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US, Israel must grow closer to tear the Iranian regime apart


From March 4-7, 2018, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) held its Annual Policy Conference in Washington, D.C. The AIPAC conference is an excellent venue from which to gauge Jerusalem’s relations with Washington. If you missed the meeting, it can be captured in 3 words: Iran, Iran, and Iran!

Speaker after speaker lashed out at the clerical regime in Tehran’s misdeeds, including the Islamic Republic’s illicit pursuit of nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles, military adventurism in Yemen, political control over Iraq, and the regime’s presence in Syria, Lebanon, and along the Western border of Israel. Pushing back on Iran’s malign behavior united conference attendees.

{mosads}But speakers hardly mentioned Iran’s repression of its own people. And when they spoke about the 2017-2018 Iran uprising, they focused on the Green Movement. They seemed not to realize that this Movement is like the Holy Roman Empire — not holy, not Roman, and certainly not an Empire. Similarly, the Green Movement is hardly “green,” not much of a movement, and of little consequence.

Regarding the barely green status of the Greens, Brenda Shaffer wrote in The Hill last year:

“In political systems where ethnic-based politics are severely limited, or even prohibited, populist activity around environmental causes is often tolerated by ruling regimes. They are likely to view it as a social movement and not necessarily anti-regime. Recognizing this, ethnic nationalist movements have found that there are many advantages in revolving their efforts around environmental political campaigns.”

In any event, in our estimation the Green Movement is of little consequence in 2018 – as are other opposition movements that stand more for regime modification than regime change. Indeed, the former prime minister, Mir Hossein Mousavi, and his wife, remain under house arrest. House detention is a difficult spot from which to mobilize a revolution.

The Story Behind the Story

The story hardly covered in the mainstream media is that the anti-regime resistance, the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), and its largest unit, the People’s Mujahedeen of Iran (PMOI), more commonly known as the Mujahedeen-e-Khalq or MEK, are more influential than the Greens.

While at the AIPAC meetings, neither in breakout sessions nor in general conference speeches, was there any mention of the NCRI or the PMOI. As scholars interested in Iranian opposition movements that reject rule by the unelected Ayatollahs, it is not surprising that the authors flagged the contrast between the focus on the Green Movement and the lack of attention paid to the NCRI and its affiliates. We counted the number of times the Greens were cited — fewer than 5 and there were no mentions of the NCRI, except by the authors.

The main Speaker at AIPAC on Mar. 6 was Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. He spoke of the good, Israel’s current strengths; the bad, Iran’s growing threats; and the beautiful, Jerusalem’s alignment with Washington.

“Bibi” spoke of how the words of Biblical prophets inspired U.S. leaders, including Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, and Martin Luther King, Jr. Netanyahu noted that the values that inspired our quest for freedom and justice are the same as those inspiring Israeli society. Animated by these values, Bibi said, “America and Israel have forged an eternal bond that can never ever be broken.”

Netanyahu did not simply speak in abstract terms. Rather, he spoke of Israel’s capacity to defend itself with U.S. military hardware like Lockheed Martin’s F-35 advanced fighter jet, and of the Iron Dome missile interceptor system, Bibi thanked Washington, saying:

“Thank you successive American presidents; thank you Congress, Republicans and Democrats alike; thank you AIPAC for helping bring this about. You’re terrific!”

Netanyahu reflected on Israel’s capacity “for making the lives of people richer, safer, and more productive” and noted that “many countries are coming to Israel because they want to share with us these benefits.” He recalled that when he arrived in Washington in the 1980’s, as the number two official in the Israeli embassy, there were about 80 or 90 states countries with which Israel had diplomatic relations. Now the number is more than 160. Since this time, Israel has used its technological skills to create growing diplomatic ties around the world.

Most importantly, he raised the alarm about Iran, saying:

“If I have a message for you today, it’s a very simple one: We must stop Iran. We will stop Iran. … Darkness is descending on our region. Iran is building an aggressive empire: Iran, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Gaza, Yemen, more to come. Now Iran is seeking to build permanent military bases in Syria, seeking to create a land bridge from Tartus, from Tehran to Tartus on the Mediterranean.”

The Way Forward

Based on our research, we suggest the following:

First, Washington should take the lead in forging better ties with opposition groups that reject rule by the Ayatollahs. Oppressive regimes have never been inevitable. Their apparent inevitability is because they possess trappings of power but lack popular support. And the recent rebellion in Iran reveals a significant lack of backing by the people.

Second, CIA Director Mike Pompeo rightly observes:

“The economic conditions in Iran are not good. That’s what caused the people to take to the streets. .. Meanwhile, the Iranian regime threatens violence. Qassem Soleimani wastes their money in places like Lebanon and Syria and Yemen trying to foment goodness knows what.”

These economic conditions make the regime more vulnerable, presenting us with an opportunity to help the Iranian people.

Third, remember what former American UN Ambassador John Bolton said in Paris to the Grand Gathering of Iranians for Free Iran:

“The behavior and the objectives of the regime are not going to change, and therefore the only solution is to change the regime itself!”

Nowhere does the America-Israel alliance have more potential than in supporting the aspirations of the Iranian people for freedom in their homeland.

Raymond Tanter served as a senior member on the Middle East Desk of the National Security Council staff in the Reagan-Bush administration, personal representative of the secretary of Defense to international security and arms control talks in Europe, and is now professor emeritus at the University of Michigan. Follow him on Twitter @ProfRTanter.

Ivan Sascha Sheehan is director of the graduate programs in Global Affairs and Human Security and Negotiations and Conflict Management in the School of Public and International Affairs at the University of Baltimore. Follow him on Twitter @ProfSheehan.

Tags American Israel Public Affairs Committee Benjamin Netanyahu Iran Israel Mike Pompeo

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