Lebanon is the latest battleground in the Iranian ayatollahs’ war by proxy against Washington, Paris and those Arab countries resistant to Tehran’s hegemonic ambitions. The recent bloodshed in Beirut was unleashed by the Tehran-controlled, armed and financed Hezbollah, whose militants are currently marching to the east and north, where they hope to neutralize their outnumbered and outgunned rival forces. Armed to the teeth with weapons supplied by Tehran via Damascus, they embody the specter of a puppet government beholden to the murderous ayatollahs in Iran.
To be sure, there will be more of the same-old, same-old.: Some tough talk and words of condemnation, a new round of shuttle diplomacy, and maybe a couple of U.N. resolutions. And when the dust finally settles, the region will have to deal with an emboldened Tehran whose proxies in Lebanon have scored major political and military gains. And the world will wait anxiously until the next time Tehran, feeling no real pressure or retribution for its regional transgressions, decides when and where to again unleash its proxies.
Is there no counterforce against the ayatollahs’ army of “terrorists without borders” in Lebanon, Iraq, and the rest of the region? Is Tehran’s ascendance in Beirut and Baghdad a foregone conclusion, or can it be reversed?
The short answer is that the ayatollahs’ regime is much more vulnerable than meets the Western eye. The ayatollahs’ political fragility at home was on display during two rounds of elections in March, both essentially boycotted by the populace. At the same time, labor strikes and general protests about economic woes have taken on a decidedly political tone. Students at a number of universities are calling for the ouster of Ahmadinejad and his entire regime, although even suggesting as much warrants a death sentence.
The election flop and widespread discontent expose the reality that just beneath the veneer of Tehran’s claims of popular support for its rogue regional and nuclear ambitions lays a regime despised by its people. After the election, power was concentrated in the hands of the most extreme factions of the theocracy, embodied by the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) and Ahmadinejad. That will further isolate the rulers from the ruled, but the ayatollahs’ have few options; they have depleted their strategic potential at home.
Tehran’s rulers must look outward, anchoring their survival on the dual-pronged policy of terrorism and nuclear weapons capability. With its terror network essentially unhindered, Tehran, as expected, brags about its regional reach and boasts that the fate of its nuclear weapons program will ultimately be decided in the streets of Beirut and Baghdad.
The ultimate irony is that Western capitals — now wringing their hands as the bloodshed escalates in the region — themselves deprived the Iranian people and their own citizens of the most potent and viable antidote to the Islamic fundamentalist threat brewing in Tehran. Several years ago, when they were stepping over each other to placate the ayatollahs in exchange for short-lived commercial benefits, Washington and London gave in to the ayatollahs’ demand and blacklisted Iran’s main opposition movement, the People’s Mujahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK) which is “singularly dedicated to overthrowing the ayatollahs.”
Afterwards, these capitals’ diplomatic efforts to halt Tehran’s nuclear ambitions and terror network were frustrated, and a military solution was deemed undesirable. But a landmark ruling by a high court in Britain last week could herald a strengthening of a third, viable option which, if persued promptly and effectively, could dramatically impact on efforts to bring lasting peace to Lebanon, Iraq and the rest of the region and democracy to Iran.
On May 7, the UK Court of Appeal ruled that the MEK, which the Court described as “a political organization” whose “purpose is the replacement of the theocracy with a democratically elected secular government in Iran,” is “not concerned in terrorism.” The Court ordered the British government to promptly remove the MEK from its terrorist list.
According to the New York Times, the MEK’s “members were among the primary victims of terrorist attacks that Tehran’s new rulers carried out against their opponents,” and “thousands of them were tortured and executed.” MEK says “it is committed to restoring democracy in Iran and opposes any attempt by Iran to acquire nuclear weapons.”
The Wall Street Journal said that “Wednesday's court ruling in London… found that the U.K. government had ‘no reliable evidence,’ either public or classified, on which to base a finding that the MEK continues to be a terrorist group or intends to commit terrorist acts in the future.”
The Court’s emphatic ruling no doubt will have wide ranging implications for the legality and validity of the MEK’s blacklisting in the U.S. In his April 25 Policy Watch, Patrick Clawson, deputy director for research at The Washington Institute, opined that “Any designation review should be based only on terrorism issues, not on the general U.S. government view of the organization in question. If the decision to designate a group is made on foreign policy considerations rather than evidence, then the list will be branded as a political instrument.”
This is in line with bi-partisan consensus of a majority in the U.S. Congress. On Tuesday May 13, Congressman Bob Filner (D-Calif.) told a news conference held in the House of Representatives that “I support the decision of the British Court to recognize the legitimate nature of the MEK, and I hope that the U.S. State Department will quickly follow suit and reconsider the MEK’s terrorist designation.”
Congressman Tom Tancredo (R-Colo.) told reporters that “After a thorough examination of the facts, the UK courts have come to the conclusion that the MEK is not a terrorist organization. I am confident that if the U.S. State Department looks objectively at these same facts, they will come to the same conclusion.”
The prerequisite to a realistic and effective policy toward Tehran is to close the door, once and for all, on appeasing the ayatollahs. It is a matter of fact that it does not work. De-listing the MEK, as the UK Court of Appeal ruled, is lawful, just, and long overdue; it is also the clearest sign of the end of the appeasement era.
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, and is on twitter @A_Jafarzadeh.