The Islamic Republic of Iran has been a uniquely troublesome space for American and European international coverage because the Islamist dictatorship was established within the wake of the 1979 revolution.
All through the previous 4 a long time, I’ve personally witnessed the challenges confronted by policymakers on each side of the Atlantic, when it comes to understanding the totally perplexing Iranian political state of affairs and the way to reply to it.
What has compounded the issue is the geopolitical significance and significance of Iran and its affect on the area and the worldwide order. Merely put, Iran is simply too large and too urgent to be ignored.
The scale of that drawback turned extra evident in 2002 when the nation’s main pro-democracy opposition group, the Folks’s Mojahedin Group of Iran (PMOI/MEK), first revealed particulars of the regime’s secret nuclear weapons program. However by that point, different points resembling a penchant for hostage-taking and the help of assorted worldwide terrorist teams had already been firmly established as demanding Western consideration.
Paradoxically, although the nuclear revelations strongly influenced worldwide views concerning the threats posed by the Iranian regime, they didn’t appear to alter the false notion that Western governments may change the regime’s habits by providing concessions. Consequently, these governments have maintained insufficient insurance policies whereas ignoring the pivotal issue of the Iranian individuals and the function of the opposition PMOI/ MEK. Current and ongoing developments contained in the Islamic Republic have made it abundantly clear that inattention to the Iranian Resistance and what it represents is a critical lacking think about American and European approaches to Iran coverage.
The identical current and ongoing developments make clear the significance of these insurance policies not solely to Western pursuits and the pursuits of regional allies, but in addition to the welfare and long-term governance prospects of the Iranian individuals themselves.
Normalizing Requires Regime Change
As of this writing, the Islamic Republic is three weeks into what could fairly be termed a nationwide rebellion, first introduced on by public outrage over the federal government’s resolution to take away subsidies on important foodstuffs. The affect of that call included an instantaneous spike of roughly 400 p.c within the value of cooking oil, and equally catastrophic will increase for hen, eggs, dairy, bread, and pasta. Demonstrations started on Could 6, primarily in Khuzestan Province, and since then they’ve unfold to not less than a dozen others. Anti-government protests continued subsequent to the collapse of a 10-story constructing within the metropolis of Abadan (South-West Iran), which killed dozens and injured dozens extra. The disaster was the direct results of rampant corruption and nepotism contributing to sub-standard building.
The present rebellion adopted the identical primary sample as one which started in December 2017, continued by means of a lot of January 2018, and marked an obvious turning level in longstanding conflicts between the Iranian individuals and the Iranian regime. In that case, preliminary protests over financial circumstances started within the nation’s second-largest metropolis of Mashhad, after which unfold to properly over 100 different localities. As they did so, they carried provocative anti-government slogans that seemingly normalized public requires regime change.
The identical slogans, together with “demise to the dictator” “down with Khamenei (the supreme chief), and “demise to the oppressor, whether or not the shah or the mullahs,” have been heard in numerous protests over the following 4 and a half years. There have been not less than eight protests since December 2017 that had been giant sufficient in scale to qualify as nationwide uprisings, together with the latest ones.
As with every of the prior uprisings, the continued demonstrations in Khuzestan and elsewhere have advanced to incorporate requires regime change alongside their authentic expressions of financial grievance. Now as then, the anti-government message was promoted upfront by “Resistance Models” affiliated with the MEK – activist collectives which might be additionally recognized for acts of concentrating on symbols of the mullahs’ rule, in addition to the general public show and projection of photographs of leaders of the resistance, particularly Maryam Rajavi, the president-elect of the Nationwide Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), and Massoud Rajavi, the historic chief of the MEK.
Escalating Repression, Escalating Resistance
The longstanding exercise of the Resistance Models underscores the truth that Iran’s regime is dealing with challenges not simply from a unfastened assortment of aggrieved residents however from an organized opposition motion with a particular plan for the way forward for the nation. This has grown more and more unmistakable in current months because the actions in query have grow to be notably extra refined and extra frequent.
On January 5, the Resistance Models burned a statue of Qassem Soleimani, the eradicated commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ Quds Pressure within the provincial capital of Shahr-e kord in western Iran just some hours after the revealing.
Soleimani was killed by a US drone strike in Iraq two years earlier. Iran had tried to retaliate towards the killing by launching a volley of missiles at Iraqi navy bases housing US forces, however within the pursuing hours, the IRGC shot down a business Ukrainian airliner, killing all 176 individuals onboard. After the regime tried unsuccessfully to cowl up the incident, protests started to emerge on college campuses and in public areas spanning not less than a dozen provinces.
As with prior demonstrations towards the state of the economic system, the focused public condemnation of the January 2020 missile strike, quickly turned political towards the regime. This was made all of the extra exceptional by the truth that the protests got here solely two months after one other nationwide rebellion throughout which the IRGC was the foremost perpetrator of an almost unprecedented crackdown on dissent.
The November 2019 rebellion was sparked by the federal government’s resolution to intentionally increase gasoline costs, for an already beleaguered inhabitants. Protests instantly unfold to some 200 cities in all 31 provinces. The outraged inhabitants solely focused authorities facilities and repressive facilities and the slogans of the protesters all through Iran had been nearly similar, concentrating on the regime in its entirety. All that indicated the function of an organized resistance in main the protests. Within the face of dramatic public outrage at the moment, authorities reduce off web entry for a lot of the nation, in an effort to concurrently impede organizing efforts and gradual the unfold of reports relating to mass shootings and mass arrests.
The November 2019 crackdown stands out for instance of the regime’s willingness to make the most of broad-ranging political violence to keep up its maintain on energy.
In that case, roughly 1,500 peaceable protesters had been killed by gunmen who had been principally members of the IRGC. This determine was initially reported by the MEK and its associates and was later confirmed by a Reuters’ report that cited a number of sources from contained in the Ministry of Inside. Moreover, 1000’s of contributors in that rebellion had been arrested alongside different recognized activists, and lots of had been subjected to a marketing campaign of systematic torture that progressed for months and was detailed in an Amnesty Worldwide report titled “Trampling Humanity”.
The regime’s response to the November 2019 rebellion was a dramatic escalation from its response to the preliminary rebellion in January 2018, which nonetheless killed dozens and resulted in prolonged jail sentences for a lot of others. The escalation was absolutely associated to the narratives that emerged from regime officers and state media retailers after requires regime change absolutely entered the mainstream.
Regime Propaganda Collapsing
In keeping with no much less an authority than Supreme Chief Ali Khamenei, the preliminary rebellion was largely attributable to the MEK, which had “deliberate for months” to facilitate simultaneous protests in all main cities. In reality, Khamenei in the end blamed the rebellion on a “triangle of enemies” comprised of the MEK, Western governments, and Iran’s regional adversaries. That is ironic in mild of the truth that the MEK is hardly talked about in Western discussions of Iran coverage, a lot much less included within the methods that emerge from these discussions.
This isn’t to say that the MEK is with out help within the West. It has many high-profile backers within the fields of parliamentarians, authorities, safety, intelligence, and academia, however their help has but to translate into comparable consideration from the precise management of america, the European Union, or its member states. This truth solely makes Khamenei’s statements about current uprisings extra ironic, insofar as these statements threaten to undermine his personal regime’s success in downplaying the facility and affect of the MEK.
When the supreme chief and his subordinates started warning concerning the energy and affect of an organized Resistance motion, they contradicted their very own preexisting narratives which claimed no such motion existed. Iranian state media had lengthy dismissed the MEK as a “cult” and a “grouplet” missing any significant help among the many common public. However after all, this description can’t be reconciled with the regime’s newer acknowledgement that huge swaths of the nationwide inhabitants have adopted the MEK’s lead in staging a number of nationwide uprisings.
The eight uprisings which have taken place over the previous 4 and a half years are notable not just for their scale or for the truth that they had been invariably preceded by public appeals from MEK Resistance Models, but in addition for his or her geographic and demographic range. This units them other than prior large-scale protests just like the 2009 protests, which had been dominated by middle-class activists in Tehran. Thus, it additionally undermines longstanding assumptions that poor, rural Iranians characterize a stronghold of help for the theocratic regime.
These assumptions have arguably held again Western policymakers from exploring their full vary of choices for confronting the Iranian regime or partaking with the Iranian individuals. Tehran amplified that impact by means of its decades-long marketing campaign to each downplay and demonize the MEK and some other pro-democracy voices that sought worldwide help for his or her efforts to overthrow the clerical regime and set up a system of self-governance for the Iranian individuals.
Assaults on the MEK are incessant inside Iranian state media, and lots of of these assaults have bled into the worldwide press. Between March 2019 and March 2020, the regime broadcast greater than 300 motion pictures and documentary sequence on the MEK, and inside that very same interval, two separate courtroom rulings in Germany ordered information retailers to pay damages and revise articles as a result of it was decided that their claims concerning the MEK may in the end be traced again to Iranian intelligence.
The instances involving Der Spiegel and Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung had been sadly not distinctive, as a result of the Iranian Ministry of Intelligence and Safety has spent a substantial period of time growing a community of pleasant journalists, typically even directing its personal brokers to ply their commerce within the guise of educational or journalistic roles.
Elements of this disinformation marketing campaign had been revealed in a very intimate style in February 2021 when a person by the identify of Hadi Sani-Kani despatched a letter to officers with the United Nations detailing how he had collaborated with the Ministry in writing false tales concerning the MEK after defecting from the group.
One of many prime priorities of the Iranian regime’s diplomatic equipment has been neutralizing and marginalizing the MEK on the worldwide scene.
The Wall Road Journal revealed on Could 8, 2008, “Iranian officers have urged suppression of the MEK in negotiations with Western governments over Tehran’s nuclear program and different points, in accordance with a number of diplomats who had been concerned in these talks.”
With the progress that the MEK has made in recent times, the Iranian authorities determined to decapitate the opposition at any price and as such deliberate the bombing of the huge worldwide gathering in help of the Iranian Resistance in Paris on June 30, 2018.
The choice by the Supreme Nationwide Safety Council (the very best decision-making physique in Tehran on nationwide safety issues) was relegated to the Ministry of Intelligence and Safety (MOIS) and the Overseas Ministry that had been chosen to hold out the operation. Assadollah Assadi, Tehran’s Third Counselor in Vienna who was a veteran MOIS officer and coordinator of the MOIS actions in Europe, was assigned to hold out the operation. Assadi introduced the extremely refined bomb from Tehran on a business flight to Vienna and subsequently handed it over to 2 of his brokers in Luxembourg on June 28, 2018.
Due to the vigilance and shut cooperation of safety providers of a number of European nations – together with Belgium, France, and Germany – the plot was foiled.
The couple, Iranians with Belgium citizenship, had been arrested in Brussels on June 30 on their method to the gathering within the suburbs of Paris. The bomb was within the trunk of their automotive. One other agent, who was additionally Iranian with Belgium citizenship, was arrested on the venue of the foremost gathering the identical night. Assadi, who was overseeing the operation whereas on “vacation” in Germany, was arrested close to the Austrian border on July 1.
Some 100,000 individuals together with 1000’s of European residents and a whole lot of dignitaries took half within the rally. (I headed the Italian delegation). The first goal was Maryam Rajavi. If the plot was not foiled, it may have been one of many deadliest terror instances within the current historical past of Europe.
Following greater than two years of investigation, Belgian investigators and the courtroom concluded that this was the work of a state. Assadi was sentenced to the utmost sentence of 20 years in jail and his three brokers had been sentenced to 17 and 18 years of imprisonment.
On the first look, it defies logic that Tehran assigned certainly one of its Europe-based diplomats to hold out the operation at a time when Tehran was looking for Europe’s help to interrupt the sanctions. It is not uncommon sense that if the operation was profitable, it might have not less than short-term diplomatic backlash for Tehran. However remarks from then-Overseas Minister Javad Zarif on July 1, 2018, revealed that Tehran had hoped to depict this as an inside job and a false flag operation. Tehran’s calculation was that given the surge within the actions of the opposition, a critical blow to the organized resistance and its chief would have outweighed the short-term diplomatic loss.
The timing of the deliberate assault was very telling. It was only some months after the 2018 rebellion during which Khamenei had explicitly underscored the function of the MEK and several other regime’s senior officers, together with IRGC Admiral Ali Shamkhani, the Secretary of the Supreme Nationwide Safety Council, had vowed that the MEK would obtain a critical blow the place it was least anticipated.
For supporters of the MEK, such tales are affirmation of the Iranian regime’s usually single-minded give attention to that group as a risk to its maintain on energy.
However the terror and demonization marketing campaign present much less vivid examples of that phenomenon than the regime’s numerous crackdowns on dissent, relationship again to the earliest days of the Islamic Republic.
Longstanding Dedication to Violent Repression
Whereas stunning in its personal proper, the sheer scale of the November 2019 crackdown got here as little shock to individuals conversant in the regime’s repressive historical past. Its concern of the MEK was by no means extra obvious than in 1988, on the finish of eight-year Iran-Iraq Battle, when the regime’s weakened state made it particularly weak to a surge of fashionable dissent.
That yr, the regime’s founder and first supreme chief, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, issued a fatwa declaring all members of the MEK responsible of “enmity towards God”, a capital offense. Consequently, “demise commissions” had been empaneled in prisons throughout the nation to interrogate political prisoners over their views and affiliations. Those that did not disavow the MEK or show their loyalty to the regime had been summarily executed and usually buried in secret mass graves.
It’s estimated that some 30,000 political prisoners had been killed on this style, simply qualifying the bloodbath as a criminal offense towards humanity. One perpetrator of that crime, a former official at Gohardasht Jail named Hamid Noury, is at the moment awaiting a verdict following his prosecution in a Swedish courtroom, however other than this, no official concerned within the bloodbath has confronted significant penalties.
Fairly on the contrary, a number of the main perpetrators have steadily risen by means of the ranks of the Iranian regime over the previous three a long time, thereby reinforcing the regime’s vendetta towards MEK activists. The severity of the November 2019 crackdown is maybe attributable partially to this phenomenon. On the time, the nation’s judiciary was led by Ebrahim Raisi, who subsequently oversaw the torture marketing campaign that adopted the IRGC’s mass shootings. In 1988, Raisi was certainly one of 4 officers to serve on the Tehran demise fee, which was chargeable for the biggest single share of the 30,000 executions.
Raisi’s function within the 2019 crackdown quickly proved to be a stepping stone towards even larger energy over home affairs.
In June 2021, Khamenei put in Raisi as president of the Islamic Republic following a tightly managed election during which he was the one viable candidate to seem on the poll. This was a strategic resolution by Khamenei which entailed axing even a number of the most loyal figures and factions of the regime that had the least rift with the supreme chief.
By appointing Raisi, Khamenei had chosen to impose an much more repressive surroundings all through the nation, step up help for terror teams within the area, intensify belligerence within the area, and additional defy the worldwide group on the nuclear program. A number of Iran observers pointed to a roughly 40 p.c enhance within the fee of executions in the course of the months instantly following Raisi’s “election”.
In mild of Raisi’s status because the “butcher of 1988”, his presidential appointment makes probably the most sense if understood as a response to the rising discontent. Truly, following the November 2019 rebellion, which pushed the regime to the precipice of being overthrown, Khamenei made it abundantly clear that his major precedence is to stem the rising tide.
On the identical time, these phenomena are solely underscored by the circumstances that surrounded that appointment and successfully disadvantaged each the Raisi administration and your entire regime of any declare to legitimacy.
Former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo lately commented upon this example whereas visiting Ashraf 3, the group established by the MEK in Albania following the relocation of three,000 of their members from Camp Liberty in Iraq. In his remarks to residents, Pompeo additionally addressed Raisi’s repressive mandate and his function in undermining that mandate by stoking the individuals’s financial discontent.
“Raisi shouldn’t be the president of the individuals of Iran,” Pompeo stated. “He’s the president of the Ayatollah. His mission is evident: inflict ache, frighten, proceed to loot and plunder. However Raisi has already failed. He has did not crush uprisings in Iran or break the noble spirit of dissent inside the Iranian individuals.”
That failure is extra particularly a failure to tamp down public consciousness of the MEK as a viable various to the theocratic regime. Since Raisi’s appointment, that consciousness has unfold by way of the normal efforts of MEK affiliated Resistance Models.
On January 27, the Resistance Models interrupted the printed of 25 Iranian state TV and Radio channels, exhibiting crossed-out photographs of Supreme Chief Khamenei, photos of Maryam and Massoud Rajavi and excerpts of their speeches.
Since then they’ve introduced down a number of authorities ministry web sites, and have used public handle techniques at busy public markets. Every of those retailers has performed host, in current months, to the now-familiar name for “demise to the dictator”, and excerpts of speeches from each Mrs. and Mr. Rajavi.
It might be attainable to say that actions by the organized resistance motion have escalated at a sooner tempo than the regime’s efforts to suppress them. In any occasion, it’s affordable to conclude that the MEK represents an more and more salient risk to the clerical regime’s maintain on energy, and thus a side of Iranian affairs that European and American policymakers should think about.
Resolving a False Dilemma
Mike Pence, the previous US Vice President stated on October 28 in Washington “One of many greatest lies the ruling regime has bought the world is that there’s no various to the established order. However there’s another – a well-organized, absolutely ready, completely certified and popularly supported various known as the MEK (Mujahedin-e Khalq). The MEK is dedicated to democracy, human rights and freedom for each citizen of Iran, and it’s led by a unprecedented girl. Mrs. Rajavi is an inspiration to the world. Her Ten-Level Plan for the Way forward for Iran will guarantee freedom of expression, freedom of meeting, and freedom for each Iranian to decide on their elected leaders.”
Mrs. Rajavi’s plan additionally requires secular governance, safeguards on the rights of ladies and minorities, and disavowal of the belligerent international coverage that’s so important to the present regime’s identification. Though Western policymakers have ceaselessly expressed optimism concerning the attainable softening of that identification, the general pattern has really been in the wrong way, particularly in recent times.
On Could 25, in a listening to earlier than the Senate Overseas Relations Committee, in an trade with the Chairman of the Committee, Democratic Senator, Bob Menendez, United States Particular Consultant for Iran Robert Malley acknowledged that Tehran’s conduct grew worse in areas resembling missile proliferation and help of worldwide terrorism in the course of the interval when the 2015 Iran nuclear deal was nonetheless in impact. However some facets of the regime’s conduct additionally worsened after then-President Donald Trump pulled the US out of the deal in 2018.
What could also be wanted, subsequently, is an altogether new technique consistent with the rising new actuality on the bottom – one which acknowledges regime change by the Iranians as a extra viable answer to issues emanating from Tehran, and one which formally acknowledges the forces pushing for that consequence from contained in the Islamic Republic.
No such technique has been forthcoming up to now 4 a long time, as a result of Western policymakers have overwhelmingly been caught in a false dilemma, believing that their solely choices had been to just accept the present composition of the Iranian authorities or to take away it by drive of arms and settle for the chaos that comes of leaving a rustic leaderless.
However there’s a clear lesson to be taken from the eight uprisings towards the regime of the final 4 and a half years: the Islamic Republic of Iran is now ripe for a regime change.
To attain this objective, it’s wanted a now not deferrable dedication by EU and US establishments in an effort to guarantee a Transatlantic stance that overtly helps and legitimizes the organized opposition motion now main the nation’s transition to democracy.