfulness next year,” adding, “When the Americans say we will do this or that in 2018, it might be more noise than action, but they have a real plan for 2019. Everyone must be on alert and vigilant”.

The Leader’s remarks on last summer are a reference to the street protests that began on July 31 and continued throughout August 2018. These protests, which took place in a number of Iranian cities, were absolutely not as significant as the demonstrations of late December 2017 and early January 2018. But they had a particular importance that distinguished them from many previous protests: they erupted after the launch of a social media campaign inviting and urging people to stage protests on July 31. Activists based outside the country used Telegram and other social networks to play a considerable role in this specific campaign.

However, Ayatollah Khamenei’s reference to the “hot summer American plot" strikes many Iran analysts as ambiguous. More precisely, it is not clear why the Leader thinks an American plan with this particular name existed, or whether American officials have ever used this term to describe their alleged efforts to trigger street protests in Iran. It is not even clear if, in addition to a number of social network activists who urged people last summer to stage protests in Iran, any particular US official had encouraged people to do so.

 

Where Did the Term “Hot Summer” Come from?

After Ayatollah Khamenei’s (rather unclear) remarks, his website (Khamenei.ir) published an interview with Hossein Saffar Harandi, a hardline member of the Discernment Expediency Council and a close associate of the Leader, as a means of elaborating on the Leader’s words.  

Like Khamenei, Saffar Harandi did not refer to any American official or organization. He only said, without adding any further details: “This so-called hot summer is a repetitive term that has also been used over previous years. In order for the Americans to make this plan possible, namely the creation of the chaos inside the country… a few factors had to be coordinated… Part of these factors are the external enemies and external counter-revolution opposition figures that sometimes affect internal events. Other factors include US partners, like some countries in the region, ranging from the Zionist regime to regimes like Saudi Arabia.”

Conducting a search to find a trace of the term “hot summer” comes up short. It does not lead to the discovery of any statement made by foreign or Iranian opponents of the Islamic Republic. However, a number of Iranian social media activists had used the Persian equivalent of the term in August 2018 to campaign for street protests. It would appear that Iranian authorities took this campaign very seriously, interpreting it as a US-led plot to overthrow the Islamic Republic. This interpretation is possibly evidence of the Iranian regime’s obsession with social media, as well as its growing concern over the Islamic Republic’s security in the post-US sanctions era.

It was possibly for these reasons that Press TV, an English-language television channel run by the Islamic Republic’s public radio and television network, broadcast an alarming report on August 23, 2018, toward the end of a series of street protests in Iranian cities. Press TV said: “Analysts say a new US anti-Iran plot aimed at overthrowing the Islamic Republic has been foiled. They say under the so-called Hot Summer Project, Washington sought to turn protest rallies in Iran into anti-establishment movements.”

 

Concerns over the Iran Action Group

On August 16, 2018, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced the establishment of the Iran Action Group to coordinate the Trump administration’s rising political and economic pressure on the Islamic Republic of Iran. Pompeo said this body would be led by Brian Hook, the current director of policy planning at the State Department.

The formation of the new body was widely covered in Iranian state-run media, referred to as a new US plot to overthrow the Iranian regime.  

In particular, the fact that the announcement of the establishment of the action group came in the middle of the August demonstrations was considered to be proof of the connection between Iran’s public protests and the Trump administration. 

When the Iran Action Group emerged, some Iranian media outlets interpreted it as an effort to fulfill what John Bolton had suggested on July 1, 2017, before being appointed as President Trump’s national security advisor. At a Paris gathering of the Mujahedeen-e Khalq, MEK, or People’s Mujahedeen, Bolton said: “The outcome of the president’s policy review should be to determine that the Ayatollah Khomeini’s 1979 revolution will not last until its 40th birthday.” (The 40th anniversary of the Iranian revolution will be on February 11, 2019). Bolton added: “The declared policy of the United States should be the overthrow of the mullahs’ regime in Tehran.”

In an indirect reference to John Bolton’s 2017 remarks, Iran’s Leader said on December, 12: “They said that the Islamic Republic won’t see its 40th anniversary… But with the help of God, the Iranian people will hold a more glorious celebration in comparison with previous years for the 40th anniversary of the Islamic Revolution.”

 

What Does the Leader Expect from 2019?

Apart from the Iranian authorities’ worries over what they considered to be a US plan to create chaos in Iran in 2018, it appears that similar concerns will continue into 2019. Ayatollah Khamenei’s recent warning about the Americans’ “real plan” against the Islamic Republic in 2019 is a clear indicator of such concerns.

Ayatollah Khamenei has clearly shown that he is worried about the potential effect of the re-imposition of US sanctions on Iran’s economic conditions, which might lay new groundwork for social unrest.

Iran’s street protests during the winter and summer 2018 were fueled by economic factors, including increasing inflation and unemployment, shortage in goods and services, environmental crises, and increased public sensitivity to government corruption cases. All of this economic dissatisfaction had and will continue to have the real potential to be converted into political demands — because even if the public’s dissatisfaction is totally based on livelihood issues, many protesters will blame the Islamic Republic authorities for this situation, and therefore, their protests will target the Iranian regime. 

The Islamic Republic authorities seem to be convinced that in the post-US sanctions era, the Trump administration will undoubtedly take advantage of Iranians’ social and economic discontent to spark new rounds of public protests. This is apparently the reason behind Iranian top regime decision-makers such as Ayatollah Khamenei believing that, regardless of all the protests that were held in 2018, they will face more significant protests in 2019.

This obsession will possibly form Tehran’s new political and security policies over the course of the next year, which will be converted into a higher level of suppression of all political, social and economic protests and of anybody who participates in acts of protest. 

 

Also in this series: 

 

Decoding Iran’s Politics: New Sanctions and Public Protests

Decoding Iran’s Politics: The Leader’s Public Appearances

Decoding Iran’s Politics: All the Supreme Leader’s Institutions

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