Support a free Iran

The discontent that was hugely exacerbated by the blatantly rigged presidential elections continued to burn.

Iran protests 311 (photo credit: Associated Press)
Iran protests 311
(photo credit: Associated Press)
Clashes that broke out in Tehran, Shiraz, Isfahan, Mashhad and more than two dozen other cities across Iran Monday were a fresh reminder to Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad that the reformists are still alive and kicking.
The murderous brutality of the Basij paramilitary forces and the Revolutionary Guard, which resulted in the deaths of dozens, if not hundreds, stalled the June 2009 uprising. The Obama administration pulled back support for the Green Movement out of a misconceived calculation that this would help diplomatic attempts to “engage” and convince the regime to abandon its nuclear program.
But the discontent that was hugely exacerbated by the blatantly rigged presidential elections continued to burn.
This time, the US State Department has changed its approach, sending Twitter messages in Farsi in support of the protesters and accusing the Iranian leadership of hypocrisy for supporting the anti-government revolt in Egypt while seeking to snuff out opposition at home. The rhetoric is important, but the US also needs to offer financial, technological and logistic support to the reformists.
A POPULAR uprising, capable of toppling Khamenei and Ahmadinejad, would also be the most effective way of preventing this apocalyptic regime from getting its hands on the bomb. Sanctions are biting, but Tehran is so far undeterred.
And a US-led military option is looking increasingly unlikely. With US influence in the Middle East diminishing, Persian Gulf nations from which the US might launch a strike have been hedging their bets with Iran.
Last week, the Saudis accepted a port visit by Iranian warships in the Red Sea. In December, Qatar hosted a visit by three Iranian warships and a military delegation. In August, the Bahraini foreign minister announced that his country would not allow its territory to be used as a base for offensive operations.
Israel’s options have also narrowed. The IDF’s capacity to send ships and submarines through the Suez Canal is less certain with the ouster of Hosni Mubarak. Coordinating air routes through Jordan and Saudi Arabia or through Turkey is out of the question for the time being as well.
Besides, a military attack would have the unwanted side effect of unifying the Iranian people.
THE IRANIAN opposition has shown admirable staying power. On December 27, reformists took to the streets on the seventh day of mourning for their late spiritual leader Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri, which coincided with the Ashura, a day of sorrow for Shi’ites commemorating the martyrdom in battle of the prophet Muhammad’s grandson. Although they avoided the use of guns, the regime’s security forces brutally beat demonstrators and ran them over with cars, resulting in eight fatalities. Those deaths will undoubtedly be tied in the collective memories of the opposition with the Ashura.
Mehdi Karrubi, one of the leaders of the Green Movement, noted at the time that even the reviled Shah’s regime had not dared to shed blood on such a holy day.
Karrubi was directly attacking the religious legitimacy of the ruling regime – an act of defiance that culminated on Tuesday with members of the Iranian parliament demanding his execution for orchestrating Monday’s protests.
The Mullahs have tried unsuccessfully to stifle the Green Movement through brute force, overwhelming demonstrators with scores of plainclothes and uniformed forces armed with clubs. The latest strategy has been the intimidation of reformist leaders by the killing or imprisonment of relatives. The nephew of former prime minister and Green Movement leader Mir-Hussein Mousavi was assassinated, and 2009 Nobel Peace Prize laureate Shirin Ebadi’s sister arrested. The execution of Mousavi, a regime-legitimated presidential candidate less than 20 months ago, was also demanded on Tuesday. Nevertheless, the struggle for freedom goes on.
“They want freedom,” Uri Lubrani, adviser on Iran to Deputy Prime Minister Moshe Ya’alon, told Army Radio.
“What I see in Iran is that the majority of the people have had enough of this regime.” Lubrani, a former ambassador to Iran, warned in 1978 that the Shah’s regime was on the verge of being overthrown, but was ignored. Now Lubrani feels the same way about the present regime. “I have no intelligence to support my contention,” Lubrani said, “but I feel it’s going to happen.” Veteran Iran-born broadcaster Menashe Amir told this newspaper on Monday that he saw in the latest protests “the first spark of revolution.”
Whether such analyses are vindicated depends in part on the courage of the opposition, and in part, too, on the nature of the international response.
Iran is not Egypt. Its leadership – motivated by an extremist view of Islam, hostile to the free world and to democratic values, and seeking to render itself impregnable via nuclear arms – will not subside without a bloody fight. Led by the US, the international community must lend its support to the mass of Iranians straining to be freed from the regime’s benighted and ruthless clutches.