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June 28, 2018 1:02 pm

Iran Experts: West Can ‘Do a Lot’ to Help Anti-Regime Protesters

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Thousands of people rally in support of Iranian anti-government protests in Los Angeles, Jan. 7, 2018. Reuters / Monica Almeida.

The West can and should aid the anti-regime protest movement in Iran, and Israel and its formal and informal Arab allies are working toward this end with the hope of regime change, experts told The Algemeiner this week.

Waves of protests have been ongoing in Iran for several months, most of them focusing on economic issues. However, the unrest has taken on a political dimension as well, expressing outrage at foreign expenditures despite the difficult economic situation at home.

In recent days, there have been major protests outside the parliament building and in the main bazaar in Tehran, apparently sparked by a drop in the value of the Iranian currency, the rial. The demonstrators called on shops to close in solidarity with the protests, with partial success. The protesters have also shouted political slogans, such as “Leave Syria, leave Gaza and Lebanon, deal with Iran”; “Death to Khamenei,” referring to Iran’s top leader; and “Death to Palestine.”

Israel has cautiously supported the protests, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman in particular giving public statements of encouragement.

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“Prime Minister Netanyahu has been very active addressing the Iranian public and his two-minute video messages are carefully crafted and very effective,” Saeed Ghasseminejad — an Iran research fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies think tank in Washington, DC — told The Algemeiner. “President Trump’s Nowruz message was the best message by a US president to the Iranian people. After years of Obama’s appeasement policy, Trump’s strong message in support of Iranian people resonates very well with them but I think they expect the president to be more active. I have heard from many Iranians that they would love to see Trump directly challenge Khamenei using his unique style of twitter communication.”

Ghasseminejad believes, however, that the West can do more to help the anti-regime movement.

“First,” he said, “it can provide Iranians with anti-filtering tools to bypass the regime’s internet censorship, a key tool to organize demonstrations.”

“Second,” Ghasseminejad continued, “the US and UK have been funding Farsi radio and TVs for years, BBC Persian by the UK and VOA and Radio Farda by the US, they have been controlled by journalists close to the so-called reformist faction of the Islamist regime of Tehran, it is time to change that pattern and make sure they support the pro-democracy movement and fight the regime.”

“Third, the regime officials have been sending their money and children to the West,” he went on to say. “We know some of them but the Western governments know all of them. It is time to expose them, freeze their assets and deport them; that is something many Iranians are demanding. Fourth, many Iranians have been asking the US not to waive the Iranian regime’s broadcasting network, IRIB, but the US seems to be on its path to waive those sanctions again this July. Let’s not do that. Fifth, the EU and its corrupt politicians should stop supporting the regime. What a shame that the EU’s top foreign policy official sides with murderous Islamists. Iranians won’t forget that. There are many things that the US and other Western democracies can do, these were just a few examples.”

Israel’s role in such measures could be very effective, he added, and would not be a hindrance to the demonstrators’ fight for public opinion.

“The protesters want regime change,” he stated. “They want to topple this regime through strikes and demonstrations as they said several times using #IranRegimeChange on social media, they understand that Israel is one of the few countries in the world who benefits from this and as a result, its interests are aligned with the pro-democracy movement in Iran. In fact, I think the protesters will be happy if Bibi uses his good personal relations with Trump to convince him that the stated Iran-policy of ‘change of behavior’ is a bad idea and the regime must go.”

Asked why “Death to Palestine” has become a popular chant at demonstrations, Ghasseminejad replied, “This was in line with ‘No to Gaza! No to Lebanon! I give my life for Iran.’ Iranians are tired of their resources being used to fund terrorism which has brought them poverty and misery. Iranians want to have a prosperous economy and good relations with the world. They are tired of the regime’s obsession with destroying Israel and its consequences.”

In regard to the protesters’ chances of actually bringing down the theocratic regime, Ghasseminejad was more circumspect, saying, “Since December, Iran has been the scene of daily protests. Many Iranians are challenging the regime on a daily basis and if you listen to the slogans of these protests, they clearly say they don’t want this regime. When will they be able to topple this regime? It depends on many factors. But what is certain is that the United States, Israel and Western democracies should not miss this chance to side with the Iranian people in words and actions, a world in which the mullahs do not control Tehran and its resources is a better world.”

Iranian dissident journalist Kaveh Taheri, who currently lives in exile in Turkey, also believes that Israel and the US are supportive of the protest movement.

“It seems that Netanyahu and Trump are really interested because of official comments since the protests started in Iran,” he told The Algemeiner. Both leaders, he said, have adopted confrontational policies against the Iranian regime. “Trump ordered the re-imposition of sanctions on the regime and is bringing pressure upon international companies to leave Iran. Netanyahu has recently met European leaders to discuss Iran and he mostly won. The Iran regime is involved in proxy-wars in the Middle East which destabilize the region. Iran’s presence in the region is a threat for both Israel and the EU, Netanyahu says that the conflict in the region will make a new wave of refugees to the European countries.”

As for what action the West should take, Taheri was critical of the current situation, saying, “The West should prove its loyalty to freedom and democracy. Unfortunately, the Western media is keeping silent on the Iran protests (except for Israelis and leftist media in the US). Iranians expect the international community to support the protests. The UN and EU should take urgent action on the regime’s repression. Have they done this? Once and for all, the West should stop dealing with the Mullahs if it really cares about humanity. Iranians are on the streets ready to overthrow the regime and determine their future. It’s time for the West to be on the right side.”

Asked whether Israeli support for the protests would be counterproductive, Taheri said, “It doesn’t matter if Israel takes a stance or not. The regime has accused its citizen on false charges of being in a relationship/partnership with hostile states. However, Iranians have run campaigns online to show their love and affection and friendship with Israelis.”

In particular, the regime’s support for the Palestinians has led their cause to be identified with the mullahs, resulting in the chant “Death to Palestine.”

“The people are shouting ‘Death to Palestine’ because the wicked regime has spent Iran’s assets to enrich Palestinians and militia groups such as Hezbollah and Hamas,” Taheri stated. “Iranian citizens got tired of the regime’s policies in the region. The regime spends billion of dollars to enrich militias and fuel the conflicts in Middle East that could be spent on Iranian citizens. That’s why citizens show their anger as ‘Death to Palestine.'”

Taheri strongly believes that the ultimate goal of the protesters is to topple the regime. He said, “You can find out that Iranians look for regime change if you listen to their slogans: ‘Reformists, Conservatives; the game is over,’ ‘Down with Khamenei,’ ‘Death to the dictator,’ ‘Our enemy is right here, they lie when they say it is America.’ The regime is on the brink of its collapse as soon as the international community stops dealing with the mullahs. Both objective and subjective factors exist for a popular revolution in Iran, but the revolution needs an external lever too, such as sanctions or cutting off diplomatic and economic ties.”

Pooya Dayanim, the Los Angeles-based head of the Iranian Jewish Public Affairs Committee, told The Algemeiner that Israel and its allies are positive about the protests, but the US is more ambivalent. “Israelis and some of the other neighboring countries have encouraged protests in Iran,” he stated. “The Trump administration is still trying to decide if they even want this regime to go.”

“The president,” he said, “doesn’t want to get the US involved in another Middle Eastern country. The folks at the State Department and the Pentagon and the CIA don’t see any prominent democratic leader that has emerged or is emerging that they can support or think will have enough support to push the regime to fall. I think it’s the lack of a decent democratic alternative that’s stopping the Trump administration from not just being verbally supportive but actually being supportive of the demonstrators and the people.”

Asked about the ultimate goal of Israeli and Arab support for the protests, Dayanim was unequivocal. “The Israeli government and some of the other neighboring states support regime change,” he stated.

These countries also believe that such a change may well be possible in the near future. “Because they’re in closer proximity to Iran,” said Dayanim, “they realize that the regime has already economically collapsed, and just needs to be pushed a little bit further for the regime itself to collapse.”

The regime’s vulnerability is not due mainly to the protests but the economic and infrastructure situation, he said. “It’s not the protests that’s causing the danger, it’s the fact that the banking system and their economy is on the verge of collapse,” Dayanim noted. “There’s a lack of clean water for millions of people. … The regime is showing itself to be incapable of continuing to govern.”

Asked whether Israeli support for the protests would help or hinder the movement, Dayanim said, “I think that Iranians would prefer to get support from the US. However, at this stage, with the current conditions, although not preferable, they will accept help from anybody. I’m not talking about overt support like Netanyahu’s been doing on the internet. But there can be other types of support. At this stage, I think Iranians would appreciate help from anybody.”

The reason for the slogans hostile to the Palestinians, he said, was not due to any great sympathy for Israel, but rather widespread opposition to Iran’s regional imperialism.

“They’re shouting ‘Death to Palestine’ and ‘Death to Syria,’” Dayanim stated, “because they have realized that the nation’s wealth is being spent on the export of terrorism and for an adventurism by the (Iranian) Revolutionary Guard squad.”

Referring to the founder of the Iranian dynasty that was overthrown during the 1979 Islamic Revolution, Dayanim said, “When they also chant slogans such as ‘Long Live Reza Shah,’ they’re trying to be very explicit that they reject this regime completely. So the ‘Death to Palestine’ is the perfect chant against foreign adventurism that has caused the country’s wealth to be exported. And the ‘Long Live Reza Shah’ chant is the perfect chant to completely reject the Islamic regime.”

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