Missiles and a portrait of Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in Baharestan Square in Tehran, Iran.
(photo credit: NAZANIN TABATABAEE YAZDI/ TIMA VIA REUTERS)
Commentators and experts have lauded President Donald Trump and US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley for their clear rhetorical support for the Iranian protesters in their quest for freedom.
Some have urged the United States to provide information platforms so they can circumvent the new media, which is being blocked by the authorities.
This is hardly sufficient. The US, with the help of its allies, including Israel, must be working 24/7 to provide, at the most opportune moment, arms and know-how.
Why this must be so is clear. The regime, as ruthless as they come, will commit any kind of atrocity if it feels it is in danger, and even much shorter of that. It would be totally cynical and self-defeating were the US and others to encourage the protesters without planning how they can defend themselves and bring down the regime if the protests escalate.
To be able to provide these arms, protesters who can bear arms have to be identified and contacted, and networks have to be built to supply the arms. These must be tailored to meet the needs of a variegated group of people operating in different environments: urban warfare, hit-and-run ambushes on roads and railway tracks, and hit squads attempting to assassinate regime officials and security personnel in a bid to turn the hunters into the hunted.
In areas inhabited by minorities, such as the Kurds, or the Arabs in the southwest, efforts should be expended to advance to guerrilla operations. Heating up the periphery where these minorities live, will do much to reduce the strain on the urban fighters, who will carry the brunt of the fighting in meeting the most strategic goal of the conflict – taking Tehran.
These protesters-turned-freedom fighters have to be given intelligence, which imposes the arduous task of making sure both arms and intelligence flows to the genuine opposition rather than into the hands of state agents.
At some point, this aid will have to be buttressed by much tougher sanctions to the point of a blockade on the country’s ports or flight zones. Such sanctions will no doubt impose tremendous hardship on the Iranian people but it will also drive home the point that the maintenance of the regime is untenable, and the quicker it is removed the quicker there will be relief for the citizenry. Such a realization will hopefully bring many to give aid and shelter to the fighters.
Planning and creating the rudimentary network to provide arms and intelligence should have started in 2009 at least. If they haven’t this must be done now.
The question of when the US and its allies should begin the flow of arms and intelligence poses the real problem if the protests grow.
Creating a rebellion is all about coalition- building. It was the massive coalition of disparate groups in 1978 that brought down the shah, and only a broad coalition of forces will bring the ayatollahs down.
Relying on the Westernized, more secular upper-middle class in the leading universities or in the better neighborhoods of Tehran will not be sufficient.
Moving too early might alienate the conservative and nationalist majority and play into the hands of government propaganda.
Moving too slowly facilitates regime efforts to crush the opposition.
The time to act will be when the casualties of the regime mount, when they can be identified as coming from a broad spectrum of the Iranian public, killed and maimed in a variety of urban and rural areas and elicit an equally variegated and broad public response of mourning and protest.
There are two dangers facing the US and its democratic allies in treading this path – false moral qualms and the fear of failure.
There can be no qualms over these operations.
Few entities in the past half-century have caused so much harm and pain as the ayatollah regime – against the hostages in the US Embassy in Tehran, the bombing of the Marines barracks in Lebanon – the second largest terrorist attack in US history after 9/11 – the terrorist attack against the Israeli Embassy in Argentina and subsequently the AMIA Jewish center, the creation of Hezbollah, which among other offenses, is currently under investigation for running a billion-dollar drug distribution ring. Removing the regime or even denting its power will be a boon to the region and to the world.
Just imagine if this regime continues to grow into a North Korean nuclear duplicate, with far greater resources and greater proximity to both the US and Europe.
The second is remorse over failure. The effort might fail with bloody consequences for the opposition. But the failure will be only temporary. Just as this wave succeeded the wave a decade ago, so will a succeeding wave appear.
The message must be: The regime of the ayatollahs is doomed. The cue is of course from Winston Churchill. “Evil will be defeated.”
The writer is professor of political studies and Middle Eastern studies at Bar-Ilan University and a senior research associate at the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies.