Ramin Parham, an Iranian exile, dissident and intellectual, says that if the current regime in Tehran falls it would open the way for strong Israeli-Iranian relations – perhaps even “a very important strategic axis.”
Parham was speaking to The Jerusalem Post on Thursday while in Israel to interview current and past government officials for a forthcoming book on ties between the two countries.
Such an axis, he told the Post, could become the economic and security powerhouse in the Middle East.
He added that Israeli officials told him they were optimistic about relations if the Islamic Republic were to fall, saying he was impressed by their knowledge about the country. Some, he said, had been there during the Islamic Revolution in 1979.
Asked if Iranians really cared so much about the Palestinians, Parham said that aside from government-sponsored protests and those organized by pro-Palestinian activists, “have you ever seen any public Iranian protests” on the issue? He said that during the anti-government unrest in 2009 there had been two slogans: One called for a non-Islamic “Iranian republic,” and the other said: “Neither Gaza nor Lebanon, I give my life for Iran.”
“Despite all the propaganda and money, there has never been in 35 years outside the revolutionary chaos of February 1979 a genuine, spontaneous demonstration by the Iranian people in the streets for Palestine or some Arab cause,” Parham claimed.
He said US President Barack Obama ignored the 2009 Green Movement-led protests, saying the American leader instead was busy trying to engage the regime. He added, however, that the situation was “getting ripe for another uprising.”
Parham, who lives in Paris and is working on his third book, left Iran for the first time in 1982, returned in late 2001- early 2002, and then left for good in 2002, beginning his political writing in 2004.
“It is a difficult choice to make to be a dissident, but I love my country,” he said.
His family left Iran, as they would have been in danger due to his political writings.
“I will take the first plane back if the regime falls,” he exclaimed. “I would be happy to take it from Tel Aviv!” Asked about his relationship with Jews, Parham said that as a child, his best friend had been Jewish – and that his friend’s grandfather was killed during the aftermath of the Revolution. He has a number of Jewish friends from his time in America and France.
“I have a great admiration for Israel, what you have done here,” he exclaimed, predicting that “the real face of Iran will come back and Israel can resume the very good relations with the new Iran that we hope will emerge.”
Iran and Israel maintained strong relations during the rule of the Shah.
Parham also spoke to the Post about the presidential elections of 2013, in which Hassan Rouhani won with just over 50 percent of the vote, according to government figures. The hardliner and government-backed candidate Saeed Jalili received only 11%, according to official figures.
Parham maintains that many of the four-million votes awarded to Jalili, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s preferred candidate, were fraudulent.
Hence, “at most, 10% of Iranians are true believers in the regime,” he said.
Some are still supporting it for economic interests, he added, pointing out that even at the time of the collapse of the Soviet Union there were still many communist believers in the USSR. He added that around 15 million Iranians, mainly from the middle class and the cities, did not vote.
The “Arab Spring” started in Persian Iran, he said, noting that the country had a history of public activism going back to protests in the late 19th century.
“Israeli experts also will tell you that no other country in the region, besides Israel, is as Western-oriented and as ready to accept a real democratic system,” he said.
“Iran can learn from Israelis, not just in hi-tech but in political terms, how to build a true and genuine republic,” he continued, pointing out that he admired the Jewish state’s strong sense of community and balance between religion and democracy.
He said that in Iran, the religious element would always remain although the regime had ruined the Shi’ite religion and mosques have been empty. He added that the clerical establishment had lost its legitimacy and was extremely corrupt.
He believes, however, that toppling the regime is the responsibility of the Iranian people and that an attack against the regime or its nuclear sites would cause people to rally behind it. He thinks the best policy is one of public diplomacy that appeals directly to the Iranian people.
“Change can only come from within Iran, but yes, they need help from the outside, from Iranian exiles to show new horizons,” he said.
Regarding Iran’s current nuclear negotiations with the West, Parham said they had raised tensions among the leadership.
“Many security people are benefiting from sanctions and don’t want them lifted,” he said, explaining that keeping the country closed suited their economic interests.
He went on to say that he arrived in Israel on the same day the news broke of Israel seizing the ship carrying Iranian weapons for Gaza.
“I perfectly understand the security concerns of Israel, though military action against this regime, in my view, would not solve the nuclear problem, but at best postpone the program by a few years,” he said. “Any action would harm the process of internal change and would have consequences which are difficult to predict and manage.”