People power can work in Iran

Menashe Amir argues there is a sharp distinction between the Iranian people and their rulers.

manashe amir in office (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
manashe amir in office
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Menashe Amir is not a politician, a professional "expert," and certainly not an ideologue. The legendary just-retired head of Voice of Israel's Farsi broadcasts is, however, among the most informed people in the world on Iran, the place where he was born and where his voice is known to millions of people. In an exclusive interview with Ruthie Blum that appeared on these pages yesterday, Amir said some things that ought to interest Western policy makers. Amir, who interviewed Iranians in their language on an almost daily basis over decades, says that most Iranians "don't buy" the regime's view of the world and desperately want to get rid of it. Though there is a law against satellite dishes, and the regime has lately become more aggressive about ripping them off roof tops, there are more than 2 million in Iran. The Voice of Israel has several million listeners each day. Despite regime efforts to jam them, the Voice of America, BBC, and other broadcasts are also avidly followed by the young, urban middle class that comprises some 60 percent of the population. Amir argues there is a sharp distinction between the Iranian people and their rulers. "The people are peace-loving and humane, while the regime is made up of a group of extremists who believe in holy war and martyrdom." The people "love America, they love American music, they love the English language, they love the good life in the US." He notes that of the 3 million Iranians who have fled the country, half went to the US. During the American invasion of Iraq, listeners phoned in to Amir's broadcasts to say, "Please tell Bush that we also need a visit from him." This does not mean, however, that Amir advocates a US invasion of Iran. "There is no need," Amir says, since the Iranian people can free themselves. "The meaning of 'Shia' is that its followers determine its leaders... Shiite Muslims choose their rebbe. The greater the number of believers in an ayatollah, the greater he becomes. ...Because the Iranian regime is religious, it claims to have been given legitimacy by the people. The minute the people take to the streets to denounce it, it will lose its legitimacy. This is what distinguishes it from a military regime." So what are the people are waiting for? According to Amir, "rightly or wrongly, the people don't feel equipped to deal with [the regime] on their own. And its in the world's interest to take the task on, because as soon as the regime changes in Iran, many Mideast issues will resolve themselves; the nuclear problem; the situation in Iraq and Afghanistan; Syria will collapse; and the obstacles to peace between Israel and the Palestinians will be removed." If, as some intelligence estimates claim, Iran is five years from obtaining a nuclear weapon, there is "sufficient time in which to topple the regime through an internal uprising, which is the cheapest, fastest, and least bloody of all solutions," says Amir. (Other intelligence estimates, it should be noted, suggest a shorter time-span.) In essence, this would be a democratic form of beating Iran at its own game. Iran is spending hundreds of millions of dollars annually to advance its jihadist agenda in Lebanon, Gaza, Iraq, and Afghanistan. In Iraq alone, Amir reports that Iran is spending millions supporting to Shiite groups, SCIRI and the Sadr militia, as well pro-Saddam Sunni militias that are massacring Shiites. This year, Iran will spend something half a billion dollars just on regaining the loyalty of Shiites in Lebanon, many of whom are seething after Iran's proxy started a war that heavily damaged their communities. There is nothing stopping the US and other countries from spending similar sums to foment revolution in Iran. Though lately the US has increased funds for broadcasting into Iran, much of this is wasted on programs that provide nothing beyond what commercial channels are showing. Some of VOA's broadcasting in Farsi is even critical of the US and Israel. In addition, the recent decision to allow Mohammed Khatemi to be feted throughout America was seen by Iranians as backing for a strong supporter of the regime. A fundamental policy decision, followed by much more thought, effort, and funding are needed to show Iranians that free nations will really stand by their side. Properly conceived and executed, such an effort could yet change the world and save thousands, if not millions, of lives.