Half a million brutally murdered, five million internally displaced, and another six million turned into refugees, willing to risk death to escape the nightmare that is their lives: Welcome to Syria in 2018.
Opposition to the Assad regime seems an almost Sisyphean task but the incomprehensible violence visited on the Syrian people is inconceivable without backing from Tehran.The Iranian regime’s sectarian policies, unflinching support for the Butcher of Damascus, and direct intervention in the Syrian conflict have prolonged Bashar al Assad’s heinous reign and facilitated the Syrian crisis.
But Tehran’s regional arc of influence doesn’t stop in Damascus – Iraq, Yemen, Lebanon, and Gaza have also not been spared from Iranian-backed terror. Three years after the negotiation of the Iran nuclear deal, the regime continues to openly and defiantly develop ballistic missiles capable of delivering nuclear warheads. And though the main instigators have yet to suffer consequences, they have been fortified with cash by the West.
President Donald Trump’s latest condemnation of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) was the clearest acknowledgement to date that the Obama-era agreementonly ensured the continuation ofIran’s malevolent activities.With the announcement of the US withdrawal from the porous deal complete, those exulting the agreement as a panacea for achieving peace and stability shoulder the burden of proof. If the arrangement was so beneficial, why did anti-regime protests sweep the country? And why are Iranians so frustrated with their leaders?
Iranians demonstrated in more than 140 cities and towns throughout Iran just a few months ago. In these rallies, they chanted slogans like “death to Khamenei” and “death to Rouhani,” demonstrating to all those who would listen that they longed for real change, not cosmetic reform. By yelling “hardliner, reformer, the game is now over,” the aspirations of the Iranian people were given a voice.
In discussing the path forward, Maryam Rajavi, the President-elect of the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), observedthat “any future investment in this regime is doomed to failure” and that it “will only embolden the religious fascists’ warmongering, and export of fundamentalism and terrorism.”
In the lead up to his explosive announcement, Trump predicted that the Iranian regime will soon face bigger problems than ever. But these problems will not be the result of sanctions alone. Rather, they will come at the hands of the Iranian peoplewho poured into the streets in December and January and continue to express their demand for regime change through countless demonstrations and acts of defiance– big and small – against their clerical rulers.
By supporting democratic opposition groups, including the Peoples Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK), the principal Iranian resistance movement, which organize massive rallies abroad and continues to demonstrate a considerable presence inside Iran as well, ordinary Iranians are participating in courageous acts of civil disobedience to promote change from within.
The Iranian regime has already tried to convinceFrench President Emmanuel Macron to stop harboring the group, and inside Iran they’ve been blamed as an instigator of unrest, lending credence to the notion that the regime is extremely concerned. Yet, the people power factor, driven by an Iranian majority that wants democracy and good relations with the West, remains underutilized.Western nations must better leverage theanti-regime sentiment to increase theinternal pressure on Tehran, thus making future deals more likely.
Trump deserves credit for dialing up the pressure on Tehran with his recent actions but, with a short window of just months before fresh sanctions hit in full force and oil companies depart, Trump must also use his leverage to address ballistic missile violations while simultaneously working to curtail the regime’s regional aggression. In the face of escalating foreign pressure, Tehran risks everything, including income for the IRCG’s business empire and the regime’s very grip on power at home.
This risk could be amplified by the resurgence of a domestic uprising, this time with the full-throated backing of the US and its allies. At the beginningof the Iranian New Year on March 20, Mrs. Rajavi predicted that the regime would soon be facing “a year full of uprisings” and that public demonstrations would continue until the people achieved their ultimate victory over the theocratic dictatorship.”
With the JCPOA acknowledged as a failure, the world can help secure this outcome. Doing so is the best way to resolve not only the nuclear issue but a range of other Middle East crises with Iran at their core.
By strengthening ties with the Iranian resistance, world leaders can clearly demonstrate their support for the Iranian people in their quest for a future free of tyranny. Iranians committed to freedom will gather in Paris on June 30 to outline that brighter future and build momentum for regime change from within.
In previous years the event has attracted upwards of one-hundred thousand Iranian expatriates and political supporters from throughout the world, including prominent figures such as John Bolton and Rudy Giuliani. This year’s event will be bigger than ever.
By making it clear that neither Iran’s nuclear program nor its malign regional activities will be tolerated, Western powers can reinforce the message that they are prepared to challenge the status quo.By casting their lot with those gathered in Paris, world leaders will signal those on the Iranian Street that they deserve a better deal from the West and better treatment by their leaders.