The case for disruption is outlined in a series of unclassified memos sent to former National Security Adviser John Bolton in May and June 2019 — the period when Iran’s latest round of escalations began in the Persian Gulf.

Their author, David Wurmser, is a longtime adviser to Bolton who then served as a consultant to the National Security Council. Wurmser argues that Iran is in the midst of a legitimacy crisis. Its leadership, he writes, is divided between camps that seek an apocalyptic return of the hidden imam, and those that favor the preservation of the Islamic Republic founded in 1979. All the while, many Iranians have grown disgusted with the regime’s incompetence and corruption.

Wurmser’s crucial insight, and one that goes some way toward explaining the Soleimani strike, is that Iran’s leaders expect America to respond to its provocations in a measured and predictable fashion. “Iran has always been careful to execute its ambitions and aggressive aims incrementally to avoid Western reactions which depart from the expected,” Wurmser argues. “In contrast, were unexpected, rule-changing actions taken against Iran, it would confuse the regime. It would need to scramble,” he writes. Such a U.S. attack would “rattle the delicate internal balance of forces and the control over them upon which the regime depends for stability and survival.”