If the Islamic Republic of Iran has had one consistent goal since 1979, it's been survival; since the Islamic Revolution, Iran has essentially existed in crisis management mode, whether it's been fighting Saddam Hussein in the Iran-Iraq War or weathering the latest U.S. sanctions. Today, there are two interlinked issues that Iran views as essential to its long-term survival: Its economic health and its regional strategy in Iraq and the Levant.
Protecting both of these priorities has put Tehran in a bind, however: Iran could ameliorate its dire economic situation by caving in to U.S. demands and disengaging from the wider Middle East. But this would entail reducing support for its regional proxies and Bashar al Assad's government in Syria, thereby crippling Iran's strategy to project power across the region — the very thing that so irked U.S. President Donald Trump in the first place. Still, bind or not, Iran's limited response to the U.S. assassination of senior military figure Qassem Soleimani suggests that it is determined to maintain course on a strategy in which consistent pressure on Washington throughout the Middle East eventually frees its economy from the fetters placed on it by the United States.
All About the Economy
For Iran, the economic status quo is unsustainable. Sanctions have caused Iran's oil exports to collapse and cut off its access to international financial markets and a great deal of trade, including humanitarian goods like food and medicine. Those economic issues came to a head in November 2019 when another round of major protests erupted in response to Tehran's decision to eliminate fuel subsidies and introduce fuel rationing.