Our fists in the air and red in the face, we were chanting. “Death to the Shah” and “Death to America” were our daily rhymes.
We were 16 and a revolutionary epoch was unfolding with our exhaustive energy spreading rapidly beyond our dreams and control. Those days are now a fading memory buried in the ashes of war and discontent.
The region is destabilized with its local conflicts and international interventions. We left that Iran and are now here, as Iranian Americans looking warily at the turmoil of post-Sept. 11. There has been a quick victory in Afghanistan but the United States cannot afford to make more enemies.
The Islamic Republic of Iran has posed as our new partner in the war against terrorism. But can Iran’s leaders truly live up to their own rhetoric?
Let us set the record straight. The Islamic Republic of Iran is not our friend. Nor could it ever become one, to the disappointment of the special interest lobby hard at work in the turbulent post-Sept. 11 era to make the American-Iranian rapprochement a smooth sail. Iran is in need of a transition to democracy. The collapse of the Islamic Republic of Iran is a goal worth pursuing by nonmilitary means and there are compelling priorities supporting such policy.
The Middle East peace process will not be triumphant as long as Mullahs are in power in Tehran.
The suicide missions and guerrilla warfare waged against Israel have been successful in undermining the Oslo agreement and effectively destroying the fragile trust between the Palestinians and Israelis. The “holy warriors” of these spectacular attacks on Israel, the Islamic Jihad and Hamas, both receive support from Iran.
The United States can chastise Arafat for not being tough on the terrorists. But arresting a few Hamas supporters would not alter the contours of this deadly paradigm. There will be more young recruits replacing them in a matter of days. In a soil made fertile for conflict with poverty, dispossession, and hatred, new martyrs abound.
Unless the source of training and bankrolling of the Palestinian terrorists is destroyed, the peace process will be doomed. Even if Israel were forced to accept an independent Palestinian state, such settlement would fall prey to Hamas and Islamic Jihad becoming a military base of insurrection against Israel and threatening its security.
Beyond Israel, Iran threatens the peace and stability of the entire region.
In the words of Attorney General John Ashcroft, Iran “inspired, supported, and supervised members of Saudi Hizbollah,” which was responsible for the 1996 attack on Khobar Towers killing 19 U.S. servicemen. According to Senator John McCain, former FBI director Louis Freeh believed the “chain of responsibility extends to Iran’s most senior leadership.”
This leadership seeks to expand its rule beyond Iran’s borders using the local conflicts as a Trojan horse. It hopes to gain hegemonic control over the frustrated Palestinian movement, Iraq and Southern Lebanon Shiite fundamentalist crusade, the rickety Afghan government and Pakistani radical desperados. This systematic and violent power play is well organized by the elite paramilitary forces of Revolutionary Guards (Pasdaran) who are the backbone of that regime.
The Islamic Republic is developing weapons of mass destruction.
Iran’s Shahab-3 missile project, a 17-ton medium-range ballistic missile able to carry a 1.2 ton payload with a range estimated at 1,300 kilometers, was first tested in 1998. The project headed by Mohsen Hashemi, the son of Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, the most powerful man in Iran after the supreme leader, is designed as a delivery system for weapons of mass destruction.
According to the United States government, it “significantly alters the military equation in the Middle East by giving Tehran capability to strike targets in Israel, Saudi Arabia and most of Turkey.” Iran has shown willingness to use this capability for terrorist attacks in the recent past.
The young Mohsen Hashemi spent much time in Belgium in the 1980s organizing a dangerous underground network. This network, according to his father, attempted to “smuggle a missile” into Belgium in 1998 with plans to launch it against Germany. The plan failed when Belgian police discovered the missile aboard a commercial ship hiding among the boxes of pickles.
Iran’s human rights record shows an increase in the repression of political opposition. The kidnappings and killings of the dissidents, mass closures of independent press, arrests of journalists, beatings, illegal detentions and tortures of students, have gone on with total impunity under the reformist rule of President Mohammad Khatami.
Tehran’s claims that reforms are progressing well and need more time and support from the United States is part of a time-buying strategy to complete the deadly arsenal.
The majority of Iranians are pro-U.S and oppose the Islamic regime.
There are many reasons for this, not least of them economic. Iran’s economy is deteriorating rapidly. According to the Iranian Statistics Center (ISC), a government agency, 15 percent of the Iranian population lives below absolute poverty, defined as those who earn less than a dollar per day, and 30 to 50 percent of the population lives in relative poverty, as reported by IRNA, the government news agency.
This is more than double the numbers reported for the pre-revolutionary period. The unemployment rate is estimated at 35 percent and a young and explosive population is desperate for change.
The basis of Anti-American sentiment in revolutionary Iran was the CIA-engineered 1953 military coup followed by America’s 25 years of unequivocal support for an unpopular Shah until his dying moments. The popularity of the United States in present day Iran stems from two decades of continuous opposition to a repressive fundamentalist regime.
Let us not betray the Iranian people once again.
Ramin Ahmadi is an Assistant Clinical Professor of Medicine at the Yale School of Medicine.