By Alireza JafarzadehForeign Affairs Analyst

The loss of innocent lives in Gaza is deplorable. Behind the horrific scenes, a culprit of the current crisis crouches unscathed---the ruling regime in Iran. This beast, which seeks to establish an "Islamic" empire by exporting its brand of Islamic fundamentalism throughout the region, has in many ways been nurtured and emboldened by the appeasement policies of the past three decades. And for those wrong-headed policies toward the ayatollahs' regime, the West shares in the responsibility for the bloodshed and carnage inflicted on the Middle East.

Despite deplorable attacks by Israel against innocent people in Gaza, particularly women and children, the clerical regime ruling Iran is among the Palestinians' worst enemies, and has been the main obstacle to the goals and legitimate demands of the Palestinian people over the past three decades.

It's no surprise that Tehran's strategy for hijacking the Middle East peace process has long focused on dividing and disintegrating the body politic in Palestine and isolating Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

The Palestinian Authority's envoy in Cairo, Nabil Amr, told Al Arabia TV that in recent years Tehran had invested much to foment schism by dispatching support of all kinds for Hamas.

The New York Times reports that since taking control of Gaza eighteen months ago, Hamas has gained access to longer range rockets. The Times reports that much of these new capabilities have been provided by Iran and that "there was evidence that at least some Hamas fighters might also have been schooled in urban assault tactics at Iranian camps run by the Quds Force of Iran's Revolutionary Guards."

Devoid of any ideological or political capacity to contribute constructively to Iran's own people or the region, Tehran seeks a major show of regional prowess by proxy.

In a commentary in the state-run Kayhan newspaper, Hussein Shariatmadari, the representative of the supreme leader Ali Khamene'i, called for the expansion of Tehran's terrorism beyond the region. He wrote "The time has arrived for revenge." Instead of a ceasefire, he asked, "couldn't some of the Arab leaders be attacked easily? The interests of America, England, Germany, and other supporters of Israel are within easy range."

We know, too little too late, that turning a blind eye to Tehran's terrorist spectacles in 1983 in Lebanon and in 1996 in Saudi Arabia -- just to name a few -- emboldened the mullahs and their terrorist proxies across the region. Not only was Tehran not punished for its deliberate actions resulting in great loss of life, it was rewarded with lucrative trade deals.
Security Council

Meanwhile, recent setbacks in Iraq -- including the failure to prevent the signing of the Status of Forces Agreement between Washington and Baghdad -- have further reinforced Tehran leaders' view that their significant gains in Iraq could soon be reversed in the upcoming Iraqi provincial elections.

These setbacks may explain why the ayatollahs are already using the bloodshed in Gaza to suppress pro-democracy dissident in Iranian university campuses. The mouthpiece of the supreme leader, Ali Khamene'i, has called for crackdown on student groups, and has even taken aim at other state-controlled media that did not mimic the "official" position on Gaza. According to the New York Times, Kayhan Daily endorsed shutting down another newspaper, named Kargozaran, and called for coercion of non-conformist students.

Through their rhetoric and their actions, Iran leaders have demonstrated that their role in the current conflict is more about weakening the peace process and projecting Tehran's regional reach. Last week, state-organized mobs in Tehran and Mashhad launched attacks against the diplomatic facilities of Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Jordan. In a similar state-sponsored event, the mob called for a million dollar reward for the assassination of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.

Supreme Leader Khamene'i has decreed anyone dying fighting in Gaza as a "martyr" and according to state-run media and blogs, some 70 thousands individuals are claimed to have registered to be dispatched to Gaze to fight and take part in "martyrdom operations."

Even more menacing is Tehran's recent deployment of rockets abroad. According to information revealed by the democratic opposition coalition, National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), the African Affairs branch of the Qods Force, the terrorist arm of the regime, has recently installed long-range and anti-aircraft missiles, and has deployed a number of members of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps in the outskirts of Eritrea's Port of Assab near the Red Sea. With this deployment, Tehran aims to gain strategic control over the Bab-el-Mandeb strait, which connects the Suez Canal and the Red Sea to the Indian Ocean.

The NCRI web site reports that "These forces and equipment have been transferred to the region using the regime's submarines... The agreement and the deployment of forces and long-range missiles in the Port of Assab have been carried out under the guise of renovating the port's oil refinery."

Clearly, as long as the ayatollahs are able to derail peace through their proxies, a just, sustainable solution is unattainable. Much like Iraq, where there cannot and will not be a meaningful solution of democracy, stability and national reconciliation until Tehran's influence is contained.

We know, too little too late, that turning a blind eye to Tehran's terrorist spectacles in 1983 in Lebanon and in 1996 in Saudi Arabia -- just to name a few -- emboldened the mullahs and their terrorist proxies across the region. Not only was Tehran not punished for its deliberate actions resulting in great loss of life, it was rewarded with lucrative trade deals.

The mullahs' brand of Islamic fundamentalism cannot be defeated by conventional diplomacy or military force. Its perceived strength will fade away when Iran's internal, anti-fundamentalist, democratic, moderate forces are unshackled and the beast is brought down from within by Iranians.

Alireza Jafarzadeh is the author of "The Iran Threat: President Ahmadinejad and the Coming Nuclear Crisis" (Palgrave: February 2008).

Jafarzadeh has revealed Iran's terrorist network in Iraq and its terror training camps since 2003. He first disclosed the existence of the Natanz uranium enrichment facility and the Arak heavy water facility in August 2002.

Until August 2003, Jafarzadeh acted for a dozen years as the chief congressional liaison and media spokesman for the U.S. representative office of Iran's parliament in exile, the National Council of Resistance of Iran.

Alireza Jafarzadeh, the deputy director of the Washington office of the National Council of Resistance of Iran, is credited with exposing Iranian nuclear sites in Natanz and Arak in 2002, triggering International Atomic Energy Agency inspections. He is the author of "The Iran Threat" (Palgrave MacMillan: 2008). His email is Jafarzadeh@ncrius.org.