What Iran Has Done While Our Eyes Were Turned Away
It’s been nearly two months since the so-called “adoption day” when Iran officially began the process of scaling back its centrifuges and retrofitting some its nuclear infrastructure as part of the agreement with world powers to restrict its nuclear weapons program. Some have touted the agreement as a sign of Iran seeking to soften its policies and join the world community.
Yet, for all of the fanfare over the summer about the consequences of the Iran deal, it seems like little attention has been paid to other Iranian policies. Alas, with the world’s focus on the immediate danger of the radical extremism emanating from the Islamic State, Iranian actions in recent months have affirmed the regime’s unchanged agenda — promoting illiberal policies that profoundly conflict with our core values and those of nearly every other member of the family of nations.
In recent weeks, some actually have suggested that Washington “separate its Iran policy from Israel.” This is little more than a smokescreen to divert attention. Despite the impassioned rhetoric of some regime supporters, it’s not about Israel. It’s about the Islamic Republic of Iran, a regime that continues its authoritarian rule at home and one that enforces policies overseas that challenge the core principles that center our country:
Doubling Down on Human Rights Violations: Two years into the term of “reformist” President Hassan Rouhani, the Islamic Republic remains one of the world’s leading human rights violators. If anything, Iran has stepped up its abuses in recent months.
Activists and watchdog groups report a harsh crackdown since September, with the Iranian Revolutionary Guard arresting dozens of activists, artists, cartoonists, and journalists. Notable among these are the detention of 170 “managers of groups active in mobile social networks” in Ghazvin, according to the Iranian Fars News Agency, and the arrest of administrators of groups on a messaging app for spreading “immoral content.”
Iran is one of the most dangerous countries in the world if you are an LGBTQ person. In October, the Revolutionary Guards arrested 17 people at a birthday party, saying they were “a network of homosexuals and Satanists.”
And, while critics rightly have decried ISIS’ persecution of religious minorities, there is widespread religious discrimination in Iran — including banning worship and frequent arrests. In November, according to reports, more than a dozen Christians in Varamin were arrested for the “crime” of attending church services on a Sunday.
The Baha’i World News Service reported 20 Baha’i Iranians were arrested in three cities across Iran in recent weeks for no discernible reason. The Shiite theocracy holds particular contempt for Sunni Muslims. Many human rights observers are monitoring the high-profile case of Shahram Ahmadi, a Sunni prisoner of conscience who currently languishes on death row in Iran simply because of how he prays.
Beyond religious persecution, a UN General Assembly human rights committee resolution that was passed in mid-November condemned Iran for its “alarming high frequency of, and increase in the carrying-out of the death penalty….”
While ISIS has been derided for their brutal haphazard executions, Iran has systematized the use of capital punishment as a tool of the state against its perceived enemies, and has done so in complete disregard of internationally recognized norms. This includes widespread executions “undertaken without notification to the prisoner’s family members or legal counsel.” According to Amnesty International, Iran’s “staggering execution spree” in 2015 could reach 1,000 executions by the end of the year.
Anti-Jewish and “Anti-Zionist” Propaganda: Fantastical anti-Israel and antisemitic conspiracy theories have been a mainstay in the state-run Iranian media since the Islamic Revolution in 1979. Official sources regularly issue explicit and implicit threats against the Jewish State. Almost too frequent to mention, there are some notable new additions to the canon of hatred:
Just days after the attacks in Paris, Iran’s Fars News Agency published a so-called report titled, “Paris Bombings — Fingerprints of the Zionists Are Found Again” that made a series of bizarre unsubstantiated accusations, including that “After the terrorist attacks in Paris, it was once again confirmed that French Jews were informed that the tragedy would happen. Just as it happened in the September 11 attacks 14 years ago, when Jews working in the Twin Towers did not attend to work.” To add to this fiction, the account added that “Zionist officials wanted to exploit [the attacks] to achieve their specific goals,” albeit no factual basis was provided to explain this anti-Semitic conspiracy theory.
Iran consistently uses war-mongering rhetoric in its campaign against the Jewish State. Iran has accused Israel of creating ISIS, despite the clear lunacy of such a suggestion. It is troubling to even repeat such a monstrous fiction, but also seems ironic in light of the fact that arguably the Islamic Republic of Iran has benefited more than any other government in the world from the distracting capabilities of ISIS. In this year’s annual commemoration of the anniversary of the seizure of the US Embassy in Tehran, the Iranian government launched a new public relations campaign that declared: “Israel will be destroyed within 25 years.” This came on the heels of the Supreme Leader’s repeated use of social media to threaten Israel with destruction, including his announcement in November 2014 of a new “9-point plan to destroy Israel.”
In a recently released open “Letter to Western Youth,” Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khamenei charged that Israel’s “terrorism” is worse than the attacks in Paris. He wrote of Israel, “In today’s world, do we know of any other violence on this scale and scope and for such an extended period of time?” Alas, this was not written with any hint of irony.
Finally, whether we can credit the Supreme Leader or those around him, Iran recently revived one of former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s favorites: the Holocaust-themed cartoon contest. The 11th version of the “event,” which has attracted extremists and propagandists from around the world, promises to feature much of the same. Best of all, organizer Masud Shojai-Tabatabai told an Iranian news service, “[This year] we are also worried about the contemporary holocausts in which a great number of women and children are being killed in Iraq, Yemen, and Syria.” It is unclear whether this was intended to be ironic since he failed to point out that Iran is at the root of these conflicts, sowing unrest in Yemen and perhaps more involved than any other state actor in sustaining the brutality and loss of life in Syria.
Terrorism: Iran’s state sponsorship of terrorism is well documented. While the world focuses on responses to ISIS and other radical Sunni groups including Al Qaeda and Boko Haram, Iran maintains its financial and operational support for equally violent terrorist organizations such as Hezbollah, Hamas, and the Houthis in Yemen. And, although ISIS just recently has shifted its focus outside its local theater of operations, Iran long has exported terror beyond its borders. Its litany of crimes spans continents from Latin America to Europe and includes an attempted assassination in Washington, D.C. Iran has also expanded to Africa: just a few weeks ago, Kenyan authorities announced the arrest of two local men who were described as having “links to Iran” for plotting attacks against Western targets in the country.
Anti-Americanism: During the summer, many observers marveled at the fact that America and Iran seemingly overcame decades of distrust to forge a diplomatic agreement. Yet, despite the accord, Iranian leadership continues to rail against the “Big Satan” without penalty or even opprobrium. In a recent televised address, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei inexplicably alleged that the US is trying to “infiltrate Iran” using sex and money.
Iran continues to imprison Americans without any legal basis for doing so. The list of captives includes Washington Post correspondent Jason Rezaian, who, according to reports in the Iranian media, recently was sentenced to a prison term of indeterminate length. But Rezaian is not alone. There are five otherimprisoned American citizens, including Siamak Namazi, a Dubai-based businessman with dual U.S. and Iranian citizenship who was detained by the authorities just last month for unsubstantiated crimes.
Beyond unprovoked arrests and public threats, the Islamic Republic employs increasingly sophisticated tools in its efforts to target America. U.S. officials have reported a “surge” in cyber-attacks emanating from Iran, including a series of attempted hacking attacks that targeted State Department officials, the very same individuals with whom the Islamic Republic allegedly was negotiating in good faith on the nuclear deal. Admittedly, the reported hacking attack of Bowman Avenue Dam near Rye Brook, NY took place two years ago before “good faith” was the norm. But it seems an indicator of what we can expect in the future.
We still are months away from “implementation day” – the date when the IAEA must certify that Iran has met the requirements spelled out in the nuclear agreement before international sanctions are lifted, and world attention might shift back to Iran and its behaviors. Meanwhile, commercial delegations blaze a trail to Tehran and analysts contemplate a new era for Iran and the West.
But just as the international community is committed to monitoring for potential violations in the nuclear realm, the Islamic Republic’s ongoing human rights violations and its external aggressions must be taken into account when considering the prospect of normalized relations.
Jonathan A. Greenblatt is CEO and National Director of the Anti-Defamation League.