Violence in Iran: What the West Needs to Know

W. Thomas Smith, Jr
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Posted: Jun 29, 2009 11:37 AM

The violent crackdown continues in the wake of Iran’s disputed June 12 presidential elections in which – according to the Wall Street Journal – “hard-line clerics have rallied behind Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in supporting President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's declared landslide poll victory.”

Hardly a “victory,” much less a “landslide,” so-say supporters of opposition candidates Mir Hossein Mousavi and and Mehdi Karroubi, who have “challenged the vote, alleging widespread vote-rigging.”

Despite restrictions on media, at least 20 people have reportedly been killed and hundreds wounded by Basij militia forces. Some sources suggest the death toll is much higher. And it doesn’t appear as if the mullahs, Ahmadinejad, and their cronies are going to let up until any hint of expressed opposition is crushed.

Additionally, according to the Kuwaiti newspaper Alseyassah, the leadership of Lebanon-based Hizballah is appealing to the Iranian regime – literally the hand that feeds Hizballah – to use all means to quash the opposition movement in Iran. Alseyassah also reports “a number of troops of the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps [IRGC] in Kuwait, Iraq, Lebanon and Syria have been recalled to Tehran ... to join the Tha’r Allah [Vengeance of God] forces … These special forces are in charge of protecting the regime."

Saturday, I discussed Iran with Middle East expert Dr. Walid Phares – director of the Future of Terrorism Project for the Foundation for Defense of Democracies – for the initial Q&A in what will be an ongoing series of interviews, Three Questions for Dr. Walid Phares, providing timely perspective on Middle East issues and international terrorism as events unfold.

W. THOMAS SMITH JR.: Considering the large pro-democracy turnouts in recent elections in Lebanon and Iran – and the now seeming desperation on the part of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps to quash all dissent – is the IRGC, its Quds force, Hizballah, etc., on the ropes? Does the West now have a strategic opportunity here?

DR. WALID PHARES: The Iranian people have a unique opportunity to liberate themselves from 30-years of oppression embodied by the Vilayet e-Faqih Jihadist regime with its Pasdaran and Basij militias. Such windows of opportunity come only once every one or two decades, and many young Iranians understand this. Hence we have this explosive uprising in the streets of Tehran, and we will continue to see urban opposition for a long time inside Iran.

Moreover, the Lebanese people, who have been under the yoke of Hizballah terror for a quarter century, also have an unexpected opening wherein regional support for Hizballah may be declining inasmuch as Iran's regime may well lose its ability to support Hizballah. Lebanon's Cedars Revolution, which has been under attack for the last four years may also derive tremendous benefit from the youth uprising in Tehran. But even though both civil societies in Iran and Lebanon are looking at a generational opportunity to defeat the terror system in the region, it is really in the hands of the free world and particularly in the hands of the United States to either hasten the advance of democracy or let go of the latter, allowing the Pasdaran to win.

There seems to be an amazing alignment of the planets in favor of pushing back against these terror forces in the region, but Washington will have to say “yes” or “no” to the international push. Iranians and Lebanese can only struggle, but America and other democracies can make it happen soon or in the far future. So, Pasdaran, Quds force and Hizballah aren't on the ropes as you say. But with a quick, serious international alignment of the international community coordinating with the uprising, these militias can be isolated and their terror power significantly reduced. If the West doesn't realize this huge change taking place now out of Tehran and take action, the so-called “Tha’r Allah” forces will become an extremely dangerous tool in the hands of a surviving angry regime.

SMITH: Is there not also an increased danger of an IRGC-inspired attack elsewhere in the world, to divert attention from Thar Allah operations in Iran?

PHARES: Obviously. Strategically, the Iranian regime is bleeding politically. Its credibility is gone, even if it crushes the opposition and pursues the youth across the country. And when such regimes see their political shields shattered, they begin acting irrationally and preemptively. Iran's billions of petrodollars invested in propaganda via satellite TV, as well as the infiltration and influence of Western media have built an unnatural image of the regime camouflaging the oppression. As a result, journalists and academics have described Iran's Khomeinist regime as “reasonable, stable, and with whom democracies can conduct business.” The young men and women on the streets of Tehran have come very close to destroying this expensive public-relations image. Hence, the IRGC could be tasked to strike at targets overseas and engage in terror regionally as a means of deflecting attention from the “Tha’r Allah” operations inside the so-called "republic." The international community in general, Western democracies in particular must be very attentive to the possibility of Pasdaran-guided, ordered and/or inspired terror operations worldwide as the crisis inside Iran persists. Therefore, it is crucial that the West in general and the United States in particular work on backing the democratic uprising in Iran now before the Pasdaran takes them by surprise. This is not an issue of luxurious choice, it is a matter of national security.

SMITH: What is the West failing to understand, that we must get our heads around regarding the IRGC – its subsidiaries like Hizballah – and the “Tha’r Allah” forces?

PHARES: As of the fall of 2006, early 2007, the pro-Iranian-regime lobby in the United States – and some other Western countries – has succeeded in imposing a new equation regarding Iran. Whether it is because of propositions of oil advantages or false promises of help in Iraq and Afghanistan, it is a fact that the Iran policy in the United States has shifted during the last two years of the Bush Administration and throughout the current Obama administration from considering the Iranian regime as a strategic foe supporting terrorism to just a nuisance with which one might cut a deal. U.S. policy has reached a summit of contradictions as its intelligence and legal components consider the Pasdaran and Quds force, as well as Hizballah, as terrorists; yet our political decision-makers look at the Iran of Khamenei as a potential partner in regional political business. The West – particularly the U.S. and the UK – knows all too well that the IRGC and Hizballah are strategic threats but a political decision was made to disregard this reality hoping that it would – or could – end when the “engagement path” would bare fruit. This is a dangerous game, a bet that is irrational, which may cost democracies greater losses and the region's civil societies longer oppression. The Tehran uprising should be viewed as an event of destiny, and it should open Western eyes. Let’s see if Washington and London figure it out and change course or stubbornly continue toward the precipice.

— Visit W. Thomas Smith Jr. at uswriter.com.