As world leaders prepare for the opening session of the UN General Assembly, many wonder how to manage the vexing issue of Iran, and whether its president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, due to speak at the General Assembly Tuesday, has the intent or ability to execute threats he has been making since the start of his presidency in 2005.
There is a large amount of testimony indicating Ahmadinejad tortured political rivals in Tehran’s notorious Evin prison. He is known as the “man of a thousand bullets” for a reputation as the prison official who administered the coup de grâce—death blow to the political prisoners. This Machiavellian reputation of preferring to be feared rather than loved, accords with his threats “to wipe off the map” a member state of the United Nations—Israel.
From the beginning of Iran’s revolution in 1979, Ahmadinejad’s zealotry set him apart. He drew the attention of Ali Khamenei, Iran’s unelected Supreme Leader, early on, being one of the first to join the Revolutionary Guards, and the two have had a close relationship ever since. As a student during the early days of the Revolution, Ahmadinejad actively enforced the dictates of the nascent regime. Former colleagues recall him being more involved in beating people up than in any of the other social or cultural activities associated with the Revolution, and he may have had a role in the seizure of the American Embassy, 1979-1981.
As president, Ahmadinejad has embarked on a campaign to further limit general freedoms. A few weeks ago, he called on students to purge universities of liberal and secular professors, citing their “un-Islamic” values as hurting the regime. Earlier this year, Amnesty International observed that “Iran is witnessing the start of a further harshening of repression.” The State Department in its 2006 annual International Religious Freedom Report said that there was a “further deterioration of the extremely poor status of respect for religious freedom,” under Ahmadinejad.
Outside Iran’s borders, Ahmadinejad’s support for terrorism continues to menace the international community. Iran’s involvement in Lebanon, via its proxy groups is the latest example of the regime’s terrorism outreach. Left unchecked, its operations in Iraq have turned into a full-scale assault to foment sectarian violence as well as to target Coalition Forces. Iranian agents are infiltrating the ranks of the Iraqi government, and funding Islamic extremists across the country.
The president himself has proclaimed that Tehran wants to dominate the Middle East, then the world. Ahmadinejad’s claim that “every problem we [Iranians] have will be solved by global Islamic rule” formed an important part of his election campaign. And he has repeatedly stated that “we must prepare ourselves to rule the world.”
In the immediate term, these expressions mean winning political control over Iraq by hastening the defeat of the United States and attaining nuclear weapons. Obtaining the Bomb would unquestionably give Tehran the upper hand in the region. To intimidate regional neighbors is why Ahmadinejad has pushed nuclear weapons development incessantly since he took office.
While keeping negotiations with the European Union (EU) alive, Ahmadinejad has accelerated uranium enrichment. In August 2005, he restarted the operation in Isfahan for the conversion of yellowcake to uranium hexafluoride to create feedstock for centrifuge machines, necessary for uranium enrichment. And a year later he started up the production line for heavy water in Arak, which could eventually enable the regime to produce plutonium for use in building nuclear weapons. At the same time, 5000 new centrifuges for uranium enrichment await installation in Natanz, and the regime is also using laser-based technology to enrich uranium covertly at a site near Tehran.
A victory in Iraq for Tehran would open the way to expand its influence in the region and beyond—a pivotal stepping stone for a regime that has always viewed the area as its backyard. That’s why the international community has to act urgently and decisively. The United States should urge the Iraqi government to reemphasize the status of the main Iranian opposition based in Ashraf, Iraq as legitimate political refugees, as they have acted as a major obstacle to the rising tide of Iranian subversion of Iraq.
Numerous efforts at negotiation have stalled, with Ahmadinejad emerging unscathed each time he violated an agreement. The problem here is not about playing the diplomatic game correctly, because Ahmadinejad has no interest in playing the game. Incentives will not work, because for a regime wishing to establish global Islamic rule, nothing matches the value of a nuclear weapon. Hence, Ahmadinejad likened the May 2006 European Union package of incentives to accepting European candy in exchange for Iranian gold. Iran is not Libya; nor is it North Korea. Unlike Libya and North Korea, Tehran has an ideology to export, and will not stop enriching uranium for mere economic benefits.
Likewise, there are no viable military options. Few can stomach another war in the Middle East, and targeted strikes are unlikely to damage Iran’s nuclear infrastructure because its sites are geographically dispersed, well-protected, and mostly underground, not to mention the still secret sites.
Iran’s influence in Iraq, manipulation and support of terrorism abroad, and pursuit of nuclear program act as leverage for Tehran in its negotiations. It does, however, have its own Achilles’ heel—simmering internal discontent. In the past year, Iranians have held dozens of major demonstrations in the provinces of Kurdistan, Khuzistan, Azerbaijan, and Tehran; and the protests have come from various sectors of society, including student and labor groups, and women’s organizations.
The Iranian problem needs to have an Iranian solution. The opposition is well-organized and popular. We see proof of this in the intelligence networks that have for two decades consistently provided reliable information on a range of issues, including Iran’s domestic situation, Iraq, and, most importantly, on nuclear weapons. Iranians have already called for regime change in their street clashes with the repressive organs.
The international community should aid the Iranian people without direct military involvement by helping the opposition—instead of hindering it—to change the regime. It can do so by imposing UN sanctions to slow down Tehran’s nuclear program. In addition, lend long overdue political support and recognition to the Iranian people and their main opposition to speed up the process of regime change before Ahmadinejad gives the Ayatollahs their first nuclear bomb. Regime change for Iran is what Ahmadinejad should hear when he arrives in New York to speak at the United Nations, where he does not belong. Because Ahmadinejad is acquiring the ability to execute threats he has been making since the start of his presidency in 2005, the man of a thousand bullets should not have an international platform to preach hatred.
Alireza Jafarzadeh is a FOX News Channel Foreign Affairs Analyst and the author of the upcoming book, The Iran Threat: President Ahmadinejad and the Coming Nuclear Crisis to be published in January 2007 (Palgrave Macmillan Press).
Jafarzadeh revealed the existence of Natanz uranium enrichment facility, and Arak heavy water facility in August 2002. He first disclosed the details of Iran's involvement in the Khobar Towers bombing in Saudi Arabia, in 1997, and the Jewish Community Center bombing in Argentina in 1993.
Prior to becoming a contributor for FOX, and until August 2003, Jafarzadeh acted for a dozen years as the chief congressional liaison and media spokesperson for the US 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, and is on twitter @A_Jafarzadeh.