by Zafar Bangash (World, Crescent International Vol. 32, No. 7, Rabi' al-Thani, 1424)
Emboldened by the relative ease with which Saddam’s regime was overthrown, American hawks and neo-conservatives are now pushing for "regime change" in Tehran as well. Pro-monarchist groups, led by Reza Pahlavi, son of the late ex-Shah, have linked with hardcore zionists to try to persuade the US government to use the Iraqi model to deal with Iran as well. Although the US occupation forces are not finding things easy in Iraq–the change of American personnel last month is one indication of this–the alliance of zionists and monarchists is not deterred. They feel the time is right to strike at Iran’s Islamic government while the US military is "on a roll".
Other voices counsel caution, pointing out that Iran is not Iraq. Saddam’s regime was weakened by 12 years of punitive sanctions, an eight-year war with Iran, followed by devastation by a US-led coalition of 29 countries in 1991, but Islamic Iran is a different matter. Not only does it have a robust system backed by its people, but its population of more than 65 million is three times Iraq’s. Iran is also ruled by an Islamic system utterly unlike the alien ideology of Ba’athism that was imposed on Iraq. Nor is Iran isolated in the world; it enjoys great support and prestige among Muslims worldwide, for both its Islamic system and its successful resistance of US pressure. True, Iran’s policies are not flawless, but at least these mistakes are their own; they are not dictated from outside, as happens to most governments in the Muslim world.
American hostility to Iran is based on three assumptions: its alleged support of terrorism, its nuclear programme, and now the allegation that Iran is meddling in Iraq, undermining US efforts there. The real reasons are Iran’s independent policies and its refusal to do America’s bidding. Initially, the charge of terrorism was confined to Iran’s principled support for the Palestinians and Lebanese struggling against the zionist occupiers, but Washington has now begun to accuse Tehran of harbouring remnants of al-Qa’ida as well. No evidence has been offered but, like the charge of weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) against Iraq, none is deemed necessary; American allegations are presented as truth. That the US has failed to find any WMDs in Iraq (although they had been provided in the mid-eighties by the US itself for use against Iran) has not deterred US policy-makers from using the charge to justify Iraq’s invasion and occupation.
One other allegation was made against Saddam: that he supported terrorism. Bush meant al-Qa’ida, but in fact Saddam was guilty of supporting another group that was on the US’s terrorist list: the Mujahideen-e Khalq Organization (MKO), better known to Muslims as munafiqeen. This group was financed, protected, armed and trained by Saddam’s regime to be used against the people and leadership of Islamic Iran. In the eighties and nineties these thugs killed thousands of civilians and leaders of the Islamic Revolution. They placed bombs in marketplaces, in trains and on buses, and their agents (who had infiltrated the government) planted bombs in government buildings. During their campaign, the group assassinated a chief justice, five cabinet ministers, 19 MPs, a president, a prime minister and scores of thinkers and ulama.
In 1997 the US state department finally placed the MKO on its list, although that did not deter 150 American congressmen and women from supporting it. To this day the MKO maintains offices only a few blocks away from the White House, without its members being apprehended. Here is why: in addition to US congressmen, a number of zionists also support them. In an op-ed piece in the Washington Post on May 20, Daniel Pipes and Patrick Clawson wrote that the MKO is "not your typical anti-Western group, but an organization with a strong political presence in Western capitals". Both men are extremely hostile to Muslims. Pipes, a self-styled "expert on Islam and the Middle East", is director of the Middle East Forum; Clawson is deputy director of the zionist-established and -funded Washington Institute for Near East Policy.
The duo asked the rhetorical question: "Is the MEK [ie. the MKO] a terrorist group? No. It used terrorism decades ago, when its members attacked Americans. For the last 15 years, however, the MEK has been organized as an army, and its only violent actions have been directed against the Iranian regime." So apparently it is all right to murder the people and leaders of Iran; only people who oppose or fight the US are terrorists. They then suggested that the MKO be used for intelligence-gathering and for propaganda purposes against the Islamic Republic. The US government has had little problem with the MKO terrorists. On April 15 the US army in Iraq signed a cease-fire agreement with the group, permitting it to keep its weapons for use against those Iraqis who oppose the occupiers, as well as for attacks against Iran. To the US anyone who supports America’s agenda, even a group of thugs, is welcome.
The nuclear charge against Iran is also absurd. For years Washington has attempted to pressure Russia to end cooperation with Iran’s peaceful nuclear efforts. Unlike Israel, which has at least 200 nuclear bombs, Iran is a signatory to the nuclear non-proliferation treaty and has allowed free access to International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) officials to inspect its sites; the most recent visit was in February. Iranian officials have repeatedly stressed that their nuclear programme is not only peaceful but meant to diversify its energy sources. It is interesting to note that in the mid-seventies the US itself had signed an agreement with the Shah’s regime to provide nuclear reactors for the Bushehr power plant. After the Revolution (1979), the contract was cancelled. When Islamic Iran decided to revive its nuclear programme, it sought Russian help, much to Washington’s chagrin. US-Iran diplomatic relations have remained frozen since they were severed by Washington in April 1980.
American charges of Iranian interference in Iraq are ridiculous. Nearly 250,000 US troops, flown in from thousands of miles away, occupy Iraq and are stealing everything they can lay their hands on, from oil to artifacts thousands of years old. Iran shares hundreds of miles of border with Iraq, has kept nearly a million Iraqi refugees for decades, and Iraqi and Iranian ulama visit each other’s centers of learning regularly; there are strong historical, cultural, religious and social links between the two peoples. For the US to allege that Iran is interfering in Iraq’s affairs is completely out of order. It is the US that has violated every rule and norm, such as international law and the UN charter, by invading and occupying Iraq. The recent demonstrations in Baghdad, Karbala, Najaf and other cities, demanding that the US withdraw its forces from Iraq, indicate how Iraq’s people feel.
The US, however, is obviously not constrained by moral or legal arguments. As the example of North Korea shows, Washington is only deterred by the threat of force. North Korea has nuclear weapons; the US dare not attack it for fear of incurring huge casualties. Iraq, on the other hand, despite Saddam, complied with almost every UN and US demand, yet it was invaded and occupied. The lesson is obvious: good behaviour counts for little; there is no substitute for strength and an effective deterrent. The leaders of Islamic Iran must learn these lessons well.
As Imam Seyyed Ali Khamenei, the Rahbar, pointed out in his address at Shahid Beheshti University on May 13: "Some are prescribing surrender to the US adventurers, but surrender to the enemy is no remedy." The Rahbar made his remarks after 153 Majlis deputies signed an open letter calling for normal relations between Iran and the US. "To go to the enemy is not the solution, since that would do nothing but to reinforce his morale, and make him more and more adventurous," said the leader of Islamic Iran.
Some commentators have misinterpreted the Rahbar’s comments to mean that there can be no dealings with the US on any issue. Iran is a member of the UN and other international bodies. Sometimes Iranian officials come into contact with US officials at such forums. This is different from maintaining diplomatic relations with the US. America has a horrible record of using and abusing other peoples; its policies are not based on moral or ethical considerations: it exploits others and then discards them. Saddam Husain is the most recent example. Throughout the eighties he was a loyal puppet of the US, which supported and armed him. Afterwards he was vilified and compared to Hitler; now he has been discarded. The Saudis are also finding this out. In fact, those in Iran calling for "normalization of relations" with the US should take warning from the way the former Shah was treated. In power, the Shah’s regime was presented as an "island of stability in a sea of turbulence"; once he was driven from power the Shah was not even allowed into the US, he drifted from one country to the next in search of shelter. The manner in which the US abandoned him should warn those who feel that the US can be a "friend".
There no evidence that the US intends to behave properly, and there is ample evidence of US mischief-making against Islamic Iran. This is not confined merely to the neo-cons: Bush, vice-president Dick Cheney, defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld, and his deputy Paul Wolfowitz are all extremely antagonistic to Islam and Muslims. Their venom has seeped to the lowest levels of the administration. Nor is the situation different in the US congress: Democratic Representative Tom Lantos of California is sponsoring a resolution to support the "people of Iran" against the Islamic Republic. Republican Senator Sam Brownback of Kansas has introduced an amendment to set aside US$50 million to fund Iranian opposition television- and radio-stations, most of which favour a monarchy and pay lip-service to democracy of the kind in Iraq. Reza Pahlavi’s supporters have been supporting Brownback’s amendment, known as the Iran Democracy Act; so has the main pro-Israel lobby, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC).
Reza Pahlavi, who has no support in Iran, has sold himself to Jewish groups in the US and Israel. Even Iranian Jews are in on the act. "There is a pact emerging between hawks in the administration, Jewish groups and Iranian supporters of Reza Pahlavi to push for regime change," said Pooya Dayanim, president of the Iranian-Jewish Public Affairs Committee in Los Angeles, who is extremely hostile to the Islamic Republic. Pahlavi has addressed the board of the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs, given a public speech at the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles, and met Jewish leaders. He has also made contact with top Israeli officials. During the last two years, according to a knowledgeable source, he has met privately with Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon, former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and Israeli president Moshe Katsav. People who keep such company can hardly expect support from Iran’s Muslims.