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How Secure Is The Iranian Regime? – OpEd

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A new and rapidly growing popular rebellion is affecting the Iranian regime. On March 11 a statement signed by 640 eminent Iranians, some living within and some outside Iran, was posted on-line in English and Persian with the hashtag “No to the Islamic Republic”. It marked the launch of a new anti-government movement. 

The founding statement called for the overthrow of the Iranian regime, describing it as: “the biggest obstacle in the way of freedom, prosperity, democracy, progress, and human rights.”  The signatories urged Iranian activists to unite, to make “No to the Islamic Republic” their national solidarity objective, and “to create a massive movement that can purge Iran from this dark and corrupt regime.”  Many ordinary Iranians posted images on social media of murdered and executed dissidents and political prisoners, and examples of social and cultural oppression by the Islamic Republic since its establishment in 1979.

Since the launch the number of adherents has mushroomed into the tens of thousands, and the campaign has succeeded in uniting opposition elements outside the country that have previously failed to coalesce.  As the number of signatories rapidly rose, it became clear that they were drawn from many sectors of Iranian society – political and civil rights activists, artists, athletes, authors, university professors.  One of the best-known is filmmaker Mohammad Nourizad, who has spent years in and out of prison for his outspoken criticisms of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. He was joined by five women, advocates for democracy and women’s rights, who were arrested and jailed in 2019 after signing an open letter calling for Khamenei’s resignation. 

The #No2IslamicRepublic campaign is supported by many Iranians abroad who are household names in Iran – singers, a composer, an award-winning filmmaker, an historian, a feminist sociologist, women’s rights activists and even former Ontario cabinet minister Reza Moridi.

The most public face of the campaign is Reza Pahlavi, the deposed Shah’s son and Iran’s last heir to the throne before the overthrow of the monarchy in 1979. The sixty-year-old Pahlavi heads the National Council of Iran for Free Elections, which has been acting as a government-in-exile.  Just recently he announced a major change in the objective of his organization.  Setting aside his previous intention to re-establish a constitutional monarchy, Pahlavi now supports the establishment of a democratic republic to replace the revolutionary regime.  This has meant that a rival body operating its own government-in-exile, an organization calling itself The National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), has been able to come together with Pahlavi under the umbrella of the “No to the Islamic Republic” campaign.

From the regime’s point of view, the campaign could not have surfaced at a more inconvenient time.  Iran is in the midst of a delicate diplomatic game of poker with the US over reopening the nuclear deal   Is Iran going to agree to observe the terms of the original deal, which the US demands as the price of returning to the table, or is Washington going to lift all the sanctions imposed during the Trump era, which is Iran’s precondition?  A full-scale public rebellion inside Iran, not only against the government but against the republic itself, would severely weaken the regime’s bargaining position.

The situation is made even more unstable because new Iranian presidential elections are scheduled for June 18, and activists are seizing the opportunity to condemn the faux democracy that has been imposed on the country.  Iranians know that nothing happens in the state without the approval of the Supreme Leader, and that Hassan Rouhani is president only because it suited Ayatollah Khamenei in 2013 and again in 2017 to have him as a “moderate” figurehead.

Moderation may be far from how the regime intends to deal with the current insurrection. Present indications are that a military hard-liner is likely to succeed Rohani, who is serving his final term.  As with all elections in Iran, potential candidates must be vetted by the Guardians Council, whose members are directly and indirectly appointed by Khamenei, and the Supreme Leader is reported to have said publicly that the country should be led by a relatively young and ideologically hard-line president.

The Islamic Republic is currently weaker than it has been for decades. Ex-president Donald Trump’s “maximum pressure” policy, applied for years, succeeded in reducing the regime’s power, both economically and politically.  Yet President Joe Biden, determined as he is to resurrect ex-president Obama’s failed policy of seeking engagement with Iran, is unlikely to offer any support, overt or covert, to this latest effort to substitute a genuine democracy for the rigid, unpopular and failing theocracy currently imposed on the Iranian people.

If Biden does turn his back on Iran’s popular uprising, it would be a case of history repeating itself.

In 2009 the patently manipulated re-election of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as Iranian president gave rise to an upsurge of popular anger.  The public believed that the poll had been subject to vote rigging and election fraud. Ordinary Iranians took to the streets in their millions in what came to be known the “Green Movement.”  The Obama administration eager, perhaps determined, to engage with Iran regardless of the cost, did precisely nothing to support the protest.  The message the ayatollahs took was that the US would look away no matter what they did to stamp out their domestic opposition. As a result the “Green Movement” was ruthlessly suppressed, and its leaders were either imprisoned or eliminated. 

Widespread popular discontent with Iran’s revolutionary regime rumbles away below the surface, and there have been other opportunities – such as in the popular uprisings in 2019 and 2020 – to endorse it, but neither the US nor any western nation has ever offered overt support.  The reluctance is perhaps understandable.  Past efforts at encouraging or supporting regime change, even in flagrantly anti-democratic countries, does not have a notably successful track record.  

To attempt the overthrow of an established regime that has all the engines of the state and the military under its control is a formidable, perhaps foolhardy, enterprise.  Yet this “No to the Islamic Republic”campaign has just that objective.  Unless, or until, it seems to be succeeding, experience tells us that it can expect little by way of outside support.

Neville Teller

Neville Teller

Neville Teller's latest book is ""Trump and the Holy Land: 2016-2020". He has written about the Middle East for more than 30 years, has published five books on the subject, and blogs at "A Mid-East Journal". Born in London and a graduate of Oxford University, he is also a long-time dramatist, writer and abridger for BBC radio and for the UK audiobook industry. He was made an MBE in the Queen's Birthday Honours, 2006 "for services to broadcasting and to drama."

4 thoughts on “How Secure Is The Iranian Regime? – OpEd

  • Avatar
    April 23, 2021 at 8:54 pm
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    Trump’s ” Maximum Pressure” policy was necessary but insufficient. Maximum economic pressure should be coupled with maximum military deterrence. How would the Iranian regime backtrack when intentions of American withdrawal from three Middle East are repeatedly announced by every President since Obama? ! Start by clipping Iran’s nails in Yemen, Syria, Iraq and later Lebanon. Otherwise you will be letting a neo- nazi regime to grow stronger. It will be too late to deal with

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  • Avatar
    April 23, 2021 at 9:15 pm
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    The Biden administration is trapped in a lose-lose proposition. If they return to the JCPOA (Iran nuclear deal) the Middle East will become an arena of nuclear weapons proliferation within a few short years. This is due to the fact that other nations will demand exactly the same type of industrial level program that the JCPOA allows Iran to posses sometime within this decade. However, if Biden does not return to the JCPOA fairly soon, Iran could push toward breakout nuclear status sometime within the next eighteen months. Meanwhile, even though the extreme sanctions on Iran are working, and its general population continues to be anxious for genuine change; the last thing the Biden administration wants is a showdown with Tehran of a military nature. In other words, for Washington under the Democrats, not all options are on the table. Tehran knows this all too well. Like in 2015 under Obama, America’s past misadventure in the Middle East (Iraq and Afghanistan) have so weakened its past hegemonic position that a true vacuum has now been created throughout the region. With both the Ukraine and Taiwan of more immediate concern, Biden and company appear to have fallen back into a position of a Middle East with a contested destiny between its four major power centers — Iran, Turkey, the Gulf states and Israel. This policy can only mean that most of the sanctions will be lifted; China and Russia will make greater geopolitical headway with the Gulf; far more monies will be available for Iranian proxy forces throughout the Levant; an intensification of Israel’s “war between the wars” against Iranian militias in Syria and beyond will result; the distinct possibility of a direct confrontation between Iran and Israel over precision missiles in Lebanon and Iraq and, of course, nuclear weapons proliferation. For certain, without a complete alternative to the JCPOA — Biden’s promise of a “longer and stronger agreement” is nothing more than a hollow shell — the region of the Middle East will be at the take-off point toward a nuclear weapons arms race. Such a scenario is an extreme danger not only to the people of the Middle East, but in a world divided between the US and China-Russia, it also poses an escalatory threat globally. If ever the nations and people of the Middle East needed peace with mutual security, now is that time. And if ever the world needed superpower cooperation and compromise, now is also the time. I know that the people of Iran and Israel both desire peace. And I also know that the Islamic Republic of Iran is a danger to the entire region, including its own people. But the Biden administration lacks the vision to present an alternative policy. Certainly Trump did not have one. He demanded only Iranian capitulation, hardly a successful policy option. So, who will provide world leadership when the three superpowers have literally nothing to offer? And I can’t think of a worse international situation than the Middle East with varying arsenals of weapons of mass destruction. It’s time for some out-of-the-box thinking.

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    • Avatar
      April 24, 2021 at 7:01 pm
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      You gave a fairly good analysis but the only problem is that you didn’t offer a solution out of this situation either. The only solution lies within a regime change in Iran. If a democratic regime rules in Iran I bet peace will prevail over the entire Middle East.

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  • Avatar
    April 25, 2021 at 1:49 pm
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    Perhaps regime change might be a solution (Iran would still be surrounded by nuclear weapons states). But regime change is not a policy option that could engender the support of the entire UN Security Council. And without the UNSC, nothing is possible. China, Russia, the EU and US, and the nations of the Middle East, all need to be in sync with regard to regional peace. The object of any logical solution to the crisis of nuclear weapons proliferation in the Middle East is to totally isolate Iran from the body of states that now support the JCPOA. This can only be achieved by Israel and all the other state of the region agreeing to a dynamic alternative to the current (and historical) “shifting sands” of Middle East geopolitics. In other words, a permanent regional peace structure that can capture the imagination of the entire world, and can be agreed upon by the UNSC. To accomplish this goal, all aspects of international relations must change throughout the area. If Iran rejects the idea (which it will), the UNSC must place it under the most serious of sanctions with a Chapter VII stipulation as to its continued research and practice toward nuclear enrichment. Within this scenario, the JCPOA needs NOT to be expanded and strengthened; it needs complete elimination to be replaced by a permanent nuclear-weapons-free zone. But that’s not all; the nuclear-weapons-free zone must be embedded in a wholly new international organization, which I have called a Zone of Peace. Here is my solution to the my analysis above. — 1) A Zone of Peace shall be established among the states of the Middle East and the Persian Gulf, so that trade and navigation shall move uninterrupted. 2) All foreign navies shall be denied basing rights within the Zone of Peace. 3) All foreign air forces shall equally be denied basing rights within the Zone of Peace. 4) No state within the Zone of Peace may attack another state. 5) If such an attack should occur, the permanent members of the UN Security Council would come to the aid of the aggrieved state, and points 2 and 3 would become temporarily suspended. 6) If such an attack should occur, the states within the Zone of Peace would come to the aid of the aggrieved state. 7) Only sovereign states would be allowed to posses military equipment. Extra-territorial militias would be outlawed. Missiles and missile production would be kept at very short distances and very short numbers. 8) Nuclear enrichment would not be allowed, and its enforcement by the strictest verification regime would become the norm. The reprocessing of plutonium would be prohibited. 9) All states within the Zone of Peace must recognize and have diplomatic relations with all other states. 10) All states within the Zone of Peace must sign the NPT (Non Proliferation Treaty), and negotiations for a Middle East nuclear-weapons-free zone must begin no later than 24 months after all states have finalized mutual recognition. 11) All states within the Zone of Peace must respect the human rights of their citizens, and states whose use of force against their citizens — which violates international standards — may be suspended from the Zone of Peace. 12) All states within the Zone of Peace shall pledge their allegiance to a non-hegemonic regional structure, and states within the Zone will also pledge not to conspire with other states for the purpose of such hegemony. 13) All states within the Zone of Peace shall abide by the rules (to be established) for the equitable dispensation of all regional water resources. 14) The Zone of Peace is NOT dependent on the conclusion to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Furthermore, this conflict shall be decided through negotiations among the parties themselves without coercion or outside interference. Genuine compromise and goodwill must become the principles upon which these negotiations rest. —

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